Dec 01

The presumption is revealing.

‘We, the media, should have known better’ was the message and the admission, or confession, in some cases. Confession, because some now see how they treated, or disregarded, the people who decided.

Some commentators in various types of media went at least as far as admitting to arrogant bias all along, and the need to learn from such (egregiously) flawed dissemination of information as they were practicing in their various outlets throughout the whole, long campaign for the presidency.

This wasn’t a new self-awareness by the entire pack. Back in May, New York Times’ columnist Nicolas Kristof wrote this ’Confession of Liberal Intolerance’. How prophetic it would turn out to be. “We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.” It was mostly about American universities, disciplines like the Humanities, the (apparent) lack of conservatives on campuses. But it prevails over the political culture.

It’s easier to find a Marxist in Academia, studies found, than a Republican, Kristof wrote. And he admitted that “bias on campuses creates liberal privilege”. It shows. And whole populations of Americans across the country, ‘flyover country’ so often sneered at among cultural elites, not only noticed, they kept their resentment in check for years.

In the aftermath of Election 2016, I’ve been traveling a lot and abroad, working on other news stories but gathering an interesting collection of post-election analysis pieces that reveal ‘out of touch’ media trying to reckon with their stunning failure to know or even notice such a wide swath of America and the Americans who live there.

This CBS News commentary just after the election captures “The unbearable smugness of the press”.

This is all symptomatic of modern journalism’s great moral and intellectual failing: its unbearable smugness. Had Hillary Clinton won, there’d be a winking “we did it” feeling in the press, a sense that we were brave and called Trump a liar and saved the republic.

So much for that. The audience for our glib analysis and contempt for much of the electorate, it turned out, was rather limited. This was particularly true when it came to voters, the ones who turned out by the millions to deliver not only a rebuke to the political system but also the people who cover it…

They hate us, and have for some time.

And can you blame them? Journalists love mocking Trump supporters. We insult their appearances. We dismiss them as racists and sexists. We emote on Twitter about how this or that comment or policy makes us feel one way or the other, and yet we reject their feelings as invalid.

It’s a profound failure of empathy in the service of endless posturing.

That line captures it well.

But the admission continues.

There’s a place for opinionated journalism; in fact, it’s vital. But our causal, profession-wide smugness and protestations of superiority are making us unable to do it well.

Our theme now should be humility. We must become more impartial, not less so. We have to abandon our easy culture of tantrums and recrimination. We have to stop writing these know-it-all, 140-character sermons on social media and admit that, as a class, journalists have a shamefully limited understanding of the country we cover.

What’s worse, we don’t make much of an effort to really understand, and with too few exceptions, treat the economic grievances of Middle America like they’re some sort of punchline. Sometimes quite literally so, such as when reporters tweet out a photo of racist-looking Trump supporters and jokingly suggest that they must be upset about free trade or low wages.

We have to fix this, and the broken reasoning behind it. There’s a fleeting fun to gang-ups and groupthink. But it’s not worth what we are losing in the process.

Fun? To gang up on people, fall in with groupthink, chuckle and snicker at ‘those people’ who ‘don’t think like us’?

You’d think that Trump’s victory – the one we all discounted too far in advance – would lead to a certain newfound humility in the political press. But of course that’s not how it works…

Journalists exist primarily in a world where people can get shouted down and disappear, which informs our attitudes toward all disagreement.

Journalists increasingly don’t even believe in the possibility of reasoned disagreement, and as such ascribe cynical motives to those who think about things a different way. We see this in the ongoing veneration of “facts,” the ones peddled by explainer websites and data journalists who believe themselves to be curiously post-ideological.

That the explainers and data journalists so frequently get things hilariously wrong never invites the soul-searching you’d think it would. Instead, it all just somehow leads us to more smugness, more meanness, more certainty from the reporters and pundits. Faced with defeat, we retreat further into our bubble, assumptions left unchecked. No, it’s the voters who are wrong.

As a direct result, we get it wrong with greater frequency. Out on the road, we forget to ask the right questions. We can’t even imagine the right question.

He, they, should go back to this intention, admitted several paragraphs earlier:

Our theme now should be humility. We must become more impartial, not less so. We have to abandon our easy culture of tantrums and recrimination. We have to stop writing these know-it-all, 140-character sermons on social media and admit that, as a class, journalists have a shamefully limited understanding of the country we cover.

Emphasis added.

Such self-examination cut across different levels of media. Take this blogger, for example.

It was all a lie.

Time for some truths: America’s governing class is bound together more by geography, education, and manners than anything else; it does not understand and cannot relate to the lives of most of their countrymen. Socially and economically the led and the leaders are distinct. In less than two decades, this elite has launched this country into three wars, and lost each of them. None were punished or held accountable for doing so. They plunged the earth into recession, a recession entire regions still feel–but none were punished or held accountable for doing so. This class is fundamentally unaccountable: bankrupt Americans, bankroll cartels—in the end, none of that matters if you’ve made the right connections and you speak the right shibboleths. The gateways into this class are shrinking. The privileges it claims grow larger…

It is time to destroy the lies.

This stinging rebuke of fellow travelers is almost hard to read. Almost.

The Democratic Party is without a leader. The President and his administration are packing up shop…The DNC is a mess. A civil war is brewing. The battle for your party’s soul is coming—and when it is over, the winners must be people with better judgement than those who ran the last campaign.

That is only the first part. The second may be more important—the cadre of “thought leaders” who led you all into this mess must be cast aside…

These men and women…built an echo chamber and mistook its confines for the world outside it. They sold their self-deceptions to you as fair and reasoned truths—but they are and always were deceptions. You and I were fed a diet of lies. Now the liars and those who believed them both find themselves locked out of power, utterly unprepared for the age about to dawn. These people need to be held accountable.

‘The New York Times publisher vowed to rededicate the paper to reporting honestly‘. A lot could be said here. The publisher says enough, for now.

It’s rather rich that he promises readers to rededicate the paper to its mission of journalism that will strive “always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences” in the stories the paper carries, given its record on some political perspectives and certainly some “life experiences”. And “to hold power to account, impartially and unflinchingly”. Now that a wild card Republican will be in the Oval Office.

You can rely on The New York Times to bring the same fairness, the same level of scrutiny, the same independence to our coverage of the new president and his team.

The same as what? I would have liked to have seen Arthur Sulzberger Jr. finish that sentence, or that thought, that comparative assertion. I’m a subscriber, a reader, therefore one to whom the publisher penned that letter, asking for our “continued loyalty”. I’m not going anywhere, I like to read the Times and will continue to for its smart and especially international reporting, where and when its found in those pages, and the arts and culture and book reviews and entertainment culture features, and food and film and sport. The crossword puzzles. The editorial and op-eds, and very often especially the op-eds.

But we want to see improvement.

New York Post columnist and former Times reporter Michael Goodwin wrote, “because it [The Times] demonized Trump from start to finish, it failed to realize he was onto something. And because the paper decided that Trump’s supporters were a rabble of racist rednecks and homophobes, it didn’t have a clue about what was happening in the lives of the Americans who elected the new president.”

Kudos due here.

Sulzberger’s letter was released after the paper’s public editor, Liz Spayd, took the paper to task for its election coverage…

Spayd wrote, “Readers are sending letters of complaint at a rapid rate. Here’s one that summed up the feelings succinctly, from Kathleen Casey of Houston: “Now, that the world has been upended and you are all, to a person, in a state of surprise and shock, you may want to consider whether you should change your focus from telling the reader what and how to think, and instead devote yourselves to finding out what the reader (and nonreaders) actually think.”

Maureen Dowd tasted humble pie at Thanksgiving. Good for her.

But already, the Times is in a quandary (along with other media, apparently) over how or whether to cover Trump’s tweets, if he keeps posting them (and one hopes he doesn’t, for everyone’s sake).

It was a rare and unexpected surprise to see Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi publish this column, although the title ‘President Trump: How America Got It So Wrong’ seemed to signal a blame piece coming, against Americans who voted for Trump. There was plenty of blame alright, but self directed, for a change. Though Taibbi gets his shots in there, he takes plenty himself, on behalf of his style of writers with influence. Who didn’t seem to notice when things were wrong if their guy, or their party, were the ones in charge.

On President-elect Trump…

He takes office at a time when the chief executive is vastly more powerful than ever before, with nearly unlimited authority to investigate, surveil, torture and assassinate foreigners and even U.S. citizens – powers that didn’t seem to trouble people much when they were granted to Barack Obama.

Right.

Trump made idiots of us all. From the end of primary season onward, I felt sure Trump was en route to ruining, perhaps forever, the Republican Party as a force in modern American life. Now the Republicans are more dominant than ever, and it is the Democratic Party that is shattered and faces an uncertain future.

And it deserves it. The Democratic Party’s failure to keep Donald Trump out of the White House in 2016 will go down as one of the all-time examples of insular arrogance. The party spent most of the past two years not only ignoring the warning signs of the Trump rebellion but vilifying anyone who tried to point them out. It denounced all rumors of its creeping unpopoularity as vulgar lies and bulled anyone who dared question its campaign strategy by calling them racists, sexists and agents of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

But the party’s willful blindness symbolized a similar arrogance across the American intellectual elite. Trump’s election was a true rebellion, directed at anyone perceived to be part of the Establishment. The target group included political leaders, bankers, industrialists, academics, Hollywood actors and, of course, the media. And we all closed our eyes to what we didn’t want to see…

Those of us whose job it is to cover campaigns long ago grew accustomed to treating The People as a kind of dumb animal, whose behavior could sometimes be unpredictable but, in the end, almost always did what it was told.

Whenever we sought insight into the motives and tendencids of this elusive creature, our first calls were always to other eggheads like ourselves. We talked to pollsters, think-tankers, academics, former campaign strategists, party spokes-hacks, even other journalists…

And the whole time, The People, whose intentions we were wondering so hard about, were all around us, listening to themselves being talked about like some wild, illiterate beast.

Yes, he’s finally got something right.

When Barack Obama was elected president, a great many Americans felt that their voice would finally be heard, that he represented them and their beliefs and best interests. Now, a great many other Americans feel the same thing about Donald Trump. President Obama has handled the election outcome and beginning of the transition of power with gracious dignity, crediting President George W. Bush for doing the same for him, and vowing to carry on the tradition seamlessly and with the same goodwill.

It would be nice, to say the least, if the press corps “who should know better” would rise to the occasion as well, and serve “The People” whose trust they need to earn again. If they ever will.

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Nov 09

Another vote that stunned pollsters and pundits.

‘Can you hear me now?’ should be the headline.

Establishment, inside, elite politicians and media have heard and are still stunned. They don’t quite know yet what to make of the results of Election 2016 in America because as of the moment this is being written, the results aren’t yet fully in. But from what we do know, they’re realizing that they didn’t see it coming. At all. And some of them fear these strange, almost foreign people in this country who went to the polls Tuesday. People they have dismissed for so long, they never took the time to listen to them and their concerns in this major election year, or longer.

This NYT opinion piece, published ahead of the long night of election returns, had a pretty good idea that something was happening that would require a reckoning.

Whatever the result of the United States election, politics has been “changed, changed utterly,” to use the words of the poet W.B. Yeats on Ireland after the 1916 Easter Rising. And not just in America. Across the Western world, there is a rising anger at “the system.”

That nails it. It’s spreading across the world, including the United States, but was hardly noticed and certainly not for what it was given elite media coverage of the election cycle and the Trump v. Clinton race for the presidency. “The center is struggling to hold” the Times op-ed piece continues. Why? Because the battles, political and cultural, have been between the left and right, sometime the further flung of the two. Bernie Sanders was left of Clinton, who is left of Obama. On Election Day in America, it turns out that many Sanders voters, feeling disenfranchised by establishment politics, voted for Trump, exit polling showed.

What happened?

Establishment politicians, economists and policy makers know something is happening, but…they don’t know what it is…The source of much of the anger is the very social system that they have created these last 40 years – globalized, neoliberal and destructive of the social contract between governments and peoples on which the political center rests.

The piece keeps referring to “the angry”, which is a stronger way of saying ‘the fed up and determined’, or better yet, ‘the fully engaged’. We are, after all, a Representative Republic, and the time has come to stand up, speak out, and collectively activate to make a difference that’s been long promised by politicians but never delivered. Things have only grown worse for the left out and left behind, the jobless and over-regulated and over-taxed, the everyday American trying to serve and survive and meanwhile, earning less and being strapped with higher prices for fewer choices for healthcare, if they’re working at all. Paying more property taxes and sales taxes and other costs companies have had to add to pay for the over-regulation, themselves.

And all this time, the meritocracy has had a lot of disdain for the everyday people.

The Times op-ed continues:

The striving middle class is pushed into the ranks of the poor as well-paying jobs, and the social mobility they bring, disappear, sometimes overseas, sometimes as a result of trade deals the establishment parties insisted were in the popular interest. Communities have been devastated, as the civic ecology on which a politics of the common good depends for most folk has been shattered: stable work on which to build a home and a family, pride in identity and place, and a network of supportive institutions and relationships cultivated across generations.

This U.S. election has been compared so much with the Brexit Referendum, British experts have been brought in for analysis on what’s happening in America. In recent months, I’ve commented on radio, along with guests, how similar the two are in the divisive atmosphere that grew around them, to the point where husbands and wives turned on each other for their fervent political differences, neighbor against neighbor, and friendships even ended over these splits in political views, so deeply have they run.

It’s been a year of global judgment on such people, too, which caused further resentment, cast in a string of pejoratives, and lumped together in a “basket of deplorables” by candidate Hillary Clinton at one point, which struck deeply into the base of Donald Trump supporters.

U.S. media and reporters, writers, bloggers and commentators here and abroad have spent months talking about Trump with a disclaimer that to say anything even remotely open about him didn’t mean they actually accepted this bombastic, repulsive, disgusting creature, but ‘hey, let’s give him a break because he’s come so far for a reason, and maybe has something to say’. Everything was thrown at the man, including the ‘creepy, crawly’ imagery of the atmosphere and mindset in which he dwelt. But it was he who said he wants to drain the swamp that was so much of the inside establishment of government and enablers in media.

So some voters who wanted a pro-life, pro-family, religious freedom defender who at least promised good laws and good Supreme Court Justices, who may not have even voted for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton but hoped somehow, better government would prevail, went into election night waiting with dramatic tension to see what the pundits never could predict.

And they all got it wrong, in that even as Tuesday turned into Wednesday, Donald Trump was actually close to the threshold of securing the electoral votes to become the next U.S. President. Against that prevailing wisdom that was just demolished.

As I write this, the deal just got sealed. Mr. Trump was just declared to have won the presidency. This is historic. Now, a lot of healing has got to follow.

Fuller election coverage will follow as it comes out in the next day or so. But for now, I think of a few different things. One, I saw remarkably few (maybe historically few) yard signs or bumper stickers for any candidate, and if there was one here or there, it was for a local county or state office. Not the presidential race. That is unprecedented in my lifetime.

Another is the recall I had on Election Day of President Gerald Ford’s first line of his hastily arranged inauguration address, succeeding Richard Nixon, saying “My Fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” As I approached my polling place, I wondered if that would be true on this day. But then wondered, what would be over, and what would be about to begin?

We’ll soon find out, but it is a pivotal moment in our history. And just as the people have spoken in the only poll that mattered, the people will need to work together to heal a wounded, divided nation. That is up to each and every one of us.

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Nov 07

Talk is bubbling up about potential legal challenges over results.

This sort of thing came to mind when I heard Donald Trump’s response to Fox News moderator Chris Wallace in the final debate with Hillary Clinton, when asked if he would accept the outcome of the election. Given what happened in both of George W. Bush’s elections (recalled in the article), and the many and assorted charges of ballot mishandling and reports of glitches in all the elections of modern times, this one in particular seems destined for extra scrutiny.

Yet Trump’s response about a ‘wait and see’ attitude became the one headline of a 90 minute debate about so much else. Media made it scandalous (in quite a season of scandal). The New York Times called it “a remarkable statement that seemed to cast doubt on American democracy”. The Washington Post noted that Clinton called his response “horrifying” and added that he was “talking down our democracy”.

Now NRO has this simply factual piece suggesting that a close finish would likely trigger legal challenges, of the sort we’ve seen before.

We almost went into a Bush v. Gore–like election overtime in 2004 because of provisional ballots. Voters in every state must be given a provisional, or conditional, ballot if for any reason they are unable to cast a regular ballot (if, for instance their name is not on the voter rolls or they lack voter ID, or if an election official brings a challenge). The provisional ballot is then cross-checked with public records to see if it’s valid.

How times have changed even on these basic requirements. My sister in Ohio cast an early-voting ballot and was not asked for any identification. Which should astound those of us who have, rightly, gone to the polls and after being found on the roster of registered voters, been asked for some ID to prove who we are as the correct voter assigned that ballot.

However, John Fund states in the NRO piece,

This year, the election could be close enough in one or more states to bring one or both sides into court. “The risk of that happening is higher than it used to be — and higher than most of us realize,” Edward B. Foley, the director of an election law center at Ohio State, and Charles Stewart III wrote in the Washington Post today. They note that votes counted after Election Day can easily determine the outcome of a close election.

So why the shock and horror over Trump’s ‘wait and see’ response about the election outcome?

Especially since…

In addition to the issue of provisional ballots, our local election systems use a patchwork of inconsistent rules, operate often antiquated machines, and can turn a blind eye to voter fraud. There are also jurisdictions that harbor incompetent bureaucrats. During the infamous recounts of the 2004 governor’s race in Washington State, Seattle’s King County mysteriously managed to “find” uncounted ballots on 18 separate occasions. America’s voting system is “a bit like trying to measure bacteria with a yardstick,” and we often can’t figure out who really won ultra-close races, mathematician John Allen Paulos mournfully noted after assessing the 2000 presidential results in Florida.

So, Fund concludes,

It’s said that the fervent wish of every election official is “Lord, please don’t make the election super close.” But if several of Tuesday’s races are tight, we could enter a quagmire of recounts, lawsuits, and protests outside government offices. If you thought the election campaign was ugly, just wait in case there is a post-election legal contest.

All of which is why I don’t put stock (especially this year) in political pundits, pollsters and political analysts. They really don’t know what will happen on Tuesday, but have to fill time with commentary. It could be a landslide one way or the other. It could be very close and then followed by the drama of the above scenarios of legal challenges.

We have to stay calm and clear minded about this election. After the June Brexit referendum, my friend and radio show guest Austen Ivereigh shared how contentious and divisive that campaign had been, hot it even pitted neighbor against neighbor, husband against wife, families unable to talk with each other anymore.

And meanwhile, none of the polls and predictions really got it right.

Something similar has happened here in the U.S. during this long, trying election season. It will play out as it will, come Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, or whenever it comes to a conclusion. But in the remaining hours, we have the time to be level headed about what’s at stake, and what we’re about to do to determine America’s future, and how we define ourselves.

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Nov 01

How to summarize?

This unprecedented election cycle stretches back as far as the Clinton Administration era, ran throughout the Obama Administration era, continues the thread that Hillary Clinton wove through both, and got entangled with the new threads of an outside the Beltway, outside politics, unlikely wild card that Donald Trump proved to be, and it all has defied the odds and conventional wisdom to land us in this strange situation of facing an election for president between two very flawed and distasteful, disrespectful, unethical and unlikable candidates.

We, the people, could have done much better. And we’re to blame for arriving at this point with these two candidates at the top of their tickets. ‘Politics are downstream of culture’ we hear often, and it’s true. We make the culture, or buy into it willingly and without giving it proper thought. So those who do the social engineering of marketing ideas and working ideologies into entertainment media and news media and politics gain ground when citizens come to accept the ‘mission creep’ of ideas spread in attractive packaging and sold through socially appealing marketing, and all sorts of changes have happened to our nation and its institutions and laws. So now the landscape is scary to a lot of people and hostile to others, or some of both to most people.

The next week has utmost importance for America and the world. I’ve been watching and covering on radio what’s most helpful for voters, and the watching world beyond, and hope to bring light to that in these days leading up to the day of decision. It’s not just the US presidency at stake, though that’s most important. The Senate and House seats in Congress are pivotal in the decisions that will continue on into the years ahead, some with ramifications for generations.

Meanwhile, an interview I did Monday on my book, for a television news webcast program, recalled the timelessness of first principles and the truths the founding documents of this nation established. Which are more or less summarized here.

“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” – George Washington…

“Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.” – Abraham Lincoln…

We have such a rich heritage both in the Church and in our nation’s founding documents, among other historic and timeless teachings. But people, generations, will forget if they are not taught or reminded, and truths will be eradicated from our collective memory if we don’t hand down our narrative of inheritance. George Washington is widely beloved, as is Abraham Lincoln. But ask people why and they may be hard pressed to cite what these early presidents represented in their personal beliefs, lived in their personal character, and stood for in their political battles to carry out their understanding of natural law and moral order. To “get” Washington or Lincoln, you have to get them right, and in full….

People need heroes. The world needs the bright lights of those who spared nothing and braved anything to stand in the gap for their brothers and sisters anywhere who were marginalized, oppressed, mistreated, abused, and dehumanized. William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and…Fr. Richard John Neuhaus are standouts among many others inspired by them who worked tirelessly and unceasingly for human rights for every single human being who exists, and those who will in future generations. History books and museums and legendary narratives record the great heroes of history who made a difference in civilization, thankfully. We owe a debt of honor and gratitude to them all — but also the duty to carry the mantle they handed down to those who come after and are inspired by the cause of protecting, defending, and advancing human dignity and rights. Many of the benefits recognized by law that we inherit and enjoy today are the result of their life’s work.

It’s what’s at stake now. We are up to the task of making clear the truths of human dignity and human rights to our neighbors, communities, larger public and sphere of influence. We just need to call upon our courage.

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Oct 16

He pledged reform. Her campaign planned revolt.

For half of this election year, ‘the Catholic vote’ got virtually no mention or attention in media coverage of the campaigns, while the Evangelical vote got plenty. Just before the summer conventions, Hillary Clinton named Tim Kaine as her running mate for VP, and the press featured his Catholicism in a usually laudatory light, even casting him as a ‘Pope Francis’ Catholic without understanding what that even means, and how wrong that portrayal is considering his willingness to support abortion, the repeal of the Hyde Amendment protections against taxpayer funding of abortion, and same sex marriage law which he celebrated. He said he believed his church would change its teaching on that, in time.

And then there’s his life changing mission trip to Honduras, and involvement in liberation theology there,

an explicitly Marxist political ideology cloaked in Catholic teaching that was planted in South America for the purpose of stirring up the poor to violence against their government.

At the time, this was a theology radically at odds with the Church and condemned by the Vatican, Pope John Paul II, and political leaders in the United States. The Marxist elements of the theology are still condemned by the Church today, including Pope Francis.

So the new prominence Catholicism gained in the elections by late summer was colored by Tim Kaine’s practices and stated beliefs. And ‘the Catholic vote’ suddenly became a focus for media and campaigns.

Recently, Donald Trump sent Catholic Vote president Brian Burch a letter promising to protect religious freedom, conscience protection and the rights of Catholics. Within two days, Catholic Vote issued a statement after a 2005 video was released with what Burch called “disgusting and simply indefensible” comments. He said what needed to be said at that moment.

Then came another. The first of the Wikileaks revelations of emails exchanged within the Clinton campaign at the highest levels revealing a deep disrespect for Catholics and the teachings of the Catholic Church, and ideas to back dissident Catholic groups that would agitate for a change in Church teachings. Those emails revealed insulting language and therefore, attitudes, about Catholics, as well as Latinos, showing a deep disregard for the people and their faith, and instead reflecting a strategy of seeing them as identity groups to be dealt with in politics.

HotAir.com pointed out the ‘silliness’ of calling the Church’s teaching a ‘middle-ages dictatorship’ and the call for a ‘Catholic Spring’ highly insulting. Crux noted that those emails were seen as hostile and mocking.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found a teaching moment in this unprecedented assault on Catholics from within the political hierarchy to issue a statement.

And scholars like Princeton Professor Robert George published opinion pieces like this, casting this moment in our political culture and history in a clarifying light.

…I can’t say I’m surprised by the noxious anti-Catholic bigotry contained in emails exchanged between leading progressives, Democrats and Hillary Clinton operatives. These WikiLeaks-published emails confirm what has been evident for years. Many elites, having embraced secular progressivism as not merely a political view but a religion, loathe traditional faiths that refuse to yield to its dogmas.

The election is just weeks away, and people of faith – already caught in a quagmire for so many months over the choices for president – are deliberating deeply over this extremely pivotal moment in our history. They are anxious and worried and wondering who to trust and what to do.

Somewhere in all these years, we largely have lost the ability to trust ourselves, our understanding of truth and justice, honor and virtue, and leadership. It won’t be a ‘top down’ answer that will save the Republic in some magical turn of events. It’s time to find the courage within our own ability to shape the future, within our families, our communities, our most local networks of influence.

People in alleged ‘power’ do not define us and cannot subvert what we stand for or believe, what ‘hill we would be ready to die on’ as some put it, to fire the imagination. We will decide ourselves.

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Oct 03

It’s not as complicated as it’s made out to be.

How the U.S. presidential election came down to two distasteful candidates in the end is a matter for historians. But it’s now a decision between what scholar Hardley Arkes calls “a matter of a wild card versus a brutal sure thing”, with many dividing issues but a singular and essential defining one that matters the most in grounding all others.

Clinton is staunchly pro-abortion. Trump identifies as pro-life, has made promises to defend life at all stages regarding legislation and name pro-life judges regarding law, and has named a pro-life coalition of advisers to assist his trajectory to what he hopes is the position to turn promises into protections. That hasn’t convinced a lot of conservatives. And commentators in media, if not outright hostile to Trump and defensive of Clinton, at the very least have the almost universal tendency to express their anti-Trump bona fides before saying, essentially, ‘but let’s give him a look, a chance, a listen.’ If they even get to that point.

That first presidential debate last week was a disaster, just about wrapping up now in its week long play in prime time media and late night comedy for its wince-worthy moments. But even that aside, Arkes says this about the longer term race and consequences at stake.

My friends who are concerned about national security worry about the temperament of Donald Trump. But what is it that the national defense is supposed to “secure”?

…if our main interest lies in protecting the lives of our people, why do the mavens on national security show no concern for the 1.2 million innocent human lives taken each year in abortion? Does it matter that 177 Democrats voted against the bill to punish surgeons who kill babies who survive abortions? The Democratic position, led by President Obama, is that the right to abortion is not confined to pregnancy; it entails nothing less than the right to kill a child born alive. That is the position that Hillary Clinton should be called upon to defend right now. Have we suffered such an erosion of sensibility as a people that this killing of children born alive is no longer worth noticing?

Important question to consider and answer. When will Clinton be asked about the right to live, before talking about what a good and just and respected life requires? Nobody in media is asking her.

Will it come up in the vice-presidential debates Tuesday night? Doubtful. Big media coverage of Democratic VP candidate Tim Kaine has focused on his resume, and featured his Catholic commitment to social justice and his life-changing mission work in Honduras earlier in life.

But here’s what the media aren’t reporting.

During his stay in Honduras, Kaine openly embraced liberation theology, a controversial political ideology cloaked in Catholic teaching, but radically at odds with the Catholic Church and with the United States. At the time, this extremist ideology was adopted by activists and even some clergy who were openly hostile to the Church, the Pope, and the United States. The Marxist elements of this ideology were condemned by the Vatican in the 1980’s and 1990’s. During his time in Latin America, Kaine was surrounded by radicals and their influences took root in the version of Christianity he adopted. According to the New York Times, it was this theology that set him on a “left veering career path” influencing his politics to the present day.

Although the Marxist roots of liberation theology were condemned by the Church, the new theology did have the support of another superpower – the Soviet Union. Scholars of the period, and the top Cold War defector to the West, have shown the Soviets created liberation theology to undermine the Church and advance the Soviet cause against the United States. In Honduras, the phony Marxist-tinged theology was planted to manipulate poor Catholics, instigate terrorism, and stir up a violent revolution in Honduras — then the key ally of the United States opposing Communism in the region.

Will the debate between the vice-presidential candidates draw much attention from voters, especially those drawn by Kaine’s Catholic identity? Media will try to frame that as much as anything. But it’s important to know. And it’s out there to learn.

I’ll be covering these issues on Tuesday’s radio program, trying to get to the heart of the matter.

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Sep 27

Pundits

Sep 26

In the world of politics, perhaps more than any other world, words do not come at a premium. Words are said, and said often. Words are spoken in support of a position, or against a position. Sometimes words are used ambiguously to avoid taking a position entirely. But words are never lacking, and the better the individual is at using those words to capture the popular sentiment of the people – at least the crucial minimal number of them needed to win – the more likely the individual is to win the election. Hence, the importance of using words wisely, and well.

But there is something different about a debate. Ask anyone who has competed in debate in school or at the university. While there are many different styles of debate, each with its own methods and rules—literally everything from Lincoln-Douglas debating to the Quaestiones Disputatae of medieval universities—there is something fundamental about debates that sets them apart from all other contexts in which public figures use words to persuade people: a debate makes two people who disagree confront each other using only words, and the winner is determined by the strength of the case they make.

Debate takes the art of presenting a persuasive speech (an art in and of itself) to a whole new level when two persuasive speakers are put together in a zero-sum game. Here, the debaters must be peers—observe why Elsa of Brabant could not debate Friedrich of Telramund in Wagner’s Lohengrin—and they must share the same question and topics. Then, arguments ensue and it is up to the hearers (or some subset thereof, such as pundits and commentators…) to determine which of the two was the most convincing.

Americans will have their final say about who was the most convincing Monday night—and in the following debates—on election day, which is the only day that ultimately will determine which vision of America we heard in the debates will be not just words, but reality.

But as we process this first of the debates, and determine what it might mean for that important decision lying before every American voter, we can appreciate the fact that at this point in the campaign trail, after so many words spoken in so many contexts—words sometimes later re-framed and sometimes denied—we have a setting where the two candidates for the highest office in our land come face to face, prior to all framing and interpretation, prior to all spin and all commentary, and offer us, the People, in a way that apples-vs-apples and oranges-vs-oranges reflects their own visions for the future for our country.

Will the two candidates actually carry out the things they promised? Will they be as good (or as bad) in the Oval Office as they appear on TV? We will only know for one of them. And which one of them it is will be, for many people, determined by these debates.

Sep 12

‘Catholics for Choice’ isn’t Catholic.

This is not a group to which I would normally give time or attention under most circumstances. But on Monday, they launched an election season ad campaign in newspapers around the country that could further confuse people who don’t already know or understand what the Catholic Church teaches on issues of utmost importance not only in elections, but in our common life as a nation.

In Monday’s Chicago Tribune, page five carried a full-page, color, paid advertisement with the large print heading ‘Abortion In Good Faith’ over the full page photo of a woman, superimposed by a quote attributed to her. It read: “I know firsthand that today’s elected officials need to hear your voice so they do the right thing, ensuring that women who are not well off are not financially burdened by the choices they make.” Under her name, she was identified as “Former Illinois legislator, mother of four and grandmother of eight, Catholic” from “Vernon Hills, IL”, a suburb of Chicago.

At the bottom of that attention-grabbing advertisement, a red banner carried this message: “Public funding for abortion is a Catholic social justice value.” And in a side corner and lighter font, it designated Catholics for Choice as the sponsor.

I don’t cite Wikipedia as a source or reference in writing, but in this case it’s sufficient to reveal three bishops’ organizations on the North American continent that have “unequivocally rejected and publicly denounced CFC’s identification as a Catholic organization”.

This is a new push by an old organization in a very consequential election with one candidate and political party standing so fully and forcefully on a platform of abortion ‘rights’, they extend it to the promise of repealing the longstanding, bipartisan Hyde Amendment that protects taxpayers’ funds from providing for abortions.

Plenty of media and Catholics in the pews have appropriated Pope Francis’ gestures and words taken out of context to approve of choices he never has nor could condone.

Like abortion, which he’s been asked about again and again.

“Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil,”…

“It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned,” he said.

But it remains a major political issue, and with the election under 60 days away, this new campaign shows how tenuous the Catholic understanding of even this social moral issue can be.

I brought this up on radio Monday with Catholic scholar George Weigel, one of the top American public intellectuals, social commentators and Vatican experts. During that conversation, a listener wrote me saying that her Miami newspaper carried a similar full page ad. Then a caller reported that her Minnesota newspaper also carried the ad, and she was thankful for the coverage and badly needed clarity.

Whatever ‘the Catholic vote’ is, no matter how divided it is, it’s obviously seen as important and ‘in play’ in the election. Tuesday, I will cover that with the president of CatholicVote.org.

Yes, “today’s elected officials need to hear your voice so they do the right thing” alright.

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Aug 24

The risks are high, benefits unclear, say HHS’ own medical advisers.

On Tuesday, lawyers with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a lawsuit on behalf of faith based hospital and medical networks, and five states, against a federal regulation

that would force doctors to ignore science and their medical judgment and perform gender transition procedures on children.

Yes, on children. Now read this next part slowly:

The government does not even require Medicare and Medicaid to cover these same gender transition procedures because the Health & Human Services’ (HHS) medical experts found the risks were often too high and benefits too unclear. But any doctor citing the same evidence and their judgment in an individual case would be in violation of the new mandate and face potential lawsuits or job loss.

Correct. It’s hypocritical and agenda-laden. It’s ‘the other shoe dropping’ in yet another HHS mandate, after the contraceptive one led to years of litigation with the Little Sisters of the Poor (for crying out loud) having to go through court hearing after court hearing on different levels of the legal system just to be able to continue to serve and care for the elderly sick and poor, without having to violate their consciences by letting their health care provider provide for contraceptives already provided for by other government programs. (Yes, it’s that simply  insane.)

In these latter days of the Obama administration, nonetheless, the mandates continue, and this latest one the government’s own medical experts advise against is nonetheless required of “virtually every doctor in the U.S., many of whom have chosen the medical profession because they are inspired by their faith to serve those in need and to heal others”, as Becket Fund explains.

There are other areas where government and activists are pushing new requirements based on transgender theory with sweeping impact but virtually no basis other than politics and ideology.

The stories are everywhere. Monday, USA Today’s front page was emblazoned with this headline story: ‘Judge in Texas blocks Obama transgender bathroom rules’. What the story repeatedly calls the U.S. Department of Education’s ‘guidance’ is a nice way of referring to a federal regulation “that required school districts to allow transgender students to choose which restroom and locker facilities to use”, with a thinly veiled threat of losing federal funding if schools failed to comply.

While the article is weighted with words leaning toward a sympathetic reading of transgender ideology, it also says this:

“The sensitivity to this matter is heightened because defendants’ actions apply to the youngest child attending school and continues for every year throughout each child’s educational career.”…

The plaintiffs argued that the Obama administration guidance came with the implicit threat that federal education funds could be withheld if school districts refused to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their chosen gender identity. The guidance also had implications for federal student privacy laws, threatening education officials with sanctions if they fail to address students by their preferred gender pronouns.

So what drives this directive is an individual student’s claim about their feelings, whether relating to sexual identity, or their sense of acceptance and belonging, in the most private settings in which young people are most exposed.

What few people are asking publicly is what’s behind all of this, what the thinking is or better yet, the science. Which is why a long term study into exactly that aspect of ‘gender theory’ came out this week, published in The New Atlantis, just as federal regulations continued to force new regulations favoring transgender ideology on doctors and school systems across the country. The editor’s note sums it up well:

Questions related to sexuality and gender bear on some of the most intimate and personal aspects of human life. In recent years they have also vexed American politics. We offer this report — written by Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer, an epidemiologist trained in psychiatry, and Dr. Paul R. McHugh, arguably the most important American psychiatrist of the last half-century — in the hope of improving public understanding of these questions. Examining research from the biological, psychological, and social sciences, this report shows that some of the most frequently heard claims about sexuality and gender are not supported by scientific evidence. The report has a special focus on the higher rates of mental health problems among LGBT populations, and it questions the scientific basis of trends in the treatment of children who do not identify with their biological sex. More effort is called for to provide these people with the understanding, care, and support they need to lead healthy, flourishing lives.

Note that last line, which is the most motivating factor behind the study. The two main authors and their research team used abundant and long-term scientific and medical findings to identify real health concerns and urge treatment that optimizes benefit and minimizes harm to people. The full report is available at that site, unlike so many peer-reviewed journal articles far beyond the reach of the general population, behind the firewall of a professional subscription to journals people don’t read and wouldn’t understand in the language used in most high level professional journals.

This study is for everyone to read and share and discuss.

After it was published early Monday, some coverage welcomed the scientific based research to bring to the debate. Michael Cook even opened his article with several links to opposing ideas, to show clearly the many claims that have been published about human biology and psychology without proof.

Pope Francis has been talking about this for a while, did so again this week, and doesn’t mince words.

Shortly after Pope Francis’ trip to Poland in late July, the Vatican released a transcript of the pontiff’s Q&A session with local bishops, which took place behind closed doors. His remarks caused a stir…because he once again denounced what he called “ideological colonization” and “gender theory.”

“In Europe, America, Latin America, Africa, and in some countries of Asia, there are genuine forms of ideological colonization taking place. And one of these?-?I will call it clearly by its name?-?is [the ideology of] ‘gender.’ Today children?-?children!?-?are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex.”

“Why are they teaching this? Because the books are provided by the persons and institutions that give you money. These forms of ideological colonization are also supported by influential countries. And this [is] terrible!” Francis said…

For Francis, “gender theory is an error of the human mind that leads to so much confusion,” as he said in 2015, and it’s one reason why “the family is under attack.” In an interview book titled This Economy Kills, the pontiff compared gender theory to nuclear weapons.

Recent developments in Colombia, Mexico and Spain suggest that the pontiff’s campaign against gender theory, or gender ideology, may be emboldening Catholic bishops in various parts of the world to speak out themselves.

A couple of things occur to me in all this. One is how often, and rightly so, social media posts about some inconvenience or complaint winds up with someone commenting that it’s a #FirstWorldProblem. True, usually. But this is one that has grown very rapidly to span the globe, so it’s an issue on different continents, and has become a sort of ‘colonization of ideologies’ as Francis and some bishops declare it.

The other is the frequent claim by activists and ‘the new atheists’ that religion or faith-based beliefs have no place in public policy, where reason and science should rule (and usually what such claimants mean is consensus by those in power). But in this case, leading scientific experts have issued a very important, long-term, thoroughly researched, well documented and objective study based on reason and science. That it doesn’t uphold (and goes against) prevailing cultural trends virtually assures it and its authors being discredited.

So it’s up to people of goodwill and common sense and concern for the welfare and well-being of all people to be well informed and engaged on this thorough and accessible study.

The National Catholic Register makes an important note here, from the study:

The authors make clear that the report does not provide an exhaustive review of their subject in all its dimensions.

“Science is by no means the only avenue for understanding these astoundingly complex, multifaceted topics; there are other sources of wisdom and knowledge — including art, religion, philosophy, and lived human experience,” they acknowledge.

“However, we offer this overview of the scientific literature in the hope that it can provide a shared framework for intelligent, enlightened discourse in political, professional, and scientific exchanges — and may add to our capacity as concerned citizens to alleviate suffering and promote human health and flourishing.”

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