Come On! Feel the #Resistance!

The princess from the movie you like stares defiantly at me from a bumper sticker on the back of your laptop screen. The princess tells me that you (“we”) “are the resistance.” The sticker is affixed so that onlookers will see it right-side-up, not so that you can enjoy it when the clamshell screen is closed (which would make it upside down.) You are presently staring at your other, handheld, device and so I assume that the laptop is most valued for what’s on the outside than whatever’s going on inside of it, which surely is two or three half finished scripts and seven tabs open to various articles and things that you’ve read about a third of.

The sticker refers to three recent events. The first event is that you just saw the latest sequel to the movie you like. The one with the princess.

The second is that a loudmouth demagogue has been elevated to the highest office in the world, beating out a shrill career politician of remarkably poor character. Just another year, I know, but the demagogue may also be an honest-to-God psychotic this time and the shrill one of poor character was a woman, so we must pay attention. Her defeat (because it was a her) must be avenged. Not politically of course, but symbolically, which to you is pretty much the same thing. The shrill one was not defeated, you see—she, like the heroine from the film you like, is now a princess of the rebellion against an evil overlord. In reality, she is in her home office gulping a third Chardonnay, which is making it hard to focus on her ghostwriter’s questions but is helping to get her through another dismal Chappaqua afternoon.

The third event is that the actress who played the princess recently died of heart failure on an airplane. She had been in poor health for some time after a lifelong bout with chronic despair, brought on by a truly hellish upbringing by some of the worst parents the world has ever seen, combined with the misfortune of being a troubled and exceptionally comely girl handed a great deal of fame and money at a young age at the apex of the Sexual Revolution.

None of these events have anything whatsoever to do with another, but they all add up to great feeling, and feeling has carried this god-damned century. The feeling tells you the defeated candidate has something to do with the dead actress. It tells you that the one was defeated unfairly and the other died nobly. It tells you the movie you like has something to do with reality and so you are not wasting your time or brain cells entertaining yourself with it.

Hope. Change. #Resist. These meaningless phonemes are vessels of feeling. They bottle it up and carry it away to Neverland where fairies can fly if you just believe. In those heady days of 2008, a freshman senator photoshopped to look like Che was all that was needed to heal the human heart. But it was only ever style and kerning and two can play at that game. Today, a cartoon frog with a red hat sits on the throne.

In Dante’s Inferno, those damned for adultery are blown about by a great wind, just as their lusts blew them about in life. Just as we have cast the shackles off of our sexuality, once chained in place by morals and manners, now have we have liberated our politics from the chains of good sense, and lo and behold, it got results! Electoral results for a madman! Activism without action!

Raw feeling moves people. Perhaps “we are the #resistance” stickers on laptops are the seeds of some future movement that will carry the day again. I cannot predict who will be on top next. But I am sure of one thing: we cannot continue to emblazon our political discourse with empty icons and vague mottoes without losing our political system as we know it. Our Constitution was written with words—very few of them, but carefully chosen, and these images are no substitute. When the two major political parties abandon the use of carefully chosen words and replace them with images dredged from pop culture and the bowels of the internet, they have abandoned ideas in favor of raw emotion. This is a catastrophe, and one despairs of meaningful engagement or debate.

The victorious party will be the one that best channels the passions of its constituents. Man may be the only creature capable of reason, but that does not mean he has ever made much use of it, especially in these strange latter days that misfortune has decreed we must make sense of. Feeling Wins.

Photograph of a protester holding a poster with a black-and-white image of actress Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia from Star Wars, with white text superimposed on red stripes "we are the resistance".
The 2017 Women’s March on Washington (Wikimedia Commons)

Featured image by Hillel Steinberg (BY-ND-2.0)

Stalin vs. Hitler

There’s a school of thought (if it can be called that) which insists that voters tomorrow have only two real choices: to support the Republican candidate against the Democratic candidate, or vice versa.

The problem, of course, is that for many people, neither one is a desirable candidate. Both are objectionable on multiple levels and have the potential to cause great harm in various ways. Whether they would do any good is questionable.

The leaders of the free world faced a similar dilemma in the last century. Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were two great predatory powers intent on swallowing up  smaller European states. But from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s perspective in 1941, it seemed necessary to make common cause with Soviet Marshal Joseph Stalin in order to defeat Adolf Hitler. And Churchill ultimately succeeded in convincing the United States under President Franklin D. Roosevelt to do the same.

It was not known until shortly after Hitler’s defeat, that Hitler and Stalin had agreed in the secret 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Accord not to oppose one another in war, and to divide Poland and other eastern European states between themselves. This agreement only became void in June of 1941, when Hitler launched a surprise invasion of Russia. Churchill had actually secretly warned Stalin in April that Germany was preparing an invasion, but Stalin, trusting the secret pact and probably giving Hitler too much credit for rational strategy, had ignored the forwarded intelligence.

It should go without saying that Donald Trump is no Hitler, and of course Hillary Clinton is no Stalin. Trump at the moment passes for a right-wing demagogue, just as Hitler is often mistaken for one, while Clinton passes for a tribune of the Left — although more consistent minds on both the right and the left recognize that these designations are not particularly accurate. Nevertheless, the left is being asked to swallow their disagreements with Clinton in order to defeat Trump, and the right is expected to throw in their lot with Trump in order to defeat Clinton.

Hindsight is clear. We can now see that Stalin played the West like a fiddle until 1946, gaining aid and concessions from Churchill and Roosevelt which enabled him to bring eastern Europe under Soviet tyranny. We can play the historical ‘what if’ game and imagine a scenario in which Communism and Nazism exhaust one another in mutual warfare until both totalitarian regimes totter and fall, clearing the way for the return of free nations and traditional governments. Instead, the latter part of the 20th century was overshadowed by Communism. We are also now aware of the Communist infiltration within Roosevelt’s circle, particularly at the State Department (Alger Hiss, who was deeply involved in shaping the Yalta accords, and a number of others).

But even without this knowledge, or even without full knowledge of Stalin’s own geopolitical predations and genocide, shouldn’t Churchill and Roosevelt have been able to recognize that Stalin was not the avuncular ally they depicted him? Shouldn’t they have already known enough of the treachery of Bolshevism to reject its alliance?

We now know that Communism, aided greatly by Stalin’s regime, killed more people than died in the Holocaust and the Second World War put together. Stalin is responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of his own people, and a strong postwar Russia contributed greatly to the formation of Communist regimes in China and east Asia which killed over 60 million people.

Don’t get me wrong. Neither Trump nor Clinton is anything like Hitler or Stalin. But although fortunately the stakes are much lower, the moral duty remains not to lend aid or support to unscrupulous, untrustworthy leaders.

We do not yet know what will happen under a Clinton or Trump presidency, or what unknown secrets will be revealed in the next four years. For instance, we do not presently have documentation of a secret cabal between the two candidates, although some have speculated that Trump is in some way a Democratic spoiler in the Republican party. If this were the case, he’s certainly given them a closer race than they expected. But there is enough on the part of both candidates to show them unfit to lead. We need not resort to conspiracy theories to see how either Clinton or Trump is likely to do ill in the presidential office. Why strengthen their power by making strategic alliances that will be all to their benefit and do very little for us?

Now you may happen to support Trump or Clinton because you agree with their politics and admire them as people. If so, God help you. However, if you believe as I do that both candidates are morally unfit to lead the nation, why lend either of them political power with your vote?

Is there a pro-life case for Hillary Clinton?

While many conservatives are unwilling to back Donald Trump, few conservatives of any stripe are willing to openly support Hillary Clinton.

Enter Rachel Held Evans, a pro-life Christian, ex-evangelical and current Episcopalian. (As are a number of us here at The Hipster Conservative.) As a popular blogger, Ms. Held Evans made a name for herself as an in-house cultural critic of evangelical Christianity. Now she takes up the unenviable task of making a pro-life case for Hillary Clinton.

Her case is simple and clever, if ultimately unconvincing. She argues that to be pro-life is to have a consistent life ethic. Therefore, she says, we must not simply outlaw abortion but also, “. . . create a culture with fewer unwanted pregnancies to begin with.”  So far, so good. She argues progressive policies are more likely to create this culture. Ms. Clinton is more progressive than Mr. Trump, ergo Clinton is the more pro-life of the two candidates. Lastly, she claims that outlawing abortion would simply be a Pyrrhic victory, the GOP is really just being cynical in its attempts at abolition, and that Democrats are actually the better choice if your goal is fewer abortions.

Whew. That’s a heady brew. Where to start?

Do Progressive Policies Help?

A big part of the essay is based on the assumption that progressive policies exclusively help the poor. While neither Ms. Held Evans nor I are economists, I’m far less willing to pretend that the economic debate is closed. For starters there is decent evidence that progressive taxation and welfare policies have a negative,  not positive, impact on economic inequality and poverty. Even in Scandinavia, long honored by American progressives as a social democratic paradise, has a persistent inequality problem.

Further it’s extremely arguable that Democratic education policies hold back the education of poor children in the inner city, arguably one of the most direct causes of urban poverty  and misery. The most direct is probably our government’s disastrous war on drugs, in which Ms. Clinton was a fervent soldier.

Ms. Held Evans’ strongest case probably comes from the expansion of birth control and how it reduces the overall abortion rate. However in this she assumes too much. While it is true that abortion rates have decreased during the Obama administration, her piece leads you to assume that this decline began during Mr. Obama’s years in office. It did not. The abortion rate has dropped consistently since its peak in 1980. Lastly, she forgets that Republicans are the ones who propose making contraception available over the counter, which would probably be the single largest barrier reduction to contraception since the 1960s.  Bizarrely, it’s largely been the left who opposes OTC contraception.

Ms. Held Evans believes the GOP is foolish to pursue an end to abortion (she even implies that this is a merely cynical position). She provides studies on how abolition can increase abortion-related deaths but fails to mention on how all of these studies are of developing countries without widespread access to quality healthcare, not a nation like the U.S.

Ms. Held Evans is a progressive Christian, both politically and theologically. That’s fine, but too often her piece seems to assume that a panel of experts in white coats somewhere has ruled that progressivism just works and the intellectual debate is over. It’s not over, and Ms. Clinton’s policies are not some kind of pro-life panacea.

Can a Pro-Life Person Vote for Clinton?

Ms. Held Evans spends a lot of time arguing that Donald Trump isn’t pro-life, either respecting abortion or, really, anything else. This is almost certainly true, but it doesn’t exculpate Clinton either.

Which takes us to the crux of the matter. I take Ms. Held Evans at her word that she’s pro-life (though she engages in some ridiculous, “Who am I to force my beliefs on someone?” sophistry). Let’s really back it up and ask, “What is abortion to a person who is pro-life?” That’s very simple.

On a medical, scientific level abortion is the process of ending the life of a living individual, genetically distinct, member of the species homo sapiens. We end these lives by killing them with chemicals, dismemberment, and lethal injection.

To the pro-life person, whether secular or devout, this practice is infanticide. To put it simply we kill the most physically vulnerable class of human beings by poisoning them and cutting them to pieces. To the pro-life person like myself or Ms. Held Evans this is a monstrous injustice. For this to happen to just one child would be grossly wrong. In the United States, where it is firmly legal, it occurs more than a million times, each and every year.

The legality of this practice is one that Ms. Clinton strongly defends, though she claims to takes umbrage at the occasional exculpatory circumstances such as some late-term or sex-selective abortions in the People’s Republic of China (no word on the American girls who find themselves so unneeded).

Ms. Held Evans’ chosen candidate not only backs the legality of this practice, but openly calls for the use of Medicaid funding to directly subsidize it. Her candidate’s party’s platform functionally opposes any limits on the practice.

Let’s sum this up. In the United States, every year, over a million human beings are eliminated, usually by physically traumatic and violent methods, the vast majority of whom are Latino or black. Ms. Clinton not only wishes to allow this practice to continue legally, but perversely defends using funds designated for the poor to subsidize the death of their children.

Much of Ms. Held Evans’ essay rightfully highlights her passionate concern for social justice, a concept too often reserved to the secular left.  She spends a good deal of time discussing her concerns that Donald Trump’s candidacy reflects a threat to marginalized populations. No doubt, if Mr. Trump openly called for the violent liquidation of Muslims, Hispanics, immigrants, and the disabled, she would recoil in horror. She would extend this horror if Trump floated the idea that, while he himself wouldn’t pursue such a policy, he would be loathe to use the power of the government to keep others from murdering them. Even if Trump simply winked at such a future, no doubt she would find a Trump vote to be morally unthinkable.

Yet she has no such qualms about using her voice to endorse Ms. Clinton.

To the pro-life there can’t be a difference. A pro-life person, opposed to the practice of killing human beings in utero, can’t distinguish between human beings in or out of the womb.

I think part of Ms. Held Evans’ disconnect is due to the banality of evil. Hillary Clinton isn’t some grotesque. She isn’t even a crass, demagogic buffoon. She looks like a respectable, boring, American politician. In another life, she looks like she would’ve made a typical PTA president. This doesn’t make her policies any less unjust. One  wonders if Held Evans’ belief in Clinton’s pro-life life ethic extends to those killed at wedding parties struck by American drones, dead Libyans, or Syrians. Another part of her disconnect likely comes from the ease with which our mind can gloss over mass violence. A good (though imperfect) comparison can be made to the judgement in the Einsatzgruppen trial.

That verdict is asobering reminder of evil and our limitations;

[O]ne million is but an abstract number. One cannot grasp the full cumulative terror of murder one million times repeated. It is only when this grotesque total is broken down into units capable of mental assimilation that one can understand the monstrousness of the things we are in this trial contemplating. One must visualize not one million people but only ten persons falling before the executioner . . . . If one million is divided by ten, this scene must happen one hundred thousand times, and as one visualizes the repetitious horror, one begins to understand the meaning of the prosecution’s words, ‘It is with sorrow and with hope that we here disclose the deliberate slaughter of more than a million innocent and defenseless . . . children.’

If one describes oneself as pro-life, if one believes that the poisoning and dismembering of human beings in utero is unjust, then we cannot give our votes to those on the Right or Left who wink at those who engage in such practices and at those who wish to use public funds to directly subsidize them. To do so it to be complicit in a great evil, no matter how banal and boring it appears. I’ll let C.H. Spurgeon, a more eloquent Christian than either Ms. Held Evans or myself, play us out:

This is one of the most specious of those arguments by which good men are held in the bonds of evil. As an argument, it is rotten to the core. We have no right to do wrong, from any motive whatever. To do evil that good may come is no doctrine of Christ, but of the devil.