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Trump as backlash

Unless Trump wins or comes close, the lesson of Trump will not be learned. If he loses badly, people will simply say, “I’m glad to see that America can face down the fascists, racists, sexists, phobes and haters among us, and we better redouble our suppression of those things.”  If he wins, people will actually have to think about what his popularity means and what it was that opened the road to him.

In a piece in New York Magazine Andrew Sullivan excoriates Trump, but seems at least to understand the source of this appeal. It has as much to do with cultural marginalization as economic:

“Much of the newly energized left has come to see the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists, and homophobes, thereby condemning those often at the near-bottom rung of the economy to the bottom rung of the culture as well. A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to ‘check his privilege’ by students at Ivy League colleges…

“For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome. This is just one aspect of what Trump has masterfully signaled as ‘political correctness’ run amok…

“These working-class communities, already alienated, hear — how can they not? — the glib and easy dismissals of ‘white straight men’ as the ultimate source of all our woes. They smell the condescension and the broad generalizations about them — all of which would be repellent if directed at racial minorities.”

Enter Trump, a marvel who seems immune to the witch hunt for haters. This as much as anything explains his appeal.

So, if you want to stop Trump, stop formulating every issue as a contest between the enlightened and the ignorant.

Stop insisting that the reason the Senate will not consider the President’s pick to replace Justice Scalia is that the President is black.

Stop insisting that it is understandable that the transgendered would care greatly about with whom they share a bathroom, but the same concern in anybody else is hate.

Stop insisting that another letter added to LGBTTIQQ2S automatically creates another protected class and that any raised eyebrow is hate.

Stop meeting every concern about Islamic terrorism with lectures on Islamophobia.

Stop telling people to “say something if you see something” and then sic the Justice Department on the people who say something.

Stop labeling as bigots people who have simply internalized their society’s taboos.

Stop calling climate-change skeptics “deniers” in a not-so-veiled allusion to Holocaust denial.

Stop lamenting the backwardness of a society that “pays women 77 cents for every dollar paid to men” when factors that naturally and rightly affect earnings account for virtually all of the difference.

“Political correctness” is the brand of intellectual intimidation that, for decades now, has been employed to punish any questioning of the liberal worldview. Trump is the long-awaited backlash.

Certainly we can place common sense limits on Second Amendment guarantees, just as we have upon free speech and the free exercise of religion.  But before we can consider what are reasonable restrictions on the people’s right to keep and bear arms, we must agree on what the 2nd Amendment means.  This proves to be very difficult because many Americans cannot face what it means, for to accept its meaning is to see that America is a very different place than they imagine.
 
The 2nd Amendment has nothing to do with hunting, target shooting or gun collecting.  The drafters of the Bill of Rights would not have made these mundane concerns the subject of the third pillar of liberty (after speech and religion) addressed in their document.  The right of an individual to effect his own defense against criminals comes closer to the intent of the amendment, but that is not whole of it.
 
In a nutshell, the Founders’ own experience had taught them that an armed citizenry acts as a check on the power of government.  The 2nd Amendment was their attempt to secure for posterity the ability to do what they themselves had done, namely, to engage in armed resistance to tyranny emanating from their own government.  It was their attempt to preserve the capacity of the people to fight battles like Lexington-Concord and Bunker Hill.
 
In all likelihood the “shot heard around the world”—the first shot of the American war of independence—was fired by a Massachusetts colonist at a British soldier who had been sent to confiscate the weapon that fired the shot.   Later, colonial forces—a popular militia under the command of American patriots—fought a pitched battle against the forces of British military governor Gage on Breeds Hill and Bunker Hill overlooking Boston.  In that battle, Americans, using primarily their own personal weapons, wounded more than 800 Redcoats and killed 226.
 
Within days of the skirmish at Lexington-Concord, the citizens of Williamsburg, Virginia, found their public gunpowder confiscated.  The local independent militia, led by give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death Patrick Henry, contronted Royal Governor Dunmore who found it advisable for the safety of his family and himself to flee his mansion in Williamsburg and take up residence on a British warship anchored in James Bay.
 
Meanwhile, back in Massachusetts, self-armed colonists laid siege to Boston, eventually forcing Gage’s replacement to take his troops and sail way to Halifax.
 
All of this took place before the Declaration of Independence, before the fielding of the Continental Army.  It was accomplished by patriots bearing, in large part, their own personal firearms.   We owe, therefore, the success of our rebellion against despotic rule to the ubiquity of guns in colonial America and to the failure of the rulers’ attempts to disarm us.
 
That was then.   Today we search for ways to balance the right to bear arms with the demands of public safety.  We are told that nobody needs assault weapons or large-capacity magazines.  Perhaps someday, however, we will see again a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evincing a design to reduce us under absolute Despotism.  We’ll need assault weapons and large-capacity magazines then, won’t we?  And won’t it be better if the government doesn’t know who has them?
 
Of course, the fact that I can publish these thoughts without fear of arrest is proof that we are a long way from conditions that would justify a—second—armed rebellion.  Today you could make the case that it is no longer practical to think of an armed citizenry as a check on the power of government.  Fine, repeal the amendment.  But until then we must acknowledge its meaning.
 

My views on climate change are not based on science.  Thirty years into a career as an engineer, with a degree in applied mathematics and studies in physics, chemistry, electrical engineering and computer science, I realize that the science of climate change is over my head.  My climate-change skepticism derives not from knowledge of meteorology, but from my knowledge of people.

I’ve noticed this odd thing:  the world is full of people passionately convinced of the reality of global-warming, and its human cause, but the vast majority of them are even less equipped than I am to understand the science of it.   In short, almost no one’s views are based on the science.  So our differences boil down to this:  skeptics want the charge of a human cause of climate change to be false, because we want people to be spared the sacrifices that would be required to address it; believers, oddly, want it to be true so that the sacrifices are necessary.  Do they really want it to be true?  Let me list the observations that convince me that they do.

First, there is a twist in the human psyche that makes a lot of people unhappy unless the sky is falling.  Otherwise we would not have the Chicken Little folk tale.  My lifetime has seen non-stop warnings of ecological apocalypse:  the population bomb, silent spring, global cooling, lead poisoning, radon poisoning, ozone hole and global warming, now called climate change.   The Cuyahoga River is on fire!  Lake Erie is dead!  The seas are dying!  The Gulf of Mexico is ruined!  The depletion of vital resources is imminent!   Rising sea levels will drown us all!  That last big hurricane is proof that we are near a tipping point!

In reality, the river, the lake and the gulf all recovered; the supply of exploitable natural resources keeps growing, decade after decade; hurricane-magnet Florida has not been hit by one of any size since the Katrina-inspired prediction of death-by-hurricane; and the seas are driving us to higher ground at the rate of 3 millimeters per year.

Second, the predicted effects of climate change initially were undesirable but manageable:  a few degrees rise in global temperatures, leading to a shifting of climate zones, possibly more severe storms, some rise in sea level, drought and lost fertility in some places.   But this, it turned out, was not enough to put the necessity of sacrifice beyond question.  Canadians, for example, in my experience would welcome a little warming of the planet, especially if it made Saskatchewan and Alberta the wheat and corn capitals of the world, and opened the arctic to exploitation.

So questioning the assertion of man-made climate change was made tantamount to Holocaust denial.   When that happened, the proponents of the theory were free to up the ante, to ratchet up the predicted effects without fear of challenge.  Now some are promising mass starvation leading to global war, followed by the end of life on the planet.  This, they hope, is unanswerable, even in the Great White North.

Moreover, the phenomenon morphed from “global warming” to “climate change” so that anything that happens is proof of the theory. Anecdotally high temperatures?  Man-made climate change.  Anecdotally low temperatures? Man-made climate change.  Less rain?   More rain?  Ditto.  Ditto.  No change in global temperatures after 1999?  Suppress the data.

Third, when the actions of humankind portend harm to the environment, environmentalists will not permit questions such as these:  is it really so bad that we have to stop people from doing what they like to do?  Are the detrimental effects on the environment worse, for people, than what must be undertaken to prevent or reverse them?   Isn’t it odd that no one feels it necessary to explain how we know that recycling is more than a feel-good exercise?

No, we cannot think this way because environmentalism is not conservation.  The environment is not natural resources.  We’re told that protecting the environment because it is good for people is not the point.  It’s not about us.  The environment is a thing unto itself, with its own moral standing, which we must respect even at cost to ourselves.

Finally, there is the cult of self-sacrifice.  Anymore, the only path to virtue is self-sacrifice for the good of others.  It is selfish to insist that your life is your own, to be lived for your own happiness.  You are not worthy of a full and exciting life because it takes too many resources.  It’s your duty to live small, curtail your aspirations, minimize your footprint and stop demanding so much.  The planet-in-peril narrative justifies the desire of many to rein in individualism.

That last observation is the most telling.  Misanthropy has always been strangely pervasive, and now it finds new expression in environmentalism.  Rapacious mankind, the great despoiler, must be brought to heel for the sake of the planet.  I’ve read that the Mongol invasions’ slaughter of a tenth of the world’s human population measurably reduced our carbon footprint.  In effect, Genghis Khan did more for the green cause than Al Gore.  You scoff, but you must be aware of people who are eagerly anticipating a mass die-off of our species so that the biosphere can be restored to good health, as if concepts such as “biosphere” and “good health” had any meaning outside the mind of Man.

If there is a gene for religiosity, I didn’t get it.  Religion either makes sense to you or it doesn’t, and to me it doesn’t.  Religions—all of them—base their precepts on assertions that seem conveniently formulated so as to be un-testable.  This makes religion appear to me as a “likely story” and, consequently, it is unpersuasive (to choose the mildest of the pejoratives that come to mind).
 
With that preamble, let me now defend religious freedom, properly understood.
 
The very first words in our Bill of Rights are these:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” 
 
Note the two clauses in this wording.  Call them the “establishment clause” and the “free-exercise clause.”  The first applies in the public sphere and the second in the private.  This distinction is crucial to understanding what religious freedom means and what it does not.
 
The establishment clause is there to keep us from becoming a theocracy.  It means that there can be no official religion of the United States.   But it means more than that.  To avoid the de facto establishment of religion, we must not enshrine in law the precepts of any religion qua religious precepts.   So justifications for laws that reduce to “God wants it this way” must not be credited.
 
The second half of the 1st Amendment (freedom-of-speech clause) protects your right to make the argument on God’s behalf, but, by the establishment clause, it is out of order.  It may happen that our laws bear some resemblance to Christianity’s Ten Commandments, for example, but the justification for adopting those laws must trace to a secular understanding of right and wrong. 
 
The situation in the private realm is entirely different.  Without a state religion, religion is practiced in the private realm, the place where the free-exercise clause holds sway.  Taken literally, the free-exercise clause is a pretty strong statement.  But there are no absolutes, so, in effect, the clause means this:  the government must bend over backward to avoid interfering with individuals’ religious practices or beliefs. I don’t say that government can never override or interfere.  We are not, for instance, going to let you wait for God to heal your ill children.  But government is obligated to look first for other ways to achieve its ends, and the ends must be very important.
 
In other words, while it is true that on Earth “Man’s law” trumps “God’s law,” if you will, it is also true that on the part of the Earth that is America, man is required to avoid producing the conflict when practicable.
Freedom of religion is just a special case of the individual liberty we enjoy as Americans.   It is of a piece with our other freedoms, which are all variations of this one:  the freedom to be left alone.   If anybody were to say that his religious freedom is curtailed because he can’t get his religiously-motivated proscriptions placed on others by the law, that would be ridiculous.   But religious freedom is properly cited in appeals to be left alone. 
 
All of this is playing out right now in the debate over mandated coverage for contraceptives in employer-provided health care insurance.  Some employers would rather not be involved in supplying contraceptives to people.  I don’t feel that way, but that doesn’t matter—they do.  Others want the coverage of contraceptives to be mandatory, and at the moment, it is.  The balking employers claim that this mandate of the government unnecessarily forces them to act in ways that are contrary to their religious beliefs.
 
Given that the employers are not seeking to outlaw the use of contraception, their appeal for religious freedom is legitimate.  If the government wants everyone to have free contraceptives, it can devise another way to bring that about, a way that doesn’t conscript the participation of individuals.  Furthermore, the difficulties created for people by their employer’s decision not to pay for contraceptives do not rise to a level that justifies overriding someone’s freedom of conscience.
 
Two things about this debate trouble me greatly.  First, pro-mandate people incomprehensibly argue that employers are seeking, under the banner of religious freedom, the power to “deny” reproductive rights to women, to “dictate” women’s health care choices, to “impose” or “force” their views on others—when it is clear that the government is the one player in this drama actually engaged in denying, dictating, imposing and forcing.  
 
Second, it is shocking how willing folks are to abandon the concept of freedom of conscience.  Is it the case that whatever “the people” might decide is fine with you? Can you not imagine that someday the people may require something from you that you cannot in good conscience render?
 
The will of the people is controlling in the public sphere, of course.  In the private realm, however, we desire that the will of the people play as small a role as is practicable. Indeed, the very essence of liberty is the ability, in our private lives, to tell the people to go to hell.

Aurora, Colorado

So it has happened again, again in Colorado.  The image is appalling, disgusting, obscene.  Helpless people killed, murdered, executed.  Helpless people crying, hoping and praying not to be the next victim, the next to die senselessly at the whim of a psychopath.  

It makes no difference to the individual who dies how he dies.  But it should make a difference to society.  The obscenity of these mass shootings – Columbine, Tucson, VA Tech, Aurora – should revolt us and steel us to give ourselves the means to fight back.  Just as sixth-graders cannot rely on their principal to give a bully his comeuppance, we cannot rely on police, social reformers, psychologists or federal regulations to prevent these atrocities or to rescue us once the shooting starts.  

The answer is obvious:  we must arm ourselves.  Not everyone of course.  Most people are ruled by their fears, and most will not be able to accept the responsibility for a split-second decision to make the head of a psychopath explode while the body count is still low.  Many will prefer to go passively.  But if they are lucky, a couple of courageous people in the room will unlimber their equalizers and fight. 

Will it happen that some innocents die in a firefight?  Yes, or course.  But innocents are already dying. Is it likely that more will die?  No.  And at least they will not die cowering in fear, whimpering, while the gunman, unopposed, calmly puts the muzzle of his weapon between their eyes and pulls the trigger.  It may not matter to the victim how he dies, but it might matter to his surviving loved ones and it should matter to the rest of us.

If this is not a perfect plan, it doesn’t have to be. It only has to be better than the alternatives, all of which ask us to cede our right to self-defense and to go meekly at those times when the promises to protect us cannot be kept. 

The answer to the problem of guns in the hands of psychopaths is guns in the hands of normal—though perhaps abnormally courageous—people.  It seems likely to me that more guns in the hands of average citizens will reduce gun violence, but even if that turns out not to be true, at least we will have reclaimed our manhood.  Today we are told that it is safest to not resist violation.  It is safest to just bend over and take it.  What has happened to us?  Only a craven society asks this of its citizens.  Only a craven society makes this kind of “safety” its highest good.   

I generally share the conservative’s tragic view of the human predicament—man is a cracked vessel and not perfectible; bad things are going to happen.   I have no faith in the ability of reforms and regulations to prevent these tragedies.  The best we can do is to ensure that when the bad guys pause to reload, it is the last thing they do.

AnnArbor.com is reporting on the Michigan Islamic Academy’s plans to move into a bigger school. The Academy seeks to build a facility large enough for 350 students near Ellsworth and Golfside. The neighborhood is resisting with familiar objections, including “what about the traffic.” This is usually a red herring, a cover for NIMBY, though perhaps not in this case—planning commissions usually don’t take that bait, and the Pittsfield commission nevertheless recorded unanimous opposition to the proposal.

Of course, there is also the usual resistance to the resistance, of the “take it from an enlightened individual, you’re a bigot” kind. It is a familiar drama.

In this and similar cases, it is the schools themselves that interest me. Academies like this one are understandable efforts by parents to pass on their way of life. MIA’s mission includes preserving the “the religion and cultural identity of our children as reflected in their Islamic beliefs and values” and providing “basic knowledge to pass on the Islamic heritage to our children.” All immigrants to America fear seeing their offspring become strangers to them as the children are remade by the dominant culture. American liberty can look like license, and America offers many ways of living that parents would not choose for their children.

So it is understandable, but doomed. The great and wonderful American melting pot will work its magic, incompletely on the children, but completely on the grandchildren. It is the grandparents who become the strangers, barely recognizable to their decedents. “Dude, your grandfather is strange.” “I know, I know.”

This process is inexorable and can be the source of much conflict and resentment within families. The situation is worst when the way of life is defined solely or mostly by a religion. The parents will fight like hell to keep their children out of Hell. But the thing about religion is that it either makes sense to you or it doesn’t. Religious belief is formulated so as to be untestable, so when religion is the source of conflict there is no end to it except to agree to disagree. Very religious parents can never go there, so there is no end to it.

America permits the kind of self-segregation represented by these academies. Here we believe in freedom of religion and the right of parents to judge what is best for their children. But the forces of the melting pot in time dissolve the walls of enclaves, replacing self-isolation with integration, welcoming the children and abetting their escape.

Consider Gary Locke. He’s a Baptist and an Eagle Scout, the former Governor of Washington State and now Barack Obama’s Secretary of Commerce. His other name is Luo Jiahui and he’s the grandson of Chinese immigrants. Luo Jiahui’s life and Bobby Jindal’s illustrate not diversity but the half-life of diversity — how it happens that your grandchildren and mine are more alike than either is like you or me. This is the beauty of America and the actual source of our strength.

It’s clear that a changing climate will change the environment.  But why is a changed environment a harmed environment?  Environmentalism gives conflicting and ultimately incoherent answers.

When asked this question, the typical person who calls himself an environmentalist answers that change will drown the Maldivians and bring on monster hurricanes to ravage the coastal cities, drought leading to famine, sifts in the Earth’s fertile regions leading to war.

Agree with him that a changed environment is a harmed environment if people are harmed, and he recoils.  He knows that true environmentalism, sometimes called deep ecology, rejects and resents the notion that it is concerned with the welfare of mankind, calling that way of thinking “superficial.”  Deep ecology holds that the environment is a thing unto itself, with its own moral standing that we must honor.

Deep ecology goes nowhere, however, because it rests on an assumption that is clearly silly: the way things are now are the way they are supposed to be. Because the supposition is absurd, no one acknowledges it, but, without it, deep ecology cannot explain why a changed environment is a harmed environment.

Unless we imagine that the Earth has a correct temperature, sea level, size of ice cap, concentration of gases in the atmosphere, degree of forestation and complement of plants and animals, and unless Iowa is the natural corn capital of the world, not Saskatchewan, and if effects adverse to people do not count, a change in any of these variables does no damage.  Change is only harm if there is a way things are supposed to be.

Beyond the logical necessity of the above argument, there is evidence that true environmentalists make the assumption I ascribe to them.

Scientists speculate about how long it will take to stop global warming and then roll back.  Roll back?  Once the Earth has stabilized at a higher temperature, the biosphere will be adapted to those conditions.  Rolling things back will not resurrect the species lost along the way and will harm the plants and animals at home in the new conditions.  Why would we instigate another period of rapid climate change?  Only one reason: the way things are now are the way they are supposed to be.

If, coming out of the ice ages, the atmosphere had stabilized at the temperature predicted by the models, instead of where it did, who can doubt that we would now call that temperature “correct” (despite the non-existence of polar bears), and that we would fear a decrease to the temperature we are currently so desperate to preserve?

By denying its underpinnings, environmentalism renders itself incoherent.  Its adherents could save it by admitting that those underpinnings are value judgments and defend them as such.  But this is not going to happen because people like to think that their deepest beliefs arise not from value judgments but from an apprehension of objective truth.

For the rest us, it is high time we stopped granting that environmentalists occupy the moral high ground.  On the contrary, I assert that effects adverse to people do count, that it is about people, that the alleviation of human suffering and support of human aspirations must be our prime concern.  We should stop investing inanimate objects such as water and air with moral significance, and return to calling the environment by its former name: natural resources.

For our own sakes, can we stop climate change?  Who knows.  Can we adapt to it?  We better.  Will there be extinctions? Yes, like the 30 billon that have already occurred.  Is extinction tragic?  I suppose, in the way that everything about life is tragic, embedded as it is in our indifferent universe.

The extinction of humans would be tragic beyond measure, however, because the human mind is the only known locus of meaning; without it, the universe would be not merely indifferent but pointless.  The fate of this miraculous creature called Man is the question of overriding interest.  That is my value judgment.