Friday, November 25, 2016

Quoting Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1964
In analyzing the modern failure in each of these areas of thought [rationalism and naturalism] we have suggested that the difficulty arises from the lack of a principle of interpretation which can do justice to both the height of human self- transcendence in the organic unity between the spirit of man and his physical life. The modern mind interprets man as either essentially reason, without being able to do justice to his non-rational vitalities, or as essentially vitality without appreciating the extent of his rational freedom. Its metaphysics fails to comprehend the unity of mind and nature, of freedom and necessity, in the actual life of man. In similar fashion it dissipates the sense of individuality, upon which it insists with so much vehemence in the early Renaissance, because it cannot find a foundation in either nature, historical social structure, or universal mind for this individuality. It lacks an anchor or norm for the free individual who transcends both the limitations of nature and the various social concretions of history. It’s inability to estimate the evil in man realistically is partly due to the failure of modern culture to see man stature of self-transcendence. 
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. 1:  Human Nature, 123-124

Email to a Trump Voter

I'm so old I almost entitled this a "Letter to a Trump Voter"
The following is the gist of an email sent to a friend who reported voting deplorables". What follows is my response about this, written about a week post election.
for Trump. This person is a traditional Republican, well-to-due, college educated, and normally cautious in temperament. Afte the revelation of Trump's bragging about being able to grab "pussy", my friend reported thoughts of a non-Trump vote, but then made a late decision to pull the trigger for Trump, citing Clinton's comment about "

I'm sorry for having been so tardy getting back to you, but while I suppose I'm "over the election," I'm still trying to understand it. I was quite shocked that a person like Mr. Trump could be elected president of our nation. And of course, therein lies the key. I think that voters like you and the subject of the Post piece were willing to make a gamble that members of the establishment of the Republican Party were unwilling to make. I was impressed (and reinforced in my attitude) by the rejection of Trump, either by silence or outspoken, from Bushes 41 & 43 to Powell & Rice to Sasse and others (not up for re-election) to Romney. Even the likes of Ryan & McCain gave only back-handed support. Also,  "conservative" and Republican opinion leaders like Kristol, Frum, Brooks, Douthat--I could go on. I'll stop.  No, this was a primal scream. I did not anticipate persons such as yourself and the subject of the Post piece, who have not suffered the absolute and unarguable decline that many in the Rust and Farm Belt have experienced, would vote for a populist candidate. (He performed a hostile takeover of the Republican Party.) 
Although I agree that our political process is marked by extreme dysfunctionality and needs serious reform, I was not willing to gamble. (Besides supporting some very different public policy positions from that of the Republicans & Trump.) Clinton, I had hoped, would move toward serious reforms while having a firm grasp of the rudder and reality (not the TV kind). But because he's an odd Republican (a party of one, in effect), Mr. Trump may support policies that make sense. These policies would include infrastructure repair and upgrade that entails a measured fiscal stimulus, term limits for Congress, minimum wage hikes, limitations on financial speculation, reform of the ACA without removing millions from coverage, and so on. To the extent he can shepherd sound public policy through Congress, all the better.  

As to "the deplorables," it was an impolitic statement for Ms. Clinton to have made. Not false, but not precise either. 50% is too high (I hope), but too many of Mr. Trump's most vocal supporters were too remarkable for exhibiting and promoting deplorable traits. Too many of this supporters have one or more of the deplorable traits (or the whole basket) to which she referred. I have no problem branding racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, and celebration of violence as deplorable. But to me, in the end, there was one overwhelming "deplorable" that outweighed them all: the character, temperament, and underlying message of Trump himself. Every time I think of him I hear myself repeating, "What a horrible person." ("Deplorable" would work as well.) 

 I understand that many Trump voters were willing to overlook his patent faults and frightening statements to send a message of anger, fear, and rejection to our political elite. Elites, both Democrat and Republican, have let the sores fester for too long. Unlike my perception of Trump voters, I'm was not (and am still not) willing to risk burning down the house to rid it of termites. I'd be happy to learn that my worst fears are unfounded. But in the days since the election, Mr. Trump has given me little grounds for hope. I still see him as a demagogue in political practice and as a despot in the making by temperament. (Richard Nixon at least had the virtue of hypocrisy; he said and did some admirable things and tried to hide the spiders in his mind.)  

I will remain vigilant and active. Time will tell.