Saturday, January 05, 2019

The Character That Matters

January 4, 2019

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A few days ago, American Greatness published some thoughts of mine about Jonah Goldberg’s contention that “President Trump is not a man of good character” and that, consequently, his administration “will end poorly.”

“Character,” Jonah says, “is destiny.” Trump’s character is bad. Therefore his destiny is grim.
While acknowledging that the president is an imperfect man (but at whom can that criticism not be leveled?), I also defended Trump’s character. Quoting Cardinal Newman, I noted that character was a multifaceted attribute. A man, said Newman, “may be great in one aspect of his character, and little-minded in another. . . . A good man may make a bad king; profligates have been great statesmen, or magnanimous political leaders.” I believe President Trump has been astonishingly successful during his first two years. I believe further that his success is a testament to the strength of his character.
Jonah disagrees with me absolutely about Trump’s character and, in a more qualified way, about my assessment of Trump’s successes. I am pleased that his explanation of those disagreements provides me an opportunity to expand on and clarify a couple of points.
To start with a clarification. Jonah says that in my earlier column I seemed determined “to minimize, dispute, divert, and debunk the contention that Donald Trump is a person of bad character, while never actually denying it. The goal seems to be less to rebut my argument than to confuse the issue.”
I apologize for my lack of clarity. Let me rectify that by stating baldly I do believe Donald Trump is, in the ways that matter for a president, a man of good character.
I hasten to acknowledge that Jonah takes me and other supporters of the president to task for qualifications like “in the ways that matter for a president.” He thinks all such admissions are obfuscating rhetorical window dressing designed to conceal “a new and wholly instrumental definition of good character. Not only is Trump doing things conservatives want, but because Trump is doing what conservatives want, he clears a definition of good character.”
I would answer that, first, the idea of character I have in mind is not a new one. One might trace it back to James Madison’s thoughts, in Federalist 51, about the relationship between private imperfection and the public good. Indeed, one might trace it back to Aristotle’s discussion of the good at the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics.
I think it is also worth pondering the work that Jonah wants the adverb “wholly” to do in the deflationary phrase “wholly instrumental.” Any meaningful definition of good character has to involve an instrumental element. Otherwise the character in question would be impotent. This is part of what Aristotle meant, I think, when he observed that “it is our choice of good or evil that determines our character, not our opinion about good or evil.” In dismissing the connection between character and potency as “wholly instrumental” Jonah flirts with an idea of character that is unanchored to the realities of life.
In a related criticism, Jonah complains that some of the president’s supporters defend him by comparing his behavior to the behavior of other politicians. This he calls “Whataboutism.” Donald Trump is alleged to have had an extramarital affair with Stormy Daniels. OK, but Bill Clinton did icky things with Monica Lewinsky. (I am not sure the cases are really comparable, but you see the strategy.)
Tu quoque objections are generally unconvincing and are certainly not, as your mother will have told you, exculpatory. But Jonah misses the larger point here. Many people were surprised when Peter Thiel declared his support for Donald Trump. He was just about the only Silicon Valley entrepreneur who did. One interlocutor, citing something unpalatable that Trump had done or said, asked Thiel how he could support Trump given his outrĂ© behavior. I don’t support him because of the things he does that I don’t like, Thiel said, but because of things that he does that I do like.
I think that is a mature and politically potent attitude. And it brings me to the two elephants that loiter about the room whenever the discussion turns to Trump’s character and fitness for office. The first elephant is named Hillary Clinton. Jonah has been a staunch critic of Hillary Clinton. Bravo for that. But I believe I am correct in saying that confronted with the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump he abstained from voting for either. To me, although I too live in a place where Republican votes do not count, the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was an existential, a moral choice—a choice, if you like, that turned upon the character of the two candidates.
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I submit that anyone possessed of even a smidgen of what Henry James called “the imagination of disaster” will shudder that the prospect of what a Clinton presidency would have entailed. Who knows whom she would have nominated to the Supreme Court and other federal courts, what she would have done about taxes, about energy, about the plague of political correctness on college campuses, about military spending, about border security, about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, about religious freedom, about militant Islamism, about American manufacturing, about the size of government and the burdens of the regulatory state.
I say “Who knows,” but of course we all know. Hillary Clinton was the most corrupt serious candidate for the presidency in history, and her corruption was evident not merely in her lying to Congress and the the FBI, her pay-to-play schemes while secretary of state, and her handling of the Benghazi attack. It was evident, too, in her fealty to the dictates of the administrative state, to the unaccountable elite that 63 million voters elected Donald Trump to combat. And who knows what she would not have done, such as prime the economy to ensure near record peacetime unemployment and strong economic growth—which are moral acts in themselves given the millions whose live have already been changed.
Which brings me to the other pachyderm in the vicinity. The most important pro-Trump essay to have been published on the run-up to the 2016 election undoubtedly was “The Flight 93 Election” by Michael Anton (writing then under the pseudonym Publius Decius Mus). The most famous bit of that essay—an essay Jonah took to task when it appeared—is the arresting comparison of the election to the doomed United Flight 93. The airliner was commandeered by murderous al-Qaeda fanatics. The only chance the passengers had was to storm the cockpit and try to retake control of the plane. The United States, Anton argued, faced an analogous peril. Its controls had been commandeered by people who would ruin us unless stopped. There was no guarantee that storming the “cockpit” of government by electing Donald Trump would save us. But it was our only hope.
That idea, as I say, was the most famous part of Anton’s essay. But perhaps even more telling in the context of this discussion about character was what he had to say about the conservative establishment.
If conservatives are right about the importance of virtue, morality, religious faith, stability, character and so on in the individual; if they are right about sexual morality or what came to be termed “family values”; if they are right about the importance of education to inculcate good character and to teach the fundamentals that have defined knowledge in the West for millennia; if they are right about societal norms and public order; if they are right about the centrality of initiative, enterprise, industry, and thrift to a sound economy and a healthy society; if they are right about the soul-sapping effects of paternalistic Big Government and its cannibalization of civil society and religious institutions; if they are right about the necessity of a strong defense and prudent statesmanship in the international sphere—if they are right about the importance of all this to national health and even survival, then they must believe—mustn’t they?—that we are headed off a cliff.
Alas, as Anton goes on to observe, “it’s quite obvious that conservatives don’t believe any such thing, that they feel no such sense of urgency, of an immediate necessity to change course and avoid the cliff.” The status quo is the nutrient jelly in which they live. They may criticize it. But they would not dream of changing it.
In is in this context—the context of Hillary Clinton as the only alternative to Donald Trump and the existential peril that Anton outlined—that we must place any meaningful discussion of Trump’s character. James Piereson makes an illuminating point about this aspect of the issue. “The problem with Trump,” he writes, “is that it is hard to say what his character is, or where his unusual style ends and his character begins, or whether or not the various things he does actually reveal his character.”
If Trump’s character is his destiny, then it is hard to understand how he managed to come as far as he has through the ups and downs of a business career and now election to the highest office in the land. If we take his critics at their word, then Trump’s bad character should have taken him out of the business world and certainly out of the presidential race a long time ago. Bad character leads to a bad ending. His success up until now, far surpassing the achievements of most mortals, contradicts the proposition that “character is destiny,” unless one is prepared to say that there are important aspects of Trump’s character that produced his success—a proposition that is worth pondering.
And this brings me to another thing that has struck me about much anti-Trump rhetoric: its astringent but unidirectional moralism. By “unidirectional” I mean directed exclusively at Donald Trump when there are many other suitable objects of moral obloquy parading about. Just yesterday, Bill Kristol, primus inter paresof the NeverTrump fraternity, provided a good example of the sort of moralism I have in mind. “Trump,” Kristol wrote on Twitter, “is in fact losing to the left and destroying a decent and elevated conservatism as he does so.”
What is this “decent and elevated conservatism” of which Kristol speaks? It is, of course, the conservatism that he and his friends represent—the conservatism Michael Anton anatomized in his remarkable essay, a conservatism, alas, that may have the right opinion about morality but is too feckless actually to choose it.
The reason I am happy to say that Donald Trump, despite his imperfections, is a man of good characteris that he has again and again shown himself to be willing to storm the cockpit of our corrupt, sclerotic, and increasingly unaccountable governmental apparatus. He has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and by implication (and it was part of his genius to make this connection) on behalf of people everywhere. He understands that his job is to put America first, but that by so doing he benefits everyone with whom we deal. Those things, I think, are marks of good character.
One codicil. I have deliberately avoided engaging with most of the particulars of Jonah’s indictment of president, mostly because many of the items he mentions are subject to vastly different interpretations. For example, he cites “Trump’s inability to hold onto cabinet secretaries of quality” as a reflection of his bad character, but has Trump been unable to hold onto “cabinet secretaries of quality”? I can imagine someone arguing that Trump’s cabinet, that his team in general, is stronger now than it ever was. But I understand that opinions differ.
I did, however, want to say a word about Jonah’s comment about the president’s attitude toward the First Amendment. In my original column, I responded to Jonah’s earlier criticism of the president’s “rants against the First Amendment” by saying that I couldn’t recall any such rants. Jonah responded to this by observing,
on numerous occasions the president has talked about “opening up” libel laws and revoking FCC licenses of certain news outlets, endorsed physical assaults on protestors, wanted to ban adherents of an entire religion from entering the country, celebrated the physical assault of a reporter, said (while in Canada) that it is “frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write,” and so on. I don’t think his rants about “fake news,” “the enemy of the people,” etc. are necessarily anti-First Amendment. But given the larger context of his views, I think it’s reasonable to see them that way.
I will pass over the more contentious items in this list. I do not think, for example, it is accurate to say the president “wanted to ban adherents of an entire religion from entering the country.” But I did want to comment on Jonah’s point about “opening up” libel laws. The case in question was the landmark 1964 decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, which made it almost impossible for any “public figure” to win a libel action. The press loved this decision. But, as the legal scholar Glenn Reynolds noted in The Judiciary’s Class War, the decision was in effect “a subsidy to media companies, whose libel risks (and insurance premiums) were drastically reduced. It also meant that juries . . . had far less power in libel cases. Perhaps coincidentally (but perhaps not), trust in the press has fallen steadily since the Sullivan ruling freed media organizations from previously existing legal accountability.”
This was a point that the lawyer Gregory J. Sullivan dilated on in Jonah’s magazine, National Review, on the 50th anniversary of the decision in 2014. Although the press celebrated the anniversary as a triumph for free speech, Sullivan wrote, for “those committed to the text and history of the Constitution, and a judiciary tethered to them, there is nothing at all to celebrate.”
Even by the imperial-judiciary standards of the Warren Court, this case stands out as something of a classic effusion in that Court’s project of remaking American society to conform with its far-Left preferences. There is no question that the case is a watershed: Before New York Times v. Sullivan, the first amendment protected a free press that was responsible in law for its errors; after and because of this case, the press has anything-goes immunity from almost any mistakes, no matter how damaging. As a policy matter, this may or may not be a prudent development. Constitutionally, the decision is an infamous failure and a disgrace to the judicial role.
When one surveys the extraordinarily vituperative, monolithic, and unfair coverage under which the president and anyone associated him struggle it is easy to see why he castigates “fake news” and thinks about revisiting decisions like New York Times v. Sullivan. Far from being an assault on the First Amendment, I’d say it was an effort to protect it by limiting its abuse.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Today's Tune: Whiskey Myers - Broken Window Serenade (Live acoustic)


Conservatism’s star philosopher traces our intellectual heritage.

January 4, 2019

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Roger Scruton, Wiltshire, England, November 2011

The English love to hate their intellectuals. W. H. Auden captured it in clever doggerel: “To the man-in-the-street, who, I’m sorry to say, Is a keen observer of life, The word ‘Intellectual’ suggests right away, A man who’s untrue to his wife.” If we gloried in our cerebral caste, as do the French, Sir Roger Scruton would be a celebrity, with British television networks washing his feet with champagne.
I first stumbled on a Lilliputian book by this Brobdingnagian philosopher when I was Artistic Director at Liverpool Cathedral. I was nonplussed by the Cathedral’s devotion to tasteless tat masquerading as empyrean art. To my relief, the deplorables working in the Cathedral detested the parading of this sanctified kitsch. They mocked the neon sign lit in prostitute purple just above the West door calling it a billboard for a brothel.
The sign was the creation of Tracey Emin, England’s shock-jock artist, who sold her unmade bed at Christie’s for £2.54 million. Its message was steamily suggestive: “I felt you and knew that you loved me.” Cathedral Dean Justin Welby, now Archbishop of Canterbury, was in awe of Emin and refused to consign the purple anamorphosis to the trashcan of history.  
A student at Liverpool Hope University, where I taught halftime, saved me from the hokum Welby & Co were using to defend the gargoylish monstrosities. She gave me Scruton’s book on Beauty. Like Samson with the jawbone of an ass, Scruton’s arguments felled Welby’s Philistine aesthetics to the ground.
Scruton has recently responded to Philistines who accuse conservatism of intellectual vacuity. In his book Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition, Scruton argues that conservatism’s best-kept secret lies in a vigorous intellectual genealogy that conserves the best of the past but adapts itself to the challenges of each new age.
Scruton’s genius lies in identifying the unique contribution each intellectual giant has made to the ever-flowing stream of conservatism and showing how this input has emerged in response to a particular zeitgeist.
Conservatism emerges at the Enlightenment in defiance of liberal individualism, but it goes back to Aristotle, observes Scruton. Why? Well, it takes seriously aspects of the human condition that are universal. Further, conservatism reforms itself in order to conserve.
Enlightened reason isn’t enough. There is a need to balance the ‘we’ of social membership against the ‘I’ of individual ambition. Classical liberalism pits individual liberty against the power of the sovereign; socialism flattens individual liberty with its steamroller of equality. In these twin political ponds, modern conservatism begins in Britain and France as “a qualification of liberal individualism,” writes Scruton.
That’s why conservatives and classical liberals share a symbiotic spirit in today’s Left-dominated stratosphere and make common cause against Leftist hegemony. Scruton’s pre-history of conservatism takes the reader on a whistle-stop tour from Aristotle to Aquinas, Marx to Montesquieu and Hooker to Hobbes, pausing to explore the roots of Britain’s Tory party.
Both liberals and conservatives uphold individual liberty. Liberals see “political order as issuing from individual liberty;” conservatives see “individual liberty as issuing from political order.” For liberals, liberty comes first. For conservatives, order comes before liberty. “Liberty is not the foundation of social order but one of its by-products,” quips Scruton.
“Conservatism is therefore also about the limits to freedom.” This distinguishes it from liberals and libertarians. Scruton’s second chapter explores how this finds its manifestation in The Federalist Papers and the Bill of Rights in the US and Adam Smith’s justification of the free market in Britain.
But freedom and free market need an anchor in “religion and family as forms of collective wisdom.” Social capital and traditions, as the legacy of past generations is to be valued, not scorned, “because they enable a society to reproduce itself.” Moreover, “contempt for the dead leads to the disenfranchisement of the unborn,” a tragic error repeated by all subsequent revolutions.
Scruton upholds Burke’s “little platoon”—voluntary groups of family, church, teams and regiments as the heart of conservatism and the bedrock of society. This is how society organizes itself bottom-up, as against a top-down revolutionary dictatorship or faceless bureaucracy.
“Only where customs and traditions exist will the sovereignty of the individual lead to true political order rather than to anarchy; only in a community of non-contractual obligations will society have the stability and moral order that make secular government possible,” writes Scruton, as he makes a foray into German and French conservatism (and its detractors) dissecting Kant, Hegel, Rousseau, Chateaubriand, Maistre and Alexis de Tocqueville.
At this point (the end of the nineteenth century) conservatism takes on a new mission against socialism and the state. At the same time, it enters minor culture wars with a rather odd cast of intellectuals—poets Coleridge, Arnold, and Eliot; writers Ruskin and Huxley; Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli; and American academics Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom. Each, in his unique way, parachutes political conservativism into literature and academia.
The big battle at this stage is with the emerging managerial state as a juggernaut for a ‘just’ society. The word ‘liberal’ in America changes meaning. It no longer refers to championing individual sovereignty over against state supremacy, limited government, private property, market economics and free association. ‘Liberal’ becomes a swear word—meaning a ‘leftist’ who supports marginalized groups, uses the state to fight for ‘social justice’ and insists on equal distribution of wealth. “Anyone who defends the classical liberal position is likely to be regarded, now, as a conservative,” notes Scruton.
It is Austrian-born Friedrich von Hayek, a towering crusader for market choice, who castigates ‘social justice’ for its “unjust expropriation of assets gained by free agreements.” Justice, in the tradition of Aristotle, is giving to each person what is due but the weasel word ‘social’ sucks out the meaning of ‘justice’.
With President Roosevelt’s New Deal, socialism is the new cancer in American society. American sociologist James Burnham and his Suicide of the West (1964) provides conservatives with the language and vision to confront communism. Burnham correctly characterizes the ‘liberals’ as burdened by guilt over their privileges, unable to affirm the good things that encompass them, and excusing every fault in their enemies by naming some fault of their own.
Scruton’s final chapter brings us to the present where conservatism is fighting for Western civilization against political correctness and Islamic extremism and Orwell’s prophecies are rapidly coming true. Although Scruton is able to point to a miniscule number of conservative intellectuals in Britain (most of them are immigrants) it is the United States of America that is the only place where “you can confess to being a conservative without being socially ostracized,” he thinks.
Today’s conservative movement in the US owes its strength to individuals like William F. Buckley who establish journals like the National Review and define conservatism as a “political movement, in which ideas have a leading role.” Conservatives now have to fight against bulldozing Supreme Court judges who read new ‘rights’ like abortion and same-sex marriage into the Constitution rather than remaining faithful to the original intention of the Founders.
American conservatives are leading the way in rediscovering the roots of secular government in their Christian and spiritual inheritance without which it will be impossible to respond to the Islamist threat. If Islam sees God, not politics, as the ultimate source of law, then a robust response to it demands “a credible alternative to the absolutes with which the extremist conjures,” writes Scruton.
Scruton ends by looking back to the Western spiritual inheritance of Christianity, and to the two great laws of Christ, who commanded us to love God entirely and to love our neighbor as ourselves, as the only foundation of a shared national identity and the only solution to our current problems.
I honestly cannot think of a better compendium of and companion to our great tradition of conservatism. Scruton is truly making conservatism great again.
The Rev’d Dr Jules Gomes, BA, BD, MTh, PhD (Cantab) is a journalist, academic and editor of Rebel Priest(

Stuck in the Middle with Mitt

January 3, 2019
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If there’s one thing about Donald Trump all right-thinking folks can wholeheartedly celebrate, it’s the way he’s made the masks slip on so many alleged conservatives. First to go were the #NeverTrumpumpkins (no names, please!), as their magazines foundered and their reputations declined along with the quality of their shticks. Also out the door are many, if not most, of the “neocons” (Max Boot, Jennifer Rubin, et al.) who have abandoned their alliance of convenience with the post-9/11 War Department and have returned to their progressive roots.
Finally, there are the elder statesmen of the Republican Party, men much maligned by the Democrats during their active political careers—especially when running against Bill Clinton or Barack Obama for president—and then embraced as the very models of the kind of Republicans a leftist might think about voting for (sane, sober, judicious, dignified, honorable, and brimming with bipartisanship) if a leftist ever thought about voting for a Republican, which no one ever has.
Not coincidentally, these judgments generally are delivered after the demise of the Republican in question (John McCain, George H.W. Bush); in life, of course, they were vilified as sadistic plutocrats who happily caused the deaths of millions of women, children, minorities, and other living things, while marveling in privileged wonder at checkout scanners and having putative affairs with lobbyists not their wives.  
Failing death, the next best path to rehabilitation and redemption is to take a shot at the man who accomplished what you failed to do twice—win the White House. And that is the path that the ineffable, “severely conservative” Willard Mitt Romney has chosen as he takes his Senate seat from Michigan MassachusettsNew Hampshire California Utah this week.
You remember Mitt: the man who a) courageously decided not to run for re-election as governor of Massachusetts because he knew he would lose, b) lost the GOP nomination in 2008 to the left-for-dead candidate John McCain, and c) lost the 2012 election to Obama after winning the first debate and refusing to challenge the obvious electoral hinkiness in Ohio that still has Karl Rove scratching his head.
In an op-ed in the Washington Post, the recrudescent Romney blasted the man he once begged to nominate him for secretary of state as he publicly announced his candidacy for the office of the Media’s Shadow President. That unpleasantness about the dog on the roof, or bullying the gay kid in prep school? All forgotten now!
It is well known that Donald Trump was not my choice for the Republican presidential nomination. After he became the nominee, I hoped his campaign would refrain from resentment and name-calling. It did not. When he won the election, I hoped he would rise to the occasion. His early appointments of Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Nikki Haley, Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster, Kelly and Mattis were encouraging. But, on balance, his conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions last month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office. 

That’s Mitt front and center, holding the mantle of his office. And this from the guy who wanted Trump to give him a job in order to (as Bill Clinton famously said) “maintain [his] political viability within the system.” Mitt’s willingness to cozy up to Trump even had some completely disinterested reporters fretting: “The statesmanlike version of Mitt Romney has left the building, and the self-proclaimed ‘severely conservative’ one has returned,” wrote Karen Tumulty in the Washington Post last March after Mitt took a “harsh” line on illegal immigration.

But once rebuffed, Mitt pivoted, ran for the U.S. Senate, won, and now stands ready to inherit the mantle of Bob Corker and Jeff Flake as the only living Republicans the media will quote with approval. That both of their political careers ended thanks to their opposition to Trump doesn’t seem to have occurred to him.
Romney peppers his piece with his own policy positions (as if they mattered), offering us a window into how he sees the world. Unsurprisingly, it’s a place of comity and stability, ruled over simultaneously by the spirits of the gracious Bush I and the bellicose McCain: an interventionist fist in a velvet glove. He cites Lincoln’s appeal to the better angels of our nature, offers a high-minded interpretation of foreign policy that would have appealed equally to Jimmy Carter and Bush II, but says we must evidence “leadership” by confronting Russia and China lest we suffer “less prosperity, less freedom, less peace.” And to that end, says Romney, leadership begins at home:
To reassume our leadership in world politics, we must repair failings in our politics at home. That project begins, of course, with the highest office once again acting to inspire and unite us. It includes political parties promoting policies that strengthen us rather than promote tribalism by exploiting fear and resentment. Our leaders must defend our vital institutions despite their inevitable failings: a free press, the rule of law, strong churches, and responsible corporations and unions.
The bien-pensant boilerplate is strong in this one, as is the hypocrisy of a guy whose vulture capitalist firm strip-mined corporations, sold them off for parts, fired their workers, and told us it was for the good of the shareholders while Romney and his colleagues grew rich.
But now that Mitt’s mask has slipped, the good news is, it’s gone for good. No doubt he harbors thoughts of challenging Trump for the nomination in 2020—although he denies it—and God knows, there are exiled GOP political consultants and “strategists” across the country more than willing to encourage him for the price of their media buys. But if Mitt runs, he’ll run as a 1990s Democrat—nationalized health care and all—not only in opposition to the ogre Trump but against the Bernie Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez Democrats as well. And what a campaign that will be. I can hear the campaign song now:
Clowns to the left of us, jokers to the right, here we are, stuck in the middle with Mitt.

Perhaps “Won’t Get Fooled Again” might be an even better choice. But then, fooling people has always been what Willard’s about, and he’s got the masks to prove it.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Tightening Sharia Screws

The clampdown on free speech intensifies.

January 3, 2019
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It started out with an isolated case here and there. In 2005, Oriana Fallaci was put on trial in Italy for her anti-Islam bookThe Force of Reason. In 2010 and again in 2011, politician Geert Wilders was tried in the Netherlands for publicly criticizing Islam. In 2011, the Danish Lars Hedegaard was found guilty by a Danish court of hate speech for having, in the privacy of his own home, made reference to the frequency of incest rape in Muslim communities. (The verdict was later reversed by the Danish Supreme Court.) Also in 2011, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff was tried and fined in Austria for having stated, truthfully, that the Prophet Muhammed was a pedophile. The verdict was upheld by two higher Austrian courts and, this year, by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).   
In the years since those notorious prosecutions were initiated, the net has spread ever wider, and such cases have become routine aspects of Western European life. In 2017 alone, about 77 people, most of them “middle aged and elderly ladies,” were convicted in Sweden of “inciting hate.” Also in 2017, two Norwegian parliamentarians, one of them belonging to the Conservative Party and the other to the Progress Party (which gained power by promising to fight such things) introduced a website at which citizens can, with a couple of keystrokes, report “hate speech” to the police. In Britain, too, members of the public are being urged to report “offensive or insulting comments” to the police, and increasing numbers of otherwise law-abiding British subjects are being imprisoned for, as Reason's Brendan O'Neill put it, “making racist comments or just cracking tasteless jokes on Twitter.”  
You might deduce from all this that Western European governments are already doing a bang-up job of suppressing freedom of speech. But the United Nations doesn’t seem to think so. At a December 6 meeting in Geneva of the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Keiko Ko, the committee’s Rapporteur for Norway, chargedthat the Norwegian government had not yet done enough to “prevent hate speech” directed at refugees and migrants, to ban so-called “racist organizations,” and to prosecute persons guilty of “racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia.” In response, a Norwegian official attending the meeting assured Ko of Norway’s determination to punish “hate speech” and to develop new ways for the police to “engage those spreading hatred.” Another Norwegian delegate affirmed that “[t]he prosecution of hate crimes, including hate utterances, was a priority in Norway.”
Members of the committee, however, complained that Norway’s sentencing for such crimes was too lax. One offender, it was noted, spent only 16 days behind bars; another was given a suspended sentenced and charged a fine. The committee was especially concerned to know whether Norwegian courts were doing enough to address “high-profile cases of hate speech.” (It’s important, you see, to go after big fish – people like Fallaci and Wilders – because the more damage you can do to them, the more you can scare other potential purveyors of “hate speech” into silence.) Yet another concern was that the Norwegian government’s war on “hate speech” is being waged less vigorously in some parts of the country than in others. While the Oslo police are apparently doing a good job of tracking down, arresting, and charging perpetrators within their jurisdiction, cops elsewhere – notably in Norway’s second-largest city, Bergen – are achieving less impressive results.
In a December 28 article, the Communist newspaper Klassekampen quoted Grunde Almeland, a a member of the Norwegian Parliament, as calling for tougher “hate speech” laws. Among other things, Almeland said that “hate crime groups” of the sort that already exist in Oslo should be established around the country. He also found the disparity in enforcement between Oslo and Bergen worrying. “You should be able to feel equally safe, whether you are trans, gay, or Muslim in Oslo and in Bergen,” he said.
Needless to say, none of this mischief on the part of governments and of international organizations like the UN is really about the harassment of gays or transsexuals. Yes, discussions of “hate speech” routinely contain pro formareferences to homophobia, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and “ableism.” But there can be no doubt as to why, at this point in European history, supposedly free countries are cracking down with increasing ruthlessness on freedom of speech. The show trials of such prominent Islam critics as Fallaci and Wilders make it obvious what this is all about.
One recent article issued by the news agency NTB actually admitted as much. While the Equality and Discrimination Ombudsman (LDO), the official Norwegian agency tasked with fighting bigotry, does handle cases of “hate speech” against Jews, gypsies, and Samis, the LDO, reported NTB, “is especially concerned about skepticism and hatred toward Muslims.” And of course, as the cases of Hedegaard and Sabaditsch-Wolff demonstrate, “hatred toward Muslims” in Western Europe today includes any criticism whatsoever of Islamic ideology, law, or culture, even when the object of that criticism is something – such as forced marriage or incest rape – that would otherwise be considered anathema by Western values and illegal under Western law.
Indeed, while publicly criticizing Muslim child marriage may well land you in prison nowadays in many Western European countries, actually practicing child marriage is now permissible in at least one of those countries – namely, Germany, where, in December, the Federal Supreme Court ruled that any such union, if entered into in a nation where sharia law applies, should be considered legitimate when the happy pair relocates to Berlin or Hamburg. Not very many years ago, such a morally backwards state of affairs – child marriages O.K., criticizing them a crime – would have been unthinkable. Now it's the law in Germany and will probably soon be the law elsewhere in Western Europe.
In the same way, before too long, Britain's neighbors will likely have copied its cowardly visa policies, whereby civilized critics of Islam (such as Robert Spencer) and Christians like Asia Bibi (who risks being murdered in her native Pakistan) are explicitly banned while promoters of ISIS, defenders of the Salman Rushdie fatwa, and imams who preach the slaughter of apostates are routinely admitted.
The direction in which these matters are developing is clear as day, and the speed with which things are going from bad to worse is unsettling. As we enter 2019, let us hope that in this new year the popular resistance to all this illiberal establishment knavery – a resistance represented by brave men and woman like Wilders and Anne-Marie Waters, by the Tommy Robinson protesters in Britain and by many, if not all, of the gilets jaunes in France – finally comes into its own. Because if it doesn’t, it will soon be too late to recover Western European liberty. 

Trust In The Church

December 29, 2018

Pope Francis greets Cardinal Blase Cupich at the Vatican in October (CNS/Vatican Media)

The fact that Pope Francis made Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich one of the four organizers was a tipoff that this is more likely to be window dressing than anything substantive. I could be wrong.A Catholic friend asks me what expectations I have for the big Vatican meeting in February about the sex abuse scandal. The answer? None.
Why does Cupich’s involvement send such a bad signal? For a couple of related reasons.
The Diocese of Spokane said Thursday it was unacceptable that Jesuit priests credibly accused of sexual abuse were unsupervised on the campus of Gonzaga University. While Spokane’s current bishop had no knowledge the priests had been living at the university, the diocese said its prior bishop was informed of their presence in 2011.
“The Diocese of Spokane shares the concern of those who are angry and saddened to learn that the Oregon Province of Jesuits — now part of the Jesuits West Province — placed Jesuits credibly accused of sexual abuse at the Cardinal Bea House on Gonzaga University’s campus without informing the Gonzaga community,” a Dec. 20 statement from the diocese read.
In June 2011, “the Jesuit provincial, Father Patrick Lee, informed then-Bishop Blase Cupich that seven priests with safety plans in place were living at Bea House,” the diocesan statement added. [Emphasis mine — RD]
“Bishop Thomas Daly — who was installed in 2015 — was not informed by the Jesuits or Gonzaga University that these men were living at Cardinal Bea House.”
The house is a residence owned by the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus and not overseen by the university. The credibly accused priests living there were reportedly subject to “safety plans” that forbade them from engaging with students.
According to the media reports, at least some credibly accused priests had regular unsupervised access to the university campus and unsupervised visits with students and were permitted to lead prayer services in other settings, including on Native-American reservations.
Cupich was bishop of Spokane from 2010 through 2014, when he was named by Pope Francis to be cardinal archbishop of Chicago. Why was he protecting those Jesuits, and not the safety of the Gonzaga community? You want to know how bad these Jesuits were (the last accused abuser was moved out of the house in 2016)? From the Spokane Spokesman-Review:
The Rev. James Poole seemed like the cool priest in Nome, Alaska. He founded a Catholic mission radio station that broadcast his Jesuit sermons alongside contemporary pop hits. A 1978 story in People magazine called Poole “Western Alaska’s Hippest DJ. Comin’ at Ya with Rock’n’Roll ’n’ Religion.”
Behind the radio station’s closed doors, Poole was a serial sexual predator. He abused at least 20 women and girls, according to court documents. At least one was 6 years old. One Alaska Native woman says he impregnated her when she was 16, then forced her to get an abortion and blamed her father for raping her. Her father went to prison.
Like many other Catholic priests around the country, Poole’s conduct with young girls was well-known to his superiors. A Jesuit supervisor once warned a church official that Poole “has a fixation on sex; an obsession; some sort of mental aberration that makes him see sex everywhere.”
But the last chapter in his story reveals a twist in the Catholic abuse scandal: Poole was sent to live out his retirement years on Gonzaga University’s campus in Spokane.
For more than three decades, Cardinal Bea House near Gonzaga’s campus served as a retirement repository for at least 20 Jesuit priests accused of sexual misconduct that predominantly took place in small, isolated Alaska Native villages and on Indian reservations across the Northwest, an investigation by the Northwest News Network and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting has found.
Read the whole story. These alleged abusers had free rein of the Gonzaga campus. Bishop Cupich knew about them.
This wasn’t in 2002 or before; this was seven years ago. People are supposed to believe that now-Cardinal Cupich can be trusted to clean up this mess? Really? Of all the cardinals Francis could have chosen to help organize this meeting, he made Cupich one of the four?
The other reason I have zero expectations for the February meeting is this new piece by Ed Condon at Catholic News Agency, about how the Archdiocese of New York deceived another diocese about the status of a priest. Excerpts:
The Archdiocese of New York told a California college this month that a local priest had never been accused of sexual abuse, even while the priest was being investigated by the archdiocese for several abuse charges. An administrator at the college called the letter “a lie,” and said she can no longer trust assurances from the archdiocese.
On Dec. 4, the New York archdiocese issued a letter stating “without qualification” that Fr. Donald Timone had “never been accused of any act of sexual abuse or misconduct involving a minor.”
In fact the archdiocese first received in 2003 an allegation that the priest had sexually abused minors, and it reached settlements with alleged victims in 2017.
The archdiocesan letter was received Dec. 13 by John Paul the Great University in Escondido, California, where Timone served. According to the university, the letter was not rescinded until after university officials contacted the Archdiocese of New York, following a Dec. 20 New York Times report on the history of allegations against Timone.
In 2017, the Archdiocese paid settlements in the cases of two boys it concluded that Father Timone had abused — one of whom committed suicide! According to a December 20 report in the NYT:
“I have been unsuccessful at this thing called life,” he wrote in his suicide note to his wife on Jan. 8, 2015. “I need to go home to Jesus, if He’ll have me.”
Why was Timone still in ministry? More:
The New York archdiocese is essentially allowing Father Timone to continue serving as a priest because of a bureaucratic technicality — a position that seems to fly in the face of the pledge by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of the New York Archdiocese, to aggressively handle sexual abuse accusations.
The archdiocese maintains that Father Timone has been allowed to remain because the church itself did not rule on his fitness; that judgment was made by a separate, church-sponsored panel, the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.
The settlements were paid in 2017 through that program, which Cardinal Dolan established the previous year to provide closure and a measure of justice to victims of sexual abuse by priests.
Please read the entire Times report. And notice this part of the f0llow-up CNA story:
[University official Lidy] Connolly told CNA that John Paul the Great University had received letters attesting to Timone’s suitability for more than a decade. She expressed shock and outrage on behalf of the university.
“I’d defend the Church come hell or high water,” Connolly told CNA, “but there is no defending this – the [Dec. 4] letter is a lie.”
Connolly said she contacted the Archdiocese of New York after reading media reports about Timone, to ask why he had been given a clean bill of health.
“They totally evaded my questions,” Connolly told CNA.
Ed Condon, the CNA correspondent, is also a canon lawyer. He explains one reason this matters so much:
Sadly, this is a very BIG deal. Letters of suitability are almost the only way priests can demonstrate their fitness and clean record. If they are meaningless, it affects every single priest, everywhere. 
Why on earth was Cardinal Dolan protecting Father Timone? Why take the risk? Why destroy the archdiocese’s credibility with other dioceses for the sake of this guy? Did he have something on somebody in the archdiocesan bureaucracy? There has to be a reason.
On September 13, Cardinal Dolan said on CNN:  “If I don’t have the trust of my people, I have nothing.”
True, so riddle me this: Why should anybody should believe a thing that Cardinal Dolan and the Archdiocese of New York has to say about clergy sex abuse, given that the Archdiocese has now been caught lying to another diocese about an abusive priest?
For that matter, why anybody should believe a thing Cardinal Cupich has to say about it? Why should anybody expect that the Roman Catholic hierarchy can now, at last, be trusted to fix this at a February meeting called by a pontiff whose idea of dealing with specific, damning accusations about Church corruption, particularly in the Cardinal McCarrick case, is to repeatedly insinuate that the retired papal diplomat making the accusations is a servant of the Devil?
You will recall that Archbishop Vigano, the retired diplomat, said that Cardinal Cupich’s rise in the Church is because he was a favorite of McCarrick’s, and McCarrick boosted him to Francis. You will also recall that in response to the Vigano bombshell, Cupich told the media that the pope will not be distracted by such silliness, because he has bigger things to worry about, like immigration and climate change.
If the February conference is intended as an exercise in damage control, the Cupich appointment makes sense. If the conference is intended to prompt reform, the appointment makes no sense at all. So I conclude that this meeting—which one scarred veteran of the Vatican battles has described as the “last chance” for Vatican credibility—will produce nothing more than “enthusiastic words” about the fight against sexual abuse.
Lawler explains why he thinks the Cupich appointment by Francis was in part to make sure that the world’s bishops do not talk about either McCarrick or the homosexual aspect of the scandal. And then:
Cardinal Cupich knows the Pope’s thinking. And Pope Francis knows full well what Cardinal Cupich will contribute to the task of organizing the February meeting. The sex-abuse scandal as seen through American eyes—the scandal that includes McCarrick and homosexual influence and Vatican complicity—is “not on the Pope’s plate to fix.” Look for more headlines on this issue in February, but do not expect any substantial movement. Help is not on the way.
One more thing, for those interested in Church history and ecclesiology. Princeton’s Bronwen McShea, writing in First Things, explains how changes in Church governance in the late modern era concentrated even more power in the hands of an unaccountable episcopate.  In the deeply informative piece, McShea writes that the evolution in the Church’s governing structure since the 19th century has made it “almost impossible for concerned laypersons and rank-and-file clergy­men to hold Church leaders to account for wounds they inflict on the Church’s body.” More:
In our so-called Age of the Laity, many laypersons—Mass-going stalwarts who volunteer time and resources; parents of boys who might become priests; even prominent lawyers, businessmen, intellectuals, and media professionals with connections in the hierarchy—are powerless before churchmen’s stonewalling, tone-deafness, and worse. Efforts toward accountability face jurisdictional and canonical hurdles to their timely realization. And in the rare instances when barriers can be overcome, many faithful men and women scrupulously hesitate to act, because they have been formed by the Church of the last century to view popes and bishops alone as the divinely ordained authorities over the Christian people’s corporate existence.
She calls on fellow Catholics not to confuse”filial deference to bishops and popes with uncritical, docile acceptance of all the forms of power the hierarchy currently wields.
Some of these powers are new in the history of the Church and are concentrated by happenstance in the hands of the hierarchy, due to the historical conditions of the Church’s self-preserving self-extrication from modern political regimes. …
Today, the safety and well-being of the Christian people’s children and young clergymen are in question. Laypersons may be called at this hour to assert their traditional rights within the Church as a whole, in order to secure the common good of our spiritual communion. We will need to pursue that duty in ­creative ways suited to present-day conditions. And we should anticipate—with the sober realism that the Church’s messy history engenders—that more than one exalted churchman will oppose worthy reforms with this or that implement from his modern stockpile of ecclesial power.
Who knows, maybe there will be a Roman miracle in February. But if not, and if the meeting concludes with the same old toothless bureaucratic assurances, the Catholic laity are going to be faced with a series of painful decisions. In order to save their Church, they are going to have to fight their bishops. This is going to be especially hard for the orthodox Catholic laity, because they are, by temperament and custom, used to defending the institution and its leadership. But these men are piloting the Barque of Peter into a whirlpool. They can’t change the system because they are products of the system.