Sunday, December 17, 2017

"Yesterday all the past...."

Ezra Klein is terribly concerned that there are people who don't think as he does:

Parties were traditionally bulwarks against demagogues rising in American politics — they were controlled by gatekeepers who acted as checks against charismatic demagogues. Trump would never have made it through the convention horse-trading that used to drive nominations; Moore would never have survived a process that required support from party officials.

But in recent decades, we have slowly destroyed the ability of party officials to drive party primaries. What’s more, we have come to see party officials exercising influence as fundamentally illegitimate. Most Alabama Republicans said Mitch McConnell’s opposition to Moore made them like him better.

And now, once a candidate, even a controversial candidate, wins their primary, partisanship takes over, and they consolidate their base, and they can win. Partisanship is so powerful that it will even lead us to dismiss information we dislike, to live in a world of our own imagining so long as we don’t have to support a candidate of the other party.

So is Karen Park:

According to the laws of the state of Alabama, Moore lost the election Tuesday night, and whether or not he eventually demands a recount, he is likely to remain the loser. But his theocratic mindset has not been vanquished, and is shared by far too many American Christians whose idea of government resembles John Winthop’s disdain for democracy far more than it does the flawed idealism of the Founding Fathers.
I can find lots of examples of articles terrified by the people who voted for Roy Moore in Alabama.  Valerie Taricot blames it all on the Bible,with an argument that might as well come from Stephen Pinker:

I’ve said before that the alleged behavior of Alabama Senate Candidate Roy “10 Commandments” Moore toward teenage girls was perfectly biblical. I’ll stand by that, citing chapter and verse.  (Other Christians or former Christians have made similar observations.) The Bible is a mishmash of texts that were written and assembled over the course of several hundred years by men with varied objectives. All manner of behavior and misbehavior can be and has been justified from the contradictory stories and commandments between its covers. Men like Roy Moore who think they speak for God, who think their end justifies any means, play this to their own advantage.

Fortunately, most Christians are better than that. Where the Bible contradicts itself or endorses archaic cruelties or tribal thinking, their own conscience guides them toward something higher. Since the Iron Age, when most of the Bible texts were written, humanity has gotten clearer about kindness and justice and how people in power should behave toward those who are less powerful. We have evolved a more expansive view of who deserves to be treated according to the Golden Rule.

The conclusion is:  we are supposed to afraid of these people who don't think like we do.  We are supposed to be afraid, because our institutions have not saved us, may yet fail us.  Which is precisely the argument Roy Moore has been making, even after he lost the election:

“We are indeed in a struggle to preserve our republic, our civilization, and our religion, and to set free a suffering humanity. And the battle rages on,” Moore says in the video. “In this race, we have not received the final count to include military and provisional ballots. This has been a very close race – and we are awaiting certification by the secretary of state.”

“Immorality sweeps over our land. Even our political process has been affected with baseless and false allegations, which have become more relevant than the true issues which affect our country,” Moore says in the video. “This election was tainted by over $50 million from outside groups who want to retain power in their own corrupt ideology.”

Not quite the language of Klein, Park, or Taricot; but certainly the intent.  And if you think I'm missing something, this is the conclusion to Klein's argument:

This is the bug in the American political system, the security flaw in our software. It is why Moore almost won tonight. It is why Trump won in 2016. And we still don’t have an answer for it. We can’t trust that all unfit demagogues will turn out to be predators.
No, we can't.  This is the flaw in self-governance.  Just as, to address Taricot's point, it is the flaw in Biblical interpretation.  I don't read the Bible the way Roy Moore does, but neither do I read it the way Valerie Taricot does, and contrary to Taricot and Klein, that ability to accept varying interpretations I disagree with (in politics or exegesis) is not a sign that I must insist the "system" be saved from Roy Moore or his version of the Bible.  It's a sign we need more voices in the conversation; precisely the answer of the Bible to the question: "Who gets to speak for the living God?"  As many voices as possible, is the short answer.  I can't silence the Roy Moores of the world; but I can join others and overwhelm their voices.

Women were silenced out of the Scriptures, but their voices are still there.  The prophets spoke to kings, but were also "dressers of sycamore trees, and spoke for the widow and the orphan.  There are so many voices in the Scriptures it is practically a cacophony, but they have survived countless systems which have failed.  The solution is not "once voice for all, and that one the RIGHT voice."  The solution is to keep talking, and to keep listening.  If there is a problem with Roy Moore, it's that he doesn't want to listen; he only wants to talk.  He wants to be the only voice talking.

The system will not save us from ourselves, and eventually we will dance too closely to the edge and fall into the abyss.  There is, interestingly, Biblical warrant for this:  it's the record of the Babylonian Exile in that "mishmash of texts that were written and assembled over the course of several hundred years by men with varied objectives."  That very reality is the strength, not the weakness, of the Biblical witness.  And it is the strength, not the weakness, of Democracy; unless you agree with the quote from John Winthrop Karen Park starts her article with:

If we should change from a mixed aristocracy to mere democracy, first we should have no warrant in scripture for it: for there was no such government in Israel … A democracy is, amongst civil nations, accounted the meanest and worst of all forms of government.  [To allow it would be] a manifest breach of the 5th Commandment.” – John Winthrop, first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
It's a fine sentiment, if you want to be sure you remain in control.  And that issue of control includes ignoring the issue of race, as well as ignoring who Christians actually are:

The takeaway from Moore’s loss, [Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute] says, is not that there’s a shift in evangelicals’ attitudes, but that the wider evangelical umbrella — comprising black, Latino, and white evangelicals — is increasingly fragmented. After all, he points out, Alabama is a “unique” state, in which at least 80 percent of Democrats and Republicans alike identify as Christian. “So what mattered really was which Christians came to the polls, not whether they would.”

He is critical of the Moore campaign’s narrative that "here is candidate Moore standing up for God and Christian principles against the other candidate who doesn’t.” Doug Jones is in fact a Methodist — a branch of mainline Protestantism. He was, in other words, propelled to victory by Christians, including many evangelicals. Just not white ones.

“What we have on display is this very vivid picture of how far apart black and white Christians are,” Robert Jones said. And he doesn’t see that changing anytime soon. Before Trump’s election, he says, the evangelical community had been very focused on racial reconciliation, with major evangelical leaders — like the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore — performing outreach across color lines. But, Jones said, "Trump has been a polarizing force between white and black Christians,” just like among white and black Americans in general. He added, “You see it in the data. You see it among leaders. And those divisions promise to get worse.”

And yes, this is about demographics, and about race:

Likewise, while seven in 10 seniors identify as white Christians, that demographic flips to just three in 10 for young adults. Demographic shifting, in other words, means that while white evangelicals might still vote for candidates like Moore, there will be fewer and fewer of them to vote.

Funny nobody is talking about this beyond what black women did for Democrats; and yes, that's an insulting talking point.  Then again, it's not about race, because it's never about race, unless it helps us out transactionally to notice race.  The truth is, this is America:  it's always about race.  And the truth is, the past really isn't over, and it really isn't even past.

And God?  She's black


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  2. I wonder what the religious identity those Black Women who voted for Jones is, not to mention the Black Men, Latinos, White People, Asians, etc. My guess is that most of them would self-identify as Christians, especially considering how the get-out-the-Jones-vote effort had major participation of Black Churches. I'm always so interested in how the religion of Black People fails to figure into such pieces. Latinos sometimes are mentioned but only when they want to mention the voting of White Catholics and tut-tut over how many of them vote Republican.

    They never seem to realize how often the margin separating two sides of the same group are what Democrats need to change to win elections and it's going to be a lot easier to reverse those than it will be to convince Christians to be atheists. But I'm not convinced most atheists really are in it for gaining office and changing laws for the better and improving lives. Used to be, but not since Harris's first book was on the bestsellers list.

  3. On Twitter, a black women's group pointed out that they did not advocate and vote for Doug Jones to help Democrats, white men and women, or other men and women of color. Nor did they vote for him because they loved all his policies. They voted for him to protect their communities from the likes of Roy Moore.