How to handle insults with grace

This first appeared on NBC-TV’s “Saturday Night Live”:

Rather than dwell on the social media storm of reaction, this ran one week later:

Crenshaw then wrote in the Washington Post:

The past couple of weeks have been unusual for me, to say the least. After a year of hard campaigning for Congress in Texas and gradually entering the public sphere, I was hit by a sudden, blinding spotlight. But I have no complaints — it wasn’t as bad as some other challenges I’ve faced, like a sudden, blinding IED explosion. (See what I did there? “Saturday Night Live” has created a comedic monster.)

On the Nov. 3 show, SNL’s Pete Davidson mocked my appearance — “he lost his eye in war . . . or whatever,” Davidson said, referring to the eye patch I wear. His line about my looking like a “hit man in a porno movie” was significantly less infuriating, albeit a little strange. I woke up on the Sunday morning after the show to hundreds of texts about what Davidson had said. A lot of America wasn’t happy. People thought some lines still shouldn’t be crossed.

I agreed. But I also could not help but note that this was another chapter in a phenomenon that has taken complete control of the national discourse: outrage culture. It seems like every not-so-carefully-worded public misstep must be punished to the fullest extent, replete with soapbox lectures and demands for apologies. Anyone who doesn’t show the expected level of outrage will be labeled a coward or an apologist for bad behavior. I get the feeling that regular, hard-working, generally unoffended Americans sigh with exhaustion — daily.

Was I really outraged by SNL? Really offended? Or did I just think the comment about losing my eye was offensive? There is a difference, after all. I have been literally shot at before, and I wasn’t outraged. Why start now?

So I didn’t demand an apology and I didn’t call for anyone to be fired. That doesn’t mean the “war . . . or whatever” line was acceptable, but I didn’t have to fan the flames of outrage, either. When SNL reached out with an apology and an offer to be on the show, I wasn’t fully sold on the idea. It was going to be Veterans Day weekend, after all, and I had events with veterans planned. I asked if another weekend might work. No, they said, precisely because it was Veterans Day, it would be the right time to send the right message. They assured me that we could use the opportunity to send a message of unity, forgiveness and appreciation for veterans. And to make fun of Pete Davidson, of course.

And that’s what we did. I was happy with how it worked out. But now what? Does it suddenly mean that the left and right will get along and live in utopian harmony? Maybe Saturday’s show made a tiny step in that direction, but I’m not naive. As a country, we still have a lot of work to do. We need to agree on some basic rules for civil discourse.

There are many ideas that we will never agree on. The left and the right have different ways of approaching governance, based on contrasting philosophies. But many of the ultimate goals — economic prosperity, better health care and education, etc. — are the same. We just don’t share the same vision of how to achieve them.

How, then, do we live together in this world of differing ideas? For starters, let’s agree that the ideas are fair game. If you think my idea is awful, you should say as much. But there is a difference between attacking an idea and attacking the person behind that idea. Labeling someone as an “-ist” who believes in an “-ism” because of the person’s policy preference is just a shortcut to playground-style name-calling, cloaked in political terminology. It’s also generally a good indication that the attacker doesn’t have a solid argument and needs a way to end debate before it has even begun.

Similarly, people too often attack not just an idea but also the supposed intent behind an idea. That raises the emotional level of the debate and might seem like it strengthens the attacker’s side, but it’s a terrible way to make a point. Assuming the worst about your opponents’ intentions has the effect of demonizing their ideas, removing the need for sound counter-reasoning and fact-based argument. That’s not a good environment for the exchange of ideas.

When all else fails, try asking for forgiveness, or granting it. On Saturday, Pete Davidson and SNL made amends. I had some fun. Everyone generally agreed that a veteran’s wounds aren’t fair game for comedy. Maybe now we should all try to work toward restoring civility to public debate.

The Post adds:

Dan Crenshaw’s good eye is good enough, but it’s not great. The iris is broken. The retina is scarred. He needs a special oversized contact lens, and bifocals sometimes, to correct his vision. Six years after getting blown up, he can still see a bit of debris floating in his cornea. His bad eye? Well, his bad eye is gone. Under his eye patch is a false eye that is deep blue. At the center of it, where a pupil should be, is the gold trident symbol of the Navy SEALs. It makes Dan Crenshaw look like a Guardian of the Galaxy.

But he can’t catch a baseball very well anymore. He misses plenty of handshakes; his arm shortchanges the reach, his palm fumbles the grip. He has trouble with dumb little tasks — he needs to touch a pitcher to a cup to properly pour a glass of water, for example. But nothing major. Nothing that would prevent him from coming out of nowhere, unknown and underfunded, to vanquish seven opponents in a Republican primary, then squash a state legislator in a runoff, and then on Tuesday, at age 34, win his first-ever general election to represent his native Houston area in Congress.

He’ll join a freshman class with two dozen other newly elected House members who are under 40 and, at least, 15 who are veterans. Yet, Crenshaw seems poised to stand out. His potent life story, his striking presence and his military and Ivy League credentials have set him up as a rising star for a Republican Party in bad need of one, after losing what could turn out to be three dozen seats once the dust settles.

Thirty-six hours after his election-night triumph, Crenshaw still hadn’t caught up on sleep. There was some stale cake sitting in his campaign office, and he was juggling phone calls and a haircut he was going to be late for. He just left a luncheon with business leaders and was due early the next morning for a veterans ceremony. In two days, he would make a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” before heading to Capitol Hill for a two-week orientation.

A whirlwind to everyone else, it seemed, but not him.

“It’s life,” Crenshaw said, sitting at a conference table in his Houston office last week. “It’s not a challenge.” He was the picture of calm. The eye patch was off. The gold trident sparkled. Behind him was a large framed photo of Ronald Reagan. Ahead of him was the next mission. ..

Crenshaw’s father’s career in the oil and gas industry took the family to Ecuador and Colombia, where Crenshaw went to high school and learned Spanish. Captivated as a child by the SEAL memoir “Rogue Warrior,” he was commissioned as a naval officer in 2006 and underwent SEAL training, fracturing his tibia during its infamous “hell week” but completing the challenge on his second go-round. He deployed twice to Iraq and then, in 2012, to Afghanistan.

On June 15, 2012, when Crenshaw was 28, he and his platoon helicoptered into Helmand province on a last-minute mission to support a Marine Special Operations unit. At the time, Helmand was littered with improvised explosive devices. Bombs were so present in some areas that it was safer to crouch in place during oncoming fire — and wager on a sniper’s uncertain aim — than to dive for cover onto uncertain ground.

While Crenshaw’s platoon moved to secure a compound, an Afghan interpreter named Raqman, who wanted to become a Navy SEAL himself, responded to a call and crossed in front of Crenshaw. Raqman stepped on a pressure plate, triggering 15 pounds of explosives and suffering fatal injuries. Crenshaw, who was a couple of paces back, said he felt like he was hit by a truck while a firing squad shot at him. He was on the ground and his eyes were numb. The rest of his body screamed like it had been scratched open and doused in Tabasco. He reached down and felt his legs. Good sign. He had no vision, but assumed his eyes were just filled with dirt.

A medic friend began assessing the damage.

“Dude, don’t ever get blown up,” Crenshaw said to him. “It really sucks.”

He refused to be carried on a stretcher, because he didn’t want to expose comrades to enemy fire for no good reason. He walked to a medical evacuation, where he was put into a coma. He woke up in Germany a few days later, blind and swollen. The remains of his right eye had been surgically removed; eventually a copper wire would be pulled out of his left. Doctors said there was a chance he might see again, but, for Crenshaw, it was a certainty. Seeing again became his mission, and that sense of mission helped him endure the hallucinations, the surgeries, the weeks he had to spend — face down and sightless — while his eye healed, and the two years it took for a medical bureaucracy to get him to a place of relative comfort. He remembered how his mother, who died of cancer when he was 10, never complained during her five-year struggle with the illness. He held fast to his sense that life is about mission: You need one to live and to live productively.

Just over a year after his injury, he married his longtime girlfriend, Tara.

He deployed twice more, to Bahrain and South Korea, as troop commander of an intelligence team.

In various commendations, the Navy cited him for his “zealous initiative,” “wise judgment” and “unswerving determination.” Medically retired in 2016, Crenshaw then earned a master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School.

In 2017, he returned to Houston — for the first significant chunk of time since he was a child — to help with recovery after Hurricane Harvey.

While Crenshaw was looking for a policy job on Capitol Hill, an adviser to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) took one look at him and, before they even sat down to talk, told him to run for office. The day before, Rep. Ted Poe (R) had announced his retirement from Texas’s second district, which starts in Houston and curves around the city like a tadpole. It was kismet.

“He said he wanted to run for office one day, but wanted to get policy experience first,” said a Capitol Hill aide who ended up advising the campaign (and requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly). “I was like, ‘Have you paid attention to some of the people we have up here? You don’t need that.’ . . . And he went all in. It’s the SEAL ethos. It was amazing to watch.”

The campaign started in November 2017, four months before the Republican primary.

“I had never heard of him before he arrived. I would venture to say most people had never heard of him,” said Vlad Davidiuk, communications director for the Harris County Republican Party. “The district has changed demographically, and is no longer as solid red as it used to be. It required a candidate who was willing to campaign hard . . . What distinguished Dan Crenshaw most is his ability to engage with voters.”

Over five days in February, Crenshaw laced up his sneakers and ran 100 miles through the district, campaigning along the way. Thanks to a surge in day-of voting for the crowded primary, he sneaked into second place by 155 votes, besting an opponent who had spent millions of her personal fortune. By then, his personal story was resonating. His face was recognizable and symbolic.

Most Texas Republicans aren’t very exciting, said Mark P. Jones, a political-science professor at Rice University in Crenshaw’s district. “None of them are very compelling or appealing. They’re just sort of random old white dudes, and Dan Crenshaw was something new and different.”

He had schooled himself on border security, health care and flood-control issues — a big concern for a region still smarting from Harvey. He met with engineers to discuss infrastructure and with young Republicans to energize new voters. More than one yard in the district was adorned with both a Crenshaw sign and a “BETO” sign, in allegiance to Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat challenging Sen. Ted Cruz (whom Crenshaw outperformed by 12 percentage points in Harris County).

“He’s just tenacious,” Poe said of the man who will be his successor. “I don’t think folks are going to know what to do when he gets [to Washington], and I mean that in a good way.”

In a 2015 Facebook post flagged by one of his opponents, Crenshaw called candidate Donald Trump an idiot and referred to his rhetoric on Muslims as “insane,” according to the Texas Tribune. Three years later, Crenshaw says he supports the president’s policies, save for the trade warfare, but prefers to comport himself in a manner that is the total opposite of the commander in chief’s.

“His style is not my style,” Crenshaw says. “I’ll just say that. It’s never how I would conduct myself. But what readers of The Washington Post need to understand is that conservatives can hold multiple ideas in their head at the same time. We can be like, ‘Wow he shouldn’t have tweeted that’ and still support him . . . You can disapprove of what the president says every day, or that day, and still support his broader agenda.”

On Tuesday, he was the only true bright spot for the GOP in Harris County, where O’Rourke’s candidacy brought Democrats to the polls and flushed out Republicans down the ballot. Crenshaw won 53 percent of the vote, but reached out to the other 47 percent during his victory speech in downtown Houston.

“This life, this purpose, this American spirit that we hold dear — we are not alone,” he said, sharing the mission: “We do it together.”

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Stupid student tricks

James Wigderson:

The latest internet outrage du jour is the photo of a bunch of boys from Baraboo High School posing for a photo before prom while possibly giving the Nazi salute.

From some accounts, the students were asked by the photographer Pete Gust to give the salute in the photo and most students complied. Gust claims he told the students to wave goodbye, but supposedly understands why the photo was interpreted the way it was. At least one of the students publicly disagrees with Gust’s statement.

We’re going to use a lot of “supposedly” here because none of us were there, and none of us are mind readers. However, that hasn’t stopped the speculation on the supposed origins of the photo and the sudden supposed appearance of anti-Semitism in Baraboo.

One of the favorite targets of suspicion is the President of the United States. Esquire is the model of this. “The gap between trollism and Trumpism online is increasingly hard to distinguish, particularly among the kind of young people who joined the movement through 4chan or Reddit,” Jack Holmes wrote for the website. “But when the president speaks, the kids are listening.”

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton), who represents the area in Madison, was even more direct.

“There is no place for hatred, intolerance and racism in our society. Unfortunately, based on what these students see coming from the White House, some of them may believe what they have done is acceptable,” Erpenbach said. “It is absolutely not. Leaders, from the President on down, need to condemn racism in all its forms and work toward a world where we learn from the mistakes of history.”

However, the ready answer that Baraboo is a den of Trump-loving, Alt-Right Anti-Semites just isn’t true. The city of Baraboo voted 55 percent to 45 percent for Hillary Clinton and gave nearly 60 percent of the vote to former Sen. Russ Feingold in 2016. The city repeated that performance in 2018 by voting for Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison), Governor-elect Tony Evers (D-Madison), Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul (D-Madison), and so on.

Unless Erpenbach has been hiding his true politics from his fellow Democrats, he’s a pretty fair example of Madison-style liberalism, yet Baraboo is a bastion of support, too, for the state senator.

However, if Erpenbach is right that political leadership is responsible for the supposed behavior of the Boys from Baraboo in the photo, perhaps he should look at the supporters within the Democratic Party for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) targeting Israel, or the amount of contributions his party receives from J-Street lobbyists who promote a foreign policy hostile to Israel’s security interests. We’re looking forward to hearing the results of his phone calls to Baldwinand Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI02), who represents Baraboo in Congress, on that subject.

As for the photographer, Pete Gust, who was supposedly the responsible adult taking the photo, he was a regional director for the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), the state teachers union, hardly supporters of the Alt-Right and Trump. (By the way, how did Gust get the contract to be the photographer for the event?)

If Gust is correct that the photo was supposedly the children waving goodbye, it’s a shame that he wasn’t faster in getting that side of the story out. The children, and they are children, are already suffering the repercussions of Gust’s photo.

However, if Gust was trying to take the photo he described and some students hijacked the photo instead with the Nazi salute, he still had the obligation as the responsible adult to a) not take the photo, b) tell the students to knock it off, and c) not publish the damn photo online. And if Gust really did encourage the students to make the salute, then he’s the one responsible and will likely be the target of lawsuits, especially from the parents of students who have lost scholarships and other opportunities as a result of the photo.

There is also a lack of responsibility on the part of the media, too, which went with the story – spreading the Boys from Baraboo worldwide – before contacting Gust for what actually happened. Whether Gust’s story should be believed, the media had a responsibility to actually ask him first what happened before running with the too-good-to-check story that fits the editorial narrative of “Trump’s America.” (Of course, they could have also did the research to find out that Baraboo is actually Clinton’s America, too, but that would have made the story less interesting to the media.)

As for the children themselves, they’re learning a harsh lesson that is probably unintended by their persecutors – internet hysteria works to destroy people. Many of these children will probably be haunted by this photo for the rest of their lives even though the responsible adult on site was the one who let them down.

This is not the first time these kids were let down by the responsible adults. If the students indeed were raising their arms in a Nazi salute, then clearly the school district did a poor job of educating them about the horrors of the Holocaust.

But this is hardly surprising in a high school that scored a 59 on student achievement on the most recent Department of Public Instruction report card, or “meets few expectations.” That roughly compares to a grade of D. The school district has asked the police to investigate the photo incident. Instead of looking for a Gregory Peck-like figure trying to create little Hitler clones, the detective work should start in the history classrooms of Baraboo to see what little Johnny is reading, if he can read at all.

A view of enough manhood

Greg Gerber, my former Boy Scout senior patrol leader, now writes and blogs (and after this we’re going to call him Bullet Point):

Men have been getting a bad rap in recent years. They are blamed for almost all of society’s problems. Triple that if they are white men. Double it again if they are conservatives or Christians.

I think we need to cut men some slack.

Much of the problem with men is that they are exhausted – emotionally and physically – because they really don’t know what is expected of them. The bars for achievement are routinely raised like he’s an Olympic pole-vaulter, and the goalposts defining success are pushed further and further back.

Let’s not overlook that the paradigm is also shifting to hold men accountable in 2018 for things they did as teens and young men back in the 1970s and 1980s.

Deep inside, men know that whatever they are doing now isn’t enough, it hasn’t been enough in the past, and they will likely fall short in the future.

That feeling of inadequacy starts early in their life, continues through adulthood and culminates as heavy regret in their later years. Let’s look at the life of a typical guy, starting in elementary school when he is told he is not:

  • Studying enough
  • Quiet enough
  • Polite enough
  • Artistic enough
  • Organized enough
  • Athletic enough
  • Listening enough
  • Clean enough

He is told that because he fidgets too much, he really needs to be medicated. He gets the impression that if only he’d behave more like the girls in school, he would be considered successful. But, his genetics don’t allow that to happen and his best attempts to meet expectations fall short. It’s a rare boy who doesn’t enter his teens thinking he is incapable of doing anything right.

Eventually, he winds up in high school where all the prior inadequacies are multiplied. He also discovers he is not:

  • Attractive enough
  • Smart enough
  • Creative enough
  • Practicing enough
  • Thin enough
  • Tall enough
  • Hairy enough
  • Serious enough
  • Funny enough
  • Friendly enough
  • Tough enough
  • Helping enough
  • Learning enough

By the time he graduates, his feelings of inadequacy are firmly established — especially if he doesn’t think his father is on his side. To escape the pain, he turns to pornography, alcohol or drugs and begins to isolate himself from others, which further fuels his sense of inferiority.

If Satan hasn’t already wounded him badly enough to take him out of the game, he continues trying to prove himself to others, and especially to himself. The only way society allows him to do that is at work, where he hears the message loud and clear every day that he is not doing:

  • Enough contributing
  • Enough planning
  • Enough prioritizing
  • Enough selling
  • Enough reporting
  • Enough traveling
  • Enough fixing
  • Enough recruiting
  • Enough emailing
  • Enough budgeting
  • Enough prospecting
  • Enough projecting
  • Enough producing
  • Enough writing
  • Enough calling
  • Enough scheduling
  • Enough collaborating
  • Enough research
  • Enough supervising

If he has any commitment to any of the above, one thing is certain, he is told he isn’t committed enough to doing it fast enough to make everyone happy.

So, after the stress of working 50 to 60 hours a week in a glass gerbil cage running on a treadwheel going nowhere, he visits his doctor and the “not enoughs” start all over again. His physician reprimands him for not:

  • Eating healthy enough
  • Exercising enough
  • Walking or running enough
  • Relaxing enough
  • Sleeping enough
  • Flossing and brushing enough
  • Medicating enough with vitamins and supplements
  • Drinking enough water
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Smoking too much
  • Eating too much high-fat food

After stopping at the pharmacy on his way home to pick up a stronger blood-pressure medicine, which only makes him more tired and gives him less energy, he arrives home and his doubts pick up steam. From the moment he walks through the door, he feels he is not:

  • Earning enough
  • Listening enough
  • Speaking enough
  • Caring enough
  • Cleaning enough
  • Mowing enough
  • Shoveling enough
  • Weeding enough
  • Raking enough
  • Picking up enough dog poop
  • Cooking enough
  • Romancing enough
  • Washing enough
  • Folding enough
  • Sorting enough
  • Carting enough kids
  • Spending enough
  • Investing enough
  • Visiting enough – especially the out-of-town relatives
  • Parenting enough
  • Playing enough
  • Repairing enough
  • Disciplining enough
  • Teaching enough
  • Coaching enough
  • Reading enough to the kids
  • Helping enough with their homework
  • Remembering enough – especially the details of the exact words he wrote on the card he presented to his wife with a specific type of flower on their first date at the certain restaurant twenty years earlier

When he tries to follow doctor’s orders to relax more, he discovers he is:

  • Watching too much television
  • Fishing or hunting too much
  • Playing too many video games
  • Spending too much time with his friends
  • Not committed enough to quality family time

When he seeks sex from his wife as a reaffirmation that all is right in his world, that he is loved, and that all of his battles are noticed and appreciated, he is told that sex is all he thinks about.

And we wonder why men walk away from their families and look to start over hoping for an opportunity to redeem themselves. But, that never works out the way they expect and only serves to bury them in more problems, more debt, more work and more feelings of inadequacy.

By the time Sunday rolls around, the pitiful, wounded warrior limps into church (or, in some cases, is dragged in) and crawls to a seat where he learns just how inadequate he really is, especially with helpful elbows to the ribs from his wife and children. He is told he’s not:

  • Worshiping enough
  • Praising enough
  • Evangelizing enough
  • Attending enough
  • Giving enough
  • Serving enough
  • Reading enough
  • Studying enough
  • Praying enough
  • Fasting enough
  • Singing enough
  • Thankful enough
  • Committed enough
  • Leading enough
  • Growing enough
  • Helping enough
  • Loving enough
  • Meeting enough
  • Sponsoring enough
  • Forgiving enough
  • Teaching enough
  • Spending enough time “in the word”
  • Spending enough time with his wife
  • Spending enough time with his kids
  • Spending enough time with his parents
  • Spending enough time alone with God

Through sermon after sermon, he is reminded he is:

  • Too angry
  • Too lustful
  • Too selfish
  • Too sinful
  • Too broken

to be of any real use to God’s kingdom. If only he would slow down the hectic pace of his life, then he would find “genuine rest.” The fact he doesn’t make time to enjoy a Sabbath rest is further proof as to how depraved and worldly he really is.

By the time he gets into his sixties, the idea of eternal rest is tremendously appealing.

Do you want to know why women tend to outlive men?

Really?  It’s ugly!

I firmly believe that men get so tired of fighting one battle after another and having life-long feelings of inadequacy reinforced at every turn that they finally give up. They bow their heads and utter “It is finished.”

We need to do a much better job of affirming men, believing in them, and supporting them through all the trials and tribulations they face.

They need to be told that success isn’t defined as a fat wallet, beautiful home, fancy car and perfect children, but rather by the long-term impact they have on people closest to them.

For heaven’s sake, let’s stop giving men the impression that a happy wife leads to a happy life. Nobody can be responsible for another person’s happiness and it is only adding to his stress if he senses his wife is unhappy and the world — and church — blames him.

We need to understand men are human, not supermen — and help them understand that, too.

When what you read is wrong

Young Americans for Freedom:

Citing bias reports filed during last year’s 9/11: Never Forget Project, administrators at Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin, ruled that YAF’s 9/11: Never Forget Project posters are creating an “environment” where “students from a Muslim background would feel singled out and/or harassed.” As a result, Ripon administrators will not allow the Ripon Young Americans for Freedom to hang the flyers as part of their work to remember the victims of September 11 or other victims of radical Islamist terrorism.

When leaders from Ripon YAF pressed administrators in a meeting to explain what was objectionable about the posters which merely depict history, the school’s “Bias Protocol Board” failed to provide anything more than the usual bizarre leftist excuses that rely on feelings, rather than facts, to back up their censorship.

According to administrators, the objections were “raised to the administration and the bias incident team about the environment that that [the poster] creates… That because of the focus, in this case relentlessly on one religious organization, one religious group, one religious identity—in associating that one religious identity with terrorist attacks which go back far before 9/11 and after 9/11— creates for some students here an environment which they feel like they are not able to learn.”

Administrators reminded the students that Ripon college is a private institution and therefore Ripon can decide what it feels is appropriate for display on campus and what is not. According to the administrators, they are allowed to rule on bias complaints using a “cost-benefit analysis” where they seek to understand “to what extent does something advance” or “hinder… the educational mission of the institution.” YAF would remind Ripon administrators that being a private institution does not render it immune from criticism of its decisions, especially when they attempt to censor key moments in our nation’s history that would be forgotten if not for bold Young Americans for Freedom activists such as those in Ripon YAF.

“There is nothing that this poster, in particular, adds to the conversation about 9/11, or about the politics of terrorism, or about national security or responses to it that couldn’t be done easily and more constructively without it,” claimed the members of the Bias Protocol Board.

“Some things [on the poster] don’t have anything to do with 9/11—ISIS, for example,” asserted one administrator. “I’m not sure I think the Iran hostage issue was Islamic terrorism,” said another.

Students of history will recall that the Iran hostage crisis was “America’s first searing experience with Islamist terrorism,” and that ISIS rose out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and al-Qaeda carried out the deadly attacks of 9/11, as well as other attacks highlighted on the poster.

“I wouldn’t see the Pulse [nightclub] shooting as related to New York. If I were LGBT, oh yeah, that’s what that picture’s for. I do know that the shooter mentioned some comments and pledged some allegiance, but that’s not at all what the media portrayed it as.” Whether the media portrayed the truth or not (the media largely did report the shooter’s commitment to radical Islamist terror), the Pulse nightclub attacker did say “I did it for ISIS. I did it for the Islamic State.” What’s more, to claim that the deadliestterror attack in the United States since 9/11—murdering 49 innocent people—is only meaningful to the LGBT community is inexplicable.

Administrators further—and falsely—claim that one of their objections is because radical Islamist terrorism “represents a small percentage of the terrorist attacks that happened to this country, and they don’t represent the full gamut, and they show a very small picture of a specific religion or nationality instead of the larger viewpoint.” From 1992 to 2017, Islamists were responsible for 92% of deaths caused by terrorism in the United States, and are “far and away, the deadliest group of terrorists by ideology.”

Trying to reiterate their objections, administrators pointed out that, “It seems like the only terrorist activities brought up in this poster are those done by extremist Islamic groups, and so if I’m Muslim on this campus, like, ok, it sends the message that all terrorism happens by Muslims.”

Just as remembrances of horrific events carried out in the name of Nazism or Communism include honoring other victims of those ideological treacheries, so does the remembrance of the attacks carried out by radical Islamists on September 11, 2001.

“The intent is admirable to talk about why are we killing each other,” said an administrator. “That’s very admirable, and I support that, but what about school shootings? We’ve had almost a school shooting a day for the last ten days, and we’re continuing to up the body count.”  The administrator then suggested discussing Buddhist terrorism in Myanmar before threatening the students that, “If you put this poster out there… you’re going to get the same negative results. It’s these images.”

There is a problem with what you have just read, and it’s reported by the Ripon Commonwealth Press:

Ripon College has been refuting what it states is misinformation being spread by several partisan news organizations.

Several websites have reported that the college allegedly has banned posters about 9/11.

Ripon College representatives insist they have banned no posters.

The incident stems from an article posted on YAF.org, the website for the conservative group Young Americans for Freedom (YAF).

In it, author Spencer Brown claims Ripon College banned the college’s YAF chapter from posting 9/11 memorial posters.

His article then was the basis for a series of additional stories targeting Ripon College.

Ripon College’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications Melissa Anderson was unequivocal in refuting this claim.

“These posters are not banned,” she said.

Ripon College also released an official statement via social media elaborating on that point:

“There has been much misinformation posted related to a recent discussion between Ripon College officials and student members of the Ripon College Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapter regarding a 9/11 poster and memorial. Ripon College encourages an environment for free speech and civil dialogue on our campus. The YAF posters are not, and have never been, banned. After receiving complaints from our students about the YAF Islamic extremism posters last year, College officials gave the Ripon College YAF student representatives suggestions as to how to have a discussion about 9/11 this year with our entire campus and community. The annual 9/11 flag memorial is a great example of how YAF students engage the entire community.”

Anderson noted Brown claimed the Bias Protocol Board at Ripon College banned such posters; however, she explained that is not true.

“That Bias Protocol Board is not a decision-making board,” Anderson said. “It has no authority. Its job is to hear complaints, hear from those who have been accused of creating something that’s bias and to have an open discussion about ways to avoid it. In no way shape or form, was the word ‘ban’ ever used.”

She noted students did have an issue with YAF’s posters last year and talked to the Bias Protocol Board about it.

“The poster has several depictions of beheading and other things that some of our students have found offensive [and] concerns have been brought up to a Bias Protocol Board that we have in place to deal with things like this,” Anderson said.

She noted college administrators have taken no action against the local YAF chapter. Instead, she explained, discussions have been held on how to include the entire campus in the chapter’s 9/11 memorial this year.

“It’s a response to complaints from students who find it offensive and biased towards a certain ethnicity,” Anderson said. “But keep in mind, all we’re having are conversations with the local YAF chapter … These posters are not banned; the students were asked to think of different ways to involve the entire campus community in their Sept. 11 tribute.”

Brown told the Commonwealth that his reporting was based on an audio recording he had received of a Bias Protocol Board meeting attended by Ripon College registrar Michele Wittler, Vice President and Dean of Faculty Ed Wingenbach, Director of Residence Life Mark Nicklaus, Director of Multicultural Affairs Kyonna Henry, and Associate Professor of Exercise Science Professor Mark Cole.

He said the names were provided to him by “student activists we work with who alerted us to this situation.”

Since the college has not banned the posters, Anderson said, it was taken by surprise when articles were posted saying otherwise.

“This is kind of very unexpected,” she said. “… Really the source of the misinformation begins with YAF National, Spencer Brown and his article.”

Anderson added once Brown’s article was posted on the YAF website, it “spread like wildfire.”

The article had been picked up by various partisan news media outlets, such as Washington ExaminerThe Daily WireThe BlazeIndependent Journal Review and more.

None of them, Anderson noted, ever contacted Ripon College to see if the claim was true.

“You’ll notice that no Ripon official was quoted in the [YAF] article whatsoever and any of the subsequent articles,” she said. “No, not a single one [contacted the college].”

Because of the misinformation it alleges is being spread due to these articles, the college is working to clear the air about the alleged poster ban along with the flag memorial the local YAF chapter undertakes every year.

“There’s two issues that have been stuck in some of these false articles,” Anderson said. “One, just generally, is the memorial tribute for Sept. 11 victims. Every year our local chapter of YAF leads that effort by putting flags on the Hardwood Memorial lawn … It’s a cherished event that we have every year. We take photos of it. It’s included on our social media. We share it around [and]  we put it in our publications to honor those who lost their lives.”

Anderson explained that in posting his article, Brown used an image of the flag tribute that the local YAF chapter organizes every year, which she said led to more confusion and misinformation.

“He had an image of the flag tribute … and then subsequent articles also picked that image up,” she said. “The big issue here is that the only thing that was a point of discussion was the poster and at no point was it banned, which I have evidentiary proof of actually. What happened is the media [and] those stories kind of got it inflated to the point where people were associating the ban, that never happened, with the flag tribute.”

Due to concerns that the college banned posters and the flag tribute, many individuals have flocked to Ripon College’s Facebook page to post comments disparaging the college and to give the college bad reviews.

In less than 48 hours, 54 “does not recommend” and one-star reviews were left on the college’s Facebook page.

Some of the comments state the college is “a disgrace to America,” and  an “unpatriotic college. Faculty and staff would rather pander to those who may be offended rather than a national tragedy.”

Other comments suggested “the free exchange of ideas is one of the primary purposes of Colleges and Universities. Ripon would do well to remember that.”

Anderson sees these comments as byproducts of the false information that was spread.

“What we’re responding to is a bunch of misinformation” she said. “People are obviously angry and concerned. ‘Why would a college restrict a celebration that honors Sept. 11 and its victims?’ We’re doing the best job we can to set the record straight.”

Along with its statement on social media, college administrators are “answering every call and every email that we receive and sharing the actual truth,” Anderson said. “It’s an unfortunate situation that this day and age we’re having to fight for the truth.”

I am told the posters were displayed, so in this case the college’s response seems more credible than YAF’s accusations.

YAF then came out with this self-congratulatory revision:

Following last week’s original reporting in the New Guard, Ripon College sent its liberal lap dogs after Young America’s Foundation and the myriad pieces of coverage on the school’s bizarre objections to the memorial posters used as part of YAF’s iconic 9/11: Never Forget Project.

Ripon College claims that because they never used the word “ban” in reference to the posters memorializing innocent victims of radical Islamist terrorism, they don’t deserve the criticism that’s been leveled at them. To be clear, YAF’s reporting never used the word ban, only repeated direct quotes from administrators on the school’s Bias Response Team, a body which refused to approve any version of the 9/11: Never Forget Project poster. It seems self-evident but in our view, as well as the view of the larger press, a refusal to grant approval is the equivalent of a ban.

Let’s go back to the original YAF release:

As a result, Ripon administrators will not allow the Ripon Young Americans for Freedom to hang the flyers as part of their work to remember the victims of September 11 or other victims of radical Islamist terrorism.

The headline on the revision was “Ripon College’s Ban by Any Other Name.” That previous sentence sounds like “ban” to me, which was YAF’s accusation. It is weaseling to claim that because YAF didn’t use the word “ban” that YAF never reported that Ripon College banned the poster. To most people “will not allow” and “ban” are synonyms.

Our original reporting quoted portions of a 38-minute recording of the meeting between Ripon YAF and administrators obtained by Young America’s Foundation. Since apparently those excerpts weren’t enough to show the bias team’s intent, below are some additional, previously-unreported quotes (emphasis added) that further show the opposition to Ripon YAF’s plans to distribute posters in remembrance of the victims of 9/11 and radical Islamist terror. We stand by our reporting, as well as the widespread coverage Ripon College has been mentioned in related to this situation.

In discussing the Bias Protocol Board’s review of bias complaints against the posters, an administrator says of the bias panel’s findings on the posters, “The concerns about the education environment outweigh any potential contribution to the education environment. There is nothing that this poster in particular adds to the conversation about 9/11.” They add, “The fact that there are genuine concerns about [the poster’s] negative consequences leads to a pretty easy cost/benefit analysis that the poster doesn’t need to be up.”

Despite offering more than a dozen times to consider making edits or additions to the posters in order to address some of the administrators’ concerns, the school’s leaders refused to grant approval and refused to express concern for anti-conservative bias that clearly exists at Ripon College. Instead, administrators call the posters “problematic,” say “there’s a problem in the product,” and chastise the students by saying “you kind of miss the mark.” If this is a supportive administration, as Ripon College has claimed in their attempts at damage control, I’d hate to see an oppositional one.

Hannah Krueger, chair of Ripon College Young Americans for Freedom, released a statement further clarifying her chapter’s mission and addressing recent criticism, saying that Ripon YAF “champions free speech from all viewpoints.” Krueger notes that her YAF chapter is “relatively new” but “no stranger to adversity and conflict” on campus. She adds that “It is because I love the college that I cannot stand by and watch organizations be pressured [to censor themselves].”

So now it’s being “pressured,” not a “ban” whatever words you’d like to use. I guarantee you that none of the campus activists of any political bent when I was at UW–Madison, then (and probably now) the most political college campus on Earth, would have knuckled under or used weasel words when faced with authority.

Let’s read Krueger’s statement:

Ripon College Administration has never “banned” the 9/11 memorial or the posters in question. The original YAF article never utilizes the word “ban.” Reporters repeatedly asked me if the College had banned the posters, and I repeatedly replied that “ban” was an inappropriate word for the situation. Many in the media on both sides of the issue made their own assumptions. …

Our 9/11 “Never Forget” posters are presented to the Student Judiciary Board year after year to determine if they violate poster policy, and each year the students on that board decide that they are in accordance with posting policy. It was only this last year that our posters signaled a new investigation by the Bias Incident Response Team.

In our meeting on Tuesday, August 28th, the members of the Bias Incident Response Team stated they had found issues with our posters—which we had displayed last year— as early as September 2017. Ripon College YAF members were informed of this issue in May 2018, during the last weeks of school. This gave us little time to respond, as officers were studying for and taking final exams. In an effort to identify what the specific issues were, I was referred to the Dean of Students. As he was not a member of the Bias Incident Response Team, he was unable to give a clear and concise answer of what was purportedly wrong with our posters.

He then referred me to the Bias Incident Response Team, a board composed of mainly administrators, which ultimately has no power to dictate the actions of student groups, but one who can make recommendations to the administration who then can take action. Why does this board exist? If the school believes in free speech and discussion, it would not have a panel of faculty and administrators that strangles discussion by determining what it feels is “appropriate.” The term “biased” is itself derogatory and used to stifle speech. President Messitte is correct in that the way to deal with speech one disagree with is more posters and speech, but there are groups of students and faculty who prefer to throw about disparaging labels and call certain activities and posters “biased.” Instead of a bias protocol board, the administration might establish a free speech board to ensure all ideas are heard on campus, not just those the school determines are appropriate and will not jostle liberal sensibilities. …

In the meeting, YAF proposed adding other images to the poster to avoid creating the anti-Muslim bias that the board was convinced our posters exhibited. We were willing to include events like Oklahoma City and other suggestions that the team had. The Bias Incident team told us that these images would appear to be an afterthought and would not make the poster any less of an issue. No matter what YAF offered to add or change about the poster, the team found reasons to disagree. The supposed mediator of the meeting, Dean Ed Wingenbach, was the one who offered the greatest argument of why the posters did not need to be up. We were pressured to make completely new posters. The members of the Bias Incident Response Team found no acceptable way to display these posters

It appears that the Bias Incident Response Team is itself biased.

Ripon Media, formerly known as the Ripon College Days student newspaper, adds:

In an email, Brown clarified that the http://www.yaf.org article never explicitly used the word “banned.” Brown said that the administration’s alleged comments during a meeting with Ripon YAF members, specifically that putting their posters up would cause a negative reaction from the student body, “are what I believe led many in the press to close the circle and call the board’s attempted intimidation of the YAF students a ban.”

“Ripon is attempting to save face by claiming the letter of their ruling does not imply the spirit of their ruling would be to keep the posters from being displayed,” Brown said.

According to Melissa Anderson, vice president of marketing and communications, a meeting did occur between Ripon YAF members and Ripon administrators, however the meeting was requested by YAF and did not lead to a “ruling” of any sort.

“The YAF leadership requested that the bias team explain how their poster could be considered biased. That generated a wide-ranging exchange of ideas and perspectives as everyone in the meeting discussed how the poster might be perceived by various audiences, what sort of reactions it is intended to elicit, and whether the poster itself actually meets the goals our YAF students articulated,” Anderson said. “The meeting was not a hearing or a trial, but a conversation, and the quotes in the article were part of that conversation.”

Brown’s article contains multiple quotes that are attributed to unnamed Ripon administrators, who he later identified in an email as Michelle Wittler, Ed Wingenbach, Mark Nicklaus, and Kyonna Henry. Brown said the quotes used in his article were from the meeting between administrators and YAF students and that for questions surrounding attribution “I’ve been suggesting ‘According to a recording of the meeting obtained by Young America’s Foundation…’”

“There may have been a recorder in the room but no college official was aware of it,” Anderson said.

As of yet, no recording of the meeting in question has been released by YAF’s national organization or its local members and the existence of such a recording has not been verified.

As someone with, as readers know, connections to Ripon College, I find the existence of a Bias Incident Resource Team ludicrous. I also find YAF’s claim of a ban and then backpedaling to be disingenuous bordering on duplicitous. I also find YAF’s unwillingness to identify the unnamed college administrators they quote very revealing. Based on this one instance I don’t find the national YAF to be a very good messenger for the conservative cause on college campuses, at least in its willing distortion of what appears to have happened at Ripon College.

Conservatives claim to be more moral than liberals. Being more moral means telling the truth, not just your version of the truth.

 

The profane and the sacred

Charlie Sykes:

Two weeks ago the satirical website The Babylon Bee posted a parody in which the pope says that he will address the sex abuse scandal after he’s finished talking about climate change.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church claimed he is deeply concerned with the tragic report, but is “just too swamped” with work fighting climate change, criticizing capitalism, and advocating for other issues of social justice to talk about the repulsive report at the moment.

But parody can no longer keep up with the pace of reality.

This week, Chicago’s Cardinal Blasé Cupich, channeled the Bee, when he told a local television station that “the Pope has a bigger agenda,” than responding to charges by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò that he knew about incidents of sexual abuse. “He’s got to get on with other things,” Cardinal Cupich said, “of talking about the environment and protecting migrants and carrying on the work of the church. We’re not going to go down a rabbit hole on this.”

The rabbit hole, of course, is the decades-long molestation of thousands of children and the church’s role in enabling and covering up the crimes. More specifically, the cardinal was referring to allegations that Pope Francis knew that former Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick had preyed on seminarians and had been admonished by the pope’s predecessor.

But as tone deaf as Cupich’s comments were, they reflect a more depressing turn in the church’s struggle to come to grips with the crisis. Progressives in the church have assumed a defensive crouch around the pope because they see him as besieged by right-wing critics who have seized on the reports of abuse to weaken his papacy.

Perhaps it is inevitable that every issue is drawn into the vortex of tribalization, but there is still something profoundly disconcerting about the way that the abuse scandal has been subsumed by the larger cultural war in the church that pits left versus right.

The New York Times was among the first to cast the new allegations in ideological terms. In an article headlined “Vatican Power Struggle Bursts Into Open as Conservatives Pounce,” the paper said that with the release of Vigano’s letter an “ideologically motivated opposition has weaponized the church’s sex abuse crisis to threaten not only Francis’ agenda but his entire papacy.”

Slate quickly picked up the same theme in an interview with Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University.

Viganò, professor Faggioli insisted, “is just using the Western church, and American Catholicism, and the shock caused by the revelations against Cardinal McCarrick, to make his own personal case against the Vatican, which expelled him and didn’t make him a cardinal.” But he is quick to put Vigano’s charges in the context of the larger culture war between “liberal progressives who like Francis and conservative traditionalists who don’t like Francis.”

And he is using the right-wing rhetoric in the United States against Francis to rally ideological forces that are interested in regime change in the Catholic Church because they think Francis is a heretic. They are not concerned that Francis might be an accomplice in a cover-up. They have waged a war against Francis since his election.

This all sounds familiar to anyone who has even casually followed the rhetoric of our polarized politics, where even the most serious charge can be dismissed as part of a vendetta.

But we are not dealing here with normal politics; the church is confronting a Reformation-level crisis involving a horrendous pattern of abuse, rape, and silence. And while legitimate question can and ought to be raised about the credibility Archbishop Vigano’s charges, isn’t the central—really the only— question here whether or not they are true?

Whatever Vigano’s politics, shouldn’t the church be united on those questions: Is he telling the truth? Did the pope know, or didn’t he? Did Pope Benedict sanction Cardinal McCarrick or not? What actually happened here?

Of course, progressives feel they have a stake in Francis’s papcy, but is this the hill they really want to die on? How do they imagine this will end?

Ross Douthat writes that it is understandable “why certain organs and apostles of liberal Catholicism are running interference for McCarrick’s protectors—because Francis is their pope, the liberalizer they yearned for all through the John Paul and Benedict years, and all’s fair in the Catholic civil war.”

But, he warned, “the inevitable, even providential irony is that this sort of team thinking never leads to theological victory, but only to exposure, shame, disaster.”

Indeed at the very moment when the Catholic church needs to renew itself, it faces a growing schism as the various factions retreat into their corners. And this is perhaps the most dispiriting aspect of the story. Tim Miller was unfortunately exactly right when he tweeted:

That the church pedophila scandal has evolved into a pissing match between liberals and conservatives rather than a united front against the pedos is more depressing evidence of the rot of political culture in the West.

It is unlikely to end well.

The sacred (religious leaders), the profane (politicians), and the ultimate earthly penalty

Jeff Jacoby:

Pope Francis announced [Aug. 3] that the Catholic Church will henceforth teach that the death penalty is always wrong, and will “work with determination towards its abolition worldwide.” The announcement made news — it was reported on the front page of The New York Times and The Washington Post — but it hardly came as a surprise.

Just last fall the pope had declared capital punishment to be “contrary to the Gospel” and “inhumane . . . regardless of how it is carried out.” A year and a half before that, he had called on Catholic politicians to make the “courageous and exemplary gesture” of opposing all executions.

Yet if the pontiff’s views on the death penalty were well known, last week’s proclamation nonetheless marked a dramatic change in church doctrine, which for nearly two millennia had always upheld the legitimacy of the death penalty in appropriate cases. The death penalty is supported in the Bible — both Old and New Testaments. It has been firmly defended by many of the most eminent figures in church history, from St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas in ancient times to popes, cardinals, and scholars in the modern era.

“The infliction of capital punishment is not contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church,” the Catholic Encyclopedia, published in 1911, stated categorically . The Catechism of the Catholic Church, originally promulgated by the Council of Trent in 1566, emphasized that the execution of murderers is lawful precisely because it upholds the Biblical commandment — “Thou shalt not murder” — that prohibits unlawful homicide. In the words of the catechism:

“Another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Now the punishments inflicted by the civil authority, which is the legitimate avenger of crime, naturally tend to this end, since they give security to life by repressing outrage and violence. The just use of this power, far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to the Commandment which prohibits murder. The end of the Commandment is the preservation and security of human life.”

To be sure, popes in recent decades have been much more wary about the death penalty. Pope John Paul II expressed his skepticism in a passage of his 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (The Gospel of Life). All the same, when the catechism was revised on his watch, it continued to make clear that the execution of murderers was not, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, always wrong. In the section on the Commandment against murder, it upheld the lawfulness of the death penalty in certain cases:

2267. Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

Even as many Catholic leaders moved firmly into the anti-capital punishment camp, that position was never binding on the faithful — unlike the church’s stand on other sanctity-of-life issues. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who before becoming Pope Benedict XVI headed the Vatican department in charge of clarifying and teaching Catholic doctrine, made that point explicitly in 2004:

“Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. . . . There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty.”

Now that Francis has ordered the church to make its opposition to capital punishment absolute, will that tolerance for “legitimate diversity of opinion” on the subject vanish?

I doubt it. If the College of Cardinals backs him up, the pope may be able to unilaterally change a formerly authoritative — indeed a formerly uncontroversial — doctrine of Catholic belief. But it is unlikely that he will change what Catholics actually believe. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center , most American Catholics, 53%, favor the death penalty as an option in murder cases. That tracks closely with US public opinion generally: 54% of Americans favor capital punishment, while 39% are opposed. Though the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has been lobbying against the death penalty for years, it has never managed to persuade a majority of its flock to follow suit.
Nor is the pope’s pronouncement likely to make any measurable difference in the behavior of public officials who are Catholic.

In its story reporting Francis’s decision last Thursday, The New York Times speculated that “the pope’s move could put Catholic politicians in a new and difficult position, especially Catholic governors like Greg Abbott of Texas and Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, who have presided over executions.”

There was no comment from Abbott, but Ricketts wasted no time dumping cold water on the notion that a shift in Catholic doctrine will keep him from upholding his duty to his state.

“While I respect the pope’s perspective, capital punishment remains the will of the people and the law of the state of Nebraska,” the governor said in a statement following the announcement from the Vatican. “It is an important tool to protect our corrections officers and public safety. The state continues to carry out the sentences ordered by the court.” Catechism or no catechism, the execution of Carey Dean Moore, who murdered two Omaha cabbies in 1979, will take place as scheduled next week.

Meanwhile, another Catholic governor was quick to embrace the pope’s announcement. “In solidarity with Pope Francis,” declared New York’s Andrew Cuomo, he plans to introduce “legislation to remove the death penalty — and its ugly stain in our history — from state law once and for all.” Cuomo hailed the pope for “ushering in a more righteous world” and for teaching that the execution of murderers has no place in the 21st century.”

Obviously this was mere posturing, not least because the death penalty was abolished in New York 11 years ago. Cuomo’s opposition to capital punishment is no more determined by Catholic doctrine than his support for gay marriage and abortion rights. Cuomo is “in solidarity” with the pope only when the pope endorses Cuomo’s preexisting view. When the governor and the church are on opposite sides of an issue, solidarity disappears.

As it should.

When it comes to the death penalty — when it comes to any contentious issue — neither New York’s liberal Catholic governor nor Nebraska’s conservative Catholic governor should be taking direction from the pope or any other clerical leader. In the workings of American law and politics, religious leaders are respected, sometimes very deeply respected. They do not give orders, however. American culture is deeply informed by Judeo-Christian values, but when politicians hammer out public policy, the only “scripture” they are bound to uphold are the constitutions of the nation and their state.

As a candidate for president in 1960, John F. Kennedy faced considerable opposition from Protestants who feared that if he were elected, he would take orders from the Vatican. In a landmark speech before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, he addressed those fears head on:

“I believe in an America,” said JFK, “that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

And should the time ever come, he added, that religious conviction forced him to choose between violating his conscience or violating the national interest, “then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.”

To my mind, the pope’s blanket opposition to the death penalty is morally indefensible. The death penalty is grim and unpleasant, but it is a tool of justice that no decent society should unequivocally renounce. When murderers know that they face no greater risk than prison, more innocent victims die.

Conversely, the pope’s blanket opposition to assisted suicide is, in my opinion, quite correct. It is the opposite of true compassion to encourage people to end their lives, or to make it easier for them to do so. Life does not cease to be precious when it fills with pain or depression, and the law should not authorize doctors to snuff it out.

Americans have long debated such issues, and those debates will go on, regardless of any papal proclamations. Politicians may play up the pope’s views when it matches their own, but that’s just for show. Religious leaders don’t make the rules in this country. We the People do, thank God.

As an ex-Catholic, I find it hypocritical at least for Catholics to be pro-abortion rights and anti-death penalty, the standard Democratic position outside of Bill Clinton, or to be anti-abortion and pro-death penalty, the standard Republican position. Of course, neither God nor Jesus Christ belongs to an American political party. Catholics can say their church is wrong, but they need to remember that the Catholic Church is their church, not any one Catholic’s church. The Catholic Church is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be, a democracy, regardless of how the church makes its decisions. Those who don’t like that fact should leave. (See the first four words of this paragraph.)

 

Look in the mirror, lefty

Investors Business Daily:

When not worrying that its increasingly hostile anti-Trump antics might backfire on Democrats, the left is busy blaming President Trump’s own incivility for the ferocity of their attacks. But this is exactly how the left treats all conservatives, rough-hewn or not.

After a week in which a celebrity called for the abduction of the president’s young son, a restaurant kicked out Trump’s spokesman, and a mob harassed the Homeland Security secretary, Democrats are starting to wonder if their “resistance” is getting out of hand — while refusing to take any blame for it.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi managed to perfectly encapsulate this when she said “Trump’s daily lack of civility has provoked responses that are predictable but unacceptable.”

The blame-Trump-first meme has been catching on fast.

Writing in the Washington Post, Paul Waldman complains about having “to hear, in the era of Trump, that liberals are the ones being ‘uncivil’…. You’ve got to be kidding me.”

CNN’s Byron Wolf says today’s lack of civility “should surprise exactly no one in a time when the president uses the imagery of invaders and infestation to describe immigrants.”

Writing in USA Today, Jason Sattler argues that we should “stop defending decorum and do something about Donald Trump,” who, Sattler says, is “running a propaganda campaign against immigrants that incites comparisons to Hitler’s early attacks on Jews.”

But the suggestion that things would be better and tempers cooler if Trump weren’t so abrasive is utterly and completely false.

Consider the “civility” shown by Democrats toward the eminently civil “compassionate conservative” President Bush.

Protesters regularly carried signs saying things like “Save Mother Earth, Kill Bush,” “Hang Bush for War Crimes,” “Bush=Satan,” “Bush is the only Dope worth Shooting.” They burned Bush and other administration officials in effigy countless times.

Jonathan Chait wrote a 3,600-word word piece for the New Republic in 2003 on “the case for Bush hatred.” In it, he admitted that “I have friends who … describe his existence as a constant oppressive force in their daily psyche.”

Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams gave a speech at a women’s peace conference in Dallas in 2007 declaring that “right now, I could kill George Bush.” The audience laughed, and she won praise for her “bravery.”

Pollster Geoff Garin told The New York Times that Bush hatred was “as strong as anything I’ve experienced in 25 years now of polling.”

The winning film at a 2006 Toronto film festival was a movie — Death of a President — that realistically depicted Bush’s assassination.

The left regularly compared Bush to Hitler, just as they are now with Trump.

Playwright Harold Pinter said that “the Bush administration is the most dangerous force that has ever existed. It is more dangerous than Nazi Germany.”

Harry Belafonte called Bush “the greatest terrorist in the world.”

Writing in Time magazine in 2003 — just two years after Bush took office — Charles Krauthammer (a trained psychiatrist) noted that “Democrats are seized with a loathing for President Bush — a contempt and disdain giving way to a hatred that is near pathological.” He coined a phrase to describe it: “Bush derangement syndrome.”

What was the left’s excuse back then for its gleeful indulgence in hatred and incivility toward friendly George Bush? Simple: They didn’t like his policies.

That’s always been the left’s response to politicians they don’t agree with: Harass, attack, belittle, demean, threaten, scream … and repeat. Unlike Republicans, however, the left never gets called on its hate-mongering.

Sure, Trump’s barbed rhetoric and insults fan the flames of today’s incivility. And like most people, we’d prefer that he adopt a more presidential tone.

But even if Trump had the temperament of Mister Rogers, Trump derangement syndrome would be just as virulent and widespread as it is today.

Not because of anything Trump has said or tweeted. But because he’s successfully enacting a conservative agenda that the left doesn’t like, and will do anything to stop. Anything, that is, except engage in a calm, reasonable debate.

You can tell the writer wasn’t around in the 1970s or 1980s and isn’t from Wisconsin. Otherwise the writer could have added similar deranged feelings about Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan (called “Ronnie Raygun” on the UW campus) and Gov. Tommy Thompson. Derangement on the left is a feature, not a bug.

Freedom for conservative academics

James Wigderson:

Marquette University Political Science Professor John McAdams prevailed at the Wisconsin Supreme Court in his lawsuit against the university to get his job back. McAdams, represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), has been fighting the university since 2014 after being suspended over a blog post criticizing an instructor in the philosophy department.

In a statement released shortly after the decision was announced, WILL President Rick Esenberg said the ruling was “a major blow for free speech.”

“Since the beginning, the only thing Professor McAdams wanted to do was to teach students without having to compromise his principles,” Esenberg said. “Yet Marquette refused to honor its promises of academic freedom and now, thanks to the Supreme Court, he will be able to teach again.”

Esenberg said “this is a major day for freedom.”

“It is our sincere hope that Marquette University appreciates and learns from this episode and takes care to guard free speech on campus,” Esenberg said.

However, while Marquette University has said it will comply with the order, the university does not sound like they have had a sudden conversion to supporting free speech following the Court’s decision.

“Academic freedom must include responsibility. Unfortunately, Marquette can’t undo the significant harm that he caused to the former student teacher’s academic career,” Marquette University said in a statement Friday. “We must, however, ensure that this doesn’t happen to another student. Marquette will continue to uphold its values and protect its students.”

In a 4-2 decision written by Justice Daniel Kelly, the Court said Marquette violated McAdams’ contractual guarantee of academic freedom:

The undisputed facts show that the University breached its contract with Dr. McAdams when it suspended him for engaging in activity protected by the contract’s guarantee of academic freedom. Therefore, we reverse the circuit court and remand this cause with instructions to enter judgment in favor of Dr. McAdams, conduct further proceedings to determine damages (which shall include back pay), and order the University to immediately reinstate Dr. McAdams with unimpaired rank, tenure, compensation, and benefits, as required by § 307.09 of the University’s Statutes on Faculty Appointment, Promotion and Tenure (the “Faculty Statutes”).

Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, Justice Rebecca Bradley, and Justice Michael Gableman joined Kelly in the majority. Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley dissented.

The Court’s decision is a reversal of a decision by Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge David Hansher who ruled that precedent required him to defer to the university on disciplinary matters.

Addressing that question, Justice Kelly wrote:

We may question, and we do not defer. The University’s internal dispute resolution process is not a substitute for Dr. McAdams’ right to sue in our courts. The University’s internal process may serve it well as an informal means of resolving disputes, but as a replacement for litigation in our courts, it is structurally flawed.

McAdams was suspended indefinitely by the university in 2014 after a post on his blog, The Marquette Warrior, criticized philosophy instructor and graduate student Cheryl Abbate. In a recorded conversation, Abbate told a student at the Catholic university she would not allow discussion of viewpoints critical of same-sex marriage in her class.

When McAdams’ blog post about the incident went viral, Abbate said she received a number of harassing emails, and McAdams was suspended. Following an investigation, a faculty committee issued a report in January 2016 recommending unpaid suspension for McAdams through the fall 2016 semester.

However, Marquette University President Michael Lovell added extra requirements before McAdams could be reinstated. McAdams refused to comply, effectively ending his employment at Marquette, and he sued the university to get his job back.

While it was a conservative majority on the Court who decided in favor of McAdams, the academic freedom case sometimes cut across the normal political divisions. A number of liberal academics supported McAdams in the free speech case, while a Milwaukee business group, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), filed a brief in support of Marquette University. MMAC and Marquette University have a number of board members in common, and Marquette University is a member of The Business Council, a 501c3 affiliate of MMAC.

Justice Rebecca Bradley, in a concurring but separate opinion, answered the concerns of the business organization over an employer’s right to set work rules.

“The court received a variety of amicus briefs from private businesses concerned about the reverberations of this case on the private sector. Their fears are unfounded,” Bradley wrote. “University campuses inhabit a unique environment. The doctrine of academic freedom has no application within private enterprise, unless of course a private entity incorporates the doctrine into employee contracts. Marquette University, although a private institution, chose to guarantee academic freedom to McAdams in his contract.”

The Wall Street Journal adds:

The case stems from a blog post by Mr. McAdams about a graduate instructor who had told a Marquette student that opinions against same-sex marriage would not be tolerated in her ethics class. The university says Mr. McAdams proved himself unfit by naming the graduate instructor, Cheryl Abbate, and linking to her publicly available website in his post on the encounter, so it suspended him. Even after losing the case Friday, the university continues to accuse Mr. McAdams of having used his blog to intentionally expose “her name and contact information to a hostile audience that sent her vile and threatening messages.”

The court is categorical in rejecting this argument. “Our review of the blog post,” reads the majority opinion, “reveals that it makes no ad hominem attack on Instructor Abbate, nor does it invite readers to be uncivil to her, either explicitly or implicitly.” a private institution Marquette has the right to set its own standards for fitness, as well as to limit the speech of its employees. The difference here, as the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty noted in its defense of Mr. McAdams, is that the professor’s contract promised he could not be punished for exercising academic freedom or exercising his rights under the Constitution.

As the court put it, the “undisputed facts show that the University breached its contract” with the professor. So the ruling orders Marquette “to immediately reinstate Dr. McAdams with unimpaired rank, tenure, compensation and benefits.” It also calls for “further proceedings to determine damages (which shall include back pay).” In short, it is a complete vindication for the professor.

From the start we urged Marquette to acknowledge its mistake and reach some accommodation with Mr. McAdams. In its statement responding to the decision, the school says it will comply with the court order but insists it was in the right. Apparently more than the students need instruction at Marquette.

The shrinking church

Ed Stetzer:

Christians recently celebrated Easter, a Sunday where many churches are robust and full. But, if current trends continue, mainline Protestantism has about 23 Easters left.

The news of mainline Protestantism’s decline is hardly new. Yet the trend lines are showing a trajectory toward zero in both those who attend a mainline church regularly and those who identify with a mainline denomination 23 years from now.

While the sky isn’t falling, the floor is dropping out.

The trajectory, which has been a discussion among researchers for years, is partly related to demographics. Mainline Protestants, which has been the tradition of several U.S. presidents, aren’t “multiplying” with children as rapidly as evangelicals or others of differing faiths. And geography matters. Places where Protestants live are now in socio-economic decline, and parts of the country like the Sun Belt are become more evangelical with every passing winter.

And as Episcopal researcher Kirk Hadaway explained in 1998, “nontraditional groups, including once-marginal Protestant churches, smaller sects and non-Western religions, have increased. At the same time, a growing number of people have shed their particular religious affiliations, saying they are just ‘religious, spiritual’ or have no religion at all.”

But I think something deeper is going on. …

It’s not the whole story, but here’s an argument for at least part of what has happened. Over the past few decades, some mainline Protestants have abandoned central doctrines that were deemed “offensive” to the surrounding culture: Jesus literally died for our sins and rose from the dead, the view of the authority of the Bible, the need for personal conversion and more.

Some of mainline Protestants leaders rejected or minimized these beliefs — beliefs that made the “protest” in Protestantism 500 years ago — as an invitation for more people to join a more culturally relevant and socially acceptable church. But if the mainline Protestant expression isn’t different enough from mainstream culture, people turn to other answers.

I’m an evangelical (which, I assure you, has its own set of problems). However, I became a Christian in the (very mainline) Episcopal Church. I take no delight in mainline Protestantism’s decline and am hoping and praying for a reversal. And I know many in the mainline Protestant tradition seek to follow Jesus and are working to change the trend line of decline.

And, ultimately, mainline Protestants likely do have many more than 23 Easters left. Churches will be restarted and revitalized and there will be advancement initiatives. Mainline Protestants won’t cease to exist completely in 23 years because they trend will probably slow, but the data does not give us good hope for their future.

My personal hope is that mainline Protestantism will experience a resurrection of sorts, something Christians tend to have faith in. However, such a move won’t come from following the trajectory it has been following.

The future of mainline Protestantism is connected to Christianity’s essential past, where the resurrection can be proclaimed again unabashedly. Jesus is not just a good person who suffered unjustly. Jesus’s death and resurrection makes our dead souls alive again.

In the 1970s, Dean Kelly wrote an often-cited book on why conservative churches are growing, stating that even amid hostility toward organized religion, conservative churches seemed to grow.

Is part of the answer for mainline Protestantism to grow more conservative?

It depends on how you define “conservative.” For some, they hear a call to become Trump supporters, deny climate change science or support huge tax cuts. That’s not what I’m talking about.

But a recent study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, based upon a Canadian sample, goes into the theology of the mainline. As David Haskell explained in The Washington Post, “[W]e found 93 percent of clergy members and 83 percent of worshipers from growing churches agreed with the statement ‘Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb.’ This compared with 67 percent of worshipers and 56 percent of clergy members from declining churches.”

Of course, you can’t say, “Mainliners all believe this or that,” but the numbers above suggest a theological gap, even on something as basic as what Easter means, and that gap has both theological and statistical implications.

If mainline Protestantism has a future, it will need to engage more deeply with the past — not the past of an idealized 1950s, but one that is 2,000 years old. The early Christians saw a savior risen from the dead, heard a message that said he was the only way and read scriptures that teach truths out of step with culture, both then and now.

I imagine that many mainline Protestants would agree, and perhaps the supernatural message of Easter, believed and shared widely, could bring the resurrection that mainline Protestantism needs.

And 2039 is just not that far away.

The New York Times abandons the First Amendment

Adam Liptak‘s opinion masquerades as “analysis” in the New York Times:

On the final day of the Supreme Court term last week, Justice Elena Kagan sounded an alarm.

The court’s five conservative members, citing the First Amendment, had just dealt public unions a devastating blow. The day before, the same majority had used the First Amendment to reject a California law requiring religiously oriented “crisis pregnancy centers” to provide women with information about abortion.

Conservatives, said Justice Kagan, who is part of the court’s four-member liberal wing, were “weaponizing the First Amendment.”

The two decisions were the latest in a stunning run of victories for a conservative agenda that has increasingly been built on the foundation of free speech. Conservative groups, borrowing and building on arguments developed by liberals, have used the First Amendment to justify unlimited campaign spending, discrimination against gay couples and attacks on the regulation of tobacco, pharmaceuticals and guns.

“The right, which had for years been hostile to and very nervous about a strong First Amendment, has rediscovered it,” said Burt Neuborne, a law professor at New York University.

The Citizens United campaign finance case, for instance, was decided on free-speech grounds, with the five-justice conservative majority ruling that the First Amendment protects unlimited campaign spending by corporations. The government, the majority said, has no business regulating political speech.

The dissenters responded that the First Amendment did not require allowing corporate money to flood the political marketplace and corrupt democracy.

“The libertarian position has become dominant on the right on First Amendment issues,” said Ilya Shapiro, a lawyer with the Cato Institute. “It simply means that we should be skeptical of government attempts to regulate speech. That used to be an uncontroversial and nonideological point. What’s now being called the libertarian position on speech was in the 1960s the liberal position on speech.”

And an increasingly conservative judiciary has been more than a little receptive to this argument. A new analysis prepared for The New York Times found that the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has been far more likely to embrace free-speech arguments concerning conservative speech than liberal speech. That is a sharp break from earlier eras.

As a result, liberals who once championed expansive First Amendment rights are now uneasy about them.

“The left was once not just on board but leading in supporting the broadest First Amendment protections,” said Floyd Abrams, a prominent First Amendment lawyer and a supporter of broad free-speech rights. “Now the progressive community is at least skeptical and sometimes distraught at the level of First Amendment protection which is being afforded in cases brought by litigants on the right.”

Many on the left have traded an absolutist commitment to free speech for one sensitive to the harms it can inflict.

Take pornography and street protests. Liberals were once largely united in fighting to protect sexually explicit materials from government censorship. Now many on the left see pornography as an assault on women’s rights.

In 1977, many liberals supported the right of the American Nazi Party to march among Holocaust survivors in Skokie, Ill. Far fewer supported the free-speech rights of the white nationalists who marched last year in Charlottesville, Va.

There was a certain naïveté in how liberals used to approach free speech, said Frederick Schauer, a law professor at the University of Virginia.

“Because so many free-speech claims of the 1950s and 1960s involved anti-obscenity claims, or civil rights and anti-Vietnam War protests, it was easy for the left to sympathize with the speakers or believe that speech in general was harmless,” he said. “But the claim that speech was harmless or causally inert was never true, even if it has taken recent events to convince the left of that. The question, then, is why the left ever believed otherwise.”

Some liberals now say that free speech disproportionately protects the powerful and the status quo.

“When I was younger, I had more of the standard liberal view of civil liberties,” said Louis Michael Seidman, a law professor at Georgetown. “And I’ve gradually changed my mind about it. What I have come to see is that it’s a mistake to think of free speech as an effective means to accomplish a more just society.”

To the contrary, free speech reinforces and amplifies injustice, Catharine A. MacKinnon, a law professor at the University of Michigan, wrote in “The Free Speech Century,” a collection of essays to be published this year.

“Once a defense of the powerless, the First Amendment over the last hundred years has mainly become a weapon of the powerful,” she wrote. “Legally, what was, toward the beginning of the 20th century, a shield for radicals, artists and activists, socialists and pacifists, the excluded and the dispossessed, has become a sword for authoritarians, racists and misogynists, Nazis and Klansmen, pornographers and corporations buying elections.”

In the great First Amendment cases in the middle of the 20th century, few conservatives spoke up for the protection of political dissenters, including communists and civil rights leaders, comedians using vulgar language on the airwaves or artists exploring sexuality in novels and on film.

In 1971, Robert H. Bork, then a prominent conservative law professor and later a federal judge and Supreme Court nominee, wrote that the First Amendment should be interpreted narrowly in a law-review article that remains one of the most-cited of all time.

“Constitutional protection should be accorded only to speech that is explicitly political,” he wrote. “There is no basis for judicial intervention to protect any other form of expression, be it scientific, literary or that variety of expression we call obscene or pornographic.”

But a transformative ruling by the Supreme Court five years later began to change that thinking. The case, a challenge to a state law that banned advertising the prices of prescription drugs, was filed by Public Citizen, a consumer rights group founded by Ralph Nader. The group argued that the law hurt consumers, and helped persuade the court, in Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, to protect advertising and other commercial speech.

The only dissent in the decision came from Justice William H. Rehnquist, the court’s most conservative member.

Kathleen M. Sullivan, a former dean of Stanford Law School, wrote that it did not take long for corporations to see the opportunities presented by the decision.

“While the case was litigated by consumer protection advocates,” she wrote in the Harvard Law Review, “corporate speakers soon became the principal beneficiaries of subsequent rulings that, for example, struck down restrictions on including alcohol content on beer can labels, limitations on outdoor tobacco advertising near schools and rules governing how compounded drugs may be advertised.”

That trend has continued, with businesses mounting First Amendment challenges to gun control laws, securities regulations, country-of-origin labels, graphic cigarette warnings and limits on off-label drug marketing.

“I was a bit queasy about it because I had the sense that we were unleashing something, but nowhere near what happened,” Mr. Nader said. “It was one of the biggest boomerangs in judicial cases ever.”

“I couldn’t be Merlin,” he added. “We never thought the judiciary would be as conservative or corporate. This was an expansion that was not preordained by doctrine. It was preordained by the political philosophies of judges.”

Not all of the liberal scholars and lawyers who helped create modern First Amendment law are disappointed. Martin Redish, a law professor at Northwestern University, who wrote a seminal 1971 article proposing First Amendment protection for commercial speech, said he was pleased with the Roberts court’s decisions.

“Its most important contributions are in the commercial speech and corporate speech areas,” he said. “It’s a workmanlike, common sense approach.”

Liberals also played a key role in creating modern campaign finance law in Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 decision that struck down limits on political spending by individuals and was the basis for Citizens United, the 2010 decision that did away with similar limits for corporations and unions.

One plaintiff was Senator Eugene J. McCarthy, Democrat of Minnesota, who had challenged President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1968 presidential primaries — from the left. Another was the American Civil Liberties Union’s New York affiliate.

Professor Neuborne, a former A.C.L.U. lawyer, said he now regrets the role he played in winning the case. “I signed the brief in Buckley,” he said. “I’m going to spend long amounts of time in purgatory.”

To Professor Seidman, cases like these were part of what he describes as a right-wing takeover of the First Amendment since the liberal victories in the years Chief Justice Earl Warren led the Supreme Court.

“With the receding of Warren court liberalism, free-speech law took a sharp right turn,” Professor Seidman wrote in a new article to be published in the Columbia Law Review. “Instead of providing a shield for the powerless, the First Amendment became a sword used by people at the apex of the American hierarchy of power. Among its victims: proponents of campaign finance reform, opponents of cigarette addiction, the L.B.G.T.Q. community, labor unions, animal rights advocates, environmentalists, targets of hate speech and abortion providers.”

The title of the article asked, “Can Free Speech Be Progressive?”

“The answer,” the article said, “is no.”

Liberals were correct in their advocacy of free speech in the 1960s. Liberals and progressives who condemn free speech are 100 percent wrong today. I recently checked, and the First Amendment contains no phrases like “unless someone is offended” or “unless someone’s feelings are hurt by your free expression.”