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Tags: Ross Douthat

Carl’s Rock Songbook No. 105, The Beatles, “Tomorrow Never Knows”



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One of the first pop songs to espouse pantheism, and one of the first psychedelic rock songs.  In a PBS rock documentary, members of the Grateful Dead recalled that when Revolver came out they went from friend’s to friend’s place in the Haight excitedly sharing the news:  The Beatles knew, i.e., they were sharers in the LSD enlightenment.  The evidence was this astounding song. 


There’s no denying its effectiveness.  It’s one of the seminal stun-from-the-first-note, overwhelm-the-senses, and pin-the-hearer-to-the-wall moments of rock power.  One could say much about its unusual beat, the parallel use of Indian tamboura and feedback, and the new studio techniques such as tape loops it employs, but without question, part of that impression of power comes from the song’s sense of danger.  To approach the divine All, and to unlock the chaos of the subconscious mind by means of acid, these must be fearful things.  And here is a maelstrom of sound to reflect that.

Similarly, even if the lyrics say that love is all and begin by telling us to relax, they take us into considering daunting doctrines, and troubling paradoxes:

Turn off your mind, relax and float down-stream,

It is not dying, it is not dying,

Lay down all thought, surrender to the void,

It is shining, it is shining.

That you may see the meaning of within,

It is being, it is being,

That love is all and love is ev’ryone,

It is knowing, it is knowing.

When ignorance and haste may mourn the dead,

It is believing, it is believing,

But listen to the color of your dreams,

It is not living, it is not living.

Or play the existence to the end.

Of the beginning, of the beginning. (etc.)

If we consider the dying, shining, etc. participial lines I think we have to conclude that they are meant to suggest relation to one another, often paradoxical relation, and that the correct pairings are:  shining/being, knowing/believing, and more significantly, not-dying/not-living, with perhaps also an implied pairing of end-ing/beginning.  And other paradoxes are present in the lyrics:  the void shines, you listen to colors, etc.

You are to surrender to the All, which as we know from other pantheism songs, such as The Byrds’ “5D,” could be presented in a kindly manner, but here it is initially presented as the void. The quick reassurance that such a surrender is not an act of dying is eventually undermined by the suggestion that not dying is in some way the same as not living.  Part of the reason I say this is that since the antecedents to each of the participial lines’ pronoun “it” are never 100% certain, they could be read in a deeper sense to all have one antecedent.  This transcendent “it,” this One, which outside of the participial lines seems to be described as the meaning of within, the color of one’s dreams, the void, and as a love that is all, is described within the participial lines as both beginning/ending, shining/being, and not-dying/not-living.  The mental relation of our individuated minds to the One, which obviously we could also call the All, is what is captured in the knowing/believing pair.

The When ignorance and haste may mourn the dead line, as it is followed by the suggestion that the proper remedy to such ignorance is a kind of believing, could initially be read in two ways:  1) mourning is mistaken because the person lives on as a person, as in Christian or spiritualist belief, or 2) mourning is mistaken because “the person” was never more than an ever-changing part of the itself ever-changing All, so that death’s dissolving the body into the earth and other living organisms simply more vividly reveals this, and so that the enlightened belief is that this is not a change to be regretted. Upon minimal reflection, we can see that the second interpretation of this line must be the favored one.  Christian doctrine regards death as a real curse.  Jesus wept when in the company of his fellow humans confronting death prior to the more solid hope of resurrection that he brought[John 11:35].  As for spiritualist heresy, it is all about the idea that the particular person lives on in the afterlife.  So “Tomorrow Never Knows” cannot offer any encouragement to the desire of many of us have, such as Cate Le Bon, to be in some way with the dearly departed again. 

Judging the song artistically, I’d say its musical and lyrical evocation of the mysterious and frightening side of pantheism make it much better than The Beatles’ other big pantheism song, “All You Need Is Love.”  Comparing the former song’s elusive use of paradox with the more straightforwardly didactic use in the latter song reveals that spelled-out pantheism, at least in the mouths of its Western novices, often becomes repellently smug.  However kindly its chorus seems, the verses of “All You Need Is Love” teach a doctrine precisely guilty of the type of all-is-destined and its-all-good moral surrender that Tocqueville argued was the key characteristic of pantheism. “Tomorrow Never Knows” took the more attractive path of keeping the doctrine shrouded in mystery.

I admit that to speak authoritatively on the subject of pantheistic religion is no easy task.  We postmodern conservatives often immediately proceed to quoting Tocqueville’s famous chapter on it from Democracy in America, but as I suggested when I recently discussed Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion (scroll below), there are a number of other authorities to be taken into account:  Greek philosophers, Sanskrit sages, Transcendentalist literati, modern psychologists, 60s and New Age gurus, etc.  I also said that what we really want to know is whether our New Age spiritual practices today, most of which first got off the ground in the 60s, are more fundamentally pantheistic, or individualistic/therapeutic.  That is, are they more about understanding oneself as a mere part of the divine all, or, more about divinizing the inner self? 

Douthat says the latter—for most present-day New Agers, the meaning of within turns out not be a too-profound-for-words encounter with being, but a follow-your-inner-voice theology of books like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.  Gilbert’s inner voice told her to leave her husband, and to travel to places like Bali.  Our Peter Lawler says something similar, but puts the accent more on the therapeutic than on the selfish. He argues that pantheism serves more as a temporary therapeutic technique than a seriously-followed doctrine:  “These days, pantheism rarely defines a whole way of life…but is a kind of stress-relief from the competitive marketplace that is so much of most successful lives.” I.e., as Tocqueville said, it is a relief from modern democratic restlessness.  “Restlessness,” incidentally, was the very word used by James Redfield in The Celestine Prophecy to describe the modern malaise his New Age doctrine would cure.  That is not a sign that Redfield knew anything about Tocqueville, but rather a sign of how deeply Tocqueville knows us, the democratic men and women who made Redfield’s crackpot book a bestseller.

Now to my Gen-X ways of judging, the exploration of pantheist spirituality found in the 60s Counter-culture always seemed cool and sophisticated, even if as a Christian I regarded it as ultimately errant, whereas that exemplified by 80s New Age seminars, best-sellers like The Celestine Prophecy, or the sorts of teachers championed by Oprah, has always seemed pretty lame, something characteristic of the more tired of the aging baby-boomers, and those foolish enough of later generations to listen to them.  1966’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” belongs to a period when The Beatles and many others in the Counter Culture were quite seriously hoping that LSD-use would allow something new, i.e., that combined with certain Eastern religious teachings, it would produce what Allen Ginsberg once described as a “revolution in consciousness.”  The initial embrace of the sexual/hedonistic revolution made by many in the early-to-mid 60s period, was thus being quickly followed by a turn to the spiritual, although admittedly a spirituality that would endorse aspects of the newer hedonism.  In any case, it was fresh, and full of potentiality. 

But the lameness was there to detect from the start.  It would soon enough issue in things like slightly annoying Beatles song “All You Need Is Love,” or the truly nauseating Beatles movie Magical Mystery Tour, but there were those who recognized that even this song, right at the leading edge of the trend, contained notes of smug self-serving therapeutic technique. 

Consider The Who’s “Armenia City in the Sky.”  It is the lead song on the album The Who Sell Out, which was made loosely thematic by the interspersion of little commercial ditties between the main tracks, and was like Magical Mystery Tour released in December of 1967.  It is a lesser song than “Tomorrow Never Knows,” but I think it only takes a single listen to recognize that it is derivative from it, or more properly labeled, a deliberate response to it:

 

 

The song was one of the few Who numbers written by a non-member, Pete Townshend’s chauffeur and fellow rock musician Speedy Keen, and there’s talk that the title refers to some lost painting.  But the minimal lyrics strongly suggest that they have “Tomorrow Never Knows,” or at least what it stands for in the emerging Counter Culture, directly in their sights:

If you’re troubled and you can’t relax,

close your eyes, and think of this.

…If you ever want to lose some time,

just take off!  There’s no risk.

The way the psychedelic spirituality had been championed, by acid-pioneers like Ken Kesey’s “Merry Pranksters,” and by the song of this post, it was presented as something you had to have bravery to try.   But its effectual truth, the way it was really practiced by the Counter Culture, was all wrapped up in the word relax present in the first line of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and made in “Armenia City” to sound like the cloying pitch of a slick advertisement.  There’s really no risk to this spirituality, because the pantheistic doctrine is not to be seriously followed as a guide to living, but to be taken as a momentary therapeutic relief from modern troubles and restlessness.  Thus, the guru and the ad-man could be the same man.

There would be those more serious about the new spirituality, such as The Beatles’ own George Harrison, who would turn away from acid to established Eastern pantheist disciplines and doctrines, such as those of the Hare Krishnas, ones which require real self-sacrifice.  But it seems The Who were onto the more dominant note of the Counter Culture’s spirituality, the one Douthat and Lawler can more fully explain in our day. This is so even if we expand the “Armenia City’s” criticism of the use of Eastern religion to include that of religion in general—something which might be suggested by the presence of Armenia in the title—and even if it seems slightly tricky to correlate its criticism with Pete Townshend’s own long-term devotion to the guru Meher Baba, which began around this time. Quickly on that last wrinkle:  The Who as a whole would not let themselves be defined by Pete’s Baba-ism, and this is one of their few non-Townshend songs; Baba-ism itself criticized the easy/vague pantheism, and especially the related acid-use, that characterized so much of the Counter-Culture.  “Tomorrow Never Knows” was the song that best embodied and heralded the arrival of that pantheism. 

Again, I would never deny the song’s artistic achievement—here’s a bit more on its making for the Beatles-lovers–, but I’ve saved the last words for Tocqueville:

If there is a philosophical system which teaches that all things material and immaterial, visible and invisible, which the world contains are to be considered only as the several parts of an immense Being, who alone remains eternal amidst the continual change and ceaseless transformation of all that constitutes him, we may readily infer that such a system, although it destroys the individuality of man, or rather because it destroys that individuality, will have secret charms for men living in democracies. All their habits of thought prepare them to conceive it and predispose them to adopt it. It naturally attracts and fixes their imagination; it fosters the pride while it soothes the indolence of their minds.

Among the different systems by whose aid philosophy endeavors to explain the universe I believe pantheism to be one of those most fitted to seduce the human mind in democratic times. Against it all who abide in their attachment to the true greatness of man should combine and struggle.

Tags: pantheism , The Beatles , The Who , Alexis de Tocqueville , Peter Lawler , Ross Douthat , LSD , rock

Book Notes, “Post-Christian America” Edition



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No, I don’t think the adjective “post-Christian” is a good adjective for describing American society.  It’s too categorical, too… decisive.  But people are using it these days, and more in the spirit of description than in one of just-around-the-bend warning.  For example, at the Anglican church I attend, where a dwindling of membership has prompted us to have a number of meetings about “re-visioning” our overall approach, a church-growth consultant we’d brought in used the adjective fairly freely and authoritatively.

Hearing him use that term bothered me.  That, alongside my own thinking about Lennon’s “Imagine” and CNU’s holding a conference on “The Future of Religion in America” led me this fall to a couple of books which turned out to be useful to read in tandem:  Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion:  How We Became a Nation of Heretics, and Joseph Bottum’s An Anxious Age:  The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America.  Douthat’s is from 2012, Bottom’s was released this summer.  My “notes” upon them have turned into an essay, however, so gird thyself.

Let’s begin with the less comprehensive book, An Anxious Age.  It consists of two parts, the first about how the crash of the Protestant Mainline left in its place a distinctive approach to politics and culture that Bottum calls that of “The Poster Children,” and the second about the travails of contemporary Catholicism, which can be summed up as why the “Catholic Moment” didn’t happen, or why Catholicism couldn’t culturally replace the Mainline.  I’ll only talk about the first part here.    

“The death of the Mainline is the central political fact of the last 150 years of American history,” Bottum says.  The Mainline once was the uniting cultural river of the realm, but now that it’s subsided nearly to extinction without anything able to fill its place, we are left fragmented, and more subject to polarization.  Bottum describes his theory in a recent Weekly Standard essay:

…the Protestant churches in early America were widely divided on theological and ecclesial issues—and yet they somehow joined to form what Alexis de Tocqueville would call the nation’s “undivided current of manners and morals.” We can debate how long-lasting and all-encompassing that central Protestantism really was, but…the collapse in recent decades of the mainline churches (from around 50 percent of the nation in 1965 to under 10 percent today) remains one of the most astonishing cultural changes in American history.

He works more with the Mainline “river” image in the book, describing Jews and Catholics as having “lived on its banks,” socio-culturally speaking.  He does not speak of this river as having been dried up so much by outside factors, but as having had its members ascend/evaporate right out of its banks of their own accord:  “American Protestantism thinning itself up so far that it loses all tethering in the specifics of the faith that gave it birth.”  The ascension was, initially, into a theology more abstract about the concept of God, focused upon social justice, and less bound by the Bible, creeds, and sexual restrictions.  


Bottum uses his interview subjects, and a few well-known figures, as symbolic types (in the way Habits of the Heart did with “Sheila” and such).  He begins his account with “Bonnie Paisley,” a twice-divorced Oregon liberal very serious about how she decorates her home, only slightly so about her flirtations with New Age religion, and completely dismissive of her family tree’s Protestant roots. 

Bonnie’s life illustrates where American Mainline Protestantism has gone, the place where it’s been aiming for generations:  Christian in the righteous timbre of its moral judgments, without any actual Christianity; middle class in social flavor, while ostensibly despising middle-class norms; American in cultural setting, even as she believes American history is a tale of tyranny from which she and those like her have barely managed to escape.  

Bottom traces the pattern here back to the Social Gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch (whose grandson, both he and Douthat both note, was none other than Richard Rorty).  The “post-Protestants,” in things like their heightened moralism regarding food and fitness, their attraction to theories that demand self-examination like today’s “white privilege” one, and their demonization of certain institutions or persons, display an “anxious” need to

…see themselves as good people—a hunger for spiritual confidence in perfect parallel to the hungers that drove previous generations of American Protestants… In their view, the social forces of bigotry, power, corruption, mass opinion, militarism, and oppression are the constant themes of history.  These horrors have a palpable, almost metaphysical presence in the world.  Post-Protestants believe the best way to know themselves as moral is to define themselves in opposition to such bigotry and oppression—understanding good and evil not primarily in terms of personal behavior but as states of mind about the social condition.  Sin, in other words, appears as a social fact, and the redeemed personality becomes confident of its own salvation by being aware of that fact.  By knowing about, and rejecting, the evil that darkens society. 

Bottom then tells us that he compiled “that list of six evil social forces…from the writing of the theologian Walter Rauschenbusch.” A chapter is devoted to his teaching, and particularly focuses upon his call for “redeemed personalities.”  Here are two striking Rauschenbusch quotes, from the early 1900s:

A better and more Christian method of getting a religious realization of sin is to bring before our minds the positive ideals of social righteousness contained in the person of Christ and in the Kingdom of God and see sin as the treasonable force which frustrates and wrecks these ideals…

As long as man sees in our present society only a few inevitable abuses and recognizes no sin and evil deep-seated in the very constitution of the present order, he is still in a state of moral blindness and without conviction of sin…

Or as one young Occupy protester told Bottom, “we want people to know about the wrongness in society the way we do.”

Different conservative scholars will regard this arc of Rauschenbusch to post-Protestantism in different ways:  some will see it as a corruption of American Protestantism by historicist philosophy, some will see it as the destiny of Biblical religion generally, and others as reflecting a dynamic peculiar to Protestantism, which is more where Bottum stands.  But he is less interested in ultimate explanation than in description of what has been afoot. 

One of the more fruitful ways he does this is to suggest that to think about class in America, particularly in the mode of the “liberal elites”-talk that conservatives have indulged in in recent years, actually requires one to think less about economic ownership and quantifiable wealth, and more about how the old insiders of Protestant society set a the classic pattern for elite behavior in America.  By this pattern, what matters most is a priestly-class badge of Rauschenbusch-like or Emerson-like focus upon redeeming politics—or at least upon redeeming lifestyle and aesthetics.  One has to be cultivated in a certain way (elite “liberal education” or something similar) and one has to display signs of having seen the light.  By this understanding, mere “Power Elites” of course exist, and as Rauschenbusch’s list of six evils indicates, they threaten social righteousness, but a rightful elite exists also, that of the elect.

One might consider what I once wrote about the Quaker-rooted Joan Baez in this respect. Folks like her undoubtedly felt excluded by and hostile to the WASP “Society” of the day, but by Bottum’s understanding, their transmutation of the Protestant spirit eventually became the new elite coin of the realm.  And in part because for some time it had been no longer united around religion, “Society” collapsed in the face of the 60s revolutions, with its would-have-been heirs becoming the marginalized preppie class portrayed in the Whit Stillman films; whereas the counter-cultural sorts who really embraced the likes of Joan Baez-music, whether post-Protestant, ex-Catholic, or non-Orthodox Jewish, gradually took over most of the cultural heights. 

Now today, as the fall of The New Republic might symbolize, and the hollowing out of our college’s humanities departments definitely indicates, these seem to be being replaced themselves by more tech-oriented “liberaltarian” types on one hand, or by PC-activist Upworthy-types on the other.  There’s something less spiritual and less intellectual about the Post-Protestants’ apparent millennial heirs, we might say, so that Bottum’s theory is only really useful for explaining the age we’ve just been through.  However that may be, Bottom holds and anecdotally shows that many of today’s younger progressives still manifest many of the attitudes he pegs as post-Protestant.

As all single-cause explanations of modern American liberalism are deficient, and trying to connect such to social class analysis is trickier yet, it is of course the case that Bottom’s theory ultimately works too neatly.  But I find it much more suggestive and convincing than most such theories.  It captures something quite important about contemporary liberalism’s overall tone, and I feel better about the more strident of my liberal brothers and sisters when I think of them less in terms of their affinity for what non-theological conservative thought (including my own) tells me is their Jacobinism, “liberal fascism,” Marxism, vengeance-seeking, and hate-enabling historicist idealism, and more in terms of their feeling a religious-like longing for redeemed life.  More importantly, this seems closer to how they (with big exceptions admitted) understand themselves. 

Again, Bottum’s thesis is not presented as a theory about American liberalism simply, but one about our whole history with respect to how religion interacts with politics and national identity.  It is useful for considering the contemporary nature of this given that “secularization” and “post-Christian” turn out to be inadequate concepts. 

That last sentence cracks me up at myself.  As if I, raised in a Presbyterian church, and won over to evangelical understandings of faith in my college days by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, could ever be simply objective about whether America (Europe, too) was losing its religion, and thus could talk coldly-scientific about whether the “secularization thesis,” the idea that the more modern a nation becomes the more it will turn away from belief in God, was “an adequate concept” or not!   

But as we turn to the more important book here, Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion, let’s proceed–since we have no other choice–as if such an objective stance can be arrived at, by any of us whether religious or not.   Douthat’s main argument should already be familiar to Postmodern Conservative readers, although it is much more powerful in book form than in summary:  America is not moving into a secular age shorn of religion generally, in the manner typical versions of the secularization thesis would predict, but it is moving, indeed already has moved, into an era in which Christian orthodoxy is pushed to the side, with its place filled not by atheism and secularist disregard, but by Christian heresy

 

Keep reading this post . . .

Tags: Ross Douthat , Joseph Bottum , George Mardsen , Religion , Christianity

Where’s the Leadership?



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It increasingly looks like Obama will issue the Big Amnesty order, likely this very week. Here’s descriptions from Ross Douthat and Jonathan Tobin of its breathtakingly anti-democratic, polarizing, and unconstitutional character. And here is a Wahington Post account that reads like a liberal legacy-media account, the sort that many of your fellow citizens are letting themselves be guided by, that tries to reduce the controversy to one about (a) immigration policy and (b) relations between Obama and the Republicans in Congress – i.e., it does much to avoid framing the issue as one about the Constitution.  

So that’s it, then? Another excuse for another one of those funding and shutdown battles, eh?  

Everything in me wants to scream against that. And the strategist in me wants to caution most gravely that Obama is likely not done with taking unconstitutional executive-order actions, which means the day after Big Amnesty, on top of calculating any retaliation against it or blocking of its implementation, we have to begin strategizing about how to prevent him from doing more and more of such actions.  

Will we let Big Amnesty go down in our history as something never challenged in any clear way as an unconstitutional abomination of the first order? Are there plans for any big protest? Discussion of whether to oppose ever granting voting rights to those so amnestied?  Does any conservative leader prepare citizens for what comes next?

Well, on NRO, Andrew McCarthy does. There’s Douthat’s work at the New York Times, although he has avoided ever recommending impeachment or the threat of it. But that’s about it. Oh, there undoubtedly are some more obscure writers, such as yours truly, who dwell upon the issue, but have we seen the big conservative outlets linking our commentaries? Pursuing major reporting on the issue? Discussing a menu of possible GOP responses? Nope.

Boehner tells us “we’re going to fight this tooth and nail,” and that “all options are on the table.” Okay. Thank you for saying that.  And maybe you do have some cool procedural weapons that you masterminds confer about in secret. But the public, meantime, is reduced to waiting to see what you will unveil.  Below that story I read some anonymous conservative’s comment: ”If the GOP leadership allows this to stand, they’ll be ruined.”  

Well, as far as I can tell, it is going to stand, and all the drama about government shut-down will, by itself, amount to little but a confusion.  Had the GOP organized a pledge to impeach in response to Big Amnesty, as I called for many months ago, and again last week, we could begin pursuing that without the shame of giving the public no warning of our intention. Had the GOP at least not discouraged its members from admitting the obvious fact that their constituents were talking about impeachment, perhaps such a pledge could have been quickly organized after November 4. But now? Heck, now, we aren’t even in a position to force the legacy media to take note of half the nation’s deep anger over this. Obama will do it, and a thousand editorials that only conservatives read will denounce it.

Does anyone organize a letter campaign?  Lay the groundwork for big protest actions? Does anyone give the conservative base a stinkin’ thing to do? I guess we’re supposed to just wait until after the order is given, and after the GOP honchos have had their meeting about how to respond. Meantime, the impression we’re all giving our fellow Americans is that we regard this as politics as per usual.  

I’m not directing my accusation here solely against McConnell and Boehner. I think their legislative pro-amnesty gamesmanship has been a disaster in several ways, but I feel, as I think think most conservatives do by now, used to it.  I expect it.  They are at least noble enough men to resent the blackmail Obama has threatened them with, and American enough to be aghast at the naked unconstitutionality of his proposed order.  Yes, their elitist approach to the “immigration issue” has now put them in an unprepared and unconvincing position to lead with respect to the core issue here, that is, the constitutional one, but this is not a surprise.

So the ones I most denounce for leadership failure are top conservatives across the land, in conservative media, think-tanks, political organizations, etc. I’d guess that at least a third of these people disagreed with the way Boehner his ilk continued, after repeated rejections, to pursue an immigration deal repugnant to most of the conservative base. So why didn’t these ones begin to make noise, or otherwise prepare for action? And why couldn’t even some in the “Boehner camp” have tried to forcefully distinguish between the policy issue and the constitutional one? The approach of this monstrosity has been visible for months. The pattern of take-care-clause violations, ones with lower stakes, has been unfolding since 2012 and rather obviously so from the summer of 2013 on. And as of today, I know of no organized group action to stop it, either from inside or outside the official GOP and conservative organizations. Why don’t I? On comment thread after comment thread, in poll after poll, evidence of astonishment and anger about Big Amnesty is seen again and again. Is there no “entrepreneur,” either as politician, organizer, or media-salesman, who has stepped up to serve such sentiments? Or, why haven’t we heard about them?  Perhaps Peter Spiliakos or someone else who understands the GOP and national conservative organizations better than I could explain why.

And no, the mere fear of uttering the “I”-word prior to an election cannot fully explain what’s going on here.  

UPDATE: Ramesh Ponnuru proposes a decent selective defunding plan here. It has the key merit of simplicity, although it is still unclear to me how far existing funding would allow Obama to implement the order anyhow. So perhaps good news, that. Another bright spot amid the darkening gloom is the Washington Post’s editorial forcefully opposing the order. If only more liberal editorial pages had spoken so much sooner, but good for the WaPo nonetheless.  

Tags: Big Amensty , Republican Party , Conservatism , Ross Douthat , Jonathan Tobin , Andrew McCarthy

Ross Douthat and the Week of Obscene Silences



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Last week was one of the more dismaying ones in the history of our republic.  A president suggested that he was ready to take an action that would violate the separation of powers in a major way. In Ross Douthat’s words:

…the president is contemplating — indeed, all but promising — an extraordinary abuse  of office: the granting of temporary legal status, by executive fiat, to up to half the country’s population of illegal immigrants.

It even appeared plausible he was signaling this for the sake of provoking demands for impeachment  that he calculated would aide his party’s fortunes at the next election.

Did the president deny the rumors—likely planted by his minions—that he was considering this patently unconstitutional action?  He did not. 

Did he respond to the speculations of his wanting to provoke impeachment talk by denying them?  He did not. 

Were any reporters able or willing to aggressively ask our president about the origins of these rumors?  About how such an action could be constitutional? No again.

Did he seek to distance himself from claims that the GOP would impeach made by many in his party in fund-raising letters and speeches?  No.  Rather, the sudden adoption of that tact appears to have been coordinated, and we can rightly suspect that such coordination was approved by him.  Rather, he modeled for one and all how to characterize Republican concern and debate about how to combat his unconstitutional expansions of executive power–referring to the lawsuit resolution passed by the House, he delivered this:  stop hatin’ all the time! 

And the response of Americans, particularly those of the political class, to all of this?

Crickets.

Oh, there was talk alright, but among the Democratic leaders it was all along the lines of how to better drive home the hatin’ angle, and among Republican ones it was all along the dishonest-in-spirit, utterly unsustainable, but sure, technically true lines of “WE haven’t said the I-word!” 

A mere word, of eleven little letters that begins with an “I,” and every conservative strategist is shaking in fear of it, and every other Democratic partisan is suddenly brandishing it about like a talisman!  Available at a click are carefully thought-through and exquisitely constructed sentences from our Founders laying out what they intended, both for the separation of powers and for impeachment, but a president of these latter days utters some schoolyard Miley Cyrus phrase, and that’s it, everyone knows and accepts that there’s nothing more to see here. 

Well, thank God that Ross Douthat is not among those.  The man’s had many a great column, but this week he stands particularly tall, for being one of the few willing to warn that a very dangerous line is about to be crossed (although in the strict sense, it is not, as he said, a “Rubicon”-type line of no-return).  It is the line between confining the power to make and repeal legislation to one branch, and allowing it to be shared by two.  If there is anything sacred about our Constitution, then the mere suggestion given by a president that he might erase such a line is tantamount to a high priest uttering blasphemies before the whole congregation. 

Keep reading this post . . .

Tags: Impeachment , abdication of moderates , Ross Douthat , Barack Obama

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