Pithy Polemics

 
 
(1) The War on Christianity - (MR)
Are Christians being discriminated against in the U.S.?  Of course not.  For all I know there are pockets where some Christian or Christian institution or practice is being discriminated against — but they are so insignificant in the total story that the possibility can be duly noted and set aside.  
The claim of discrimination is misguided but not without some basis in fact.  What looks to be discrimination is the weakening of Christianity as the ‘official’ religion of the country.  When a city says that a Nativity scene cannot be erected on public property, as it may have been for years, that is not discrimination.  It is the realization on the part of the city that it has been allowing a practice that is expressive of a particular religion.  That, the city has come to realize, is unconstitutional and so the practice is to be henceforth prohibited.  
That is not discrimination against Christianity — it is a recognition of what the law in the country is and that it has been violated for some time.  Nor is the existence of that law, in other words the constitution in which there is no official religion, not even that the country is officially a religious entity, a sign of discrimination against Christianity.
No other religion is being granted the right to erect a similar item expressive of its religious views, a move that might provide evidence for discrimination against Christianity.
Nor is such a prohibition giving preference to atheism or any such thing.  There is no widely recognized symbol for atheism, but if there were, the prohibition, done on constitutional grounds, would cover not only religious symbols but also anti-religious symbols.   
Those who complain that such prohibitions are pieces of anti-Christian discrimination have clearly failed to understand what discrimination is and have failed to understand what constitutionally this country is.  And that failure is tied up with the fact that the country is slowly recognizing we are officially a secular country, leaving religion to be not a government matter but a matter of personal belief.  
The lost of undeserved past privilege does not amount to discrimination.  It is the loss of past privilege that those Christians who claim current discrimination are suffering. 
 
(2)  Inequality and Schooling – (BG)
Studies have shown that socioeconomic status is the best predictor of success in school and beyond.  Disadvantaged students face many obstacles to success, some of which cannot very well be removed. 
However, there is evidence that the lack of hope in the future can be overcome.  Some years ago, a wealthy individual in New York City offered a full college scholarship to every student in a low-performing, low socioeconomic school, if the student's grades would qualify for admission to college.  Grades skyrocketed.  During the 2004 Presidential  election campaign, John Edwards proposed that every student be offered a full scholarship (I don't recall whether it was also based on need).  He was onto something.  It would increase the success of poorer students, give our country the benefit of their capabilities, and relieve all students of crushing debt after graduation.
(3) Being Fair Requires Talking of ‘Christian Terrorism’ – (MR)
 
Those on the right – and some on the left (Bill Maher, Sam Harris) - cannot see why liberals, including President Obama and Hillary Clinton, refuse to speak of ‘Islamic terrorism’.  They write off not speaking that way off as a mixture of fear (of whom?) and ‘political correctness’, a favorite right-wing term that takes the place of thinking.
 
On the contrary, there are perfectly good reasons for not talking of ‘Islamic terrorism’.  ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, wants to appropriate Islam in support of terrorism and their attempt to create a caliphate.  Millions and millions of followers of Islam do not support, in fact explicitly reject, terrorist activities and, so far as I can tell, the religion itself cannot be tarred with that brush.  To talk as the right does (and to want liberals to do likewise) is to attempt to associate Muslims and their religion with a particular group who also wants the religion to be identified with their views and activities. In short to so talk is to give ISIS the status that it wishes.
 
Imagine this:  the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooter is a Christian and his reason for choosing that target was based on his religious views.  In fairness if we speak of Islamic terrorism we should, though the right does not, also call Rob Dear a Christian terrorist.  But we all know that he does not speak and act for Christianity and for millions of Christians.  So we don’t characterize him as a Christian terrorist.  On right-wing principles, we should.
 
Of course, one could avoid the particular dispute by agreeing to speak of ‘religious fundamentalist terrorism’.  That way you could capture both Christian and Muslim inspired terrorists but also Buddhist and Hindu (and who knows what else is around these days.)  I suspect, however, that the right would not accept that move as it does not comply with their aim of politically rejecting Islam itself.
 
The Crusades do continue.
 
(4) Global Warming is a Potent Hoax – (BG)
 
Global warming has got to be the most realistic hoax ever pulled off by anyone. It's even fooled Mother Nature!
(5) The Opposition: Today’s Conservatives – (MR)
 
Progressive’s hold radically different conceptions of what sort of thing contemporary American conservativism is.  It makes a significant  difference as to what we say and do which conception is being  relied upon. 
 
Conception 1:  from Anna Marcotte in Salon.  “Silverman’s little experiment worked so well because it played not off ideas about religion and gender, but off understanding that the modern conservative movement is primarily, almost exclusively, about culture war. The narrative that undergirds and justifies the conservative movement is a belief that American culture used to be a wholesome one, a world where white Christian men were properly held in esteem above all others and people supposedly had good (read: conservative) values. And that now it’s all under assault by multiculturalism, queer-positivity, feminism and sex positivity.
 
Conception 2:  from Bernie Sanders in an interview with Andrea Mitchell.    Andrea Mitchell: Well, while you're trying to, as you point out, focus on the real issues, there have been charges of sexism back and forth between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  Senator Bernie Sanders: … But look, the real issues are not Donald Trump's vulgarity. And he is vulgar. It is the fact that Donald Trump thinks we should not be raising the minimum wage. He believes that wages in America are too high. This guy wants to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the top 3/10 of 1%, and meanwhile what he wants to do is divide our country between Latinos and Americans and Muslims and everybody else. That's not the kind of America we need.  Andrea, what we have got to do is ask the hard questions. And that is why is it that the people on top are doing phenomenally well while almost everybody else is seeing a decline in their real incomes? Why is it that we're not effectively addressing the fact that climate change is absolutely real.
 
That difference in conception of current conservativism between Marcotte (and Mitchell it might be added) and Sanders is roughly whether conservativism today is “chiefly, nearly exclusively” about “culture” and she means by that matters of sexuality or whether it is centrally about economic matters.  (Notice that Sanders’ doesn’t understand the issues narrowly as economic – but he does reject sexuality and such as among “the real issues”.)
 
Now of course the wise progressive will say that conservatism today is both – that the conservative movement is split between those who want a return to the social past of the country and those who are interested in unfettered capitalism and could care less about the culture issues.  And if each conception correctly characterizes part of conservativism, then we on the left must be prepared to combat both.
 
The recognition that we need to respond to both aspects of conservatism doesn’t, however, end the discussion.  For there remains the question of what should be primary in our overall view:  is our social/cultural message to take center stage or do we start with the economic?  Does Marcotte or Sanders represent the best outlook on who we are and who they are and what we should say and do about them?  That is what we progressives, social democrats, need to decide.
 
(6) Rejecting the Blue Lives Matter Movement – (MR)
Blue Lives Matter is a police, and police supporters’, response to the Black Lives Matter movement.  It is tempting to say that it is a wholly misguided response, an expression of thoughtless loyalty.    Given the statistics about the police shootings of blacks, the appropriate response by those in the police would seem to be ‘We are ashamed of the role of our fellow officers in the large number of killings of black citizens.  We pledge to join with Black Lives Matter in reforming American policing.’ 
 
Still, that is not the entire story.  For it avoids the question about the role of loyalty, solidarity, fraternite, in human life.  Surely solidarity is something valuable, a virtue, an excellence for people.  It plays an even larger part in at least some types of organization in which the people involved seriously depend upon each other – and certainly police departments are one such kind of organization.  It is to be hoped and expected that members of the police will display a significant solidarity with other police. 
 
Which of course raises the important issue:  what are the limits of a person’s or group’s loyalty when it is known that some members of the group engage in acts that violate moral and/or legal standards? That, of course, is a long debated question with no single general answer. 
 
What is disturbing, in the end, about the Blue Lives Matter response is that it shows that loyalty is being placed above every other consideration, above moral standards, without even any thought about the proper limits to loyalty to the group and its members.  In short, Blue Lives Matter is a morally unacceptable movement.