Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Status Cuomo update: New York’s disgrace

July 30, 2021

First, the Moreland Act Commission, convened to investigate state government corruption. Governor Cuomo cheered it on while it probed others. When it started poking into his own office, he abruptly shut it down, saying “it’s my commission.”

Percoco

So nothing to see here, folks. Except Joe Percoco, Cuomo’s “other brother” and enforcer who, with Todd Howe, another Cuomo henchman, went to jail for bribery. We learned too that Percoco illegally used state facilities for political work. (I’m shocked, shocked.) Then JCOPE — New York’s Joke Commission on Public Ethics — established under Cuomo and stuffed with his sycophants — refused to investigate Percoco.

Then some JCOPE commissioner votes were illegally leaked to Cuomo, and he vented his displeasure about them to State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. The State Inspector General’s office was asked to investigate the leak but found no evidence. Didn’t look terribly hard — didn’t even interview Heastie or Cuomo.

At the pandemic’s start, Cuomo ordered nursing homes to accept Covid patients from hospitals. In hindsight, a mistake. But ever since, he’s tried to cover it up with lies, blatantly manipulating Covid death statistics.

Then he wrote a book about his glorious pandemic leadership. Actually no — seems most of the work was done by his staffers. As volunteers, he claims. Yeah, sure. Using government resources in Cuomo’s side hustle as an author was a really big no-no. Demands for JCOPE to investigate this fell on deaf ears.

Meantime Cuomo was paid $5.1 million by Crown Publishing. Must have expected a blockbuster bestseller. Even though his previous book (also with a hefty advance) sold embarrassingly few copies. Now Crown, after the nursing home fiasco, has basically deep-sixed the new book. So why on Earth did they pay him $5.1 million up front? Seems awfully fishy. Maybe JCOPE should investigate.

And then there are the numerous women accusing Cuomo of sexual harassment. After several Cuomo attempts to get this handled under friendlier auspices, it wound up with State Attorney-General Letitia James running an inquiry. Previously she’d issued a devastating report on Cuomo’s nursing home scandal. Now, in February, fending off resignation demands, Cuomo said, “Let’s get the facts . . . that’s what the Attorney-General is doing. And that’s what we should all respect.”

That respect, by him, lasted for about a nanosecond. Ever since, Cuomo, through his bulldog mouthpiece Rich Azzopardi, has been badmouthing James and her investigation as a political hit job. Saying she’s just aiming to run for governor. The response was the same when the highly respected State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli called for investigating whether Cuomo criminally used state employees for his $5.1 million book. But, says team Cuomo, it’s DiNapoli who’s unethical. How so? Because he too is running for governor. “Albany politics at its worst,” tweeted Azzopardi.

They even impugn James’s investigation because one of its lawyers once worked for federal prosecutor Preet Bharara — who, guess what, supposedly wants to be governor.

Their response to this blog post will probably be that I’m running for governor.

For the record, I’m not. Nor are James, DiNapoli, or Bharara, either. Alas, there’s actually no credible candidate on the horizon who could threaten Cuomo in the primary. While Republicans, deep in their alternate reality, are set to nominate Congressman Lee Zeldin, a thoroughgoing Trumpsucker. Good luck with that.

Meantime, back when all the stuff started hitting the fan, and calls for Cuomo’s resignation peaked, the Democrat-controlled State Assembly started an impeachment. It never seemed in earnest, and now it’s clear they’re slow-walking it to death. Recently Speaker Heastie let slip a remark indicating that nothing the Attorney-General reports can result in impeachment.

So will Cuomo be re-elected next year? Of course! This is New York!

Excelsior!

Are child car seats contraceptive?

May 25, 2021

The average U.S. woman birthed 2.12 children in the early ’70s but only 1.73 by 2018. And whereas car safety seats were first required only for tots under three, that has gradually risen in most places to age eight. Are these two things related?

Yes, says a scientific study reported in The Economist. Though finding no correlation regarding the births of first and second children, families did less often choose to have a third while the first two still needed safety seats. Notably, the birth rate reduction was seen only in two-parent families.

Visualize this. A single parent can easily drive with three child seats. But two adults and three safety seats in a car don’t go. Of course, you can get a bigger vehicle, like a minivan. But that’s costly, and even people who can afford such monsters may dislike them. The answer: as long as two children still need safety seats, postpone the third. Maybe forever.

This car seat effect on family size is marginal, to be sure, but it seems it’s not zero. The study’s authors reckoned that in 2017 it reduced U.S. births by 8,000. But what about children’s lives saved by requiring safety seats up to age eight? Only 57 they calculated.

But this, The Economist comments, “to put it politely,” is “a strange moral calculation.” It cites other evidence suggesting greater safety benefits for car seats even for older children. But anyhow I see no equivalence between a living child killed in a crash and one never born, whose existence is merely hypothetical. (Then again, I don’t have the refined moral sense of an anti-abortion zealot.)

And I take the whole thing with a grain of salt. It’s axiomatic that correlation needn’t imply causation. There may obviously have been other sociological and cultural reasons for the observed effects, unrelated to car seats.

Nevertheless, The Economist concludes that this story illustrates the law of unintended consequences. We think of the back seats of cars as places where children are conceived; here they may be preventing children being conceived.

“2034: A Novel of the Next World War”

May 15, 2021

It starts with an incident in the South China Sea — in this much remarked 2021 novel by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis (head of the prestigious Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts). 

China has been assertively invoking an ancient map, with a “nine-dash line” encompassing this entire vast Pacific region, a claim flagrantly contrary to international law. It encroaches on the legitimate territoriality of several other nations. And grabbing some tiny islands there, China has been heavily militarizing them. 

In pointed denial of China’s claims, the U.S. has long been sending “freedom of navigation” ship patrols through these international waters. One such, in 2034, encounters a seeming Chinese fishing boat on fire. This leads to boarding, detaining the crew at gunpoint, and removing a mysterious piece of advanced technology.

By what right would we do such a thing? I was baffled — not for the first time in this book.

Chinese naval vessels quickly arrive. Of the three American ships, two are sunk, the other nearly. It seems all their computer and communications systems were hacked and disabled (never really explained). The incident set up to send us a message: get out of the South China Sea.

Now we dispatch a huge armada, including two carrier groups. Baffling me again. This seemed insane without first figuring out how to counter the cyber-hack that did for the earlier squadron. And our grand armada too is duly sent to the bottom.

Then China swiftly surrounds Taiwan and invades. Not much we can do now to stop them. So instead we nuke a Chinese city. Then they nuke two U.S. cities. And then . . . .

Does this make sense?

There is a villain: the U.S. National Security Advisor, called a “hawk.” Wrong bird. I’d say loon.

Our South China Sea patrols do irk the Chinese. Yet they ultimately do nothing to counter the “facts on the ground” (or water) of China’s tightening grip. So why risk creating an incident there? If China actually has the decisive cyber capability described, why not go straight for Taiwan? That’s the real game.

A quick tutorial for my readers on Mars: Taiwan is an island near China. The anti-communists retreated there after Mao conquered the mainland in 1949. Taiwan became de facto independent and, eventually, a thriving democracy. But China insists Taiwan is a part of it (“One China”), and that everybody pay lip service to this fiction. And that it must be made reality at some point. 

In fact this has become a nationalistic obsession for what has become a nation of truculent nationalists. It’s fed by China’s dictator Xi Jinping, seemingly vowing that Taiwan “reunification” will be the capstone of his reign. He is now 67. (Xi is never mentioned in the book.)

America is (more or less) pledged to defend Taiwan’s independence, notwithstanding the “strategic ambiguity” of the “One China” formulation. Our ability to deter China militarily regarding Taiwan is the key test of America’s place in the world order going forward. The Number One global flash point. 

Xi’s China is ramping up its military capabilities targeting Taiwan. In the novel, our countering capability evaporates overnight. In the actual world, there seems to be a growing imbalance, in China’s favor. I was very concerned that if Xi was really set on grabbing Taiwan, the time to move was between last November and January, when America’s government was non-functional, unlikely to muster much of a response. 

Territoriality is a human mind glitch, a vestige from an evolutionary past when defending a scrap of ground might really matter. In today’s different world, control of territory doesn’t delineate a nation’s destiny. (Adam Smith made that clear in 1776.) China would actually be far better off telling Taiwan: “You want to be independent? Fine; two Chinas are better than one. Let’s be friends and do business.” (In fact, they do a lot of business, notably in computer chips, Taiwan being a vital supplier.) Is this naive? No, rational. The alternative is trying to conquer recalcitrant Taiwanese by force, probably starting a long-term costly and bloody conflict, and disrupting that chip industry China so depends on. While making itself — this nation so prideful — a hated international criminal.

In the novel, China gets Taiwan. But look at the cost. Bully for you, China.

And if America can’t save Taiwan from China’s aggression, then what is achieved by nuking a Chinese city? Putting us on a path to global destruction? The mindless insanity of it all makes this seem like a comic book, not serious future hypothesizing. Indeed, the book doesn’t even bother to explain how such fateful decisions were reached. Maybe because no explanation would have seemed plausible.

Characters pontificate about comeuppance for America’s longtime misplaced global arrogance, blah blah blah. I have little patience for this and am frankly surprised that someone like Stavridis seemingly does. The world is much more complicated than such platitudes imply. And it’s particularly ludicrous maligning America in that way — next to China!

The problem is mainly this book being a novel — following the standard formula for a geopolitical “thriller,” tracing developments through characters. I guess the idea is to make the story “come alive.” But these characters one doesn’t really care about — not with cities being nuked and such. While those cataclysmic events are treated so perfunctorily they have no verisimilitude. The characters react to them, but the world’s other 8 billion people seem nonexistent. There’s virtually no description of the destruction! Without that, how can you write about cities nuked? Just leaving it to our imagination? 

I’d have preferred a straightforward history from a post-2034 perspective. That too would have been fiction, of course, but fiction of a different kind. It would have attempted to put the events in context. This novel failed to seriously do that. 

Cancel culture and “The Human Stain”

March 20, 2021

Coleman Silk was a dynamo college dean who put his school on the map. Now he’s teaching a classics seminar; two students enrolled therein have never attended. “Does anyone know them?” he asks. “Do they exist, or are they spooks?”

That’s the set-up for Philip Roth’s 2000 novel, The Human Stain.

Turns out the students were Black. A complaint is lodged. Silk insists “spooks” meant ghosts, not a racial slur. He digs in; nobody backs him; winds up resigning in a huff. Which only seems to corroborate the odor of racism.

Making a big deal out of so obviously innocent a word usage might seem outlandish. Yet cases like this have proliferated since Roth wrote; “cancel culture” prosecutors lacking all sense of their extremist aburdism.

The subject was explored in Skidmore Professor Robert Boyers’s 2019 book, The Tyranny of Virtue (which I’ve reviewed). Since its publication another Skidmore prof met with calls for his firing, after his silently observing a “Blue Lives Matter” demonstration. Now even silence can be construed as “hate speech.” 

Whose definition, of course, is any idea or opinion not rigidly conforming to the ideological catechism of today’s “woke” left-wing political correctness. Whose culture warriors are ever on the warpath for heretics to persecute.

More recently, Skidmore’s student government refused to allow Young American Libertarians to organize on campus. Saying YAL might make some students feel unsafe. Because YAL might engage in “hate speech.” Not that it has; it might. While in fact, what really makes everyone feel unsafe on campuses is this atmosphere of intolerant repression, with dire consequences for any perceived verbal misstep. 

The woke Thought Police seem oblivious to how this horrifies normal sane people. “Cancel culture” hands the right an issue they exploit. Meantime, there’s almost nothing else in today’s right-wing belief system that doesn’t flout reality. Take your pick between those ugly extremes.

Roth’s own view is clear. Near the end, Coleman’s teacher sister delivers a damning indictment of how the modern education establishment betrays the essence of what education should be. Opening minds, not closing them.

Back to Coleman himself, his grievance against the college intensifies when his wife dies, killed by the “spooks” controversy, he feels. One of his children, Mark — always estranged, with some deep attitudinal problem — says the whole mess could have been defused by Coleman simply apologizing for the word. Roth doesn’t dwell on this, but Mark is, oddly enough, dead right. However, Coleman could not have apologized because of who he was.

And who was he, really? That’s what the novel is mainly about.

Coleman was, you see (spoiler alert), Black. Passing for white for half a century. How central (or not) to Coleman’s inner reality was his great secret? The narrator (Roth’s alter ego) poses the question, but cannot answer it. 

A white girlfriend of two years didn’t know. When Coleman finally takes her to meet his family, she freaks out and is gone. He won’t make that mistake again, and tells his mother so. Resulting in his banishment from the family.

But it’s not a simple story. Roth, a consummate novelist, peels away layer after layer, and not just for Coleman, but other characters too, probing and probing what makes them tick.

One is Faunia, half Coleman’s age, become his lover. Seemingly the very picture of a beaten-down woman. Some assume Coleman is likewise ruthlessly exploiting her. But that’s not so. What is it, exactly, that they have together? Not simple either. Sex is key, and there are denials that it’s more than just sex, but saying “just sex” is wrong because their sex carries a heavy load of more fundamental human intimacy. How the author juxtaposes and balances these almost contradictory aspects of the relationship is a novelistic tour-de-force.

Indeed, he’s a master word-slinger, playing the language like Yefim Bronfman plays a piano. The book describes Bronfman himself doing just that at a rehearsal. Here is the passage, the power of Roth’s prose mirroring the very thing it describes:

“Enter Bronfman to play Prokofiev at such a pace and with such bravado as to knock my morbidity clear out of the ring. He is conspicuously massive through the upper torso, a force of nature camouflaged in a sweatshirt, somebody who has strolled into the Music Shed out of a circus where he is the strongman and who takes on the piano as a ridiculous challenge to the gargantuan strength he revels in. Yefim Bronfman looks less like the person who is going to play the piano than like the guy who should be moving it. I had never before seen anybody go at a piano like this sturdy little barrel of an unshaven Russian Jew. When he’s finished, I thought, they’ll have to throw the thing out. He crushes it. He doesn’t let that piano conceal a thing. Whatever’s in there is going to come out, and come out with its hands in the air. And when it does, everything out there in the open, the last of the last pulsation, he himself gets up and goes, leaving behind him our redemption. With a jaunty wave, he is suddenly gone, and though he takes all his fire off with him like no less a force than Prometheus, our own lives seem inextinguishable. Nobody is dying, nobody — not if Bronfman has anything to say about it!”

Bronfman is not the only actual personage popping up in the novel. I was tickled to see there someone with whom I myself had a recent phone conversation. 

How to write a blog

March 16, 2021

I think about things. About what’s happening in the world, my life, things I read, etc. Being exposed to much thought-provoking content, it literally provokes thought. And I feel I have by now gradually developed a framework of sound basic ideas and perspectives about life and the world, to put such thoughts into proper context.* 

This is the impetus for my blog writing. I have a lot to say. Self-expression is a common enough impulse, but the idea of possibly influencing, enlightening, or just entertaining other people is an important propellant for my writing. But actually I do it mainly for myself. I love language as well as ideas, so putting the two together, finding just the right words to express ideas, has become part of my very being.

The way it works is that the seed for a piece, its theme, will lodge in my head and start sprouting limbs — concepts and tropes connected to it. My mind commences to play with the pieces, seeing how to fit them together into some cogent whole. When it’s something in the news, further things I’m hearing or reading about it add to the stew.

After these ingredients slosh around my brain for a while, the thing jells sufficiently that it’s time to put pen to paper. I like to sit back in a comfy chair and write longhand. A discrete concept can take several sentences to express. Doing so can be challenging. Words are, of course, a tremendous tool for thinking. Yet I’m in awe that a mind can instantiate a complex concept before it actually has words to express it.

First is just getting the ideas on paper. Normally any one essay actually strings together a number of individual concepts. Often for me they just flow in a logical sequence. But sometimes that takes work, figuring out what goes where.

So now I have a draft. Which I go over several times, crossing stuff out, adding stuff, changing stuff. Moving paragraphs around. The directive “insert” occurs a lot. Often I didn’t initially cover every nuance. The process of writing itself, and then re-reading, can bring to mind points I hadn’t previously thought of. 

Strunk and White tell the writer, “omit needless words.” An awkward locution for a writing guide, I’ve always thought. But I take it much to heart. Conveying a message in six words rather than eight makes it more direct and powerful. The reader gets it quicker. So I ruthlessly search out ways to condense my prose. Like right there: I originally wrote “shorten what I write.” One word longer.

The opening should grab a reader’s attention. The ending should be a smack on the table.

I try to examine sentence structure to ensure clarity. And to avoid repeating any word. Anything that might cause a reader to stop and notice, however fleetingly, something about the language will impede communication. I also try to replace fancy words with simpler ones. And bland expressions with punchier ones. A thesaurus is a great tool.

There are certain words I’m partial to. “Indeed,” “actually,” “in fact.” Very useful words that can do a lot of work. But I try to go easy on these, not to overdo it. Another is “somehow.” Actually a very useful word too (oops, there’s an “actually”).

However, in writing, all rules are made to be broken. But you have to know when and why.

I take my squirrely handwritten draft to my computer and type it up. Of course, while doing so, I keep tweaking it, aiming for better, shorter, stronger verbiage. Once typed, I go over it again. Maybe even print it out, to review it back in my comfy chair.

Then I let it sit, at least overnight, often longer (I always have a backlog of pieces to post). During that interval it will continue to percolate in my brain. More thoughts will come to me, which I’ll go back and incorporate. (This one was first written many months ago; since then, I’ve returned to it several times and fiddled with it.)

All this may sound like work. But I enjoy it enormously. I feel it keeps my brain alive. Doing it gives me the kind of experience psychologist Abraham Maslow called “flow.”

Also fun is adding pictures, to liven it up. Mainly I use “Google images.” Amazing what you get with the right search terms; and how often the first of many pictures is the best one. When I wrote about reading aloud, with my wife, The Brothers KaramazovI entered “man reading to woman” and the first image coming up was an old Russian man reading to a babushka. Perfect. 

Finally comes the moment to actually post the thing. Then I get the infuriating comments. Or, worse, none at all.

* While single, I saw a gal’s personal ad saying she was “interested in ideas.” Wow, I jumped to reply! But our date was disappointing. I asked what she’d meant by “ideas.”

“Oh,” she said, “new ways to cook spaghetti, things like that.”

“The Statue”— my short story video

March 6, 2021

My tale, “The Statue,” was a winner in the Hudson Valley Writers Guild’s recent short story contest. Originally written around fifty years ago, it might have some resonance for contemporary America — rather more in the months since submittal! 

My friend Frank Wind recorded my dramatic reading (about 24 minutes). View it at this link: https://www.facebook.com/frank.s.robinson/videos/10157619299512633

My zoom short story reading Saturday 1 PM

February 19, 2021

Hi,

At 1 PM tomorrow, Saturday, Feb. 20, on zoom, The Hudson Valley Writers Guild will have public readings of three prize winning short stories from its recent contest. Mine will be first: THE STATUE. Though actually written almost 50 years ago, it might have resonance for contemporary America. Rather more so in the months since I submitted it!

Here is the zoom link:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84854202344?pwd=ejJ2ZkpFYi85a2VFNUI1dEc1T2pmdz09#success

Biden restoring America’s moral sanity

February 4, 2021

Tuesday I saw a news clip of President Biden, masked, at his desk, announcing a task force “to undo the moral and national shame of the previous administration that literally, not figuratively, ripped children from the arms of their families, their mothers, and fathers, at the border, and with no plan — none whatsoever — to reunify” them.

Thousands of children were snatched away. So mindlessly depraved and chaotic was what Trump did that we’re still trying to figure out just how many kids remain in limbo.

This is part of a broader unwinding of Trump’s vicious persecution of migrants that President Biden called a “stain on the reputation” of America. It’s an enormous undertaking, requiring much care, examination, and thought (also contrasting with Trump’s modus operandi). An accompanying briefing document said the effort is “centered on the basic premise that our country is safer, stronger, and more prosperous with a fair, safe and orderly immigration system that welcomes immigrants, keeps families together, and allows people — both newly arrived immigrants and people who have lived here for generations — to more fully contribute to our country.” All fulfilling President Biden’s personal promise to me.

Seeing that clip yesterday recalled a Billy Crystal Saturday Night Live bit — asked why he’s hitting his head with a hammer, he says, “because it feels so good when I stop.” Stopping our national degradation feels so good. Now we’ve learned what not to take for granted. I’m once more proud to be an American.

UPDATE: President Biden has just raised our quota for refugee admissions to an all-time high.

Gofundme for Somaliland rape and torture victim

January 1, 2021

Cawo, a Somaliland medical student, while living with a host family in order to pursue her university studies, was stalked by a relative of that family, who finally raped her and stabbed her repeatedly. In a coma, she needs medical treatment Somaliland cannot provide. Hajira, a student from that country we’re hosting, is participating in a Gofundme for the needed treatment. Here is the link: https://gofund.me/ea3578a7

George Will: What is conservatism?

December 27, 2020

American “conservatism” has become a perverted travesty of its former self. Writer George Will, in his book, The Conservative Sensibility, offers a bracing corrective. Discussed in a terrific interview with the New York State Writers Institute’s Mark Koplik.

Both Will and I came to conservatism in 1964 with Barry Goldwater. And left with Trump. Mainline “conservatism” is no longer a philosophy, it’s a tribal cult.

Will begins by differentiating between two kinds of sociopolitical divisions. One — the healthy sort — involves ideas. Differing interpretations of history and understandings of the world, leading to differing policy perspectives. Those can be argued, and having such arguments is a very positive American thing. If you don’t like arguments, you’re in the wrong country. And you shouldn’t see a disagreement over ideas as an attack on your personhood.

One thing I’ve noticed is that blog comments by Trump supporters almost never actually advance arguments. Rarely grapple substantively with opposing points or facts. Instead they’re mainly bald (and usually irrelevant) assertions and ad hominem disparagement.

This introduces the second, unhealthy kind of division, tribalism. Where it’s all us-against-them, the individual subsumed into a tribal identity. We are all embedded in social, cultural settings, but a person is much more than that, Will said. He does recognize that attachments to subgroups are a normal part of life. But it’s another thing when that becomes the basis of your personal identity, your tribe. Especially pernicious when it incorporates a set of political stances. Will spoke of “furnishing” one’s mind by swallowing such precepts whole, so you never have to think about things for the rest of your life. American “conservatism” has become that kind of tribal cult (in thrall to a very bad guru).

Yet, says Will, the whole point of modernity is the contrary, to rescue individuality from being a passive plaything of circumstances. That is, to rescue human agency. We have the free will to change our destiny. Will called the opposite view “historicism.” That’s a nod to Karl Popper, whose 1945 book The Open Society and its Enemies similarly argued that we are not prisoners of some historical inevitability.

So what are the positive ideas constituting George Will’s conservatism (and my own)?

He saw them as actually America’s foundational ideas, the nation “conceived in liberty” as Lincoln put it. Democracy, Will said, is a process; liberty a condition, which comes first. Government does not give us rights, but is our creation as their guardian. Thus it should be inherently limited — strong enough to protect our rights but not so strong as to threaten them. The Bill of Rights was enacted to put certain things beyond the reach of majorities.

Will strongly distinguished American conservatism from its European antecedents, rooted in Edmund Burke’s critique of the French Revolution and defense of hierarchies, in opposition to egalitarianism and the dynamics of change. Thus “conserving” the status quo. This has always been a misnomer as concerns the American version, at least since the 1950s, opposing much of the prevailing dispensation. Will says that what it wants to “conserve” is America’s founding principles, while not otherwise being hostile to change. It celebrates the free market precisely because of the spontaneous “churning” it produces, making for progress and upward mobility. Unlike the stagnation when government controls everything (the extreme example being the old Soviet Union).

Thus Will correctly traces American conservatism not to Burke but rather to the classical European liberalism of thinkers like John Locke and John Stuart Mill.* The aim is to promote individualism while also having a commodious civic life. The drama of modern politics is people disagreeing about “the good;” the challenge is to accommodate such diversity, so we can pursue differing visions but still coexist.

Asked whether his stance is “libertarian,” Will said he’s “libertarian-ish” (the pure doctrine having untenable implications). Will characterized his moderated libertarianism as a common sense approach that practically everyone actually embraces. The key idea being that if government tells us what to do, it ought to have a strong reason (consistent with its remit of protecting us from each other while maximizing freedom).

But none of this has much to do with what calls itself “conservative” in today’s America: an incoherent conceptual mess. Nor of course does it resonate on the big-government censorious left. The sound structure of classically liberal ideas that Will lays out is a homeless vagabond in the nation’s current political landscape.

Will’s conservatism entails an ethos of carefulness, with respect for facts and reality, also obviously gone out the window under Trump. In favor of “alternative facts” one prefers to believe. Of course that’s not exclusive to the right; Will speaks of a left-wing academic culture with a “high ratio of certainty to information.” But a salient example on the right is the trope of America founded as a “Christian nation.” That’s not just historically false, here again it’s today’s conservatives turning upside down what our founding principles actually were.*

Will in contrast forthrightly calls himself an atheist. And morality, he says, comes from philosophy, not religion. I would add that it’s actually encoded in our biology; and philosophy explicates moral principles we already feel in our bones. We don’t, says Will, need anything from the supernatural (which doesn’t exist anyway).

Indeed, that can only be a source of moral confusion. American conservatives are steeped in religion, and religion’s divorcement from rationality and reality set the stage for their going off the rails morally with Trumpism. That’s how we got children ripped from mothers’ arms and put in cages. 

* “Liberalism” still has that meaning in Europe, different from what Americans call “liberal” politics. In fact, the U.S. left opposes that kind of classical liberalism, labeling it “neo-liberal” as a pejorative.

** I’ve discussed the history here: https://rationaloptimist.wordpress.com/2018/08/13/was-america-founded-as-a-christian-nation/