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Another week has come and gone, and here are some highlights and cultural trends.
Here’s a lede you didn’t imagine five years ago: The Pope and Donald Trump are engaged in a public feud over illegal immigration. Trump is “not Christian,” says the pontiff. This latest brouhaha comes with Pope Francis’s visit to the Third World slum and taqueria known as Mexico, through which Hispanics local and South American trek toward the compassionless paradise known as El Norte.
As we watch the seemingly daily episodes of the sitcoms What Did the Pope Say This Time? and Trump Tweets the Darnedest Things, one thing seems too obvious to recognize, or too recognizable to be obvious: Mass, instant communication isn’t helping us live better lives. For one thing, it turns world leaders into mean girls chasing the latest OMG comment, so all of their followers can LOL. That the p.r. whizzers who are handling these men have convinced them that viral interviews and tweets are the only way to reach today’s humans—I will shoot the next person who says "millennials"—reveals much about the degraded way in which we humans live. And the fact that both of them are so free with their words, in contexts where (play it again, Marshall McLuhan) those words are guaranteed to be spun, says something about their propagandistic approach to the spoken word, if not their willingness to let people interpret classics like “Who am I to judge?” however they want.
Before El Visit even happened, Trump told FOX Business’s Stuart Varney that the Pope is “political,” and that Mexican officials wanted him to come because, given what he’d likely say, he would strengthen the case for keeping the border “just like it is”—meaning, rather porous. As if to prove Trump right, the Pope’s statements during the trip were a mixture of humanitarian concerns about the misery and plight of real people living in squalid conditions and the same socialism that he regularly touts, which included pleas for those north of the border to “open their hearts”—and, by implication, property—to illegal aliens.
In a clarifying interview on his return flight, the Pope added a widely quoted statement that “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” Of course, part of Trump’s standard stump is to talk about the yuge bridges and airports he intends to build as President with money that will come from somewhere that is fantastic. But in the very next sentence, Pope Francis added, “This is not the Gospel.” That raises the question, What exactly is the Gospel, then? “The ruler,” someone once wrote, “beareth not the sword in vain.” Was Saint Paul also confused about the Gospel? Should Paul have told the Romans instead that we should be “subject unto the higher powers” and “fear them” because it is their job to build bridges?
Speaking of the “Who’s the Greatest Christian Contest" also known as the GOP Primary, George W. Bush finally left his brush-covered Crawford ranch to stump for Jeb’s “then cometh the end” campaign in South Carolina. The speech consisted largely of awkwardly delivered folksy one-liners that were wildly applauded by Lindsey Graham: "Lemme tell you something about the Ham House: Even a steaming pile of manure can't ruin their good bacon." But in the midst of this, Forty-Three had a largely unreported Two Corinthians moment. Informing us of Jeb’s faith in the Almighty and the guidance the Bushes get from the Bible, George offered a paraphrase of Seven Matthew that defies diagramming: “How can you say let me get that speck out of your eye when I’ve got a log in my own?” Even Jeb seemed to recognize, with live, visible grimaces, that the takeaway would be, “Would you like four more years of this?”
Speaking of electoral Christian contests, Chelsea Clinton stumped for her mother earlier this month, informing us that Hillary is “very deeply a person of faith,” a faith which is also “deeply authentic,” and that this de profundis faith “guides so much of her moral compass.” Displaying her own titanic spiritual bona fides, Chelsea added that “I left the Baptist church before my dad did, because I didn’t know why they were talking to me about abortion when I was 6 in Sunday school—that’s a true story.” How many six-year-olds do you know who are allowed to decide, all by themselves, which church they will attend? Or know to be offended by Sunday-school teachers after hearing any teaching, deep or not? Is she saying that Hillary Rodham had already indoctrinated her, by way of her abysmal moral compass, at age six to cherish abortion-on-demand?
Much has been said about the great Antonin Scalia, who passed away last Saturday. (For more in-depth articles, see the forthcoming April and May issues of Chronicles, featuring William J. Watkins and Stephen B. Presser.) That Scalia's “originalism” is noteworthy is itself noteworthy. How interesting that someone thought words mean what their authors plainly said. Justice Scalia was a defender of the Constitution in an era when the Supreme Court means far more than the Framers of that document ever intended. Rarely did the emanations of his own conservative convictions trump his jurisprudence.
Before he was buried, the sound and fury over his replacement on the Court was cranked up to 11. For me, the entire debate seems silly and naive. Of course the Court is political: It has been since Marbury v. Madison. Of course Presient Lame Duck should and will attempt to nominate another justice. And of course the Republicans in Congress should fight the nomination. All arguments against these points are political maneuvering and grandstanding, based on the assumption that the American people are too stupid to notice.
The moving tributes to Scalia have included admiration from friends of the opposite political stripe, including most notably Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That the two of them shared a friendship defies the current m.o. of Conservatism Inc., which treats every political opponent like a devil from hell. Yet some of the greatest modern conservatives have been known for this quality—one thinks of Ronald Reagan or Russell Kirk, or even a C.S. Lewis or a GKC. I personally know many others. Seeing the human enemy as human, and interacting with him with dignity and respect are conservative impulses. That Justice Ginsburg, a champion of lawless leftism, reciprocated even after her friend’s death demonstrates to us that the conservative impulse is common to all people, and is only twisted, marred, and buried by ideologies that are designed to make adversaries and not win converts.
The Grammy for Best Country Song went to Little Big Town for their lesbian male-fantasy chart-topper “Girl Crush.” The sensual song, which is about a jilted woman wanting to make out with her ex-lover’s new squeeze so she can feel what he is feeling, was given the Last Temptation of Christ treatment by numerous country radio stations, which only added to its naughty allure and helped it dominate the charts.
From the very first award for a Country & Western Recording at the inaugural Grammy Awards in 1959, we knew that Hollywood didn’t exactly have its finger on the pulse of the normal, regular people who listen to country music. That 1959 prize went to the Kingston Trio for “Tom Dooley.” For perspective, realize that at the same time Johnny Cash’s “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” and George Jones’s “White Lightning” were enjoying regular airplay. But Nashville has since clawed its way into the gutter, and Little Big Town’s triumph at both the Grammy Awards and the Academy of Country Music is the latest evidence for what Joe Sobran called the “Eclipse of the Normal.”
My friend Darío Fernández-Morera of Northwestern University is leading the charge at Chronicles’ annual Ides of March event, speaking on "Cervantes, Christianity, and the Struggle Against the Islamic Caliphate." This would have relevance to you only if we were currently facing the threat of Muslim infiltration in American society, and we could learn something from the way that Christians dealt with this sort of thing in the past. Given that, you will not be surprised to learn that seats are being claimed at The Rockford Institute at a record rate. The event takes place on St. Patrick’s Day, and we will bless all attendees with Irish beer, brisket from the smoker of Scott P. Richert, hard cheeses (yes), and mirthful music. Chronicles editor Chilton Williamson, Jr., will be here as well, direct from the other side of the Hundredth Meridian. Click here for details, and call to reserve your seat today.
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