Current Affairs Feed

"Evil"

Another good essay in the Atlantic analyzed the use of the word "evil" in response to the recent weekend of mass shootings.  It found that the word was used as a way of avoiding clear and difficult thinking and action.  An excerpt:

But there is a difference between acknowledging evil and using it as a scapegoat. There is a difference between the evil that is invoked to inspire conversations and the evil that is invoked to curtail them. Many of the weekend’s political deployments of “evil” served to proclaim the innocence of the system that has allowed mass shootings to become reliably atmospheric occurrences. An unbelievable amount of evil that we cannot comprehend. It conveys an easy kind of ignorance. Crime … boy, I don’t know.

Evil, summoned in this way, is an extension of thoughts and prayers. It suggests, in the face of human-made terror, not only a kind of complacency, but also a kind of helplessness. It treats the violence of mass murder—the shock; the grief; the two-month-old baby whose fingers are broken because his mother, fatally shot, apparently fought desperately to shield him from the bullets—as an abstraction. Evil is its own explanation, the logic goes; it is not interested in causes or effects. It does not want to talk about the violent ideology of white supremacy, or the mechanics of double-drum magazines, or the fact that, in the United States, a person can go to a store and purchase a military-grade weapon with the convenience of benevolent legality. Evil does not want to talk about the National Rifle Association. It makes no room for the uncomfortable details. Evil, used as a talking point, both throws up its hands and washes them.

This is the use of bad political language that Orwell warned us about.  Or the use of cliche that shuts down thinking and empathy that Hannah Arendt warned us of in Eichmann in Jerusalem.  Thank goodness we have her analysis of the banality of evil.  Yes, these attacks are evil, but evil is not something incomprehensible about which we can do nothing effective.  Evil is banal and we can rid ourselves of it by taking the right steps.


What's going on with the Right?

An excellent, and I think helpful, column in the Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf on what's going on with the Right.  Even deeper than the racism currently being exhibited is a psychological temperament that seeks order and fears difference and change.  He criticizes the Left for how they respond to the Right and provides insights on the best way to build coalitions to advance the nation.


Robinson on Puritanism & Liberalism

Speaking of Liberalism, a fine essay by Marilynne Robinson defending the liberal history of Puritanism, along the way pointing out the illiberalism of the Lockian tradition.  

In a fun aside, she mentions that interpretation of Walt Whitman should begin with an understanding of Puritan theology.

The closing paragraph is fine; here are the final two:

Our heavily redacted history has meant the loss of many options. The idea of a good community, one whose members are happy in the fact of a general well-being, is not native to us, natural to us, possible for us—or so we are to believe. It is too far left. It is downright socialist. Hugh Peter [a Puritan divine] speaks in terms of practical enhancements, crowned roads to help prevent flooding, for example. He proposes that all advocates and attorneys should be paid by the public, that no one should be above the law. He proposes that artists and craftsmen of modest income should not be taxed. There is nothing sectarian in his list of reforms, assuming that most of us would be pleased to have improved infrastructure, equal justice before the law, a creative environment that acknowledges the social value of art.

We know our penal system is unfair and inhumane, that our treatment of immigrants threatens the ideal of a just nation. Why are we paralyzed in the face of these issues of freedom and humanity? Why are we alienated from a history that could help us find a deep root in liberality and shared and mutual happiness? Those who control the word “American” control the sense of the possible. Our public is far more liberal than our politics. Our politics must change if there is to be any future for representative democracy.

 


Brooks on the current kerfluffle and Liberalism

In a smart column that one wishes was a longer essay, David Brooks writes about the current debate in the Democratic party and how this is a debate over the future of liberalism.  An excerpt:

Liberalism loves sympathy, suspects rage and detests cruelty. Politics is inevitably a dialogue between partial truths. Compromise is a virtue, not a sign of cowardice. Moreover, means determine ends. If you win power through rhetorical violence, and by hating those who disagree, your regime will be angry and destructive. Liberalism arose out of the fact that political revolutions, while exciting at the outset, usually end up in brutality, dictatorship and blood. Working within the system is best.


River of No Return

A powerful essay by Ted Genoways (whose book This Blessed Earth I just finished reading) on the flooding in Nebraska this spring and how this demonstrates two failures--a failure to maintain our infrastructure and a failure to cope with climate change.  He lays the blame on the far right ideology of the GOP and Democrats ignoring the realities of rural life.  The essay is a moving portrayal of the damage done to Nebraska farmers.  


The Investigation

The other day the World-Herald had three good pieces of commentary on the Mueller investigation and the fallout.

There was a piece by Marc Thiessen called "The Trump-Russia Collusion Hall of Shame."   It quite rightly (though with charged language) asked about all those politicians and former intelligence officials who promised us that there was evidence of collusion that was yet to be made public.

Another piece was by Mona Charen, a conservative who has not yet jumped on the Trump bandwagon.  Her column was entitled "Mueller did the Right Thing." Her criticisms were leveled against the President and his cohort for their attacks on the investigation all along and how they ended up being wrong.  Her conclusion, "Honorable people did the right thing. Politics did not taint a criminal investigation. But that reality is buried under an avalanche of bad faith."

The final piece wasn't a national columnist but a local piece by former Senator Bob Kerrey in which he asked "How did Department of Justice get the Trump-Russia investigation so wrong?" It was interesting and refreshing to read a Democratic leader so critical.  He wants a non-partisan commission to investigate this whole sordid episode, "Our democracy will survive the hostility of Vladimir Putin. What it may not survive is distrust of our system of justice. At the moment that distrust is deep and wide. We need a nonpartisan national commission to tell us what has just happened and to advise us on what we need to do to keep it from happening again."