Quick Search


Booksellers versus Bestsellers

  • A unified theory of Brexit and Trump

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    One of the puzzles of this election year is why long-standing elements of the Republican platform aren't resonating this year.

    Republicans have long advocated small government and free markets, including free markets in foreign trade. But Donald Trump won the most delegates in the primaries by advocating higher tariffs and promising not to cut Social Security.

    The theory has been that both tariffs and the social safety net are government interfering in the marketplace. But there is now a clear division between the Republican donor class, which believes this, and the white blue-collar base that wants government to protect them from  both foreigners and foreign competition.

    For decades, the donor class of rich Republicans have dictated the economic agenda of the party while working-class whites have provided the votes, based on promises that the economic program would benefit everyone and the exploitation of culture war issues such as "the war on Christmas," gays, and abortion, and guns.

    They've also exploited racial resentment. The Southern strategy Nixon used grew out of the Republican right's rejection of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the party at this point has managed to purge itself of the sort of moderate Republicans who voted for that law.

    But the basic economics were always against that strategy. Even prior to World War I, the nations most open to foreign trade have had the largest governments.

    Kevin O'Rourke, in a July 1 post on The Irish Economy blog, explained how this works:

    The main point of my 1999 book with Jeff Williamson was that globalisation produces both winners and losers, and that this can lead to an anti-globalisation backlash. We argued this based on late 19th century evidence, but opinion poll evidence (citations here) suggested that something similar was at work in the late 20th century as well, a hunch confirmed in the early 21st century by the 2005 and 2008 French and Irish referenda. What was missing from all this was an analysis of what, if anything, governments can do about this. Which is where Dani Rodrik's finding that more open states had bigger governments in the late 20th century comes in. Dani's interpretation is that markets expose workers to risk, and that government expenditure of various sorts can help protect them from those risks. In a series of articles, and an important book, Michael Huberman showed that this correlation between states and markets was present before 1914 as well: countries with more liberal trade policies tended to have more advanced social protections of various sorts, and this helped maintain political support for openness.

    In short, liberal trade policy requires liberal government policy. One reason Donald Trump became the voice of the white working class was that he was more explicit in exploiting racial resentment, of course, but another reason was that he did not buy into the Republican orthodoxy regarding free trade and small government. He doesn't really favor either.

    Those who favored both free trade and small government tended to be those rich enough to insulate themselves against the risks free trade exposes the economy to. That's the donor class which has always set the economic agenda for the party.

    In Britain, whatever the polls might say, the areas that voted most in favor of leaving the European Union have been those most impacted by competition from competition with Chinese manufacturing. From The Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post:

    Regardless of what voters or pundits might be saying, we find that Leave votes were systematically higher in regions more affected by the surge in Chinese imports over the last three decades. And we find no evidence that the presence or influx of immigrants correlates with a region's support for Brexit.So, the solution to problems caused by competition with China is to distance Britain from Europe, where a lot of its exports go. It doesn't make sense on an economic level, but it motivates voters on an emotional level.

    And in America, workers who feel economically insecure because of economic globalization often support Donald Trump, who as Forbes magazine notes, outsources items produced for the Trump brand.

    We are reaching for the wrong solutions because we are misunderstanding the problem. The problem is that if we are to have free trade, we need to provide a reliable safety net for workers, and if we're going to cut the safety net, we need to reduce the risk to workers by having less free trade.

    This is a much bigger problem for Republicans than for Democrats. Most of the supporters for the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement are Republicans, not Democrats, and Democrats generally consider it a no-brainer that workers need a good safety net.

    Now, it might seem odd for the party that most supports the safety net to be the one that also is less enthusiastic about free trade. After all, they support what is needed to have free trade without excessive backlash. But both things are part of the Democratic Party's history of supporting working families.

    And Trump is just another stage in the long history of Republican's using cultural and racial issues to get working class whites to vote against their economic interest. For all his bluster, the economic plan he has presented is just designed to make the rich richer.

  • We need better super heroes

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Why are the superpowers of comic book characters so useless? How many of your own problems could be solved by being able to hit someone very hard, or shoot a powerful beam from your eyes that can take out a wall?

    I propose some superheroes with really useful talents:

    Smarty Pants: Once she dons her magic underwear, her intelligence allows her to solve previously intractable engineering problems, like how to render nuclear waste inert.

    The Waiter: Patience is his superpower. No matter how long you need to make up your mind, he will wait patiently and cheerfully. Particularly adept at dealing with bureaucracy, he can accomplish things without blowing up the buildings where the red tape resides.

    The Compromiser: No matter how much two sides hate each other, he can devise a solution that benefits everyone.

    The Comforter: She can take you to a new plateau of peace and contentment, no matter what trauma you've experienced.:

    Any others to suggest?

  • Homosexual panic and the Pulse atrocity

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    On Sunday, June 12, at about 2 a.m., Omar Mateen entered a crowded gay nightclub and opened fire, killing 49 people and injuring 53 before being fatally shot by police. He claimed to be an Islamic terrorist, but his father said the incident that set him off was seeing two men kissing.

    The L.A. Times went with a headline Monday that noted the shooter had claimed allegiance to Hezbollah, a Shiite terror organization. CNN and some other outlets went with headlines saying he had claimed allegiance to Islamic State, a Sunni terror organization which is currently fighting Hezbollah in Syria.

    As it happens, both were right, at different times Mateen had claimed allegiance to both organizations. The one he chose the night of his attack was Islamic State. His claims to be aligned with terror organizations was incoherent, probably a cover for what was really going on.

    His claims fit nicely with standard narratives about how Islamic terrorists are a threat to America, and the conservative political correctness that insists on the term "Islamic terrorist" to describe them, even when much more precise terms are available.

    But his father said the incident had nothing to do with religion. From the Tampa Bay Times:

    Mateen's father, Seddique Mir Mateen, told NBC News he did not believe the killings had to do with religion and said his son was angered recently when he saw two gay men kissing in Miami. "They were kissing each other and touching each other and he said, 'Look at that. In front of my son they are doing that,' " the father said. "And then we were in the men's bathroom and men were kissing each other."
    And a man who claims allegiance to organizations that are sworn enemies and currently actively shooting at each other doesn't know much about those organizations.

    There is a term of art in psychology and law called a homosexual panic, which describes the anxiety and conflicted feelings of a person who is faced with his (this is usually a male phenomenon) repressed homosexual desires. It has been used as a legal defense in assault and murder cases, with lawyers claiming that a defendant panicked when they received a homosexual advance and were temporarily insane.

    That sounds a bit like claiming not to be culpable for a crime because one is bigot, at least to the modern ear. Homosexual panic has fallen out of favor as a psychological diagnosis, as well as a legal defense. But I think it describes something that happens in people who are culturally conditioned to hate homosexuality and repress it in themselves.

    Even those of us who grew up in a society where most homosexuals were closeted didn't have the kind of visceral reaction Mateen did  As I recall, the first time I saw two men kissing (not just Frenchmen greeting each other, but an obvious couple,) I found it unusual, but didn't see it as my problem. Living in a major city, I no longer consider it unusual.

    And talking to other men, some felt a little uncomfortable the first time they saw men kissing, but anger was not the usual response.

    Studies have shown that homophobes often have unresolved homosexual feelings. This is outlined in a study that was conducted by a team from the University of Rochester, the University of Essex, England, and the University of California in Santa Barbara. The research was published the April, 2012 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

    From Science Daily:
    What I'm talking about here is not a sudden onset of temporary madness, but a slow-burning lump of sulfur in the soul, a sense of panic that won't let go for years and years. Mateen must have known he would die when he went on his rampage. He was killing himself, and killing others who personified the part of himself he wanted dead.

    This is the price of a culture that does not allow people to be themselves. We've had a long series of anti-gay lawmakers eventually turn out to be gay. Such men must have a grinding sense of panic for most of their adult lives, slowly wearing away at their souls while they try to demonstrate their loyalty to traditional sex roles by hounding people who express the sexuality they don't have the courage to reveal.

    Moral cowardice and cruelty are close companions in this hellish world of repressed desire and displaced self-hatred. Mateen tried to portray himself as an Islamic martyr be claiming allegiance to Islamic State during his murderous night at the Pulse, but his father is probably right. This wasn't about religion.

    Edited to add:

    I thought I was kind of out on a limb with this one, but Gawker published something that seems to confirm it. Mateen was a regular at Pulse, and engaged in the un-Islamic practice of getting sloppy drunk on a regular basis.

    He also used a gay messaging ap, according to Gawker.

  • When Democrats attack

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Now that Hillary Clinton has enough delegates to be the presumptive nominee for president, the question is, how will she and her allies in the Democratic Party attack Donald Trump?

    One possible answer came with the release of an ad by Priorities USA, a political action committee that sides with Clinton. The ad, called "Grace," features the parents of a disabled child discussing the birth of their child and how they felt when they saw Donald Trump ridiculing a journalist for his disability. The journalist, Serge Kovaleski, had done some digging into Trump's claim that Muslims were celebrating in New Jersey after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and found nothing that supported Trump's claim.

    Unable to support his claim about the celebration, or refute Kovaleski's reporting, Trump made fun of how arthrogryposis limits the journalist's movements.

    Here's the "Grace" ad:

    Now, Republican candidates tried attacking Trump in a variety of ways, only to fail. The problem is, there are so many things wrong with him as a candidate, what do you go after? It has to resonate on an emotional level with voters, and it has to make sense of the aspects of Trump that make voters uncomfortable.

    Well, Trump is clearly a bully. He's also a candidate who is trying to persuade voters, with some success, that he cares about their problems.

    One of the standard polling questions is which candidate is better described by the phrase "cares about people like me." One reason Mitt Romney lost to President Obama is that he could never close that empathy gap.

    It's all very well to tell people that Trump's economic proposals would make a shambles of the American economy, that deporting 3 percent of the population (yes, there are that many undocumented aliens in the country) would create enormous problems and enormous costs, that banning all Muslims from coming to America would be a betrayal of everything America stands for, but these things don't really resonate on an emotional level.

    But if you portray him as a cruel man who cares only about himself, who habitually punches down at those less powerful, you give people a narrative that puts all his proposals in perspective. Do you really want to put someone who abuses people less powerful than himself in power over you?

    That's an emotionally resonant answer that gets to the truth of the man's character. Eduardo "Ted" Cruz could not effectively make that argument because he's not exactly Mr. Empathy himself.

    Trump triumphed in the primaries by presenting himself as someone who would bully the people his supporters blame for their problems. Being that guy is how he got this far. Attacking his lack of empathy is a way of attacking his strength. It's a bit of electoral judo that turns his strength against himself.

    Will it work? We'll see.

  • The Bathroom Panic of 2016

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    In the immortal words of Bruce Eric Kaplan, who does New Yorker cartoons as BEK:

    "I used to be innocent. Then I was naive. Now I'm just dumb."

    That's how I feel now that I've seen more stories on the Bathroom Panic of 2016. On April 20, I wrote what I thought was a satire on what enforcement of the North Carolina bathroom laws would look like. Now I learn that people are already facing enforcement that is far beyond a joke.

    A woman was forcibly removed from a women's room by three police officers before I even wrote that piece. They kept demanding identification to prove that she was a woman. Having watched the vid, I don't see why there was any question about her being a woman. Her feathers are feminine, even if her clothing on this occasion was not.

    Another woman was confronted by a man who followed her into the women's room because he mistook her for a man. And no, he did not apologize when he found out he was wrong.

    A security guard at a Washington, D.C. grocery store faces assault charges after physically expelling a transgender woman from the store's women's room.

    Ebony Belcher, the transgender woman in the incident, said the female security guard followed her into the women's room, laid hands on her, called her derogatory names, then said, "You guys cannot keep coming in here and using our women's restroom. They did not pass the law yet."

    The guard apparently felt that she had an obligation to enforce the fact that there was no law regarding which bathroom a transgender woman should use.

    Most of the time, if there is no law, there is no way to break it.

    But apparently, for the 700,000 transgender people in the U.S., there are those who think the law doesn't work that way.  There are about 320 million Americans, give or take. That's a little over two transgender people per 1,000 Americans. So, who should feel threatened? The two, or the 998?

    The transgender people I've met seem more vulnerable than threatening. But maybe that's the point. If they were powerful, they would not be suitable targets for the sort of bullying we're seeing.

  • Donald' Trump, hated loser

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Most liberal punditry about Donald Trump could exist under the headline, "Donald Trump, threat or menace?" But the fact that he's captured the nomination of a major political party shows that his candidacy must mean something.

    Trump will be the most disliked candidate for president since polling on the issue started (yes, even more disliked than Hillary Clinton.) He is hated not just by people outside his party, but by people within it as well. The National Review online produced an entire issue on the theme "Against Trump."

    Trump has channeled the anger of people who feel their place in the world has been diminished, anger against immigrants, racial minorities, professional women, and -- this is the strange part -- the Republican establishment.

    And those are the groups that dislike him most. It's obvious why Hispanics wouldn't like him. He opened his campaign with an attack on Mexican immigrants, and as anyone who's been around bigots knows, there are people who confuse American Hispanics with immigrants. In fact, some have been deported to Mexico despite their American citizenship. In some ways, this is less about immigration than about who is a :real American."

    So, it's not hard to see why these groups would disapprove of Donald Trump. The disapproval of the Republican elite is a little more subtle, but is also related to the way he's campaigned.

    For about the past half century, the Republican Party has relied upon the "southern strategy" that Nixon employed to become president, but which in many ways preceded his 1968 campaign. Republicans gained power by exploiting the discontent stirred up when Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. To put it bluntly, they absorbed the bigots who left the Democratic Party over its support for civil rights. By the 1990s, they were actively trying to rid themselves of the sort of Republicans who voted for the landmark civil rights legislation, dubbing them RINOs, or, Republicans in Name Only.

    It was in the 1970s that a political movement to increase economic inequality sprang up. It exploited racial divisions by appealing to the racial resentment of some whites, while espousing a doctrine of conservatism and pushing through an economic agenda that served the class of people who financed the party.

    This bait-and-switch political scam worked for a couple generations. At this point, it has become increasingly obvious that the prolefeed -- what the party tells the rank and file to stir them up and get them to vote in support of the party -- bears little resemblance to either reality or to the economic interests of party's blue-collar base.

    Do those voters want Social Security cut or privatized? Of course not, their companies are no longer providing traditional pensions, and they may be more reliant than ever before on Social Security checks in retirement.

    Do they want taxes on the very rich cut even more? Hell, no, they're fine with hedge fund managers paying their fair share.

    Do they believe they should be held personally responsible for the fact that they don't have the security and status their parents did? Of course not, that's why they've embraced Trump's claim that they've been suckered. Which, by the way, has the virtue of being true.

    Is it any surprise that the people doing the suckering are not comfortable with this? Of course not, comments on the emperor's attire are entirely inappropriate, in their view.

    Unfortunately, Trump's trumpery does not address the blue-collar whites' problems, only their resentments. His tax plan, for all his posturing, is yet another giveaway to rich people like himself. He's blaming minorities for taking whites' piece of the pie, when the real problem is that the rich are taking more and more of the pie.

    The absurdity of the situation is that he is essentially telling voters that the poor -- immigrants and working-class minorities -- are taking the money, not the rich. If the poor were taking the money, they wouldn't be poor.

    If income were being redistributed within the working class, we would expect median family income to track real domestic product pretty nearly. What this chart shows is that the median family is getting a smaller and smaller slice of the pie generally. Where has the extra money gone? To those at the top of the income range (if the share of those below the median income were where the money was going, the red line would be above the blue line and income inequality in general would be declining rather than increasing.)

    Trump's message -- you've been losing because you're led by losers, I'm a winner who can lead you to winning -- has everything to do with salesmanship and nothing to do with solving problems. His version of what the problems are is based on the resentments of his followers, not on any deep analysis of the problems themselves. He's advanced "solutions" that would destroy American credibility financially, diplomatically, and militarily. Salesmanship is easy, policy is hard.

    He's just another loser masquerading as a savior.

  • The toilet papers: Proving you are legally allowed to use the men's room

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    The man in a dark suit stopped me outside the restroom door.

    :"Excuse me, but do you intend to use the men's room?" he asked.

    "Yes, and I'm in a bit of an urgent state," I replied.

    "This will only take a moment, I just need to see a notarized copy of your birth certificate."

    "Look, I'm about to drop a load in my drawers, I don't have time for this."

    He gave me a superior smile.

    "I'm sorry, sir, but you must provide proof of your gender at birth, sir...if that's really your gender."

    "What? Who the hell are you, anyway?"

    He flashed a badge.

    "Bathroom gender enforcement, sir. I'm afraid I can't let you in without proof of gender at birth."

    "Who the hell carries their birth certificate around all the time?"

    "People who desire to use a bathroom of appropriate gender, sir."

    "Look, if you're worried about my gender, I suppose you could have a gander at my genitals."

    He smiled thinly.

    "I'm afraid that just won't do, sir. Your, ah, equipment could have been altered at any time by a competent surgeon and augmented by ingesting hormones."

    "Look, I'm desperate here, Can't you let me use the men's just this once without ID? I promise I'll have a copy of my birth certificate next time."

    "Next time is just not good enough, sir. We require proof, and no exceptions."

    "Oh, God! My bowels just let go!"

    "No need to announce it, sir, my olfactory organs are in full working order."

    "Now I need to get in so I can clean up."

    "Nice try," he scoffed. "We've seen this act before. You are not getting into the men's by doing this."

    "But I'm not acting! Haven't you humiliated me enough? I've got to go back to work, and how will I explain this?"

    "That is not within my remit. You may offer any explanation you wish."

    "Dammit, I'm going in!" I yelled, trying to push past him. He put me in a hammer lock, then handcuffed me to the doorknob.

    "I've got a Number Two here, a bathroom resistor," he said into a microphone on his lapel, "better send the wagon."

    Just then, a woman walked up.

    "Do you wish to use the women's room?" the bathroom monitor asked her.

    "No, I need the men's," she replied. She pulled out a birth certificate.

    He briefly inspected her papers, then said, "You may proceed." Then he left to intercept an elderly woman with a walker who was trying to get into the women's room.

    As she passed by me, the woman who had showed her toilet papers leaned close and whispered, "It's a forgery! I'm really a woman," Then smiled and passed through the men's room door.

  • The long-fingered Vulcan and the short-fingered vulgarian

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Donald Trump claims he has long fingers. Spy Magazine famously called him a "short-fingered vulgarian." But the real question is, how does he match up with our current president?

    Our first Vulcan president clearly has a grip on things with his elegant, long fingers.

    And how does the short-fingered vulgarian stack up against the long-fingered Vulcan?

    Trump's fingers are so short, one wonders whether he has difficulty masturbating. No, don't tell us, The Donald, that's all right, we really don't want to know.
  • Islamic State, Christian Nation: Toleration as the solution

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    The "caliphate" of Islamic State appears, at this writing, to be collapsing. At the same time, there are people in the United States insisting that America is a Christian nation.

    There are reasons that the founding fathers chose to write a constitution that bans any religious test for holding office, and in 1797 unanimously passed the Treaty of Tripoli, which states in article 11 that "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."

    First, they had been ruled by Britain, which had a state religion, and decreed that only members of the
    One result of an established church, the Guernsey MartyrsChurch of England could be officers in the military or hold public office. Many of those who settled this nation did so to practice religion as they saw fit, not as the government saw fit.

    Second, the constitution and the Bill of Rights were written by men who admired John Locke, the most influential of the liberal theorists.

    Locke is most famous for the Second Treatise of Government, which laid out his theory of the social contract. But another work laid out his thoughts on the relationship between church and state.
    This was A Letter Concerning Toleration written originally in Latin to a Dutch intellectual named Philipp van Limborch, who thought so highly of it that he had it published. He did did so without Locke's knowledge or permission, embroiling Locke in a dispute with High Church members of the Anglican clergy.

    They argued that the state has a right to force dissenters to reflect on the Anglican Church as the one true religion.

    But wars were fought over which was the One True Faith. The 30-Years War depopulated parts of Europe as effectively as the Black Death had three centuries earlier.

    Which is why, in his letter to Philipp van Limborch, Locke argued that:
    It is not the diversity of opinions (which cannot be avoided), but the refusal of toleration to those that are of different opinions (which might have been granted), that has produced all the bustles and wars that have been in the Christian world upon account of religion.Further, he argued for separation of church and state. The argument rests, in part, on his definition of the role of civil authorities:

    The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests. Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like.
    Locke was not inclined to write briefly, and the argument has many parts, but the most important aspects were:

    A) Religious wars are caused not by people believing different things, but by trying to make them all believe the same thing, and

    B) You can compel people to act as if they believe in your religion, but you cannot compel them to actually believe, therefore they do not have faith that will save them, even if the state picks the right religion, and

    C) When there is a state religion, the state intervenes in religion, and religion intervenes in the state. 

    On the matter of religion intervening in the state:
    What can be the meaning of their asserting that kings excommunicated forfeit their crowns and kingdoms? It is evident that they thereby arrogate unto themselves the power of deposing kings, because they challenge the power of excommunication, as the peculiar right of their hierarchy.

    On the state intervening in the church:
    But, to speak the truth, we must acknowledge that the Church (if a convention of clergymen, making canons, must be called by that name) is for the most part more apt to be influenced by the Court than the Court by the Church. How the Church was under the vicissitude of orthodox and Arian emperors is very well known. Or if those things be too remote, our modern English history affords us fresh examples in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth, how easily and smoothly the clergy changed their decrees, their articles of faith, their form of worship, everything according to the inclination of those kings and queens. Yet were those kings and queens of such different minds in point of religion, and enjoined thereupon such different things, that no man in his wits (I had almost said none but an atheist) will presume to say that any sincere and upright worshipper of God could, with a safe conscience, obey their several decrees.
    The framers of the Constitution were, for the most part, admirers of Locke. They understood that to practice your own religion freely, you must be free of other peoples' religions. This is why the first amendment to the constitution reads:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
    The boldfaced part is called the establishment clause. It means that the government cannot establish a religion, that is, make one religion the state religion. That is why a senate comprised of people who had been alive during the Revolutionary War and in many cases fought for America's freedom were happy to unanimously pass the Treaty of Tripoli, which as mentioned above, stated that  "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."

    What they knew, and many people apparently do not know now, is that one of the things that made America revolutionary was that the state did not dictate what religion would be approved and in some ways dictated by the state to the people. This meant that you could practice any religion you liked.

    Events like the Marian Persecutions were still well known at that time, whereas most people no longer know about them.

    Queen Mary I was Catholic, and came into power after the deaths of Henry VIII, who had founded the Church of England and seized the property of the Catholic Church, and his son, Edward VI, who had established the Protestant church. Mary made Catholicism the established church of England again, and started burning Protestants at the stake for heresy.

    Mary had 283 people burned at the stake, ranging from Church of England Bishops, even the Archbishop of Canterbury, to working-class men and women who confessed to beliefs in conflict with Catholic doctrine.

    For example Guillemine Gilbert and Perotine Massey, sisters living on the island of Guernsey, were arrested on suspicion of stealing a golden goblet. While they were found innocent of the theft, under interrogation, they admitted to beliefs that, while common among Protestants, were contrary to Catholic doctrine.

    The women were sentenced to death for heresy. John Foxe (author of a book now usually called The Book of Christian Martyrs) recorded that Perotine Massey was "great with child," and that when she was burned at the stake,  "the belly of the woman burst asunder by the vehemence of the flame, the infant, being a fair man-child, fell into the fire"

    Foxe was not there, and I do wonder if perhaps the baby was born in a more usual manner by a mother who must have been writhing in pain, but that's what the eyewitnesses said. They also said the child was rescued from the flame, but the bailiff had it thrown back into the fire. The Guernsey Martyrs had a great deal to do with the rise of Calvinism in the Channel Islands, and the diminishment of Catholicism in the same place.

    Given that this could be the face of establishment of religion, the founders of the American nation wanted none of it. The problem is, once you say that yours is a "Christian nation," or for that matter, an "Islamic state." the apparatus of state force can be used to enforce someone's notion of what that religion consists of.  This is why Islamic State is killing people for being Shia Muslim rather than Sunni Muslim, and killing Yazidi men and enslaving Yazidi women for not being Muslim at all.

    The logic is the same as applied to Bloody Mary's actions. The state does not serve the people, it and they serve God. Therefore, once you have a state-accepted religion, it is the duty of the state to punish unbelievers. No elections are needed, because the state serves God, and his earthly representatives can tell the people who God has appointed to rule them.

    This also means that it is imperative for rulers to either be on good terms with God's representatives, or choose those representatives themselves. In killing the upper ranks of the Church of England, Mary I was choosing which of God's representatives should rule on her own legitimacy, and sending an unmistakable message to those who replaced them.

    The people who founded America had no use for a system that could produce anything like the Guernsey Martyrs, or the many indignities short of that. They took Locke's advice and separated the state from religion, allowing the peaceful coexistence of different sorts of believers. There had, in colonial times, been individual colonies with established religions, sometimes leading followers of an entire faith to be disenfranchised. In 1718 Maryland, which had been founded by a Roman Catholic, passed a law depriving Catholics of the right to vote, reflecting in-migration of protestants, who had become a majority. Catholics did not regain the right to vote until 1776.

    A Letter Concerning Toleration is not much studied today, but it should be. It contains the solution to religious strife, and the logic of the secular state, which are inseparable.

  • Trump as "This is Spinal Tap"

    by John MacBeath Watkins

    Donald J.Trump's name was on the podium, and a pre-teen dance troupe dressed in red, white, and blue uniforms was dancing around it, singing a song based on some of Trump's lines. That's when I realized that his campaign is the reality television version of a political This is Spinal Tap.

    The mockumentary satirized the pretensions and wild behavior of the fictional band Spinal Tap, the dialogue largely ad-libbed by the actors. It also satirized the pretensions of rock documentaries.

    Viewed in this light we can see Trump as a caricature of the narcissism common among politicians, even his hair a caricature of the efforts politicians expend to make themselves desirable to the voters. His act is so over the top, it is nearly impossible for those not seduced by it to take it seriously. And you want wild behavior? How about a candidate who encourages people at his rallies to beat up protesters?

    This is Spinal Tap was wonderfully funny, and I suppose the comical policy proposals and preoccupation with the size of his hands would all seem hilarious if Trump was not an actual danger to the country and the fact that he's close to securing the nomination of a major party were not so frightening to our allies.

    I suppose we can only wish this was a mocumentary, but in fact, it is beyond a joke.

Questions, comments, or suggestions
Please write to
Copyright©2016. All Rights Reserved.
Powered by