Progress and Retreat

  • A reading from Steven Pinker, about progress the MAGA folks are reacting against;
  • Double standards about Trump and presidential immunity; J.D. Vance and protesters; DeSantis and woke banks; the National Day of Prayer; another Republican taking advantage of a bill he voted against;
  • Items about taxes, the federal debt, Biden’s name-calling, boils, the woke mob, God in the Constitution, false fetal videos, Trump falling asleep;
  • How Trump’s ‘higher law’ is a retreat from civilization;

Today’s reading is from Steven Pinker, reflecting in 2002 on the racial prejudice and eugenics policies of the early twentieth century, and how much progress some of us have made since then.

We have come a long way. Though [such attitudes] continue to thrive in much of the world and in parts of our society, they have been driven out of mainstream intellectual life in Western democracies. Today no respectable public figure in the United States, Britain, or Western Europe can casually insult women or sling around invidious stereotypes of other races or ethnic groups. Educated people try to be conscious of their hidden prejudices and to measure them against the facts and against the sensibilities of others. In public life we try to judge people as individuals, not as specimens of a sex or ethnic group. We try to distinguish might from right and our parochial tastes from objective merit, and therefore respect cultures that are different or poorer than ours. We realize that no mandarin is wise enough to be entrusted with directing the evolution of the species, and that it is wrong in any case for the government to interfere with such a personal decision as having a child. The very idea that the members of an ethnic group should be persecuted because of their biology fills us with revulsion.

How did these changes come about? “[T]he spinoff of an unplanned experiment: the massive immigration, social mobility, and diffusion of knowledge of the modern era.”

As we’ve seen in those books about philosophy and morality earlier this year: morality, and social standards, can and should change with experience and education. Fundamentalists, of course, disagree.

As for the main quote, apparently the MAGA folks disagree. And perhaps conservatives in general, who know what they know. They consider such considerations for others to be irredeemably “woke.” From Trump’s escalator speech, to the DeSantis item below. MAGA is essentially a retreat from civilization into tribal morality.


More examples of double standards.


This is precious. Trump wants immunity from prosecution for things he did as president, on the grounds that without such immunity, future presidents would always be targeted by their successors. Yet, has this ever happened before? No. On the contrary, it is Trump who has been so eager to prosecute his rivals, including his hoped-for predecessor, Joe Biden.

NY Times, 30 Apr 2024: Trump Wants to Prosecute Biden. He Also Thinks Presidents Deserve Immunity., subtitled “In arguing to the Supreme Court that he cannot be charged for acts while in office, Donald Trump has asked the justices to enforce a norm that he has long threatened to shatter.”

Don’t expect consistency from these people.


TNR, 2 May 2024: J.D. Vance Gets Hilariously Exposed for Hypocrisy After Protest Rant, subtitled “The Ohio senator was singing a very different tune when it came to January 6 rioters.”

Gaza solidarity protests on campus, vs January 6th rioters at the Capitol.


Joe.My.God, 2 May 2024: New Florida Law Allows Action Against “Woke Banks”

The writer comments: “As always in GOP land, businesses have the right to refuse service except when the customers are Christian, Republican, or right wing.”


Right Wing Watch, Peter Montgomery, 2 May 2024: National Day of Prayer Task Force Promotes Dominionist Language, Christian Nationalist Speakers

My comment: There should no more be a National Prayer Day than there should be a National Rain Dance Day. Why do religious conservatives not understand this? Because they don’t really believe in constitutional principles. They assume Christianity is privileged, because it’s the majority.


Yet another one.

Joe.My.God, 1 May 2024: GOP House Rep Took $315,000 Climate Grant He Voted Against To Install Solar Panels At His PA Car Dealership


Conservative logic.

Joe.My.God, 1 May 2024: Fox Host: Biden’s Capital Gains Taxes Are Anti-White

Because rich people are disproportionately white, therefore taxing rich people is racist (against whites).


Robert Reich, 30 Apr 2024: What to say to a Republican who complains about the federal debt.

The major reason for the huge federal debt is Trump’s and George W. Bush’s tax cuts, which together added $10 trillion to the debt since their enactment. They’re responsible for 57 percent of the increase in the ratio of the national debt to the economy since 2001.

Excluding the one-time costs of responding to Covid-19 and the Great Recession, the Bush and Trump tax cuts account for more than 90 percent of the increase in the debt ratio.

Most of the benefits of those tax cuts, not incidentally, have gone to the rich: 65 percent of the benefits of the Trump tax cuts have gone to the richest fifth of Americans, 22 percent to the top 1 percent.


Joe.My.God, 30 Apr 2024: Newsmax Attacks Biden For The Way He Eats Salad

Aside from the petty nominal subject, look at the chyron in the image above. Pot kettle black.


The Crazies.

Joe.My.God, 2 May 2024: MAGA Prophet: Trump Critics Will Be Struck With Boils

No, they won’t.


Joe.My.God, 2 May 2024: Dr. Phil: God Wants Me To Attack The “Woke Mob”

Beware of anyone claiming to be doing what God told them to do. They are always merely enacting personal prejudices, or ambitions.


Boing Boing, Mark Frauenfelder, 29 Apr 2024: CNN catches MAGA cultist in epic self-own over God in Constitution

She’s absolutely certain the “God”-given rights are in the Constitution. She’s wrong.


Joe.My.God, 30 Apr 2024: GOP Tennessee Gov Signs Bill Requiring Students To View False Fetal Video Pushed By Anti-Abortion Groups

*This* is indoctrination.


Media Matters, 23 Apr 24: “I think I’d fall asleep if I was there”: MAGA media praise Trump for nodding off in court

Trump has a history of calling Biden “Sleepy Joe.” But when Trump actually falls asleep in court, his fans defend him.


A more substantial piece. I’ve long entertained the notion that Republicans/conservatives flout common law because they think they have some ‘higher purpose’ in life, that transcends the ordinary rules commoners (and non-believers) follow. (Just as, roughly, the Ten Commandments applied only to member of the tribe, and not to outsiders, who could be murdered by God’s command.) So (reading it just now), what is the higher law this piece identifies?

NY Times, Matthew Schmitz guest essay, 2 May 2024: Trump Embraces Lawlessness, but in the Name of a Higher Law

Trump fashions himself as an outlaw in the vein of Billy the Kid and Al Capone.

For Mr. Trump’s detractors, such an open embrace of lawlessness confirms the danger he presents. But this understanding of his newfound criminal persona, a persona his legal opponents have helped to thrust upon him, overlooks something important: Mr. Trump may pose a threat to our political system as it now exists, but it is a threat animated by a democratic spirit. It is the threat of the outlaw hero, a figure of defiance with deep roots in American culture who exposes the injustices and hypocrisies of a corrupt system.

The outlaws in whose image Mr. Trump styles himself gained fame in the United States because they seemed to embody freedom and spontaneity, along with mistrust of authority and indifference to polite convention. They appealed to democratic impulses, however perversely. As the folklorist Stephen Knight has observed, the core values of the figure of the good outlaw are “liberty and equality.” These outlaws were lawless, yes, but in the name of a higher law. It is no coincidence that Mr. Trump recently described himself as the “public enemy of a rogue regime.”

Presumably this aligns with the “rugged individualism” of Mike Johnson, noted eight days ago.

Also, Robin Hood. Despite his tax cuts that benefit the wealthy.

Mr. Trump’s embrace of an outlaw image marks a change on the American right. A political formation that once was committed to what Russell Kirk called the “defense of order” is now drawn to the most anarchic figures in our national mythology. The exchange of George Washington for Jesse James reflects the right’s growing alienation from America’s leading institutions. But the break may not be as total as it seems. Even as Robin Hood defies the local sheriff, he maintains his loyalty to the king. He may humiliate the bishop, but he prays to the Virgin Mary. A similar combination of rebellion and reverence characterizes Mr. Trump’s attempt to run as an outlaw who will restore law and order.

And so on. This strikes me as Trump and his followers retreating from civilization into tribal morality.

Every day I reread and copy-edit my post from the evening before. If this comment is still here, I have not yet done so for this post.

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