Like a fever or an irregular heartbeat, Donald Trump’s surge in the GOP primary polls provides important information about the state of the party of Lincoln. Mr. Trump, a terrible candidate in many ways, is inexperienced as a politician. Rhetorically, his mode tends to excess, and only to excess. Moreover, as some have pointed out, given the positions Trump has held over the years, calling him a “Republican” or a “conservative” is a stretch. That said, his current positions are conservative. Which is why his candidacy—in or out of the GOP—might harm the party’s chances of retaking the presidency, and this, in addition to his drawing so much attention away from better candidates, has angered many commentators.
The bitter disputes sparked by Indiana’s version of the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” and the controversies that provoked the act, are the latest episode in our ongoing culture war. Its sources are twofold: the moral clash between what we call the “Left” and the “Right,” and the increasing scope of government.
We have only begun to digest the full implication of the assault on Sony pictures. Assuming it indeed was perpetrated by North Korea, (and evidence is building that it may have been, at least partly, an inside job) in order to block a movie it does not like, the hack, and the extortion of a private corporation is an assault on the very idea of civil society that we Americans cherish.
Thanksgiving is a peculiar holiday, at least in the modern world. Its roots are religious, and the American nation is, at least in law, secular. Its very name speaks of thanks, or gratitude, and gratitude is an ancient virtue. Indeed Aristotle speaks highly of it. Even so, or perhaps for that reason, it is very American. In his Thanksgiving address in 1922, President Coolidge called it “perhaps the most characteristic of our national observances.” He was not wrong for, as Chesterton wrote, America is “a nation with the soul of a church,” and Abraham Lincoln called us an “almost chosen people.”
The culture war rages on. Recently the New York Post reported that the state of New York has fined a couple for refusing to host a same-sex wedding on their farm. This provides some context for, in Ezra Klein’s words, “the politicization of absolutely everything.” The complaint has its ironic dimensions, and leads us to ponder what caused that politicization—and what can we do about it. Klein points to surveys showing that Americans are growing increasingly partisan. In one study he cites, participants were given resumes to review. The results showed that, as Klein writes, “race mattered. But political orientation mattered…
In the annual Torah cycle, we Jews always read the story of the Tower of Babel shortly before Halloween. This year we read it last Saturday. A strange coincidence. Although it’s not quite a horror story, the story of Babel is about evil. In particular, it is about the evil that men might do when they all speak the same language. So empowered, Genesis informs us, men seek to glorify themselves rather than serving God. Frankenstein, the quintessential modern horror story, tells the same tale.
The prospect of Scottish independence has spurred a great deal of discussion here and elsewhere. It’s worth remembering that the Act of Union of 1707, which drew England and Scotland together, factored into the story of the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson and other colonists believed that each colony had the same relationship to Britain in the 1770s that England and Scotland had to each other before the Act of Union: as an equal state with a common monarch.
The Massachusetts Constitution’s Declaration of Rights says, in its conclusion, that:
In the government of this commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them: the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them: the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them: to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.
That constitution, providing for a lower house, a Senate, and a governor armed with a (qualified) veto was, in many ways, the model for the federal Constitution drafted a few years later.
Recent events have led me back to Henry Adams’ great work on U.S. history. There is a side of the American mind that wishes the world could be different than it is: Few men have dared to legislate as though eternal peace were at hand, in a world torn by wars and convulsions and drowned in blood; but this was what Jefferson aspired to do. Even in such dangers, he believed that Americans might safely set an example which the Christian world should be led by interest to respect and at length to imitate. As he conceived a true American policy, war…