Pragmatic Progressivism

It’s no secret that I’m on the political left. It’s no secret that, as much as there’s a left-right divide in the church, I’m on the theological and ecclesiological left. I support things like a robust welfare state, universal healthcare, a universal basic income, an emphasis on diplomacy, and a host of other progressive causes. More than that, I support a charitable society; I hope for a world where there is not a needy person among us, because we share freely with each other as there is need.1Acts 4:32-37

I also recognize that, given the current political climate and the broader culture of the United States — let alone the world — many of these things are unlikely to happen without direct divine intervention. We live in an imperfect world. While I can hope — and work — for the Kingdom of God, I know that the most I will accomplish in my lifetime will fall far short of that.

Which bring me to the point I made in this post: there is eschatological hope and there is immanent hope. My eschatological hope is for the Kingdom of God. My immanent hope is for more immediately attainable things, like winning elections.

That is to say: I am a pragmatic progressive. I am interest is furthering our movement towards a world of greater justice and mercy, and I recognize that doing so may mean accepting imperfect incremental improvements. That doesn’t mean that I abandon my eschatological hope. It simply means that I don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Footnotes   [ + ]

Timothy Burke: Enough

If America is not great, it is not for a lack of attention to our sensitive right-wing snowflakes. They said: hands off our guns. Well, we stand now at the moment of the most intense judicial restraint on any attempt to restrict gun ownership and use in the history of this republic. They said: lower our taxes! We are the least taxed liberal democracy on the planet, we are 37 years into a national regime of ceaseless tax reduction. They said: cut the welfare state, get rid of the safety net! The safety net has been cut, the great revolution of the late 19th and early 20th Century in favor of public goods is nearly totally undone. They said: stop teaching our children what we don’t want them to know. Creationism is back in schools, the government is actively hostile to science, it’s ok for the top leaders of this country to endorse historical falsehoods and insist they be taught to the nation’s children. They said: we’re too free to see pornography and get divorced and live together outside of marriage and take drugs. And where is it that pornography is most popular and adultery flourishes and opoids and meth take hold? In Trumplandia, where people apparently need the Nanny State to stop them from doing what they blame on others who do it far less. They said: stop crime at all costs! And thirty years later, they’re still afraid in a country that locks up more of its own people than any other comparable nation, that allows cops to kill black men with impunity.

Here is a revolver.

It has an amazing language all its own.

It delivers unmistakable ultimatums.

It is the last word.

A simple, little human forefinger can tell a terrible story with it.

Hunger, fear, revenge, robbery hide behind it.

It is the claw of the jungle made quick and powerful.

It is the club of the savage turned to magnificent precision.

It is more rapid than any judge or court of law.

It is less subtle and treacherous than any one lawyer or ten.

When it has spoken, the case can not be appealed to the supreme court, nor any mandamus nor any injunction nor any stay of execution in and interfere with the original purpose.

And nothing in human philosophy persists more strangely than the old belief that God is always on the side of those who have the most revolvers.

Before Anything Else, They Are People in Need

If you’ve been paying attention to the news at all, you know that Puerto Rico is in crisis. While President Trump as tweeted attacks on the mayor of San Juan and other Puerto Rican leaders who have criticized the government’s response, FEMA and other agencies – both public and private – have been working to help the people of Puerto Rico. Whether the response has been adequate or not, untold numbers of people are waiting for food, water, medicine, power, and other necessary resources. It will take decades, perhaps even generations, to fully recover.

And because the need is so dire, many of my friends are reminding people that Puerto Ricans are Americans and that many are veterans.

And that’s true. Puerto Ricans are, by law, American citizens (even though residents do not have a vote in Congress and are not allowed to vote in presidential elections). And tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have served in the United States military since World War I. If we are grateful for the service of American veterans, we are grateful for the service of Puerto Ricans.

But none of that matters.

All that matters is this: Puerto Ricans are people in need. Before anything else, they are people in need. That should be the sole criterion on which we base our response.

So go, donate. I recommend the United Church of Christ’s disaster ministries 2017 hurricane fund, which will support efforts in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and wherever else help is needed. The reason I recommend them it simple: in a few months, memory will fade and other disasters will dominate headlines… and the United Church of Christ will still be working where help is needed today. The United Church of Christ provides the longterm support that is needed in disaster recovery areas.

John Pavlovitz: I Am the Alt-Left, Mr. President

Heather marched on behalf of people she didn’t know, but valued greatly.
She spoke for people who are so often silenced by people like you.
She stood for those who are pushed to the margins of this life by people like you.
She declared the worth of all people, regardless of the color of their skin or their sexual orientation or their religious beliefs.
She lived this way; open-hearted, generously, sacrificially, humbly.
She died proclaiming that another life was as precious as her own; that every human being is intrinsically valuable, that every person is worth dying for.

And if that is the Alt-Left, Mr President—you can count me in.

Come Get Your Boy

Donald Trump isn’t a Republican issue or a rich people issue or a human issue. Donald Trump is a white people issue. Whenever Ben Carson says batshit crazy nonsense, Black people rise up, and let him know that he needs to STFU. Whenever Raven-Symone pops off, we put her cap back on. We even handled Rachel Dolezal for you. Yes, we also make jokes and come up with clever memes and hashtags, but at the core of all that is that we are letting these people know that they are embarrassing us as Black people. It is time, white people, for you to finally step up and recognize that you also (even more so) have a responsibility to your race. It is up to you to silence Donald Trump. Don’t just insult him and make fun of him. You have to connect it to your race. Recognize that he is embarrassing you as a white person. Simple snark won’t win here. You have to feel it. You have to use words like “as a white person” and “he is an embarrassment to my race.” Stop acting like Trump isn’t the pinnacle and the result of America’s history and tradition of white supremacy. And again, P.S.: Simply put, white people, come get your boy.

W. Kamau Bell

As a rule, I try not to write about things that are happening right now. This is especially true when there are big issues at play. I’m a slow thinker. I need time to let ideas percolate, to find the right words, to parse complicated ideas into simpler terms. And, of course, there are other people who are more gifted at saying the right thing in response to events quickly. I think both approaches are important. Someone to say something now, someone to keep talking after everyone has moved on to the next big thing.

But, right now, I need to say something: white people… we need to come get our boys.

This weekend, white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia. They did not wear hoods or masks. They marched with weapons. They marched with flags. They marched with salutes. They marched with banners and slogans. They marched in polo shirts carrying tiki torches.

As a friend of mine put it on Facebook: “So… I’m a white man in my 30’s. Today I’ve seen photos and videos of men who look just like me actively inciting violence against anyone who doesn’t look like they (we) do.”

Those of us who are white – and, especially, those of us who are white men and who are white Christians – need to take action here. We saw people who look like us on television representing us in a way that is awash with hate and ugliness. Some of us saw people we know. Some of us saw friends and family members. And we need to do something about this.

We need to tell people that it is shameful to fly the flags of hatred. We need to tell people that it is shameful to give the salutes of genocide. We need to tell people that it is shameful to threaten the innocent and the oppressed and the marginalized. And not just in general terms. We need to tell our brothers and sisters and parents and children and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends and colleagues and everyone.

These people who marched with the symbols of hate and oppression should feel ashamed. They should feel stigmatized. They should feel marginalized. They should repent of their ways or skulk back into the shadows.

We need to take responsibility for these people to look like us. And we need to do that every day. We need to come get our boys.

I Am Pleased to See That John McCain Did the Right Thing

The Senate rejected an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act last night. And, despite my somewhat cynical expectations, Senator John McCain did the right thing and voted against the bill. Credit where credit is due: well done John McCain, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski.

As usual, the folks at Lawyers, Guns, & Money put it best:

This blog is proud to have always recognized and admired John McCain’s fiercely independent statesmanship.

…Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski deserve a lot of credit too. Deserving even more are every member of the Democratic caucus, who were unwaveringly opposed. And the most credit goes to ordinary citizens who went to the streets, called, and wrote, and made this bill politically toxic. Cheers. The war for universal healthcare is far from over, but this is a huge win for the American people.

Esquire: The Price of John McCain’s Republican Loyalty

But the ugliest thing to witness on a very ugly day in the United States Senate was what John McCain did to what was left of his legacy as a national figure. He flew all the way across the country, leaving his high-end government healthcare behind in Arizona, in order to cast the deciding vote to allow debate on whatever ghastly critter emerges from what has been an utterly undemocratic process. He flew all the way across the country in order to facilitate the process of denying to millions of Americans the kind of medical treatment that is keeping him alive, and to do so at the behest of a president* who mocked McCain’s undeniable military heroism.

The Concourse: You Can’t Balance Out Racism

Here I am writing an essay pointing out that racism is bad. This is kindergarten material. We should not have to have these conversations. Our national media’s instinct to normalize whatever is happening among the politically powerful is so strong that they are now writing stories giving positive reviews to a speech in which the president just proposed one of the most baldly racist official government actions that I can remember. The fact that he stuck to the teleprompter does not balance this out. The fact that he did not insult the media as much as usual does not balance this out. The fact that a widow cried does not balance this out. This sort of determined, poisonous persecution of a minority group is not just one more factor to be weighed for its public relations value. Nothing balances this out. Go ask an immigrant how presidential Donald Trump seemed last night.

Governing and Calvinball

For Christmas, I received the complete boxed set of Calvin and Hobbes, the great newspaper comic strip by Bill Watterson that ran from 1985 to 1995. This was easily my favorite comic strip growing up (its only serious competition being Gary Larson’s The Far Side) and many of its ideas have stuck with me: the wagon rolling down a hill at breakneck speeds, Spaceman Spiff, the transmogrifier…

…and Calvinball.

Calvinball, if you’re not familiar with the comic strip, is a game where players make up the rules as they go along. Except for the rule that rules cannot be used twice, rules cannot be used twice, so every game of Calvinball is different.

To Calvin and Hobbes, the point of Calvinball is to have fun, unhampered by the rules of formal sports. In real life, there are people who play Calvinball for the same reason. But in a lot of areas of our lives, the principles of Calvinball are used for another reason: we change the rules of the games we’re playing so that, whatever we do, we win.

Lately, this is how the principles of Calvinball have been applied to government.

Last week, Elizabeth Warren was sanctioned for reading a letter from Coretta Scott King regarding the nomination of Jeff Sessions. The original letter was written in 1986 in response to Sessions’s nomination to Federal District Court Judge for the Southern District of Alabama. Warren, of course, was using it as an argument against his nomination to United States Attorney General.

Mitch McConnell invoked the rarely used Rule XIX.2: “No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” It’s a rule used so rarely – usually, senators just threaten to invoke it as a warning to another senator – that it’s easier to find examples of times when it probably should have been used than times when actually has been.

But this isn’t the only recent example of the rules (suddenly) being used or changed to suit those in power.

The Republican-controlled legislature of North Carolina, for example, moved to severely limit the power of the governor after a Democrat won the election. A court recently blocked this legislation, but that doesn’t change the attempt or the motive: to change the rules so that Republicans could keep their power.

Similarly, when senate Democrats boycotted the Finance Committee’s votes on cabinet nominees, the committee abandoned the rule that said members of both parties had to be present. The Democrats insist that they would have been happy to move forward once certain questions were answered, but Republicans preferred to change the rules to suit their desires.

I don’t mean to pick on Republicans here. I’m sure both sides play Calvinball to some degree. But this kind of rule-changing (or highly selective rule enforcement) creates serious challenges for responsible governance. Changing the rules so that one side of the debate has always already won undermines democracy: it ensures that the minority voice can never be heard.

So how about we make a deal for both parties to follow: no more Calvinball.