I don’t want to write a full review of Andrew Sullivan’s new book, as I just finished a different review for a media outlet, but I want to urge you to read Out on a Limb: Selected Writing: 1989-2021, even if you don’t like Sullivan’s conservatism or religiosity (both are muted in this book). It contains dozens of essays over the 32-year period, arranged in chronological order. Some are very long, others just a page or two, and I found myself reading all of them over the past several weeks.
Click on the screenshot to go to the Amazon site:
Sullivan is a lovely and thoughtful writer, and, although he puts himself on the rightish end of the political spectrum, many of the essays comport well with liberal thinking. He was, for instance, instrumental in helping gay marriage become accepted in America, and his early essays (e.g., “Here comes the groom” from The New Republic) are powerful arguments for that institution. He touted Obama as a possible and potentially good president long before others were doing so, and shows additional prescience in recognizing Trump not only as a possible winner of the Presidency, but later as a probable winner of the Presidency. (He despises Trump.) He also predicted that Joe Biden would be the best Democratic candidate to beat Trump. (Perhaps he’s picking his essays to look prescient, but I doubt it.)
What I like about Sullivan’s writing is that, unlike many other writers, he’s willing to admit when he’s wrong and remains open to correcting his opinions. Ergo his self-flagellating essay, “How did I get Iraq wrong?” (he was an early booster of the war). His case against torture is ironclad (“The abolition of torture”), and many essays will appeal to readers on the grounds of simple humanity (e.g., his memoriam on the death of one of his beagles, “Surprised by Grief”, a title cribbed and modified from C. S. Lewis; or “Still here, so sorry”, his musings on still being alive years after an AIDS diagnosis).
There is a lot, of course, on AIDS and homosexuality, and it’s good to read this stuff from the viewpoint of a gay writer. The bulk of the essays are on politics, which he knows a lot about. I usually find such essays dry but Sullivan is such a good writer that you get the sense of discussing politics with a friend, not being preached to. Like a good scientist, he’s always considering counterarguments to his positions, another thing that makes him likable.
As I said, he’s surprisingly light on religion—it comes up rarely, except for one long and tedious essay on “What is the meaning of Pope Francis?” But after reading that and his other stuff on faith, I’m no closer than ever to understanding why a smart guy like Sullivan believes in things like the literal resurrection of Christ. So it goes.
Here are a few of my favorite essays, which give an idea of his range:
“Here comes the groom”, an epochal essay that really did help move American opinion.
“Quilt”, a touching piece on the AIDS Quilt.
“When plagues end: Notes on the twilight of an epidemic”. About the tapering off of the AIDS epidemic and Sullivan’s remembrance of its worst days.
“What’s so bad about hate?” A long and absorbing essay on the uses, abuses, and varieties of hatred.
“Gay cowboys embraced by redneck country”: Sullivan’s thoughts on the movie Brokeback Mountain.
“The abolition of torture”: an eloquent argument that any torture is the sign of a totalitarianism and is to be totally rejected as a tool of Americans.
“Why I blog”: a very thoughtful piece that especially resonated with me, as it draws a distinction that those of us understand who write both for publication in the media as well as on a website. They’re very different forms of writing, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.
“I used to be a human being”: A tale of Sullivan’s week at a meditation center completely disconnected from the Internet, combined with an acute and scathing analysis of what absorption in our “devices” has done to us.
“We all live on campus now”. A favorite of mine, which dispels the idea that insane leftist extremism found on colleges campus will not spread to the greater culture because the kids will grow up. (It already has spread, as you know, and is not going away.)
And the two final pieces:
“The unbearable whiteness of the classics”: An anti-Woke critique of the anti-classics classicists, defending the classics and showing that they can be taught alongside the history of racism.
“Two sexes, infinite genders”: A distinction between gender and sex (one that seems to be disappearing) and a touching remembrance of Sullivan’s father.
It’s good to have a book of essays on hand, like Sullivan’s or Orwell’s, to fill in the gaps when you don’t have time to absorb a chunk of a novel. And of course there’s a long-standing literary niche for short non-fictional pieces. Sullivan is a master of them, and although none of us are fans of all his ideas (the religion still bothers me), you come away from this book feeling as if you really know the guy—and like him.
Andrew Sullivan is no lover of Trump, nor, I think, are many people here. But it behooves us liberals to ensure that he doesn’t make a comeback. I think that unlikely, but others differ. One of them is Andrew Sullivan in his column this week, concentrating on the issue of immigration (click on screenshot, but subscribe if you read frequently). You can read his argument by clicking on the screenshot below.
Before we begin, let me recommend again Sullivan’s new book, Out on a Limb: Selected Writing, 1989-2021. The selections range from very short to quite long, and some of them are really great essays. His arguments for gay marriage, for instance, instrumental in moving the country towards recognizing that institution, are heartfelt and persuasive. He offers an apologia for his support of the Iraq war, trying to explain where he went wrong, and, presciently, predicted Obama’s victory well before the election. His essay “We all live on campus now” was also prescient, and there are various miscellaneous pieces like a good essay on “What’s so bad about hate?” The pieces go up to February of this year with discussions of gender issues and “the whiteness of the classics.” If you don’t like an essay, just read the next one. There’s something here for everyone. It’s also quite personal in places, as when he recounts his bout with HIV and how it changed him.
Anyway, click below to read:
The elephant in the room—the one factor that may be fatal to Biden’s reelection while energizing Trumpists, is, claims Sullivan, immigration. No liberal wants to come out explicitly favoring immigration limits (it’s been discussed very little lately, though 400,000 immigrants are predicted to pass through the southern border of the U.S. this October), as that sounds inhumane. Nevertheless, we have to take into account three issues. As Sullivan says, they’re not all Biden’s fault, for he inherited a badly broken immigration system.
a.) Volume, clearly much greater than ever before. As Sullivan says,
We are in a new era of mass migration, and the US government is demonstrating in real time that it has no idea how to control it. From January through July, well over a million undocumented migrants were intercepted at the border — Venezuelans, Cubans, Haitians, Romanians, among others — and the pace is accelerating. If those intercepted in the first half of this year formed a city, it would be the tenth largest in the US.
There are some short-term factors behind this: earthquakes, natural disasters, political unrest, Covid, gang warfare, and economic stagnation. But there is also a long-term one: climate change, the impact of which on migration from the south to the north is increasingly felt across the globe. The sudden wave at the border is a 21-year high — after both the Obama and Trump administrations had kept the numbers to around a quarter of that rate most years (excluding a sudden surge in 2019).
A further — and arguably central — reason for the acceleration is a change under Biden in how the US treats these intercepted newcomers.
I think even Progressive Democrats have to admit that this volume of influx is unsustainable, but you won’t hear them mention it. In fact, one could well get the impression from both Progressive and Center-Left Democrats that they favor open borders. We want to be compassionate, but no country can deal with this level of influx. Sullivan says that the tide of immigration, much of it illegal, is one reason why Latino support for Biden is waning, especially in towns near the border.
b.) Once you’re in, legally or not, you’re pretty much in for keeps. We all know that despite the requirement for formal applications to stay in the U.S., and rulings by immigration judges, many immigrants simply vanish into the population, not showing up for their court dates and lying low. Sullivan:
In the latest crisis, with 15,000 Haitian migrants arriving in Del Rio, around 2,500 were sent back to Haiti (where many hadn’t lived for years), and 12,500 were allowed in. That’s an 83 percent success rate.
So what, you may ask? Don’t those 12,500 have to get their asylum cases approved in order to stay permanently and legally in the US? Theoretically yes. But the wait for a court date can be several years (the average is around two and a half years) given our broken immigration infrastructure, after which it’s inhumane (as well as extremely difficult) to send people back. There’s also currently no way to force anyone to appear at the court, and 50 percent of removal orders — failed applications for asylum resulting in deportation — are issuedin absentia, i.e. without the asylum-seeker showing up. The key stat: every year only around two percent of illegal immigrants are deported. You can do the math. That’s why another 60,000 Haitians are on their way.
This is why we badly need immigration reform, which of course will be sidelined for the next few months as Congress squabbles over Biden’s infrastructure and social reform bills. Don’t expect the initiative to come from the Democrats, many of whom equate immigration reform with immorality, nor from the Republicans, who have a lot to gain by doing nothing and letting people gravitate towards Trump as immigrants pour in.
c.) Many immigrants claim refugee status, but are really moving for economic advantage. To get asylum you have to be fleeing danger or persecution in your home country, and all immigrants know this. Many thus confect persecution stories to get in. It’s the savvy thing to do. Everybody in Congress knows this, but it’s ignored. Sullivan:
The other clear fact is that, by any sane definition, these are not people fleeing political or religious persecution, i.e. bona fide asylum cases. Most, including most Haitians, had already relocated to countries like Chile, but chose the US for economic reasons. And that’s great. They can apply legally, and see if they qualify. Instead, they are using the broken border, and fake claims of asylum, to jump the line.
Responding to the claim that, well, Sullivan himself is an immigrant, he notes that he went through the process legally, and it took him 18 years.
I agree with Sullivan here: the Democrats, if they’re to win the midterm elections next year and the 2024 election, would be much better positioned if they had a humane but workable immigration program. We don’t want Trump re-elected while immigration is still broken and as he promises to build his damn wall.
Overall, Sullivan has a pretty gloomy prognostication about Biden aside from the immigration issue. You may disagree, but here’s his take:
Elsewhere in the West, mass migration has empowered the far right, and taken the UK out of the EU.
Yet in a very similar situation, when racial anxiety has already helped bring an unhinged authoritarian to power, and threatens to help him come back, the Democrats seem utterly blind to the danger. You want to take the wind out of the racist “Great Replacement” canard that appears to be gaining traction? You can huff and puff on Twitter, and feel great. Or you can get serious about border control.
The optics are also terrible — and compound a sense that the Biden administration is losing control of events. The scenes of death and mayhem in Kabul merge too easily in the mind with the squalor and disorder in Del Rio. Factor in the faltering vaccine program, and the prevaricating, incomprehensible shit-show of this Congress, and you can see how the image of a doddering incompetent in the White House is beginning to stick. And once that image imprints itself, it’s hard to escape it.
Worse: the immigration debate reflects an elite that simply cannot imagine why most normal citizens think that enforcing a country’s borders is not an exercise in white supremacist violence, but a core function of any basic government.
. . . If mass migration continues to accelerate under this administration, and Biden seems unable or unwilling to do anything about it, Tump could win that election in a romp. And deserve to.
Well, under no circumstances do I think an unhinged, authoritarian demagogue deserves to win, but what Sullivan surely means is that unless the Democrats get savvier, they’ll be hoist with their own petard.
Reader Paul sent me a 5-minute segment of Andrew Sullivan’s appearance on Bill Maher’s show last night, adding these comments:
He was the initial one-on-one interviewee and they mostly talked about Wokeism. Maher pointed out that this was Sullivan’s 27th appearance on the show, the most of any guest.
In the group discussion part of the show, Maher’s anti-vaxish opinion reared its ugly head. He mentions that he’s vaccinated and “did it for the team”, hinting that he wouldn’t have taken it otherwise. Then he says he won’t be getting the booster. One of the guests was someone who consulted on COVID matters for the US military. I was happy that he pushed back hard against Maher and that Maher seemed to indicate that he was on thin ice. I suspect that Maher’s going to get an earful on Twitter today.
In the short segment, Maher heaps praise on Sullivan for his common sense, noting that their perspectives generally agree. They then discuss Andrew’s move to Substack, and Andrew admits (I don’t remember this from before) that he was indeed fired from New York Magazine (I think it was because Sullivan was going to criticize the violence and looting of some of the Black Lives Matter protestors). Andrew’s own criticism of the pro-woke mindset of magazines (including all that have “New York” in the title) is pretty good.
Here’s part of Maher’s monologue, largely about the downside of smartphone. Well, they certainly have made people nastier as well as reduced the reading of books as well as people’s attention span in general.
I had forgotten that Andrew Sullivan has a new book coming out—a collection of selected essays written over the last 32 years. The official date of release is Tuesday, and you can order the book from Amazon by clicking on the screenshot below (the Simon & Schuster website for the book is here).
There’s a review of the book in today’s New York Times (click on screenshot below), and it’s surprisingly positive. I say “suprisingly” because, after four years as a writer for the NYT Magazine, Sullivan was fired in 2002. (He was also let go from New York Magazine last year, presumably because they deep-sixed one of his columns condemning the violence associated with racial-justice demonstrations.) And he’s also seen as a “conservative”, though my reading of his positions shows him all over the map. It’s also surprising because their choice of a reviewer is David French, identified in the column as “a senior editor of The Dispatch, a columnist at Time and the author of Divided We Fall”, but also self-identified in the column as an “evangelical conservative”—not the kind of reviewer you’d think the paper would pick.
French’s review is a good one in both senses, though: it’s thorough and well written, and it’s positive about the book. It makes a good case for why Sullivan is, as French calls him, “one of America’s most important public intellectuals,” and surely one of its most readable and thoughtful journalists as well.
Except for his Catholicism, to which Sullivan clings resolutely in the face of reason, I read Sullivan weekly, and subscribe to his Substack website—for several reasons. First, he’s an excellent writer. Like Orwell, he eschews cant, writes simply but eloquently, and is always engaged with politics. (A journalist who writes with leaden words is hard to read!) I like the fact that he’s fearless, going against the Zeitgeist on issues like Critical Race Theory and wokeness. And I like the fact that, unlike almost every journalist working, he admits when he’s wrong, as he did when he initially supported the Iraq war.
His writing on gay marriage was of immense importance in helping turn America around on this important issue, and, on other issues, Sullivan is constantly re-examining and re-asssessing his previous views. He was a big supporter of Biden and a big hater of Trump, and although he still rightly despises the Orange Man, he’s beginning to find flaws in Biden and his administration. His latest column is called “Biden’s Not-So-Great New Normal“, in which, though he praises Uncle Joe for his pandemic response, he faults him for his administration’s failure to do anything about the immigration crisis—yes, it is a crisis—and for the rising murder rate, which disproportionately affects African Americans.
Is Sullivan a conservative? I don’t really care. On some issues he’s taken conservative stands, on others liberal ones. What I like about him is that he makes me think, which is the job of a good journalist. (Don’t ask me about his enthusiasm for Herrnstein and Murray’s book The Bell Curve. I haven’t read the book nor followed Sullivan’s coverage of it.)
Click to read the piece: I’ll give just a few quotes from the review. Note, though, the somewhat snarky description of Sullivan in the picture caption. “Andrew Sullivan looking concerned.” Did they need to write anything there? It undercuts the seriousness of Sullivan’s views.
Some praise from French:
When he is right, he is right with the same intensity. In 2009, he could see the strategy and incentives of the modern Republican Party: “If you have safe Republican seats in a party dominated intellectually by rigid ideologues, then your path of least resistance is total political warfare.” Substitute “rigid commitment to Trump” for “rigid ideologues,” and you have the same dynamic today.
It’s hard for anyone to read Sullivan’s words and not feel provoked. However, he is no troll. He does not write for the purpose of inflicting pain. And even his most passionate arguments are thoughtfully delivered, deeply rooted in his philosophy and faith.
That seems to be a pretty accurate characterization, although I could do without the reliance on “faith”(see below).
And the final assessment:
When I reached the end of his book, I felt a sense of gratitude. I disagreed with Sullivan on many points (and I do wish he had reproduced one of his essays in support of the Iraq war), but for 32 years a thoughtful man has demonstrated the courage of his convictions and challenged his readers time and again.
This world is almost impossibly complex. Conventional wisdom is frequently wrong. No partisan side has a monopoly on truth. In these circumstances, a nation needs writers and thinkers who will say hard things, whose fearlessness gives you confidence that you’re hearing their true thoughts.
It’s not difficult to be a partisan bomb-thrower. Attacking the hated opposition to the roar of the home crowd can be lucrative and rewarding. Partisans who gird for cultural battle don’t want to have second thoughts. They don’t want to look in the mirror and ponder the sin on their own side. Yet in essay after essay, for decade after decade, Sullivan has been the man with the mirror. He’s held it up to a nation and culture that increasingly yield to authoritarian temptations and shouted: “Look at yourself. Look at what you’re becoming.”
Read “Out on a Limb” for the snapshots of recent history. Read it to better understand the many journeys of one of America’s most important public intellectuals. But most of all read this book to see what it looks like when a thoughtful man tries his best to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may.
The last paragraph could be just one of many blurbs from the review that could go on the book cover.
As I said, my one abiding disagreement with Sullivan is his rather pious Catholicism, though he’s notably reluctant to say explicitly what part of Catholic dogma he accepts. Surely he believes that Jesus existed as a divine being, and saved us through his crucifixion and resurrection, but you’ll never hear it from his mouth. (Or at least I never have.) Does he belief in the afterlife, or in the transubstantiation? You got me. For a writer grounded in facts, he’s been eager to inhabit a warehouse full of mythology. Now that could have some good effects (perhaps Sullivan’s humility comes from his faith), but in the main his harping on religion only serves to justify a belief system based not on evidence but on wish-thinking.
One plaint in this area. A while back Sullivan wrote a column, “Religion and the decline of democracy: We may miss it when it’s gone“, asserting that liberal democracy depends on Christianity and, should atheism prevail, America will go to ground. I was incensed enough not only to write a critical post about this thesis, but also forwarded an email to Sullivan’s site as a “dissent” (he regularly publishes readers’ criticism). My dissent, however, was ignored. Perhaps it was too long, but I think it countered Sullivan’s points well. I thought I’d posted it on this site, but couldn’t find it (it may be somewhere), so I reproduce it again (I added the supporting links in my email):
I wanted to challenge you on a statement you made in last Friday’s Dish. In response to a reader’s question about whether you thought that “a resurgence of small ‘L’ liberalism is possible in an increasingly atheistic west”, and how it could be promoted, you said this:
. . . . the honest answer is: I don’t know whether liberalism can survive without some general faith in an objective reality and a transcendent divinity. That’s why I suspect a reinvention and reboot for Christianity is an urgent task.
I agree about the objective reality part—after all, modern liberalism and its program are closely wedded to real facts, not fake ones—but I don’t agree that liberalism needs a “transcendent divinity”. In fact, objective reality suggests the opposite: liberalism needs to reject the idea of gods.
I’ll leave aside the contradiction between believing there’s an objective reality and the assertion that there’s a “transcendent divinity”, much less a Christian one— claims about reality that have no empirical support. And I’ll only mention that many nonliberal positions, like anti-pro-choice and anti-gay views, are often seen and supported as God’s will.
Instead, I want to emphasize that the objective reality of the world is that the less religious a country or a state is, the more liberal it seems to be. Not only that, but the inhabitants are better off and happier.
There are now ample data showing a negative correlation among the world’s countries between belief in God and several indices of national well being—indices that comport with liberal goals. Measures of “successful societies”, incorporating 25 factors that make for healthier societies, are negatively correlated with religiosity among developed Western nations. Income inequality across 67 countries is positively correlated with the frequency with which their inhabitants pray. The UN’s World Happiness Index, a measure of people’s subjective evaluation of their mental well being, is strongly negatively correlated with the average religiosity of a nation.
Granted, some of these data come from non-Christian countries, but most are Christian.
This also holds for states in the U.S.: the human development index, a measure of a state’s well being, is negatively correlated with the average religiosity of the 50 American states. Of course in America religiosity is Christian religiosity.
Over and over again—and this is a fact well known to sociologists—we find that the more religious a country is, the worse off it is. The five happiest countries in the world, for instance, are Finland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, and Switzerland—hardly Christian nations, with Scandinavia being for all purposes a den of atheists. And these countries, by all lights, are liberal, moral, and caring.
While the reason for these correlations aren’t clear, it’s not likely that religion itself promotes poverty, inequality, and unhappiness. Rather, it’s probable that, when the people of a country or state are not well off, and don’t feel cared for by their societies, they turn to religion as a palliative: the assurance that Someone Above will take care of things, now or after death. Although I’m not a Marxist, Marx may have gotten it right when he said, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
Whatever the cause, objective reality doesn’t support your claim that embracing transcendent divinities leads to more liberal societies. Rather, worse societies seem to become more religious, or retain more religion.
Fortunately, we do have a reinvention of Christianity. It isn’t a reboot, but surely suffices as a grounding for liberalism. It’s called secular humanism, and is the basis for all the happiest, most secure, and best-off societies in the world.
All the best,
I thought that wasn’t bad, but it’s in the circular file. Still, it doesn’t diminish my desire to keep reading Sullivan (I’ve just asked our library to order his new book), nor even the affection I feel for him—an affection, I think, born of his sensitivity, his willingness to reveal a lot about himself as a person, and, above all, his willingness to re-examine his views and admit when he’s wrong—traits that appeal to a scientist.
When I visited Tibet some years ago, it was painfully evident that China was trying to wipe out native Tibetan culture, replacing Tibetans with the dominant group, Han Chinese. Pictures of the Dalai Lama were outlawed, and Buddhism itself was being suppressed: monasteries closing, Han stores moving in, and so on.
The same thing, but on a larger and more brutal scale, is going on with another religious minority in China: the Uyghurs—a Muslim ethnic group living largely in the big province of Xinjiang. The Chinese are eliminating them in every way possible, including putting them in “reeducation camps” where they’re brainwashed out of their Islam and turned into Han Chinese. Although reports from these camps are hard to come by, they’re dire, with forced labor, punishments, brutality, and, as described in the second video below, torture. There are 6 million Uyghurs, and it’s estimated that a million of them—one in six—are living in the camps.
The Chinese are also imposing strict surveillance on Uyghurs, monitoring their phones with special apps, ensuring that they don’t own “dangerous” books like the Qur’an, tripling the security budget, and installing cameras everywhere that are programmed to identify faces. While there are no mass killings reported, this is in effect a cultural genocide, one described in the two videos below.
The first is from The Economist, and the second from Al Jazeera. The content is somewhat overlapping, but it’s well worth the 18 minutes of time to watch both of them. See what happens when a dictatorship decides to get rid of a minority that won’t be “assimilated” into the Han culture. Both Trump’s and Biden’s Secretaries of State have called this a “genocide.”
China, of course, denies nearly all of it: it’s all in the interest of peace and security, and the camps are there to provide Uyghurs with “job skills.” (Note that the Rohingya, another Muslim minority, are persecuted by Myanmar as well, but nothing near on the scale of China’s repression.)
So what can the U.S. do about this. We couldn’t do much about Tibet, though India has provided a refuge for the Dalai Lama, and we can’t do much about the Uyghurs, either. Our impotence on this issue is the major topic of Andrew Sullivan’s new column in The Weekly Dish (click on screenshot to read; it should be free):
In view of China’s dictatorial system and genocidal intentions, what can we do? Sadly, Sullivan, at the expense of his own conscience, suggests that we practice Realpolitik: pragmatism. He does recognize China for what it is:
And what China truly is helps defuse some of the hysteria that demonizes America: China, not America, is a built on a racist (Han) supremacy. As Jonah Goldberg notes, China is far, far worse on “free speech, democracy, police abuse, racism, reproductive freedom, corporate greed, colonialism, and corruption.” What China does to the Tibetans and Uyghurs makes Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians (while lamentable) seem minor. Where is the BDS for China, one wonders?
Good question! What China is doing to the Uyghurs really is creating a genuine apartheid system, but of course Israel and not China is the Country of Demons.
And then Sullivan says things that disturb me, including writing off the vigorous country of Taiwan (Sullivan seems to think that a Chinese takeover is imminent) and ignoring what’s going on in Tibet. He has bigger fish to fry.
And no, Taiwan is not a vital US interest, and we shouldn’t pretend it is. Nor is there any conceivable way the American public would support a global war to defend an island on the other side of the world — a war which essentially every Pentagon war-game predicts we’d lose. We should, it seems to me, maintain a certain ambiguity about Taiwan, and stress to the Chinese the huge international blowback if it were to be the aggressor in such a conflict.
So Sullivan’s “solutions” involve, à la Gwynnie, conscious economic decoupling, calling attention to the Chinese use of forced or slave labor, asking us to boycott goods made with such labor (which may include products by the likes of Nike and Apple), and asking us to “shame them.” That’s right: shame both those companies and China:
We cannot prevent major US companies from becoming enmeshed with a totalitarian country; but we can shame them when they re-write their film scripts, or when they manufacture their products with slave labor, or when they distract from their enabling of real oppression with woke takes on “oppression” in America, or when they kowtow to China’s language police. It should be possible for there to be a revulsion at China’s model on both right and left in America. And Biden’s framing of our rivalry as one between a free society and a totalitarian one is a contrast that can also win converts abroad if we do not overplay our hand.
That will work in the U.S, since we have more of a moral backbone, but it will do jack for our relationship with China. None of Sullivan’s recommendations will do accomplish much except keeping U.S. companies from exploiting workers in other countries. As for making China our friend, fuggedaboutit. It’s like expecting the renaming of birds to have a serious effect on reducing racism.
Why is Sullivan so pessimistic? Well, by and large he’s right: China is a big and powerful country full of smart people, and its leadership is canny and has a plan. We’re just a minor impediment in their plan. But, it seems, the main reason Sullivan wants us to coddle China is—wait for it—we need their help to reduce global warming:
Unlike with the Soviets, we also have a global emergency we need China’s cooperation and help with: climate change. There is no longer any hiding of the fact that we are facing a global catastrophe, made much, much worse by China’s coal plants and breakneck growth. Without their signing off on drastic carbon reduction, we are all fucked. Similarly with one result of that climate change: a world which will likely endure ever more viral outbreaks of unknowable power, released as the ground thaws, species move, and temperatures gyrate. You can see the Covid disaster — and China’s key role in creating it — as a reason to cut them off, and isolate them. I understand that. But, given their technological capacities, how does this actually help us stymie the next plague?
Yes, we are facing a global catastrophe, and the savvy now admit it. And China has to pitch in if we’re to conquer it. But seriously, does Sullivan really think that if we go easy on China, and let them persecute the Uyghurs without protest and then hand Taiwan to them, they’ll be so well disposed toward America that they’ll take serious steps to reduce carbon emissions? If you believe that, I have some land in Florida to sell you.
I’d like to hope that Sullivan is right. But I just can’t see it.
Andrew Sullivan has a new book: a collection of his writings over the last three decades. I thought it might be his first book, but it’s actually his fourth, and you can order it here. It’s thirty bucks in hardback, though it’s 576 pages long. I’ll be getting it through interlibrary loan:
Most of his latest column is devoted to the book (click on screenshot below), but I’m more interested in another topic he discusses: critical race theory.
Click on the screenshot:
First, though, the book. Sullivan goes into sufficient (perhaps excessive) detail about the book—enough to make me want to read it, but not to pay thirty bucks. But face it: unlike many, Sullivan owns up to his mistakes and misjudgments, and often revises his opinions, which makes me respect him.
A summary of his precis:
I’m not that easy to categorize, though many have tried, and I hope these essays reflect that. Among the political figures I have supported: Thatcher, Major, Blair, Cameron, and Johnson in Britain; Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Dole, Bush, Kerry, Obama, Clinton, and Biden in the US. Among the causes I have passionately supported: marriage equality, legalization of recreational drugs, the Persian Gulf War, the Iraq War, welfare reform, the candidacy and presidency of Barack Obama, and an expansive concept of free speech. Among the causes I have furiously opposed: the US adoption of torture in the war on terror, the Iraq War, religious fundamentalism in politics, both the Republican and Democratic parties, mass immigration, deficit spending, tribalism, critical theory, and Trump.
They all reflect, I hope, a singular form of conservatism that emerges from the thought of Michael Oakeshott responding to the contingent facts of unfolding history. (I have one memoir of him in the book, an explicitly Oakeshottian defense of Obama, and one account of Oakeshott’s religious ideas in a profile of Pope Francis.) My models for thought and writing run from Burke to Orwell. And my greatest failure of judgment, my shamefully excessive defense of the Iraq War, was, in retrospect, a moment when I abandoned that conservatism under the torrent of emotion and trauma in the wake of 9/11.
But better than this is is part of his column called “TwoNotes on Kendi and DiAngelo”, which is about as accurate a presentation of “popular” CRT—and a stinging one—that you can find. A couple of excerpts:
Both avatars of the Successor Ideology [Kendi and DiAngelo] gave interviews this week to friendly outlets, The New Yorker and The New York Times. This is an encouraging sign — it suggests that there may be some inklings of pushback within the left-elite.
I just want to note two key points that help, I think, illuminate what critical race theory actually is. The first is from DiAngelo:
The foundation of the United States is structural racism. It is built into all of the institutions. It is built into the culture, and in that sense we’ve all absorbed the ideology.
This is the core argument of CRT. It was the argument of the 1619 Project. It is what a NYT reporter meant when he demanded in a meeting with Dean Baquet that the newspaper internalize CRT and ensure that every single story was a means of communicating it:
I’m wondering to what extent you think that the fact of racism and white supremacy being sort of the foundation of this country should play into our reporting … To me, it’s less about the individual instances of racism, and sort of how we’re thinking about racism and white supremacy as the foundation of all of the systems in the country.
This is the core point. CRT can be misleadingly described as seeing how racial oppression is interwoven in American history, exploring its resilience. But this is the motte of the argument; the bailey is that “white supremacy” is the foundation of this country. Not a foundation. The foundation. Not of some historical impacts, but of “all of the systems” of the country.
And on Kendi, who isn’t spared the rod:
That brings me to Kendi, whose sole, sophomoric idea is captured by Ezra Klein here:
If a given policy or action reduced racial inequality, it was antiracist; if it increased racial inequality, it was racist. If you support policies that reduce racial inequality, you are being antiracist; if you don’t, you’re being racist. That’s it.
And seriously, that’s it. If you see racial inequality, it is by definition created by white supremacy. And nothing else.
So the fact that Asian-Americans consistently do better in education than African-Americans is because of “white supremacy.” It has nothing to do with the gulf between Asian-American and African-American family structures, nothing to do with cultural differences with respect to learning, and nothing to do with an ethic of hard work and deferred gratification helping you succeed in America that thrives more in one population than another, nothing to do with socio-economics, nothing to do with child-rearing. Bring any of these factors up and they are either dismissed or described as caused by “white supremacy.” It’s a completely circular, anti-empirical, ahistorical assertion that is unfalsifiable. It has great popular appeal because it removes any need to think of the complex ways groups may behave or interact, and because it encourages instant racial judgment of anyone else based on the color of their skin — as a moral act. You know: what racists do.
The one problem here is that although present white supremacy may not account for all these discrepancies, they may well be the legacy of white supremacy. Sullivan continues:
And so the remedy to inequality has to be as crude as the cause of it: race discrimination. Kendi actually believes that an unelected board of CRT experts should be established by constitutional amendment to enforce active race and sex discrimination by the federal government in every sector of society. In any part of society where the racial demographics don’t reflect those of the entire society, the government must ensure that some members of one race are fired and replaced with members of another. Kendi puts it this baldly:
The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.
In other words, antiracism requires the abolition of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Again, the MSM keeps hiding the ball here. What is unique about the Successor Ideology is not that it takes racism into account in understanding society. What’s unique is the crudeness of its analysis and the totalitarianism of its solution.
I didn’t dare be that captious about Kendi’s book when I read it, but Sullivan is braver than I, and I pretty much agree with his characterization. Kendi’s suggestion about the Constitutional Amendment frightens me. As he wrote at Politico:
[The amendment] would establish and permanently fund the Department of Anti-racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees. The DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.
Can you imagine that? It suffers from the same problem as having A Department of Speech Monitoring: who, exactly, do you trust to make the judgments? And in this case, the result would be oppressive, authoritarian (it would supercede, for instance, the Supreme Court), divisive, and frightening. It would be the ruination of American society, turning into an Orwellian nightmare.
It baffles me that so many people seem to adhere to Kendi’s views—or at least this one.
As the end of my life comes closer, though with the same speed that the end of everyone’s life comes closer, I realize that I’m OLD and don’t have many good years left. This makes me think a lot about whether there is anything desirable about dying. Well, maybe if you’re intolerably ill or in pain, but otherwise I can think of nothing desirable about being an ex-Coyne. The only consolation is that I’ll be gone and won’t know it.
A while back I took a survey of readers’ opinions, asking them what they’d decide if they had a chance to be immortal, living in decent health. Surprisingly, most did not; they thought they’d get bored or that global warming would happen and they’d die anyway, or stuff like that. Barring an apocalypse, though, I don’t see a problem with immortality. If nothing else, you can remain eternally curious about “what will happen next.” And something always does. And there are all those books to read, and more to be written!
But lately I’ve had darker thoughts, mostly revolving around what is happening to my beloved Left. Every day I read—and post—about the insanity that the Left is falling prey to, and about the fear of decent, sane people to speak up against the madness. And so I think, “Well, maybe I don’t want to be around when the ‘progressive’ Left morphs into the society described in Nineteen Eighty-Four. I don’t want to be subject to my own side being intolerably authoritarian. I don’t want to be afraid to say what I think without fear that the mob will come to ruin my life. And I am baffled by the degree of insanity promulgated by many on the Left. It’s not all Critical Race Theory (though that’s a part of it), but mostly just a sense that many of my fellow leftists have lost their bearings—and their marbles.
Andrew Sullivan feels the same way (though not about death), mourning what’s happened to the Left in his latest Substack column (click on screenshot below to read it).
Sullivan gets a lot of flak from his readers about his obsession with CRT, but his plaint is wider: the spread of illiberalism among liberals. So, as in the title, when readers accuse him of having changed, of having moved so far to the Right (singling out his “obsession” with CRT), his response is: The real question is “What happened to you?” While he recognized that the “progressive Left” has some good points, as does CRT, this is what he singles out:
Take a big step back. Observe what has happened in our discourse since around 2015. Forget CRT for a moment and ask yourself: is nothing going on here but Republican propaganda and guile? Can you not see that the Republicans may be acting, but they are also reacting — reacting against something that is right in front of our noses?
What is it? It is, I’d argue, the sudden, rapid, stunning shift in the belief system of the American elites. It has sent the whole society into a profound cultural dislocation. It is, in essence, an ongoing moral panic against the specter of “white supremacy,” which is now bizarrely regarded as an accurate description of the largest, freest, most successful multiracial democracy in human history.
We all know it’s happened. The elites, increasingly sequestered within one political party and one media monoculture, educated by colleges and private schools that have become hermetically sealed against any non-left dissent, have had a “social justice reckoning” these past few years. And they have been ideologically transformed, with countless cascading consequences.
And so we have this:
Look how far the left’s war on liberalism has gone.
Due process? If you’re a male on campus, gone. Privacy? Stripped away — by anonymous rape accusations, exposure of private emails, violence against people’s private homes, screaming at folks in restaurants, sordid exposés of sexual encounters, eagerly published by woke mags. Non-violence? Exceptions are available if you want to “punch a fascist.” Free speech? Only if you don’t mind being fired and ostracized as a righteous consequence. Free association? You’ve got to be kidding. Religious freedom? Illegitimate bigotry. Equality? Only group equity counts now, and individuals of the wrong identity can and must be discriminated against. Color-blindness? Another word for racism. Mercy? Not for oppressors. Intent? Irrelevant. Objectivity? A racist lie. Science? A manifestation of white supremacy. Biological sex? Replaced by socially constructed gender so that women have penises and men have periods. The rule of law? Not for migrants or looters. Borders? Racist. Viewpoint diversity? A form of violence against the oppressed.
Now I don’t agree with Sullivan on everything—his weakness for religion and views on abortion are two—but more and more he’s sounding not like an alt-righter but a moderate Democrat. He warns, and I’m with him here, that if this keeps up, the GOP may come roaring back in 2022, and where will we be then? A lot worse than we are now! Either way, Nineteen Eighty-Four is just down the pike.
I still think Trump is effectively gone as a potential President, but the people who agree with his despotism and idiocy still comprise nearly half of Americans. When a third of us adamantly refuse to get the COVID vaccination out of sheer ignorance or stubbornness, then we’re cooked.
You can read Sullivan’s column for yourself, but in a few places Sullivan quotes Obama, and those quotes, uttered today, would make Obama a target of the Left. Here are a few of them (Sullivan’s words are indented, Obama’s indented even more):
At the moment, I’m recording an audiobook for a new collection of my writing, from 1989 – 2021, “Out On A Limb,” to be published next month. (More to come on that next week.) It covers the Obama years, including my impression in May 2007 that he’d be the next president and why I found him so appealing a figure. It’s been a shocking reminder of how our politics has been transformed since then:
My favorite moment was a very simple one. He referred to the anniversary of the March on Selma, how he went and how he came back and someone (I don’t remember who now) said to him: “That was a great celebration of African-American history.” To which Obama said he replied: “No, no, no, no, no. That was not a great celebration of African-American history. That was a celebration of American history.”
How much further can you get from the ideology of the 1619 Project — that rejects any notion of white contributions to black freedom? In his Jeremiah Wright speech, the best of his career, this is what Obama said of Wright’s CRT-inspired words, damning America:
They expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country — a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above
all that we know is right with America… The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country — a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past.
This is what I still believe. Do you?
And though it will earn me my own flak, I have to say that I think America is still a great country. Of course we have problems but we are not, as, say, The Squad would aver, deeply “problematic”, riddled with inequality, racism, and capitalism. It may be trite to say this, but if America is so horrible, why are people crowding our borders to get in?
. . . Obama was a straddler, of course, and did not deny that “so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.” I don’t deny that either. Who could? But neither did he deny African-American agency or responsibility:
It means taking full responsibility for own lives — by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.
To say this today would evoke instant accusations of being a white supremacist and racist. That’s how far the left has moved: Obama as an enabler of white supremacy. You keep asking: what happened to me? I remain an Obamacon, same as I always have been. What, in contrast, has happened to you?
In his latest piece on Substack (click on screenshot, though you may have to be a subscriber), Andrew Sullivan, who is HIV positive, compares condom use by gay men to prevent HIV viral transmission with masks worn by people to prevent transmission of a different virus: Covid 19.
Sullivan, who’s been taking the HIV drug cocktail for years, and says his viral load is undetectable, has also been vaccinated against Covid. In his view, mask-wearing around similarly vaccinated people is now optional. He maintains that the chance of getting the virus while wearing a mask, or of spreading it to others, is virtually nil. And this, he says, is also true for HIV: if your viral load is sufficiently low because you’re taking anti-retroviral drugs, condom-less sex with a similarly low-HIV partner taking the cocktail is virtually risk free. Therefore, just as gay men feel that they can have sex “bareback”, as Sullivan calls it, so we should be able to go maskless around people if both we and they are vaccinated.
A few quotes:
In this way, gay men became as attached to condoms during AIDS as many of us have to masks during Covid. They remained a reflexive totem of responsibility, a sign of continued vigilance, a virtue-signal to oneself and your partner — long after they made no sense as a way to avoid HIV if you and your partner were already being treated. From those of us with zero viral loads at the start to those today taking the newer “prep” pill that prevents HIV infection, bit by bit, the condom rule has disappeared.
And yet not using a condom for sex — though the overwhelming norm for humans in history — felt weird and scary for a while in the late 1990s, like going into a restaurant without a mask now. Walking my dog in the park mask-free last weekend, I felt the same jitters as when I first stopped using condoms. I felt naked, and a bit daring. But I really had nothing to worry about in either case. I almost certainly couldn’t transmit either HIV or Covid and if I ever somehow got Covid again, it wouldn’t kill me. Just as there is nothing to fear if a few fully vaccinated friends come over for a cozy smoke sesh and chill in 2021, there was nothing rationally to fear in 1997 if two men, fully treated for HIV, had sex without a condom. The moral panic long outlasted its viral reason.
. . .we are in a similar phase in which reasonable people are being irrationally demonized for going back to normal and going mask-free. It makes no sense, but the truth is we get attached to rituals of safety, even after they have become redundant. Look at airport TSA screening, twenty years after 9/11. We so identify with safety protocols that it can feel dangerous simply to follow reason when circumstances change. The fear of Covid somehow gets internalized and perpetuated, just as HIV was. Even today, for example, a diagnosis of HIV feels far more terrifying than, say, diabetes. But diabetes is much, much more problematic now than AIDS, over a lifetime. Covid now seems much scarier than the flu. But if you’ve been vaccinated, that’s exactly how we should think of it. Nasty, but not fatal. So live!
It is true that Covid is not over; that we should not totally relax; that many who refuse vaccines could be a problem; that mutations matter. For what it’s worth I have nothing personal against masks. I wore them from early February of last year and was punctilious about them. But the situation has changed, and as more and more get vaccinated, and the human “herd” of the vaccinated grows larger, the odds of infection will decline. Bottom line: this viral motherfucker is on the ropes and we do not need to be in a state of permanent terror.
Sullivan hastens to add that he’ll probably continue to wear a mask on planes and trains forever, and he has no problem with bars and restaurants demanding proof of vaccination for entry. But he adds that the argument for wearing masks to be a “role model” also has a cost: “if people see no-one being liberated by the vaccine, they’ll be less likely to get one. And if leaving masks behind is the fruit of vaccination, the more people in the party the more will want to join.”
But is not wearing a mask easily interpreted as a sign of being “liberated by the vaccine”? I don’t think so. Most maskless people, I suspect, are simply those who object to masks and have not been vaccinated. Remember, only half of Americans have now received at least one shot.
He ends like this:
So get vaccinated. Then use reason. The point is to get back to normal life, not to perpetuate the damaging patterns of plague life. So take off your masks, if you want. Plan parties for vaccinated friends. Get your vacation plans ready. And stop the constant judging and moralizing of people with masks and those without. Summer is coming. Let’s celebrate it.
But there’s a difference between masks and condoms that Sullivan doesn’t mention—or at least a possible difference. We still do not know if you can infect someone else if you’ve been vaccinated against Covid—as an asymptomatic carrier. We already know that you can get infected if you’ve been vaccinated; after all, the protection afforded by even the most efficacious vaccines is 95%, which means that there’s still a chance you could get Covid if you’ve had the jab(s). Granted, it’s a much reduced chance, and the vaccinations reduce the chance to about zero of your being hospitalized or dying, but getting infected still means that you might be able to spread the virus even if you’ve been vaccinated.
The only question I have is whether, if you get infected post-vaccination, you would be an asymptomatic carrier, not knowing you could carry the virus. And we also don’t know whether, even if you’re an asymptomatic carrier, you could carry enough virus to infect others. If all this is in fact the case, then there could be a large number of vaccinated people who should wear masks because they could spread the virus. If they were asymptomatic, we wouldn’t know who they were unless they got a Covid test, and even then you could get infected after the test.
Here’s the difference between condoms with HIV and masks with a vaccination. Those you could infect if you’re vaccinated are not your sex partners who are aware of any risks. They are clueless people you come in contact with. That’s not the same as having HIV, possessing a very low virus titer, and not using condoms when having sex with a similar person. In that case the two informed adults make a judgment. For someone vaccinated against Covid who doesn’t wear a mask, that person alone makes the judgment, putting other non-consenting people at risk.
Dr. Kimi Kobayashi, the chief quality officer at UMass Memorial, said it is important for everyone to wait the full two weeks after the second shot for the body to build up immunity. However, he also said everyone needs to keep taking precautions until more of the population is vaccinated.
“We’re in a complicated stage where some are vaccinated and some aren’t,” Kobayashi said. “It is really important to remember – even as vaccines become available – it doesn’t mean everyone is vaccinated. We still have to wait for a large number of population to be vaccinated.”
Kobayashi noted that experts still don’t know if someone who is vaccinated can transmit the virus or not.
Now how this translates into the big question—should you still wear a mask if vaccinated?—is more or less a judgment call. Personally, I still wear a mask when I’m around others. It’s still required at my university, in planes and on public transportation, and in stores in Chicago, so there’s no dilemma. The only time I don’t wear a mask is when I’m at home, in my office when nobody’s around, and when I’m exercising outside and far from other people. In these cases there is no chance that I could infect anybody.
Now I may be kvetching for no reason, as Sullivan doesn’t say that we should go maskless around people who may be unvaccinated. And he does say “use reason”. But he also says that we should “get back to normal life”.
Until we know whether vaccinated people can be asymptomatic carriers, I don’t see a reason to stop wearing masks. I suspect that the answer will be “no”, but I’ll wait for the science before I start debating whether I discard my mask—when it’s legal to do so.
And remember that in some places in East Asia, people always wear masks in public. There’s an argument for this, as it protects you against various respiratory ailments. I notice that since the pandemic hit over a year ago, I have had neither a cold nor the flu. I’m sure that my compulsive hand-washing and mask-wearing (and my flu shots) explain the lack of illness. But I’m not sure that I want to continue wearing a mask when the danger of Covid has largely passed. I am going to keep washing my hands more often, and I’ve learned how to do that properly.
What is your feeling on mask wearing? When will you stop, if ever?
It may be my “glass half empty” view of the world, but Joe Biden, while proving an infinitely better President than Trump, still is doing some things that disturb me. And I don’t feel that we have to praise everything Biden does now that he’s been elected on the grounds that we should just shut up—after all, Trump is worse. Kvetching is always justified, no matter who’s President, for we haven’t had a perfect President.
One of Biden’s bad moves, mentioned very briefly by Andrew Sullivan in his column below, is the new administration’s proposal to dismantle the Title IX provisions for adjudicating sexual-assault cases, provisions strengthened by Betsy DeVos during the Trump administration. (This is one of the few good things I can mention about Trump’s changes.) DeVos’s changes, which I described here, included the following:
1.) Schools would now be required to hold live hearings and not closed-door adjudications.
2.) The “single-investigator model,” in which one person adjudicates all the evidence and passes judgment, would go out the window. All collected evidence would now have to be presented to a (presumably) objective third party or parties.
3.) Both accusers and accused will be allowed to cross-examine each other through an advisor or a lawyer. However, those who accuse someone of sexual assault or misconduct cannot be directly questioned by the defendant, which seems fair and protective of people’s psyches. They can, however, be questioned by a third party like a lawyer or adviser. This was something that was missing in the Obama regulation, but was recently mandated by a federal court ruling in Michigan.
4.) A “rape shield” protection will remain in place, so that a complainant’s sexual history will remain strictly off limits.
5.) Hearing, like court cases, will be conducted with the presumption of innocence of the accused.
6.) Instead of relying on the “preponderance of evidence” standard mandated by the Obama “suggestions,” schools can use either that standard or the “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which is stricter but still not as strict as the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in courts.
Conviction requires guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”, which of course means that the bar is very high for conviction.
Conviction requires “clear and convincing evidence”, that is, it must be “highly probable or reasonably certain” that harassment or assault occurred. This is conventionally interpreted to mean a likelihood of 75% or higher that the assault took place.
Conviction requires a “preponderance of the evidence” for assault or harassment. This means that it is more likely that not (likelihood > 50 %) that the offense occurred.
7.) The legal responsibility of colleges and universities would change: previously schools would be legally responsible for investigating complaints if they had “actual knowledge” that an assault had happened. Now they have legal responsibility only if a victim files a formal complaint. (If the victim doesn’t, schools are still encouraged to provide “supportive measures.”)
8.) Exculpatory evidence cannot be withheld from the accused. It could previously, which was one of the most unfair parts of the Obama-era guidelines. Further, those accused will be able to review all the evidence against them, which wasn’t previously mandated.
9.) Finally, colleges and universities can investigate conduct only if it occurs in the school’s own premises, programs, or activities, or in a location over which the college or university exercises oversight.
This now appear to be going the way of the dodo, as Biden is calling for a review of these changes and, as per a campaign promise, will probably undo them. As NPR reports, this has caused joy on the part of some and dismay on the others. I’m on the “dismay” side because an accusation of sexual assault is a very serious matter, and if you’re convicted you could not only be thrown out of college, but it could ruin your life. It seems to me that if colleges are to adjudicate these matters—and most of our readers think they should go first to the police, with colleges acting only after there’s a judicial finding—the accused and accuser should enjoy the same rights they have in a courtroom. By erasing the DeVos changes, Biden is ensuing that the accused person’s rights as outlined above will be weakened.
Another organization viewing Biden’s proposed changes with dismay is the Foundation for Individual Rights in education (FIRE):
“It’s certainly an opening salvo,” says Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director for the civil liberties advocacy group, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. “But the administration will not be able to easily ditch the regulations, and we’ll fight tooth and nail to make sure that they don’t.”
Because federal courts have affirmed students’ due process rights, Cohn says, the Biden administration will be limited in how much they can change.
“Institutions will hear from us that they can’t just disregard what the courts are saying,” Cohn says.
Others, however, think that Biden’s rollback is great:
“This is going to be a long march,” says Terry Hartle, senior vice president, Government Relations and Public Affairs for the American Council on Education, a trade group of colleges and universities.
The group is among those who object to the Trump administration rules. Hartle says they not only work against survivors, but they’re also unworkable for schools who are not equipped to be turned into pseudo-courts.
“We’re not judicial bodies,” he says. “Campus officials [are] not trained to navigate these sort of quasi-legal disputes.”
Note that they say the rules “work against survivors”, assuming that accusers are survivors. In fact, they work the same way for everyone, survivor or false accuser, perpetrator or falsely accused. And if schools aren’t equipped to be “pseudo-courts”, either throw the accusations to the police and real courts, or give everyone the same protections they get in real courts.
Another issue I object to, but only in small part, is Biden’s executive order on gender discrimination. While in the main it’s a great thing to have to protect transgender and “other-gender” people, it also regards transsexuals who have not undergone any kind of medical treatment as identical in every respect to someone of the sex they claim to be. For most moral and legal issues that’s fine, but when it comes to sports, prisons, and rape counseling, they should have carved out some reasonable exceptions.
At any rate, like me, Sullivan argues strenuously that criticizing Biden is not the same as approving Trump, which should be obvious. If you subscribe, click on the screenshot below.
Sullivan, who apparently knows a lot more about economics than I, also has a lot more to be worried about. I won’t go into his concerns about the spree of government spending, and I don’t know enough to weigh in on them. But here are some of his other worries (I don’t share all of these):
Step back some more, and look at the rest of the Biden agenda. It’s pretty similar in scale and ambition. HR1 — reforming democracy — has some good parts, but it is also a Christmas tree of hyper-progressive goals. On “social justice” questions, Biden mandates “equity” as a core principle in all policy-making, and Ibram Kendi indoctrination sessions for government employees; he is likely to end due process for college men accused of sexual assault or rape; he wants to legislate that sex-based rights are trumped by gender-based rights, and to repeal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act when it comes to gays, lesbians and transgender people. After a lifetime of opposition, Biden now backs full public funding of abortion. On immigration, Biden’s goal appears to be facilitating as much of it as possible, while granting a mass amnesty. Am I missing something? Is there a policy area where the left is not in control? (Seriously, if you can find an area where they’re not, I’ll post it, and recalibrate.)
He finds a silver lining, though:
Liberal democracy itself is threatened by the extreme gulf between rich and poor — and rebalancing this is vital. The lack of real economic gains for the vast majority for decades requires a major adjustment — and if sending people checks is the easiest way to do this, so be it. The resilience of low inflation and the persistence of a financial crisis recession suggests that a bigger stimulus in 2009 would have been preferable. Finding a way to support greater inclusion of minorities and women in every sphere of life and work is the right thing to do. Expanding healthcare to those most excluded it from it should not be a controversial question. In all these areas, the Democrats have their hearts and minds in the right place. A shift to the left in 2021 is completely defensible. Even the British Tories are economic lefties now. My 1980s self would look at my 2021 politics and be amazed how far I’ve come.
But a capitulation to the far left is something else.
Is Biden capitulating to the far left? I think he is—at least a lot more than I suspected. And below are some more concerns:
What I fear is that economic history has not ended, and that uncontrolled borrowing, spending and printing will lead to inflation that destroys people’s savings and livelihoods. What I fear is the next recession, when our staggering debt could render the government incapable of mitigating it. What I fear is an assault on the very ideas of individual freedom, merit, objective standards, hard work, self-reliance and free speech that have long defined the American experiment — in favor of crude racial engineering.
I’m with Andrew on the ones below:
What I fear is a generation’s rejection of limited government, and color-blind liberalism. What I worry about is a press whose mission seems increasingly devoted to enforcing elite orthodoxies, rather than pushing back on all forms of power. I fear an educational establishment that instills critical theory’s racism and sexism into the hearts and souls of children from the start, an establishment that regards the very idea of America as indelibly evil, and its founding ideals a myth and a lie.
In the main, of course, things are looking up. A detour into lunacy has been corrected. Now if we could just keep the left from becoming the Looney Left.
If you didn’t like Bari Weiss’s reservations about potential problems with the Biden administration, which include its truckling to the Woke, you’re really not going to like Andrew Sullivan’s latest piece at The Weekly Dish (click on screenshot below). For Sullivan has a take almost identical to Weiss’s, and yet I sympathize with some of his worries.
Click on screenshot to read it (you’ll probably need a subscription, but I’ll give a few quotes). One note: You are free to say what you want in the comments, including that you’re not worried about this stuff, but please don’t tell me that I’m not allowed to have concerns—that now I should be celebrating rather than nitpicking. I am in fact doing both!
Like Weiss, Sullivan begins (and ends) by expressing some fealty towards Biden and hopes that his administration will succeed. He notes that Biden’s Inaugural speech was uninspiring and in fact anodyne, and Sullivan’s right. But, as I’ve noted before, in those words we saw the real Joe: a decent and straightforward man with a vision, however unrealistic it is. He is not an orator. Sullivan:
But [Biden’s Inaugural speech] matched the occasion: it was conventional, banal even, and anodyne. And how much we’ve missed banality! Biden boldly asked us to be against “anger, resentment, hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness,” and to reaffirm the “history, faith and reason” that provides unity. Sure. Okay. At that level of pabulum, who indeed could differ? And a nation united in pabulum is better than one divided into two tribal camps waging an “uncivil war” against each other about everything.
And if Biden sticks to this kind of common ground, it will serve him well. He is lucky, in many ways, to succeed Trump. Any normal inauguration would feel transcendent after the sack of the capitol.
After praising Joe for his pandemic response, economic stimulus package, energy plan, and so on, Sullivan gets down to business. Here are his areas of concern (Sullivan’s quotes are indented, mine flush left).
1.) Immigration. The Democrats really need to put together a sensible immigration policy that doesn’t say “open borders” to Americans. If they don’t do this, they’re shooting themselves in the foot, and risk big losses in the midterm elections.
But Biden has also shown this week that his other ambitions are much more radical. On immigration, Biden is way to Obama’s left, proposing a mass amnesty of millions of illegal immigrants, a complete moratorium on deportations, and immediate revocation of the bogus emergency order that allowed Trump to bypass Congress and spend money building his wall. Fine, I guess. But without very significant addition of border controls as a deterrent, this sends a signal to tens of millions in Central to South America to get here as soon as possible. Biden could find, very quickly, that the “unity” he preaches will not survive such an effectively open-borders policy, or another huge crisis at the border. He is doubling down on the very policies that made a Trump presidency possible. In every major democracy, mass immigration has empowered the far right. Instead of easing white panic about changing demographics, Biden just intensified it.
2.) Equity versus equality. It behooves all of us to understand the difference. I hope that Biden does! At present he seems to be bowing before Critical Theory in his executive orders:
Biden has also signaled (and by executive order, has already launched) a very sharp departure from liberalism in his approach to civil rights. The vast majority of Americans support laws that protect minorities from discrimination, so that every American can have equality of opportunity, without their own talents being held back by prejudice. But Biden’s speech and executive orders come from a very different place. They explicitly replace the idea of equality in favor of what anti-liberal critical theorists call “equity.” They junk equality of opportunity in favor of equality of outcomes. Most people won’t notice that this new concept has been introduced — equity, equality, it all sounds the same — but they’ll soon find out the difference.
In critical theory, as James Lindsay explains, “‘equality’ means that citizen A and citizen B are treated equally, while ‘equity’ means adjusting shares in order to make citizen A and B equal.” Here’s how Biden defines “equity”: “the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.”
In less tortured English, equity means giving the the named identity groups a specific advantage in treatment by the federal government over other groups — in order to make up for historic injustice and “systemic” oppression. Without “equity”, the argument runs, there can be no real “equality of opportunity.” Equity therefore comes first. Until equity is reached, equality is postponed — perhaps for ever.
I’m not sure that Biden’s definition adheres to the equity limned by Lindsay. All we can do is wait and see what Biden proposes. His executive order does seem to conflate “equity” and “equality of opportunity,” so someone should at least tell Joe the difference.
I think that for the near future the Democratic policy should be a combination of both equity and equality: some affirmative action but with the real work—and the hard work—being done on the level Sullivan notes in the paragraph just below. For the truth is that until equality is reached, equity won’t follow except though some kind of affirmative action. Like Sullivan, my goal is equality: equality of opportunity for all, which means removing the barriers to achievement that have impeded oppressed groups for decades. That takes a huge influx of effort and money into poor communities, and I’d hope we have the will and the funds to do that. But I’d throw some equity in there, too, for a government that at least doesn’t in part include representatives from all groups loses its credibility. Sullivan sees Biden adhering to the Ibram X. Kendi view of racial equity. I’m not yet sure of that, but Biden does seem to be going in that direction.
Sullivan saying, correct, what we really need to do:
Helping level up regions and populations that have experienced greater neglect or discrimination in the past is a good thing. But you could achieve this if you simply focused on relieving poverty in the relevant communities. You could invest in schools, reform policing, target environmental clean-ups, grow the economy, increase federal attention to the neglected, and thereby help the needy in precisely these groups. But that would not reflect critical theory’s insistence that race and identity trump class, and that America itself is inherently, from top to b
3.) Gay and gender issues. Like me (I think), Sullivan is in favor of equality based on sex and gender (including transgender people), but has some worries that the Biden administration will neglect those issues in which sex and gender issues mandate some inequality:
Biden’s executive order on “LGBTQ+” is also taken directly from critical gender and queer theory. Take the trans question. Most decent people support laws that protect transgender people from discrimination — which, after the Bostock decision, is already the law of the land. But this is not enough for Biden. He takes the view that the law should go further and insist that trans women are absolutely indistinguishable from biological women — which erases any means of enforcing laws that defend biological women as a class. If your sex is merely what you say it is, without any reference to biological reality, then it is no longer sex at all. It’s gender, period. It’s socially constructed all the way down.
Most of the time, you can ignore this insanity and celebrate greater visibility and protection for trans people. But in a few areas, biology matters. Some traumatized women who have been abused by men do not want to be around biological males in prison or shelters, even if they identify as women. I think these women should be accommodated. There are also places where we segregate by sex — like showers, locker rooms — for reasons of privacy. I think that allowing naked biological men and boys to be in the same showers as naked biological women and girls is asking for trouble — especially among teens. But for Biden, this is non-negotiable, and all objections are a function of bigotry.
And in sports, the difference between the physiology of men and women makes a big difference. That’s the entire point of having separate male and female sports, in the first place. Sure, you can suppress or enhance hormones. But you will never overcome the inherited, permanent effects of estrogen and testosterone in childhood and adolescence. Male and female bodies are radically different, because without that difference, our entire species would not exist. Replacing sex with gender threatens women’s sports for that simple reason.
Now people have said these are “quibbles” I’m less worried about locker rooms than about sports, prisons, rape counseling and women’s problems. Granted, these are not as pressing as are issues of inequality, climate change, and economics.) But they’re not quibbles, for a). they bear on issues of fundamental fairness, and those issues won’t go away; and b). the way Biden’s administration works this out will have consequences for the acceptance of the Democratic Party as a whole—for our continuing control of the House and Senate (the Supreme Court is already lost for several decades). And remember, Biden casts himself not as a messenger of Wokeness, but as a healer. If he’s to heal, he has to realize that most Americans want a sensible immigration policy, want equality but only a temporary remediation of inequity via affirmative action, and don’t want untreated biological men serving time in women’s prisons or participating in women’s sports. So far Biden’s policies seem to me way too conciliatory towards Critical Theory. That is to be expected if he’s clueless about Critical Theory and also keen to not be called a racist by more leftist Democrats.
Sullivan ends this way:
I wonder if Joe Biden even knows what critical theory is. But he doesn’t have to. It is the successor ideology to liberalism among elites, a now-mandatory ideology if you want to keep your job. But Biden’s emphatic backing of this illiberal, discriminatory project on his first day is relevant. He has decided to encourage “unity” by immediately pursuing policies that inflame Republicans and conservatives and normies more than any others.
And those policies are obviously unconstitutional. . .
. . . I want Biden to succeed. I want Republicans to moderate. I want to lower the temperature. I want to emphasize those policies that really do bring us closer together, even though many may still freely dissent. Biden says he wants to as well. But none of that can or will happen if the president fuels the culture war this aggressively, this crudely, and this soon. You don’t get to unite the country by dividing it along these deep and inflammatory issues of identity. And you don’t achieve equality of opportunity by enforcing its antithesis.
I’ve quoted too freely here, and you should pay the $50 per year to read Sullivan (and perhaps Bari Weiss), because they’re good writers, because they may have views that don’t exactly jibe with yours, and because you need to read something besides the New York Times and Washington Post, which have already caved to Critical Theory. Actually, I pay $4 per month to read the NYT, so I’m paying more to read Sullivan (and Weiss, if I subscribe) than to read whole newspapers. I’ll live.
Yes, we can and should celebrate the unexpected victory of the Democrats as well as their takeover of Congress. But remember too that Biden promised to heal, and you won’t heal America by imposing Critical Theory on it.