Friday, July 1, 2022

Tim Miller's Regrets (the Book)


Early in Why We Dild It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell (Harper Collins, 2022), former Repuiblican political consultant Tim Miller tells a story that effectively captures the picture he is painting of the modern Republican party. He recalls how "the RNC for years has been sending out unconscionable mailers to every elderly conservative in America. These letters are made up almost exclusively of hyperbole and ad hominem and conspiracies. They add absolutely zero to the political discourse. But they “work” in the sense that they are effective at keeping the olds upset so that they continue sending in their Social Security money." At one point during his time working at the RNC he was tasked with “approving” these mailers. He struck out whatever he thought would be embarrassing if it fell into the hands of a reporter. "One day I was summoned to the chief of staff’s office, and we had a standoff over how much to cut, which the fundraisers won and I lost (of course). As long as the mailers were “working” and money was coming in, the boss figured there was no reason to rock the boat, unless I could prove that this was likely to yield bad press. I tucked my tail and rubber-stamped whatever nonsense they sent through, figuring that if it did become a controversy, I had already said my piece." 

The point of Miller's telling this story is two-fold. First, "the fact that at no point in the dispute was there a discussion of whether we should be sending out a letter that was filled with lies and slander. Or the ethics of snaffling a few quid from the Greatest Generation. That was just the baseline. This letter was part of the Game. The only judgment call the chief of staff was asked to make was to balance whether the donations would be worth the potential embarrassment. And the answer was yes." Second, that he was a willing collaborator in that behavior. Regarding that long-term danger, he notes that the "standoff" he had with the RNC chief "looks quaint in comparison to what is the standard operating procedure of basically every political campaign and committee in the country today—on both sides. They all just accept without hesitation that wheels-off missives about how the end is nigh if the other team wins are not just kosher but required."

That story is one of many which illustrate the fundamental theme of this book, succinctly stated in the Introduction: "America never would have gotten into this mess if it weren’t for me and my friends." This "is a book about the people who submitted to every whim of a comically unfit and detestable man who crapped all over them and took over the party they had given their life to. It’s about the army of consultants, politicians, and media figures who stood back and stood by as everything they ever fought for was degraded and devalued. The people who privately admitted they recognized all the risks but still climbed aboard for a ride on the SS Trump Hellship that they knew would assuredly sink."

One motive for doing this, for participating in this appalling form of politics seems to be the sheer excitement of it all - "Getting calls. Feeling important. Remaining relevant. Being In The Mix." Decades ago, when I was in graduate school, such people and their antics were routinely looked down upon from the olympian heights of political philosophy and academic scholarship, although (then as now) I recognized the element of jealousy in that disdain toward those consultants, staffers, and other operatives who were actually having an impact in the wider world (and also seemed to be enjoying it). There is, of course, a long and honorable tradition, going back to Plato, of service as counselors to those who wield actual political power. Miller's book merely confirms the enormous abyss between such philosophical fantasies and the contemporary political swamp.

Miller presents himself as one of those smart, cool characters, who can be expected to thrive in such settings.  He highlights how for those "who worked primarily in campaigns or political jobs in D.C.," it is “the Game” that separates what they do from what the “wonks” or “careers” or lawyers do. "We specialize in strategy, tactics, messaging, advertising, opposition research. Slaying the enemy. Winning the race. They undertake the mundane business of governing," where apart from "the foreign policy arena and the high-stakes world of diplomacy and international intrigue, there is not a lot of sex appeal in 'governing'.”

Miller's description of the evolution of the Republican party during the year's he actively worked in politics is well known. It is the familiar tale of "how the Republican ruling class dismissed the plight of those we were manipulating, growing increasingly comfortable using tactics that inflamed them, turning them against their fellow man. How often we advanced arguments that none of us believed. How we made people feel aggrieved about issues we had no intent or ability to solve. How we spurred racial resentments and bigotry among voters while prickling at anyone who might accuse us of racism. And how these tactics became not just unchecked but supercharged by a right-wing media ecosystem that we were in bed with and that had its own nefarious incentives, sucking in clicks and views through rage hustling without any intention of delivering something that might bring value to ordinary people’s lives."

What is actually most telling in this account is how he characterizes the different types who engaged in this sort of activity and the motivations he ascribes to their remaining into and through the Trump era. "This brings us to our second, more complex psychological journey. After our past sins were anthropomorphized into an Archie Bunkeresque president, what to make of those who saw his defects clearly and went along anyway?" Miller uses various picturesque terms to categorize them - Messiahs and Junior Messiahs, Demonizers, LOL Nothing Matters Republicans, Tribalist Trolls, Strivers, Little Mixes, Peter Principle Disprovers, Nerd Revengers, Inert Team Players,  Compartmentalizers, and Cartel Cashers. 

Some of the personal stories about some of these various types of characters are interesting, although after a while the pattern is familiar and they all tend to merge into one common and increasingly unattractive picture. It is a devastating indictment of the Republican party and of the party establishment class of which Miller was for so long a part. But it is also a deeply wounding indictment of the whole enterprise of the so-called "Game" of professional political consultants, campaign staffers, and other political operatives. The pseudo-intellectual, academic snobbery some of us absorbed back in grad school in the 1970s may have been a nerdy cultural snobbery based in large part in jealousy, but it turns out it also wasn't all that off the mark!

Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Liturgy's Beauty: The Pope's Apostolic Letter

One common observation about Pope Francis, especially in the earlier years of his pontificate, was that he appeared relatively uninterested in matters liturgical (especially in comparison with his predecessor), a characteristic sometimes ascribed (fairly or unfairly) to his being a Jesuit! Whatever truth there may have been to those earlier interpretations, in recent years he has seemingly overcompensated, expressing renewed interest especially in promoting the uniformity of the Roman Rite in its post-conciliar form, something which presumably the Pope sees as integral to the larger post-conciliar project. His latest foray into the frequently divisive disputed terrain of the Roman liturgy occurred this week on the highly symbolic occasion of the annual celebration of Rome's apostolic founders Saints Peter and Paul. On that especially solemn day, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Letter Desiderio Desideravi "On the Liturgical Formation of the People of God."

At the outset, Pope Francis makes clear both that the liturgy is "fundamental for the life of the Church" and that, rather than an exhaustive treatment of the subject, his purpose is to "aid in the contemplation of the beauty and truth of Christian celebration" [DD,1]. The letter begins with a meditation on the Last Supper and the Liturgy as a place of encounter with Christ. Of particular note is his stress that, while the world may not know it, "everyone is invited" to the feast, which only requires "the wedding garment of faith which comes from the hearing of his Word." 

This turns out to be an explicit argument for evangelization. Explicitly referencing Evangelii gaudium, he warns: "We must not allow ourselves even a moment of rest, knowing that still not everyone has received an invitation to this Supper or knowing that others have forgotten it or have got lost along the way in the twists and turns of human living" [DD, 5]. Later he adds: "A celebration that does not evangelize is not authentic, just as a proclamation that does not lead to an encounter with the risen Lord in the celebration is not authentic. And then both of these, without the testimony of charity, are like sounding a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)" [DD, 37].

For Francis, the liturgy guarantees the possibility of encounter with the Risen Christ: "if there were not given also to us the possibility of a true encounter with Him, that would be to declare the newness of the Word made flesh to have been all used up. Instead, the Incarnation, in addition to being the only always new event that history knows, is also the very method that the Holy Trinity has chosen to open to us the way of communion. Christian faith is either an encounter with Him alive, or it does not exist" [DD, 10].

Having laid that groundwork, Pope Francis turns to  the more controverted territory of the modern renewal of the liturgy, which he interprets in terms of "the rediscovery of a theological understanding of the Liturgy and of its importance in the life of the Church" [DD, 16]. He considers "the Liturgy in its theological sense" to be "the most effective antidote against these poisons," those "distorted forms of Christianity," Gnosticism and neo-Pelagiansm, which he has often warned against [DD, 17-18]. Against the intoxication of the latter, he cites the Confiteor which at "the beginning of every celebration reminds me who I am, asking me to confess my sin and inviting me to implore the Blessed Mary ever virgin, the angels and saints and all my brothers and sisters to pray for me to the Lord our God" [DD, 20] However, he makes no reference to contrary practices (which the official liturgy itself supports), which widely replace this salutary Confiteor at the beginning of many Masses.

Lovers of liturgy will be edified by Francis' critique of an "attitude, which confuses simplicity with a careless banality, or what is essential with an ignorant superficiality, or the concreteness of ritual action with an exasperating practical functionalism." The Pope insists "every aspect of the celebration must be carefully tended to (space, time, gestures, words, objects, vestments, song, music…) and every rubric must be observed. Such attention would be enough to prevent robbing from the assembly what is owed to it; namely, the paschal mystery celebrated according to the ritual that the Church sets down" [DD, 22-23]. 

He is obviously well aware of abuses and diagnoses their root cause. "In visiting Christian communities, I have noticed that their way of living the liturgical celebration is conditioned — for better or, unfortunately, for worse — by the way in which their pastor presides in the assembly. We could say that there are different “models” of presiding. Here is a possible list of approaches, which even though opposed to each other, characterize a way of presiding that is certainly inadequate: rigid austerity or an exasperating creativity, a spiritualizing mysticism or a practical functionalism, a rushed briskness or an overemphasized slowness, a sloppy carelessness or an excessive finickiness, a superabundant friendliness or priestly impassibility. Granted the wide range of these examples, I think that the inadequacy of these models of presiding have a common root: a heightened personalism of the celebrating style which at times expresses a poorly concealed mania to be the centre of attention. Often this becomes more evident when our celebrations are transmitted over the air or online, something not always opportune and that needs further reflection" [DD, 54]. In the aftermath of the pandemic and the resulting prominence of live streaming, the Pope's call for reflection about this practice obviously acquires even greater salience!

The Pope's principal preoccupation, however, is not with those issues in themselves but with entire Church's appropriate formation for liturgy. What he himself terms the fundamental question," therefore, is this: "how do we recover the capacity to live completely the liturgical action? This was the objective of the Council’s reform. The challenge is extremely demanding because modern people — not in all cultures to the same degree — have lost the capacity to engage with symbolic action, which is an essential trait of the liturgical act" [DD, 27]. It is in the context of this contemporary problematic that the Pope places the conciliar reform (and the liturgical movement which led up to it). 

Both "the non-acceptance of the liturgical reform" and what the Pope calls "a superficial understanding of it" are distractions "from the obligation of finding responses to the question that I come back to repeating: how can we grow in our capacity to live in full the liturgical action? How do we continue to let ourselves be amazed at what happens in the celebration under our very eyes? We are in need of a serious and dynamic liturgical formation" [DD, 31].

While not ignoring liturgical formation in the typical sense of that term - "A liturgical-sapiential plan of studies in the theological formation of seminaries would certainly have positive effects in pastoral action" [DD, 37] - the focus remains relational. "Only the action of the Spirit can bring to completion our knowledge of the mystery of God, for the mystery of God is not a question of something grasped mentally but a relationship that touches all of life. Such experience is fundamental so that, once seminarians become ordained ministers, they can accompany communities in the same journey of knowledge of the mystery of God, which is the mystery of love" [DD, 39].

Quite eloquently, the Pope proclaims that clearly "knowledge of the mystery of Christ, the decisive question for our lives, does not consist in a mental assimilation of some idea but in real existential engagement with his person." Thus, the "Liturgy is about praise, about rendering thanks for the Passover of the Son whose power reaches our lives. The celebration concerns the reality of our being docile to the action of the Spirit who operates through it until Christ be formed in us. (Cf. Galatians 4:19). The full extent of our formation is our conformation to Christ. I repeat: it does not have to do with an abstract mental process, but with becoming Him. This is the purpose for which the Spirit is given, whose action is always and only to confect the Body of Christ" [DD, 41].

Pope Francis also addresses the "absolute importance" of silence, as "a symbol of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit who animates the entire action of the celebration" [DD, 52]. He writes about liturgical gestures, for example, kneeling [DD, 53], and highlights the unique role of the priest, whose role "is not primarily a duty assigned to him by the community but is rather a consequence of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit received in ordination which equips him for such a task. The priest also is formed by his presiding in the celebrating assembly." [DD,56]. Thus, "it is of fundamental importance that the priest have a keen awareness of being, through God’s mercy, a particular presence of the risen Lord" [DD, 57]. As a priest, I could not but find the Pope's reflections on priestly presiding [DD, 59-60] particularly moving - and challenging.

The Pope concludes with another appeal to re-establish the unity of the Roman Rite [DD, 61] and "to rediscover the meaning of the liturgical year and of the Lord’s Day" [DD, 63]. Here, however, it might have been helpful for him to have addressed the dramatic cultural changes which have occurred since the Council and the resulting virtual disappearance of the Lord's Day from our modern society. 

Finally, Francis appeals to us to "abandon our polemics to listen together to what the Spirit is saying to the Church. Let us safeguard our communion. Let us continue to be astonished at the beauty of the Liturgy. The Paschal Mystery has been given to us. Let us allow ourselves to be embraced by the desire that the Lord continues to have to eat His Passover with us. All this under the gaze of Mary, Mother of the Church" [DD, 65].

Notwithstanding the Pope's plea, polemics about the liturgy (and almost everything else) will continue. To the extent that liturgical polarization in the Church is a subset of wider social polarization, probably little can be done about it. On the other hand, a sincere study of the Pope's letter, coupled with an honest openness on all sides to address the acknowledged deficiencies in our contemporary liturgical experience could well contribute to restoring the liturgy to its proper place as an experience of unity rather than division.

Photo: Pope Francis greets U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Saint Peter's Basilica before celebrating the Mass for the Solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul, Rome, June 29, 2022, the same day he issued his "Apostolic Letter on the Liturgical Formation of the People of God," Desiderio Desideravi.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Human Empire vs. God's Kingdom


The 20th-century liturgical scholar Pius Parsch (1884-1954)  said of today’s great festival of Saints Peter and Paul: "it was the birthday of Christian Rome and marked the triumph of Christ's victory over paganism. Rome's provincial bishops came to the Eternal City to celebrate the feast together with the Pope. As at Christmas three services were held, at the graves of the two apostles and at their temporary depository in times of persecution. The two apostles were never separated; they were the two eyes of the Church's virgin-face."

Such splendor seems so far beyond us now, when this great festival seems barely noticed by many! Back when I was a pastor, I liked to preach on this day about Peter and Paul as the second founders of Rome - brothers in faith rather than by blood, who founded the new Christian Rome, that replaced the pagan power of ancient imperial Rome. That ancient theme may be acquiring a new salience in this troubled time when a right relationship between the Church and the pursuit of political power is again at issue.


According to tradition, the city of Rome was founded on April 21, 753 BC, by twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, whose father was Mars, the god of war. Like many of the biblical brothers, Romulus and Remus quarreled. The two fought about which of their future city’s hills to build on. According to the story, when Romulus began building on his preferred Palatine hill, Remus ridiculed his work by jumping over his brother’s wall, in order to belittle his brother’s project. Romulus responded by killing Remus - thus determining which brother the city would be named after! In due time, Rome became the greatest city in the ancient world, the capital of the greatest empire the world had ever yet known.


To that same city, some eight centuries later, came Peter and Paul - brothers not by blood, but by their common faith in Jesus Christ, who had called them to be disciples and commissioned them to be apostles. The small, marginal Christian community they found in Rome was socially and politically insignificant - an easy target when the Emperor Nero needed scapegoats to blame for a destructive fire that had occurred on July 18 in A.D. 64. What followed was the first of several state-sponsored persecutions of the Church. Among those eventually martyred in that first Roman persecution were the apostles Peter and Paul - Peter, crucified on the Vatican Hill, and Paul, beheaded on the Ostian Way.


One version of the story recounts how Peter started to flee from the city but then returned to Rome and embraced his martyrdom after meeting Jesus on the road. “Lord, where are you going,” Peter asked. “I am going to Rome to be crucified again,” Jesus responded. The Roman church [photo] of Domine Quo Vadis marks the site on the Via Appia, where this encounter occurred.


If the persecuted Christians of Rome required encouragement and confidence to persevere in their new faith, what more powerful reinforcement could they have had than the witness offered by the martyrdom of those two illustrious apostles, who were the Church’s link back to the Risen Lord himself? For some 20 centuries since, pilgrims from all over the world have flocked to the two great basilicas that rise above the apostles’ tombs - Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and the Basilica of Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls.


Which brings us back to where we started. The old Rome of Romulus – proud, powerful, pagan Rome, based on the murder of one brother by another – was, for all its real accomplishments and authentic grandeur, a human state like any other, a warring conqueror empire conquered in turn by other warring conquerors. The new Christian Rome of Peter and Paul conquered that old Rome, but in a new way. Proud, powerful, pagan Rome, founded on the murder of one brother by another, was itself in turn conquered by the faith that empowered Peter and Paul as brothers-in-Christ to evangelize an empire and die together as witnesses to a new way of life and a veery different kind of kingdom.


Just as there was an incomparable difference between the behavior of the two pagan brothers and the two Christian apostles, there is also an incomparable difference between their relationship to temporal power. The martyrdom of the apostles Peter and Paul – indeed all martyrdom – highlights how the establishment of God's kingdom comes about apart from (if not in outright opposition to) all earthly empires of political power and calls into question that perennially popular strategy of identifying religion with the pursuit of such political power.


As we celebrate this great feast recalling the mission and martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul, let us also – as Saint Augustine once recommended on this feast – “embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith” [Sermon 295, 8].

Monday, June 27, 2022

What Makes a Eucharistic Revival?

The Catholic Church in the U.S. has embarked upon a multi-year "Eucharistic Revival." According to the USCCB's Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis, the "Mission" of this "Eucharistic Revival" is to renew the Church by enkindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Its "Vision" is movement of Catholics across the United States, healed converted, formed, and unified by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist - and sent out in mission "for the life of the world."

Admirable goals, and God grant that we may move forward together on this journey!

Meanwhile, however, like just about everything else in these days, this "Eucharistic Revival" is bogged down in controversies - from how to interpret the research showing widespread ignorance about the Real Presence (research which allegedly sparked this preoccupation with "Eucharistic Revival" in the first place) to continuing arguments about weaponizing the Eucharist for partisan purposes to on-line debates about whether the "Eucharistic Revival" is also a "liturgical revival," and exactly what that quaint question actually means anyway.

I have already written in this space about the first two controversies (cf. "Conflicting Conversations about Holy Communion," June 21, 2021). It may be worth repeating here that, regardless of technical questions about the survey itself and its data, the research in question at least appears to show serious deficiencies in some American Catholics' understanding about the Eucharist. But really this should hardly have come as any surprise. For decades now, traditional practices which highlighted the unique sacredness of the Eucharist for previous generations (e.g., fasting before Communion, frequent Confession, kneeling for Communion, receiving on the tongue, reverential silence in church, etc.) have all been in decline. There may be multiple reasons for these developments, which are not necessarily bad, but it still should have been expected that such developments would have inevitably predictable cultural consequences for how the Eucharist has actually been experienced by many, regardless of whatever they may have been formally taught (if in fact they have been taught). In any case, clearly a conversation needs to occur about the way the Eucharist is experienced in the Church's life - a conversation that extends the narrow language and preoccupations of religious professionals. How such a conversation occurs, however, will significantly impact its efficacy, which places a significant burden on whatever happens during this national "Eucharistic Revival." Whatever happens, continued and at this point probably unavoidable partisan conflicts about how to be Church in a modern democratic, pluralistic, and increasingly secular society seem unlikely either to promote the mission or foster the vision articulated for this "Eucharistic Revival."

I'm not sure of what to make of the questions about the relationship between "Eucharistic Revival" and "liturgical revival." It seems to me that examining and (hopefully) improving the ordinary American Catholic's experience of how the eucharistic liturgy is celebrated is inherently desirable at any time and obviously ought to be a component of any "Eucharistic Revival" for the vast majority of American Catholics, who will not be assembling in Indianapolis for the 2024 Eucharistic Congress. Clearly, any serious "Eucharistic Revival" should care about  improving the ordinary American Catholic's experience of how the eucharistic liturgy is celebrated in actual parishes in a contemporary America in which religion, like more or less everything else, is riddled with consumerism. For many that experience may seem somewhat sub-optimal at present - whether measured in terms of  welcome and hospitality, length and reverence of celebration, music, preaching, etc. At the same time, any serious "Eucharistic Revival" ought also to include reviving (where they have been lost) such historical up-datings in eucharistic worship as Corpus Christi processions, Forty Hours, and ordinary experiences of Exposition and Benediction. That the Church's liturgy developed in certain directions over the centuries is part of its historical vitality. Without inordinately privileging any particular practice or any particular period in the Church's history (a common failing on both sides of contemporary generational liturgical divides), our post-modern predicament challenges the Church to draw upon all her treasures - heeding the familiar teaching of Jesus himself, Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old (Matthew 13:52).

On the other hand, however, no amount of liturgical revival - not even a Corpus Christi procession and Forty Hours in every single American parish - would alone be sufficient to promote the mission or foster the vision articulated for this "Eucharistic Revival." As Sacrosantum Concilium, 9, famously acknowledged: Before we can come to the liturgy we must be called to faith and to conversion: "How then are they to call upon him in whom they have not yet believed? But how are they to believe him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear if no one preaches? And how are men to preach unless they be sent?" (Romans 10:14-15).

Clearly, we still have a lot to do in the U.S Church to get us from here to there!

Saturday, June 25, 2022

That Weird and Dangerous NatCon Manifesto

National, nationalist, nationalism are all honorable words with legitimate political referents - as are conservative and conservatism. But the ideological neologism National Conservatism - as in the recent public statement "National Conservatism: A Statement of Principles" - is another matter altogether, a weird document, its weirdness exacerbated by its ideas' evident danger to democratic constitutional governance.

The so-called "national conservatism" project appears to have arisen as an alternative to some more traditional types of conservatism, in other words a MAGA-updating of conservatism purporting to give the latter a more morally and intellectually plausible veneer. Although Trump himself is never mentioned, the movement's recently issued manifesto,  "National Conservatism: A Statement of Principles," would hardly have even been conceivable apart from the Trump phenomenon and its "populist" triumph over traditional conservatism. The manifesto's signers were themselves, many of them, likewise more traditional respectable conservatives before boarding the irresistible MAGA train. That train, of course, has long since left the station, and any window-dressing restraint from more traditionally conservative moral and political precepts must likewise inevitably be left behind in the end.

Of course, as with most ideologies, there are sensible statements of moral and political principles in this document, principles many might happily accept. Thus, for example, the statement begins by affirming "the idea of the nation because we see a world of independent nations - each pursuing its own national interests and upholding national traditions that are its own - as the only genuine alternative to universalist ideologies now seeking to impose a homogenizing, locality-destroying imperium over the entire globe." In practice, that means that they "oppose transferring the authority of elected governments to transnational or supranational bodies—a trend that pretends to high moral legitimacy even as it weakens representative government, sows public alienation and distrust, and strengthens the influence of autocratic regimes." If that is a reference to the EU, for example, I fully share the concern about the EU's infamous "democratic deficit," which is why, were I British, I too would probably have supported Brexit. For the present, at least, there appears to be no political unit larger than the nation state, which seems able to offer its citizens both a sufficient sense of participation and actual political accountability. 

But nothing in the statement seems to acknowledge the fundamental reality that  it has been capitalism, more than anything else, that has imposed "a homogenizing, locality-destroying imperium over the entire globe." One need not have read Karl Marx to know that!

When it comes to how this particular independent nation state of ours should be organized and governed, the authors purport to "believe in a strong but limited state, subject to constitutional restraints and a division of powers. We recommend a drastic reduction in the scope of the administrative state and the policy-making judiciary that displace legislatures representing the full range of a nation’s interests and values." Fair enough, but then we read "in those states or subdivisions in which law and justice have been manifestly corrupted, or in which lawlessness, immorality, and dissolution reign, national government must intervene energetically to restore order." It hardly seems possible not to read that as code for the claim that Republican-run states should be free to pursue their preferred policies, but that a presumably Republican-run federal government should freely interfere with local autonomy in Democratic states, presumably to prevent measures that would combat climate change or restrict gun violence - obvious examples, one supposes, of blue-state "lawlessness, immorality, and dissolution." Put differently, the constraints of federalism for Democrats but centralized authoritarian power for Republicans.

But the statement really gets weird when it addresses religion. I would heartily agree that "No nation can long endure without humility and gratitude before God and fear of his judgment that are found in authentic religious tradition." But, while I would agree that the wanton secularization of American society and culture has done us grievous harm, what if anything can be done about that is problematic at best. "Where a Christian majority exists," the statement proposes, "public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private." Attaching the adjective "Protestant" to "Christian" in the above formulation, something like that may once have been the case earlier in US history, when the country was less pluralistic and hence less secular, when the Protestant majority set the cultural tone and discriminated against the Catholic minority. But that is not our national reality anymore, and it ought to be manifestly out of the question now. Achieving it is, in any case, a practical impossibility in that it would require the kind of governmental religious power and moral coercion that the constitution (which the authors purport to revere) disallows and which modern experience (e.g., Quebec, Ireland, Spain) suggests can only be harmful to religion itself in the end. I suppose a lot depends on whether one's concern is with the actual flourishing of religion or rather with religion as a prop for political authoritarianism.

The authors advocate "accepting and living in accordance with the Constitution of 1787, the amendments to it, duly enacted statutory law, and the great common law inheritance." What does that even mean? The "Constitution of 1787" no longer really exists, having been amended first by the Bill of Rights, and then even more radically amended by the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments after the Civil War, and then otherwise democratized by the 16th, 17th, 19th, 23rd, 24th, and 26th amendments. The original constitution was a determinedly anti-democratic document, which has been - not totally - but radically democratized since then. Ironically, the statement stresses that "change must take place through law" and condemns "rioting, looting, and other unacceptable public disorder" - conveniently ignoring the fact that the most salient example of such "public disorder," an explicit attempt to accomplish a political change outside of the law, was, of course, the MAGA riot/insurrection/attempted coup on January 6, 2021. Like the globalizing and secularizing role of capitalism, the MAGA insurrection seems to be yet another inconvenient truth.

To be fair, when addressing economics, the authors do say "the free market cannot be absolute. Economic policy must serve the general welfare of the nation." But the bulk of their economic complains concern "globalized markets" and right-wing ideological culture war concerns about "trans-national corporations showing little loyalty to any nation damage public life by censoring political speech, flooding the country with dangerous and addictive substances and pornography, and promoting obsessive, destructive personal habits." Likewise, what starts out as a commendable commitment to reenergize a national effort to refocus national resources - as an earlier American generation did to go to the moon - degenerates into petty pot-shots at "most universities." One wonders what intellectual institutions would merit a role in their culture warrior vision of America. The Claremont Institute? Whatever one thinks of the varied virtues and faults of mid-20th-century America, we did not make it to the moon by subordinating science and medicine to divisive culture-war priorities.

Speaking of culture war, there is, of course, really no such thing as "the traditional family," given the many and various ways that fundamental institution has evolved and adapted throughout all of human history. That said, the authors are, in my opinion, quite correct when they lament that "The disintegration of the family, including a marked decline in marriage and childbirth, gravely threatens the wellbeing and sustainability of democratic nations." And they are likewise correct in faulting  "an unconstrained individualism that regards children as a burden." But they again neglect to acknowledge the connection between that "unconstrained individualism" and the "free enterprise" system they largely endorse. Again, one need not have read Marx to know that capitalism "has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation." The NatCon statement laudably advocates "Economic and cultural conditions that foster stable family and congregational life and child-raising are priorities of the highest order." Yet it offers no actual examples of relief for today's socially stressed and economically hard-pressed families, nor any suggestion of how the authors' presumably preferred political party might ever be dragooned into signing on to any policy proposals that might actually address the pressing needs of real families.

In a somewhat surprising display of historical honesty, the authors acknowledge the "immense contributions" of immigration and "note that Western nations have benefited from both liberal and restrictive immigration policies at various times." But they seem to think that this is one of those times when more restrictive policies  would be better for the country. If so, they should then at least be obliged to tell us who is going to do the work in "the sciences and engineering" that they are calling for - not to mention who is going to do the increasingly required work of health care for our aging population (which will grow even older without immigration).

There is so much in this that, in a modern, pluralistic, 21st-century, secular society, seems just plain weird . Sadly, however, these are not disembodied ideas to be debated by academic intellectuals and on-line pundits, but a manifestly dangerous anti-democratic agenda. If recent history has taught us anything, it should have taught us that fringe ideas - like fringe candidates in 2016 - can acquire political power even if the majority of citizens oppose and vote against them.