Updated: The Mooch: More of a Front-Stabber

Update: Well.  Wish this had happened before I had the urge to put these thoughts to virtual paper.  And he was off to such a nice start. Sheesh.  --ed.

I'm not under the illusion that Anthony Scaramucci is anything but a conventional thinker on most issues, but so far I really enjoy him in his new White House Communications Director role. He's funny, and he seems candid in that when he doesn't want to answer a question he'll just tell you that and not stonewall.

More importantly, he seems to bring to the job a couple of things the President desperately needs: a guy who understands him and and a guy who will defend him, wholeheartedly, and not with the sense of doing so against better judgment or perhaps holding his nose.

Without defending every tweet President Trump has ever sent, his tweeting doesn't trouble me. It's his way of going over the media's head, which needs to be done, and it's his way of taking their smug superiority down a peg, which equally needs to be done when we have a press that thinks it, and not the sovereign people, rules. ("When you mock the student government president, you undo him," as the late Tony Snow said.)

What I criticize the President for, communications-wise, is that, like President Bush, he hasn't bothered much to defend himself (apart from tweets) --hasn't even seemed to try to coordinate messaging with his own team; and, like President Obama, he seems to have an oversized sense of the power of his own rhetoric -- as if saying stuff makes it so. (To wit, yesterday's tweet about banning trans-gender people from the military. Wake me when you find an actual policy and not just a tweet.)

Understanding the President.  In one of his first tv appearances in his new role, responding to Chris Wallace's question about his past criticism of Trump, I loved "the Mooch's" answer both because it was funny and because I think it was an effective translation of Trump for people who find him too abrasive. Watch for two minutes beginning at about 13:20 to 16, including the part about how the President teases him all the time about his past criticism. It's amusing, but it's also revealing of the difference between political insiders and the outsider who currently holds the presidency.

To make the point more succinctly, this morning we read this:
“What I don’t like about Washington is people do not let you know how they feel,” he said. “They’re very nice to your face and then they take a shiv or a machete and they stab it in your back. I don’t like it. I’m a Wall Street guy, and I’m more of a front-stabbing person, and I’d rather tell people directly how I feel about them than this sort of nonsense.”

More of a front-stabber. I can hear him saying it and find it hilarious. I also think it's a brilliant assessment of the difference between Trump and official Washington. 

Getting back to the tweets that make us all roll our eyes about what a goob this guy is. I don't think it's seemly for a President, or anyone, to be coarse. I cringe at "bleeding from her facelift," and wish he'd chosen a more gentlemanly way to mock in that instance. But the smug elites do have to be mocked to break the power of political correctness and show that they can be stood up to.  And if you ask me which is worse: to be called ugly or fat or stupid or to be called a bigot, a warrior against women, and a killer of the elderly and the sick (people will die!), I find Trump's style of insult more honest, and more in the spirit of a fair fight than the vicious, character-maligning rhetoric of the Left I have endured all my life and has only gotten more and more shrill.  The former just tells you the guy is annoyed with you at the moment; the latter is an effort to ruin you utterly, driving you from polite society. Which is more corrosive of civic life? 

(It does, however, remind me of this:)

Is "America First" UnChristian?

Peter Leithart has a piece in First Things, On Trump & Trumpism, that's probably a pretty good summary of what many practicing Christians, or at least practicing Catholics, think about Trump. It's an open-minded and fair-ish read of the President's virtues and vices, and why Leithart is wary of him, but maybe cautiously optimistic about his presidency.

There are things he says I both concur with, dissent and partially dissent from, but I want to object strenuously to this assertion:
even in the best of circumstances “America First” is not a Christian slogan or outlook. Whoever occupies the White House, it's “kingdom first.”
I'd guess that many if not most pious Catholics I know would agree wholeheartedly with those two sentences, and I think therein lies the reason pious Catholics are often abjectly stupid in politics, a field where they are called to be wise as serpents in addition to harmless as doves. I think it's also a principal reason why our American bishops, even though I admire many of them for their courage and orthodoxy and personal virtue, on the whole have a deleterious effect on American politics.

Properly understood, "America First" is the only attitude a President qua president can have. If you are not capable of defending the good of American citizens and America as a whole first and foremost, you ought not to run for office, as that is the precise job description.

Properly understood: "America First" does not mean my country right or wrong; it does not mean my country in contradiction of the moral and natural law; it does not mean my country without due respect for the just claims of other nations and individuals. It does not mean jingoist inability to appreciate the gifts and goods of other nations or cultures, or inability to learn from them. Observing the demands of justice, morality, the common good and constitutional order are in America's (or any nation's) long-term best interest.

Of course, qua human individual with a soul that will spend eternity in heaven or hell, any given President would be foolish and wicked to lose his soul for Wales. So yes, qua individual, he must govern "for the kingdom" -- meaning, he must follow the dictates of an upright conscience when the thorny decisions arise.

However, the instant a President (or his followers) thinks his political acts are "for the Kingdom," he has moved beyond the political order and is asking politics to do what it by nature cannot do. Politics by itself cannot make men moral, nor can it immanentize the eschaton. It can only provide the tranquility of order and the conditions of liberty that leave us free to use our freedom for moral ends. We must observe a space of "legitimate secularity" as BXVI used to remind us.

Such a president would also be guilty of colossal hubris. As Lincoln said when someone prayed that God would be on our side, "Let us pray rather that we are on God's side."

Nor can any President try to govern with the generic interests of the entire world in mind. We would rightly criticize a father who fed the neighborhood at large before feeding his own children (the moreso in time of famine). Not because his own children have more value in the eyes of God than anyone else's, but because his precise job is to love and look out for his own children -- the presumption being that if he takes care of his family, they will not be burdensome to the rest of the community and the community can concentrate its charity and its emergency measures on the truly needy (to cite the reason most relevant to the common good, and leaving aside a discussion of concentric circles of relationship and duty and what parents owe their children).

I'm afraid far too many Christians mistake the small-c catholic "neither gentile nor Jew" demands of charity with the corrupt and cynical cosmopolitanism of progressivism and the huge, trans-national corporate behemoths that have no allegiance to anyone, only to their bottom lines. But you can't be a good citizen of your own country if you fancy yourself a citizen of the world. The fact that a Christian knows this world is not his ultimate home doesn't relieve him of the duty to be fully engaged as a citizen any more than the fact that his children are destined for eternity entitles him to be cavalier about their physical well-being.

Without saying more about it, in this regard I like to think about how Polish St. John Paul II was, and whether that strengthened or limited his ability to love universally. And similarly I think of the example of Benedict XVI, who could not have been more German, or more specifically, Bavarian.  It does not detract from the wholesome diversity of the world for Americans to be fully and whole-heartedly American. On the contrary, it helps others rise and find their own wholesome identities.

I think this is what President Trump had in mind in his excellent speech in Warsaw in the moving passage about Polish heroism that was really a call to every decent person in the world to quit apologizing for existing, and learn to be who you are:
Together, with Pope John Paul II, the Poles reasserted their identity as a nation devoted to God.  And with that powerful declaration of who you are, you came to understand what to do and how to live. 
Democracy requires a demos, as Sir Roger Scruton has said. And the role of the American president is to serve and protect the American demos*.

*For the benefit of Peter Beinart and the similarly obtuse, this includes American citizens of any color and creed, natural born or naturalized. 


A few items at random, just to feel like a blogger again for a few minutes.

  • We had to read Night for a theology class, so as to confront the strongest argument for the death  of God. I've always thought of Elie Wiesel as an atheist therefore. I somehow missed the fact that Night was part of a trilogy: Night, Dawn, Light, and that Wiesel was a devout Jew. Does everyone know this but me?  Discovered this because of an article from Wiesel's son about what kind of father he was
  • As Instapundit would say, "Faster, please." Apparently a doctor in Cambridge is on the verge of a cure for MS.  But what is this throw-away line in the story about loads of people with MS in the UK going without treatment? I thought single-payer medicine was the bees knees? 
  • Why did no one tell me about Wallace Stegner? Someone chose his Crossing to Safety for book club and the writing is exquisite. Crossing was his last novel, written in old age. I'm now reading his first novel, Angle of Repose. Both are an exploration of the dynamics of marriage and friendship quite unlike anything I've ever read, and beautifully expressed. He can capture a tone of voice or the look on someone's face just so.  Stegner taught at U. Wisconsin and Harvard before settling at Stanford, where he founded its creative writing program and taught a number of prominent writers. I liked this from when he was doing his book tour for Crossing: 
Mr. Stegner said he finds himself rereading the work of his former students Wendell Berry, Robert Stone, Larry McMurtry and Ernest Gaines - ''old writing fellows who have become effective writers. I had a sense as they were coming through my class that I was seeing American literature before it was in print.''

Tomatoes in Ground, 2017

For the second year in a row May was rainy and strangely cool. Just looking at the jungle that is my back yard after a month of rain has been making me think, eh, maybe I'll just let the vines take over and not plant this year.

But then yesterday, sunny and strangely cool -- a mere 68F in June-- I said to myself, only a Sith deals in absolutes and only a total loser fails to plant tomatoes. So I did. Went out in the dwindling sunlight after dinner and double dug the garden plot and put in marigolds, three varieties of tomato, and a little basil just for caprese salads later on.  (Oregano, thyme and mint are perennial in my little plot of earth and I never have to plant them; I have to do battle w/ them). 

Couldn't find any yellow varieties in tomatoes this year (I think yellow fools the squirrels), so I'm trying black/purple varieties with cool names like Cherokee Purple and Black Prince in addition to Early Girl (because: "early"). 

I was thinking this was the latest and lamest summer planting ever, but turns out I planted on June 9th last year, too. So we're holding steady. 

Fatima at 100


It's the 100th anniversary of Our Lady's appearance at Fatima, and Pope Francis is on pilgrimage there. The picture above is from last night's prayer vigil: every light is a person with a candle. Today he canonized two of the three young visionaries -- the first children to be canonized without being martyrs. His homily for the occasion is lovely.

...in the Gospel, we hear Jesus say to his disciple, “Here is your mother” (Jn 19:27).  We have a Mother!
Dear pilgrims, we have a Mother, we have a Mother! Clinging to her like children, we live in the hope that rests on Jesus.  As we heard in the second reading, “those who receive the abundance of the grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17).  When Jesus ascended to heaven, he brought to the Heavenly Father our humanity, which he assumed in the womb of the Virgin Mary and will never forsake.  Like an anchor, let us fix our hope on that humanity, seated in heaven at the right hand of the Father (cf. Eph 2:6).  May this hope guide our lives!  It is a hope that sustains us always, to our dying breath.
Confirmed in this hope, we have gathered here to `1`give thanks for the countless graces bestowed over these past hundred years.  All of them passed beneath the mantle of light that Our Lady has spread over the four corners of the earth, beginning with this land of Portugal, so rich in hope.  We can take as our examples Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta, whom the Virgin Mary introduced into the immense ocean of God’s light and taught to adore him.  That was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering.  God’s presence became constant in their lives, as is evident from their insistent prayers for sinners and their desire to remain ever near “the hidden Jesus” in the tabernacle.
Getty images has a collection of good photos of the festivities. 

Here are some other links for the occasion. 
  • I especially liked this reflection from Joanne McPortland about being a Fatima Resister. I can't relate to her experience of anti-communism and the Cold War, but I definitely relate to her experience of the oddness of some Fatima devotees and how off-putting that is. I relate her experience of Fatima to mine of Lourdes

2nd Sunday of Easter, Feast of Divine Mercy, 2017


He is the One who covered death with shame and cast the devil into mourning, as Moses cast Pharaoh into mourning. He is the One who smote sin and robbed iniquity of offspring, as Moses robbed the Egyptians of their offspring. He is the One who brought us out of slavery into freedom, out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of tyranny into an eternal kingdom; who made us a new priesthood, a people chosen to be his own for ever. He is the Passover that is our salvation.It is he who endured every kind of suffering in all those who foreshadowed him. In Abel he was slain, in Isaac bound, in Jacob exiled, in Joseph sold, in Moses exposed to die. He was sacrificed in the Passover lamb, persecuted in David, dishonored in the prophets.It is he who was made man of the Virgin, he who was hung on the tree; it is he who was buried in the earth, raised from the dead, and taken up to the heights of heaven. He is the mute lamb, the slain lamb, the lamb born of Mary, the fair ewe. He was seized from the flock, dragged off to be slaughtered, sacrificed in the evening, and buried at night. On the tree no bone of his was broken; in the earth his body knew no decay He is the One who rose from the dead, and who raised man from the depths of the tomb.
~St. Melito of Sardis, Homily on the Passover

Easter Saturday, 2017


"Doubting" Thomas is the Gospel for tomorrow. It always seems a bit unjust to me that Thomas alone is singled out for lack of faith by this nickname --and by a billion scolding homilies whenever his story is read at Mass. Yet Thomas' doubt was not more than that of the the other apostles upon first hearing of the Resurrection. None of the others believed on the strength of witness alone either. It's not as if anyone one said, in response to Mary Magdalene's witness, "Alleluia!" Thomas just had the misfortune of not being present when He first appeared to the others. He should be called Tardy Thomas instead.

Paintings always show him, as here,  with his fingers in the Lord's side, which is likewise not quite right. It's true he told his fellow apostles that he wouldn't believe unless he put his fingers in Christ's side, but that was just big talk. When Christ actually appeared to him, proffering his wounds, Thomas didn't touch, but immediately cried out with simultaneous recognition, humility, and wonder: "My Lord and my God!" (Which is likewise what we are doing when the host is elevated at Mass and we, recognizing Christ in the Eucharist, cry silently, "My Lord and my God!") So he could also be called Eucharistic Thomas. 


Easter Friday, 2017

Federico Barocci, Cristo e la Maddalena (Noli me tangere)

Also, for no particular reason except it's exuberant, and therefore I declare it to be the work of "an Easter people," whose song is Alleluia: behold this random Church in San Luis Potosi. 

 Shamelessly pinched from the FB page of Andrew R. Moore