Tuesday, February 23, 2016

More News: Scalia, Scalia, Scalia, and Trump, Trump, Trump (Plus Pope Francis)

And still more pieces of commentary I'd like to recommend to you today — these on political themes (but since Pope Francis has blessed Aristotle's definition of the human being as the animal politicum, perhaps it's fine to lump political and religious commentary together, especially in the nation with the soul of a church?):

First, Scalia, Scalia, Scalia: here's the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin, not known for being a raving liberal, on Scalia's unsavory legacy:

Antonin Scalia, who died this month, after nearly three decades on the Supreme Court, devoted his professional life to making the United States a less fair, less tolerant, and less admirable democracy. Fortunately, he mostly failed. Belligerent with his colleagues, dismissive of his critics, nostalgic for a world where outsiders knew their place and stayed there, Scalia represents a perfect model for everything that President Obama should avoid in a successor.

This is a legacy that is, unfortunately, a certain kind of Catholic legacy, as Frank Cocozzelli reminds us in a Talk to Action essay published yesterday: 

This brings us to the widely echoed notion that Scalia was a: "devout Catholic." The more accurate description would be "Opus Dei Catholic." . . . Over the last 30 years I have had many conversations regarding Justice Scalia. Invariably, I would close these discussions with the comment, "As an American Catholic and as an attorney, I wish it were Mario Cuomo sitting in his place on the Supreme Court." Cuomo, also a New York attorney and Catholic was far more representative of mainstream American Catholics. At least in my eyes it was the former New York governor who is better described as a devout Catholic. And he acted as one without imposing his religious beliefs on his fellow citizens.

And it's a dead legacy, a defense of a Constitution that is, as Scalia liked to maintain, dead, which Arizona GOP lawyer-activist Kory Langhofer wants literally continued through Scalia's dead hand, as he proposes that the now-deceased justice should continue to have a vote in upcoming Supreme Court decisions. 

And then there's Trump, Trump, Trump (and Cruz): here's Mercer University professor David Gushee  commenting on the two very different kinds of failures (for evangelical Christians supporting them when they should know better) that Trump and Cruz represent:

Ted Cruz is the easier case. For the most part, he is following a particularly hardline version of the old Christian Right script, now operative in its tenth presidential election. You know it: Abortion bad, gay marriage really bad, liberals bad, secularism bad, Democrats bad. . . . 
Donald Trump is doing something very different and much more frightening. In his demeanor, he is violating every prior accepted standard of presidential civility. He is lathering up audiences for systematic demeaning of specific targeted groups, notably Muslims and Hispanics, through security appeals over terrorists and undocumented immigrants. He has also dismissed moral concerns about torture, and other rule-of-law considerations in war and foreign policy. He has more than once expressed respect for the leadership and toughness of foreign dictators. In sum, here is a presidential candidate frequently characterized by xenophobia, cruelty, vulgarity, and authoritarianism.

In Juan Cole's view, Trump may live to regret his recent contretemps with Pope Francis, because said contretemps may cost him key Catholic votes if he's the GOP presidential nominee: Cole writes, 

Billionaire bigot Donald Trump's tiff with Pope Francis continued on Thursday, though Trump appears to have gotten cold feet about taking on the Pontiff toward the end of day. 
The reason this dispute is important is that Trump cannot win the presidency with only the backing of white Protestants, and he has now alienated everyone else. As Mark Gray points out, the country has changed dramatically, so that white Protestants are no longer a majority . . . .

I'm not so sanguine that the confrontation between Pope Francis and Trump would cost Trump many Catholic votes, if he ran for the presidency: even in a campaign year in which old anti-Catholic bigotry is right out in the open in some sectors of the GOP and in which it appears the pope has slammed the leading GOP presidential candidate, many white Catholic voters continue proudly to vote Republican — to vote for any Republican. And they do so with the blessing of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

Finally, that seat Scalia has left vacant: as Lauren Fox notes, a key reason the GOP is determined to leave it vacant as long as Mr. Obama is president is, well, you know, that issue of race that we're never supposed to bring up as we try to figure out why white working-class Catholics and evangelicals have trended Republican for years now: she writes, 

Many observers view the Supreme Court emerging drama in the Senate as the pinnacle of the drawn out, deep-seated and racially tinged effort to block America's first black president from leaving a lasting legacy on the country that elected him twice. . . . 
Observers note that opposition to Obama appointing a new justice is coming from two distinct places, both vested with deep racial undertones. On the one hand, this is part of a pattern to stop Obama as he seeks to leave a mark on the country and our collective history, changing the court majority from conservative to liberal. On the other hand, opposition to stop Obama from appointing a nominee comes from a desire to retain the status quo, the symbol of a white majority that is quickly shrinking in America.

She's correct about this, I think. And, vis-a-vis the Catholic side of this equation, what a spectacular failure this represents, on the part of the pastoral leaders of the U.S. Catholic church and on the part of its intellectual leaders in the Catholic academy and media. 

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