As a Never Trump conservative, The New York Times columnist has been politically homeless in recent years and as it turns out he is also a theological vagabond. As reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Brooks in a recent event at George Mason University described himself as “religiously bisexual.”
Asked by economist Tyler Cowen what he meant by that, Brooks responded, “I need my own bathrooms”—an attempt at humor suggesting confusion on Brooks’s part as to what, exactly, bisexuality is. Then he offered a more sober and elaborate answer:
I grew up in a Jewish household. And when you grow up in a Jewish household and Jewish family, kept kosher all those years, you read the Passover seder, and you feel deeply how stories enter you and the story of Judaism. And I feel so Jewish. A lot of my friends are Jewish. My jokes are Jewish. My style is Jewish. And so you feel that you’re just deeply and irrevocably embedded in that story.”
“At the same time, I went to the school that probably had the biggest influence on me was called Grace Church School. I was in the choir, and so I sat in chapel every day. Then I went to an Episcopal camp for 15 years, and then I read Reinhold Niebuhr, and then I fell in love with St. Augustine, and somehow you find that story settling into you. And so I feel more Jewish and more attached to the Christian story than ever. Both. So that’s why I’m bisexual.
Leaving aside the dubious use of the word “bisexual,” Brooks does speak to a genuine experience that many who have grown up in a pluralistic society share, of feeling the pull of different traditions and communities.
But the new syncretic fusion of Judaism and Christianity makes no sense. After all, there’s already a name for Jews who accept the tenets of Christianity: Christians. Most of the earliest Christians were Jewish converts. Whatever blurry line might have once existed, these are two different religious traditions. There are, to be sure, people who call themselves “Messianic Jews” but that designation is regarded with suspicion by mainstream Jewish groups, who see this position as covert proselytizers.
As with his neo-conservative politics, Brooks’s religious musings spring from a nostalgia for the consensus America of the 1950s. This was the era of civil religion, when the idea of faith as a pillar of patriotism was widely affirmed. As Eisenhower declared in 1952, “Our form of government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious belief, and I don’t care what it is.” The leading theologians of this consensus-supporting civil religion were Will Herberg and Reinhold Niebuhr.
For Brooks no less than Eisenhower, the actual theology or spiritual content of religion is immaterial. What matters is that religion upholds the social order. Sacred books, in this understanding, have the same edifying role as great philosophical and literary works (this parallels Brooks advocacy for “the Western canon”).
But if Brooks is inventing a new religion he’ll need a name for it. Perhaps he could call it Western Canonism? Or if he wanted to rope James Comey into the faith, it could be labelled Niebuhrism.
The administration’s adoption of a zero-tolerance policy on border crossing, which includes separating children from parents, is bursting the seams of the American penal system. As McClatchey reported on Tuesday, “The Trump administration is looking to build tent cities at military posts around Texas to shelter the increasing number of unaccompanied migrant children being held in detention.”
The building of incarceration camps for children follows on the heels of a report last Friday from AP that the administration was sending 1600 immigrants to federal prisons because of a lack of other space in which to confine them.
The planned tent city for children is an extreme policy that could easily facilitate all sorts of abuse. Leading Democrats have been quick to denounce the program:
It is perilous for a president to declare victory prematurely, as George W. Bush found out when he was photographed on May 1, 2003 on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln with the sign “Mission Accomplished” behind him. Since the war in Iraq continued for the duration of Bush’s presidency, the words “mission accomplished” were constantly thrown back at Bush as evidence of his feckless bravado.
On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump gambled on his own “Mission Accomplished” moment by tweeting:
For a normal president, this is a treacherous gambit. After all, what would happen if, as is quite possible, talks with the North Korean regime collapse?
But while he was in Singapore, Trump already indicated he had a Plan B. As a Trump conference on Tuesday, Trump said “I may be wrong, I mean I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey I was wrong,’ I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”
Trump has a clear path no matter what happens. He is claiming victory and hope it works out. If negotiations fail, he’ll come up with an excuse.
Prominent Trump-supporting pundit Hugh Hewitt hailed these words as proof of Trump’s candor:
In truth, given the partisan blinkers of supporters like Hewitt, Trump has little to worry about. The president can not only conjure up an excuse for any failure but he can even admit that it’s an excuse and still be hailed for his honesty. Trump is playing a game he can’t lose.
FIFA announced on Wednesday that the United States, Canada, and Mexico would host the World Cup in 2026, the first triple joint bid in history. The “United” bid promised FIFA a profit of $11 billion, per The New York Times, outstripping competitor Morocco, which would have produced $5 billion.
The tournament will occur primarily on American turf: Of the 80 matches, 60 will be held in the United States. The continental venue represents the largest ever in terms of square mileage. The distance between the two farthest cities under consideration for hosting games (Mexico City, Mexico, and Edmonton, Canada) is 2972.64 miles.
The announcement, ironically, comes at a time of immense tension between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, with a possible trade war on the horizon. Following the G-7 summit this weekend, President Donald Trump and his allies assailed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for being “dishonest and weak” and said he “deserved a special place in hell.” Trump’s relationship with Mexico might be even testier, with Trump ordering the deployment of the National Guard to the Mexican border in April to confront undocumented immigrants.
On Twitter, at least, the leaders of the three countries responded to the World Cup news with civility:
Tuesday’s primaries reinforce the major political story of the last three years: the Republican Party is becoming more and more Trumpized. The two bellwether elections were Corey Stewart’s victory in Virginia, where he will be the GOP’s nominee for the Senate in the fall, and Congressman Mark Sanford’s loss to a primary challenger in South Carolina.
Between the two races, it’s easy to see which way the wind is blowing. Stewart is emblematic of the increasingly vocal wing of the GOP obsessed with white identity politics. As The Atlantic noted in January, “Stewart played footsie with the alt-right and protested the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, which months later became the site of torch-bearing neo-Nazi marches that turned deadly.” Sanford, by contrast, has been critical of Donald Trump, provoking the president to tweet in favor of the congressman’s opponent just hours before voting ended.
The lesson is clear: It’s easy in the current GOP to be Trumpier than Trump (as Stewart is) but there is dwindling space for those critical of Trump (such as Sanford). As the standard bearer of the GOP, Trump is setting the tone of the party and also encouraging voters to purge anti-Trump voices. Among Republicans, Trump’s approval rating has leaped 22 points since 2016.
Bill Bolling, former lieutenant governor of Virginia and a Republican, took Stewart’s victory to be symptomatic of where his party is heading:
Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel agreed:
Silicon Valley tycoon Tim Draper loves California so much he wants to create even more Golden States. Draper has long been pushing for a ballot initiative to divide California into multiple states. Draper’s previous efforts to create six Californias in 2012 and 2014 failed to get enough signatures to make it the ballot. But this year, his scaled-down plan for a division into three states succeeded, thanks in part to his bankrolling an expensive drive that gathered 600,000 signatures. Known as Cal-3, the proposal will be voted on in the fall.
Under the proposal, the new states would be California, Northern California, and Southern California. “Northern California would consist of 40 counties stretching from Oregon south to Santa Cruz County, then east to Merced and Mariposa counties,” The Los Angeles Times explains. “Southern California would begin with Madera County in the Central Valley and then wind its way along the existing state’s eastern and southern spine, comprising 12 counties and ultimately curving up the Pacific coast to grab San Diego and Orange counties.” California proper would be reduced to Los Angeles and six nearby counties extending up to Monterey.
The advantage of the plan is that, as the largest state in the U.S., California is currently under-represented in the Senate, which dividing it into three would ameliorate. Currently, California’s 39 million residents have the same two senators as North Dakota (population 670,00). The proposal would give the people of California six senators.
Draper himself is pushing for the idea on vaguely libertarian grounds. He believes that the three new Californias would compete to keep residents, leading to better services and lower taxes.
Be that as it may, the proposal is likely to meet with the stiff resistance. Since 1850, there have been roughly 200 unsuccessful attempts to reconfigure California. Cal-3 would have to clear the hurdle of not just the popular vote but also approval by state and federal lawmakers. Given the status quo bias of elected officials, and particularly the worry Democrats have of losing part of the electoral college gold-mine they currently possess, this proposal faces an uphill battle. Current polls show only 17 percent of Californians approve of the measure, while 72 percent oppose.
Mayor Jenny Durkan and the City Council announced they would repeal the so-called “head-tax” voted in last month, which was projected to bring in $50 million a year to help with affordable housing and homelessness, Bloomberg reports.
The tax would have charged large employers $275 per full-time employee each year for the next five years. This proved too much for Amazon, which employs nearly 45,000 people in Seattle and is its largest employer. In protest of the tax, the online retailer halted construction of a new tower in the city center and announced it might sublet a new skyscraper, threatening up to 8,000 new jobs.
Under pressure from a coalition of big business that make up the No Tax On Jobs campaign, Durkan conceded. In a statement, she wrote, “It is clear that the ordinance will lead to a prolonged, expensive political fight over the next five months that will do nothing to tackle our urgent housing and homelessness crisis.”
This retreat is a huge loss for Seattle, which was taking steps to tackle the city’s rising inequality and housing crisis, much of it a result of the tech boom and an influx of highly paid workers. In 2014, the city raised the minimum wage to $15, America’s highest, and since 2013, it has doubled its funding of homeless services. But with rising rents, increased gentrification, and a homeless population that is the third-largest in the U.S., the city acknowledged more needed to be done.
Amazon’s hard-ball tactics will only fuel concerns that the company will dictate policy to the city awarded its new headquarters, or HQ2.
A federal judge in D.C. signed off on AT&T’s planned absorption of Time Warner on Tuesday, rejecting an antitrust effort by the Justice Department that sought to halt the $85 million deal. In addition to reshaping the American media landscape, the ruling could prompt a spree of corporate consolidation in multiple industries.
Judge Richard Leon imposed no conditions on the merger, which is now set to combine AT&T’s dominant position over the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure with Time Warner’s influential media properties. Among them are premium cable networks like HBO, Warner Bros.’ film and publishing arms, and the Turner Broadcasting television network, which includes CNN.
The ruling is a major defeat for federal antitrust regulators. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit to halt the merger last November, warning that consumers would face higher television bills and fewer choices if AT&T simultaneously owned Time Warner’s TV properties and the satellite-television provider DirecTV, which it acquired in 2015.
“We are disappointed with the Court’s decision today,” Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department’s lead antitrust attorney, said in a statement. “We continue to believe that the pay-TV market will be less competitive and less innovative as a result of the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner.” The Justice Department did not indicate whether it would appeal Leon’s ruling.
Tuesday’s ruling is expected to accelerate a wave of corporate mergers in the American media landscape and beyond. Comcast, which already absorbed NBC Universal in 2011, is expected to spark a bidding war with Disney for most of 21st Century Fox as soon as this week. Leon’s decision could also bolster the proposed merger between mobile-phone companies T-Mobile and Sprint, as well as the CVS pharmacy chain’s bid to acquire health-insurance giant Aetna.
Republican voters have forgiven Sanford for his lies and adultery but they might not be so indulgent of his occasional criticisms of the president. In 2009, Sanford, then Governor of South Carolina, disappeared for a few days. On his return he announced that he had been hiking the Appalachian Trial. In fact, he had been in Argentina visiting his mistress. After a divorce and time in private life, Sanford rebuilt his political career, joining the House of Representatives in 2013.
Sanford has been one of the few Republican lawmakers willing to criticize Donald Trump openly. In 2017, Sanford told Politico that Trump “represents the antithesis, or the undoing, of everything I thought I knew about politics, preparation and life.”
Facing a primary vote Tuesday, Sanford is receiving headwind from Republican voters who see him as a traitor to the president. As The Washington Post reports, Sanford is “discovering how loyalty to the president has become the defining question of Republican politics. His opponent, state legislator Katie Arrington, has made support for Trump the centerpiece of a surging campaign. Some Republicans who backed Sanford in the past have switched teams, citing the Trump factor.”
Trump himself recognizes that keeping Republican lawmakers in line is central to his political future. Just hours before voting ends, Trump himself made it clear that he has little tolerance for any Republican who dares cross him:
No stranger to hyperbole and the hard sell, President Donald Trump laid it on thick praising Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in the wake of Singapore summit. Interviewed by Greta Van Susteren on Voice of America, Trump burbled that Kim has “got a great personality. He’s a funny guy, he’s very smart, he’s a great negotiator. He loves his people, not that I’m surprised by that, but he loves his people.”
Trump’s praise for Kim immediately provoked a backlash by those who thought that celebrating a brutal despot was unworthy of an American president:
But are Trump’s comments really so unprecedented? After all, Franklin Roosevelt celebrated Joseph Stalin as “truly representative of the heart and soul of Russia” and a leader who was “thoroughly conversant with the provisions of our Constitution.” Richard Nixon, in a toast on his historic first trip to China, compared Mao Zedong and the communist leadership to George Washington and the other leaders of the American revolution. Ronald Reagan was equally enthusiastic about Rios Montt, the genocidal president of Guatemala. “I know that President Rios Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment,” Reagan said in 1982.
If American presidents have a long history of extolling dictators, they’ve at least sometimes done so for good reasons. Stalin, after all, was a necessary ally in defeating Nazi Germany. Nixon’s opening to China helped restore the global balance of power in a turbulent era.
The problem with Trump’s flattery of Kim is the same as Reagan’s acclamation of Montt: a dictator was praised for no good reason. Trump has flattered Kim but gotten little more than a photo op.
L. Francis Cissna, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said that his agency is staffing up a new office focused on denaturalization, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. It’s an aggressive approach to a legal power that the federal government rarely exercises.
Until now, the agency has pursued cases as they arose but not through a coordinated effort, Cissna said. He said he hopes the agency’s new office in Los Angeles will be running by next year but added that investigating and referring cases for prosecution will likely take longer.
“We finally have a process in place to get to the bottom of all these bad cases and start denaturalizing people who should not have been naturalized in the first place,” Cissna said. “What we’re looking at, when you boil it all down, is potentially a few thousand cases.”
The Trump administration has ramped up enforcement of immigration laws at nearly every turn. But some of the citizenship system’s issues also predate his presidency: In 2016, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found that at least 900 people who had been previously deported later acquired citizenship thanks to flaws in the system for tracking fingerprint records.
There’s a dark history to large-scale revocations of citizenship in other countries, but it’s extremely difficult for the U.S. government to do so. There’s no lawful way to deprive a natural-born American of citizenship. Naturalized Americans can only lose it if they lied during the naturalization process, and even then, there are limits. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled last year that not all lies would be grounds for denaturalization—only those that helped the person to get citizenship. So the Trump administration couldn’t use simple errors or harmless falsehoods as reasons for stripping anyone of citizenship.