The Changing of the Guard

Posted on January 7, 2023
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As I write this, there have been 11 ballots for Speaker of the House – with no winner in sight. Though I think it will be settled by the weekend, I am glad this is happening.

Modern Democrats don’t care much about policy, only power. As former Congressman Dick Armey once said, the left doesn’t care what you do so long as it is mandatory. Conservatives do care about policy, more than they care about personality (as Donald Trump’s slide in conservative esteem is demonstrating). In my adult lifetime only two presidents seriously endeavored to enact their promised agenda: Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. The rest treated campaign promises as, at best, sweet nothings said in the heat of passion and, at worst, what they had to say to gain their precious – power. The Congressional class is even worse. Only the 1994 charge led by Newt Gingrich tried to actually do what they blithely promised. Otherwise, it has been an ever-repeating cycle of suckering the folksies by promising conservative policy in bold terms, then joining the swamp.

(As an aside, I was very active for the last half of Gingrich’s tenure as speaker. Among Congressional aides, the joke was that if an idea was so brilliant and insightful that no one else had thought of it, it had to have come from Gingrich. And if an idea was so mind-bendingly crackpot that a sophomore knew better, it had to have come from Gingrich. He was very volatile. Depending on the day, he was either brilliant or crackpot. Whichever he was on any given day, he DID endeavor to do what he had promised, a great novelty in the Congressional class.)

In the Senate, Mitch McConnell did his dead-level best to tank conservative nominees around the country, then promptly joined with Democrats to send billions to Ukraine with no oversight and add a few trillion to the already murderously overdrawn national debt. In a perverse way, I suppose he has done what was expected of him. But the base is absolutely fed up. We saw that governing as a conservative is both good for the people and a winning strategy with Ron DeSantis changing Florida from swing state to ruby red in a single term. So, when Kevin McCarthy attempted the usual bait and switch not only did the base revolt; some 20 conservative congressmen did the same. Serious conservatives are no longer beguiled by thunderous rhetoric unaccompanied by effective action.

An establishment GOP hack once reminded me that Abraham Lincoln had been a partisan politician when he served in the leadership of the Illinois legislature. I concurred with his point, but hotly added that Lincoln had been a partisan Whig, but believed a party must stand for something. When the Whigs ceased to stand for anything in particular, Lincoln ceased to be a Whig and became the first Republican President.

I am adamant that the solution to our problems now will not come from politics. Yet I watch the signs around us, for it gives me some idea of where we are on the road to national perdition. And of course, it is something I have done professionally most of my life. Old habits die hard. But I know well that politics today is like a thermometer: it does not drive events but only describes them.

I am a conservative. I am registered as a Republican but only because it is a pool in which some conservatives can be found. None can be found in the Democrat pool (shoot, it is brutally difficult to find an actual liberal among the Dems these days – only shrieking insanity that denies the obvious). I decided a few decades ago I would no longer vote for any Democrat. As the old, honorable party was supplanted by vicious power-mongers who hated sound policy, I figured if you were willing to bear the name, you were responsible for the baggage. Now, I will not knowingly vote for a Republican squish. I am not interested in the fortunes of the Republican Party, only in the fortunes of sound policy and ordered liberty under law. Maybe the GOP establishment is starting to get a clue about how enraged conservatives are. However the Speaker’s race comes out, that is a good thing. But I still think it is largely the equivalent of playing shuffleboard on the deck of the Titanic.

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Despite proving that almost half the votes counted in Maricopa County were illegally cast, that the counting was so chaotic that no chain of custody exists to show where votes came from, Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake saw Judge Peter Thompson concede the evidence but rule that the arbitrary decision of state election officials will stand. With the steadfast refusal of the courts to even look at the mountain of evidence of fraud in 2020 and the Arizona court’s recognition of the overwhelming evidence of fraud in 2022 but refusal to do anything about it, Josef Stalin’s old dictum that, “It is not the people that vote who count, but the people who count the votes,” has become implicit American policy. Voting in America has become a meaningless ritual.

The ritual has its uses for the ruling class. It tends to anesthetize dissidents who argue about how to win ‘next time’ after having elections taken from them in plain sight. It is like continuing to sit at the poker table after you discover the game is rigged. If you can’t clean up the game, you either walk away or lose your shirt. I am astonished at how many conservative columnists write about how to do better ‘next time’ under the existing fraudulent framework. The house is not interested in fair play – only in fleecing you and keeping you soothed enough to stay at the table to be fleeced.

Even if elections were magically cleaned up overnight by using paper ballots, one day elections, monitors from both sides, and full chain of custody, they would still be meaningless rituals. That is because elected federal officials no longer make policy. The unaccountable permanent bureaucracy makes policy while elected legislators make money. We are deeply into the ‘bread and circuses’ stage of social collapse – with no one accountable to the once-sovereign people.

The sleek Cadillac that was once the American system of government is a fiery ruin at the bottom of a ditch. New hubcaps will not solve the problem.

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Though one must look through a glass, darkly, most serious Catholics (and some non-Catholics) believe the death of Pope Benedict XVI at the close of the old year portends something profound. Orthodox convert Rod Dreher wrote an insightful piece for the American Conservative on the subject.

I have some friends who were part of the “Benedict is Pope” contingent. I did not agree with them, but respect that many are trying to maintain their footing at a time when it is difficult to know what to think. By his words and – more importantly – his actions Pope Francis has breached with the Magisterium and with almost all his predecessors. This is one of those rare historical moments when critics of the Catholic Church can credibly, if not accurately, accuse her of discontinuity. Many serious Catholics posit different scenarios to deal with the seeming discontinuity. And many of those are very good-hearted people.

For some, it is outright denial that there is a problem at all. They convince themselves that nothing Pope Francis or the Vatican is doing is out of the ordinary, much less offensive. Scripture and the Church have always taught that active homosexuality is a sin. The Church has implicitly refined the approach to that by recognizing that a person’s desires are not sinful (though they can be the near occasion of sin), only their actions. Now we have a Pope and a Vatican who, often, actively promote homosexuality. In a bow to the toxic transgender movement, some actually argue that God can get wrong the gender He assigns to each person. Pro-abortion advocates are appointed to the Pontifical Academy for Life. Catholics in China are utterly betrayed to curry favor with the Communist regime, even as it cracks down harder on Christians. Even during the misguided realpolitik initiatives of St. John XXIII and St Paul VI, those popes obtained actual prerogatives for Christians behind the Iron Curtain rather than just handing the keys of the kingdom over to their communist masters. This is a form of presentism – a belief that everything our leader does is just right now even if it invalidates almost everything that came before. And if the next leader invalidates everything that this one has done, then that will be altogether right and true. That is specious nonsense. I would not be part of any church that required me to bounce off the walls like a drunk, depending on whatever the flavor of the day is. The Pope is the successor to Peter, not to Christ. He is guardian of the Magisterium, not master of it. I owe him obedience in the legitimate exercise of his legitimate authority, not the subsummation of my will and moral responsibility before God to His.

Then there are the sedevacantists, those who believe the papacy has been vacant since Pius X or Leo XIII or maybe even Peter. These are those who have gained a little knowledge and think they have a schematic, very much like the original Protestant reformers. However, their knowledge has gaping holes. They idolize the Tridentine Mass like some Protestants idolize the King James Bible (for the record, I have great regard for both) as if God handed these things down like the tablets to Moses. As much respect as I have for them both, I am fully aware that both were worthy innovations some 500 years ago. I wonder sometimes if radical traditionalists were somehow transported whole to the 16th Century how they would behave. Would they rail against the innovation of the Tridentine Mass which, in this century, they love? Where would they fall in the various anti-pope crises that have occasionally roiled the Church? I consider the sedevacantists to merely be the “I want” crowd.

Then there are those who give themselves over to ersatz history, forcing inconvenient facts to fit their various theories. In most of them, freemasons are somehow the villain. (Freemasonry originally was profoundly anti-Catholic – and largely still is in Eastern Europe and Asia particularly – but it has degenerated into a handy all-purpose villain for overheated Catholic conspiracists, sort of like the role Moriarty plays for Sherlock Holmes).

The pragmatic presentists know something is seriously wrong but fear that noticing it might make things worse. Rather than speak candidly they keep their mouths shut and endorse the status quo, kind of like establishment Republicans. I have no little sympathy for this group for it is certainly true that much damage can be done by shooting your mouth off indiscriminately. Diplomacy has a noble purpose that, sadly, taken to extremes, can lead to ignoble ends. The struggle over what to speak, what to retain, how to speak it and when to speak it is a very real one that serious people must always grapple with if they actually want to improve things rather than just make a point.

I have just touched on a few major pathologies roiling serious Catholics these days. In the last month I have been contacted by two theologians seeking my counsel on how many serious Catholics are likely to know certain facts they intended to include in articles they were preparing. They asked to get an idea of how deeply they needed to explain these facts before getting into their main thesis. As you have probably already guessed, Desmond Birch was one of them – and that was a blessing to me. He and I are close enough that I could be very blunt. He was horrified when I suggested only 5% would know…to which I added that if he took a survey, probably only 10% of Priests would know. My take was that we have a lot of very serious, very intelligent Catholics, but that we suffer a very serious knowledge problem. Knowledge is the raw material, the food for the machine. Intelligence is the processor by which we make sense of and organize these raw facts (knowledge) into coherent patterns. Our serious Catholics want to know more, but generally are running on fumes – and the best processors will get bad or no results when they have a serious deficit of fuel. I began to list off prominent Catholic writers to him and asked how astute he thought they are these days. It sobered him. We did come up with a short list of prominent Catholic writers whose knowledge and intelligence is steadfast, but the small size of that list compared with the one of writers who have gone down very big rabbit holes spoke to the problem.

Almost all of this is driven by fear AND by a failure of faith. Many serious Catholics are fearful that the gates of hell actually CAN stand against the Church Christ founded and that there is a danger the Church is going to be destroyed, so they mount plans of their own devising to preserve what Christ said He would preserve. They truly are making the deadly mistake of Job’s pious friends, seeking to defend the God of their own imagination rather than enquire after the reality of God. I have always insisted that truth will stand the test of examination, and so I examine and ruthlessly attack my own propositions, boiling it all down until I get to first things.

In ages of great crisis, great saints have often been on opposite sides of the same issue.  Obviously, that did not detract from their sanctity. In fact, often times it may have contributed with a sort of dynamic tension that brought us to the truth more expeditiously. A fellow once suggested to me that the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10 teaches that we should be like Mary, not Martha. I drily noted to him that both are saints. What is critical is to bring good heart, good will, and (as Job teaches) a healthy respect for reality. If you do this, God will correct your errors and even draw fruit from them. If you stake a position and hunker down, regardless of what facts and evidence show, you will founder.

All that being said, I do think the death of Pope Benedict XVI constitutes a Rubicon moment. For the first three years of his papacy I was an ardent defender of Pope Francis, in spite of his often clumsy and ambiguous announcements. I started re-assessing that during his trip to Cuba and  then Philadelphia in the fall of 2015. I was appalled that he ignored people who were truly suffering under the Cuban regime right in front of him while making gauzy, pious-sounding proclamations. In Philadelphia, his arrival in a Fiat upset me with its ostentatious humility. I have had to work with top-level officials at times. To arrive that way in order to show his humility actually dramatically increased the risk of his security detail. Thank God, nothing happened, but no photo op is worth needlessly endangering the lives of those assigned protect you. I took a much more jaundiced view after those two episodes.

It did not escape me that, increasingly, Pope Francis’ actions always supported heterodox takes on Scripture and the Magisterium and heterodox prelates even when his words sounded soothing. I was flat-out baffled when he described opponents of loosening the rules on the integrity of marriage and the family as “Pharisees.” It made me wonder if he even knew the Gospels. After all, it was the Pharisees who wanted loose rules on marriage (his position) and Jesus who insisted on rigorous rules (his critics’ position). Even so, whatever the ultramontanists might think, we have had more than a few unworthy popes in the past – and the Church has weathered all storms, so I largely stayed away from the controversies, figuring God has His reasons and they will be apparent in His time.

It was in the fall of 2019 that Pope Francis completely lost me. When he accepted the earthen offering to a pagan goddess on the altar of Christ at Mass, I was shaken – and downright horrified when, two days later, he said he knew exactly what it was and thought it proper that it should be there. I considered it to be the abomination which makes desolate, spoken of in Daniel and in the Gospels – and a fundamental breach with the historical continuity of the faith. Even so, I did not shout about it, mostly avoiding the subject. I was soothed by the presence of Pope Emeritus Benedict. My private thought was that, to use Rod Dreher’s felicitous phrase, Francis exercised the administrative and legal authority of the Pope, while Benedict maintained the spiritual connection in eternity. Now that the latter connection has been severed, I think everything must come to a head rather quickly. That the connection was severed as prelude to what I already believed would be a pivotal year in salvation history was very striking.

What most strikes me is that the prelates who actively try to undermine the faith and the historical continuity of the Magisterium constitute a very small minority. It is the same with those who, governmentally, work to undermine the American system and the Christian ethos of Western Civilization, itself. Alexis de Tocqueville showed how carefully the founders had protected America from the tyranny of the majority. Who will protect us from the growing tyranny of the minority when they seize the levers of temporal power?

Much that is good has been passing away over the last decade or so. I consider it the time when the cancer that had been long eating away at the world and the hierarchy began to metastasize. Frightful things are in our future as the passing away of the old completes itself. What will remain is the Church, purified and renewed, and the heart of all those who have held fast to eternal truths even under siege. Do not be paralyzed by the passing of the old. Nor be deceived by all who proclaim that Christ is here or Christ is there if you only do exactly what they tell you. Christ is close to you, right at hand. Take that next right step, calling on Him, and you will be counted among the hands who participated with God in renewing the faith and the face of the world. Be not afraid, for God calls all men to salvation. Follow Him with each step.

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I will speak next Saturday, Jan. 14, at 3 p.m. Eastern Time at JoJo’s Coffee and Goodness, 4652 E Hwy. 20 #102, Niceville, Florida 32578. If you are in the area, I hope to see you there. I will expand on weathering the storm while keeping the faith; living obedience, fortitude and courage as the wind and waves rise up.

 

If communication goes out for any length of time, meet outside your local Church at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Tell friends at Church now in case you can’t then. CORAC teams will be out looking for people to gather in and work with.

Find me on Twitter at @Charlie62394802

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