Funerals, Fences, Popes and Presidents

The President of the United States cannot be bothered to attend the funeral of the most distinguished Supreme Court Justice of the past half-century, the billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television-show mogul who is currently leading the Republicans’ race to become the next president is having a “twitter” fight with the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church over who’s the better Christian, and we are reminded yet again that we live in strange and contentious times.
President Barack Obama reportedly paid his respects to Justice Antonin Scalia while the late jurist lie in state, and that will have to do while Obama plots to seat a replacement who will undo all of Scalia’s good works. He’s insisting that the inevitable knock-down-dragpout barroom brawl to follow will be conducted in the most civil and mutually respectful way possible, and his spokesman has expressed his regret about his past attempt as a Senator to thwart another president’s Supreme Court appointment, which he now realizes is an awful thing for any senator to ever do to a president, and his friends in the media are earnestly hoping that the crazy right-wingers in the Republican party will be reasonable about a loony left-wing appointment despite their deep-seated racism, but it doesn’t seem off to a good start.
We expect the Republican response won’t include any of those racist slurs or subtle insinuations that the Democratic press is always so eagerly awaiting, but neither do we expect that it be at all polite, and certainly not so capitulatory as what the Democrats would consider reasonable. A few Republicans up for re-election in the most uncertain election year in anybody’s living memory might go wobbly, but those with safe red state seats, which aren’t even safe in these days of widespread burn-it-all-down sentiment, will feel the same pressure of public opinion not to budge an inch. They have the long history of resistance to lame duck appointments and the Democrats’ role in it on their side, as well, if anybody cares about that sort of thing anymore, so Obama can’t reasonably hope for any more respect than he’s shown.
As the late and great Yogi Berra famously noted, “You should always go to other people’s funerals or they won’t go to yours,” and once upon a more civil and mutually respectful era of political knock-down-drag-out barroom brawls a president would have least put on a necktie to announce the death of even an ideologically opposed Supreme Court justice.
Once up on that more civil and mutually respectful era, however, you didn’t get “twitter” fights between Republicans and Pontiffs. The whole mess started when Pope Francis paid an extended visit to Mexico that included a brief prayer near the host country’s border with the United States. The Pope is an Argentinian and adherent of the socialistic “social gospel” and pretty much typical of international liberalism on all matters except sex and certain age-old doctrines that only Catholic need concern themselves with, so the prayer was widely interpreted as a political message, so one might conclude he started it all. Still, it would have gone largely ignored by the press north of the border, however, and would have been entirely ignored by the staid old Republican candidates of the good old funeral-going and necktie-wearing days, but these days the party’s front-runner is a billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-television mogul who couldn’t resist “tweeting” that the spiritual leader of the world’s many hundreds of millions of Catholics is “a pawn of the Mexican government.” Such is the diplomatic savvy of the man who promises to make America great again, and these days we shouldn’t be surprised that it prompted such a clumsy response from the socialist Pope that a boastful, foul-mouthed, handicapped-mocking, proudly cuckolding, thrice-married, four-times-bankrupt gambling mogul, who has explained he is a forgiveness-seeking Christian only to the extent that “I eat my little cracker, drink my little wine,” somehow comes off looking better.
Pope Francis, who surely deserves some respect as the spiritual leader of the world’s many hundreds of millions of Catholics, and can surely be forgiven for not fully understanding the complexities of the most uncertain American election year of anybody’s memory, was of course asked about Trump’s “tweets,” which he might have understood of are the utmost importance in these strange and contentious times, and through interpreters that we can’t vouch for he wound up saying that there was something un-Christian about Trump’s anti-immigration policies. Although we really do have great respect for the Catholic faith, and are rooting hard for the Little Sisters of the Poor to prevail in their court case and not have to pay that damnable Obamacare contraception mandate, something in our Protest and Republican souls must politely disagree. Our objections to unfettered illegal immigration are based the severe economic and cultural and political damage it has done in this country, but is also based on a belief that siphoning off the most industrious and resourceful citizens of the Third World who can thrive in America does no favor to their countries of origin, and that allowing those poorer countries to use the west as a dumping ground for their more unskilled and even criminal element allow them forestall the necessary reforms to make their own countries livable, and that the “social gospel” does provide the blueprint. Calling one’s faith into question over such matters is wrong, even by the degraded standards of American politics, and it puts us in the uncomfortable position of defending Donald J. Trump.
Which is not to say that we believe the Pope is a “pawn of the Mexican government,” any more than we believe that “Bush lied, people died” or all the “birther” claims or any of Trump’s crazed conspiracy theories, or that Donald J. Trump is a more exemplary Christian that the Pope or even the lowliest sinner who will confess that he falls short of the glory of God, but rather to say that we’re living in such strange and contentious times that Trump gets the best of it. He “tweets” his indignation that anyone would question anyone’s Christianity, even though Trump has lately been saying that pesky rival-for-frontrunner-status Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is not a Christian because he lies by showing old videos of Trump saying things he says he doesn’t believe anymore, and has mocked onetime-rival Dr. Ben Carson’s claims of finding a spiritual path from his childhood rage, which Trump said was “pathological” and therefore incurable and that Carson was akin to a child molester, and he’ll likely prevail. The socialist Pope isn’t popular, not even with us, no matter how respectful we strive to be, and Trump’s a hot item in the press, despite his negatives in all the polls, at least until he wins the nomination, when all the horror stories start to show up in the media he’s supposedly been so skillfully playing.
These are strange and contentious times, and we doubt any of these guys from the Vatican to the White House to top of Trump Tower to the cheap-rent headquarters of those pesky rivals have any idea how it will play out. The Democratic race offers no hope, and is in fact at least as big a mess even without any papal intervention, so we’ll wait and see. All we know with any certainty is that it won’t be civil, and neckties won’t be required.

— Bud Norman

Another Boring, Slightly Annoying Marriage Spat

The Supreme Court didn’t go so far as to declare same-sex marriage a constitutional right and strike down all the remaining state laws against it, but the justices went far enough on Wednesday that all the homosexual rights advocates were celebrating. Reaction among those less enthusiastic about the cause seems to have ranged from slightly annoyed to thoroughly bored with the whole topic.
In two separate decisions a five-to-four majority of the Justices struck down the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that denies certain federal benefits such as tax breaks and pension rights to same-sex couples, and declared that the clear majority of Californians who approved a referendum against same-sex marriage have no standing to defend the law against a state court’s decision to overturn the law. The former decision is expected to affect 100,000 couples or so, with Canada’s experience suggesting that same-sex marriages will remain a rarity for many years to come, and the latter overturns a law that would almost certainly be voted down by Californians today anyway, so we’re inclined to the thoroughly bored end of the spectrum.
There’s enough within the decisions to move us toward slightly annoyed, however. As Justice Antonin Scalia rightly noted in an admirably pugnacious dissenting opinion, the majority decision brands anyone who defends the traditional definition of marriage as a gay-hating bigot and “enemies of the human race.” We know enough fine people who oppose same-sex marriage to know that the opinion is not necessarily proof of some gay-bashing hatred, and we hate to see the necessary discussion about the matter limited by an anti-anti-homosexual stigma. The mayors of several large American cities have threatened reprisals against a business whose owners have express dissenting opinions, a once-respected civil rights organization has declared anti-same-sex-marriage advocates “hate groups” and provided a maps for any crazed gun-toting pro-same-sex-marriage nutcases to find them, and the entertainment and news media have piled on to disparage any dissenting opinion on the issue, so we would much prefer that the Supreme Court not take judicial notice of the stigma. The president has stated that he will not force churches to perform same-sex marriage in violation of their belies, but there’s some scary about the fact that he feels obliged to offer such reassurances.
In of those hilarious ironies that characterize modern politics Proposition Eight only passed in ‘08 because Barack Obama’s presidential campaign brought out unprecedented numbers of black and Hispanic who were not up-to-date on the white folks’ latest opinions, but there’s still something unsettling about the Court’s ruling that those voters have no standing in court when their collective opinion is negated by some judge. Given the sorry state of the state of California’s political class, referenda are the only means the beleaguered citizenry has its disposal of setting things right on a number of other issues, so the precedent is troubling. The decision also smacks of the governing class’ contempt for the will of power, so clearly on display in the passage of Obamacare and in the recent debate on illegal immigration, and this is more than slightly annoying.
We don’t begrudge our many homosexual friends their celebration, though, and with our best wishes for their happiness we are also pleased that the Court did not go so far as to declare same-sex marriage a constitutional right and overturn all the remaining laws against it. Some are longing for the day when a judge will bang his gavel and decree that henceforth all Americans will assume a fashionable admiration for homosexuality, but Americans tend to be more independently-minded and such a ruling would only provoke a public backlash of the sort that has lately arisen in such unlikely locations as France. A bored reaction by the pubic is much preferable, as people work out their relationships with a diverse rest of the world without the clumsy bullying of government and tolerance for differing points of view. There’s been a remarkable evolution of opinion between the time President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act and the day he applauded it being declared largely unconstitutional, indeed a dizzying and slightly unsettling pace for more for such Burkean as ourselves, and advocates of same-sex marriage should not presume that it can’t change just as remarkably once again.

— Bud Norman