Category Politics/Culture

Mid-Term Musing: The Coarsening of the American Mind

Thirty-one years ago, the late political philosopher and cultural critic Allan Bloom wrote a book that his publishers expected would sell a paltry few copies to university types. Instead, it went on, in an improbable pre-Internet version of “going viral,” to occupy a high perch on best-seller lists for four months. (And generate heated discussion among the intelligentsia for years after that.)

Its title: “The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students.”

In it, Bloom, a classicist who was admitted to the University of Chicago at age 15 and graduated three years later, excoriated what he saw as the flabbiness of thought, discourse and morality among ‘60s-influenced students and faculty...

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He Who Roared…and Advanced Toward a Supreme Court Seat

Another imaginary exercise: Imagine if Christine Blasey Ford would have come out yesterday not only trembling as she was, but yelling, her forehead in an angry furrow, her neck cords straining:

“This hearing is a SHAM! None of you Republican senators are interested in the truth!! You’re just going through the motions here so you can get to vote your man in and say you’ve given me a fair hearing. The behavior of several of you on this committee who have already made clear how you will vote is an embarrassment. But at least it was just a good old-fashioned attempt at keeping women down. We all know about that; it has a long and dismal history in this country. But I reject this entire charade, this revenge of the Trumps, fueled by millions of dollars in money from outside right-wing opposition groups. It is a national disgrace, but you won’t silence me. You may defeat me in the final vote, but y...

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Dear Senate Judiciary Committee:

Dear Senate Judiciary Committee: I come before you as a survivor of sexual assault when I was a 15-year-old girl. It is a memory of such deep and abiding pain that I have spent a good portion of my life since then attempting to bury it, forget it, put it behind me. None of these attempts have been successful.

As adults we tell stories of our childhood injuries. Falls from bikes leading to broken arms. Bites by dogs. Badly sprained ankles from encountering a gopher hole. All of these stick in our memory. While we may not remember the date or exactly who was there, other details remain crystalline: the furrow on the brow of our father as he leaned over and beheld our ghastly crooked arm; the way the sun glinted off the dog’s back as it came running toward us growling; the squiggled, colorful notes our classmates wrote on our walking casts.

We all know that human memory is imperfect and full of gaps, but ...

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John McCain’s Call to Our Humble Better Angels

So many words now about John McCain. Soaring, eloquent tributes, bitter reminders about his less savory words and stances, implicit rebukes at yesterday’s memorial to the relentless degradation of our democracy and basic decency by he-who-was-not-named.

McCain was many things, but in the end, among the countless stirring images and words from the proceedings of the past few days, what has perhaps struck me most is what a master strategist he turned out to be. Taking the full measure of his own demise, the man orchestrated down to every last dotted “i” and crossed “t” his own powerful rejoinder to the travesty of the current administration while reminding the assembled legislators in particular of the responsibilities they bear in pursuit of the common good.

Not, mind you, “the Republican good,” or the “Democratic good,” but the common, American good, the people’s good.

Toward that end, I ...

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The Vilification of Hillary Clinton

I used to watch Roller Derby when I was a boy. The fastest skaters would race out ahead trying to lap the pack, and if they did, their teammates would work to pick off the opposing skaters with body slams and worse, so that the speedster could pass them and score a point. Pass four skaters, get four points. Meanwhile, if the opposing team’s speedsters were approaching to try scoring some points of their own, the lead skater on your team could pop his or her hands down crisply on their hips and thereby “call off the jam.” This would end that particular play, with all the skaters then cruising a few laps before the referee started the next play.

I’ve found “calling off the jam” a handy metaphor ever since, both for my own private distempers and for larger public activities and conflicts when it struck me that we would all benefit if the main antagonists could only place their hands on their ...

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