“Be not troubled”

I am somewhat amused to see that people are now looking at my “Trump will not save you post”. It’s a tad late now!

As I’ve mentioned before, the US election was in many respects lost some time ago, when it became the Alien vs Predator election. However, as I happened to mention on Facebook today, I actually feel completely calm at the latest turn of events (although I am disappointed Utah ultimately voted for Trump). This is not because I believe bad things won’t happen. In fact I’ve repeatedly posted about how they will. I also believe the scriptural warnings I mention here in the Book of Mormon are especially relevant.

But as I stated on Facebook, its those same warnings that paint a bigger picture. There are certain things that must happen, to pave the way and make room for things – including good things – that are to come. And so I feel reassured when I see prophecy unfold, even if it foretells unwise choices and unfortunate events in the short term, because it shows a greater hand is involved. Human nations and civilisations may and will crumble, and politics won’t save anyone, but the human soul and divine promises are eternal. God will not save certain nations from their mistakes, but he will deliver the faithful and those who seek to do right.

On a personal and selfish note, I’d like to thank the American electorate for making the third and fifth chapters of my thesis much more relevant. 🙂

Trump will not save you

I’m still trying to finish my thesis, but outside events do catch my attention from time to time. The US election is obvious a big one. This is a topic I’ve written about at length from time to time. I really do feel that – at least for those on the political right (the Left will have their own trials) – Trumpism is a test of character: one I fear that many have failed. But I am proud and have been rather gratified that many Latter-day Saints have proved resistant to Trump’s charms, such as they are. I would thus be really glad for Utah to vote for a third party, if it only has symbolic immediate consequence (I happen to believe the long-term consequences would be even more important).

However, there are obviously some members who feel differently. That may be for a variety of reasons, some of which I can sympathise with even if I believe it is mistaken. Other arguments I find less sympathetic, such as the arguments found here. I happened to respond to some snippets of that in the comments of another blog, but since I took the time thought I share my response here too, in case anyone else was wondering:


The Truth About Evan McMullin

Rather amusingly, the article swiftly admits they don’t actually know much about Evan McMullin’s career (though they find it surprising that CIA work might be considered “secret”. So what follows is mostly built on the boiler-plate anti-establishment ramblings of an “establishment” conspiracy, where “establishment” includes any rich people not named Donald J. Trump. None of it is based on verifiable facts about one Evan McMullin.

There is a powerful and established section of the Republican leadership (elected officials, party members, big donors) who do not support the values of grassroots conservative Republicans.

And Donald Trump does?

But How? Enter the Mormon Suckers. I am proud to be a Mormon so it pains me to say what I am about say. When the GOP Establishment Never Trumpers and their Clinton allies went looking for a 3rd party spoiler they needed someone with a constituency of sheeple who would follow him regardless of the obvious logical outcome (President Hillary)

“Suckers” and “sheeple”, eh? Good to see the author thinks well of their fellow saints. They then go on to talk about a “weak-minded demographic”. Hmmm…

The Mormon demographic is overwhelmingly pro-life, pro-family, anti-communist, and protective of the Constitution they believe was divinely inspired. So how do you get these folks to throw an election to Hillary Clinton, someone whom most of them revile? It’s a complex but straightforward sociological scheme. In addition to being hardworking, God fearing, Mom, Apple Pie and Baseball loving Americans, Mormons are also some of the biggest suckers in the nation.

Or maybe it’s because you (the author and fellow-travellers) nominated an adulterous, authoritarian, proto-Fascistic sex offender!?

Utah leads the nation in financial fraud schemes.

Considering Trump university, this really starts to look like its projecting. If you’re afraid of fraud, don’t vote for the fraudster!

What follows is a hypothetical extrapolation of the results of a Hillary President – one that revolves around the worst case scenario I might add. For some reason there’s no similar weighing up of the consequences of a Trump presidency, where the Alt-Right run rampant, the 1st Amendment is similarly gutted, and Trump starts a nuclear war at 3am because Xi Jinping said something less than complimentary about him on Twitter.

It’s also rather hilarious that they speak of Hillary’s spending bankrupting the nation, when Trump’s also proposing increased spending… and he’s the one with the track record of going bankrupt.

Read Dennis Prager’s excellent article ‘In Defense of Pro-Trump Christians,’ and then join the millions of other Christians who will be voting Trump to save our country from the terrible alternative.

Many of those Christians (and Dennis Prager) have sold their principles for a mess of pottage. What happened to “character matters”? What happened to principles above that of national aggrandisement? What happened to seeking for one’s nation to be good, and not merely great? Trump won’t save anyone. It verges on blasphemous and idolatrous to look to him as a Saviour. And Prager’s statement that “We hold that defeating Hillary Clinton, the Democrats, and the Left is also a principle. And that it is the greater principle” literally violates the first commandment.

You need to encourage the less likely voters to go the polls and you need to keep them from the conman.

Please Mormons don’t get suckered into the Con of the Century

This is grimly amusing, considering their claim McMullin is a conman is a baseless slur, while Trump is actually a defendant in a current court case involving fraud!

And sadly, I’ve seen that hypocrisy all too often. To my mind, if there’s one big reason to never vote or support Trump, it’s because almost every one of his supporters seems to lose their moral compass swiftly thereafter.


 

The above was only a brief response to an argument that I’ve sadly seen all too often, though not from LDS sources. Unfortunately, this argument – that any and every principle should be sacrificed so long as Hillary Clinton is defeated is wrong. Were I American, I would not desire Hillary Clinton as President. I’d oppose many of her policies, and be concerned at her tendency for evasion, unaccountability and dishonesty. But she’s not Hitler! But even if the document concerned was absolutely right about the dangers of a Hillary Clinton presidency, to suggest that defeating her is the highest principle presupposes that the highest good is national survival, and our greatest concern the political conditions within it.

Scripture says differently:

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

(Exodus 20:3)

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

(Matthew 10:28)

Even religious liberty – while valuable and something we should strive to protect – is not the most valuable principle. The Church through the ages has survived and even thrived under persecution, however unpleasant it may be to experience. Apostasies happen not because of persecution, but because the people go after strange gods, in this case gods of national pride, anger and political power.

To vote for Trump would be to choose a wicked man. That would be bad enough (“When the wicked rule the people mourn”, D&C 98:9), but it also involves surrendering higher principles. To select a man who openly and pathologically lies (look up the whole “John Barron” case) is to abandon the standard of honesty. To choose a predator who not only boasts of adultery, but has boasted of sexual assault is to make any defence of the family sheer hypocrisy. To choose a man who has pledged to order torture and retaliatory killings (that is, war crimes): to follow a course that we particularly as Latter-day Saints should be aware was followed by the Nephites and Jaredites of old, for which they were utterly destroyed.

I believe one can already see some of the moral consequences of the Trump campaign clearly. There’s the sudden increase – in just five years – of Evangelical acceptance of immorality in political leaders. There’s the mainstreaming of the fascistic and racist ideals of the so-called “Alt-Right”. There’s what some of the vocal opponents to Trump are already experiencing at the hands of his supporters. I believe to support him runs serious risks to one’s sense of integrity and morality. We know it does not profit a man to gain the whole world at the cost of his soul, but to gain Trump?

I also believe, however, that there can be lasting consequences for passing the Trumpian test. LDS resistance to Trump has attracted media attention in both the US and in the UK, and doubtless elsewhere too. I believe the idea that there is something in the Church that has helped people see with moral clarity will attract the honest in heart. Resisting Trump is not only the right thing to do, but it may well attract some to the message of the restored gospel, a message that will be of far longer-lasting importance than the fate of any nation.

Why I am voting leave

I am voting for the UK to leave the European Union in Thursday’s referendum. This will be of little surprise to anyone who’s spoken to me on the subject at any time over the last twenty years. However, as the referendum approached I wanted to elaborate on my decision, particularly as I’ve seen some people express some confusion over the whole topic. There seems to be some sort of belief in some quarters that if we had all the “facts”, that there would be a single obvious correct decision. But that’s not how human beings or politics work. The issues at stake in the referendum are not simply a matter of empirical facts, they’re about principles. I happen to believe that some principles are more correct than others, but it’s not the sort of thing one can establish by simple numbers.

 

First principles

It’s worth establishing some basic principles that go into my thinking:

  1. The worth of the individual human soul is supernal. As a Christian and a Latter-day Saint, I believe human beings to be eternal, and and that the exercise of our agency plays a crucial part in fulfilling the purpose of our life here on earth (D&C 101:77-78). By political conviction, I believe that freedom under a just law is essential to allowing human beings the opportunity to express their full potential.
  2. In contrast, all governments, nations and political institutions will have an eventual end. No state lasts forever. For this reason I am patriot, not a nationalist, as there are principles that are more important and longer significance than national aggrandizement. In the long run both the EU and UK will cease to exist. Combining that with the above leads to:
  3. The legitimacy of government depends upon the extent to which it protects liberty (especially of conscience) and life. Government was made for man, not man for government. Any government that does not serve these purposes is not legitimate, no matter what it is based upon or how it is selected. Democracy, after all, is not the same as liberty; where those conflict, I come down squarely in favour of the latter.

It’s entirely possibly, of course, for people to share the same principles but disagree about the means, and for people of good faith to disagree about what political policies would best meet good principles. However, I believe that there are several principles connected with the above that would be best served by leaving the European Union.

 

Why leave the European Union

 

Accountability

I believe the ability to hold governments and their officials accountable is an essential part of their being able to serve their purposes as outlined above. I see, however, little evidence of any such accountability where the European Union is concerned.

Accountability is not precisely the same as democracy: it’s possible for a system to be democratic, and yet not accountable. It’s the downside of at least some proportional representation systems, such as the closed-list system we use for MEPs in this country (though that’s our fault, not the EU’s). MEPs are allotted according to the party vote, and then individuals become MEPs according to their position on a list by their respective parties. Of course, that makes it nearly impossible for the public to remove any particular individual from their position so long as they’re in good standing with their party. Similar difficulties can be seen on the continent, where the coincidence of PR and a tendency towards grand coalitions in some countries mean that the same governing coalition can be perpetuated for decades, no matter the election results.

On to the EU. The primary role in proposing, initiating and executing EU legislation resides with the European Commission, an unelected body who combine the role of the Executive (think the Prime Minister, or the US President) and the civil service. The idea that they somehow count as elected because they are selected by national governments should be immediately fallacious to anyone considering similar such nominated posts (such as in Quangos) in this country. Our commissioners in particular often end up being politicians who have been rejected by the electorate at home: a near perfect demonstration of unaccountability, where their accountability to the electorate at home has been rewarded with new powers abroad. The Commission is theoretically accountable to the EU Parliament, but the Commission enjoys broad powers in shaping how legislation is implemented, while the Parliament itself is also a subject of concerning between the party groupings and turn out figures for its elections.

Another example of how this lack of accountability manifests itself can be seen in responses to other referendums. The Republic of Ireland voted no via referendum for both the treaty of Nice and Lisbon; in both cases a second referendum was held shortly thereafter that provided a yes result. The French and Dutch referendums on the EU constitution were effectively rendered null and void when said constitution was largely incorporated via the treaty of Lisbon. And of course both the Brown government and Cameron reneged on pledges regarding referendums on the EU constitution and Lisbon treaty respectively. Such unaccountability makes it more likely that government can serve its own interests, not those of the people it is supposedly serving, and more likely that it can become corrupt.

As I shall elaborate on below, however, I do not think this unaccountability can be corrected. It’s an inevitable part of such a system.

 

Self-government

A second major reason I believe it is important to leave the European Union is the principle of self-government. In order to preserve freedom, to help ensure local government and to encourage people to make the fullest use of their potential, government decisions should be made as close to the people affecting them, and ideally by them, as possible. It’s good for people to govern themselves, rather than have solutions imposed upon individuals, families or communities. This is also a matter of efficiency: it is impossible to micromanage everything from the centre, since such efforts cannot respond to local situations, or even obtain good enough information to properly be aware of them. Attempts to fix problems inevitably become bureaucratic exercises in reporting, which consume time and energy and make things even worse. We see that happen in the UK  as it is.

Theoretically, the EU subscribes to the principle of “subsidiarity”, which embraces this idea that decisions should be made closest to the people affected by them. However, in practice the EU sees no problem in legally imposing uniform regulations, often involving the smallest matters, across the EU. In practice, then, regulations and rules are often made at an even higher layer of administration than they otherwise would be. The logic of “ever closer union” (as coined in the 1957 treaty of Rome, establishing the EEC) leaves no stopping point for efforts to try and enforce uniformity. Decisions that should be the remit of the national government, or lower still, are deemed to require uniform rules across an entire continent.

This lack of self-government can be seen in other areas. Remain campaigners sometimes mention EU spending projects. Yet – since the UK is net contributor – what these represent is the UK providing funds to the EU, of which the EU provides a portion back to spend in a fashion authorised by EU officials. Any such projects could have easily been paid for without sending the money to Brussels, and without the conditions and strings that get attached. Do those mentioning these projects feel that EU officials are the people best placed to determine the priorities for the people of the UK? Likewise there is mention from the political left of labour laws and so on. But not a single one of those laws could not be made at home. The implicit concession in such statements is that they feel they are unable to persuade the British electorate of the advantages of these laws, and so they must be imposed from abroad. I’m not sure that’s a political argument to boast of: “we can’t get British citizens to agree with us, so we must stay in the EU so our political preferences can be enforced by foreign officials.” It’s rank hypocrisy when it comes from the SNP, who campaign for Scottish self-government, but feel the English must not have it as they’re not left-wing enough (and yes, if the Scottish people wanted to exercise self-government outside of association with the UK, I think that would be perfectly proper, provided it’s their own choice).

And it’s really the principle of self-government that I see affecting things like immigration. I’m in favour of restricting immigration, but I could see circumstances where it’d be better to open it up. But such a decision, which can significantly affect the social and cultural make up of a nation, should be made by those affected by it. Whether we want to increase or decrease immigration isn’t really the key point; the key point is that whatever we want to do, that decision should be made by the British people

 

Identity

There’s a third reason I personally am favour of leaving the EU, which comes down to a simple matter of identity.

Identities can overlap, of course. The Scottish referendum two years back hinged on how people weighed their identities as British and Scottish, and whether they saw them as compatible. I myself, after personally seeing myself as “me”, have identities as a follower of Christ, as a Latter-day Saint, as English, as a Westerner and as British. Some of those take priority over others – I see myself as English more than I see myself as British – but those don’t cancel each other out.

What I don’t see myself as is “European”.

I’m sure some people do, and I won’t speak for them. But I don’t feel “European” in any more than a geographical and ethnic sense, which isn’t much in my book. I find myself largely agreeing with Bismark, that Europe is a “geographical expression”. Culturally I find more in common with my coreligionists, or my fellow English speakers, than people who simply share the same continent as myself. And whenever attempts are made to codify “European values”, I can’t help but find I don’t fit in (though that might be because said values tend to be less “European” values, than “Guardian readers” values). I can’t think of anything other than geographical location that I share with other Europeans, but not with an inhabitant of North America or Australia or wherever. And that’s not going to change: we’re voting to leave the European Union, not to tow the UK further into the Atlantic.

As said, I’m sure others feel differently. But I don’t believe there’s a huge majority of such people. And that’s a problem that ties into the above concerns with accountability and self-government. The EU is structured as a (rather deficient) democracy. But there is no European demos (people). Rather there are lots of different peoples with very different interests. Thus there is no single “public” to hold EU leaders to account, no single public to debate issues (just think of how media is divided, even just by linguistic issues). In practice, the EU can’t function as a democracy; the bureaucracy is simply an inevitable consequence. Likewise any decision made at the EU level will smack of undermining self-government, and any decision will be one national interest prevailing over another. No EU leader is in a position to try and persuade the European people, because there is no unified European people to persuade. And as I am not a European, I reject the notion of any “European” government presuming to rule over me.

 

Other matters

There’s a couple of things that I haven’t addressed above, mainly because I don’t see them as the most important issues, but I’ll briefly mention them here.

Firstly, there’s concerns that voting to leave is an expression of xenophobia. It’s aggravating when those accusations come from people less acquainted with foreign affairs than oneself, and from people on the internet who seem to lack the ability to spell in English, let alone other languages (Boris Johnson seems to express similar frustration here, pointing out amongst other things that his family “are the genetic equivelent of a UN peacekeeping force”). Are there likely to be xenophobes supporting the Leave campaign? Yes. Then again, there’s unreconstructed Stalinists supporting the Remain campaign, but I’m not accusing Cameron of wanting to finish off the Kulaks.

There’s also suggestions, spread by our Prime Minister alas, that the European Union has kept the peace since World War 2, and that leaving the EU presents security risks and could even lead to a world war. Which is nonsense. Setting aside the 3rd World War for the moment (which alas is likely to happen at some point in the future, though will probably not be affected one way or the other by Brexit), the peace in Europe was secured by the military standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union, and particularly the threat of escalation to nuclear warfare. It was MAD (mutually assured destruction), not the EEC, which stopped a shooting war from happening in Europe. Notice that when the Cold War ended shooting wars did start up again in Europe (Yugoslavia, anyone?), and it was US military intervention, not European treaties, that ended them. The United States and Russia (though the latter is much diminished) are still the major military players on the European scene, and the EU has benefited from relying on the former’s security umbrella. That security umbrella is now looking rather leaky, but due to political developments in the United States rather than anywhere else, and in or out, the UK will likely need new security policies.

Thirdly, some speak of us losing influence, by losing our vote on European forums. This seems postulated on two doubtful assertions: 1) That seeking to exert influence over our neighbours at the price of our own self-government is beneficial to the British people. 2) That we get our way in these arguments. One look at our track record in attempting to secure reform of the Common Agricultural Policy – or for that matter one look at Cameron’s attempts to secure a deal to keep Britain in the EU – should show we rarely secure such influence. There is no great influence to be found in joining a club to be consistently outvoted. And some of those making this argument – such as the US government – don’t really have our interests at heart. They simply want us to be the American trade delegate in the EU, a position they feel we should be honoured with. I disagree.

Finally I have not commented on economic issues. That’s partly because things here are more balanced. Leaving the EU will not lead to economic utopia, and will probably require hard work. On the other hand, staying in the EU won’t lead to economic utopia either. The EU is a major destination for our exports, and potential new trade barriers could cause problems with that. On the other hand, the EU exports more to us than we send to them, so punitive restrictions would punish them more than us (and if our fellow EU members are petty and nasty enough to punish us even if it hurts them, that’s another reason to leave). On the Remain side of the ledger, however, is the risks posed by the Euro and economic troubles in Southern Europe dragging the whole thing down. It should be remembered that many of the so-called “experts” (some of whom were not experts at all: there are few job qualifications for a politician) who are claiming leaving the EU will lead to ruin are the same people who argued back in the 1990s and early 2000s that staying out of the Euro would also be disastrous. Their judgement is self-evidently faulty, and a number of nations have paid the price.

There are economic risks either side, and those who are hoping to have an option without economic risk will be forever disappointed. Moreover, “man shall not live by bread alone”: even if only leaving posed economic risks, they would be worth taking because the principles of self-government and accountable government are worth far more. We have a unique opportunity to exercise that self-government for ourselves, and hopefully use it to secure a freer and more accountable government for the future.

 

O ye fair ones

Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.

(Mormon 8:35)

I am driven to read and understand the Book of Mormon and the other scriptures for a number of reasons. Doing my doctoral thesis on the topic is part of that. But more importantly than this – and a major part of the reason I’ve been willing to spend years on this in the first place – is the fact that I’ve had a spiritual witness that it is scripture, that it is the word of God. As such I know that they contain principles of eternal worth, as well as things that are prophetically relevant to our present day.

And, as I’ve mentioned before, there are parts of the Book of Mormon that I believe have never been more relevant than they are today. While part of the message of the Book of Mormon is one of hope and deliverance for scattered Israel (including the descendents of the Lamanites), that deliverance is coupled with the promise of judgment upon the proud, the wicked and the Gentiles that have oppressed them:

For behold, saith the prophet, the time cometh speedily that Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men; for the day soon cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day cometh that they must be burned.

For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous.

Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.

(1 Nephi 22:15-17)

I’ve likewise discussed before how this warning applies particularly to the Gentile nations of the West, and especially to the United States. The accounts of the destruction of the Nephites and afterwards (in the book, earlier chronologically) the Jaredites are there not just because they’re part of the story, but as dire warnings of what we risk. They’re in the book so that “ye may learn to be more wise than we have been” (Mormon 9:31) and “that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done” (Ether 2:11).

 

“Be more wise than we have been”

One could examine both the fall of the Nephites and that of the Jaredites at length, but even just a few of their salient features are striking. The Jaredites destroyed themselves in the last of a constant series of civil wars. And while many of those civil wars can be laid at the feet of ambitious princes (it appears it was the custom for the youngest son to inherit, which would promote strife between older sons who could be disinherited and their fathers), at the end it was the communal will of the people that pushed them on into mutual annihilation. Coriantumr, that last and complicated king of the Jaredites, had grown to regret his failure to repent, and offered to “give up the kingdom for the sake of the lives of the people” (Ether 15:3-4). His opponent Shiz demanded Coriantumr’s own life, but we don’t even hear of Coriantumr’s response; rather it is “the people”, both of Coriantumr and Shiz, who were “stirred up to anger” (Ether 15:5-6). It is because of “the wilfulness of their hearts, seeking for blood and revenge” that the Jaredite people perished (Moroni 9:23).

Our account of the Nephites is explicitly censored by our chief witness (Mormon 2:18), but enough slips through (especially in unedited passages like Moroni 9) to provide a sufficient picture. The Nephites faced an external enemy, the Lamanites, who by this stage were prepared to commit atrocities such as human sacrifice (Mormon 4:14). Yet despite this outer peril, it was not this which destroyed the Nephites. “Because of the hardness of their hearts the land was cursed for their sake” (Mormon 1:17), and they sorrowed, not because they were penitent but because “the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin” (Mormon 2:13). They “did curse God, and wish to die”, though “they would struggle with the sword for their lives” (Mormon 2:14; perhaps we might the latter admirable, yet that is perhaps a sign of how far we have fallen). In but “a few years” they became “strong in their perversion”, “brutal”, “without principle and past feeling” and “their wickedness [did] exceed that of the Lamanites” (Moroni 9:12, 19-20).

But perhaps the most crucial turning point came after a ten year truce and the resumption of the war. Lead by Mormon, the Nephites defeated several attacks. Their response was fateful:

And now, because of this great thing which my people, the Nephites, had done, they began to boast in their own strength, and began to swear before the heavens that they would avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren who had been slain by their enemies.

And they did swear by the heavens, and also by the throne of God, that they would go up to battle against their enemies, and would cut them off from the face of the land.

And when they had sworn by all that had been forbidden them by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that they would go up unto their enemies to battle, and avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren, behold the voice of the Lord came unto me, saying:

Vengeance is mine, and I will repay; and because this people repented not after I had delivered them, behold, they shall be cut off from the face of the earth.

(Mormon 3:9-10, 14-15)

The Nephites fell because of their pride (Mormon 8:27, D&C 38:39), because rather than repent of their sins they desired to avenge themselves upon their enemies, and in so doing so violated God’s commandments (including those restricting warfare) wantonly. “Every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually” (Mormon 4:11), and consequently the Lord’s spirit ceased to strive with them (Mormon 5:16), and when that happens “then cometh speedy destruction” (2 Nephi 26:11).

 

“I speak unto you as if ye were present”

How can one miss the meaning of these passages? Mormon and Moroni write with one eye on their past and present, but always with one eye to the future they are seeking to warn. For the Gentiles too face the same fate unless they repent:

And then, O ye Gentiles, how can ye stand before the power of God, except ye shall repent and turn from your evil ways?

Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God? Know ye not that he hath all power, and at his great command the earth shall be rolled together as a scroll?

Therefore, repent ye, and humble yourselves before him, lest he shall come out in justice against you—lest a remnant of the seed of Jacob shall go forth among you as a lion, and tear you in pieces, and there is none to deliver.

(Mormon 5:22-24)

I have watched the US Presidential campaign with intense concern. On one side there is the increasing madness on the campuses and the anger expressed by those who claim to seek “social justice” even as they detach themselves from any concepts of objective truth. On the other, I have watched as people have embraced a figure who appears to reject every principle they claim they embraced, a man who is an inveterate and pathological liar and one who has boasted of his adulteries. I have seen that candidate advocate torture and insist he will order war crimes, and his ratings go up. I have heard even worse from some of his supporters, many of whom (even those who aren’t actual Nazis) embrace a proto-fascism. I have seen and read many of his supporters talk of their “anger”, their desire for vengeance on their perceived enemies, and their belief that everything – including any kind of moral principle – comes second to raw power and making America “great” again.

It is perhaps little surprising that the word of God says of the latter days that “at that day shall he [the devil] rage in the hearts of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good” (2 Nephi 28:20). I have felt that temptation myself as I have seen these things. But anger and pride will destroy us, as they destroyed the Nephites who sought to make Nephitia great again.

One cannot establish justice – any justice – without truth. One cannot make a nation truly great unless you also seek for it to be good, a principle understood by at least some patriots of old. Yet these seem little understood now. On the right, a few voices still speak out speaking against Trump. My respect for those voices – figures such as the Bush clan, Mitt Romney, Senator Ben Sasse or political commentators such as Jonah Goldberg – has increased significantly. But they seem increasingly lonely as much of the ‘base’ and political establishment fall in line, and they are vilified as “evil”; truly we live in an age in which men “call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Our societies are embracing evil.

I cannot claim to know with perfection what the future brings, but I am pessimistic as to the future of the United States and the West as a whole. I believe events like this present election have been a test, and a test that collectively is being failed. But I also believe there is an individual test here, and where people stand on many of these things will be remembered and accounted for. I have been very glad to see that many Latter-day Saints have rejected the siren song of Trumpism, and I hope Utah and other places continue to do so. For those members who I have seen embrace Trump’s campaign, who I have seen express the view that all acts are acceptable in warfare because the only thing that matters is winning, and who have embraced a campaign built on national aggrandizement without principle, I hope that they look again upon the Book of Mormon. I hope they look and see an all too familiar path and turn away from it, because to support these things is to pull down the wrath of God upon ourselves.

There may be little hope for the West as a whole. All civilizations are ultimately mortal. Yet there is still hope, and always is, for the souls within, which are truly eternal, and so we must continue to labour (Moroni 9:6). But this is a period in which – in many different ways – those souls will have to choose, and many of those choices will have eternal significance, regardless of where the rest of society goes. There is also a work that perhaps we should now turn to with increasing seriousness and determination, namely the work of building Zion; something, which should now be apparent, which is not the culmination of the West but its replacement. I plan to turn to that sometime in the next couple of posts. In the meantime, however, one can perhaps still mourn for the tragedy of where our civilization is and where it appears to be going. In Mormon’s words:

O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!

Behold, if ye had not done this, ye would not have fallen. But behold, ye are fallen, and I mourn your loss.

O ye fair sons and daughters, ye fathers and mothers, ye husbands and wives, ye fair ones, how is it that ye could have fallen!

But behold, ye are gone, and my sorrows cannot bring your return.

(Mormon 6:17-20)

“If the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity”

And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.

(Mosiah 29:27)

I can’t imagine why this verse comes to mind…

“In a Slow-Motion Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Media Figures Embrace Trump One by One”

The next stage of conversion is the power-lusting gaze at Trump’s popularity. “He’s tapping into something real,” is repeated endlessly as if tapping into anger justifies pretty much anything.

I understand the anger. I understand that political junkies are likely to marvel at anything that arouses such political passion. I also understand that politicians have a weakness for anything that inspires the masses. I remember how the sainted Jack Kemp was just a bit too spellbound by Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March, for example.

But what bothers me is the way that this admiration or appreciation bleeds into power-worship. One of the most illuminating aspects of this entire sorry chapter in American history — and it’s not even done yet — is how so many smart people reply to criticisms of Trump with declarations about his popularity and his success. This form of argumentum ad populum is more fit for ancient Rome. The people want blood sport! Give them blood sport!

via Donald Trump’s Media Supporters — Principles Don’t Matter for Them.

The Trumpocalypse and the fall of the West

So far in the US primary season I’ve found one thing the best predictor of results: namely to think of the very worst thing that can happen. So I’m not too optimistic about Super Tuesday slowing the rise of Trump and his supporters.

Trump himself I’d find bothersome enough, but it’s some of his supporters that I find truly frightening. Trump simply panders and caters to that crowd, and indeed my greatest fear is not that he’ll get in and then betray them, it’s that he’ll get in and continue to enable them. I object to the hypocrisy that indulges in ridiculous ideological purism about everyone else, but drops all standards when it comes to Trump, just as I find it aggravating to see self-proclaimed Christians talk about how they refused to vote for Mitt Romney but are happily embracing Trump, because while he boasts of his adulteries at least he’s not a Mormon. But it’s darker currents that I find most disturbing, as I have elaborated on before.

It’ll be bad enough if they destroy the Republic in their efforts to punish their perceived enemies by “burning it all down”. Unfortunately some Trump supporters wish to spread such burning much further: I don’t know that I’ve had quite so many online conversations where people openly talk of embracing Genghis Khan’s example, and who believe it’d be perfectly acceptable to respond to random terrorist outrages by nuking Middle Eastern cities. It’s rather dispiriting how blasé they are when you point out this would murder millions of innocent people including millions of children. Apparently murdering innocent by-standers is perfectly acceptable when faced with an opponent with little respect for human life. They haven’t thought this through: such a concept is not only monstrous, it is stupid. Why will murdering other people’s children stop terrorists? And how is anyone different from said terrorists if they pursue such approaches?

It’s funny, because in one respect I share some common ground with these Trump supporters. I too believe the West is facing an existential crisis. And I believe certain external problems, such as terrorism, have to be faced with a certain realism. But the real threat to the West is not external, it’s internal – it’s our own loss of bearings: of capacity, of purpose, of morality, of goodness. Indulging in genocidal fantasies – worse still carrying them out – does not save any of this! Such evils cannot save the West; they can only raise the question as to whether it should be saved.

This is rather a pessimistic post, but all these exchanges have brought to mind is Mormon’s lament in Moroni 9. Mormon himself censors his experiences for his latter-day audience, explaining that “upon these plates I did forbear to make a full account of their wickedness and abominations, for behold, a continual scene of wickedness and abominations has been before mine eyes ever since I have been sufficient to behold the ways of man” (Mormon 2:18). But Moroni 9 is a letter to his son that Moroni chooses to include. As a result it’s one of the most grim passages of the Book of Mormon, as we get to glance at the atrocities that Mormon has hitherto only alluded to.

But it’s his lament that gets my attention, as he contemplates how on earth his people could have ended up as the monsters they’d become:

O my beloved son, how can a people like this, that are without civilization—

(And only a few years have passed away, and they were a civil and a delightsome people)

But O my son, how can a people like this, whose delight is in so much abomination—

How can we expect that God will stay his hand in judgment against us?

(Moroni 9:11-14)

And there are times when I wonder at how far we have fallen, and how much lower we have to go.

Why Trumpism is proto-fascistic

I am somewhat relieved that Trump lost the Iowa caucuses, although that by no means knocks him out of a race in which he still leads the polls. I’ve made little secret elsewhere that I regard his candidacy as a disaster, although that by no means makes me a fan of many of the others. Cruz consistently seems a little off and until recently he was particularly pusillanimous in his sucking up to Trump (although I doubt he’s the “Manitoban Candidate”), and as for Hillary Clinton, one of the most openly corrupt and autocratic of US politicians? Well I’ve repeatedly referred to a hypothetical Trump-Clinton contest as Aliens vs Predator: “whichever side wins, we lose”.

Trump however does come into a special category by himself. I don’t know whether he actually believes half of what he’s saying, especially as in many cases he’s expressed the opposite opinion in the last couple of years. But he does seem, in both his business and highly publicised (by himself) personal life, to have a very flexible attitude towards keeping commitments. Moreover, while I have a pessimistic outlook on the future of the West, I think Trump’s observable temperament means that any presidency of his could risk accelerating the risk of world war three (and consequent collapse of world trade) from some time in the next decade to within the next eighteen months.

But while Donald Trump is a demagogue and a reality tv star who knows how to pander to a crowd, he’s not a fascist. Some of his followers may be even more worrying. Trump’s political career may (and I stress may) also be on a downward slope. Yet Trumpism may live on. Trump’s rivals doubtless have to try and secure the support of at least some of them, and so may tamper any criticisms. I, however, am neither running for office nor am even American, so I can say what I like.

Yet I am not seeking to merely make a lazy accusation here (and there have been a few). I don’t think all, or even most of Trump’s supporters are driven by racism; I believe the increased visibility of some self-proclaimed “white nationalists” are the work of noisy and poisonous minority. When I accuse “Trumpism” of being “proto-fascistic”, I am referring to certain common threads I’ve seen among a range of Trump supporters, and I am not using fascism in the discredited sense (even in George Orwell’s time) of “something I don’t like”. Nor am I using it in the sense in which it is often used by left-wing groups as “a slur against something right-wing”; an often hypocritical charge, since left-wing political extremism is just a bloody, and here in Britain at least it is Labour who are compromising most on this front with the appointment of people like Seumus Milne, who is an apologist for Stalin’s genocides.

But there are certain common strands to fascistic groups (which – in my view – includes National Socialism, although that had its own rather particular features such as its obsession with race). Some in particular seem – in my view, and in an early, undeveloped state – to find regular expression amongst Trump supporters:

1) “He’s a strong leader”:- Trump is not the most consistent of ideological champions. He has, even in the last couple of years, been on both sides of issues that many Republicans, including his supporters, have said are important: immigration (he felt Romney in 2012 – who did not propose mass expulsions – was too anti-immigrant, now it’s his main issue); health care (he praised single-payer health care – seeming anathema to Republicans who reject Obamacare – in on of the Republican presidential debates last year); abortion (was strongly “pro-choice” until very recently) and many others. It’s difficult to find a policy, or a person (such as his opinions and support for Hillary Clinton – or more recently Ted Cruz), that he hasn’t been on both sides of. The only issue he appears to be consistent on are his protectionist instincts.

Yet any past and indeed present heterodoxies are excused on the basis of him being “a strong leader”. That they are so easily excused is quite baffling, especially when some of his supporters have generally been extremely purist in their approach to politicians in the past, and in fact still are. It’s only on Trump that such rules are relaxed. Indeed, some of his supporters seem willing to change their views to whatever he supports (although the same goes for some of his opponents)! In any case, however, this denigration of abstract principle in favour of appealing to “strength” or perceived “alpha male” qualities is characteristic of (although by no means limited to) fascistic movements. Any inconsistencies or problems with the leader are dismissed out of hand, as with the Führerprinzip, principles are for “losers”.

2) “The Establishment”:- One reason any such inconsistencies is dismissed is because of the perceived impurities of the chosen scapegoat. The Trump campaign and its followers have scapegoated a variety of targets – Mexicans (despite most illegal immigrants now being visa overstays), Muslims (as much as I discourage naivety, picking a fight with all Muslims – most of whom aren’t terrorists – seems stupid) – but none has achieved more mythic proportions than the shadowy “establishment”, who simultaneously are all powerful but cannot get their supposed favourite Jeb Bush higher than a couple of percent in the polls. Despite there being a multitude of other candidates, this “establishment” is supposedly firmly united in their desire to beat Trump so they can lose to Hillary.

It is moreover the “establishment” that are to blame for Obama’s policies, because they didn’t stop him (that Obama is using executive orders, or that to impeach him you’d need a political case strong enough to persaude about a third of Democratic senators to vote for impeachment too are mere details – see below). Nor can they do anything right – Paul Ryan is blamed for passing a spending bill that includes funds to Planned Parenthood, despite him being the first to actually get a bill defunding Planned Parenthood to Obama’s desk, and despite the fact that Trump himself is not in favour of defunding Planned Parenthood. Likewise anyone can belong to the “establishment”, including people praised by the Tea Party just a couple of years ago, while anyone who praises Trump is not “establishment”, no matter how rich and established they may be.

It is a characteristic fascistic tendency to blame present (real or perceived) problems on the malice of shadowy adversaries or outgroups. The Nazis obviously went for racial classifications, but other varieties of fascism show that need not be a factor (Italy, until German pressure prevailed, actually did far more to protect Jews from their ally than, say, Vichy France: 80% of Italian Jews survived). But there is always some group held responsible for the “stab in the back” (the “white nationalists” who have jumped on the Trump bandwagon do of course take a racial approach, including anti-semitism, but again this does not characterize more than a minority of Trump supporters).

3) “He fights”:- Linked to this is the supposed contrast between Trump and “the establishment”: that “he fights!” Fighting apparently solves everything – I have seen repeatedly the response when presented with the arithmetic on impeachment the assertion that if Republicans simply “fought”, they’d get what they want. The mental plan appears to go like this: a) Obama does something b) we “fight” c) ????? d) we win! Similar suggestions are given for election campaigns, as if its simply enough to “fight” the media and the voters, rather than trying to persuade some of the voters to vote for you. Trumps virtue is that he always “fights”. And his followers want a fight.

Fortunately this is violence in a purely rhetorical sense (although Ted Cruz’s proposal regarding ISIS seems to dabble in a similar fallacy that victory is simply a case of dropping more and more explosives). But the valorisation of violence, of “fighting” and of struggle is again characteristic of fascistic modes of thought, including the belief that it is the only, and indeed a sufficient solution (it’s doubtless the line that “violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor” that cause people to misdiagnose Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers as a fascist book, although I’d believe that to be mistaken). “Fighting” solves everything, and so whether Trump “fights” is the important criterion. Few seem to stop and ask “but what is Trump fighting for“?

4) “He’s a winner”:- Linked with the above is that “he’s a winner”. Trump “wins”, and thus he’ll win for his supporters, and again that’s the principle thing. That should have hopefully taken a hit since he actually lost Iowa, though there’s still 49 contests to go and there seems to be a willingness to believe in conspiracy theories (including a ridiculous one where Marco Rubio conspired with Microsoft to go from third place to a closer third place) to explain this apparent not winning. Trump has made this explicitly part of his appeal (“There will be so much winning when I’m elected, you may get bored of winning” – hopefully no one has accused him of being a poet). Implicit (and explicit in the words of a number of his supporters) is the idea that the means don’t matter – it’s okay if Trump resorts to dubious campaign tactics, fights dirty or using extra-constitutional executive orders once in office – if he “wins”. I don’t know if it’s at all necessary to go into this – fascistic movements believed any means were fair if it brought about the desired results (hence their poor track record, amongst other things, of abiding by treaties). Incidentally, I believe this is one of the real connections between Nietzsche and the Nazis. He wasn’t a fascist, and so those scholars who have contested his association with fascism and/or Nazism have a point. The problem with Nietzsche is that the only coherent moral critique you could make of the Nazis based on his philosophy is that they lost.

5) “Make America great again”:- Finally, Trump’s campaign and his supporters indulge in outright nationalism. This characteristic is a widespread feature of fascistic movements, though it is not exclusive: it is the accumulation of these traits, rather than any single one, that leads me to characterise the Trump movement as “proto-fascist”. Certainly a number of his supporters (and not just the “white nationalist” fringe) are attracted by his notion of improving American power, stopping immigration and reversing perceived unfair trade relationships, and I’ve certain seen a few openly acknowledge that he isn’t a “conservative”, but this is outweighed by him being a “nationalist”.

Personally, I believe there’s a distinction between patriotism and nationalism – the former I believe a virtue, while the latter, particularly in its extreme variants, verges on idolatry, especially when it is the nation that becomes the highest virtue. A nationalist is not necessarily a fascist or a proto-fascist (indeed Trump himself is far too incoherent and individualist to be either himself, although I don’t think resembling Andrew Jackson is a good thing either), but its an often universal feature because it presents some collective good that overrides other principles. And indeed, I’ve seen at least a few Trump supporters arguing that the nation must come first, before any other principles.

As stated, a lot of these features are in an early, undeveloped state. In isolation, they may well simple be features of other political tendencies (such as Jacksonianism – though the Trail of Tears argues against taking that as a benign tendency). But together, you have the beginnings of a movement with definite proto-fascist tendencies. With any luck it’ll peter out along with Trump’s own political career. I do not think, however, that this can be regarded with an entirely tranquil gaze.

As for the fringe “white nationalists”, well I hope they go back to what internet abyss they came from. It is perhaps ironic, however, that as much as such people put on an “internet tough guy” approach that they’d have been the first victims of something like “the Night of Long Knives”.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The Second Coming, W.B. Yeats