America Impossible

Eleven years ago, about halfway through Obama’s first term, the New York Times’ Paul Krugman was an unhappy man:

We’ve always known that America’s reign as the world’s greatest nation would eventually end. But most of us imagined that our downfall, when it came, would be something grand and tragic.

What we’re getting instead is less a tragedy than a deadly farce. Instead of fraying under the strain of imperial overstretch, we’re paralyzed by procedure. Instead of re-enacting the decline and fall of Rome, we’re re-enacting the dissolution of 18th-century Poland.

A brief history lesson: In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Polish legislature, the Sejm, operated on the unanimity principle: any member could nullify legislation by shouting “I do not allow!” This made the nation largely ungovernable, and neighboring regimes began hacking off pieces of its territory. By 1795 Poland had disappeared, not to re-emerge for more than a century.

Read the full details here. This was either a heroically noble idea – Poland would act as one, because everyone actually agrees on everything, as all good people do – or this was two or more groups of people acting out of pure spite to ruin everything – to make their point – and actually ruining everything. The idealistic change in procedure had not forced national unity and a surge in deep and sincere patriotism. It had created a weapon to ruin that.

Procedure can be tricky, and in 2010, Krugman was upset by this:

Last week, after nine months, the Senate finally approved Martha Johnson to head the General Services Administration, which runs government buildings and purchases supplies. It’s an essentially nonpolitical position, and nobody questioned Ms. Johnson’s qualifications: she was approved by a vote of 94 to 2. But Senator Christopher Bond, Republican of Missouri, had put a “hold” on her appointment to pressure the government into approving a building project in Kansas City.

This dubious achievement may have inspired Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama. In any case, Mr. Shelby has now placed a hold on all outstanding Obama administration nominations – about 70 high-level government positions – until his state gets a tanker contract and a counterterrorism center.

This is stupid stuff. This is Poland again:

What gives individual senators this kind of power? Much of the Senate’s business relies on unanimous consent: it’s difficult to get anything done unless everyone agrees on procedure.

And that may ruin everything:

The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.

But he knows better:

Don’t hold your breath. As it is, Democrats don’t even seem able to score political points by highlighting their opponents’ obstructionism.

It should be a simple message: a vote for a Republican, no matter what you think of him as a person, is a vote for paralysis. But by now, we know how the Obama administration deals with those who would destroy it: it goes straight for the capillaries. Sure enough, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, accused Mr. Shelby of “silliness.” Yep, that will really resonate with voters.

And then there’s history:

After the dissolution of Poland, a Polish officer serving under Napoleon penned a song that eventually – after the country’s post-World War I resurrection – became the country’s national anthem. It begins, “Poland is not yet lost.”

Well, America is not yet lost. But the Senate is working on it.

The Senate may have succeeded. Eleven years later, the Washington Post reports this:

Senate Republicans banded together Tuesday to block a sweeping Democratic bill that would revamp the architecture of American democracy, dealing a grave blow to efforts to federally override dozens of GOP-passed state voting laws.

The test vote, which would have cleared the way to start debate on voting legislation, failed 50-50 on straight party lines – 10 votes short of the supermajority needed to advance legislation in the Senate.

It came after a succession of Democrats delivered warnings about what they said was the dire state of American democracy, accusing former president Donald Trump of undermining the country’s democratic system by challenging the results of the 2020 election in a campaign that prompted his supporters in numerous state legislatures to pass laws rolling back ballot access.

Okay, this is not Poland. No one is demanding one hundred percent agreement on everything and anything, just sixty percent agreement on each and every single thing before Congress, or nothing gets done, period. And this was just a “motion to debate” – a vote to allow talk about these issues. That would include the audits in Arizona and planned in all the states Trump had lost that he thinks he should have won, an effort to overturn those official certified votes in the 2020 election, and all those new laws that make it hard for certain kinds of people to vote, and that allow Republican state legislatures, if anyone has heard a rumor that there’s something fishy with the vote, or heard a rumor that there’s a rumor about that, to toss out the popular vote and send their own slate of Electors to assure their guy wins the presidency. One rumor from a minor blog in Montana might change everything, That’s the law now in Georgia and a few other states. Voting might become quaint and thoroughly useless and quite pointless in a few years. Democrats want to talk about this. Republicans don’t.

Democrats need to find ten Republicans who think talking about this might be useful, to get to the sixty votes in favor of talking about this stuff, there are and never will be ten such Republicans:

“Are we going to let reactionary state legislatures drag us back into the muck of voter suppression? Are we going to let the most dishonest president in history continue to poison our democracy from the inside?” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said before the vote. “Or will we stand up to defend what generations of Americans have organized, marched, fought and died for – the sacred, sacred right to vote?”

But Republicans stood firmly together in opposition, following the lead of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who on Tuesday lambasted the Democrats’ bill, known as the For the People Act, as “a transparently partisan plan to tilt every election in America permanently in Democrats’ favor” and as “a recipe for undermining confidence in our elections.”

McConnell seems to be saying that any federal voting laws would be unfair, because that’s none of the federal government’s business. The states make those laws, each for their own state. The Constitution says so. This is a matter of states’ rights. And it’s all kind of hopeless:

Although many Democrats and liberal activists insist the fight is not over – pledging to launch a final, furious push over the coming weeks to change the Senate’s rules to pass the bill – they face long odds as key lawmakers have insisted that they are not willing to eliminate the chamber’s supermajority rule to override Republican opposition.

The minority may need to stop the majority now and then, from doing something stupid. Keep the rule. The current minority has vowed to stop everything, so that Biden fails when the nation disintegrates into unrecoverable chaos, and it’s all his fault. Dump the rule.

Nothing is easy:

The effort to pass the bill has risen to the highest ranks of the Democratic Party. President Biden on Monday privately counseled a key senator, Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), to “find a path forward” on voting rights. On Tuesday, Schumer consulted with Biden on next steps after excoriating Republicans ahead of the test vote for their unwillingness even to debate voting rights.

“They will sweep it under the rug and hope that Americans don’t hear about it, but Americans will hear about it,” Schumer said. “We’re going to make sure of that.”

But of course the other side wants to stop this nonsense. They sense danger:

McConnell and other Republicans have taken aim at numerous provisions in the Democratic legislation, including a proposal to publicly finance congressional campaigns, potential new disclosure requirements for political donors and a realignment of the Federal Election Commission meant to break partisan gridlock in enforcing election laws.

They are clear – no public funding for anyone – use only big donors and keep those political donors and their donations hidden, and hide any record of the money they sent along – and keep those vacancies open at the FEC so they’ll never have a quorum and cannot vote on anything and are forced to just fade away. And there’s still this:

They have maintained solid opposition to the ballot-access provisions in the Democratic bill – such as a guaranteed period of early voting, mandatory availability of no-excuse mail voting, and a broad new automatic voter registration system – by arguing that the federal government has no role in dictating state election laws.

But that’s an issue now:

The state laws impose changes including restricting access to mail voting, creating new hurdles to voter registration, establishing new voter ID requirements and expanding the definition of criminal behavior by voters, election officials and third parties.

Manchin’s proposal won plaudits from key Democratic voices, including Georgia activist and former state lawmaker Stacey Abrams and former president Barack Obama, who said Monday that the West Virginian had proposed “some common-sense reforms that the majority of Americans agree with.”

But not quite:

Democrats have splintered on how to go about combating the GOP state laws. Manchin, for instance, did not endorse the For the People Act and sketched out a narrower compromise only this month under pressure from his colleagues and activists. Under his proposal, some of the more debated provisions of the broader bill, such as the public financing system, would be dropped entirely, while others, such as automatic voter registration, would be narrowed. He also proposed adding a traditional GOP election priority, mandating voter identification, in a bid to build bipartisan support.

Fine, but the only people he impressed were on his side:

Manchin’s proposal won plaudits from key Democratic voices, including Georgia activist and former state lawmaker Stacey Abrams and former president Barack Obama, who said Monday that the West Virginian had proposed “some common-sense reforms that the majority of Americans agree with.”

Republicans saw no sense at all – any voter identification had to be expensive photo ID of some sort, not utility bill stubs or whatnot, a West Virginia thing – and many of them, when they saw Stacey Abrams’s name, vowed to never work with any Democrat on anything ever again. Still, there was this:

Democrats did win a small victory Tuesday in persuading Manchin to vote to start debate on the voting rights bill, with the understanding that senators would then vote to make his compromise proposal the new baseline for further amendments. Democratic leaders wanted to keep their caucus united in a symbolic show of force against the GOP blockade, and Manchin ultimately obliged.

“These reasonable changes have moved the bill forward and to a place worthy of debate on the Senate floor,” Manchin said in a statement that also criticized Republicans for blocking the bill anyway.

He gave the Republicans what they had said, for months, that they had wanted, all of it, and he had pissed off all of his friends in his own Democratic Party, and then the Republicans kicked him in the face. He was learning, but he’s still Polish:

The senator said he remained “committed to finding a bipartisan pathway forward” but made no statement to indicate whether he was willing to revisit his opposition to eliminating the filibuster.

He needs time to think about this:

Republicans have rejected Manchin’s proposal as a nonstarter, and the chances of winning GOP support for any meaningful election legislation appears to be remote. Lawmakers across the GOP’s ideological spectrum have found themselves comfortable fighting from the territory that McConnell has staked out: that states, not the federal government, are best equipped to write voting laws.

“I don’t think it is a tough vote,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said Monday. “The country’s been well served by elections run by state and local officials who could respond to state and local problems.”

Tell that to the Mississippi Freedom Riders from the sixties, those who lived through that. Roy Blunt seems miss the Jim Crow days, when a few burning crosses and a lynching or two, and the poll taxes and literacy tests, were simply state and local officials responding to state and local problems, but the big problem remained:

The more consuming debate inside the Democratic ranks has surrounded the filibuster, which for 45 years has allowed a minority of 41 senators to block action in the Senate.

Many Democratic lawmakers and a slew of liberal activists are hoping that Tuesday’s vote sparks a new push to eliminate the rule, allowing legislation to pass with a simple 51-vote majority. While the rule has been eroded in recent years – senators voted to waive it for most nominations by presidents in 2013 and for Supreme Court nominees in 2017 – several Democratic senators have been uneasy with the push to eliminate it entirely.

Among them is Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), who reiterated her support for the 60-vote threshold in an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Monday. Bipartisan negotiation, with buy-in among Republicans and Democrats, she wrote, is the “best way to achieve durable, lasting results.”

She argued that any law passed with only fifty-one votes would be gone soon, when the next congress, with a different fifty-one votes, would repeal it. It happens all the time. But no one could find an example of that. Obamacare passed with fifty-one votes. It’s still here, but she has a point with this:

Sinema noted that Democrats used the filibuster as recently as last year in a majority-GOP Senate to block debate on a Republican-written coronavirus relief bill and federal policing overhaul. “Those filibusters were mounted not as attempts to block progress, but to force continued negotiations toward better solutions,” she said.

Perhaps so, but that’s not enough:

Some Democrats responded to Sinema with exasperation, questioning the logic of letting a congressional rule – not a constitutional provision or a federal law – stand in the way of a federal response to the GOP voting bills.

“This idea that we’re going to value consistency over democracy, I think, has some real problems,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “I commend Senator Sinema for going on the record and putting pen to paper on her beliefs. But let’s really have an open debate about what it means to keep these rules in place.”

That has to happen now:

Vice President Harris, who was deputized by Biden last month to lead voting rights efforts, presided over debate of the bill Tuesday afternoon and gaveled the failed vote closed. “The fight is not over,” she told reporters after the vote.

But activists and some Democratic lawmakers are calling on the Biden administration to make a much more aggressive push for action.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden and Harris already had made significant efforts on voting rights through executive actions and the Justice Department and that they would “continue to use the bully pulpit, but also every lever in government,” to move the issue forward.

But that’s all they have now. Joe Manchin is dreaming of Poland centuries ago. Total unity! Everyone agrees! And the nation collapses, because that’s impossible. But maybe America is impossible now.

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Checkmated In Humiliation

Anyone who has spent any time in Paris, kicking around alone, eventually has their own special Paris. That’s why Hemingway called Paris a Movable Feast – to be young and poor in Paris in the twenties was his Paris. But that’s not everyone’s Paris. Miles Davis had a different Paris in the late fifties, his Paris, spending his time there scoring Louis Malle’s first flim – described by one jazz critic as “the loneliest trumpet sound you will ever hear, and the model for sad-core music ever since. Hear it and weep.”

That’s the Paris of dark streets in the rain, and his torrid affair with Juliette Gréco was also a special case, but then everyone has their own special case. It’s a matter of what speaks to you. Two decades ago now, each year it was the same room at the Hôtel Madison with the full-on view of the old church across the street where Descartes is buried, the hotel where Camus put the finishing touches on L’Étranger – his famous novel of the absurd. Paris is where people try to figure out what it all means, and it all may be absurd.

That’s in the air in Paris. A few years ago, when Camus would have turned one hundred, in the American Scholar, Jerry Delaney offered this regarding Camus’ 1942 essay The Myth of Sisyphus:

The opening lines begin with what Camus called the first and most urgent of questions: If the world has no meaning, why live? If life is pointless, why not end it? Logic would favor suicide. Or so it would seem. But Camus quickly points out that absence of meaning is not why people commit suicide. People who commit suicide already have meaning in their lives. What they don’t have is a life. They commit suicide because they have no dignity, no self-respect, no pleasure, no honor, no value. They are checkmated in humiliation, without the minimal elements of a satisfactory existence.

Camus concludes with a startling statement: “Life will be lived all the better if it has no meaning.”

The idea stops us on the page; we have to think about that. Camus is saying – by inference – that the things that make our life worth living are in our own hands. Forget about God. What people need is not an abstract benediction but concrete means to live with dignity and self-respect.

Nothing could be clearer. Suddenly it was Paris again, standing at that hotel window, Camus’ window, with the view of Descartes’ tomb, puffing the pipe – they don’t let you do that any longer in Paris hotel rooms by the way – thinking of how the world seems to have been drained of dignity, and self-respect, and pleasure, and honor, and value, at least for most everyone who isn’t at the top, and maybe for them too. Everyone seems to have been checkmated into humiliation in one way or another, or is working on checkmating others into humiliation.

That’s the game now, particularly in politics, particularly in American politics. Camus would get it, and walk away, but we can’t do that. We have to live here, and while Camus always focused on the proper and honest response to the innate absurdity of the human condition, and the honorable thing to do next, those of us who are not philosophers simply wonder how it came to this. When did American politics, always a bit absurd, as politics are everywhere, become this fully absurd?

That’s not an existential question. That’s more of a practical question, but now, don’t forget about God. He (or She) may have walked away long ago, leaving us on our own, or may have been entirely imaginary anyway, or will forever be mysteriously unknowable, but God can still be useful. God can be useful in checkmating others into humiliation. God can be a political weapon.

Peter Wehner shows how:

The scandals, jagged-edged judgmentalism and culture war mentality that have enveloped significant parts of American Christendom over the last several years, including the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, have conditioned many of us to expect the worst. Which is why the annual meeting of the convention this week was such a pleasant surprise.

The convention’s newly elected president, the Rev. Ed Litton, barely defeated the Rev. Mike Stone, the choice of the denomination’s insurgent right. Mr. Litton, a soft-spoken pastor in Alabama who is very conservative theologically, has made racial reconciliation a hallmark of his ministry and has said that he will make institutional accountability and care for survivors of sexual abuse priorities during his two-year term.

“My goal is to build bridges and not walls,” Mr. Litton said at a news conference after his victory, pointedly setting himself apart from his main challenger.

Mike Stone said that racial reconciliation and that sexual abuse stuff was bullshit. Jesus doesn’t care about that. Jesus stands with Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump:

Tensions in the convention are as high as they’ve been in decades; it is a deeply fractured denomination marked by fierce infighting. The Conservative Baptist Network, which Mr. Stone is part of, was formed in 2020 to stop what it considers the convention’s drift toward liberalism on matters of culture and theology.

Ruth Graham and Elizabeth Dias of the New York Times describe the individuals in the Conservative Baptist Network as “part of an ultraconservative populist uprising of pastors” who want to “take the ship.” They are zealous, inflamed, uncompromising and eager for a fight. They nearly succeeded this time. And they’re not going away anytime soon.

They view as a temporary setback the defeat of Mr. Stone, who came within an eyelash of winning even after allegations by the Rev. Russell Moore, the former head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm, that Mr. Stone blocked investigations of sexual abuse at Southern Baptist churches and engaged in a broader campaign of intimidation.

Trump showed the way there years ago. No investigations. What some call sexual abuse is really manliness. Move on. And racial reconciliation is just another way to attack totally innocent White folks. Tucker Carlson says so:

The issues dividing the convention are more political than theological. What preoccupies the denomination’s right wing right now is critical race theory, whose intellectual origins go back several decades, and which contends that racism is not simply a product of individual bigotry but embedded throughout American society. The concept argues that historical patterns of racism are ingrained in law and other modern institutions, and that the legacies of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow still create an uneven playing field for Black people and other people of color.

What upset many members of the Conservative Baptist Network was a nonbinding 2019 resolution approved at the convention’s annual meeting stating that critical race theory and intersectionality could be employed as “analytical tools” – all the while acknowledging that their insights could be subject to misuse and only on the condition that they be “subordinate to Scripture” and don’t serve as “transcendent ideological frameworks.”

This could be a useful tool to look at banking practices and whatnot. Everyone, calm down:

Late last year, the Rev. J. D. Greear, who preceded Mr. Litton as president, tweeted that while critical race theory as an ideological framework is incompatible with the Bible, “some in our ranks inappropriately use the label of ‘CRT!’ to avoid legitimate questions or as a cudgel to dismiss any discussion of discrimination. Many cannot even define what CRT is. If we in the SBC had shown as much sorrow for the painful legacy that sin has left as we show passion to decry C.R.T., we probably wouldn’t be in this mess.” (The Southern Baptist Convention was created as a result of a split with northern Baptists over slavery. In 1995, the convention voted to “repent of racism of which we have been guilty.”)

In his farewell address as president last week, Mr. Greear warned against “an SBC that spends more energy decrying things like CRT than they have of the devastating consequences of racial discrimination.” And another former president of the convention, the Rev. James Merritt, said, “I want to say this bluntly and plainly: if some people were as passionate about the Gospel as they were critical race theory, we’d win this world for Christ tomorrow.”

But that 1995 vote was all wrong! Slavery was good! Blacks really are useless! Jesus said so, or Tucker Carlson said Jesus said so, or something!

This won’t end well, and then add this:

What is ripping through many Southern Baptist churches these days – and it’s not confined to Southern Baptist churches – is a topic that went unmentioned at the annual convention last week: QAnon conspiracy theories.

Dr. Moore, who was an influential figure in the Southern Baptist Convention until he split with the denomination just a few weeks ago, told Axios, “I’m talking literally every day to pastors, of virtually every denomination, who are exhausted by these theories blowing through their churches or communities.” He said that for many, QAnon is “taking on all the characteristics of a cult.”

Bill Haslam, the former two-term Republican governor of Tennessee, a Presbyterian and the author of “Faithful Presence: The Promise and the Peril of Faith in the Public Square,” put it this way in a recent interview with The Atlantic:

“I have heard enough pastors who are saying they cannot believe the growth of the QAnon theory in their churches. Their churches had become battlegrounds over things that they never thought they would be. It’s not so much the pastors preaching that from pulpits – although I’m certain there’s some of that – but more people in the congregation who have become convinced that theories are reflective of their Christian faith.”

Wehner is alarmed:

According to a recent poll by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, nearly a third of white evangelical Christian Republicans – 31 percent – believe in the accuracy of the QAnon claim that “Donald Trump has been secretly fighting a group of child sex traffickers that include prominent Democrats and Hollywood elites.” White evangelicals are far more likely to embrace conspiracy theories than nonwhite evangelicals. Yet there have been no statements or resolutions by the Southern Baptist Convention calling QAnon “incompatible with the Baptist Faith and Message,” which six SBC seminary presidents said about critical race theory and “any version of critical theory” late last year.

So this is war and God is the weapon, and Wehner ends with this:

The Christian faith has far too often become a weapon in the arsenal of those who worship at the altar of politics. Rather than standing up for the victims of sexual abuse, their reflex has been to defend the institutions that cover up the abuse. Countless people who profess to be Christians are having their moral sensibilities shaped more by Tucker Carlson’s nightly monologues than by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Perhaps without quite knowing it, many of those who most loudly proclaim the “pre-eminence of Christ” have turned him into a means to an end, a cruel, ugly and unforgiving end. And this, too, is not quite what Jesus had in mind.

But then Wehner is a boring mainstream be-nice-to-people Presbyterian. What does he know?

And then there are the Catholics. Jason Horowitz, the New York Times’ Rome bureau chief, covering Italy and the Vatican, covers this:

Pope Francis on Saturday put a founder of the European Union on the track to sainthood, told Roman deacons to take care of the poor and met with a top prelate who once defended him against wild allegations by the Vatican’s former ambassador to the United States.

But the most telling thing he did was stay quiet about the extraordinary vote by America’s Roman Catholic bishops to move ahead – despite the warning of the pope’s top doctrinal official – with the drafting of new guidance that conservatives hope will eventually deny communion to President Biden for his support of abortion rights.

These particular American Roman Catholic bishops want to hurt Biden, and Nancy Pelosi, and all Democrats. Get them all out of the Church. It’s the abortion thing, but more a general principle. Jesus was a Republican. The Roman Catholic Church should be Republican. The pope can help get Trump reinstated as president in August. That’s what the pope should do.

The pope sighed:

The pope said nothing, church officials and experts said, because there is nothing else to say.

The divergence of the conservative American church from Francis’ agenda is now so apparent as to become unremarkable, and Vatican officials and experts said Saturday that the pope’s silence also underlined just how unsurprising the American vote, made public on Friday, was to the Vatican.

He knows these people:

The deeply conservative American bishops conference has already flouted a remarkably explicit letter from the Vatican in May urging it to avoid the vote. It has disregarded years of the pope’s pleas to de-emphasize culture war issues and expand the scope of its mission to climate change, migration and poverty.

On Friday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted in a large majority at an often-bitter virtual meeting to begin drafting guidance on the sacrament of the Eucharist. That guidance could become a vehicle for conservative leaders in the U.S. church to push for denying communion to prominent Catholics like Mr. Biden who support abortion rights.

That’s all Democrats. Excommunicate them all. No, this is going nowhere:

The public silence at the Vatican on Saturday, the officials said, also reflected that the pope and his top officials remained confident that the American conservatives would never actually pass such a doctrinal declaration on banning communion.

Church law says for that to happen, the bishops’ conference would need either unanimous support, which is essentially impossible, or two-thirds support and the Vatican’s approval.

“It’s not going to get to that point,” said one senior Vatican official with knowledge of the thinking inside the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s doctrinal watchdog. “It’s inconceivable.”

But there’s this:

The greatest threat posed by Friday’s vote was to the unity of the American church itself, and not to Mr. Biden and other Catholic politicians who supported abortion rights.

The vote to go ahead and draft new guidance on the issue guarantees that it will stay in the political bloodstream, and grow only more potent as the American bishops’ doctrine committee works on the guidance ahead of a planned November meeting.

And officials and clergy close to Francis worried that the communion document could be used as a wedge issue to get Republican voters to the ballot box, as much as to put Catholics in the pews.

Both those worries seem odd. Attacking Biden may not put millions of more Catholics in the pews. And what? Vote for Trump in 2024 because the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says so, and says the pope is a fool? They know better than that:

Several experts said that ultimately, they expected a document that strongly asserted the importance of the Eucharist, one of the most sacred rituals in Christianity, but that would reflect the pope’s concerns and not explicitly call for denying communion to Mr. Biden and other influential political and cultural figures who support abortion rights.

The feeling in the Vatican is that the status quo will prevail, and that discretion on communion will be left to individual bishops. Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington has made it clear that he will not deny the president communion…

But there remains among Francis’ allies in the Vatican a concern that the conservatives who dominate the conference will use the rite of communion as a political weapon, setting a bad global precedent for the politicization of a church that Francis wants to keep above the fray.

He has other concerns:

On Saturday in the Hall of Blessings in the Apostolic Palace, Francis reasserted his priorities. When a group of Roman deacons asked him what he wanted from them, he responded, “humility,” and urged them to put themselves “at the service of the poor.”

As the deacons left the meeting and walked out onto St. Peter’s Square, several said that they had never heard of an Italian priest denying communion to a politician for any reason and that there was a clear divide between politics, which belonged in Parliament, and faith, which belonged in church.

“We’ve never sent a person away from communion,” said Rafaelle Grasso, a deacon at a parish in Rome. “It never ever happens here.”

Something odd is going on elsewhere:

Throughout much of Europe and Latin America, it is essentially unthinkable for bishops to deny communion to politicians who publicly support abortion rights. John Paul II famously offered communion to Francesco Rutelli, a former mayor of Rome and candidate for prime minister who supported abortion rights.

“Almost all of the bishops of the world at this moment look at the United States church,” said Austen Ivereigh, a biographer of Francis, “and wonder, ‘What is going on?’”

Who knows? But none of this is new:

Francis, on the papal plane in September 2019, acknowledged the sharp opposition he has faced from conservative Catholic detractors in the United States. Presented with a book that explored the ties of conservative American bishops to a well-financed and media-backed American effort to undermine his pontificate, Francis responded that it was “an honor that the Americans attack me.”

Asked in another flight to expand on the sustained opposition he faced from Catholic conservatives in the United States, Francis said, “I pray there are no schisms,” adding, “But I’m not scared.”

Friday’s vote showed that not much had changed. Those ideologically driven American bishops “are still against him,” said Nicolas Senèze, the French Vatican reporter who had presented Francis with his book, “How America Wanted to Change the Pope.”

“They are still against the reform of the church that Francis wants and they still continue to be on the same political agenda of the Republican Party,” he added. “The American church is as divided as the people of the United States.”

But there’s no Holy Roman Catholic Wholly Republican Trump Church just yet:

In November 2020, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whom Francis has repeatedly declined to elevate to the rank of cardinal, wrote a letter warning Mr. Biden that his position on abortion rights created a “difficult and complex situation.” Support for abortion rights among prominent politicians “who profess the Catholic faith” the archbishop wrote, “creates confusion among the faithful about what the Catholic Church actually teaches on these questions.”

The archbishop then formed a working group on the issue. On Inauguration Day, Archbishop Gomez greeted the new president with a long statement warning that “our new president has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils.”

The Vatican, on the other hand, sent a congratulatory telegram urging the president to pursue policies “marked by authentic justice and freedom.”

Justice and freedom do matter, to some people. Others simply want to humiliate those who irritate them. Camus suggested that the desperate commit suicide because they have no dignity, no self-respect, no pleasure, no honor, no value. They’ve been checkmated in humiliation, without the minimal elements of a satisfactory existence, because this is an absurd world. Here in America, that’s just politics.

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