Imagining a Spanish Flu-level pandemic

Catherine Glenn Foster, President & CEO of Americans United for Life, wrote yesterday on the need for a more proactive White House pandemic response:

America has the best health-care system in the world, but as we brace for COVID-19’s ongoing effects, we’re faced with the stark reality that we almost certainly will need even more bold and decisive national action to save lives. We have approximately 45,000 beds in intensive care units across America and about 160,000 ventilators — essential goods for saving lives, but not nearly enough if the scale of the pandemic grows to mirror or exceed our international peers. …

A 2005 federal government report anticipated that in the event of a pandemic similar to the Spanish flu a century ago, the United States would need as many as 740,000 ventilators to treat all patients. Our beds in intensive care units, as well as many of the ventilators we do have, are already often in use.

Even if we escape the worst of COVID-19, America may well require tens or even hundreds of thousands more ventilators than we have at present. We need bold and decisive action beyond economic reassurances in this time of national uncertainty and shutdown. President Trump recently instructed governors to obtain their own ventilators, which is heartening. But the president must do all he can to ensure these life-saving devices are available. …

I applaud Trump for his courageous choice to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA) to mitigate shortages of vital medical equipment such as ventilators. This important step allows us to mitigate medical supply chain disruptions.

To have a real impact, Trump must in addition use his executive power to mandate the rapid production of ventilators by major corporations, which should redirect their production capacities to respond directly to the current crisis. Some corporations are already doing this, but there is no greater pro-life imperative in this moment than an effective national response to COVID-19.

Trump’s bold action is welcomed bipartisanship after 57 members of Congress, all progressive Democrats, urged him to invoke DPA powers. The next steps are perhaps even more important, however, for mitigating potential shortages. I urge the president to set specific and measurable goals for the production of critical medical supplies.

Hours after Catherine’s op-ed appeared yesterday, President Trump did, in fact, use his executive power under the Defense Production Act specifically to mandate ventilator production.

We can’t know how things will turn out, but it’s better to prepare for the worst while working for the best possible outcome. And to whatever extent these temporary manufacturing mandates (and the conversations around the implications of government wielding this sort of power) can spur a necessary conversation on the need to restore a greater and permanent American manufacturing capacity, then all the better.

Fierce resistance to that which defiles

R.R. Reno writes on fascism and anti-fascism in light of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s public threats against members of the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week, wherein Sen. Schumer told two U.S. Supreme Court justice that—if they didn’t vote to strike down a Louisiana law mandating hospital safety standards for abortion clinics—those Supreme Court justices “will pay the price” and “won’t know what hit you”.

Chief Justice John Roberts issued an unprecedented public rebuke of Sen. Schumer, but the threats linger and no U.S. Senate censure has occurred. It’s in this context that Reno writes:

Every society maintains a boundary between what is clean and what is polluted, what is permitted and what is taboo. This is the boundary where civility stops and fierce resistance to that which defiles begins.

Our society is distinct in the way that the progressive left has politicized this boundary, using it as a powerful partisan tool. The right, in this scheme, is unclean. It is a polluting force. Strenuous efforts to eradicate its influence may tend toward “unfortunate” extremes. But establishment liberals excuse the excesses, which is why the antifa can riot with relative impunity and undergraduates can hurl obscenities at faculty and threaten to get them fired without suffering any disciplinary consequences.

Schumer’s words of implicit violence have precedent. In 2018, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib notoriously said of her class of newly elected Democrats, “We’re gonna impeach the motherf*****!” Establishment liberals raised no objections. I believe Tlaib could have said, “We’re gonna assassinate the motherf*****!” and suffered nothing more than perfunctory censure. There is no serious censure partly because of social media, which has created a video game atmosphere of verbal political violence that makes it hard to tell the virtual from the real. But there is also no censure because, in truth, our liberal establishment is not averse to the use of threats and intimidation—and even violence—in defense of its causes.

It is often said that conservatives, especially social conservatives, “drive polarization.” This is a willful reversal of the truth. Today, the forces of violence and intimidation are primarily on the left. Huey Long, a Louisiana populist, often had charges of fascism hurled at him by establishment liberals. He observed the irony of the attacks, noting, “When Fascism comes to America, it will come under the guise of anti-Fascism.”

“The right, in this scheme, is unclean.” And the right, insofar as it represents tradition, offers what tradition has always offered: “solutions to problems we have forgotten.”

Beauty, not simply function, in architecture

Carroll William Westfall, Columbia University professor of architecture, writes why classical architecture is better than modernist architecture:

The defenders of modernist architecture lost no time in assaulting the recent Trump administration proposal that government buildings be classical. Architecture critics and the heads of architecture schools are among those who seek to preserve the putative right of architects to express their interpretation of the modern era with the latest fashions on public land and at public expense.

They argue that government interference would curtail their right to practice their art. If people do not like what they see, well, too bad for them. This argument ignores the fact that a building is a public object that occupies a site that is necessarily part of the realm where people lead their lives.

Things placed in the public realm are obliged to serve the public, common good even if privately owned, and it is the duty of government to ensure this is done. Presently, land is to be used for its “highest and best use,” which is defined by the greatest economic return or, in the case of cultural institutions, for the education of the taste of the people. The result has been a half-century of commercial construction and one-off cultural centers that display the avant-garde styles that the 1962 guidelines encouraged for public buildings as well. …

The classical in service to the public, common good of our nation, however, has been manifested in buildings from those of Thomas Jefferson to Franklin D. Roosevelt. It is also apparent in the choics of President George Washington and Pierre Charles L’Enfant when building the national capital, and in the architects of the first half of the previous century who added the Federal Triangle, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, Union Station, and the National Mall. Need I add the countless state capitols, city halls, courthouses, and other public buildings serving and representing our ideals all across the nation? …

The 1962 guidelines mandated, “Design must flow from the architectural profession to the government and not vice versa,” but praise for what the profession has produced is scarce. Consider the colony of federal agency buildings across the National Mall. Their saving grace is that their height and siting is acceptable, but those qualities were determined by century-old safeguards.

“Traditions are solutions to problems we have forgotten,” I read someplace recently. One of the things for which tradition has long been a solution is the challenge of creating beauty in our public life. If we understand beauty as intelligible, that is, if we understand that we can recognize a person or a thing as beautiful for whatever reason, then we understand that beauty points beyond itself, beyond its physical or material aspects, to a spiritual core.

What classical architecture predates and also outlasts is the notion that “form follows function” in what we built and how we live. We need more than a built environment of mere functioning. We need beauty.

Kobe Bryant, RIP

Tom Hoffarth and Steve Lowery on the late Kobe Bryant’s faith:

In the immediate aftermath of Bryant’s sudden death along with eight other people, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, in a helicopter crash Jan. 26, it soon became known that Bryant stopped by Queen of Angels, located a couple miles from his Newport Coast home, for a few moments of reflection and prayer, leaving just 10 minutes after that 7 a.m. Mass started to head to John Wayne Airport.

Father Sallot later confirmed to various local news outlets that he had seen Bryant after he had prayed in the chapel.

“We shook hands, I saw that he had blessed himself because there was a little holy water on his forehead,” Father Sallot said. “I was coming in the same door as he was going out … we called that the backhand of grace.”

Though Bryant was well-known for his discipline (Mamba Mentality), cosmopolitan ways (giving interviews in multiple languages) and, most of all, love, admiration, and devotion for his daughters (the trending hashtag #GirlDad among the tributes), the fact that Bryant took his faith so seriously seemed to take many, including those in the media, by surprise.

The media may have first met him as a star in Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania before the Lakers obtained him in a 1996 NBA draft trade, but considering Bryant started living in Milan, Italy, at age 7, since his father, Joe, played seven seasons in the Italian League after his own NBA career ended in 1983, Catholicism seems to have been as natural a part of life as basketball.

Bryant was willing to talk about his faith with anyone willing or wanting to listen. It was there, he said, at both his highest and lowest moments.

“I have nothing in common with lazy people who blame others for their lack of success. Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses.”

“If you do the work, if you work hard enough, dreams come true… and if you guys can understand that, then I’m doing my job as a father.”

‘A national appeal to build a culture of life’

President Trump delivers the State of the Union address tonight:

Ahead of President Donald Trump’s annual State of the Union address on Tuesday, Feb. 4, pro-life activists and Christian leaders say they hope the president will use his address to advocate for the right to life and to protect religious minorities.

“I hope President Trump takes the opportunity to call Americans to unity on the human right to life. We need to move beyond partisanship and rally around a shared vision for Americans who especially need solidarity, love, and care,” said Tom Shakely, chief engagement officer at Americans United for Life.

Trump could offer, “a national appeal to build a culture of life, a real spectrum of life-affirming choices that rejects violence and self-harm, in every state, city, and town,” said Shakely. This potential message “would be a powerful and important moment in our history.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the White House revealed that two of the guests at the State of the Union would be Ellie and Robin Schneider, from Kansas City, Missouri. Ellie, who is two years old, was born to her mother Robin at just 21 weeks and six days gestation.

“With the help of an incredible medical team–and the prayers of her parents and their community–Ellie kept beating the odds, exceeding milestones, and fighting for life,” said a press release announcing guests attending the address.

Across the country, there were 36 state laws passed in 2019 that sought to preserve a legal right to abortion. This number is an increase from just five in 2018. Many states passed laws that legalizes abortion in the third trimester.

In this election year, I hope that at least parts of this address can be received in a spirit of unity by Americans who are hostile to this president.

One who breaks an unjust law

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, here’s MLK on the difference between just law and unjust law:

One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. …

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. …

One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws. …

Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
April 16, 1963

The political task of Christians

What if we woke up one day only to realize that what we thought we knew of the world was wrong?

Fr. Stephen Freeman writes that our knowledge of the world, and the way we think, is flawed in a very particular way:

No one has written more insightfully nor critically about secularism than the late Fr. Alexander Schmemann. His classic book, For the Life of the World, is not only a primer on the meaning of the sacramental life, but primarily, a full-blown confrontation with the great heresy of secularism. Secularism is not the rejection of God, but the assertion that the world exists apart from God and that our task is to do the best we can in this world. Fr. Alexander suggests that the Church in the modern world has largely surrendered to secularism. “The Church’s surrender,” he says, “consists not in giving up creeds, traditions, symbols and customs…but in accepting the very function of religion in terms of promoting the secular value of help, be it help in character building, peace of mind, or assurance of eternal salvation.”

He is not alone in this observation. The Protestant theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, says much the same thing:

“…the political task of Christians is to be the church rather than to transform the world. One reason why it is not enough to say that our first task is to make the world better is that we Christians have no other means of accurately understanding the world and rightly interpreting the world except by way of the church. Big words like “peace” and “justice,” slogans the church adopts under the presumption that, even if people do not know what “Jesus Christ is Lord” means, they will know what peace and justice means, are words awaiting content. The church really does not know what these words mean apart from the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. After all, Pilate permitted the killing of Jesus in order to secure both peace and justice (Roman style) in Judea. It is Jesus’ story that gives content to our faith, judges any institutional embodiment of our faith, and teaches us to be suspicious of any political slogan that does not need God to make itself credible.”

The extent to which we have all been secularized is easily measured by just how strange these statements by great theologians sound. The Church has surrendered because it promotes the value of “helping?” The Church does not exist in order to make the world a better place? These have been common themes in my writing (and I easily acknowledge my indebtedness). But when I have said, “We will not make the world a better place,” my articles are met with a torrent of dismay. I offer here more of the same.

Hauerwas makes the clear point that the word “better” has no meaning apart from the story of Jesus, or certainly no meaning that Christians should agree to. Schmemann goes so far as to call the Church’s agreement to “help” the world (however the world wants to define that help) as surrender.

So what are we to do?

A snapshot of the health of American families

Lyman Stone breaks down some of the latest data on American families:

Nearly 4 in 10 children in America are not residing with their own two, married parents (biological or adoptive). This is according to the recently released 2018 American Community Survey, the largest annual social survey carried out in America. As recently as 1960, less than 2 in 10 children lived apart from two married parents, a reality which was approximately stable as far back as 1850. But while the present situation leaves many children bereft of the care, attention, and material benefits of a married household, it’s actually not as bad as it has been in the past: since 2014, the share of children living with two married parents has risen ever-so-slightly, from 61.8% to 62.3% in 2018, and data from early 2019 in the Current Population Survey suggest that 2019 will show further improvement. The period from 2011 to 2019 is the longest period of stability or improvement in children’s living situations since the 1950s. …

Overall, the decline in the share of kids growing up in married, two-parent households seems to have stopped for now, and there’s even been a modest recovery. But much of this change is purely compositional: Asian, Hispanic, and multiracial kids are growing as a share of children thanks to immigration and intermarriage, while African and Native American kids are not. As a result, the nationwide aggregate is improving. But among specific groups, the trends are less optimistic. Particularly for Hispanic and Native American kids, family conditions have deteriorated markedly over the last two decades.

Lyman goes into greater depth in his analysis, but the takeaway from my perspective is that there’s general reason for hope even as I suspect this stability might be a result of our healthy economy as much as any particular set of life choices within American families.

Forgetting what work is for

Pew: “The share of adults who have lived with a romantic partner is now higher than the share who have ever been married; married adults are more satisfied with their relationships, more trusting of their partners.”

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Fascinating that we have troubling recognizing this: “being in a committed relationship” and “having a job or career you enjoy” require the same virtues. And yet we prioritize work over people in ranking what we believe we need for a fulfilling life.

Alienated America

I listened to Tim Carney’s appearance with Kathryn Jean Lopez recently, where he speaks at New York’s Sheen Center for Thought & Culture on his latest book, “Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse:”

He references Chris Arnade’s work over the past few years in chronicling the parts of America that those of us in cities are increasingly alienated from, and over the course of the conversation addresses why he believes some communities went hard for Trump, and why others went hard the other way.

In short, communities where life was basically good or great had no reason to deviate from the status quo (Hillary Clinton), but for the many communities where life is not great or downright terrible, it was time to break the system. This is to riff off the Flight 93 thesis, and it’s also to echo Chris Arnade’s conclusions from years among the alienated after a career among the comparative elite.