Two days ago on WNYC, the very thoughtful host Brian Lehrer responded to the bombshell sexual abuse revelations about 1000 victims in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania by asking Catholics to call in and explain why they were still Catholic.
How do you still call yourself a Catholic? Or, How do you still go to church? I don’t mean this in a snarky way at all or an anti-Catholic way. I’m not a Catholic, I’m not trying to pry anyone out of their religion. But I’m just curious how you deal with it? If you stay identified, if you stay involved, if the institution is this rotten and this hypocritical with respect to the values of doing unto others that Jesus and God are supposed to stand for, how do you still call yourself a Catholic? And how does this new set of revelations land with you? Are you feeling them emotionally with any new disgust or is it all kind of baked in for you with all that had already become known over the last 20 years?
These are excellent questions, and natural responses. Among the callers was someone who said he concentrates on the good works his parish does, including among the Hispanics; another who said that more investigations should follow, but the sacrament of the Eucharist is still central to his life; and someone else who said she’s an ex-Catholic because the church takes no responsibility for all the damage it’s caused, and priests should be allowed to marry.
But charity begins at home; and my marvel about Lehrer’s moral scrutiny is that it is absent when it comes to two other establishments with which he has much stronger identification: 1, the Jewish congregations that have supported Israel and that invite AIPAC to the pulpit even after yet anther massacre in Gaza, and 2, the foreign policy establishment that gave us the Iraq war.
As to the Jewish establishment, it is common to hear young Jews and anti-Zionist Jews expressing Lehrer’s disgust, and saying they want nothing to do with the formal Jewish religion in the United States, so long as the official bodies are supporting Israel thru thick and thin. Jewish Voice for Peace created a rabbinical council so as to give dissenting Jews a place to maintain their faith. And IfNotNow has encouraged a revival of Jewish religious song/ritual in a non-Zionist context. All because of the moral black hole that Israel represents. If he were fair, Brian Lehrer would have a number of these Jewish dissenters on to ask them how they reconciled faithfulness with the human rights atrocities of the Jewish state. I don’t think he’s ever had a Jewish anti-Zionist on his show. Lehrer might as well be Fox News when it comes to Israel.
Then there’s the foreign policy establishment that gave us the Iraq war. Fifteen years on after the greatest foreign-policy mistake of the last generation or two, and many of those who supported the war still have prominent positions in the formation of policy/ideas, and get invited on to Lehrer’s show and others to opine. In fact, supporting the Iraq war actually seems to be a credential for success in that field. And not to have supported the Iraq war exposes a person to the scorn that it did back in 2003, when George Packer wrote us off in The New Yorker as a bunch of hippies and conspiracy theorists milling in the streets.
There has been no antiwar dividend to speak of. Those who backed this extremely costly and harmful mistake are still in very powerful positions, throughout the media. Tom Friedman and Bill Kristol have never been called to account fully for their blunder; Kristol gets to go on Ari Melber’s show on MSNBC, and on Brian Lehrer’s show too.
The little shriving that war supporters have done has been woefully incomplete and performative (the new word for lip-service). I’m thinking of Peter Beinart, or the forum that Jake Weisberg convened at Slate years ago, in which war supporters got to rationalize everything they’d predicted wrong.
Tony Judt famously called these writers the “useful idiots” of George Bush’s war, and Tucker Carlson still calls them out on Fox, but the liberal cables stay away from the issue. Yet everyone knows these people f***ed up, and some day they will be held to account.
David Bromwich comments on the norms of the “unipolar press” in “The American Breakdown,” a Trump-zeitgeist piece in the London Review of Books:
[T]he geopolitical common sense of Putin’s comment on Ukraine and Crimea – ‘I do not want to be welcomed in Sevastopol by Nato sailors’ – is almost inscrutable to the unipolar press that in 2003 overwhelmingly endorsed the Iraq War. From the New York Times and the New Yorker to CNN and MSNBC, nothing has changed in the mentality of the people who arrived at that verdict 15 years ago; and the next Democratic president, if there is one, will be under pressure to mount continuous threats against a nuclear power the Democrats have gone back to calling an adversary.
To anyone who remembers the Cold War (1947-89), the reversal of roles is astonishing. Throughout the earlier period, it was Republicans who embraced the idea of open conflict with Russia, and Democrats who acquiesced in the arms race but tried to calm things down.
Chait, like many other pundits, has been caught up in nationalistic, pro-war fervor before. After September 11, he urged Democrats to “maintain their unity behind the war on terrorism and give Bush all the funding for it he needs.” He accused the Left of “looking for reasons” to oppose the Afghanistan invasion, and argued that “humanitarianism … requires more American fighting, not less.” In a now-infamous2002 column, he argued that “Saddam has provided strong evidence that he will not allow anything to deter him from pursuing weapons of mass destruction,” that a war against him would deter future dictators, and that alternatives to military action in Iraq had “failed for more than a decade.” He asserted that it’s “difficult to imagine that deposing Saddam will not greatly improve the living conditions and human rights of the Iraqi people,” and as late as May 2003, mocked the idea that Saddam had no WMDs, even arguing that their absence “proves that inspections could never have worked.” Chait was, of course, disastrously wrong.
Chait’s catastrophic misjudgement and subsequent events in Iraq didn’t appear to prompt any soul searching. Three years into the invasion, Chait argued that Bush simply “mismanaged” the war. Five years after that, he backed NATO intervention in Libya, with similarly disastrous consequences.