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Of God and Mammon

 

Exhibit One: Let’s return to the 14th Century via Barbra Tuchman:

In economic man, the lay spirit did not challenge the Church, yet functioned in essential contradiction. Capitalist enterprise, although it held by now a commanding place, violated by its very nature the Christian attitude towards commerce, which was one of active antagonism. It held that money was evil, that according to St. Augustine “Business is in itself an evil,” that profit beyond a minimum necessary to support the dealer was avarice, that to make money out of money by charging interest on a loan was the sin of usury, that buying goods wholesale and selling them unchanged at a higher retail price was immoral and condemned by canon law, that, in short, St. Jerome’s dictum was final: “Homo mercator vix aut numquam potest Deo placere.” (A man who is a merchant can seldom if ever please God).

It followed that banker, merchant, and businessman lived in daily commission of sin and daily contradiction of the moral code centering upon the “just price.” This was based on the principle that a craft should supply each man a livelihood and a fair return to all, but no more. Prices should be set at a ‘just” level, meaning the value of the labor added to the value of the raw material. To ensure that no one gained an advantage over anyone else, commercial law prohibited innovation in tools or techniques, underselling below a fixed price, working late by artificial light, employing extra apprentices or wife and under-age children, and advertising of wares or praising them to the detriment of others. As restraint of initiative, this was the direct opposite of capitalist enterprise. It was the denial of economic man, and consequently even more routinely violated than the denial of sensual man.

-A Distant Mirror

Exhibit Two:

For America’s white evangelical Christians, it turns out that there is something more important than morals. In a 2011 study, the Public Religion Research Institute asked Americans if elected officials could fulfill their public duties if they committed immoral acts in their private lives.

White evangelical Protestants were the least forgiving. Sixty-one percent said such a politician could not “behave ethically,” twice the 30 percent who felt that such a politician could manage it.

Among all groups, evangelicals were the least tolerant on this point. But in the era of Trump, evangelicals have undergone a sea change.

Five years later, in October, 2016, P.R.R.I. asked the same question. The percentage of white evangelical Protestants who said that a politician who commits an immoral act in their personal life could still behave ethically shot up from 30 to 72 percent. The percentage saying such a politician could not serve ethically plunged from 61 to 20 percent.

Exhibit Three:

Jack Goldsmith in The Atlantic

Donald Trump is testing the institution of the presidency unlike any of his 43 predecessors. We have never had a president so ill-informed about the nature of his office, so openly mendacious, so self-destructive, or so brazen in his abusive attacks on the courts, the press, Congress (including members of his own party), and even senior officials within his own administration. Trump is a Frankenstein’s monster of past presidents’ worst attributes: Andrew Jackson’s rage; Millard Fillmore’s bigotry; James Buchanan’s incompetence and spite; Theodore Roosevelt’s self-aggrandizement; Richard Nixon’s paranoia, insecurity, and indifference to law; and Bill Clinton’s lack of self-control and reflexive dishonesty.

“Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm,” James Madison wrote in one of the Federalist Papers during the debates over the ratification of the Constitution. He was right, but he never could have imagined Donald Trump.

Exhibit Four:

E.J. Dionne Jr. at The Washington Post

One of the barriers to sensible politics is the opportunism that so often infects our debates about what government is there for, where we want it to be energetic and how we can keep it from violating the basic rights of citizens.

The muddled nature of our discussions of these matters has been brought home by two unfortunate events: the mass suffering unleashed by Hurricane Harvey and President Trump’s pardon of former sheriff Joe Arpaio.

In the case of the vicious storm, we are reminded that some politicians think government is great when it helps their own constituents and wasteful if it helps anyone else. [...]

We also regularly assert that government is better when it prevents problems than when it focuses primarily on cleaning up after the fact. But when environmentalists suggest that development can be carried out in more sustainable ways or that climate change is worth dealing with, they are mocked as “anti-business” or “crisis-mongers.” Then a crisis comes, and we wonder why the politicians were so shortsighted.

As for the Arpaio pardon, it is seen as technically legal because presidential authority in this area is almost unlimited. But it may be the most dangerous act of Trump's presidency. The occupant of the White House has claimed the power to permit government agents to violate the constitutional rights of Americans and to override the courts if he doesn't like what they're doing. This is the largest single step toward autocracy Trump has taken.

At the Exit:

From Ars Technica

PETA made headlines recently when it bankrolled a lawsuit against a nature photographer, claiming that an Indonesian macaque monkey named Naruto owned the intellectual property rights on a selfie it had taken when it snagged the photographer’s camera in 2011. On Monday, PETA officially dropped the suit, but according to the terms of the settlement 25 percent of the gross revenue from the selfie will go to Naruto’s welfare and habitat. 

Unkwil

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Uncle Willie loves to have feedback from both readers who appreciate his point of view as well as from missguided souls who disagree.