Something is a recent blog post by Rod Dreher reminded me of a scene from a play. The play, Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, dramatizes the 1925 trial of John Scopes who was eventually convicted and fined $100 for the crime of teaching evolution in a Tennessee public school. It was the conflict of science vs. religion, enlightenment vs. bigotry, knowledge vs. ignorance. In a dramatic climax science and enlightenment delivered a crushing defeat to the forces of ignorance. Though John Scopes and his fictional counterpart Bert Cates were both convicted, science and knowledge were vindicated in a fiery courtroom confrontation in which the progressive defense attorney thoroughly discredited the Christian conservative.
DRUMMOND (Sharply) The first day. Was it a twenty-four-hour day?
BRADY The Bible says it was a day.
DRUMMOND There wasn’t any sun. How do you know how long it was?
BRADY (Determined) The Bible says it was a day.
DRUMMOND A normal day, a literal day, a twenty-four-hour day? (Pause. BRADY is unsure.)
BRADY I do not know.
DRUMMOND What do you think?
BRADY (Floundering) I do not think about things that . . . I do not think about!
DRUMMOND Do you ever think about things that you do think about? (There is some laughter. But it is dampened by the knowledge and awareness throughout the courtroom, that the trap is about to be sprung) Isn’t it possible that first day was twenty-five hours long? There was no way to measure it, no way to tell! Could it have been twenty-five hours?
But in his blog post, The Backlash Is Building, Dreher shows that roles have gotten reversed over the decades. In 1925 the public school teacher was punished for teaching the forbidden knowledge, the theory of evolution because it was said to contradict the story of Genesis as told in the Bible. Progressives fought against that law and fought against the notion that there are some ideas that need to be suppressed. Nowadays the progressives are the ones who punish heretical thought.
When former Google engineer James Damore wrote an internal memo suggesting that Google's management might try a different strategies in their efforts to promote diversity at Google, retribution against him was swift and harsh. His sin was to suggest that there are differences between men and women that might be taken into consideration. Damore was fired. But then unexpectedly, Damore's firing raised something of a backlash in the progressive ranks.
One of Dreher's readers writes:
The firing of James Damore back in August was what really made me start hesitating about my previous view that “political correctness” was, as Vox, the New Yorker, and all the other right-thinking people say, a Fox News attempt to discredit politeness. Here was a guy who was making a calm, carefully reasoned argument that some of Google’s diversity initiatives might not be the best way to achieve diversity, and that Googlers should be free to criticize such policies. In response, not only was he fired (and with a publicity that basically guarantees he’ll never work for a Silicon Valley firm again), but he was subjected to a regularly scheduled bout of Two Minutes’ Hate every day for weeks.
Now, I have no idea whether Damore’s arguments were sound. For all I know, the studies he cited might be garbage or his inferences might be wrong, although I doubt it, in light of at least some psychologists’ willingness to come forward and defend some of his claims. I have no investment in whether his arguments were successful, and for that matter, I doubt he did either. The point is that the very possibility of debate on this issue was foreclosed.
Dreher's leftist reader gets it about the nature of political correctness: it's purpose is to end debate or preclude the possibility of it. But I find the reader's disinterest in the soundness of Damore's arguments to be astonishing. Why would one not examine Damore's arguments and form an opinion? If Damore's ideas are so heretical that to voice them is to risk firing, blackball, and possibly financial ruin, isn't it worth the investment of a little time and effort to understand what they are? What could be that bad about them? Dreher's reader wasn't interested.
Or maybe there is some defensive self censorship going on. But doesn't that seem particularly timid? Don't progressives pride themselves on speaking truth to power? In this case truth was spoken anonymously. Still, it's an encouraging development that progressive authority is questioned. But even as they inch away from progressive dogma, doubters seem reluctant to think about things that they don't think about -- not interested in the soundness of opposing arguments.
Another of Dreher's leftist readers confessed:
I found myself perplexed that so many of the wonderful, God fearing people that I knew and loved had voted for Trump.
And so, for the first time in my life I began to really read people with whom I did not agree. I read conservative Reformed writers. I began to read your blog. I sought out other voices, some that had voted for Trump, some that fell closer to the “Never Trumper” category.
An amazing thing happened. I began to see that there were enormous logical inconsistencies in some of the things that I had thought, especially on cultural issues. I saw that my beliefs couldn’t stand up to rigorous thought and scrutiny. And more than that, if I claimed Christ, there were things that I believed and espoused, especially regarding abortion and sexuality, that had to change. I had gone looking for intellectual rigor and much to my surprise I found it not in Cultural Leftism, but in orthodox Christian, especially Reformed (broadly defined), thought.
So where do I find myself now? I still see Trump and his crew as an existential threat to our Republic. The wholesale destruction of democratic norms and the open and blatant corruption pains me (I might be unusual among [former] Leftists in that I have always had a great love of the Republic, with all of its flaws and foibles. It comes, I think, from being a deep student of the Revolutionary era).
The first thing that astonishes me is the confession that it might be unusual for leftists to harbor any "great love of the Republic." We on the right always suspected as much. There is certainly no love of the Constitution among progressives, but we never expected anyone come right out and say it.
The second thing that stood out was the admission of awakening to "enormous logical inconsistencies" in his own thinking, which came about when he began reading conservative writers. Then in the very next paragraph, he says that he sees "Trump and his crew as an existential threat to our Republic." He is pained by the "wholesale destruction of democratic norms," though it's not obvious to me what democratic norms have been destroyed. But allow me to point out a logical inconsistency. DACA.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA was the invention of former President Barack Obama. Neither the House nor the Senate passed any legislation that would protect "undocumented" children -- those who were illegally brought to America, through no fault of their own -- from deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Obama provided such protections for "Dreamers" by executive order. Doing so was so far outside of traditional democratic norms, that it should be considered unconstitutional. Congress, the legislative branch, is supposed to pass legislation that the president signs or vetoes. The president, the executive branch, is not supposed to make law on his own, yet the left embraces Obama's undemocratic imposition of DACA.
The DACA program was formed through executive action by former President Barack Obama in 2012 and allowed certain people who came to the U.S. illegally as minors to be protected from immediate deportation. Recipients, called Dreamers, were able to request “consideration of deferred action” for a period of two years, which was subject to renewal.
When Trump set a March 5, 2018 deadline to end the DACA program, unilaterally rescinding what Obama unilaterally imposed, the left howled in rage and ran to the courts where they found a sympathetic judge who ruled that a sitting president did not have the power to rescind the undemocratic action of his predecessor, and ordered that the DACA program continue. The Trump administration appealed, but the Supreme Court declined to take up the case until the normal appeals process has completed.
Here's the irony. Trump imposed the March 5th deadline in order to push the House and Senate toward passage of comprehensive immigration reform that would include resolving the status of the Dreamers. The passage of comprehensive immigration reform by the House and Senate would be in keeping with the founding fathers' notion of democratic norms. Trump was attempting to empower Congress. Somehow, progressives consider this an existential threat to our Republic.
As to Inherit the Wind, it turns out there was more dramatic license taken than I had originally imagined. Henry Drummond, fictional attorney for the defense and enlightened hero of the play, defeated a straw man in his cross examination of the hapless and bigoted Matthew Harrison Brady. Brady was a creature from the imaginations of Lawrence and Lee. He represented William Jennings Bryan who submitted to cross examination by Clarence Darrow in the real life Scopes trial. But Clarence Darrow did not do as well the fictional Drummond in his cross examination. Here is how the real life confrontation went, according to a University of Minnesota Law Library paper by Michael Hannon. Questions are from Clarence Darrow. Answers are from William Jennings Bryan.
Q—Then, when the Bible said, for in stance, "and God called the firmament heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day," that does not necessarily mean twenty-four hours?
A—I do not think it necessarily does.
Q—Do you think it does or does not?
A—I know a great many think so.
Q—What do you think?
A—I do not think it does.
Q—You think those were not literal days?
A—I do not think they were twenty-four-hour days.
Q—What do you think about it?
A—That is my opinion--I do not know that my opinion is better on that subject than those who think it does.
Q—You do not think that?
A—No. But I think it would be just as easy for the kind of God we believe in to make the earth in six days as in six years or in 6,000,000 years or in 600,000,000 years. I do not think it important whether we believe one or the other.
Q—Do you think those were literal days?
A—My impression is they were periods, but I would not attempt to argue as against anybody who wanted to believe in literal days.
Unlike Brady, who lost all composure under the pressure of Drummond's questions, William Jennings Bryan was unflustered by Darrow's badgering. Reading through the exchange I would have expected opposing counsel be jumping up to object: "Asked and answered," "Badgering the witness." Further in the Hannon paper:
For later accounts it seems to make a difference whether the commentator actually read the transcripts of the two hour exchange between Darrow and Bryan and the contemporary accounts of the trial. Alan Dershowitz wrote of the Bryan versus Darrow duel:
"As usual, the real story, as told in the trial transcript and in contemporaneous accounts, was more complex and far more interesting. The actual William Jennings Bryan was no simple-minded literalist, and he certainly was no bigot. He was a great populist who cared deeply about equality and about the down-trodden."
Dershowitz also gives Bryan more credit than many other writers: “All in all, a reading of the transcript shows Bryan doing quite well defending himself, while it is Darrow who comes off quite poorly—in fact, as something of an antireligious cynic.”
There was an informality about the Scopes trial. Bryan's testimony was voluntary. He was not sworn in. As the trial progressed it was moved outside due to extreme summer heat. They weren't sure at the end whether the judge or the jury should set the fine at $100. It was a circus. Through it all William Jennings Bryan held his own, contrary to what you might think if you get your history from the entertainment industry.
Funny to think that Inherit the Wind certain facts were suppressed in order to create the proper dramatic effect. The play was about the battle to open young minds to theories of evolution, yet in making their point progressive playwrights had to hide the fact that the real life Christian conservative had held his own against the progressive in their debate over it. Progressives are still busy hiding unfortunate facts.