The Long View 2002-07-18: Morose Delectation
I had been a reader of First Things before I knew John wrote some articles for the magazine in its heyday, when Fr. Richard John Neuhaus was editor. Thirteen years later, I am still a subscriber, probably one of the more unusual ones, since it is primarily a journal for clerics and professional philosophers. Presumably, the average age of subscribers is also older than me, since many of the advertisements are for Catholic colleges. I am in the market for that kind of thing, but not for a long time.
John's prediction about the Federal budget deficit seems to have been correct. This also illustrates one of his consistent complaints about the Republican party: they have consistently advocated cutting taxes no matter what the consequence will be for the actual amount of money we will spend. He had a name for this: capital gains zombies. Gainsss! Gainsss!
John also believed that American evangelical Christians had an unseemly attraction to gum up the works Constitutional amendments, on the theory that government is a necessary evil. As a Catholic, John, and I, have no time for this kind of thing. This has informed my own views of the Tea Party movement. They are true believers that government is a necessary evil. This view simply has no place in Catholic political thinking.
Many thanks to Fr. Neuhaus of First Things for finding an English equivalent for "Schadenfreude." The term "morose delectation" was apparently used in some older guides to spiritual life to refer to the sin of taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. Fr. Neuhaus mentioned the term in "The Public Square" section of the August/September issue of First Things. He assures us that this is not what he felt about the disgrace of the hurriedly retired Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee. No, not one bit.
I actually share the lack of the sentiment. Rembert Weakland was a nitwit who deserved public repremand for undermining orthodoxy in the Benedictine Order and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee these many years. No point of principle was vindicated when he was discovered to have used hundreds of thousands of dollars of diocesan money to buy silence from a boyfriend. His personal failings were largely irrelevant to the harm he had done. One may be tempted to take satisfaction from the death of a suicide bomber who blows himself up prematurely in his basement, but not when he blows himself up in a crowd. That is pretty much what the archbishop did to the reputation of the American episcopate.
* * *
The New York City commission charged with deciding what to do with the old World Trade Center site has issued some tentative proposals. The disdain that met them was polite enough, considering the emotional sensitivity of the project and the natural contrariness of New Yorkers. Most people thought that the architecture in the six proposals was too timid. This was understandable, since the proposals really did not have much to say about architecture, but were mostly about where any new construction should be. The commission first wants to settle the street grid and the matter of the memorial. There is some sentiment that at least the holes where the Trade Center Towers used to be should be preserved. There are some people who want the whole 16 acres turned into a memorial park. The commission has tried to compromise.
For myself, I will begrudge every yard of open space as Osama's Victory Garden. Something superlative has to be done with the whole site to wrest it back from barbarism. The demand for real estate in the area is secondary; so, frankly, are the opinions of the families of those who died on September 11. Let the dead have a memorial that is among the wonders of the world, but the memorial cannot be a ruin.
Though I suspect the project needs no further promotion from me, I give my endorsement to Derek Turner's New World Trade Center. It consists of five towers, four at the corners of a square and one in the center. They would be connected by walkways every ten stories. Two garden levels transect all the towers. There would be a glass pyramid on top. Most elevators would be in the center tower, thus solving the familiar high-rise problem of elevator space. Redundant stairs and other escape mechanisms are in each tower. The whole thing would be over 1,700 feet tall, the largest building in the world. The memorial would be in the garden at ground level; each victim would be represented by an specified tree. The dead would not just get plaques. They would get their own forest.
Turner's plan calls for multiple use: commercial, residential, and retail. Also, the layout is open enough that the area in which the towers sit could become one of the world's great pedestrian malls. Maybe this particular plan is a pipe dream. Nonetheless, it would be a great improvement over not only the official proposals, but also the old World Trade Center itself.
* * *
Trent Lot was recently kind enough to send me a Republican Party Opinion Survey. The survey comes with a return envelope. The survey suggests, as an afterthought, that I post any spare dollars I might have on me along with the survey form.
Anyone who has ever done direct mail knows that the you don't tinker with a good package, even if it is full of obsolete information and misspellings. So, I can understand why these "polls" still ask whether I should be allowed to keep more of my hard-earned money, or whether I should pay higher taxes to conduct experiments on embryos. What none has asked recently, however, is whether the federal budget should be balanced, come Hell or high water.
The Republican claim about the current deficit is true: this year, at least, the deficit was not caused by the recent tax cuts, but by the downturn in the economy. However, that may not be true in later years. It is arguably the case that the cuts lock in a structural deficit for later in this decade.
The degree of seriousness with which the Republican Party deserves to be taken will turn on how it deals with this problem. If it gets into the habit of raising and lowering taxes in response to the real behavior of the economy, then the party will have a future. However, if it turns to bogus notions, like a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, then we know the party will come to a bad end in this world and the next.