What's Tony Thinking

You Can Run But You Cannot Hide


As noted in recent posts, we are in Mexico, San Miguel de Allende, where I am serving as a “Minister-in-Residence” for the Community Church of SMA, an English-speaking congregation, made up largely of ex-pats from the U.S. as well as Canada.

Does being here mean that we have escaped the acrimonious world of U.S. politics? Some maybe, but not entirely.

Last evening we went to a talk by Linda Greenhouse, journalist and author, longtime reporter who covered the U.S. Supreme Court for decades for the New York Times. A Pulitzer Prize winner. Greenhouse explored why the Court has lost trust and approval in the country, which is a fairly recent development. She noted that many predicted the Court’s status would be irreparably damaged by its decision in the 2000 Bush v. Gore presidential election. Didn’t happen. Only now does SCOTUS’s “approval rating” hover in the 40% or below area.

The audience for her talk was 300 to 400, mostly American ex-pats (as one would expect given the topic), mostly older and largely, but not exclusively, white. Probably a pretty affluent crowd as well. And to judge from applause, laughs and groans the audience was heavily liberal to left-leaning.

Before getting into her formal talk Greenhouse briefly addressed what she called “the elephant in the room,” i.e. the Court’s 9-0 decision this week that individual states, e.g. Colorado, may not bar Donald Trump from the 2024 ballot. The immediate response of the audience suggested they were upset by this decision and that they expected Greenhouse to be too. If I understood her correctly, she wasn’t. She agreed with the decision, then went on to comment briefly on two things.

One, she said that she found the apoplectic reaction in response to the court’s action on the left “surprising.” While acknowledging that she herself leans left, she said didn’t get the vitriol from that quarter. Second, she brought up Amy Coney Barrett — eliciting groans from crowd. But Greenhouse had complimentary words about ACB’s solo brief on the case in which ACB faulted both the conservative majority and liberal minority of the court for their stridency. Given the current climate, ACB found this to be unnecessary and unfortunate. Greenhouse agreed. So, these off-the-cuff comments threw a bit of a curve ball to her audience. But she moved quickly to her formal talk.

In that presentation, Greenhouse traced the evolution of the court to its present conservative “agenda,” and expressed apprehension over multiple aspects of that, particularly the Dobbs decision overturning Roe. She noted that with the three Trump appointees, the Roberts Court had succeeded in accomplishing the five-pronged conservative agenda, for which the ground work had been laid starting in 1980. She noted that while the right worked steadily and tenaciously toward their goals, the Democratic Party had mostly been asleep at the switch, failing to see what was going on and to respond in any effective measure.

She did repeatedly say that the Court was now out of touch with “the public.” I wondered about that usage. I doubt that we can use the definite article and speak of “the American public” today. There are multiple publics, or so it seems to me. Greenhouse’s imagined “public” may be closer to her San Miguel audience, an educated, older, by and large, liberal and white. An “elite” I guess. I wondered if that crowd, which is my demographic too, has also been somewhat “asleep at the switch” when it comes to other slices of the country and their shifting politics?

When the talk ended and we moved into Q and A unexpected fireworks began. The first person at the microphone was a younger American, one of the few in the room not grey-haired. She came loaded for bear. Maybe she was a plant, maybe not? I don’t know. I suspect Greenhouse has seen her type before.

As often happens in such Q and A sessions (regardless of whether the person asking their question is friendly or hostile), people have a hard time asking an actual question. They need to establish their cred, to make their own point (or two) and then and only then will maybe get around to a question which is often something like “don’t you agree?” “Or would you comment on what I just said?” Not very edifying. How about a program insert on “how to ask a question”?

First-to-mic-gal did some of all that, with a discernibly hostile tone. That gave rise to evident consternation in the general audience followed by growing alarm. Mic-gal seemed to be asking why Americans don’t trust the government (she had some stats), which morphed into “why don’t Americans trust the ‘legacy media,’ (more stats) which you (Ms. Greenhouse) represent, even embody?” People gasped, grumbled and looked for the hook. When it eventually came the woman took the occasion to say, more than once, “Shame on you,” to both Greenhouse and to the audience as she exited the ballroom.

Had she simply asked her question, whether it was, “why don’t Americans trust the government?” or “why don’t Americans trust the legacy/ mainstream media?” and do so without the hostile vibe, that might have been worthwhile. But it didn’t happen that way.

So here too in our San Miguel enclave, the tribalism and talking in silos, happens. Although, as noted, Greenhouse herself pushed back on that a bit in her opening comments, which I appreciated. It’s so easy to pick our side, congratulate ourselves for being on the right side, and cast aspersions on the other side. That we haven’t escaped by coming here.

Well, maybe we have escaped it a little. The congregation I serve is politically mixed (D’s and R’s, and probably quite a few I’s). It is also theologically diverse (most are mainline Protestant of one flavor or another, but with some evangelicals and a healthy contingent of former Catholics).

Clergy are asked to avoid overt political commentary/ partisanship and to focus on the “central affirmations” of the Christian faith. I’m good with that. Given the general polarization and tribalization of the U.S., and the way many churches have now conformed themselves to those divides, I appreciate the attempt of this congregation to keep first things first and to put their Christian identity ahead of their political ones.



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