Featured Post


If you're a student looking for syllabi, click the "Academic Home Page" link on your right, and start there.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Thoughts on Reading (and Being Surprised by) Isaiah

[Cross-posted to By Common Consent]

Back in 2014, I embarked on a read of the complete Old Testament, with a close focus on the text. It took me two-and-a-half years to finish, and my insights along the way were hugely important to the way I have come to think about scripture and what it has to say about my life. Last year I decided to repeat that read, since Robert Alter, whose translations of various books were central to my first journey through the Old Testament, had finally finished his edition of the entire Hebrew Bible, and wanted his poetic sensibility and commentary to guide me through what I'd missed before. Of those missing parts, none were more important than Isaiah (the image here is Marc Chagall's surrealist interpretation of Isaiah 6:6, when one of God's seraphim descends from heaven, touches the prophet's lips with a burning coal taken from God's altar, cleansing his lips and calling him to reveal God's will).

The centralized Sunday school schedule followed by the Mormon church around the world has only recently finished reading Isaiah; it is a heavily proof-texted and selective approach--but then, Isaiah itself has been heavily proof-texted and read selectively by Christians for centuries. No other set of poetic and prophetic texts which made their way into the canonical Old Testament have had a similarly massive impact on how Christians, over all the course of ancient and medieval and even modern Christendom, articulated the faith which the recorded statements of Jesus and the accounts and letters of His early followers inspired. It's not just that Jesus Himself is shown in the New Testament gospels to be quoting from or referencing Isaiah more than any other Old Testament book besides the Psalms; it's that our entire cultural and theological appropriation to and interpretation of Jesus's message and meaning comes to us via a heavily Isaian lens--language of Handel's Messiah being just the most obvious example. And Mormons like me have our own particular doubling-down on this; you can't get a more unambiguous association than the resurrected Jesus explicitly stating in 3 Nephi 23:1 in our Book of Mormon, "great are the words of Isaiah."

That the words of the prophet--or possibly two or even more prophets, spread out over a century, all writing under the name of Isaiah--are great is something I fully agree with. (When I summed up my Old Testament journey before with personal ranking of its books, I put Isaiah in my top ten but near the bottom; now that I've read Alter's translation, I think I need to push him up a few slots.) The poetry of the book is stunning, and frequently arresting, especially for a life-long Christian whose background assumptions include a Christianizing of the language of the Isaian text at such a basic, routine level as to often not even be aware of it. It soars to immense heights, but also digs deep within; it's lovely. For whatever it's worth, I want to share some of what Alter's translated words captured for me--and also push back against Alter is one crucial way, where is deeply informed secular perspective struggles to make sense of something which all us clumsy, pious proof-texters over the millennia might have gotten right after all.

From the beginning, the book of Isaiah is--far more than those associated with any of the other Old Testament prophets--is a text which presents calls to social justice on the same level as its condemnations of the cultic failures and ritual sins of Israel. Isaiah 1:14-17 sets the theme with its explicit comparison of those who hypocritically attend outwardly to religious duties, but ignore the needs of those who are part of that same religious community:

Your new moons and your appointed times I utterly despise. / They have become a burden to me, I cannot bear them. / And when you spread your palms, I avert My eyes from you. / Though you abundantly pray, I do not listen. Your hands are full of blood. / Wash, become pure. Remove your evil acts from My eyes. Cease doing evil. / Learn to do good, seek justice. / Make the oppressed happy, defend the orphan, argue the widow's case.

Importantly, the text of Isaiah regularly connects the evil that must be ceased if the orphan is to be defended with the accumulation of wealth itself, entirely aside form what charitable purposes such wealth might be set to. Growth itself, in a society where land had been--at least insofar as the legends of the Israeli conquest of Palestine suggested to those living in the 7th century BCE--distributed as an inheritance to every family, risks great evil: "Woe, who add house to house, who put field together with field till there is no space left, and you alone are settled, in the heart of the land. / In the hearing of the Lord of Armies: I swear, many houses shall turn to ruin, great and good ones with none living in them" (Isaiah 5:8-9). Of course in today's economy, far more shaped as it is by speculative, debt-financed exchanges of information and images than by productive, land-based work, such warnings about growth might be easy to dismiss as limited to the agrarian world of ancient Israel. That the author(s) of Isaiah were primarily reflective of an agrarian sensibility is undeniable--but perhaps recognizing the pastoral and anti-urban context from which such beautiful visions and invocations of God's justice were articulated ought to be recognized as potentially inseparable from the repentance which this prophet-author called for as well. Consider Isaiah 32: 13-20:

On My people's soil thorn and thistle shall spring up / for on all the houses of revelry, the merrymaking town, / the villa is abandoned, the town's hubbub left behind. / The citadel and the tower become bare places for all time, / wild asses' revelry, pasture for the flocks. / Till a spirit is poured on us from above, and the desert turns to farmland and farmland is reckoned as forest / And justice abides in the desert, and righteousness dwells in the farmland. / And the doing of righteousness shall be peace, and the work of righteousness, safe and quiet forever. / And My people shall swell in abodes of peace, in safe dwellings and tranquil places of rest. / And it shall come down as the forest comes down, and in the lowland the town shall come low. / Happy, you who sow near all waters, who let loose the ox and the donkey.

Pastoral visions like this naturally generate all the usual individualistic reactions--start associating God's promises some kind of communitarian ideal, and the next thing you know everyone's on the hunt to drive out the dissidents, the foreigners, and anyone else who is seen as not fitting in with the community, right? To be sure, there's really no way to honestly discern in the Isaian voice any kind of validation of liberal concerns; it just ain't there. But, perhaps surprisingly, what is there--and which I'd never noticed, until I read Alter's translation--is the degree to which the prophecies in the book of Isaiah reflect the Mosaic insistence upon respect for, even the inclusion of, the stranger--even strangers that live in ways contrary to the community's shared faith. "And let not the foreigner say, who joins the Lord, saying / 'The Lord has kept me apart from his people,' nor let the eunuch say, 'Why, I am a withered tree.' / For thus said the Lord: Of the eunuchs who keep My sabbath, / and choose what I desire and hold fast to My covenant, / I will give them in My house and within My walls a marker and a name better than sons and daughters, an everlasting name will I give them that shall not be cut off..../ For My house a house of prayer shall be called for all the peoples" (Isaiah 56:3-5, 7). These kind of almost-if-not-quite universalist moves appear frequently throughout text (especially in the later, so-called Second Isaiah sections). Of course, that move away from understanding God's revelation solely in terms of a tribal covenant and towards recognizing in it the seeds of a kind of universal love, is, culturally at least, inseparable from Jesus's message in the Sermon of the Mount and elsewhere that God calls us to higher law. And while Alter's presentation of the book of Isaiah is rigorously committed to a secular literary interpretive lens, there comes a point when even he struggles to separate the voice coming through these ancient prophecies from the Christian promise.

It's not the usual suspects; passages like Isaiah 9:5 ("For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us, and leadership is on his shoulders") are pretty obviously--at least in Alter's capable linguistic hands--presented as belonging to 7th-century BCE concerns particular to an Israel longing for an escape from the threats posed by Assyria, Babylon, and Persia. But then you come to Isaiah 53, starting with a powerful question--"Who could believe what we heard, and to whom was the Lord's arm revealed?"--and going from there into a long, unprecedented vision of a Servant, first mentioned in the previous chapter, who redeems Israel through his suffering. Alter, while dismissing the Christian interpretation, to his credit admits that the verses perplex him, suggesting as they do a posthumous restoration of a Servant whose identity--as least insofar as "virtually all serious scholars" are concerned--remains unclear:

Yet he was wounded for our crimes, crushed for our transgressions. / The chastisement that restored our well-being he bore, and through his bruising we were healed. / All of us strayed like sheep, each turned to his own way, / and the Lord brought down on him the crimes of all of us. / Afflicted and tormented, he opened not his mouth. / Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like an ewe mute before her shearers he opened not his mouth. / By oppressive judgment he was taken off, and who can speak of where he lives? / For he was cut off from the land of the living for My people's crime, bearing their blight. / And his grave was put with the wicked, and with evildoers his death, / for no outrage he had done and no deceit in his mouth..../ My servant shall put the righteous in the right for many, and their crimes he shall bear. / Therefore I will give him shares among the many, and with the mighty he shall share out spoils, / for he laid himself bare to death and was counted among the wrongdoers, / and it is he who bore the offense of many and interceded for the wrongdoers (Isaiah 53:5-9, 11-12) 

My reading of the Old Testament over the years has, more than anything else, taught me to think in terms of God's patient, always evolving, always emergent work: the divine power manifest through the inconsistency and inconstancy of we fallen human beings. Such haphazardness, revealing almost against its own grain the loving attendance of the Creator, has come to me to be essential to understanding the whole complicated structure of this ancient, fascinating, maddening collection of texts. What I have come to not expect, by and large, is exactly the sort of thing so many Christians like myself were raised to focus solely upon: proof of the truthfulness of some doctrine or practice or miracle, delivered to us whole, across centuries of time and thousands of editorial interventions (both intentional and unintentional), in the plain words of the text. I'm pretty confident at this point that I'm really not missing much actual spiritual nourishment by discounting pious claims of such. But when a text more than 2500 years old lays out the possibility of resurrection and restoration, one that has barely any connection to what we know about Hebrew thought of the time, and which matches both future texts and the spiritual experiences of hundreds of millions so well? In this case, bring on "All We Like Sheep," says I. I mean, Christmas is on its way, isn't it?

Friday, November 11, 2022

Planning and "The Politics of Beauty": Reflections on Stewart Udall

[Cross-posted to Front Porch Republic

John de Graaf, an author, filmmaker, and friend of Front Porch Republic, has recently completed a documentary tribute to a hero of his: Stewart Udall, the pioneering conservationist who in many ways defined (almost entirely for better, though perhaps, in a small way, partly for worse) the environmental agenda of the U.S. government and, more specifically, the Democratic party for the past 60 years. “Stewart Udall: The “Politics of Beauty” is a gorgeously shot and highly informative short movie, a wonderful introduction to a fairly unique and entirely admirable figure from 20th-century American history: a crew-cutted WWII veteran and New Frontier liberal whose passion for the natural world literally changed the landscape of this country--but also an open-minded thinker, a lover of poetry, family, and community, whose conservationist passions led him to be ever more conscious, as the decades went by, of the complications inherent to the liberal statism through which he did his greatest work (even if he never did turn against it entirely). In an essay last year, de Graaf called Udall a “true conservative,” someone who “really wanted to conserve things: land, air, water, beauty, the arts and graces, gentle human relations, the best of tradition, democratic ideals,” and this movie reflects that aspect of Udall’s life very well.

Udall’s early history—his birth into the Udall family in 1920 (which was already by then an expanding political clan), his life as a young Mormon in Saint Johns, Arizona, and the poverty, the conflicts, and the fellowship which existed in that arid farming community—is by no means the focus of de Graff’s film, but I was entranced by those opening shots and the story it told, complete with comments from Udall’s surviving siblings. It put me in mind of my own maternal grandfather, Joseph Arben Jolley, who was born just four years before Udall in Tropic, Utah, a similarly remote and tiny Mormon hamlet on the Colorado Plateau (though 300 miles, a couple of mountain ranges, and several Native reservations separate the two towns). Like my grandfather, Udall’s early years were without electricity or running water, something which FDR’s New Deal (specifically the Rural Electrification Act) changed, with radical consequences for the Udall family—among other things, they became Democrats, convinced that government action really can improve human lives.

It was that conviction, tied to his passion for racial and, especially, environmental justice, which shaped his public career, first as an elected representative, and then as Secretary of the Interior under both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. During those years, Udall orchestrated the establishment of more national parks, historical monuments, wildlife refuges, and recreational areas than any other Interior Secretary either before or since; if you’ve ever visited Canyonlands National Park, or hiked the Appalachian Trail, or spent time at over a hundred other similar locations across America’s beautiful and diverse ecosystems and geography, it’s likely that you have Stewart Udall at least partly to thank. His years of government service were not restricted to what he did to strengthen and expand the conservationist mentality in Washington D.C.; de Graaf’s documentary does an excellent job highlighting Udall’s broad engagement with cultural issues, as well the tensions and frustrations he faced as a leading government official during the heights of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and all the protests both unleashed. But still, it is the lessons he leaned in Saint Johns, the way he applied those lessons, the things he learned from his struggles over them, and how his own take on those lessons thus evolved over the decades, which strike me as most valuable to America today.

In 1963, Udall published his first book, The Quiet Crisis. An idiosyncratic and unsystematic but still deeply insightful history of conservation attitudes and efforts throughout American history, its perspective on the role of government in protecting wilderness, particularly in the American West, was in some ways superseded by later books of his. But the original remains something of lost classic, regularly rediscovered and praised by those trying to understand the development of American society’s relationship to the land. Reading it in conjunction with watching de Graaf’s film both complicates and deepens our understanding of this indefatigable public servant.

In these pages, there are a fair number of embarrassing paeans to the presumed virtue and wisdom of American planners and policy-makers. Among others, the book begins with Udall presenting the national government’s Indian Claims Commission, which is generally accepted to have utterly failed in its task to treat Native land claims justly, “as a singular gesture of atonement, which no civilized country has ever matched,” and then towards the conclusion includes some glowing praise for Robert Moses, the devastating over-builder of American cities, highlighting his efforts to “overcome earlier failures to plan” and bring to American urban areas “asphalt for beach parking lots, for playgrounds, and for roads” (pp. 11, 163-164). But between such missteps, there much worth admiring and pondering.

In The Quiet Crisis, Udall provides thoughtful portraits—and critiques—of influential naturalists, conservationists, and geographers like George Perkins Marsh, Gifford Pinchot, John Wesley Powell, John Muir, and Frederick Law Olmstead. He off-handedly introduces the idea of global warning decades before scientific debates over such crashed into the public consciousness ("What are the long-range results of man's modification of the environment? When men clear a forest in order to make space for agriculture, how does this clearing affect the climate, the rate of erosion of soil, and the populations of birds and other wild animals?"--p. 81). Predictably, the book includes vicious condemnations of what he various refers to as the “Big Raid,” the “Great Giveaway,” and the “Myth of Superabundance,” the guiding ideology of many American business interests and monopolists which, facing only occasional resistance, exploited and denuded American forests, ecosystems, watersheds, species, grasslands, resources, and more throughout the 19th century and the first part of the 20th. Perhaps just as predictably, he lavishly praises those who took executive action on behalf of environmental interests, particularly Presidents Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. According to Udall, TR “regarded himself as the trustee of the lands owned by the people” and “dared to use his pen,” aggressively expanding the application of the Reclamation Act and the Antiquities Act so as to more than quadruple the size of protected natural lands in the United States (though whether TR’s actions really “dealt a decisive blow to the Myth of Superabundance” in America is doubtful--pp. 131, 136). And in Udall’s view, FDR’s New Deal aimed to reverse effects of “the Big Raids…[during which] much of the nation's resource capital had been borrowed and used up to advance the personal fortunes of a few”; through the creation of the REA, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Soil Conservation Service, and more, the government aimed to “to invest in land-rebuilding programs that would assure adequate resources for tomorrow….[with] the needs of the community and of the next generation…given first priority" (p. 144).

Udall’s reference there to “the needs of the community” may give one pause here, and it should. Because as the aforementioned tendency in The Quiet Crisis to occasionally see national planning as an obvious solution to any environmental or historical or urban problem demonstrates, Udall’s passion for the American landscape and wildlife was not always entirely cognizant of the local people who actually live in those landscapes and with that wildlife. It’s an attitude he clearly struggled with; in “The Politics of Beauty,” de Graaf shows an excerpt from a 2003 interview with Udall, in which he reflects that “there has always been local opposition, regional opposition, state opposition to the creation of new national parks….because people…wanted to control [the land around them] and do it the way they wanted to do it.” But even 40 years earlier, Udall was, I think, conscious of the ambiguity here. On my reading, the heart of that ambiguity resides with Henry David Thoreau, whom Udall calls “one of our first preservationists” and “a naturalist’s naturalist,” and whom, I believe, haunts his thinking. Consider his criticism of the man’s oeuvre:

Thoreau was alarmed by the Raider spirit, but he failed to realize that the land spoilers were already in command, and were committed to a course of action that would destroy the land values he prized the most. With his negative feelings about government and politics, he failed to perceive that it would take government action to stop the destruction. There were other contradictions:  although he abhorred the very thought of social action, land conservation could not begin until men organized for action; he was anti-reformer, but it would take the crusading zeal of reform-minded men to save the woods and wildlife; he was, moreover, the most thoroughgoing nonconformist alive, though the dangerous drift of the time pointed to the need for conformity to minimum rules of resource management. In short, government action was necessary to curb the exploitation of resources and allow the land to renew itself, but Henry David Thoreau was constitutionally and unalterably antiprogram and antigovernment (p. 52).

To Udall, the results of this disposition was obvious: no national parks, no resistance to those would abuse the natural world for their own profit. And yet, consider also Udall’s concluding remarks, in which he looks out the suburbanizing, postwar America he was partly responsible for leading:

We are now a nomadic people, and our new-found mobility had deprived us of a sense of belonging to a particular place. Millions of Americans have no tie to the 'natural habitat' that is their home....A land ethic for tomorrow should be as honest as Thoreau's Walden....Henry David Thoreau would scoff at the notion that the Gross National Product should be the chief index to the state of the nation, or that automobile sales of figures on consumer consumption reveal anything significant about the authentic art of living. He would surely assert that a clean landscape is as important as a freeway, he would deplore every planless conquest of the countryside, and he would remind his countrymen that a glimpse of a grouse can be more inspiring than a Hollywood spectacular or color television. To those who complain of the complexity of modern life, he might reply, 'If you want inner peace find it in solitude, not speed, and if you would find yourself, look to the land from which you came and to which you go (pp. 189-190).

This ambivalence—leavening what is otherwise a learned and vigorous defense of what Udall clearly understood as a progressive and beneficial fight by experts to tame American individualism and protect America’s natural bounty, most especially in the arid ecosystems of the American West—shouldn’t surprise anyone who sees in Udall the mature wisdom which de Graaf’s movie so ably demonstrates. Udall was a person capable of changing his mind—about the postwar passion for dam-building, most prominently—and of growing and rethinking as the years went by. That growth helped him come to see the foolishness of his support for Cold War policies which have paved the way for American militarism, and to regret his support for energy and highway development projects which have only led to greater urban centralization and pollution. His deep, almost religious commitment to principles of frugality, family, and justice (my sole complaint with de Graaf’s wonderful documentary is that its brief references to Udall’s Mormonism don’t capture the complicated reality of his membership in his and my shared tribe) may have expressed themselves in different ways over the decades, but they surely only grew stronger with time.

It would be too much to say that the work he committed himself to in the decades following his later years—among other things, a long legal struggle to get the national government to acknowledge the harms of the radiation it had exposed thousands to through nuclear testing in the American southwest through the 1950s and 1960s—was something he took on as a penance. On the contrary, it’s unlikely he ever regretted his role in using the power of the national government to accomplish ends which provided great benefits to the broader public, to say nothing of the benefits to the ecosystems which his push for conservation and protecting wilderness areas made possible. But I do think that over the years the ambivalence I sense in his writing--an ambivalence which reflected a frustration with Thoreau's rejection of collective action, but also an admiration for Thoreau's committed locality--put him on a somewhat different trajectory. He's not alone in finding himself struggling over the best balance between the local and the national, or between engaging individual ecological tending and establishing collective ecological boundaries. As I noted years ago, in connection with other contentious acts of national conservation--the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, specifically--Udall's trajectory has been shared by other Interior Secretaries as well. In an essay for Front Porch Republic, Nathan Nielson once spelled out this dynamic well: reflecting upon the protective routinization which the National Park Service provides to America’s beautiful places, Nielson observed that while “local governments have a better sense of what the land means…the federal route is the only viable option when the clamor for nature reaches critical mass.” Indeed.

In a letter Udall wrote to his grandchildren in 2005, Udall had a lot of advice, some of it still quite programmatic and planning oriented, and perhaps defensibly so. But he also brought his mature, reflective perspective to bear on his own part in the ambitious planning of his generation:

Operating on the assumption that energy would be both cheap and superabundant, I admit, led my generation to make misjudgments that have come back and now haunt and perplex your generation. We designed cities, buildings, and a national system of transportation that were inefficient and extravagant. Now, the paramount task of your generation will be to correct those mistakes with an efficient infrastructure that respects the limitations of our environment to keep up with damages we are causing.

Not a fully Thoreau-esque statement, to be sure, but one that is perhaps animated at least in part by his non-comformist, place-loving spirit nonetheless. Sharon Francis, Udall’s longtime aid who knew his work as well as anyone, was extensively interviewed by de Graaf; she called Udall “the Henry David Thoreau of his generation.” Ignoring all the circumstantial ways that comparison doesn't quite work (to say nothing of the fact that, two generations on from the high point of Udall's impact sixty years ago, perhaps environmentalism needs less Udallian confidence and more Wes-Jackson-style apocalyptism), and focusing instead on the shared, fundamental passions which make it essentially true, one can’t help but wonder: what better tribute could a true “conservative”—that is, a conserver of the land and the resources which provide human communities and indeed the whole human race with life and joy—possibly receive than that? "The Politics of Beauty" reminds us of this romantic, poetic, but also practical conservation-minded Udall, and that alone is reason to watch it again and again.

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Wondering About a (Highly Unlikely, But Not Inconceiveable) Local Wave

At the Great Plains Political Science Association annual conference held last weekend at Wichita State University, four political observers--three of them Insight Kansas contributors--were asked to make their predictions for next week’s elections. All four said they believed Sharice Davids would win re-election in the Third Congressional District; three out of the four said they believed Governor Laura Kelly would defeat Derek Schmidt and be re-elected; and two out of the four said they believed Chris Mann would defeat Kris Kobach and be elected Kansas’s attorney general. But further down the ballot, and pretty much everywhere else besides, maybe, the 3rd District and Kansas's northeast corner? The agreement was near unanimous (and in line with the latest public opinion analysis): November 8 will likely be a red wave, terrible night for the Democrats.

“Near unanimous,” of course, means at least one voice of dissent. The dissenter was me.

Am I totally confident in my belief that Kansas, come November 8, may provide national Democrats with some tiny, consoling blue ripples during an otherwise rough night (which, on the macro level, I agree it will be)? Not remotely. So why bother saying so, when the usual political science variables—a midterm election during the first term of an unpopular President at a time of high inflation—point towards a Democratic bloodbath?

Maybe it’s just contrariness. Or maybe it’s the lesson of two elections. Or maybe, once again, it's the yard signs.

The first election I’m thinking is the one we just had: the August primary vote on the “Value Them Both” amendment. That the size of the victory enjoyed by abortion-rights supporters has been much commented on—but more relevant here is just how much of a surprise it was.There had never really been a vote like that one before: a straight-up, yes-or-no vote regarding the right to at least minimal abortion services. Frankly, no one really had any data to work with. Reasonable guesses could be made on the basis of demographics or party affiliation—but no serious observer could have guessed that the amendment would lose by nearly 20 points (I certainly didn't). 

The 2016 election of Donald Trump similarly took a huge number of people by surprise—but in that case, the surprise wasn’t because of the lack of data, but because so many people (myself included) didn’t take seriously all the relevant information—the unpopularity of Hillary Clinton, the shifts in white voting patterns in upper Midwestern states, etc.—which pointed to the real chance that Trump could win. It seemed to so many of us just so unlikely and bizarre that we discounted it. 

So we come to the Kansas 2022 elections, where we’re not in the same situation as before the August amendment vote. In fact, thanks to that vote, the Kansas Speaks survey, and some other data points, we know a fair amount, particularly about high levels of voter engagement among Democratic-leaning groups, and the early numbers which suggest that engagement may be continuing into the week of the election. We also know that Kelly’s approval numbers are pretty good, and that abortion, along with Medicaid expansion and medical marijuana legalization, are motivating many voters--presumably in a Democratic direction.

But are they motivating enough voters to entirely overcome the huge, historical advantages which Republicans enjoy in Kansas? Or all the other already-mentioned disadvantages weighing down Democrats this year? Probably not. 

But in this election I don’t want to discount the data out there, however limited it may be. Yes, the election fundamentals and the polling (as flawed as much of it may be) suggest fairly comprehensive Republican gains, both across the nation and here in Kansas as well. Nonetheless, I believe there really is a chance that not only will we see some top of the ballot Democrats winning in this state, but also see enough Democrats holding on to or flipping state houses races—perhaps in Manhattan, Shawnee, Emporia, Hays, Hutchinson, or even here in thoroughly polarized Wichita—such that the Republican super-majority in Topeka could actually be lost, bizarre as that may sound in the wake the Republican redistricting of state and congressional legislative districts earlier this year.
(I admit that I added Wichita to that list out of simple self-interested curiosity. I'm looking at Representative Dan Hawkins, my neighborhood's representative in the state house, and the House Majority Leader--a pretty powerful figure in the Kansas legislature. Yet in light of what I've written before about Wichita slowly turning purple, if not blue, we've seen Hawkins's percentages consistently decline in this strongly Republican area through the election cycles since the last redistricting, from 70% down to 60%. And against that you have some local Democratic urgency, an urgency I see with his opponent Mike McCorkle--learn all about him here--whose team is managing to place yard signs simply everywhere around our little part of Wichita, meaning that he is either better funded than past local Democrats, or has a better team knocking doors and placing signs than candidates of the past, or just plain has more voters out there willing to show public support for him. Add it all up, and I wonder if Hawkins might actually be brought down to 50% of the vote this time. Or, dare I say it...maybe even a smidge lower?)

Again, I’m not remotely confident about any of this. All the macro level stuff I mentioned above remains true--and frankly, the smart money is to always bet on what the macro trends say. But after 2016 and 2022, I’m not so confident as to discount the possibility of the truly unlikely happening either. I mean, what's the worst that can happen--I get it all wrong? I've eaten crow before, I can do it again.