SCOTUS: Should We 'Burn It All Down'?
When Justice Alito’s draft opinion was leaked to Politico, several people on the pro-choice side of the debate tweeted that it was time to “burn it down.” What they wanted to light on fire wasn’t entirely clear, but I have a guess: the Supreme Court’s institutional reputation.
Ian Millhiser is a senior writer for Vox who covers the court. He tweeted: “The draft Roe opinion seems to be as bad as expected, but I’m glad it leaked because this leak will foster anger and distrust within the irredeemable institution that is the Supreme Court of the United States.”
He followed that up with another tweet: “Seriously, shout out to whoever the hero was within the Supreme Court who said ‘f—k it! Let’s burn this place down.’” Of course, he doesn’t want to literally burn the building down. He wants to burn down everything that the building stands for. He wants to burn down the system.
This is the rage of the outsider, the nihilist, the hopeless. They see a problem but know only one solution: matches. It’s not hard to identify nihilists. There are more extreme examples—Antifa’s looting, vandalism, and assault epitomize the nihilist dream. But there are also more respectable examples: the protesters stopping traffic, the comics ridiculing our national leaders, the Twitter trolls glibly mocking institutions, and the national leaders baselessly claiming that elections are rigged.
They all share two things in common. First, driven by anger and a sense of betrayal, they want to tear down the system. Second, they don’t want to do the hard work of renewal. Shouting “Defund” is far easier than showing up to “Reform.” Shouting “Get CRT out of schools” is far easier than doing the hard work of racial reconciliation. It’s easier to rally a crowd to throw the bums out than to find political compromises that leave everyone better off. Compromisers are traitors or worse: RINOs, race traitors, or Manchinema.
What AOC and MTG Share in Common
Think of two different paths to power.
The first path to power is embodied by Nancy Pelosi, the current speaker of the House, and Paul Ryan, who previously held the same position. Each spent decades working their way up through the system. Each became an expert on policy and chaired congressional committees before reaching their post as Speaker. Pelosi entered Congress in 1987 and didn’t become Speaker until 2007. Ryan served 15 years before assuming the top spot.
The second path to power is shared by two political rivals rarely compared to one another: Marjorie Taylor Greene (MTG) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). While it’s common to fixate on their differences, it’s far more interesting to explore what they share in common. Both were political outsiders before winning their congressional seats. AOC was famously a bartender and MTG was a fitness coach.
And even though they now hold federal office, they continue to act like outsiders, with AOC posting videos on Instagram criticizing her party and the institution of which she’s a member, and MTG being stripped of her committee assignments and embarrassing most of her fellow Republican House members.
Can you see AOC or MTG following the path of Pelosi and Ryan by working their way up through the committee system, becoming policy experts to assume leadership positions? Of course not. Because they aren’t in D.C. to build something. They’re there to burn it down. All you need for that is a set of matches and a social media following—that grows larger and more rabid every time you immolate.
It’s a Feature, Not a Bug
Why does every presidential candidate try to project themselves as an outsider? To be “inside the beltway” is to be corrupt and out of touch with real Americans. Consider a few examples:
- George W. Bush’s father was the 41st president, yet he claimed that he was a political outsider.
- Barack Obama was a former community activist and a first-term U.S. Senator when he started his campaign to be president, but his “outsider” credentials were at the heart of his campaign to wrest the primary from Hillary Clinton.
- Mitt Romney emphasized that he was a businessman who’d turned around the Salt Lake Olympics over the fact that he was the former Governor of Massachusetts and son of a former presidential candidate.
Of course, all of these pale in comparison to the ultimate self-declared outsider: Donald J. Trump. Unlike the previous examples, he’d never held any political office at any level before assuming the presidency. And for his voters, this was a feature, not a bug. He promised to “drain the swamp” and cripple the federal bureaucracy. He was incendiary toward establishment Republicans, he mocked reporters, and when he lost his second presidential bid, he spread conspiracies about election fraud (all roundly denied by the courts) to destabilize America’s trust in some of its most important institutions.
Back to the main point: Why is a career inside the government viewed negatively? Would you hire an airline mechanic to give you brain surgery? Would you trust a jet whose engine was checked by a cardiologist? Why is experience bad only when it comes to politics and government service?
Because the voters aren’t as interested in enacting policy as they are in burning down the system, and who better to light the match than an outsider to the system? This nihilist tendency isn’t just a temptation for national leaders. It’s a temptation for all of us. Just ask anyone leading a major local institution (a school, church, hospital) if they feel under fire.
Yes. Everyone seems to want to tear everything down.
How did America become so obsessed with outsiders? Hear Patrick and Keith share why unlimited information access via the Internet is partly responsible.
Did Jesus Say, “Bring Matches!”?
There’s an argument inside the church about how best to interact with a culture that is increasingly hostile to Christian beliefs and values. (If you want to read more about it, go here and here and here and here.) For what it’s worth, I respect people on both sides of the debate but I’m firmly on team winsomeness.
Then there are those inside the church who aren’t really making a good faith argument but just want to burn it down. Really? Yup.
Owen Strachan has degrees from top-flight evangelical seminaries. He’s currently a seminary professor. Interestingly, his father-in-law is a former professor of mine. Strachan is also a former president of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. So an outsider he isn’t. But here’s his response to the debate I just mentioned:
“Nah bruh we’re done with this ‘no bold clarity, just quiet winsomeness so the God-hating elites like us’ stuff. We hereby declare that era OVER; dead; buried. Welcome to the age of bold witness and no fear. Bring matches.”
“Bring matches”? What happened to loving your enemy or seeking the welfare of the city? These commands were not given to people in warm, welcoming, pro-God cities. They were given to people living under hostile regimes: Rome and Babylon. Let’s not forget who brought the matches in Rome. It was Nero. He burned the city down and then tried to burn Christianity down by blaming Christians. Juxtapose him to Paul, who preached at the Areopagus, well, winsomely.
As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth,
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (I Corinthians 9:19-23)
These are the words of a builder, not a burner.
All of us are frustrated with the status quo. And because of that, it’s easy to get caught up in nihilistic rage. But God is a builder. He started institutions. He ordains the government. He establishes kings and presidents. Let’s hit pause before we applaud, much less vote for, those who want to give the system a pulsating middle finger. That might feel good in the moment, but it runs contrary to God’s purposes.
God doesn’t give up on the world. He redeems, restores, and renews it. Leave the matches at home. Instead, imitate Joseph or Daniel or Wilberforce or any of the millions of Christians throughout the centuries who have been salt and light inside the government and the church.
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Posted by Keith Simon