Friday, April 13, 2007

Doing the right thing

[From left: Fred Korematsu, Minoru Yasui, and Gordon Hirabayashi in the 1970s]

-- by Dave

It is always a bitterly telling commentary on any government when the only people who seem capable of standing up and stopping them from doing something that nearly everyone with a sense of basic decency understands is wrong are just plain, ordinary citizens -- the kind willing to stand up in the face of immense social pressures, as well as the sheer inertia created by bad leadership, and say no.

But it says even more about those citizens, because standing up in this fashion requires a special kind of common-sensical courage, the kind we often take for granted. Over the history of the United States, individual citizens -- the people who made up the ranks of the abolitionists and the suffragettes and the civil rights movement, and all the Walt Woodwards and John Henry Faulks in between -- have done a duty the rest of us have shirked, and we all owe them an immense debt. Even when they did not succeed at the time, their legacy has shaped us and, in the end, played a critical role in preserving democracy in America.

The contemporary versions of these civic heroes can be found among the Japanese Americans who recently filed an amicus brief filed on behalf of Muslims detained by the federal government after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001:
Holly Yasui was far away when a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled last June that the government had wide latitude to detain noncitizens indefinitely on the basis of race, religion or national origin. The ruling came in a class-action lawsuit by Muslim immigrants held after 9/11. But Ms. Yasui, an American citizen of Japanese ancestry, had reason to take it personally.

Her grandparents were among thousands of Japanese immigrants in the United States who were wrongfully detained as enemy aliens during World War II. And her father was one of three Japanese-Americans who challenged the government’s racial detention and curfew programs in litigation that reached the Supreme Court in the 1940s.

Now, Ms. Yasui, along with Jay Hirabayashi and Karen Korematsu-Haigh, a son and a daughter of the two other Japanese-American litigants, is urging an appeals court in Manhattan to overturn the sweeping language of the judge’s ruling last year.

The ruling "painfully resurrects the long-discredited legal theory" that was used to put their grandparents behind barbed wire, along with the rest of the West Coast's Japanese alien population, the three contend in an unusual friends-of-the-court brief filed today in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

As it happens, the attorney leading the charge in filing the brief is a familiar one -- our friend and colleague from Is That Legal?:
Prof. Eric L. Muller, a legal historian at the University of North Carolina School of Law, said he contacted Ms. Yasui and the others after reading about the decision by the federal judge, John Gleeson. Both sides in the case, known as Turkmen v. Ashcroft -- a lead plaintiff is Ibrahim Turkmen -- appealed parts of the decision by Judge Gleeson. He let the Muslims’ lawsuit continue, mainly on their claims of unlawful detention conditions, but dismissed key elements of their discrimination claims.

... Professor Muller said he drafted the brief on behalf of the three grandchildren to try to persuade the Second Circuit to reject what he considers the needless breadth of Judge Gleeson’s opinion. "Judge Gleeson's decision paints with such a broad brush, there isn't really any stopping point," he said.

The judge held that under immigration law, "the executive is free to single out 'nationals of a particular country.'" And because so little was known about the 9/11 hijackers, he ruled, singling out Arab Muslims for detention to investigate possible ties to terrorism, though "crude," was not "so irrational or outrageous as to warrant judicial intrusion into an area in which courts have little experience and less expertise."

The brief counters that the ruling "overlooks the nearly 20-year-old declaration by the United States Congress and the president of the United States that the racially selective detention of Japanese aliens during World War II was a 'fundamental injustice' warranting an apology and the payment of reparations."

And, it adds, the district court's deference to the government "ignores the tragic consequences of such deference" for 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

Muller himself posted a brief commentary on the filing, which is available in PDF here.

I observed in the epilogue to Strawberry Days that the attacks of September 11, 2001, elicited a singular response from the older Japanese American community, particularly those who experienced the so-called internment camps:
When United Airlines Flight 175, the second of four jetliners hijacked the morning of September 11, 2001, slammed into the World Trade Center, Tosh Ito was watching it on television, like many Americans. But what he thought about in those moments was very different than most -- except perhaps for his fellow Nisei. The images on the television made him think of internment camps.

"It didn't take very long," Ito said, for the memories of the evacuation to come flooding back. "It was almost instantaneous, I'd say. By the time the second plane hit, why, I was thinking about what happened."

Ito recognized the immediate similarities between September 11 and Pearl Harbor, raising the specter of a similar reaction against the domestic "enemy," a recognition he shared with most of his fellow evacuees: "It was kind of a surprise attack, and totally unexpected," he said. "I think for most of the Nisei that are still around, it didn't take us very long for it to bring back bad memories."

Rose Matsushita, watching on television at her home in Bellevue, had the same thoughts. "9/11, yeah, I thought: Uh-oh. We're at war," she recalled. "Some of them are here. And they were probably going to go through the same thing we did."

They were hardly alone in thinking this way. John Tateishi can tell you, for instance, about his dream callers.

The calls began a few days after the September 11 attacks. "I got a call one day --this was probably about four days after September 11 -- from a Nisei who just started talking, and basically just rambled and rambled," recalled Tateishi, the national director of the Japanese American Citizens League, at his Bay Area office. "And, you know, Japanese Americans, we're raised to be very respectful of our elders. So this man just kept going on and on, and I just sat there and listened to him, waiting to find out, you know, what he was calling about. And then he just said, 'Well, OK, I'll see you.' And he hung up.

"I didn't know this person. And I thought, 'Well, that's a strange call.' I mean, it was about two hours of phone call."

"And then a day or so later I got another call, and the same thing happened. And it was, I think, on the fourth call I got, when this gentleman was talking to me, and he says, 'You know, I can't sleep again. I'm having bad dreams.'

"I thought what he was referring to was the image of the World Trade Center being hit and collapsing. And as he kept talking I realized what he was talking were dreams about camp. Of the experience going back sixty years.

"And then after that call, it kept happening, and every time I got a call, I would ask, 'Are you having problems sleeping?' And invariably, the answer was, ‘I’m having nightmares again.' I would ask very specifically whether it was about the World Trade Center or about camp, and they would say, 'Oh no no no, the nightmares are about camp, that I had after we left.' "

The Nisei elders' nightmares -- replete with barbed wire and machine guns and guard towers -- are not mere ephemera. They are, after all, the only American citizens ever to have been herded en masse into concentration camps by their own government, not for having done anything, but because of who they were. For many of them, the scars of that experience were revived by the trauma following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington: "This is something that has provoked a very deep psychological response among Nisei," said Tateishi.

Some of this probably was due to the similarities between Pearl Harbor and September 11, at least as traumas to the national psyche. Having lived through the aftermath of the former, when they were publicly attacked, by government officials and politicians as well as by the press, as potential "fifth column" traitors, it probably was only natural that the latter produced concerns that history might repeat itself. Yet the fears touched on something deeper as well.

"I didn't have any bad dreams, but it surely brought up bad memories," said Tosh Ito. The specific memories it engendered, he said, were not so much of the camps but of the outpouring of naked racial hatred that followed Pearl Harbor.

"There was a lot of mass hysteria, a lot of discrimination, and it was not subtle at all. It was right out there," Ito said. "Now, in later years, as things got better for minorities, there was still a lot of discrimination, but it was quite subtle. I think some of us thought maybe it was pretty much gone. But 9/11 brought all of it out again."

It's clear that Ms. Yasui and her cohorts share those feelings, no doubt informed their personal family legacies. Ms. Yasui's father, Minoru Yasui, was a particularly remarkable figure. The son of a successful orchardist who was the first Japanese American to graduate from the Oregon School of Law, he tackled the government's discrimination against the Nikkei head-on:
On March 28,1942, Min deliberately violated Public Proclamation No. 3. He left his law office at 8:00 p.m. that evening and walked the streets of Portland, Oregon, in clear violation of the curfew imposed by Public Proclamation No. 3. Min had instructed his secretary to call the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Portland police to let them know that he would be out on the streets that evening. After wandering around for a couple of hours, he finally spotted a policeman and approached him. Min insisted that the patrolman arrest him for the curfew violation and showed him a copy of the Public Proclamation. The patrolman refused. Min finally went directly to the Portland police station, where he was arrested.

Even more remarkable was the case of his father, Masuo Yasui, and the Army camp detainees, which I described in Chapter 4 of Strawberry Days -- a case that still rings bells today:
Fort Missoula nearly became the focus of an international incident when word began emerging that internees were complaining of mistreatment at the hands of INS interrogators. Records later revealed that the sessions in question involved the INS’s efforts to determine when a number of the Issei entered the country; if they had arrived after 1924 -- when the Asian Exclusion Act was passed -- then they were in the country illegally and could be deported. The inspectors didn't believe many of the Issei accounts and, according to numerous witnesses both inside and outside the chambers, resorted to violence to wring "the truth" out of them. Several witnesses said the inspectors verbally and physically abused the internees, calling them "yellow-bellied cowards" and "liars," shoving them against the wall, yanking their hair, and punching them in the stomach. After the Justice Department investigated the charges, two Korean interpreters were fired, and the three inspectors responsible for most of the abuse were suspended for 90 days, and one was demoted.

Even men in positions somewhat similar to Tom Matsuoka's encountered difficulties with the hearing board. Possibly the most striking case involved Masuo Yasui, an Issei businessman from Hood River, Oregon, who had been prominent in town too—co-owner of a thousand acres of farm and orchard land, member of the Rotary Club and the Apple Growers Association, and a leader of the local Methodist Church. Yet when he went before the board, only his past associations with Japanese civic organizations, including the award he received from the emperor for promoting American-Japanese relations, were considered relevant.

"The proceedings were a complete farce," recalled his son, Minoru, himself a Nisei activist who had challenged the curfew laws in Portland and attended his father’s hearings. "The most incredible thing was when they produced childlike drawings of the Panama Canal showing ... drawings of how the locks worked. The hearing officer took these out and asked, 'Mr. Yasui, what are these?' Dad looked at the drawings and diagrams and said, 'They look like drawings of the Panama Canal.' They were so labeled, with names of the children. Then the officer asked my father to explain why they were in our home. 'If they were in my home,' my father replied, 'it seems to me that they were drawings done by my children for their schoolwork.'

"The officer then asked, 'Didn't you have these maps and diagrams so you could direct the blowing up of the canal locks?' My father said, 'Oh no! These are just the schoolwork of my children.' The officer said, 'No, we think you've cleverly disguised your nefarious intent and are using your children merely as a cover. We believe you had intent to damage the Panama Canal.' To which my father vehemently replied, 'No, no, no!' And then the officer said pointedly, 'Prove that you didn't intend to blow up the Panama Canal!'" Masuo Yasui was remanded to the custody of federal authorities and kept in army prison camps until the spring of 1946.

There also were recent revelations about the extent of government misbehavior in pursuing these inhuman policies -- namely, as the L.A. Times reported, the participation of the Census Bureau not merely in providing general information to the authorities overseeing the evacuation and incarceration episode, but also in providing specific information about individuals, including American citizens:
The Census Bureau turned over confidential information, including names and addresses, to help the U.S. government identify individual Japanese Americans during World War II, according to government documents released by two scholars Friday.

The documents validate long-held suspicions among Japanese Americans that information about them collected under confidentiality pledges was released to the government.

In 2000, the Census Bureau acknowledged and apologized for its role in sharing aggregate data with the U.S. military to help relocate Japanese Americans from the West Coast to inland camps after Japan's 1941 Pearl Harbor attack.

But Friday's disclosure represented the first confirmation that the bureau also shared information about individuals -- in this case, the names and addresses of Japanese Americans in the Washington, D.C., area. A list of 79 names was handed over to aid a Secret Service investigation into possible threats to the president.

The combination of secret lawbreaking, brutal mistreatment, and a Kafkaesque bureaucracy are the unmistakable hallmarks of a government careening out of control, consumed by the omnipresent temptations of authoritarianism. And the echoes of the wartime internment episode of 1942-45 not only can be heard today, they seem to be amplified -- not merely in the mass sweeps that followed the attacks of September 11, but continuing through the abuses of detainees at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, the bizarre treatment of Jose Padilla, the legalization of torture under the Bush administration.

The Congress and the press -- both ostensibly the bulwarks against a rampaging executive branch -- either actively enabled this behavior during its years of Republican dominance, or continued to sit on their collective hands in the months since. So it has befallen average citizens -- in this case, the descendants of the same people who stood up and fought the government when it followed a similar course during World War II -- to stand up and remind us all of what America, home of the brave and the free, is supposed to be all about.

In the end, it is always going to be incumbent upon ordinary citizens -- engaged, informed people who take their citizenship seriously -- to act as the stewards of good government and to rein in the powers of authorities, particularly when they become excessesive. And the more of them there are, the greater their chances of success.

We all had better hope that the efforts of Eric Muller and the descendants of the Japanese American internees, as well as the entire Turkmen legal team, succeeds -- because if they fail, we face the grim prospect of repeating one of the real tragedies of recent American history.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Good Day

by SaraRutgers center Kia Vaughn, All-Met Division I Women's College Basketball Player of the Year

Don Imus is off the air -- not for a two-week slap-on-the-hand, but for good. It's a good day.

What Imus said about the Rutgers women's basketball team is hardly the most offensive thing we've heard from a right-wing talker over the past 20 years. In fact, looking his long record of past gaffes (including calling Gwen Ifill "a cleaning lady," and NYT reporter William Rhoden "a quota hire,") it's not even particularly out of line for him. What happened this time? Why is today different from all other days?

For 25 years, the dominant radio format in America has consisted of rich white conservative boys filling the national atmosphere with their putrid bloviations about people who were not rich, white, conservative, or boys. What started out as outrageous bad-boy shock-jock shtick in the 80s curdled into self-righteous rebellion against "political correctness" in the 90s, as a growing number of trash talkers and professional potty mouths joined a national race to the rhetorical bottom. Radio stardom was easy. Forget rock'n'roll -- all you had to do was be willing to spew a little more hate against minorities, foreigners, women, the poor, and liberals than the guy on the next band over, and you could have a mansion in Palm Beach, too.

But something is changing in America. I'd like to think it started with Spocko -- just a guy with a recording device and the addresses of the hate talkers' advertising sponsors. Spocko's assault on KSFO was a local skirmish, but it was stunningly well-organized; and, perhaps more importantly, it took on one of the biggest stations in one of the country's biggest markets. Spocko simply asked the hate jocks' advertisers a few straightforward questions: Is this what you endorse? Is this what you believe? Does this convey the kind of image for your product, or your station, that you want to project?

It seems likely that, even as ABC's attorneys were trying to bully Spocko into silence, these questions also gave radio execs across the country a long moment of pause (probably while they were letting a big slug of Maalox settle). You could hear the echoes of that pause in the voice of NBC president Steve Capus tonight on Countdown, as he emphatically explained that he was the guardian of the NBC brand, and that all a network has is its own credibility. Furthermore, he noted, "There has been a trust placed in us. We must honor and respect that trust." It was like the man had a sudden attack of conscience, an up-close and personal encounter with his network's critical role in maintaining the high level of civil discourse that makes democracy possible. You have to wonder where the hell Capus and his scruples have been vacationing for the past two decades; but at least they finally made it to the party. Which makes it a good day for corporate responsibility.

Let's hope it's a big party, too. Imus's guests in recent years have been a veritable who's who of the nation's political and entertainment elite. His shit never stuck to them before -- but it's sticking now. Which means all the other hate talkers are also having that long Maalox pause tonight. They've got a stark and nasty choice here. On one hand, ugly is what they do. It's how they got famous. It's really all they know. But, as of today, they're either going to have to clean up their act, or risk losing the hot bookings...and, perhaps, their jobs. What's clear is that ambitious celebrities will think twice before being seen in such gutter company after this. Which makes it a good day for civility.

Another thing I found striking about this how deeply Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson understand the concept of the transmission belt that moves anti-democratic ideas and behavior from the fringes to the mainstream -- and how tightly they seized on this as a prime opportunity to educate the nation about it. I've seen both of them on several news shows over the past few days; and in every case, they explained, carefully and clearly, that allowing Imus to get away with a mere hand-slap this time would only loosen the standards, and open the door for more mainstream expressions of racism and sexism in the future. It has to stop here, they said. Otherwise, we're going to see it everywhere. Which makes it a good day for decency.

One of the things Dave and I have said (over and over) here is that when it comes to hate crime and hate speech, we get exactly what we're willing to tolerate. Stopping it is as simple (and sometimes, as hard) as standing up and making it clear we don't approve. 24/7 hot-and-cold running hate speech became the national radio norm because too many of us were willing to listen, and not enough were willing to put pressure on those footing the bill.

In that sense, Don Imus' firing says far less about him than it does about us. And what it says is that we have finally begun to count the heavy cost of 20 years of on-air denigration of everything that is not white, male, rich, and conservative --
and are realizing that it's a price we're no longer willing to pay. Which makes it a good day for democracy, and everybody who wants to see it thrive.

Monday, April 09, 2007

My Regent Semester

by Sara

Well, the entire left blogosphere seems to be up in arms this morning, having finally discovered -- courtesy of Monica Goodling -- that Regent University exists, and that one-sixth of its grads have networked themselves into with jobs in Bush's government.

Since I am almost certainly the only tuition-paying Regent student on earth who's also a lefty blogger, I suppose it's incumbent on me to say a few words. I was going to wait until the end of the semester, three weeks from now, to say anything publicly about my Regent semester; but events appear to have overtaken that plan.

First, a recap of how I came to be at Regent in the first place. I'm a graduate student in Futures Studies at the University of Houston, working toward an MS that will be granted sometime in late 2008 or early 2009. In 2005, Regent's School of Leadership and Management (its graduate business school), instituted a Futures program that was built very closely on the UH model, and with the help of UH's faculty. This spring, they offered two classes -- "Religionists & Futurists" and "Images of the Future" -- that fulfilled my elective requirements at UH, while allowing me to pursue a couple subjects that really interested me as a futurist specializing in the social implications of authoritarianism.

It should go without saying that I approached the entire enterprise with massive trepedation. Having escaped this community once already, I was not at all thrilled about the prospect of going back. Furthermore, the fact that Regent -- a school whose very name reflects its Dominionist aspirations (Robertson's vision for his graduates is that they are God's "regents," being trained to rule the planet until Jesus returns to take his throne) -- was building a serious Futures program alarmed me. This is a school with a very specific anti-democratic agenda, I thought. And they're going out of their way to equip their a new generation of futurists the strategic planning, foresight, and change management skills that will allow them to implement that agenda. Should partisans of constitutional democracy feel some consternation about this? (The answer is yes. And no.)

Still, I forged ahead. With the blessing of my UH dean, I arranged to take a semester off, and enter the belly of the beast. And so it happened that I've been a visiting student at Regent since January -- visiting in the virtual sense, of course, since I'm an online student who lives over 3,000 miles from Virginia Beach, and haven't gotten any closer to the place since school started. (I had to sign a solemn pledge that I wouldn't bring alcohol, tobacco, or drugs onto the campus. I can say with great confidence that making good on that pledge has not been a problem.)

The no-substances pledge was one of several I had to sign in order to complete my registration. Regent is the fourth university I've attended in my academic career; but it's the very first to require me to sign a long, detailed online contract governing all manner of behavior. Most of it was pretty trivial (I was waiting for a Bob-Jones-style dress code contract, which fortunately never materialized). But, stepping through the web pages, I finally came to one that absolutely stopped me cold.

The page asked me to affirm that I understood and accepted that I would be educated by faculty who adhered to the following principles (the following is a direct cut-and-paste):

* That the Holy Bible is the inspired, infallible and authoritative source of Christian doctrine and precepts.

* That there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

* That man was created in the image of God but as a result of sin is lost and powerless to save himself.

* That the only hope for man is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the virgin born Son of God, Who died to take upon Himself the punishment for the sin of mankind, and Who rose from the dead so that by receiving Him as Savior and Lord, man is redeemed by His blood.

* That Jesus Christ will personally return to earth in power and glory.

* That the Holy Spirit indwells those who receive Christ, for the purpose of enabling them to live righteous and holy lives.

* That the Church is the Body of Christ and is comprised of all those who, through belief in Christ, have been spiritually regenerated by the indwelling Holy Spirit. The mission of the Church is worldwide evangelization and the nurturing and discipling of Christians.

On first reading, I thought that they were asking me to affirm these things personally -- which, as a non-Christian, I simply could not do. But then, on second reading, I realized that they were simply making sure that I was willing to cooperate with professors who were coming from that place. And (since I already knew the professor who would be teaching both courses), I knew I could do that. So I signed -- and, in the process, almost certainly became the first pro-gay pro-choice howling-at-the-moon San Francisco Pagan Unitarian heathen student in Regent history.

Fortunately, as an online student dealing with one faculty member who knew right up front what he was getting, I haven't felt the need to be anything but honest about my own religious leanings. Indeed, our class discussions, both in real-time lecture and e-list posts, have been surprisingly wide-ranging and non-doctrinaire. I've cherished my interactions the young Southerner who turned me onto the whole gestalt of the Emerging Church movement, who is also active in voluntary simplicity and global anti-slavery movements. And I've been delighted to catch our professor in the act of challenging his students -- from the very first day, in fact -- to move beyond dogmatic biblical literalism, and resist the common fundamentalist impulse to hide from the present by either retreating to a mythical past, or staking it all on an absurdly overdue Revelation-based vision of the future. He seems determined that tomorrow's evangelical leaders move away from positivism and toward critical realism -- a switch that's going to change both the theological structure and the practical priorities of the movement. In this department, at least, "because the Bible tells me so" is not accepted as a good enough answer.

As a futurist, what I've taken away from my Regent Semester is a deeper awareness of how the stories we tell ourselves about How It All Began and How It Will All End create tremendous implications for the courses of action we choose. (For most of the past 2000 years of western history, these images of the past and future were almost entirely dictated by the Church, until the Enlightenment came along and offered new visions based on human agency -- and kicked off a culture war that has raged to this day. Make no mistake: the struggles over the historical and scientific past are really about whose story gets to determine the future.) These stories can make us optimistic and confident in our ability to create change; or utterly discourage us from making any attempt to plan the future at all (either it's all in God's hands; or else humans are simply too wicked and corrupt to do anything right). We've looked at the ways these foundational myths and metaphors have varied over the course of Western history, and where they've taken us over time. And we've considered the ways in which our cultural and religious stories are now serving us -- or disserving us -- as we approach the great challenges of the coming century. All of this is the stuff of future blogging; but, as you can see, it's definitely not the kind of stuff you'd probably hear from the televangelists on The 700 Club.

I'm sure if I’d spent the past three months hanging out in the faux Federalist stage set of the Virginia Beach campus, I'd have had better, funnier stories to tell on my classmates. Still, given that roughly one-third of Regent's student body consists of online students, my experience of Regent can hardly be dismissed as atypical. It's clear from the syllabus that the professor was expecting more garden-variety evangelical students -- and he probably would have had them, had there been students from the law or government schools in these courses. Instead, he got some older, wiser, more flexible and open minds who had already vaulted the rigid walls of fundamentalist dogma, and had integrated traditionally liberal issues like peace, justice, human rights, and the environment into their devoutly Christian worldview. They're not my grandmother's prayer group. But they are people I'd be glad to make room for on the political front lines of the various interests we do share.

Regent and its fellows -- Bob Jones, Patrick Henry, Wheaton, and similar evangelical universities -- are an important and gathering force on the landscape of evangelical America. For that reason, we on the left absolutely need to track their activities with careful and persistent attention. At the same time, we do ourselves, our readers, and the institutions themselves a great disservice if we allow ourselves to take everything we hear and see at face value, or interpret it through our own filters without really listening to what's being said. Because, in my experience, what's being said by the official spokespeople doesn't always square what's going on in the faculty lounges, libraries, coffeehouses, and classrooms.

It's so very tempting to stereotype and demonize. After all, the religious right has done it to us for years. But accuracy and fairness -- the only two true allegiances of any journalist -- demand that we take the time to take off our own ideological filters, wander into their communities, stay awhile, and commit to listening to them on their own terms. When it comes to the emerging evangelical elite at places like Regent, we will often have our prejudices more then confirmed. But we may also be rewarded with more friends and allies than we might have imagined.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Blog Against Theocracy: A Look Ahead

by Sara

As Orcinus' contribution to the excellent Blog Against Theocracy blogswarm, I'd like to take a look ahead at the evangelical movement, and discuss some of the trends that will be affecting its theocratic fringe in the years ahead.

The good news is that there's mostly good news.

1. Age will take its toll. While there's no shortage of young evangelicals filling the churches, the theocratic core is found among people middle-aged and older. They're the ones who put up the money, do the organizing, and attend the seminars. And, while these people may get angrier and stranger with age, the good news is that they won't be around forever.

2. The Galloping Gertie Effect, already noted here, is creating an ongoing series of PR nightmares for the various theocratic movements -- and we've now got the liberal media chops to maximize those missteps. Time was that fundamentalist leaders could stand up and say any fool thing, and it was like tree falling in the forest. Now, they're likely to find themselves in the running for Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person In The World." Since previous Evangelical uprisings in America have always ended with the faithful beating a retreat from widespread public derision, there's reason to believe the theocrats may finally have cleared the far side of the shark.

3. The Emerging Church. The younger generation of evangelicals has begun to flee the theocratic movement in droves. Among my fellow students this semester at Regent, the talk is of the Emerging Church -- a loose but growing "conversation" that is completely re-thinking evangelical Christianity, and coming to some radically different conclusions about its meaning and mission. (A great summary can be found here.)

There's a lot about the Emerging Church movement that rings familiar to those of us who remember the Jesus Movement of the early 1970s -- or have read up on the communal communities of Christianity's earliest days, after which many of these groups consciously model themselves. EC groups tend to organize themselves along communal or tribal lines, often sharing their material goods, forming tight support networks, and conducting lay-led services in homes. Most remain anti-choice; but now, this position is put into a larger context, integrated with deep social justice and ecological concerns. Organic food and voluntarily simplicity abound. Gender relations vary from extremely liberal to conservative beyond anything current would-be patriarchs would dare promote. The movement has many threads and factions -- not all of which are benign -- but it seems to be drawing the best and brightest of Gen Y's theological talent, suggesting that we will be dealing with a very different flavor of evangelicalism in the decades ahead.

And, most importantly, while these kids are out to save the world, most of them have absolutely no interest in ruling it. There's a lot more to say about the Emerging Church, but perhaps the most important point is that it's hard and deliberate turn away from the feel-good homogeneity of the suburban megachurches; and a conscious step back from the right-wing evangelical juggernaut of the past 30 years.

Of course, there's bad news, too. As we've often said here, American culture is brittle now. One good shock to the system, and there's no telling what authoritarian horrors could be unleashed. But while those are valid and serious worries, they're still in the realm of what could happen. What is happening is an ebbing tide, with signs that the theocratic threat to our culture is, finally, in slow retreat.