Saturday, January 24, 2015

Understanding New Atheism

Having already addressed the factually challenged attacks on Islam from the clergy and laity of the Church of New Atheism, it seems an appropriate time to examine in greater depth the dogma of that sacred institution. Like any good cult, it provides its members with a conveniently prepackaged set of beliefs that they need not take the time to think too critically about; in fact, the less they do so, the better. Let us take a look, then, the doctrines of the Church, starting with its most fundamental.

The Church of New Atheism’s golden rule, the core of its dogma, is that "religion" is the supreme evil to be exterminated; I put religion in quotes because it essentially means whatever the New Atheist wants it to at any given moment (usually Islam or, to a lesser extent, Christianity). The creation of religion is the original sin in the New Atheist scripture, and mankind has suffered throughout history because of this sin. The only way forward is for religion to be eradicated. The New Atheist Sacred Cause is the fight against religion, a fight that trumps all others in its importance.

That this is held as a sacred principle should be evident from both what those from the Church do and say; the Reverend Sam Harris has said that, given the choice to eliminate religion or rape, he would "not hesitate" to choose religion. Archbishop Richard Dawkins has said that he considers faith as "one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate." The deceased, ever-venerated Saint Christopher Hitchens went so far as to praise Lenin and Trotsky's forcible, murderous "secularization" of Russia, not even acknowledging the obvious inhumanity of the religious persecution that accomplished it.

Furthermore, the Church of New Atheism really must view religion as some kind of almost transcendent evil for it to unite its members as it does; Saint Christopher, for instance, eagerly supported the Iraq War, but even the New Atheists who opposed it (and, accordingly, must see it as the cause of perhaps hundreds of thousands of unneeded civilians deaths) still see him as a holy figure. The New Atheists have substantial differences on political issues, but are all capable of agreeing that religion is so intolerable that not only is it worth it to join arms with those whose views are otherwise horrific, but that those who fight in the name of the Sacred Cause are admirable, almost regardless of whatever else they may do.

The idea of religion as the supreme evil is held, like Holy Truths tend to be, on pure faith; there is no evidence to show that the greatest threat to the world today is religion, and the New Atheists are by and large intelligent enough to understand this if they were so inclined to try. Even if one were to hold that religion truly is the most damaging force today, is it really so much more damaging than the evils of nationalism, militarism, corporatism, authoritarianism, and xenophobia that those topics are far less important than religion? That's hard to imagine, and yet you find Archbishop Dawkins and Reverend Harris devoting a tiny fraction of their attention to subjects like that in comparison with their borderline obsession with the Sacred Cause. Even for those New Atheists who do address such topics, Saint Christopher and Reverend Harris are nonetheless held up as righteous men, despite the fact that they have only contributed to those problems.

As evidenced by Archbishop Dawkins's statement about faith, it is not just religious institutions, but religious belief that is an evil; while the New Atheists often present their objection to religious belief as being that it is irrational or harmful, their relative silence on other widespread irrational or harmful beliefs (nationalism, faith in existing societal institutions such as the government, militarism, etc.) renders these claims implausible. Religion—at least if it's Islam or Christianity—is fundamentally evil. In an instance of amazing intellectual acrobatics, both the Archbishop and Reverend Harris have accused religious moderates of helping to "make the world safe" (the Archbishop’s phrase) for religious extremists, because by being kind and tolerant, they make religious faith seem innocuous or even as if it has something good to offer; for this idea to be coherent, we must assume that religious extremists have correctly interpreted their faiths (an idea which the Church of New Atheism’s members will often eagerly agree with) and moderate Christians and Muslims are not "really" Christian or Muslim. Any more complex interpretation of these religions is, under New Atheist dogma, the propaganda of politically correct apologists for religion, who are, of course, a particularly despicable brand of infidel.

The comparison of religious faith to a mental disorder is also exceedingly common within the Church, from its deacon Bill Maher explicitly referring to religious belief as a "neurological disorder" to Reverend Harris stating that the doctrines of many religious traditions are "suggestive of mental illness" to Archbishop Dawkins naming his book (a New Atheist Sacred Text) The God Delusion. Not only does this hark back to the charming history of any "irrational" or "dangerous" belief being deemed a mental illness and being "treated" accordingly, it once again ignores the prevalence of often-absurdly irrational beliefs among the general populace. Rather than an analysis of the conditions that have allowed religious belief to persist, the Church would rather consider its survival an "accident of history," to use the Reverend’s phrase. Religious belief is to be degraded, not analyzed.

Religious institutions at their worst are not the result of relatively universal human flaws such as greed, ambition, and the like, but rather the inevitable result of religious faith. Whatever good that religious institutions do, on the other hand, has nothing to do with the religion they claim to represent, but rather is representative of relatively universal human virtues, such as generosity, empathy, and compassion. The absurdity of this double standard is, of course, obvious to those who haven't drunk the Church's Kool-Aid, but to the New Atheists it is apparently an entirely reasonable way to view history. Religion is to blame for everything bad committed in its name, but earns credit for nothing good done in its name.

Of course, the blanket statements against "religion" do not keep the New Atheists from singling out the worst religions, which is reasonable enough. Their methodology is where it gets interesting; a religion's fundamental badness is determined by how damaging its extremism is, as long as the damage is obvious to Westerners, as a general rule of thumb. Islam, whose extremism and theocracy we're constantly reminded of, is naturally the worst religion; Christianity is usually the runner-up, which is unsurprising given the prominence of Christian fundamentalism in Western society, particularly the United States. Nonetheless, Christianity is often a fairly distant second, as the ways in which its extremists have caused the most damage—the Iraq War, for instance—are not exceedingly obvious to many Westerners. Religions like Buddhism are often considered relatively benign, in spite of the widespread Buddhist violence in Myanmar against the Muslim minority; as this is not something many Westerners are readily aware of, it merits little consideration.

I've already noted the New Atheist dogma that extremists are the only religious people who interpret their religion correctly, so naturally the Church sees a religion's extremism, insofar as it is visible to Westerners, as indicative of the principles embodied by that religion's sacred texts. As Sister Jaclyn Glenn tells us, "if [Islam] were peaceful then extremists...would simply be extremely peaceful." To state the obvious, this is yet another rule that only applies to religion, according to New Atheist dogma; were it applied to other ideologies, almost every ideology imaginable would be deemed violent, given that extremists representing virtually any ideology you can name have committed violence in the name of their ideology. And, again, it goes without saying that "extremists" includes only those extremists who cause damage readily visible to Westerners.

Because of these rules, the West is widely viewed among New Atheists as representing the very concept of civilization; the West is less religious than the Middle East, and the damage caused by religious extremists in the West tends to damage those outside of the West, in ways that are far less visible and obvious to the average Westerner. Thus, by New Atheist logic, the West is superior to the Middle East, QED. The innumerable crimes against humanity committed by Western governments (particularly the US government) are either conveniently overlooked when discussing "Western values" or, by the bolder members of the Church, justified as somehow attempting to fight against jihadism or Islamic fundamentalism. (Reverend Harris is a good example of a New Atheist in the latter category, given his argument that the Iraq War was an instance of "civilized human beings...attempting, at considerable cost to themselves, to improve life for the Iraqi people.")

The New Atheists like to present their Church’s innovation as being its willingness to aggressively take on religion in ways it hasn't been challenged in the past, but this is yet another bit of fraud on their part. Thinkers like Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Friedrich Nietzsche have all been willing to criticize religion, and in spite of what the New Atheists may believe, their twisted, baffling ideology bears little resemblance to the ideas of these men. For the Church of New Atheism and its believers, religion is not simply the result of the ignorance and superstition of the masses, a means of subjugating and controlling the people, a means of escapism for the oppressed, or a way for the weak to enslave the strong, as for the aforementioned philosophers; rather, it is some kind of virus which has mysteriously spread and must be wiped out. It is not part of a larger problem, it is the problem, towering above all others and independent of them. This leads, predictably, to statements like the Reverend’s about eliminating religion, with no comprehension of the fact that if religion were eliminated in the world we live in today, ideologies probably just as bad, if not worse, would quickly spring up to replace it and take over the role it serves as the opium of the masses and the tool for controlling the people.

Of course, being a church, the Church of New Atheism can’t have just a force for evil it battles against—a devil—it also must have a deity to worship, or it wouldn’t be a church at all. It finds its deity in Science; not science as a tool, as a means to an end, but Science as an end itself, as the end, the sacred end, the divinely ordained end, forever and ever, amen. New Atheist dogma includes not just a belief in the usefulness and reliability of science, but rather, a faith in Science as such—scientism, as it is known. Science is, from the New Atheist viewpoint, not simply able to debunk religious superstition, but locked, by its very nature, in a struggle against religion—and, for the good of humanity, Science must win this struggle, and dethrone and replace religion.

Science is, under New Atheist dogma, the diametric opposite of religion—accordingly, whereas religion can only do wrong, Science can only do good. Whereas religion is blamed for all evil actions done in its name and given credit for no good actions done in its name, the opposite is true with science; modern medicine, technology, and the other things that have contributed to human well-being are, of course, here by the grace of Science, and you can count on New Atheists to remind you of what Science has done for the world whenever the opportunity arises; mysteriously, nuclear weapons, environmental pollutants, and increased capability of government surveillance, while undoubtedly enabled by science, don’t seem to enter into the conversation.

Likewise, Science is represented in the Church’s teachings by the Newtons, Einsteins, and Darwins of history, who, the New Atheists say represent what science really is; the Tuskegee scientists and the Nazi scientists who experimented on humans, of course, do not represent science, but rather their evil deeds reflect only on their own personalities; science was merely an excuse. This stands of course in stark contrast to the attitude toward religion, which is exactly the opposite.

Boldest of all is the idea on the part of many New Atheists that Science can even replace religion in determining what our values ought to be; and I refer not even to the soft sciences when I say “Science,” but to the most empirical, objective branches of science. Per the usual, Reverend Harris is the prime example of this principle taken to its extreme, as he claims to be able to scientifically determine the “correct” morality, which is every bit as frivolous as it sounds. This bit of insanity is not limited to the Reverend, though, as Archbishop Dawkins has also dabbled in the field of a “scientific” morality, declaring that anyone with a Down syndrome-afflicted fetus is morally obligated to abort it. One can only imagine the veritable Utopia that would be created under the principles of these men, where whether one should live or die ultimately comes down to what is “scientifically” the most ethical.

To be clear, I don’t intend to draw false equivalencies between religion and science; science is always the rational way to understand how the world works and to gain useful knowledge, and I do not believe religion is necessary to have a set of values; indeed, I wish more people would personally choose their own values rather than blindly accepting those given to them by whatever house of worship they attend. But the Church of New Atheism offers us not an analysis of the dangers and irrationalities of religion or the useful benefits of science, but rather blind vilification of the former and songs of praise to the latter (on occasion literally, as Sister Glenn can testify).

To those unfamiliar with the Church and its doctrines, it must seem amazing that anyone but utter fools could believe in such idiocies, and the New Atheists are not fools. As with any church, the members of the Church of New Atheism believe in such doctrines because of their own psychology; many likely have likely been drawn to it due to their own irreligion and the pervasive influence of religion in society around them. When one feels like an outcast, joining a cult can be easy. But, ultimately, one can hardly imagine that when John Lennon asked us to “Imagine…no religion,” and even when Marx and Engels looked forward to a world where religion was a thing of the past, that they had in mind the demonization of other people’s religious beliefs. The Church of New Atheism, like many a church before it, set out with the goal of uniting mankind under its belief system—but, as usual, the divisions have only been made starker.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

An Open Letter to the New Atheist Movement

To the New Atheist Community and their Allies,

The "Four Horsemen" of
New Atheism (Image from
 Wikimedia Commons)
You know, we really should be able to get along. You don't want religion informing public policy? I don't either. You think religious fundamentalists are a bunch of ignorant cretins? So do I. You think we should believe what scientists say over what a book written thousands of years ago says? Me, too. You think atheists are treated unfairly in our society? We're one hundred percent on the same page. But then you have to go and do something to ruin it, and, well, you've done it again.

I can barely believe the ignorant statements I've heard from some voices in your community about the Charlie Hebdo attacks. I've actually heard it said by popular YouTubers that are part of your movement that Islam did the attacks, as if it's some magical entity that possessed the actual perpetrators of the crime and removed any critical thinking skills they had. You do know that Muslims all over the world have condemned the attack, right? Even Hamas condemned the attack. If you want to argue that a lot of Muslims who speak out against terrorism still hold very restrictive, reactionary views on how society should be run, I can't disagree with that. But have your members honestly gotten so lazy that they're going to ignore the numerous Muslims and Muslim organizations that have condemned the Charlie Hebdo attack just to try to make Islam look bad? You're not being bold by doing that. You're not defying politically correct ideas. You're just succumbing to intellectual laziness of the worst stripe.

Now, there were some pleasant surprises I got, such as when Bill Maher and Salman Rushdie actually acknowledged just how widely Muslims have condemned the attack, and Maher even went on to argue against the idea that Islam is unique in how it's used to justify violence, citing Israeli settlers as an example of Jewish extremists (the first time I've heard him say anything negative about Israel or any Israelis). But even so, a lot of members of the New Atheist community just have to tell you that, when it gets down to it, Islam really is a uniquely bad religion. After all, look at the polls of Muslims! Look at the laws in Muslim countries! Because, of course, socioeconomic conditions and the fact that many majority-Muslim countries have in the past suffered through Western bullying and interventionism couldn't conceivably have anything to do with increased religious extremism in those areas.

Do you really think that the United States would be as free a country as it is today if the Ottoman Empire had deposed our president and replaced him with a dictator they supported? Do you really think that Christian extremism just as virulent as the Muslim extremism in Iran (where the equivalent of that situation did, indeed, happen) couldn't have sprung up? Are you just unaware of the fact that majority-Christian countries with similar histories of colonialism and imperialism and similarly poor economic conditions are often just as oppressive and unenlightened as their Muslim counterparts (Uganda, anyone)?

Better than that, though, is when you try to say the actual doctrines of Islam endorse terrorism and religious persecution. Inevitably, you end up citing verses from the Qur'an that supposedly endorse killing infidels, often mistranslating words from the original text (for instance "Fitnah," which means persecution, not disbelief, as I've seen claimed a number of times) and removing all context in order to construe them to mean something totally removed from what actual scholars interpret them as meaning. Clearly, though, anyone who points out your intellectual bankruptcy on these points is just some dumb PC liberal.

Oh, and best of all is the "draw Muhammad" bullshit. Yes, because gratuitously mocking the figure held sacred by one of the most despised groups in the Western world is making such a brave, bold statement. I'd love to hear your explanation as to just how insulting Muslims, including those who oppose terrorism and theocracy and support secular democracy, is somehow being heroic. Here's a fun idea: why don't we draw insulting pictures of Christopher Hitchens? I have this vague memory of some of you being angry that people were saying he would burn in hell after he died of cancer. Did it seem like society had no respect for you or your beliefs and was spitting on someone you admire? Gee, I wonder how Muslims feel about you treating them the same way. Oh wait, they're wrong, so it just doesn't matter. I forgot that rule about how if people believe something irrational, it's fine to try to make them feel marginalized and alienated. Because I'm sure none of you believe anything that others might see as irrational.

It truly, really amazes me that people as intelligent as many of your members can be so idiotic as to think tactics like that will somehow make things better. Are you just blissfully unaware of the fact that Islamist groups like al-Qaeda thrive by driving a wedge between Muslims and the "Western world" (and that that may have been a motivation for the Charlie Hebdo attack)? You want to make this conflict between those that think Islam is stupid and dangerous and those that kill in its name, but how can any Muslim take your side when you've defined it as the anti-Islam side? On the other hand, if you would let this conflict be about what it really should be about--those that support individual freedom even for people and views they despise versus those who will kill anyone that doesn't abide by their rules--you could get plenty of Muslims on your side. Right now, we should be talking about how encouraging it is that so many Muslims, even those you would least expect it from, have condemned the attack in Paris, and how this is a sign that just because a person's Muslim doesn't mean they can't be on "our side." Instead, you've drudged up the same tired, ill-founded attacks on Islam that you love to drudge up given any opportunity.

I'd also just like to note your community's total hypocrisy as supposed opponents of religious extremism. I've barely heard a word from many of your prominent members about Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, in spite of the numerous deaths caused by offensives such as last summer's and the fact that Israeli right-wingers routinely cite a God-given right to the land of Israel. Sheldon Adelson, the number one donor to conservative super PACs, said a few months ago that it doesn't matter if Israel is a democratic state because the Torah never endorses democracy. Where was the New Atheist outrage then? How can you expect people to believe you don't harbor some kind of bigotry against Muslims when you use attacks by Muslim extremists to justify disparaging Islam and yet when Jewish extremists support and abet killing far more people, you barely acknowledge it, or even defend them?

In fact, by your crude logic, Judaism should be the religion we're really concerned with; Jews are a mere 0.2% of the world's population, and yet Jewish extremists routinely use their religion to justify and support the oppression and military occupation of the land of millions of people, and the murders of thousands. Furthermore, these extremists aren't just a bunch of random people with weapons; they're in the US and Israeli governments, and huge donors in American politics. But, of course, anyone who acknowledges that must just be an antisemite.

I'd like to be abundantly clear on one point: my problem with you has nothing to do with political correctness or the idea that what you say and do is "offensive" or racist. It's that, at least on the issue of Islam, you're intellectually lazy and deliberately disregard anything and everything that could create a more complex picture than the one you want to paint. I don't insist on the idea that all religions are equal, as Bill Maher has accused opponents of his view of pretending. It's that your claims about Islam are ill-founded, and your view on how we should respond to Islamic extremism is counterproductive.

There are plenty of people within the New Atheist community that I agree with on many issues, to be sure. I agree with Bill Maher the vast majority of the time and I enjoy his commentary; I watch videos from The Amazing Atheist, a popular YouTube atheist and a supporter of New Atheism, and I almost always agree with the points he makes (including on feminism, which he's often unfairly criticized for). But these frequently intelligent, insightful voices suddenly start saying things that are at best oversimplifications and at worst completely unfounded when it comes to the issue of Islam. Of course, there are plenty of valid aspects of Islam to criticize, and there are plenty of rules and ideas in the Qur'an that really are antiquated and damaging to modern society; I'm not saying you're not allowed to hold a negative view of Islam, but having a negative view of the religion doesn't justify deliberately alienating and insulting anyone who believes it and making claims about it that really just don't hold up to scrutiny. And if the New Atheist community can't come to terms with that, maybe the New Atheist community's doctrines have a problem worth discussing.

Your Erstwhile Ally,
H.S. Buchanan

LATER NOTE:
 My criticism of the New Atheist movement made here absolutely stands; however, in the last paragraph I said some things that no longer hold true, not because they are too harsh to the New Atheist movement, but because they were not harsh enough. As I've noted now, I no longer enjoy Bill Maher's commentary, and in retrospect I believe he has been saying tasteless and prejudiced things for a long time; perhaps I realized this on some level before, but refused to let myself fully acknowledge it.

As for The Amazing Atheist, my views on him, too, have shifted significantly, and looking back there are many things he's said that I find problematic, including his take on feminism, which I defended at the time. I opted not to change what I'd already written because it would be easier to simply explain the situation and let what I had previously written stay on the record. However, my views have shifted significantly enough that I wanted it to be clear that I no longer stand by my defenses of Bill Maher or The Amazing Atheist, lest anyone stumble on this blog post and get the wrong impression.

EVEN LATER NOTE:
I have removed a reference to The Amazing Atheist as the "number one YouTube atheist" because I have been unable to verify this claim.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Everything is Not Awesome

It's always fun when you find an article so delusional that even its title gives it away as crazed, fantastical ramblings. As soon as I saw that there was an article called "Everything is Awesome!" I had a feeling I knew what I was in for, but I think even then I underestimated just how ludicrous the article would be. I actually had to verify that it wasn't satire--but it's not. Its author, Michael Grunwald, is a serious journalist, whose brilliance is illustrated by his statements that he doesn't care that a US citizen was killed by a drone strike and that he can't wait to defend the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange (in fairness, he admitted that one was dumb). So, sadly, this is all too serious.

The article came out just before Christmas, so my response is coming a bit late, but everything the article discusses is still relevant, and I've heard the same arguments in more places than just this one article. Anyway, here's how it begins:

Good news! The U.S. economy grew at a rollicking 5 percent rate in the third quarter. Oh, and it added 320,000 jobs in November, the best of its unprecedented 57 straight months of private-sector employment growth. Just in time for Christmas, the Dow just hit an all-time high and the uninsured rate is approaching an all-time low. Consumer confidence is soaring, inflation is low, gas prices are plunging, and the budget deficit is shrinking.

Obviously, a lot is being covered here already, so let's pick it apart a bit. The economy is growing, yes, fine. Certainly better for it to be growing than stagnating, so that's all fine and good. However, the fact the Dow is up is not really good news for all of us; it's good for those who have stocks, which means mostly it's good news for the rich. It doesn't do so much for the working class family struggling to pay their bills. The reduced uninsured rate is, again, a good thing (though it largely just means we're finally approaching every other industrialized country in one area we've lagged greatly behind in); consumer confidence is good for the GDP, but it does little to fix the fact that our economy remains excessively reliant on consumer spending. The low gas prices are nice (and helpful for people lower down on the economic ladder), but let's not lose sight of the fact that ideally we should be moving away from being so reliant on gasoline to begin with. As for inflation and the deficit, neither of those have been real problems in the United States the past few years; actually, a bit of inflation would be good, as it would help middle and working class Americans pay back their debts. A larger deficit would be perfectly acceptable, too, depending on what it's spent on. So, already, the picture's quite a bit more complex than Grunwald would have us believe.
You no longer hear much about the Ebola crisis that dominated the headlines in the fall, much less the border crisis that dominated the headlines over the summer.
This is just asinine. There was never an Ebola crisis in the United States, and the problem is still very real in the countries where there is an actual outbreak. The border crisis was another bit of fear-mongering as well; the actual cause of it--violence and poverty in Latin America--has certainly not magically disappeared in the course of six months. 
Crime, abortion, teen pregnancy and oil imports are also way down, while renewable power is way up and the American auto industry is booming again.
Great, except that the biggest threats to the country have little to do with crime, abortion, or teen pregnancy. The bit about oil imports and renewable energy is a bit more relevant, but seeing as potentially devastating environmental issues remain a very real threat, it might be a bit early to start celebrating.
You don’t have to give credit to President Barack Obama for “America’s resurgence,” as he has started calling it, but there’s overwhelming evidence the resurgence is real.
Why? Because we finally have an economy that's growing and we've started taking some basic measures we should have a long time ago? Call me crazy, but that doesn't exactly seem to outweigh the negatives of increasing inequality, a government controlled by corporate interests, militarization of our police forces nationwide, and the erosion of our civil liberties.
The Chicken Littles who predicted a double-dip recession, runaway interest rates, Zimbabwe-style inflation, a Greece-style debt crisis, skyrocketing energy prices, health insurance “death spirals” and other horrors have been reliably wrong.
And? For the most part, no one with any real credibility predicted these things. This is equivalent to saying we're in good shape because the alien invasion your mentally unstable uncle predicted hasn't happened. Most of these were never real threats to begin with, so the fact that they haven't happened means very little. 
Come to think of it, the 62 percent of Americans who described the economy as “poor” in a CNN poll a week before the Republican landslide in the midterm elections were also wrong. I guess that sounds elitist. Second-guessing the wisdom of the public may be the last bastion of political correctness; if ordinary people don’t feel good about the economy, then the recovery isn’t supposed to be real. But aren’t the 11 million Americans who have landed new jobs since 2010 and the 10 million Americans who have gotten health insurance since 2013 ordinary Americans? It’s true that wage growth has remained slow, but the overall economic trends don’t jibe with the public’s lousy mood.
Wage growth being slow is not some minor issue; without wage growth, a growing economy doesn't mean all that much for large numbers of Americans. And wage growth isn't a little slow or something along those lines; it's practically nonexistent. A higher GDP doesn't mean much if most Americans won't see the benefits of it, but apparently that's a minor detail in Michael Grunwald's mind.
Six years ago, the economy was contracting at an 8 percent annual rate and shedding 800,000 jobs a month. Those were Great Depression-type numbers. The government was pouring billions of dollars into busted banks, and experts like MIT’s Simon Johnson were predicting that the bailouts would cost taxpayers as much as $2 trillion. In reality, the bailouts not only quelled the worst financial panic since the Depression, they made money for taxpayers.
They made fifteen billion dollars, which is tiny when you consider the size of the bailouts, and that came at the expense of keeping the banks huge and unaccountable for their actions. So I guess if you're happy with a total lack of accountability in the financial sector and an economy that continues to work for a small elite, all for the government to collect a whopping fifty dollars for every man, woman, and child in America, the bailouts were just awesome, to use Grunwald's favorite word. 
This bah-humbug brand of moral superiority has flourished since the crisis: How dare you celebrate this or that piece of economic data when so many Americans are still hurting? It’s awkward to argue with that view, since many Americans are indeed still hurting. But the economic data keep showing that fewer Americans are hurting every month. No one is satisfied with 5.8 percent unemployment, but it’s way better than the 10 percent we had in 2010 or the 11 percent Europe has today. Declining child poverty and household debt and personal bankruptcies are also worth celebrating. Better is better than worse. Whether or not you think Obamacare had anything to do with the slowdown in medical cost growth, it’s a good thing that Medicare’s finances have improved dramatically, extending the solvency of its trust fund by an estimated 13 years. It’s a good thing that U.S. wind power has tripled and solar power has increased tenfold in five years. And while it’s true that the meteoric rise of the stock market since 2009 has produced windfalls for Wall Street, it has also replenished state pension funds and 401(k) retirement plans and labor union coffers. It definitely beats the alternative.
So, apparently, the only choice is between the current situation or a worse one.  Yes, it would be worse if the things Grunwald mentioned were getting worse instead of better, but isn't it just a tad selective to only look at what's getting better and ignore what's getting worse? You wouldn't celebrate the fact that your Hot Pocket is a delicious golden brown if your house was burned down in the process of making it.
Let’s face it: The press has a problem reporting good news. Two Americans died of Ebola and cable TV flipped out; now we’re Ebola-free and no one seems to care. The same thing happened with the flood of migrant children across the Mexican border, which was a horrific crisis until it suddenly wasn’t.
Yes, the press, being owned by corporations, focuses much more on what will get attention (and thus money) rather than giving us a full picture. Isn't that, you know, sort of a bad thing? That the media is increasingly owned by a smaller and smaller number of corporations? Seems a little contrary to the idea that things are "awesome" in America.
The media keep us in a perpetual state of panic about spectacular threats to our safety — Ebola, sharks, terrorism — but we’re much likelier to die in a car accident. Although, it ought to be said, much less likely than we used to be; highway fatalities are down 25 percent in a decade.
This is just getting farcical. Not even deranged right-wing demagogues tried to convince us that highway fatalities were going to destroy the country. Who cares if they're down? Sure, it's nice, but bringing it up just distracts from any of the threats that the country actually faces.
The other problem in acknowledging good news, not just for the press but for the public, is that it has come to feel partisan, like an endorsement of whoever occupies the White House. Republican leaders have exacerbated this problem by describing everything Obama has done — his 2009 stimulus package, his 2010 Wall Street reforms, his 2013 tax hikes on high earners, his various anti-pollution regulations aimed at coal-fired power plants, and most of all Obamacare — as “job-killing” catastrophes that would obliterate the economy. It’s hard to point out that the economy is humming along nicely without making those doom-and-gloom predictions sound ill-advised and over-the-top. Because they were. Liberals who predicted disaster when Obama refused to nationalize the banking system during the financial crisis and when Republicans insisted on the harsh budget cuts in the 2013 “sequester” were wrong, too. Disaster hasn’t happened.
I don't know of any liberals who predicted "disaster" when Obama didn't nationalize the banking system or when the sequester went into place. I do know of a number of liberals who predicted that bailing out the banks with no strings attached would keep them unaccountable and "too big to fail" (it did) and that the sequester cuts would hurt the economy and lower-income Americans (they did). But why bother with actual facts when you can stoop to lazy false equivalencies and absurd oversimplifications? 
As ideologically inconvenient as that may be for chronic complainers on the left and right — and for pundit types invested in their bad-year-for-Obama narrative — it’s wonderful for the country. You don’t have to endorse Obama’s economic philosophy to realize that it hasn’t wreaked short-term havoc, just as you don’t have to endorse the Obama or George W. Bush anti-terror philosophies to acknowledge that America hasn’t endured a rash of terror attacks since 2001.
Virtually the only people who predicted that "short-term havoc" would come from Obama's economic policies were those on the far right. The left-wing criticisms of them have consistently been more focused on long-term, not short-term, effects, and the long-term outcome is not all that bright. The line about terror attacks sums up this article pretty well, though; let's celebrate the fact that something didn't happen when there was no credible reason to think it would, anyway. And now for the big finish:
The U.S. is still plagued by inadequate public schools, crumbling infrastructure, soaring college tuition costs, stark inequality. Many Americans want accountability for reckless bankers, torturers and fatal choke-holders. Washington is still almost as dysfunctional as everyone says it is. Congress this session really was the second least productive ever. And even though Obama is winding down the U.S. involvement in overseas wars, the world remains a scary place. There’s still plenty to worry about.
But for now be merry! And may the new year be as awesome as this year.
Yeah, we have subpar public schools, subpar infrastructure, above average income inequality, unaccountable bankers, unaccountable cops, unaccountable federal agencies, and a government that doesn't work. But other than that, things are awesome! Oh, and I like how the new Iraq-Syria War we've gotten ourselves involved in still just doesn't count in the minds of people like Grunwald. Seriously, though, how could he not just read that paragraph and realize what a stupid idea this article was? It's fine to want to discuss good news, but you're actually going to say things are looking good in a country with these sorts of problems (many of which are getting worse, not better)?

There's a pretty simple reason that Michael Grunwald would write such a brain-dead article (apart from the fact that he himself is pretty brain-dead): a small amount of research exposes him as yet another Obama defender far more concerned with preserving a good image of the president than actually examining the facts in a meaningful way. His case is much like that of many other Democratic Party loyalists. But the thing is, things aren't awesome in America, and Americans know that. Pretending they are doesn't change anything, and it also doesn't get Democrats elected. It just makes the people who do it look like idiots; but then again, with Grunwald here, if the shoe fits...