Wednesday, August 17, 2022

our trip to SoCAL

Tonia, Joseph, Daniel, and I went to LA and SD, July 4-11. We flew Spirit Airlines both ways and had a very good experience. Spirit is less expensive, as long as you can take it easy on luggage. (We brought two large bags for the four of us.) We were even able to buy our fourth ticket with a few days to go (Joseph decided to go at the last minute)-- for a bit less than the three tickets we'd bought earlier. 

We rented a car from Kyte; that was weird, but inexpensive and excellent. It was $220 for a new Toyota Corolla all week. The odd part was that they had no footprint in terms of buildings. They used a shuttle from the airport to meet us in a rental car parking lot, where they met us with the car and computers to check us in.

Everything except groceries was considerably more expensive. Gas was $1-1.50 more; fast food was pricier in most cases. That said, we did get amazing donuts and an inexpensive, delicious torta at Winchells' Donuts!

The weather was lovely in LA and SD, but super hot once you got off the coast. Temps were 70s in SD and low-80's in LA-- although the sun's intensity made it feel much warmer. Ranging inland, we were well into the 100's. Cars were much nicer: not as many super-nice cars as expected, but I'd say 20% were BMW's and few beaters. People were in much better shape: few people overweight and very few who were obese. This may sound odd, but traffic did not have as much stand-still as I expected, but was also generally heavier than I expected. More broadly, you're not on the interstates as much as you'd expect and it's slow-going with traffic lights, etc. 

Lodging was difficult to find for reasonable prices. In LA, we stayed all four nights at Deano's-- an old-style motel. (We were scheduled to stay elsewhere for two nights, but they reneged on my paid reservation. I'm still trying to get to make that right. My first bad experience with them, but this has been terrible.) The other lodging of note: my first BNB of some sort: staying in a room at a really nice Jamaican's house and sharing a bathroom with another tenant.

Overall, I'd say this was a good trip but not nearly our best-- compared to our top trip: SF to Glacier in 2016 (hard to beat that!) or other top-tier trips to New York State in 2011SD and eastern CO in 2012, and Arizona in 2020(We've taken many other smaller trips that were roughly equivalent: ChicagoNC/SC twice, Atlanta/Florida, Michigan twice [mostly southern and northern], and St. Louis/Memphis.) 

The highlights in LA the first few days: The Petersen Auto Museum was the best of many auto museums we've ever seen. No surprise: this was a Top 3 trip moment for Daniel and Joseph! The Getty Museum had amazing architecture and tons of art in a beautiful setting. But the art didn't have enough variance-- and was not exactly in our wheelhouse in terms of tastes. It's a must-see, but it wasn't all I hoped it would be. The LaBrea Tar Pits are interesting and a quick stop. It's free unless you go in the museum, which didn't look to be worth the price. We also drove around a lot: Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Rodeo Dr., Sunset Blvd; Santa Monica Pier, some of the canyons, and the park at the Griffith Observatory.

Heading out of town to the east on Wednesday, we visited Huntington Gardens. The art there was solid, but the gardens were huge, varied, and amazing. That's a must-see. Continuing east, we visited the NHRA Museum where they were having a car show. Both were solid, but not as exciting as I had expected for Daniel and Joseph. We finished up in Palm Springs, with its oppressive heat and high-end stores. We walked around and had Ben/Jerry's for the first time. 

We stayed the night in Palm Springs to be in position to take the San Jacinto Peak tram on Thursday AM. It's a 10-minute beautiful ride with a tremendous temperature change and the opportunity to walk/hike at the top. (We had other things to do, so we weren't up top very long.) Then, we went to Joshua Tree NP-- solid but redundant and ultimately disappointing (perhaps because we had been to Arizona so recently). If we'd driven through Joshua Tree, we would have ended up near the Patton Museum. (Interestingly, I read O'Reilly's Killing Patton on the trip.) It was beautiful and varied landscape the rest of the day, as we hit Julian’s Apple Pie (wow!) just before a four-mile hike to the top of Stonewall Peak in Cuyamaca SP. (It was one of the most satisfying hikes I've ever had: steady climb that reached the actual peak of a mountain. And I had just broken my ankle less than four months earlier!) 

We finished the day by driving to San Diego. On Friday, we spent a big chunk of the day in Balboa Park (amazing, but apparently had wise counsel to avoid the museums). We also drove through Gaslamp Quarter and Old Town (seemed ok, but touristy) on our way to the beach at LaJolla (boys weren't as interested as we expected and snorkeling was limited/ineffective). The boys did paragliding at Torrey Pines (another Top 3 moment for both of the boys). With limited time at the beach, we had time to head back to SD for more time on scooters. 

Saturday was a mixed bag: a brief stop at San Onofre Beach. (We hoped to see surfers, but the weather did not cooperate.) We visited San Juan Capistrano mission which was solid and comparable to similar stops. And then we spent the rest of the day walking (and scootering) around Long Beach. On Sunday, I spent the day at the Reagan Library (amazing), while Tonia and the boys walked and scootered in Beverly Hills and Hollywood. 

The Reagan Library had a strong WWII exhibit, along with its coverage of Reagan's life. His background and how it prepared him to be effective as a politician. His impressive style. (Check out this quote: "Whatever else history may say about me...I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts." So different from the last two decades!) And his many policy achievements. (I can name a half-dozen important things he accomplished-- in immensely challenging times. In contrast, I can't name more than one for any of the presidents since him.) By any consistent metrics, he's easily the greatest president since at least Coolidge. What a way to finish our trip!

brief review of P.D. James' "The Children of Men"

I like to read fiction and believe that it helps to keep me healthy mentally and spiritually (since I read so much non-fiction). Among types of fiction, I enjoy dystopian literature-- perhaps because it edges into non-fiction so easily. I had heard of P.D. James, but I had never thought about reading her, until reading a review of The Children of Men by John Miller in National Review.

James was a prolific mystery writer, so Children of Men was a departure for her. According to Miller, it was the only book when she did not earn an advance. But it generated more correspondence and controversy than any of her other books—and led to a 2006 movie version starring Clive Owen.

CoM is a really good book—if not a classic alongside Huxley's Brave New World, Orwell's 1984, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Zamyatin's WeKoestler's Darkness at Noon, Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron", and works by Ayn Rand (e.g., Atlas Shrugged and Anthem).

The premise is that nobody can have children anymore. (The opening sentence is arresting—and at least for me, confusing for a minute: "Early this morning, 1 January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl.") Worldwide infertility has occurred for reasons unknown to them or at least to us—and how this would change people and society. Imagine a world where playgrounds are completely obsolete. Imagine the changes in demographics and finances that would result from a dramatically-aging population. Imagine the hopelessness that would often emerge. 

CoM is 30 years old now, but surprisingly prescient—in addition to sobering—as a reflection on many aspects of our current moment. (The book takes place in early and then late in 2021, 25 years after the world's final birth in late 1995. This explains the attention given to it last year!) 

CoM has parallels with a wide array of anti-human public policies, social trends, and pseudo-religions: declining fertility, abortion, euthanasia, population control, eugenics, birth control, treating animals as children, environmentalism, efforts to muddy gender, and cultural and political pressures to diminish traditional family structure. While the book goes much further, this is what good art often does—extending the point to make a point. 

CoM is not explicitly Christian, but emanates from and echoes a Christian worldview. The religious references are interesting: The title comes from the sobering Psalm 90. The characters display a wide range of religious faiths—from the modernist "skeptic" to the pious. And finally, what requires a spoiler alert before I give you the last few (amazing) sentences which includes an explicit religious reference: "From some far childhood memory he recalled the rite...It was with a thumb wet with his own tears and stained with her blood that he made on the child's forehead the sign of the cross."

on the economic/financial implications of Indiana's abortion restrictions

Michael Hicks recently wrote an op-ed, expressing concern about the economic impact of Indiana’s new restrictions on abortion—particularly on colleges and businesses. He predicts “far fewer” students from a “substantial decline” in out-of-state students and a reduction of in-state students—as well as “fraught disadvantages” for businesses.

People make decisions based on the perceived benefits and costs of those choices. When the benefits or costs change, then behaviors become more or less likely. Hicks is correct to note that reduced benefits or increased costs will tend to deter behavior. But by how much—and what other economic concepts are in play?

One key question is “elasticity”: how much will behavior change when benefits and costs shift? Choosing a college—and even more so, choosing a location for a business—are complicated decisions. To what extent will a change in this one factor move the needle for decisions in either realm?

Will Indiana high school graduates be willing to pay out-of-state tuition rates—even those who might want to seek an (in-state) abortion? Will grad students from across the world avoid strong, reputable programs in Indiana and risk damage to their career prospects? Will small or large businesses routinely leave or avoid Indiana because of this? Most important: If we had abortion regulations that were slightly more permissive, would it make any significant difference? (It’s a Molechian fantasy to think we’d have few if any restrictions.) It’s difficult to imagine.

Another consideration: short-run vs. long-run responses. I’m not sure about Hicks’ claim that we now have the strictest laws in the country. But even if so, how long will this be true? Within a year or two, Indiana will be one of many states with restrictive laws. (Other states will choose a much more permissive route, even subsidizing consumers in other states.) Perhaps there will be an impact in 2023, but it will be reduced as other states pass their own restrictions.

This reminds me of a debate in Indiana a decade ago: those who thought liberalized labor laws would be a panacea for Indiana’s economic development. Sure, it helped, but only “at the margin”. The fact is that people and businesses make their decisions based on many factors—and in-state abortion access and labor laws are just two of those many factors.

And there are potentially positive effects: Perhaps we’ll attract more pro-life people who tend to raise more children in two-parent households, helping an array of social outcomes and long-term demographics. Perhaps we’ll attract small and large businesses whose owners value Indiana’s stand for life and the vulnerable. Perhaps our large universities will become (or be considered) less “woke”, making socially conservative and moderate parents more comfortable sending their kids to those schools.

All this said, my biggest problem with Hicks’ essay is that it displays a tin ear toward the morality and justice issues inherent in this policy debate. (It also ignores the impact of Roe and Casey as poorly-decided court cases and the cost of avoiding democracy by relying on federal courts instead of state legislatures.) I can understand the reluctance to discuss this: as economists, we try to avoid mixing positive analysis (what is) with normative opinions (what should be). But it seems unavoidable here.

Imagine the public response if I penned an op-ed about the end of slavery in a state as a drag on that state’s economy: The cost of labor will be higher, increasing production costs. This will increase prices for consumers and tend to drive businesses from the state, reducing our economic well-being. And so on. At the end of the day, the potential financial implications of ending slavery and legal abortions are interesting and perhaps noteworthy. But they pale next to the morality and justice concerns.

Many reach the pro-life position through science and/or religious beliefs, aiming to defend the most vulnerable in our society. Others say they are uncertain about when life begins, so we should allow people to err on the side of choice for one party, while ending the life of another. At least for those who rely heavily on science: even if this ends up costing Hoosiers some students and some businesses, this sacrifice would seem to be worth the financial loss.

on Shlaes' "The Great Society"

I got to meet Amity Shlaes when she spoke at a U of L Center for Free Enterprise event last September. I had really enjoyed her book on the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man. (See: my review of it and a blog post on other resources connected to the book's content.) She gave me a signed copy of her book on The Great Society and I've been looking forward to reading it too. 

The work is thorough, but I don't think the time period, the subjects, or the writing are as compelling as  The Forgotten Man. I can certainly recommend the book for those interested in public policy in general-- or poverty and welfare in particular. It would also appeal to people who are interested in the era running from the mid-1960s into the 1970s. But I don't think the book's coverage will appeal to most laypeople. 

For similar reasons, I don't intend to "review" the book, but will provide a list of nuggets for interested readers and for my own uses later. 


-Nixon dramatically increased War on Poverty spending. (In many ways, Nixon was more "liberal" and more "LBJ" than LBJ.) I learned this from Charles Murray's Losing Ground decades ago. But from Shlaes, I learned that the extent was enough to worry Dems that he was stealing the issue from them! 

-LBJ's claim that this did not represent "a handout or a dole...We know-- we learned long ago-- that answer is no answer." (124)

-A nice passing remark (6) about how govt typically works: measuring (and valuing) inputs over outputs. Why? Well, they're easier to measure and provide a far-more-flattering picture.

-Moynihan was deeply concerned that govt welfare monies went mostly to bureaucrats-- and that a patchwork of fed/state programs and taxes led to disincentive problems (317) and "notches" (325). He promoted UBI as an alternative and universal Medicaid (318). He made progress on this goal (along with Friedman), but ended up proposing an add-on instead of a replacement (342) and the legislative effort failed anyway.

-A detail I didn't know: Mollie Orshansky's poverty line estimate for a family of four in 1963 was $3128. The poverty line was drawn a few years later at $3000 (108).

-Shales throws hammers at "urban renewal". Twice, she quotes James Baldwin's famous line that it equated to "Negro removal" (72, 237). The Santa Monica Freeway cut through "the most prosperous, best kept and most beautiful Negro owned property in the country" in West Adams (138). Eminent domain ended up trashing Black Bottom (236). She's particularly rough on the projects in St. Louis at Pruitt-Igoe: it was for mothers only (fathers had to leave); it had means-tested rent disincentives; and provided terrible economic and social results (239-245).

-Shlaes revisits the academic debate over the economic and sociological woes of African-Americans. The somewhat-competing / somewhat-overlapping theses were jobs and families. Both can easily be laid at the feet of welfare policies (163).


-A key story in American Macro history: the domination and optimism of Keynesianism and faith in big-govt solutions. Shales describes this and adds more meat to the bones: the economy seemed unstoppable (with so much growth). They believed that regulation and taxes were largely independent from economic outcomes (26). The same optimism extended to efforts to battle poverty, along with perceived abundance (we could afford it; 97) and progress in many other areas, esp. science (180).

-Another key story in American Macro history is the emergence of Supply-Side Econ. I always tell the story about Ronald Reagan and 91% marginal tax rates in Hollywood. Shlaes tells another Reagan story: he received a 25% pay raise from GE that made little difference to his standard of living, given inflation and taxes (37).

-The Dow flirted with 1000 for a long time, but did not pass it until 1982-- the end of the Reagan / post-inflation recession (10). Broadly, there was significant pessimism about America and the American economy-- from the mid-60s until Reagan. In this period, it manifested as steady outflow of gold and even runs on gold (9-10)

-LBJ wanted to fight international trade deficits through a two-year moratorium on tourism outside the western hemisphere (264).


-The federal govt was allowed to unionize (but not collectively bargain) in the 1960s. This led to pressure allowing the same (and more) at the state/local level (48-49). 

-She cites tough LA cops-- as did Balko (139).

-Mayors initially saw federal efforts as a "power grab" (153), but were successfully bribed by Federal monies (155) before the efforts were eventually federalized (231).

-I did not know about Sen. Everett Dirksen's pivotal role as a thorn in the side to LBJ's legislative agenda, especially in trying to reverse Right-to-Work (197-198).

-Johnson referred to liberals/Lefties as "beards"! (287)

-Shlaes reflects on the limits of history in general and the history of the War on Poverty in particular. Texts and history books have focused on Civil Rights and Vietnam, rather than economics. The result: coverage in "non-narrative, non-economic kaleidoscope fashion (15-16). Pursuing "the great man" approach to history, they have tended to beatify JFK, celebrate LBJ as a man of action despite consequences; and vilify Nixon as he ironically extended LBJ's failures. 

Friday, August 12, 2022

Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451"

I enjoyed the first two-thirds of Fahrenheit 451 on our trip to CA and then finished it last week. Great stuff, alongside other dystopian classics about different aspects of statism. Here's a recent article by Peter Suderman in Reason on the irony of libraries banning the book

A few nuggets I enjoyed:

-In the afterword, Bradbury said his choice of Montag and Faber was quite providential. 

-Clarisse on being called "anti-social" (29): It reminded me of the old canard about homeschoolers not getting "enough socialization"-- when people really mean to say "the right socialization"...which is often a very mixed bag, if right at all. 

-Along the same lines, Beatty laments that heredity and environment continue to produce the occasional free-thinkers. He observes: “The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school. That's why we've lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we're almost snatching them from the cradle.” (60) 

-In a long passage (55-61)-- probably the crux of the book's "argument"-- Beatty spins off a few deadly lines: "'Intellectual' became the swear word it deserved to be." "She didn't want to know how a thing was done, but why. That can be embarrassing." And he parrots the popular lines about equality (criticized by Ayn Rand, in Orwell's 1984, and in Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron.) 

But the most interesting part of his soliloquy is the argument that people chose it more than the govt forced it (what is, in essence, the difference between Brave New World and 1984).

"School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts? More sports for everyone, group spirit, fun, and you don't have to think, eh?...More pictures. The mind drinks less and less. Impatience...Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy...Don't give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

Similarly, Faber tells Montag that it's not books per se that are missing (82); it's something deeper. And that's correct at some level, but can you really have the world they want-- without books and reading? Christians are people of the book, the word, and the Word. At some level, reading is believing and living. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

on O'Reilly's "Killing Patton"

I've thought about reading a book from Bill O'Reilly's series on conspiracy killings and I finally got around to reading his work (with Martin Dugard) on General George Patton. This book is doubly interesting to me because it may be the last book my dad ever read. He read from this series; he was a huge fan of Patton; and he died within a year of the book's publication. So, I don't know, but I'd be surprised if he didn't read it and it wouldn't be shocking if this was the last one!

Let me open with two broad points. First, the book is an easy read, with a lot of interesting detail, well-organized, and so on. If you're into this sort of thing (a combo of history, unsolved mysteries, biography), it's good stuff. I wouldn't go out of my way to read this series (not my cup of tea) unless I was particularly interested in the subject's life. 

Second, I was impressed and a bit surprised that O'Reilly was sober in his analysis and (seemed) careful to distinguish between contexts where he and the consensus are more/less certain of how things went.  I expected more flash, hyperbole, and sensationalism. (It reminded me of Randy Alcorn's approach in his excellent book Heaven-- and a humble anthropological/archaeological dig we saw at Carters' Grove in VA, where they would only build/exhibit as much as they knew.) 

Aside from that, I just want to share some favorite observations from the book: 

-Ike was willing to put up with Patton given his prowess in leading his troops (51). In contrast, Hitler  has Rommel killed after suspicions that he was involved in trying to have Hitler killed (33-36). Granted, Patton's many excesses were merely problematic, insubordinate, and embarrassing, while Rommel was traitorous. But there is debate about the extent to which Rommel was involved. And it still points to a larger issue about a willingness-- or not-- to tolerate garbage from people who have much to offer you (or society). 

-Eisenhower's long-running affair with Kate Summersby is another example/aspect of the sort of mediocre religiosity that Ike brought to the presidency as he reflected as pseudo-Christian version of religion, American Civil Religion. It was fascinating to read about efforts to keep them apart and ironic to see efforts to erase their history-- all for the good of Ike's political future and "the country". Not surprisingly, she wasn't a fan of this work (279-280, 320).

-Patton's take on religion was much more fervent, even if wrong-headed at times. A blurb from his journal is telling: "I seemed always to be a ray of sunshine, and by God, I always am. We can and will win, God helping." (116) But he also believed in reincarnation, from a few personal experiences (200). The most amazing discussion was about Patton's prayers when he was frustrated with God for the weather in Christmas 1944. It is full-throated stuff-- reminiscent of the prophets, psalmists, Moses, David and Job; questioning how God runs His universe. (126-131) And then, when God comes through, he backtracks, repents and apologizes (159). 

-The authors have a brief discussion of the "scientific racism" that helped drive the German efforts. Akin to slavery back in the day, eugenics throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, and the popularity of the Molechian position on abortion, human beings were seen as "sub-human." (95, 97)

-A bit surprising: O'Reilly holds the popular but erroneous views that FDR deserves acclaim for his handling of the economy (69, 166). He also noted FDR's electoral prowess, only surpassed by Reagan. Ignoring policy, if you're going to give credit for improving morale, popularity and election success, and leading through difficult times, FDR and Reagan have to be in the upper tier of your presidential rankings. 

-The premise of the book are the possibilities that Patton was murdered. Here, he lays out a few possible angles (274-275, 285). The Russians wanted him dead and had experimented extensively with poison (286-290). Patton knew "too much" and some folks at the CIA/OEO wanted him dead (294-295). And then, the strangest thing involves a strange plane incident (241-242) and then, the direct manner of his death-- a suspicious car accident with a new driver (283, 297-303, 309-313). The car crash resulted in his paralysis and his death a few days later. While it's certainly possible that it was an accident; it's also possible that it was nefarious.

Smaller things: 

-Patton predicted Pearl Harbor (74)

-The West Point Class of 1915 was amazing (87), including Eisenhower and Omar Bradley. 

-O'Reilly (100) details the differences between the barbaric SS and the more standard aspect of the German military, the Wehrmacht.

-I hadn't heard of the "Malmedy Massacre" (102), but apparently it's relatively well-known, including prosecution for war crimes. 

-Hitler's health woes were impressive-- self-inflicted wounds and not the best constitution to boot (135).

-They detail Stalin's cleverness in dealing with the West. (I have it on my shelf, but I hope to read about this angle in McMeekin's Stalin's War.)

-There are a few interesting, explicit references to incentives in concentration camps (176) and Stalin encouraging rape as a reward for soldiers (192). 

-Jews were tattooed with a number-- their new identity to replace their name (183). 

Saturday, August 6, 2022

on "orientation", choice, determinism, etc.-- with applications to male (and female) sexuality (hetero and homo)

Thanks for the 1st paragraph and the clarification on the 2nd P. In particular, it seems important/vital to make the distinction between men and women in terms of sexual fluidity. And it seems to me, without strong evidence, significant female sexual fluidity undermines the claim that males have no fluidity. Of course, it's possible that females have quite a bit, while males have none, but this seems odd. (As an interesting aside, such a difference is troubling for those who [like/need to] imagine that men and women are roughly the same.)

To be clearer on my end in the 2nd P: I'm modeling orientation as a spectrum rather than a 0/1-- and I'm not narrowing this to (male) homosexuality. If the model is correct, then feeding an orientation will make it stronger, tend us toward more rationalization about both the orientation and the choices within it, etc. So, for example, if I don't practice disciplines in contexts that tempt me to anger, then I will tend grow angrier over time. If I hit the cookie jar more and more, it will be more and more difficult to avoid it. If I watch porn, I will increasingly objectify women, etc. And so on. (Beyond the narrow point, I believe that orientations are inter-related: if I hit the cookie jar with less self-control, then I will tend to struggle more with anger, lust, doing difficult things, etc.)

I don't see this (or at least these examples) as debatable. Within this model, some orientations might be tougher to battle than others-- or tougher for certain people: easier to end up on a slippery slope, more difficult to move the other direction, etc. But this model allows for the impact of choice (vs. utter determinism) for all/most people.

Is male homosexuality or other things (e.g., alcoholism) different in this regard-- for everybody or anybody? I don't think so and would need (strong) evidence that X is different from the model that I believe (strongly) to be correct. (To be candid, I'm not sure that fully-compelling evidence is even possible. What would it look like?) Perhaps it's interesting that sex and alcohol are arguably the (only?) two areas where there are questions about my model. In any case, is alcoholism inevitable for some people? Is there a trigger for potential alcoholics-- that they have a first drink and then they're toast? It's difficult to believe it's that simple. It's common to hear that males have a "sex addiction". But what does that mean? How did this happen? Were/are they without choice? And finally, why would homosexuality be different in this regard? It's easy enough to believe that many/most males are strongly oriented toward homo or hetero from an early age. But even there, we know examples where people cross between the two, undermining the claim for utter rigidity. And my model allows that change in some/many cases (albeit difficult in many of those cases).

Happy to continue the discussion on FB-- and maybe the public portion is instructive to others. But it took a long time to craft this, so if it'd be more constructive to meet in person, let me know.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

on "Christian" cowardice...

Let me go two ways here:

1.) Individual believers often lack courage-- and when so, it's a lack of faith and/or (head and experiential) knowledge. Courage assumes there's something to fear-- and that's fine; that's life. So, what's the response to fear: courage or cowardice? Key reasons for cowardice for Christians:
a.) lack of trust in God's providence (Do I really believe? I generally live/do in line with what I really believe!);
b.) sins of omission tend to be subtle (People see and call out sins of commission much more often-- their own and others.);
c.) lack of knowledge about what to do in any given circumstance (Related: Christians often quote Joshua 1:6,7,9 to "be strong and courageous", but they don't know and aggressively address what's in 1:8!).

2.) Related but far deeper and wider: many self-styled "Christians" aren't believers; they're "belongers". Religion has its sociological components-- a way of belonging-- and those tend to dominate when religion X is in the majority. Or we might say that they're X culturally but not religiously. In our country, this manifests as "cafeteria Christians"-- picking and choosing among Christian doctrines and practices, without meaningful biblically-Christian community-- as a way of life, with (really) themselves as god.

So, we have been a "Christian" nation in this sociological sense (with a peak in the 1950s). But to your point, we have not been a Christian nation in the religious/biblical sense. What we've seen in the last few decades and esp. the last few years, is the falling away of the belongers from churches-- and a significant increase in self-styling as "nones" rather than "Christian". (Nobody is a "none" in a religious sense, but it's easy to be "none" in the sociological sense.) This trend is generally good news-- probably quite good news, since they're less of a fraud and ironically, more likely to accept the Good News.

If you've read this far, you would like (love?) one of my essays on this latter point-- on "Christianity" as "American Civil Religion".