American Greatness and American Venality

One ought to be immune to what Roger Simon splendidly and succinctly called the “festival of hypocrisy” that is the current hysteria over separating family members at our border, but the shamelessness of the critics of the Trump Administration still beggars belief.

Sometimes, if one wants to understand American greatness, and how to preserve it, it is necessary to contemplate American venality in all of its loathsomeness and ugliness. It has rarely been on full display as it has in the recent portrayals of caged and crying children (some of which, of course, are either staged or date from the Obama Administration, though both facts are rarely acknowledged). That is simple hypocrisy, as is the apparent lack of concern, among Democrats, over child trafficking, drug trafficking, terrorism, and the other horrors associated with lax border enforcement.

Contrary to popular belief, the Trump Administration did not discover “fake news.” It has been with us since the beginning of this country, and America’s Founders believed that the only two dangers that were fatal to our fledgling republic were luxury and the “licentiousness of the press.” The Founders knew that the requisite virtue to maintain self-government was not assured, and they knew that “the bulk of mankind” was too easily misled by sentiment and corrupt demagoguery.

Both have been in oversupply this week. The Constitution’s framers may not have anticipated the substitution of “virtue-signaling” for virtue, but they did warn of the corrosive poison of partisan politics, though they were unable to prevent it.

New in our own time is the 24-hour cable news cycle and the manner in which the media and one of our political parties cooperate to promote talking points and a narrative designed to distract, mislead, confuse, and enrage Americans. Just as patriotism used to be derided as the last refuge of scoundrels, so now is an appeal to “save the children” used to shift the national political conversation from the corruption of the Obama Administration revealed in Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the Clinton server investigation, and what is likely to come in the future report on the initiation of the “Russia collusion” investigation.

The Trump Administration is engaged in a laudable effort to shift our immigration policies from the current lottery system and the porous borders of the last few administrations to enhanced border security and a merit-based system which will more closely conform to that employed by Canada and other Commonwealth nations. We have prided ourselves on being a “nation of immigrants,” but at least one of our political parties has failed to understand that we can’t exist as a responsible nation at all if we allow the rule of law to be held hostage to political posturing.

Candidate Trump grasped this, and this explains his successful focus on reforming our immigration policies, and this explains as well President Trump’s seeking to implement a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to enforcement of our existing immigration laws.

The simple truth is that what is unfair and unjust is not our treatment of children wrongly and illegally brought here by their parents or by those seeking to use them as coercive devices (or worse to exploit them). We should recognize the true injustice and unfairness on the part of those who seek to give undocumented and unvetted persons who refuse to follow the law priority over immigrants willing to follow the rules.

Equally important, we ought to demand that with the privileges conferred by our First Amendment’s protection to those who report and broadcast the news ought to come with some responsibility not only for accuracy and for freedom from bias, but also for decency and judgment. Journalists are aware of the cynical notion that “if it bleeds, it leads,” but the Fourth Estate should be better than that, and the public ought to demand more. This, too, seems to be something candidate Trump understood.

Democrats, knowing that their attempt to link the Trump Administration to a devious foreign power has been exposed as chicanery of the worse sort, and quite possibly a scandal to rival if not surpass Watergate, have sought cruelly and cynically themselves to use children as cudgels in one more effort to diminish the current administration. There ought to be a debate about immigration policy, and Congress should stop shirking its responsibilities in this regard, but it ought to be the duty of those of us who still care about the values that made this country great to expose the latest effort of media manipulation for what it is.

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

About Stephen B. Presser

Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, and the author of “Law Professors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law” (West Academic Publishers, 2017). In the academic year 2018-2019, Professor Presser is a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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