America • Americanism • Big Media • Black Lives Matter • Cultural Marxism • Democrats • Donald Trump • Greatness Agenda • Identity Politics • Post • Section 1 • Sports • The Culture • Trump White House

Trump Trumps the Ruling Class Again

Donald Trump is once again confounding his critics. He is holding fast to a common sense view of politics that puts his opponents on constant defense and busts the monopoly they once had on shaping the American mind.

Trump’s tactics are plain to see for anyone who bothers to look. Over and over, he drives a wedge between the political and cultural elites and Americans who don’t share their views of morality and “patriotism.”

The president’s off-the-cuff comments on Friday at a rally for Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Luther Strange was a textbook example of Trump’s strategy in action. He riffed on an assortment of topics before setting his sights squarely on the National Football League.

Trump brought up NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem:

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!”

Though it may cause some elite conservatives to cluck their tongues over Trump’s impropriety, this is the colorful language Americans (including even most of these elite conservatives) use all the time in break rooms, auto mechanics’ shops, and especially in the branches of our military.

Trump went on to point out how the NFL and the increasingly Leftist sports media have undermined the virtues that have attracted generations of Americans to the game of football. While Americans understand the safety concerns that come naturally in a sport where players run into each other at full speed, they know that reward comes with risk. Character, a manly self-assertiveness, and a chance to hone one’s natural abilities at the highest level are important elements of being a good citizen and a good human being.

As Trump noted:

The NFL ratings are down massively. Now the No.1 reason happens to be they like watching what’s happening…with yours truly. They like what’s happening. Because you know today if you hit too hard: 15 yards! Throw him out of the game! They’re ruining the game! That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit! It is hurting the game.

These thumotic manly virtues—the traits that are typically unique to men—have been ridiculed and despised by the cultural literati. Men today are commonly depicted in the popular culture as buffoons who can’t do the simplest task and whose default mode in raising their children is failure.

But most Americans don’t buy the views set down by our cultural elites. They understand the virtues it takes to raise a family and that basic differences between men and women are grounded in nature. And they are more than comfortable with changing a tire, hanging drywall, or going on a weekend 30-mile backpacking trip.

After the rally, Trump underscored his tactic of using sports to drive a wedge between the elites and the rest of America:

Before Trump rolled up the red carpet, the Golden State Warriors were reportedly deep into thoughtful discussions about whether to attend a ceremony at the White House honoring the team’s 2017 NBA championship. But that was all a sham. They were never going.

As head coach Steve Kerr said in May, Trump is a “blowhard” who is “ill-suited” for the presidency. Stephen Curry, the team’s point guard and outspoken Hillary Clinton supporter, earlier this year quipped that he agreed that Donald Trump is an “asset” to the nation, but only “if you remove the ‘et.’” On Election Night, Curry tweeted his support of Van Jones’ observation that the results were a “whitelash against a changing country.”

Trump simply called their bluff. And in doing so, he again highlighted the differences between the elites and most Americans—whether they are Republican Party lifers, newly-minted Trump Democrats, or Americans who didn’t even vote for Trump but retain a morality antithetical to the ruling class. These Americans have had enough of constantly being lectured and told to repent of their manifest heresies against the orthodoxies of modern liberalism. They are fed up with having their way of life sneered at and disrespected by employees of the transnational corporations that dominate the U.S. sports-industrial complex.

The NFL, NBA, and the NCAA, along with ESPN, are long-time participants in helping the ruling class steamroll the people’s concerns and interests. From condemning North Carolina, where the people’s duly elected representatives passed a bill mandating that individuals use the bathroom that corresponds to their birth sex, to spreading disdain for Arizonans who approved of measures designed to stop the influx of illegal aliens streaming across their borders, these corporations represent the elite consensus that brooks no dissent. You’re either with them or against them. There is no other option.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s statement reacting to Trump’s comments is the height of the deep narcissism and self-loathing concealed beneath the thin veneer of the elite’s pseudo-morality. Goodell said Trump’s “divisive comments” show “an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL.” Goodell, who is generally despised by football fans, sportswriters, and players alike, is blind to the divisiveness incited by the very organization he leads. And that he thinks an entity like the NFL is automatically owed any respect at all is revealing. What exactly is it that places the NFL beyond reproach?

Trump wasn’t responsible for botching case after case involving NFL players who committed violence against women. It wasn’t Trump who stood against the attempts of the legislatures of Georgia and Indiana to pass laws strengthening religious liberty protections for those who object to gay marriage. It wasn’t Trump who talked a good game about “player safety” while simultaneously engaging in talks about expanding the NFL schedule to 18 regular season games.

Americans have had enough of constantly being lectured and told to repent of their manifest heresies against the orthodoxies of modern liberalism. They are fed up with having their way of life sneered at and disrespected by employees of the transnational corporations that dominate the U.S. sports-industrial complex.

Rather, Trump is reacting to the deep divisions Goodell and his ruling class cronies have sown through their seething contempt and obvious disrespect for Americans. Trump is not the cause of our current crisis. Trump didn’t politicize everything in American life. He is 63 million Americans’ answer to a politicization that constitutes an attack on everything they hold dear.

This politicization has been precipitated by the very political and cultural elites who are now raising hell against Trump’s move to box them out. They are angry over his attempts to break the chokehold they have been administering to the American body politic for decades. But Trump couldn’t care less about their gnashing of teeth. And neither should anyone else.

Like Lincoln who, before the 1860 election, helped drive a wedge between Senator Stephen Douglas’s Northern Democratic coalition and Deep South Democrats who were fanatically pro-slavery, Trump is attempting the same feat with a different set of coalitions. I’m not arguing that Trump is playing “4D chess,” as many NeverTrumpers flippantly suggest Trump supporters ignorantly believe. I don’t believe that Trump has planned out every single action and word in advance like some mastermind. This is obviously far beyond the capacity of human beings, the forked creatures who are a little lower than the angels.

But perhaps some conservatives have been so accustomed to losing in the political arena that they actually think 4D chess is what’s required to win it. Wrong. This basic political strategy that even people with minimal political skill have used for centuries to conquer and divide their political opponents while enlarging their own base of support. It’s called fighting. They might try it sometime.  

Trump’s strategy of engaging the cultural bullies instead of cowering in their presence, so far, seems to be working to perfection. It also has the added benefit of drawing out the pretenders and posers who may talk a good game but are ultimately useless in combating the ruling class’s hegemony over American public life.

Exhibit A of this group is Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.):

Contra Sasse, Trump offers a view of America based upon a common patriotic love that aims to protect the rights of all citizens. To say he is dividing America—this critique from the same ruling class that divides Americans by race, sex, class, income, level of education, etc., every minute of every day—is a remarkable assertion. It speaks to the depths to which the ruling class mindset has been accepted by our political elites.

Former Democratic Representative Donna Edwards tweeted this gem:

Trump has put his opponents either in the position of showing their ruling class credentials or openly calling for disrespecting the country—moves that can only help his chances at reelection in 2020. Even more importantly, it will help to isolate those whose hostility to bourgeois morality and traditional cultural mores has helped the “pluribus” overwhelm the American “unum.”

May Trump succeed in letting the people reassert their sovereignty over those who would rule us without our consent. Republican government demands no less.

 

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Administrative State • America • Center for American Greatness • Deep State • Democrats • Government Reform • Intelligence Community • Obama • Post • Section 1 • The Media • Trump White House

A Lying Quartet

Rarely has an intelligence apparatus engaged in systematic lying—and chronic deceit about its lying—both during and even after its tenure. Yet the Obama Administration’s four top security and intelligence officials time and again engaged in untruth, as if peddling lies was part of their job descriptions.

So far none have been held accountable.

Those exemptions are likely because, in hubristic fashion, all four assumed their service to progressive noble agendas would justify any odious means felt necessary to achieve them.

In part their liberal credentials were seen as guarantees that the media either would ignore or excuse their dissimulation. And in part, untruth was innate to them as lifelong and now seasoned Washington bureaucrats. Their reasons to be in Washington were largely a quest for media exposure, government sinecures, revolving door profiteering, and maintaining a host of subordinate toadies at their service. A harsh assessment, perhaps—but lying to the American people earns them such disdain.

Politically Correct Deception
Former Obama United Nations ambassador and National Security Advisor Susan Rice was rarely credible in any of her major public statements. Her dissimulation bordered on the pathological. Indeed, it went beyond even the demands put upon her for partisan spinning.

On five occasions, Rice lied to the media that the murder of Americans in Benghazi, Libya by al-Qaida affiliated-terrorists was a result of spontaneous rioting—in response to an obscure, rogue, and right-wing Coptic filmmaker. She later attributed such dissimulation to a lack of information, when we now know that the truth of Benghazi—and the larger landscape of events that ensured something like a Benghazi—were only too known. The video was a canard.

Rice assured the nation that the AWOL and traitorous Bowe Bergdahl was a hostage taken during combat and had served nobly (“with honor and distinction”). In fact, the renegade Bergdahl likely was exchanged for terrorist prisoners for two reasons: one, to diminish the number of terrorists held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility as promised by Obama during his campaign, and two, to highlight the humanitarian skills of Barack Obama in bringing home an American “hero,” especially defined as one who was so loudly aware of his own country’s foibles.

Rice also assured the nation that her administration, through its diplomatic brilliance, had eliminated Bashar Assad’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. “We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical-weapons stockpile,” she lied. That supposed coup was worth the price of inviting in the Russians to the Middle East after a 40-year hiatus. In fact, almost immediately after entering office, President Trump was forced to bomb Assad’s WMD depots to prevent Syria’s air force from dropping more nerve gas on civilians.

Susan Rice

Once House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) announced that key administration officials illegally might have unmasked and leaked the names of U.S. citizens on government intercepts connected to the Trump campaign and transition team, Rice issued a blanket denial (“I know nothing about this”). That assertion predictably was untrue, as Rice herself was forced to concede when she altered narratives to later justify rather than deny her role in such improper leaking.

Rice assured the nation there were no hidden side-deals in the Iran Deal, such as a prisoner-swap concession. “And we were very specific about the need not to link their fate to that of the negotiations, because we had no idea for certain whether negotiations would succeed or fail. We didn’t want to give the Iranians a bargaining chip to use against us in the negotiations,” she fibbed. In response, Americans knew almost immediately by her disavowals that there were quid pro quo hostage-prisoner trades that put the United States at a disadvantage.

Rice displayed an eerie habit of broadcasting her lies by preemptive denial that she was about to lie. In her case, the privileged Rice sometimes fell back on the boilerplate victimhood defense of racism and sexism. More likely, as with many Obama officials, she felt certain she could deceive with impunity out of contempt for the American non-elite and, like her associate Ben Rhodes, with full confidence in the obsequiousness and incompetence of the “know-nothing” media.

Boy Scout Sanctimonious Deception
Former FBI Director James Comey long ago lost his carefully crafted Boy Scout image of a truth-teller, buffeted in a sea of Washington deception. Like Rice, when Comey signals he cannot lie or that others are lying, we know that his own duplicity is forthcoming. The list of his untruths and unprofessionalism is growing, as continuous disclosures cannot be synced with either his congressional testimony or his public statements.

Comey did not interview Hillary Clinton in his supposedly exhaustive investigation of her alleged crimes before he cleared her of any wrongdoing.

Comey did know of an FBI communications trail surrounding the stealthy June 2016 meeting of Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton on a Phoenix tarmac.

Comey did accede to Lynch’s cover-up by altering the official nomenclature of the investigation to an innocuous “matter.”

Comey misled about the actual contents of Clinton confidante Huma Abedin’s email communications; the versions that he gave at various times and in different venues cannot be reconciled.

In his habitual lies of omission, Comey made no effort to correct a false public impression that he had helped foster and yet knew was a lie—namely that the FBI was investigating Trump on charges of Russian collusion at the very time he was assuring the president of just the opposite.

James Comey

Comey was not fully candid about the full extent of his selective note-taking of a confidential conversation with the president; his use of government time and resources in preparing his carefully crafted notes; and his deliberately leaking his notes to the press in violation both of FBI protocols and likely the law as well.

Comey had obfuscated or masked the FBI’s role in the acquisition and dissemination of the infamous Steele-Fusion fake dossier. He was likely less than honest as well about his full knowledge of Obama administration reverse targeting, unmasking, and leaking related to U.S. citizens—both before and after the election.

Whereas Rice lied to cover up Obama Administration incompetence and to advance left-wing agendas that otherwise without deception would be unpalatable to most Americans, Comey dissembled to retain his job and his image of being a sensitive moral soul.

Comey’s self-inflicted tragedy was that he never quite knew whether Obama trusted him to keep out of Hillary Clinton’s scandals and would reward him accordingly; whether Hillary Clinton would implode amid provable felonies or would survive to become president and conduct the necessary retaliations; or whether Trump could be cajoled by Comey’s charm—or might implode and be removed, or settle down and become a powerful president worth serving.

Rather than telling the truth and thereby gaining a reputation even among his enemies as transparent and honest, Comey simply told the perceived stronger party of the day what it wished to hear in hopes of careerist gratitude to come.

Apparatchik Deception
Similar was the serial lying of CIA Director John Brennan, before, during, and after his CIA tenure. Brennan had a weird habit of becoming outraged at any who quite accurately alleged that he was mendacious, such as when he deceived the Senate Intelligence Committee officials that he had never unlawfully surveilled the computers of particular U.S. senators and their staffs (e.g., “beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we would do”).

Brennan also misled Congress when he assured that U.S. drone strikes had not killed a single civilian—a preposterous claim that was widely and immediately recognized as deceptive before he was forced to backtrack and admit his untruth.

John O. Brennan

When the careerist George W. Bush-appointee Brennan sought to recalibrate for the incoming progressive Obama Administration, he ritually denounced what he had previously asserted under Bush.

Bush’s former National Counterterrorism Center Director Brennan almost immediately disowned his prior loud support for enhanced interrogation techniques once he saw a chance for continued employment with Obama.

Brennan also told a series of whoppers to establish his new politically correct bona fides, among them that jihad was “a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community.” Tell that to the incinerated victims of self-proclaimed jihadist Mohammed Atta or those beheaded by ISIS.

In his third incarnation, as a postelection stalwart opponent to Donald Trump, the partisan former “nonpartisan” intelligence chief Brennan has both quite publicly denied that U.S. intelligence agencies ever improperly surveilled and unmasked the identities of Trump campaign and transition officials.

Even on his last day of office, Brennan was still busy reviewing intelligence surveillance of U.S. citizens and later deceiving Congress about it. His part in preparing the Benghazi talking points, and in the creation of the Russian collusion mythos, are still not known fully. Nor understood is his apparent background role in the rather strange and abrupt postelection resignation of his immediate predecessor David Petraeus.

Careerist Deception
It is hard to mention Brennan without bookending the similar careerist trajectory of Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

Indeed, it is uncanny how Clapper emulated the Brennan model: the former Bush appointee reinventing himself as an Obama partisan after assuring the country that Saddam Hussein’s WMD depots were transferred to Syria; lying about the rise of ISIS and pressuring others in military intelligence to mimic his pre-planned deceptions; not being forthcoming about surveillance of the Trump campaign and transition; becoming a loud and partisan accuser of Trump’s supposed mendacities on cable television, while finding himself increasingly exposed at the center of the growing unmasking scandal.

If Brennan lied about surveilling U.S. senators and the drone program, Clapper, in turn, lied to Congress about the National Security Agency’s illegal monitoring of U.S. citizens.

If Brennan assured Americans that jihadism was not a violent effort to spread radical Islam, Clapper topped that by assuring Congress that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was “largely secular.”

James Clapper

The deceptions of Comey, Brennan, and Clapper are perhaps far more disturbing than the partisan untruths of Susan Rice, a chronic political appointee who calibrated her national security fictions with Obama’s efforts to ensure reelection and later a presidential legacy.

But what extenuating excuse do the supposedly nonpartisan trio of intelligence and investigative directors offer?

They would like us to believe that only their nonpartisanship ensured subsequent tenures with the Obama Administration. In fact, their willingness to reinvent themselves and deceive were precisely why Obama retained and promoted them as sufficiently malleable and useful careerists—and why their post-government careers are today characteristically partisan and deceptive.

Of course, Trump, like Hillary and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, tells yarns and occasionally whoppers. But that character flaw is unfortunately the landscape of politics.

Government, bipartisan intelligence service, in contrast, was supposed to be an atoll of professionalism and honesty in a sea of political narrative fiction.

In truth, Obama used Rice as a political hatchet-woman masquerading as an elite thinker and strategist. Clapper, Brennan, and Comey were partisan careerists playacting as disinterested public servants sworn to put our security above politics.

Instead, they said what was necessary for their own agendas and so naturally too often what they peddled was simply untrue. And it is now not surprising that all three ended up orphaned and discredited—once their obsequious utility to their masters was exhausted.

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America • History • Law and Order • Post • Section 1 • Sports • The Culture • the Flag • The Left • The Media

The Rusher Who Wouldn’t Take the Knee

No law requires the playing of the National Anthem at the outset of professional sporting events. Also, no law requires people to stand when the anthem is played, or that people to sing along—although federal law does mandate that we “should face the flag and stand at attention . . . right hand over the heart,” and that “men not in uniform . . . should remove their headdress with their right hand” (36 U.S. Code § 301).

But there is nothing in the statute which says that one cannot use posture as a means for what ESPN called “demonstrating for social justice.” So it is not clear what daring thing the owners, coaches, and players of the National Football League thought they were doing Sunday when they collectively took a knee or raised clenched fists while the “The Star Spangled Banner” was played.

Except, of course, generating the comprehensive fury of the American public.

The full-throated choruses of roaring, angry boos, and shouts of “Stand up!” which wrapped themselves around the Detroit Lions, the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, and other teams that took part in this neatly orchestrated protest melodrama have no precedent in professional football history. Boo dropped passes, yes. Boo botched field goals, yes. Boo Roger Goodell and Tom Brady, yes—oh, my, yes. But boo the players before the game even begins?

Not that the NFL’s players are really in the best position to pass social-justice judgment on President Trump’s exhortation to “one of these NFL owners” to fire any “son of a bitch” who “disrespects our flag.” Since 2000, there have been 855 player arrests, including 215 charges for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs; 99 drug busts; 96 domestic violence incidents; 71 felony assaults; and two murders.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who took the knee during the anthem to affirm that “nonviolent protest is as American as it gets,” was charged last year with leaving the scene of an accident and driving with a suspended license in Arizona. Adrian Peterson of the New Orleans Saints, who sat on a bench for the anthem, pleaded no contest to a felony child abuse indictment in 2014. Marcus Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles has been a prominent demonstrator for social justice, but he also has a DUI from 2009 and a disorderly conduct charge in 2004. Justice and social justice do not seem to be terribly well-connected here.

I do not understand the deference I am supposed to show to the opinions of people who batter other people senseless for a living. I don’t follow the NFL. I’m not even a football fan. When I was in high school, our football team was so bad, I was voted “Best Moves on the Football Field” for my senior year—because I was the drum major of the marching band.

I do, however, have a nominee for all-time down-field rushing. Just bear in mind that football had not yet been invented when he broke for the end zone.

His name was William Harvey Carney, and he was born a slave in Norfolk, Virginia, on a leap year day in February 1840. His father had escaped from slavery to Massachusetts, where he earned enough money to buy the freedom of his wife and child. When the Civil War broke out, young Carney enlisted in one of the first all-black Union Army regiments, the famous 54th Massachusetts, and rose quickly to the rank of sergeant. (Carney would become the model on which Morgan Freeman’s character, Sergeant Rollins, was based in the 1989 movie “Glory,” which tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts).

The 54th Massachusetts’ first great test of combat came when it was detailed to lead the assault on Battery Wagner, the Confederate fort that guarded the approaches to Charleston Harbor, in July 1863. Led by their youthful white colonel, Robert Gould Shaw, the 54th dashed heroically for the walls of the fort. Carney saw the regimental color-sergeant, bearing the regiment’s Stars-and-Stripes, stumble and fall. “As quick as a thought,” he scooped up the flag and rushed alongside Col. Shaw over the wall. Shaw was struck down, sword in hand. Carney was hit in the leg and the chest, and the 54th began a grudging retreat.

But rather than allow the flag to be captured, Carney “wrapped the precious colors around the staff” and “cautiously picked my way among the dead and dying.” He finally made it to safety, staggering on his last strength to a field hospital where he collapsed—but not before handing over the shot-ripped flag. “Boys, I did but my duty,” Carney gasped, and “the dear old flag never touched the ground.”

Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor, and in the years after the war, he worked as a mail carrier in New Bedford, Massachusetts, still limping from his wounds. Until seven months before Battery Wagner, Carney didn’t even have a flag to call his own, since the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857 had decided that no black man could even be a citizen. But the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 changed that, and Carney got his flag and his medal—and a country.

William Carney’s injuries guaranteed that he would never have been able to play football. But I don’t think he would have had any trouble standing up for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In his hands, that banner “never touched the ground.” Unless the millionaires of the NFL think they’re better or wiser than Sergeant Carney, they might begin to study his style.

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America • Americanism • political philosophy • Post • Pro-Life • Religion and Society • Section 1 • self-government • The Courts • The Culture

Is Capital Punishment Christian?

“A murderer forfeits his life, and it is right that he should be killed by the sword.” So said Martin Luther, and his argument to that effect, cited here last week, may have impressed some readers and discombobulated others. But among those who confidently tell one another and the world that it’s unchristian—nay, uncivilized—to put murderers to death, the most likely response was to shrug it off.

“Martin Luther, what does he know? The man was a hot-head. His writings aren’t Holy Scripture, and not even Lutherans accept all of them anymore. Why should we care what Luther had to say?”

Granted that Luther was an unusual and in some ways a problematic figure. But his views on crime and punishment—how unusual and problematic are they? Where do they stand in what is normally considered the Christian tradition?

The answer is: Smack in the middle of it.

Start with Scripture. The many harsh penalties in the Law of Moses are well known. The fact that Jesus, in warning Peter not to commit the crime of resisting His arrest, spoke words that are a paraphrase of the law given to Noah—that is less widely appreciated. And notice that both verses (Genesis 9:6 and Matthew 26:52) speak of all murderers paying with their lives for their crimes. Not one in ten, not one in a hundred, still less one in a thousand, which is the way we Americans today “enforce” our laws prohibiting murder.

Death penalty opponents sometimes quote St. Paul: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’ ” (Romans 12:19). If they would only linger in the Scriptures for just a little while, they’d reach the part where Paul says: “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for [the one who is in authority] does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). So Paul turns out to say the opposite of what the opponents represent as his meaning.

Then there’s St. Augustine, who saw the death penalty and other punishments as necessary social institutions, for “while these are feared, the wicked are kept within bounds and the good live more peacefully among the wicked.” And St. Thomas Aquinas, who, while arguing against the pacifist interpretation of Matthew 26:52, quoted Augustine—“To take the sword is to arm oneself in order to take the life of anyone, without the command or permission of superior or lawful authority”—and added: “On the other hand, to have recourse to the sword by the authority of the sovereign or judgeis not to take the sword, but to use it as commissioned by another, and so it does not deserve punishment.”

Aquinas further observed:

Man has a natural aptitude for virtue; but the perfection itself of virtue must be acquired by man by means of some kind of training. … As to those young people who are inclined to acts of virtue by their good natural disposition, or by custom, or rather by the gift of God, paternal training suffices, which is by admonitions. But since some are found to be depraved, and prone to vice, and not easily amenable to words, it was necessary for such to be restrained from evil by force and fear.

Desiderius Erasmus, a contemporary of Luther’s, was temperamentally his opposite. Theologically, Erasmus differed enough from Luther to remain a faithful Catholic, preferring to reform the Church’s faults from within. This “Prince of the Humanists” wrote that “there is not, nor ever was, nor ever will be any man who does not need mercy.” But in citing the example of King David, who had Uriah killed so as to take Bathsheba for himself, Erasmus affirmed the ruler’s responsibility to mete out punishment:

David committed murder and adultery, two deadly offenses. Either of these is more heinous when committed by a king, since it is his duty to punish these crimes in others. The more impudently princes sin among men, the more seriously they offend God.

Erasmus contrasted God’s potential forgiveness of sins in the hereafter with the duty of temporal rulers on earth, noting that were a king to forgive murder as God can do, “then the people would cry that the king’s clemency was inordinate, since it impaired the force of the law and encouraged sin by the impunity it allowed.”

Against all that, let’s hear from a modern-day Lutheran, the American criminologist Victor H. Evjen, who wrote in the March 1968 issue of Lutheran Women: “Retribution cannot be considered a legitimate goal of criminal law.” That, said he, is because retribution “is repugnant to modern civilized man.”

The 1960s were modern liberalism’s heyday, when liberals were thoroughly in control (and things consequently were going thoroughly to hell). From the Left’s proud tower, Evjen presented his assertions not as mere personal opinion but as self-evident facts. Yet they are easily disproven, not just by the examples already cited but by two Christians of the modern era, both of whom defended retribution as a legitimate goal of the law.

Désiré Cardinal Mercier became a hero to the Belgians during World War I, when his country was subjected to a deliberate policy of terror by the invading German army. The German commanders in August 1914 hoped this schrecklichkeit would speed their passage through Belgium and thus ensure quick victory over France on the Western Front. Two years into the war, Cardinal Mercier spoke these defiant words from the pulpit of the cathedral in German-occupied Brussels:

Whatever may be our sufferings, we must not wish to show hatred toward those who have inflicted them. Our national unity is joined with a feeling of universal brotherhood. But even this feeling of universal brotherhood is dominated by our respect for the unconditional justice, without which no relationship is possible, either between individuals or between nations. And that is why, with St. Thomas Aquinas, the most authoritative teacher of Christian theology, we proclaim that public retribution is commendable.

Crime, violation of justice, outrage on the public peace, whether enacted by an individual or by a group, must be repressed. Men’s minds are stirred up, tortured, uneasy, as long as the guilty one is not put back in his place, as the strong, healthy, colloquial expression has it. … Public retribution in this sense may distress the affected sentimentality of a weak nature; all the same, it is, says St. Thomas, the expression and the decree of the highest, the purest form of charity, and of the zeal which is its flame. It does not make a target of suffering, but a weapon wherewith to avenge the outrage of justice.

How can one love order without hating disorder; intelligently wish for peace without expelling that which is destroying it; love a brother, that is to say wish him well, without desiring that willingly, or by force, his will shall bend before the unalterable edicts of justice and truth? 

In 1940, C.S. Lewis carried forward Cardinal Mercier’s argument:

A bad man, happy, is a man without the least inkling that his actions do not “answer,” that they are not in accord with the laws of the universe.  A perception of this truth lies at the back of the universal human feeling that bad men ought to suffer … Some enlightened people would like to banish all conceptions of retribution or desert from their theory of punishment and place its value wholly in the deterrence of others or the reform of the criminal himself. They do not see that by so doing they render all punishment unjust. What can be more immoral than to inflict suffering on me for the sake of deterring others if I do not deserve it? And if I do deserve it, you are admitting the claims of “retribution.” And what can be more outrageous than to catch me and submit me to a disagreeable process of moral improvement without my consent, unless (once more) I deserve it?

And in Mere Christianity (1952), Lewis wrote:

Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment—even to death. If one had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death.

In linking retribution with the spiritual welfare of offenders as well as the physical welfare of their victims, Mercier and Lewis were echoing those who went before them. Erasmus, for example, in “The Immense Mercy of God” noted that God’s mercy to sinners’ souls is often coupled with correction, with earthly misfortunes, and sometimes even with death. And Augustine wrote, “It is not without advantage that human recklessness should be confined by fear of the law so that innocence may be safe among evil-doers, and the evil-doers themselves may be cured by calling on God when their freedom of action is held in check by fear of punishment.”

In discussing these matters, I haven’t yet mentioned the elephant in the room: Pope Francis, who in a recent homily pronounced executions “inadmissible,” a practice that while formerly accepted is now seen to be “a mortal sin.”

I would not be so insolent as to dispute the Holy Father on a question of Christian ethics. I will, however, point out that Francis was not speaking ex cathedra, and may not have intended to go beyond what his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI had already said about capital punishment: that it is permissible only when it is “the only possible way” to protect the innocent, and that such cases are “very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

To inflict suffering needlessly would indeed be “a mortal sin.” Of course it is. But the idea that capital punishment serves no purpose in protecting the innocent is a statement not about Christian ethics but about the affairs of this world, a statement that contradicts something taken for granted by virtually all the Christian authorities quoted above: that deterrence is (or can be) real.

It seems today’s Catholic leadership has fallen for modern liberalism’s bait-and-switch: “Executions don’t deter”—(sotto voce: “when rarely carried out”). More on that here.

Knowing that a liberal would sooner say the world is flat than admit being guilty of anything, let’s give the last word to another Christian writer of note, John Calvin:

If [rulers] sheath their sword and keep their hands unsullied by blood, while the wicked roam about massacring and slaughtering, then so far from reaping praise for their goodness and justice, they make themselves guilty of the greatest possible injustice.

 

 

2016 Election • Administrative State • America • Big Media • Center for American Greatness • Deep State • Democrats • Donald Trump • Featured Article • Government Reform • Hillary Clinton • Obama • Political Parties • Republicans • Section 1 • Section 2 • The Constitution • The Courts • The Left • The Leviathian State • The Media • Trump White House

How the Obama Precedent Empowered Trump

Donald Trump was elected president by sizing up the Electoral College, and the voting public, and then campaigning accordingly. A number of the things that explain Trump’s election also point to unique opportunities to overturn the Obama legacy. This, in turn, explains why the Left is understandably upset about the unprecedented scope of the presidential landscape they bequeathed to and therewith empowered Trump.  

Weaponizing the Presidency

After complaining for years that he was constitutionally unable to grant executive-order amnesties, Obama lost all such scruples after his 2012 election. His legacy was not so much the number of executive orders that he issued, but rather the unapologetic overreach of them—whether granting blanket amnesties, ordering convenient pen-and-phone non-enforcement of federal immigration laws, green-lighting sanctuary cities, changing the idea of due process on college campuses, recalibrating the order of Chrysler bankruptcy creditors, or delaying the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act for reelection advantage.

The Left is understandably apprehensive of Trump because Obama set the modern precedent that a contemporary president can do almost anything he pleases by executive orders (and in Nixonian fashion can weaponize federal agencies, from the NSA to the IRS, in order to monitor and hound political rivals and perceived enemies). Sen. Harry Reid’s near suicidal destruction of the Senate filibuster captured the unreality of the times, as if Obama progressivism most certainly would be America’s new orthodoxy for generations to come.

The Media Implosion

A supposedly disinterested media’s ecstasy over Obama’s election ensured that its subsequent revulsion at Trump could be taken no more seriously. Once a journalist declares a president a god or capable of sending shocks down one’s leg, then he would be no more credible if he were to pronounce another president the anti-Christ or capable of causing boils on one’s appendages. And once a political novice is declared a worthy Nobel laureate on the basis of professed intentions, then why would anyone worry about any other president’s political inexperience?

When Obama joked (to general media laughter and applause) at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner about sending Predator assassination drones to take out potential suitors of his daughter, one can then hardly sympathize with media hurt feelings when Trump skips the embarrassing charade altogether. The Obama administration occasionally expressed contempt for media toadies who proved so useful to him, whether defined by Obama’s frequent jibes that the media slavishly was in his corner, or by Attorney General Eric Holder’s monitoring of Associated Press journalists, or by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes’s haughty disdain for obsequious reporters (the “echo chamber” that “knows nothing”).

In sum, Trump is the beneficiary of a dysfunctional opposition whose reaction to the close loss of 2016 is reminiscent of the unhinged Democratic response to the narrow defeat of 1968, when it doubled-down, went harder left, gave up on middle-class concerns—and was demolished in 1972.

If a prejudicial media’s smarminess nonetheless earned derision from its icon Obama, why should not its hostility earn the same from Trump? If a marquee partisan reporter confesses (in the Podesta Wikileaks trove) of his Clinton partisanship that he is a “hack,” why should Trump argue with such self-described assessments?

A critical media is not a mere reset button that one turns on and off at one’s convenience. Instead, once it was short-circuited after 2008, its burned-out switch cannot be flipped back on in 2017. In sum, there is no longer a believable media that can offer credible critiques of the Trump presidency.

The New Democratic Party

The Democratic Party metamorphosed in 2008. Obama convinced it that identity politics and new demographic realities meant that record minority turnouts and bloc-voting—coupled with the disengagement of the vanishing “clinger” white working class—ushered in a new hard left Democratic generation of power.

Progressives sipped this tainted moonshine and the result over eight years was the disastrous losses of the majority of state governorships, legislatures, the House, the Senate, the presidency and, likely for a generation, the Supreme Court. In truth, the polarizing “hands up, don’t shoot” /”you didn’t build that”/”punish our enemies” assorted rhetoric deemed necessary to galvanize Obama’s progressive base also both polarized and riled the “deplorables” and “irredeemables.” Or to put it another way: historic minority participation and identity politics zealotry were not commensurately transferrable to a 69-year-old, multimillionaire white woman; but the working-class estrangement that accompanied such an effort most certainly was. Clinton inherited all the downsides of the Obama paradigm without, at least in her case, any of its upsides.

After the emergence of an even harder left Democratic National Committee leadership, and President emeritus Obama’s own vows to lead a sort of shadow progressive resistance movement, there is little chance that a stung Democratic Party will jettison polarizing identity politics issues and its neglect of the middle classes, and learn from the 2016 defeat. The problem is not just that the Democratic establishment leadership—Jerry Brown, Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, Diane Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi—ranges in age from their late sixties to eighties, but also that the younger, and more robust next generation—Keith Ellison, Kamala Harris, Tom Perez—has embraced an even more polarizing politics. Are orthodox and old preferable to radical and young?

In sum, Trump is the beneficiary of a dysfunctional opposition whose reaction to the close loss of 2016 is reminiscent of the unhinged Democratic response to the narrow defeat of 1968, when it doubled-down, went harder left, gave up on middle-class concerns—and was demolished in 1972.

There is as yet no credible response to Trump and certainly no opposing coherent agenda. Instead, the “Resistance” is being waged by cherry-picking liberal federal judges in hopes of delaying and slowing down executive orders in the courts, along with states-rights nullifications, organized advertising boycotts of conservative media figures, media collusion, jamming town hall meetings of conservative representatives, campus antics, and waging war on social media.

At least for now, all these slow-downs are not substitutes for legislative action, but more evidence of political impotence.

Content created by The Center for American Greatness, Inc is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@centerforamericangreatness.com

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2016 Election • America • Democrats • Hillary Clinton • Section 1 • Section 2

Hillary’s Self-Sabotaged Destiny

Hillary Clinton is going to publish a book. It will consist of essays based on quotes that she has used to inspire her, refresh her, assuage her and comfort her during the trying and difficult times in her life. It may be a cathartic experience for her—a healthy way of dealing with loss and disappointment.

Perhaps it will help her come to grips with her new reality: that her lifelong goal of becoming President of the United States is permanently out of her reach.

But, if her recent interview with the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof is any indication, she has a very long way to go. Given her history, it’s possible Hillary will never understand what happened to her, let alone accept it.

Clinton and Kristof discussed a long list of reasons why she lost to Donald Trump in November: Wikileaks, FBI Director James Comey’s mendacious behavior, Bernie Sanders and his millennial followers undermining what was owed to her by the Democrat Party, Vladimir Putin (naturally), and, of course, the greatest scourge and threat to women and democracy: “misogyny.”

Her megalomania and her belief in the inevitability of her “destiny” is, ironically what beat her. She underestimated the intelligence of the American voter and their revulsion at those who believe they were born to rule.


Her devastating loss must be explained by unprecedented conspiracies of hate—and hate directed not just towards her but also toward those she, in her generosity of spirit, deigns to represent: all womankind. To Hillary, her loss can’t be explained by simply stating the obvious. She ignored the Rust Belt, she was lazy, and her campaign lacked both energy and vision. These boring and mundane reasons mustn’t explain her loss, because she isn’t mundane; she was pre-ordained and special.

Jonathan Kay in 2013 reflected that people had a hard time accepting that such epic and historic figures as John F. Kennedy and Princess Diana could have been felled by such ordinary and flawed men—a part time loner and communist in the case of JFK and a drunk chauffeur in the death of Diana. It is all just too pedestrian in contrast to the myths and legends these figures have become in the public imagination. 

Hillary is having an equally hard time convincing herself that her defeat came at the hands of her own miscalculation and incompetence.

Hillary envisions herself to be a kind of “chosen one” or royalty. She behaves as such because she has been convinced of her destiny since Life magazine covered her commencement address at Wellesley nearly 50 years ago and pronounced that she was destined for greatness. There’s a reason why Raksha and Akela, the mother wolf and the pack leader in Kipling’s famous The Jungle Book, cringe when the jackal, Tabaqui obsequiously praises Raksha’s cubs:

How beautiful are the noble children! How large are their eyes! And so young too! Indeed, indeed, I might have remembered that the children of kings are men from the beginning. 

Hillary’s family appears to have had no such concern for her well-being.

She has lived her life believing in the inevitability of becoming a figure of historic and epic proportions. Her entire life had been leading her toward ultimate victory on November 8, 2016. She was finally going to break through that glass ceiling and ascend to heights no woman had ever reached, at least in her own mind. I would imagine Lady Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and yes, even Eva Perón might have something to say about that small piece of historical delusion.

Overlooked in many of the postmortems since November is how Hillary’s own inability to see herself with a proper perspective led to her downfall. And given that inability to understand her limitations, it’s very likely that the country averted disaster.

Of course she would have continued Obama’s domestic agenda—a simultaneous weakening of the economy and tightening of central control over the lives of Americans.  Obama’s reasons were ideological; hers would have been personal. Obama was a consistent statist in his policies and thus, his moves were understandable—however harmful they were to our republic. Her reasons would have been simpler, but perhaps more dangerous. She wanted wanted things done her way because she imagines she knows best.

Had Clinton won,  not only would she have had the power, she would have had the ability to put her desires in place to complete the “fundamental transformation” Obama talked about leading up to his 2008 victory.

Her megalomania and her belief in the inevitability of her “destiny” is, ironically what beat her. She underestimated the intelligence of the American voter and their revulsion at those who believe they were born to rule. Hillary was so comfortable with her lead in the cooked polls that she was planning her agenda and having her staff order metaphorical new drapes for the Oval Office. (Trump had the last laugh there.)

Clinton foolishly refused to believe she needed to do the things that candidates need to do to actually win. She ignored even the greatest asset any candidate could have—the great political mind of her husband, Bill Clinton. No one could convince her that she actually had to work hard to achieve her dream.  She only needed to believe that she was transformational herself and nothing could possibly get in her way.

Fortunately, her delusion allowed her to miscalculate. Bigly. And because of that, we dodged a bullet. But we will have to endure the book tour where she will inevitably continue to blame the deplorables and the stars for her failure to fulfill hers and America’s “destiny.” Thank you, deplorables—and our lucky stars.

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Administrative State • America • Deep State • Democrats • Government Reform • Obama • Political Parties • Section 1 • Section 2 • The Constitution • The Culture • The Left • The Leviathian State • The Media • The Resistance (Snicker)

Get Smart: “Fundamental Transformation” Demands Chaos

It’s the chaos, stupid.

Nothing more clearly marked the intended mission of Barack Obama’s presidency than his own words, spoken shortly before the 2008 election:  “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

Two markers from his final month in office are the concluding grace notes of his presidency, and dovetail perfectly with his stated mission:

Obama’s presidency was a successful one, as measured by his stated purposes. Thinking otherwise misses the head fakes during his two terms, the scandals and related abuses of power that violated the sovereignty of the American people, and the residual damage that he leaves behind.

It was a successful presidency because realizing a fundamental transformation first requires the creation of chaos.

The political IEDs that have delivered chaos during the last eight years and are embedded to deliver further turmoil include:

  • Weaponizing the administrative state to act against American citizens deemed political enemies (e.g., the IRS targeting scandal).
  • Undermining the rule of law so there is no level playing field of justice.
  • Nearly doubling the national debt to roughly $20 trillion.
  • Enabling a more chaotic world by undermining allies and dealing passively with enemies while weakening America’s ability to defend itself.
  • Dividing Americans against each other on issues of race, religion, sex, speech, and immigration, all while not actively discouraging violence.
  • Enabling global and national elites while nearly destroying the Democratic Party’s electoral strength across the country.

In the 1965-1970 Get Smart television show, KAOS were the bad guys. The good guys had to “get smart” about the ways KAOS was creating chaos in order to put their plans into play. Today all of us need to get smart and realize that the creation of chaos during the Obama years was not an indicator of its failure, it was the unifying purpose of his presidential actions and his likely post-presidential plans. In other words, he meant to do that.

We also need to be sufficiently self-critical and acknowledge that our weakened culture contributed to making it possible for Obama to get away with acting this way.

Obama’s presidency was a successful one, as measured by his stated purposes. Thinking otherwise misses the head fakes during his two terms, the scandals and related abuses of power that violated the sovereignty of the American people, and the residual damage that he leaves behind.

Obama’s presidency was yet another long march through our political, legal, and cultural institutions. Our already structurally weakened foundations were vulnerable due to, among other things, our lack of knowledge of and belief in Western Civilization and the American Founding.

Without a meaningful course correction, the next step in this long march will likely be some form of increasingly radical upheaval, a nihilistic and potentially violent struggle for power. We have already seen disturbing violence since the election  in Washington, D.C., Berkeley, and, of course, on campuses such as Claremont McKenna and Middlebury College. We have also heard talk in the short time since Trump’s inauguration about a military coup and impeachment, as well as other plans for getting him out of office. There even has been talk about secession. And now we are experiencing use of encryption to thwart oversight, lawfare—including what some are calling a judicial coup against Trump’s executive orders—and further claims about spying.

As a CEO and student of organizational change, I have been scratching my head for years trying to explain Obama’s actual behaviors in a way that is not just another speculative theory about his past or partisan sniping over policy disagreements.

Three recent Obama actions crystallized my thinking, which yielded the clarifying insight:

Obama and Valerie Jarrett

Obama had eight years to “secure a traditional legacy,” but that was not how he measured success. It was then that I realized that the creation of chaos was the common thread across all of Obama’s actions. This is taking the United States into new territory.

“The Old Head Fake Trick”—Governing Was Never The Goal

Effective leaders who create positive value build and guide strong teams, do strategic deals with partners, and take products or services to market, while upholding their fiduciary responsibilities to ensure the proper use of assets. None of these qualities were characteristic of President Obama or the efforts of his administration. Instead, we note the following characteristics of the Obama era:

  • No Teambuilding: Unlike Bill Clinton after the 1994 midterm elections, which saw an historic Republican resurgence, Obama was strikingly indifferent to the record net loss of 1,042 Democratic officeholders across the nation, losses (16-24 percent at the congressional level; 23 percent at state legislature level, leading to 44-54 percent loss in state legislative chambers and 43 percent decline in number of governors) which have been occurring regularly in elections since 2010. Furthermore, Obama has left behind a Democratic Party leadership vacuum at the national level.
  • No Strategic Policy Dealmaking, Other Than Obamacare:  Obama had the least productive legislative record of any modern president, signing fewer bills in eight years than Jimmy Carter or  George H.W. Bush signed in either of their four-year terms. This paltry outcome frequently is blamed on the Republican-control of Congress for the last six years of Obama’s presidency, but the senior Bush dealt with a Democratic-controlled Congress for all four years of his administration and signed 1,275 bills over two congressional sessions. Obama signed only 385 bills in the 2009-2010 session, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Recall that Obama focused on getting Obamacare, his signature piece of legislation, out of that one session, spurring greater government-induced chaos in one-sixth of the American economy and adversely affecting the finances and clinical care of many American families.
  • No Fiduciary Responsibility: Obama submitted budgets late to Congress an unprecedented six out of eight years and routinely missed mid-year statutory financial reporting requirements. Over 1,000 days passed with no approved budget. His budgets were not serious—as evidenced by the lopsided Senate votes (1-98, 0-99, 0-97) and House votes (0-414, 2-413), restricting spending direction and oversight by Congress. The United States lost its AAA bond rating in 2011. The lurking time bomb will be the increasingly large mandatory interest payments that will crowd out other spending priorities in future years.
  • The Head Fake Tricks: Building a governing coalition through teambuilding, specific policies, and fiscal responsibility was never Obama’s mission. Rather, he sought to build a lasting far Left activist network whose power would become greater than that of the political parties. He succeeded at both, creating such a network and weakening his party. The various iterations of OFA provided the organizational foundation for constructing the network.

Along the way, Obama often declared certain social issues “settled” in order to shut down political dialogue in the moment until such issues were deemed unsettled, such as gay marriage and transgender bathrooms. Policy reversals on such polarizing cultural issues were then used as flash points to create conflict that energized the activists and expanded the network.

Obama’s failure to enforce existing laws became a means of enabling the activists’ disruptive behaviors to be carried out consequence-free, encouraging further bad behavior.

His rhetoric was rarely about persuasion and aligned perfectly with a chaos strategy: “I won.” “The election’s over.” “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.” “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them…”

Meanwhile, Congress found that Obama’s Department of Justice extracted large sums of money from banks and corporations, directing those settlement funds to activist groups through backdoor channels that evaded Congressional spending authority and oversight, enabling further building out of the activist network.

Some thought that reversing executive orders would end the “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone” charade instead of realizing that the value of the orders was not in their permanence but in their transactional value, of creating an initial rallying cry on the Left and then causing polarization as they are reversed.

All of this meant Obama never led from behind. It only looked that way to people with a constitutional government worldview. And that was the ultimate head fake trick, because Obama was always about creating an alternative power base capable of stirring up the societal chaos necessary to realize a fundamental transformation.

Obama and Susan Rice

Americans need to understand Obama and his compatriots as they understand themselves. Community organizing has never been about charity formed at the local level through Tocquevillian voluntary associations. Rather, community organizing is about blaming others and stirring resentments that then divide communities, resentments that evolve into overt hostility when demands are not met, and even violence when sufficiently provoked. The object is to find ways to contribute to the moral, intellectual, and physical chaos that will aid in the attack on the foundations of a free society. In other words, fundamental transformation.

Many well-intentioned Americans have been busy living their lives while Obama has led the creation of a well-funded and well-organized far Left activist network, and he is not going away like other former Presidents. Get Smart’s Agent 86 was the bumbling star of a scripted slapstick show where the good guy always won in the end. But, right now the far Left is writing the script, directing the show through their influence over the many elements of our popular culture, there is nothing funny about it, and the good guys are losing control. This is a blueprint for tyranny that will end badly if we do not get smart to Obama’s understanding of himself and his definition of success. We can’t win if we don’t even know what we are fighting.

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America • Cultural Marxism • Defense of the West • Education • Greatness Agenda • Republicans • Section 1 • Section 2 • self-government • The Culture • The Left

Republican Complacence in the Face of Public University Radicalization

Herein lies a cautionary tale. If publicly funded higher education can be hijacked in America’s most conservative state, under the noses of a legislature with lopsided Republican majorities in both houses, and with a Republican governor and Republican lieutenant governor, it can (and likely will) happen in your state—if you let it.

Gregory L. Fenves, president of the University of Texas at Austin since 2015, is apparently intent on remaking the place in the image of his alma mater (B.S., 1980; Ph.D., 1984), the University of California at Berkeley, where he taught for 20 years before moving in 2008 to UT  as dean of the engineering school. Fenves was promoted to executive vice president and provost under the disgraced regime of William C. “Bill” Powers. When Powers was forced to resign from the university due to a preferential admissions scandal he attempted to cover up (outside investigators concluded Powers and his staff had “misled the inquiry” and “failed to speak with the candor and forthrightness expected of people in their respective positions of trust and leadership”), Fenves succeeded Powers as president. While Fenves has steered clear of the flagrant cronyism and corruption that plagued the university under Powers, he has promoted a left-wing political agenda that is even more troubling.

What is Fenves’s record as the university’s 29th president? At great expense, he has successfully defended UT’s controversial use of racial preferences in admissions before the U.S. Supreme Court, a practice he inherited from Powers. Fenves supports the consideration of race in admissions decisions at UT, even though the university’s rival, Texas A&M, eschews the use of race-conscious affirmative action (which, ironically, is banned altogether in California). Moreover, not satisfied with discriminating against just some of UT’s applicants, most of whom are admitted automatically under the so-called Top Ten Percent Law, Fenves seeks to eliminate any automatic admission based on applicants’ class ranking, making all high school students subject to the quota-driven whims of UT’s “holistic” admissions process.

Succumbing to the demands of a vocal cadre of student radicals, Fenves in 2015 oversaw the removal of historical statuary that had adorned the Austin campus since 1933 because the image of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was deemed to be offensive to some students. Although Texas was part of the Confederacy, and the Davis statue therefore commemorated a key element of the state’s complex history, Fenves concluded that “we must press ahead to create substantive change at the university,” citing the goals of promoting diversity and “fostering an inclusive environment.” Fenves has made “diversity” and “inclusion”—code words for political correctness—a top priority.

UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement has grown into a sprawling bureaucracy with a staff exceeding 100, led by a vice president earning more than $330,000 a year. Nine other employees in the division earn six-figure salaries. Unfortunately, the university’s “diversity department” mimics the worst excesses of political correctness at UC Berkeley and other elite universities, promulgating oppressive (and possibly unconstitutional) campus speech codes, reprimanding conservative student groups for peacefully protesting discriminatory admissions policies (while condoning the distribution and display of more than 4,500 dildos on campus as part of an anti-gun demonstration), and warning UT students about wearing “insensitive” Halloween costumes.

If publicly funded higher education can be hijacked in America’s most conservative state, under the noses of a legislature with lopsided Republican majorities in both houses, and with a Republican governor and Republican lieutenant governor, it can (and likely will) happen in your state—if you let it.

In 2016, Fenves welcomed participants to UT’s first international black studies conference, entitled Black Matters: The Futures of Black Scholarship and Activism, featuring as a keynote speaker the notorious radical Angela Davis. Davis, who twice ran for vice president on the Communist Party USA ticket, was prosecuted for conspiracy involving the 1970 shoot-out in a Marin County, California courtroom by defendants charged with murdering a prison guard; Davis had purchased the guns smuggled into the courtroom two days prior to the shootout, in which the trial judge and three others were killed. (Despite becoming a fugitive before her arrest, and being placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, Davis was inexplicably acquitted by a California jury.)

“I am proud of the great strides UT Austin has made to support black studies,” Fenves declared. “These include the recent founding of the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies.” UT’s AADS Department has a Ph.D. program and confers undergraduate degrees, focusing on “race, gender, sexuality, class, and the concept of global Blackness.” The AADS Department boasts, “faculty in our department study Queer Theory, Diaspora Theory (particularly in Central and South America), Performance Theory, Engaged Scholarship, Social Justice, Policy, Black Feminism, and Black Women’s Studies.”

The University of Texas may have a shining tower, but it is no shining example of intellectual freedom.

Fenves’s latest initiative, based on a $1.7 million online student survey with a paltry 17.1 percent participation rate, is to declare an epidemic of “sexual assault and misconduct” at the university. The highly dubious survey found that 15 percent of female undergraduates (and five percent of male undergraduates!) were “raped” since their enrollment, based on an expansive, non-legal definition of “rape” that included—in addition to non-consensual sex perpetrated by force, threats of harm, or incapacitation—a variety of encounters that unfortunately describe common “dating” behavior.

In the fine print buried at the end of the report, UT’s heralded “rape survey” lumps together with forcible rape many different ambiguous scenarios in order to generate the headline-grabbing results: Sex induced by “telling lies, threatening to end the relationship, threatening to spread rumors about you, making promises you knew were untrue, or … verbally pressuring you …, showing displeasure, criticizing your sexuality or attractiveness, [and] getting angry but not using physical force.”

Whatever one thinks of sexual encounters under these circumstances, they do not fit the legal definition of rape, and it is highly misleading to present them as such. Moreover, the survey found (but Fenves failed to note in his email to the “UT Community” circulating the survey results) that 84 percent of the reported “assaults” were committed by non-strangers to the self-reported “victims,” and that 69 percent of the “victims” were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the encounter. The sad reality of campus life in 2017 is that many students engage in drunken hookups, which they often regret after the fact. Tellingly, only two percent of the “rapes” were reported to the police at the time.

Instead of responding to the costly survey by recommending that UT students drink less, study more, and avoid problematic situations, UT bureaucrats will likely use the “campus rape crisis” to develop additional programs, policies, and regulatory infrastructure. As we are witnessing across the nation, the investigation and adjudication of sexual encounters among students are fraught with the potential for hysteria and injustice.

At UT, and across the country, administrative bureaucracies grow ever more bloated, the curriculum becomes crowded with useless (and politically correct) courses, and the university’s focus shifts from education to indoctrination. Simultaneously, the university seeks to boost tuition and obtain greater taxpayer funding.

UT Chancellor William McRaven and the UT Board of Regents appear unwilling to rein in Fenves’s campaign to transform the university into a bastion of political correctness, in the model of UC Berkeley. Will the Texas Legislature allow UT’s Forty Acres to be converted into a risible imitation of the Left Coast’s flagship university? The transformation is already well under way.

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America • Americanism • Section 1 • Section 2 • self-government • separation of powers • The Constitution • The Courts • Trump White House

How to Actually Fix SCOTUS

Judge Gorsuch of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has recently been confirmed as Justice Gorsuch of the United States Supreme Court. Since then, there have been laments in the pages of The New York Times that the Supreme Court is “broken,” while others insist that the Court’s politicization and status as a political football is simply par for the course. Most interestingly, there have appeared think-pieces about how to fix it. I agree. The Court is broken, yes, but not in the way most (especially those on the political Left) believe it is. I also do not think that we are doomed to accept as normal the far-too-frequent and near-apocalyptic clashes over the fate and direction of the Court that we’re so accustomed to seeing as a polity. There is indeed a way to fix the Court.

Vox’s Ezra Klein is one of the commentators who purports to have the solution. He writes:

The core problem here is the stakes of Supreme Court nominations: They’re too damn high. Candidates serve for life—which, given modern life spans and youthful nominees, can now mean 40 years of decisions—and no one knows when the next seat will open. … The result isn’t merely an undemocratic branch of government but a randomly undemocratic branch of government. … We need to deescalate Supreme Court fights. The most obvious way to do that is to limit terms. Holding justices to a 10-year, nonrenewable term would lower the stakes of any individual Supreme Court nomination as well as make the timing of fights more predictable.

We the People must come to understand that the Court is a mere part of our constitutional order and that it does not stand outside of it as its omnipotent and omniscient keeper and enforcer.

In sum: nix life tenure and regiment seat openings for predictability’s sake. But Klein is wrong. What’s needed is not a wonky, technocratic tweak but something much more profound: a recommitment on the part of the nation as a whole to understanding the proper scope of the Court’s authority and its role in our constitutional republic. The ways Presidents Jackson and Lincoln conceived of the separation of powers and related to the Court will be invaluable in this pursuit. We must, in essence, relearn that the Court is not the last word on the Constitution and that to make it so is fundamentally opposed to the rule of law, the principle of the separation of powers, and the Constitution itself.

First, President Jackson. He is infamous for (among other things) having said of Chief Justice John Marshall, in the wake of Worcester v. Georgia (1832)—in which the Court held that the State of Georgia had no right to interfere in the affairs of the Cherokee nation—that he “has made his decision; now let him enforce it.”

Needless to say, such a statement, were it to be uttered by a president today, would undoubtedly spawn fevered accusations that he was being unfaithful to the Constitution, invite speculation about the possibility that strongman authoritarianism had taken up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and prompt persistent calls for his impeachment. Whether Jackson was right, substantively-speaking, to have arrived at his conclusion, one at odds with the Court’s holding, is irrelevant. What is relevant is the realization that the three branches of the federal government are co-equal and that, therefore, each has the right to interpret the Constitution for itself. Indeed, they are sworn to do so as part of their oaths of office.

We have, regrettably, forgotten this essential truth—a vital expression of the principle of separation of powers—and replaced it with judicial supremacy. This is an alien and anti-constitutional doctrine which illicitly invests the Court with the sole authority to interpret the Constitution and bind the other branches and the sovereign citizenry to its interpretations, irrespective of how vacuous, illogical, and immoral they may be. But this is wrong, and Article VI sets the record straight: “This Constitution … shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby …” All branches are duty- and oath-bound to serve the Constitution—not their own parochial, institutional interests or the personal agendas of their members—above all.

Second, Abraham Lincoln understood this rightly as he courageously rejected the Court’s odious ruling in Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), which held that blacks could never be citizens, maintaining that the Court’s ruling was binding only on the parties to the case. Beyond that, however, is something deeper that motivated Lincoln’s action. He firmly believed that the Court’s decisions must have their basis in valid precedent as well as the text, structure, logic, purpose, and history of the Constitution itself, otherwise “the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.” Dred Scott was an act of raw judicial will and fundamentally inimical to the rule of law, the separation of powers, the Constitution, and basic morality. Lincoln did well to ignore and refuse to enforce it.

We the People must come to understand that the Court is a mere part of our constitutional order and that it does not stand outside of it as its omnipotent and omniscient keeper and enforcer. Standardizing, as Klein and others would have us do, when seats open up on the Court—some of the members of which firmly believe that it is their duty to ratify emerging, or hasten into being, social “progress” even if that means torturing the Constitution until it says what they wish it would—will do nothing except to have the weightiness of nominations to its bench puncture the public’s consciousness at predictable intervals, rather than at random ones. But lawlessness that adheres to a schedule is no virtue.

The way to fix the Court is to stop treating it as the infallible transmitter of the meaning of the Constitution and its provisions. Part of that means reeducating the nation’s citizens as to how their government ought to function, and part of that means the other two branches—particularly Congress—must reassert themselves as co-equal partners in the job of upholding the Constitution and, thereby, preserving the sovereignty of the people. Unless and until this happens, our sovereignty will continue to be eroded and undermined by dangerous, naked will-to-power opinions of a few unelected and unaccountable members of our black-robed, secular-judicial clerisy.

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America • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • Immigration • Middle East • Section 1 • Section 2 • The Culture • The Media • Trump White House

The Agony of Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter was one of the earliest and most outspoken supporters of Donald J. Trump. She stood by him during his earliest campaign “scandals” and brilliantly advocated for many of Trump’s positions. Though controversial, Coulter has been an ardent advocate of conservative principles over the years. What’s more, she has been one of the few commentators who has consistently argued for stronger border protections; even before it was in vogue. As the president of DePaul University’s College Republicans in 2011, I had the honor of hosting Coulter. She was an interesting and engaging speaker and a pleasure to host.

In recent weeks, however, Coulter—along with many other of Trump’s earliest supporters—has taken a dispiriting turn in her thinking about the Trump Administration. Coulter castigates President Trump for what she describes as his “Syrian misadventure.” President Trump’s retaliatory strike against Bashar al-Assad’s air force in Syria strikes Coulter as a betrayal of his “America First” position.

Assad launched sarin nerve gas at his own civilians as part of his strategy for winning the Syrian Civil War. Because of Trump’s cruise missile strike, roughly 20% of Assad’s air force was decimated. Like so many other former Trump supporters who’ve come out against President Trump’s cruise missile attack, Coulter believes that Assad “is one of the least bad leaders in the entire Middle East” since he’s not a jihadist, as the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood are.

Of course, this view ignores the fact that Assad allowed al Qaeda to use his territory as a place from whence to attack American forces fighting in the Sunni Triangle of Iraq. It also ignores the fact that Syria has been a long-time client state not only of Russia, but more dangerously, of Iran. Indeed, Iran uses Syria as a place from whence to conduct its own jihad against Israel. So, the claim that Assad is not a problem for the U.S. is odd.

Also, Coulter asserts that President Trump got it wrong on Syria by reposting a series of tweets that Trump issued in 2013 claiming that the Obama Administration’s proposed strike on Syria was not in America’s interest. Coulter states that Trump in 2013 “was right on every point.” Of course he was. At the time. Coulter seems to forget that context is king.

In the first tweet listed, Trump wrote “What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval.” Given the irresponsible way Obama behaved in the Middle East, he needed Congressional restraint imposed upon him. Trump was also right to fret about the possibility of starting a wider war by striking Syria in 2013. Again, Obama was a mad bomber in the Middle East. There was nothing to suggest that once he started bombing Assad’s forces in Syria he would stop until he ousted Assad, just as he did to Gaddafi in Libya.

The Trump Administration, on the other hand, has insisted that it has no intention of invading Syria to depose Assad. Besides, at what was Trump’s strike directed? He attacked an air base that was far removed from most major civilian populations. There was no real chance of massive civilian deaths. Further, it was a proportional attack, meaning that it limited the chances of escalation with either Assad or his Russian and Iranian allies.

Throughout her piece, Coulter continues with the insinuation that Trump went all out Neocon in Syria. Really? If Trump went Neocon in Syria, we’d have up to 150,000 U.S. troops readying to take Damascus, topple Assad, and make Syria into a democracy. Trump would be making a case for his actions entirely on the basis of what was good for the Syrian people and have very little concern for whether the attack advanced American interests. Moreover, if Trump were a Neocon, he’d have designs to liberate all of the Middle East from dictators so as to remove the conditions that make radicalization possible (as so many Neocons believe).

What did Trump do following the Syrian attack? Oh, that’s right: he pivoted away from Syria and started talking with China regarding North Korea and with Russia about its support for Assad (as well as Iran). He also doubled down in helping our forces have a chance at killing the growing ISIS threat in Afghanistan.

Some Neocon.

The most troubling thing about Coulter’s piece is that it reads like something that Eric Erickson or Bill Kristol would write. After trashing Trump’s cruise missile attack (again, a cruise missile attack does not equal an invasion of Syria), Coulter turns to engaging in the unsubstantiated rumors of internal dissent within the Trump White House. She writes, “My nightmare scenario: Trump and Jared watching TV together and high-fiving: DID YOU SEE THE NEWS! THEY LOVE YOU! All Trump had to do was pointlessly bomb another country, and it was as if a genie had granted his every wish.” This assertion is bizarre.

First, rumors of a feud between Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon are likely overblown. They’re made up by the media in a pathetic attempt to separate Trump from his supporters and to sow dissension within the highest levels of the Trump Administration. The media tried this also with other leading Trump advisers, such as Dr. Sebastian Gorka and Michael Anton.

Second, Coulter claims that the Syrian strike was “pointless.” Tell that to the Chinese who are moving rapidly to rein in North Korea, lest they find an American force sitting across from their border in newly liberated North Korea. Third, despite receiving a small bump in his polling, Trump’s overall approval rating remains 21 points below average at its one-month mark than any other presidency. This strike was about furthering American interests globally, not a cheap ploy for ratings as if his presidency were no different than a reality TV show. Coulter used to know that Trump knew the difference. Now, I guess she’s revealing her doubts.  

Coulter seems to have taken up the battle cry of several leading Leftists to claim that Trump’s “vulnerability” is flattery. According to Coulter, these pro-war Liberals and conservatives in the elite laid “it on thick with the Syrian misadventure.” Despite her avowed support for Trump early on in his campaign, Coulter has clearly embraced the elite’s view that Trump can be easily manipulated by playing on his ego. Coulter views Trump as the Left does: a superficial, malleable man.

Yet, if Trump were such a superficial person, would it not have been easier to run as a Democrat? After all, Trump was a wealthy Manhattanite who worked in the media industry. He knew about Left-wing bias in the press. He saw how Republican contenders got treated by the media. Just because Trump loves to talk about himself and likes a lot of gold, that does not mean that the man cannot understand when he’s being played. It does not mean that he will abandon that which he campaigned on at the first sign of praise from the media. I thought Coulter knew this.

Then again, however, for all of her anti-Neocon rhetoric, Coulter was a consistent supporter of George W. Bush’s handling of the Iraq War. At the height of the insurgency, when everything was falling apart in Iraq, Coulter routinely claimed that the war was going “swimmingly.” She famously called for invading Muslim countries in order to “kill their leaders and convert [their people] to Christianity.” Coulter was also a consistent supporter of Chris Christie. Further, she was a full-throated supporter of Mitt Romney in 2012. So, perhaps, her judgement is not as sound on Trump as I once thought.

Besides, the public agony of Ann Coulter (and other purported Trump supporters) over the President’s pinprick cruise missile strike in the desert is getting tiresome. They should know better. Trump is making America great again. He’s been president for under 100 days, and yet he’s fulfilled a great many of his campaign promises. President Trump has consistently proven that he is putting America’s needs first.

Can we stop agonizing and give the man a break?

 

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2016 Election • Administrative State • America • American Conservatism • Big Media • Conservatives • Deep State • Democrats • Donald Trump • GOPe • Greatness Agenda • Jeff Sessions • Political Parties • Section 1 • Section 2 • self-government • Steve Bannon • The Left • The Leviathian State • The Media • The Resistance (Snicker) • Trump White House

Foolish to Choose Morning Joe Crowd Over Bannon and Voters

The empire always strikes back. And permanent Washington wants to retake the power and prestige it lost at the hands of Donald Trump over the past 18 months. The bipartisan media monopoly closed ranks in opposition to Trump and he won anyway. Desperate and discredited the same forces that opposed Trump before the election doubled down after he won.

Look at the desperate measures deployed against President Trump. There was no honeymoon period, no benefit of the doubt, no coming together—even if only temporarily—for the good of the country. There has been nothing but total war. From day one it’s been a take no prisoners, burn the boats, salt the earth, destroy the president by any means necessary, all out war on the Trump Administration.

And now  Morning Joe, a reliable mouthpiece for the self-interested D.C. uber alles crowd, has decided they want another scalp. Realizing that sidelining a Mike Flynn, a KT McFarland, or an Andy Puzder isn’t nearly enough, but encouraged by their ability to draw blood, they’re hunting bigger game. This time they have set their sites on Steve Bannon and the stakes are significantly higher because of what he represents to core Trump supporters.

Donald Trump succeeded where so many other Republicans had failed because he had the strategic vision—and the courage—to forge a partnership with populists like Bannon and base Republicans like Mike Pence. That’s the Trump coalition and it works. Nonetheless, at least 50% of the Republican establishment alternately fears and despises Trump and are either actively working against him or secretly hoping he will fail so that they can regain lost status. Among rank and file Republicans that number is less than 10%. Remember: Donald Trump won more votes than any Republican ever.

That’s why Republicans who refused to campaign with Trump before the election and denigrated him publicly now appear to have undergone deathbed conversions. They are eager to appear to be working with the president but how many, in their heart of hearts, have really changed their mind?

Full frontal assaults on the Trump juggernaut failed spectacularly. If anything, they empowered him by making the D.C. Establishment—an amorphous blob but one generally despised by voters—appear corrupt and impotent. But Beltway insiders are nothing if not adaptable survivors able to shapeshift and change tactics as necessary. 

The battle isn’t Bannon v. Kushner as some in the press would have us believe, it’s Washington v. Trump.

Unable to defeat Trump with a year of attacks that turned into kamikaze missions and have left reputations for political acumen in tatters they have adopted a more subtle strategy designed to break up his coalition. If his political adversaries can separate Trump from his base he will be defanged. Part of that strategy is to take down Bannon who is one of the only representatives of the populist wing of the coalition with a prominent role in the White House.

Coalition government isn’t difficult to understand but it requires a deft hand to maintain. The partners are naturally suspicious of the others and are always seeking the upper hand. But they can be both durable and effective if all of the partners realize that without each other they will lose power. That requires a strong, active executive that enjoys the trust and respect of all the members of the coalition. Reagan did it. And Trump can too. But it’s a new coalition—as Reagan’s was in the spring of 1981—and it requires nurturing in these early, tentative days.

Yet, Trump is in a more difficult place than Reagan was as he enjoyed the support of the major conservative, libertarian, and social institutions that formed his coalition. Many, if not most, of those institutions opposed Trump during the election and remain overtly hostile or maintain a wary silence even now. That makes Trump even more reliant upon his Main Street base who expect to see campaign promises kept.

Steve Bannon, like Jeff Sessions, embodies those promises to a significant part of the Trump coalition.

All presidents listen to someone—that’s not a knock on any of them, presidents need advisers—and voters want to know who has the president’s ear. Is it someone who is aligned with and believes in the president’s agenda like Bannon or Sessions or is it a representative of a revanchist counter-reformation?

The forces arrayed against the president couldn’t win the war at the ballot box so now they’re trying to steal the victory. Ronald Reagan won two massive electoral victories but it was Republican senators who blocked him from achieving some of his key domestic promises like shuttering the Department of Education. And though Reagan and Reaganism captured the imagination and loyalty of rank and file voters, it was the Bushes who captured the party and killed Reagan’s legacy.

The same dynamics are at play today. Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp. A lot of people make a very good living in that swamp—just look at housing prices in and around Washington, D.C.—so he shouldn’t be surprised that the plethora of parasitic fauna dependent for their survival on the swamp’s ecosystem see him (correctly) as a threat to their survival. Nothing unites like a common enemy.

What they couldn’t take with brute force they’ll try and get with fraud and fulsome words. But as the preacher in Ecclesiastes says, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” The formula is the same as it’s ever been: Whisper, flatter, promise the world and everything in it. The temptation of the president has the goal of separating him from his base and thereby from power.

Permanent Washington wields only one weapon: the promise of its own warm embrace. They’re the Mean Girls of American political culture. Fall in line and we’ll write nice things about you in our papers and say nice things about you on our shows. We’ll stop calling you a fascist and start calling you a statesman.

But as Reagan gamely observed, there’s a difference between critics and box office. A movie can succeed without the critics but never without the box office. Voters are box office. And voters want the Trump they saw during the campaign. Part of the attraction is the agenda but voters were also attracted to a man they saw was willing to take on the establishment and who would stay loyal to his friends and loyal to ordinary Americans not to permanent Washington.

The people who want to see Trump fail understand that if they can convince him to give up his advisers one by one that they will slowly separate him from his base. The promise of good press will prove ephemeral. Washington is built to destroy Republican presidents and right now the road to victory runs right through Steve Bannon’s office.

Giving him up won’t change the hostility to the president. It won’t make the forces arrayed against him suddenly support enforcement of immigration laws or an America First national security policy. It won’t make them give up on crony capitalism or the administrative state. And Jared and Ivanka won’t get the Camelot coverage they’re being promised.

And those making the promises? Their lips drip honey and their speech is smoother than oil, but in the end they are bitter as wormwood and their path leads to destruction. The more likely scenario is that if those calling for Bannon’s head get it they will target the Kushners next. That’s because the battle isn’t Bannon v. Kushner as some in the press would have us believe, it’s Washington v. Trump.

Donald Trump and the people who want to see him succeed need to remember a few things:

  1. The flatterers, phonies, and sycophants who disparaged him during the campaign, the transition, and the early days of his presidency still want his presidency to fail. They denounced him, his agenda, and his supporters in the most personal and vicious terms possible: fascist, thug, racist, etc. Nothing has changed.
  2. Democrats and the D.C. media will never support Trump or his agenda. The idea that there are 45 House Democrats who will form a bloc of swing votes to move that agenda is laughable. If you don’t think so, just try and make a list.
  3. As long as Trump can keep conservative populists and “the party” working together he has a 55%-60% governing coalition with broad, deep support.
  4. Throwing Bannon to the wolves is a political trap set by the president’s enemies to break up a new coalition that Democrats can’t beat.
  5. The perception is the reality—if the president is believed to lack loyalty then people who work with and for him will adjust their calculations accordingly. This will affect everything. It will encourage his enemies, harm his ability to pass legislation in Congress and make it more difficult to hire and retain smart, dedicated staff committed to prosecuting his agenda.

Newt Gingrich recently said that “Bannon is a brilliant pirate who has had a huge impact. But White Houses, in the end, are like the U.S. Navy—corporate structures and very hard on pirates.” Perhaps. But Queen Elizabeth made the piratical Sir Francis Drake an admiral so that he could defeat the Spanish Armada. There is an armada assembled against President Trump. Maybe this White House could use a pirate.

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Administrative State • America • Deep State • Democrats • Government Reform • Obama • Political Parties • Republicans • Section 1 • Section 2 • self-government • The Constitution • The Leviathian State • Trump White House

Obama’s Chaos Strategy: The Case of the IRS IED

As Lois Lerner attempts to garner the public’s sympathy and a sealing of her testimony in a federal case looking into the targeting of political opponents during the Obama Administration, new reports now suggest that the House of Representatives will recommend the Department of Justice (DOJ) file criminal charges against her. Lerner is the former IRS Exempt Organizations Director and, as such, she is the central player in the pending explosion of the Obama era IRS scandal.

The IRS targeting scandal of profiling and harassing conservative political groups began in March 2010, shortly after the January 2010 Citizens United case was decided by the Supreme Court. No Tea Party applications were approved for the next 27 months, while numerous liberal groups were routinely cleared.

Still think the 2010-2012 IRS targeting scandal and the doubling down in 2013-2014 was a series of random events, devoid of malicious intent? That there is not something structurally wrong at the IRS when years of public scrutiny by Congress and the courts still do not alter many practices? Do you think that swapping out a few political appointees will alter existing incentives and stop this kind of behavior when surprises are still coming out seven years later?

The True the Vote case began in July 2010 and was a particularly egregious one, focusing on a local Texas Tea Party group and its founder, Catherine Englebrecht. In this case the initial IRS investigation triggered additional visits from the FBI, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

Ominously, the DOJ was directly involved at a high level in the IRS scandal starting as early as October 2010 when the head of Justice’s Election Crimes Branch, Richard Pilger, met with Lois Lerner. Pilger subsequently told House investigators that the meeting was requested by Jack Smith, the director of DOJ’s Public Integrity Section. It took a Judicial Watch lawsuit to make this information public in December 2014. Further DOJ conflicts-of-interest concerns arose in related IRS scandal issues.

Lerner’s hard drive crashed in June 2011 and was destroyed by the IRS. The IRS did not look for her subpoenaed emails in five other areas—her Blackberry, the email server, the backup email server, the loaner laptop, and the backup tapes, causing 24,000 emails to be lost. Her Blackberry was destroyed about one year later, after a Congressional inquiry was underway and without the IRS making any attempt to recover any of those emails. Eight months after Congress requested all Lerner emails and one month after the IRS told Congress they were missing some emails, the IRS “accidentally” erased 422 backup tapes that may have contained those emails. Emails of up to 20 other related IRS officials suffered similar crashes around that time.

The staff of Democratic Ranking Member Elijah Cummings of the House Oversight Committee engaged in email communications with the IRS between August 2012 and January 2013 about True the Vote, without disclosing any of this to the majority members or staff. Both the IRS and Cummings asked for similar information from True the Vote, suggesting coordination and inappropriate sharing of confidential tax information. Cummings denied this contact in spite of email evidence to the contrary.

(An anecdote: After initially applying in July 2011 under the name “Media Trackers” and still having no clearance from the IRS’s Cincinnati office as of September 2012, an applicant filed under a new, more liberal sounding name “Greenhouse Solutions,” in December 2012 and was approved in 3 weeks.)

The Treasury Department Inspector General’s (IG) May 14, 2013 report found that the “IRS used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions instead of indications of potential political campaign intervention.” Ineffective management was discovered to have been guilty of three things:

  1. “allow[ing] inappropriate criteria to be developed and stay in place for more than 18 months,”
  2. thereby causing “substantial delays in processing certain applications, and”
  3. “allow[ing] unnecessary information requests to be issued.” 

The IG report also stated these efforts began only weeks after the Citizens United court decision.

The highly invasive, Stasi-like questions asked by the IRS in the application process for targeted groups can be found here.

Lerner acknowledged publicly the targeting for the first time in response to a planted question on May 10, 2013, four days before the IG report was issued.

Lois Lerner received bonuses totaling $129,000 for 2010-2012. Her bosses, who awarded them, submitted their retirement notices within 48 hours of the IG report in May 2013 while Lerner retired with a full pension in September 2013.

The DOJ attorney assigned in January 2014 to investigate the IRS targeting scandal was an Obama and Democratic National Committee (DNC) donor, creating a conflict-of-interest from the very beginning. Given the conflict, Judicial Watch sought information, via an FOIA request, on how many hours the attorney spent on the case but was stonewalled.

Around the same time, Obama said in December 2013 that the IRS scandal was only due to a “bureaucratic…list” drawn up in “an office in Cincinnati” and said, in February 2014, that the IRS targeting scandal had “not even a smidgen of corruption.”

Even in the wake of the raised eyebrows from the 2012 election, the Treasury Department and IRS introduced a new rule around Thanksgiving 2013 that would re-categorize as “political” a whole host of activities previously categorized as “educational”—going all-in for a time to keep it in place through omnibus negotiations. At the time, Kimberly Strassel reported that Treasury, “appears to have reverse-engineered the carefully tailored rule—combing through the list of previously targeted tea party groups, compiling a list of their main activities and then restricting those functions.” This rule was so important to House Democrats that they even declined to negotiate it out in exchange for increased International Monetary Fund (IMF) funding. As Strassel noted at the time, this seemed like a rather big sacrifice for them to make for what they claimed was a mere bureaucratic procedural “rule.”

Federal prosecutors, who report to the same DOJ that met with Lois Lerner back in October 2010, decided in April 2015 not to prosecute her for contempt of Congress, setting a bad precedent.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz’s July 27, 2015 letter to President Obama is a lengthy indictment of the corruption that has pervaded the IRS targeting scandal, starting at the top. More specifically, the letter states that IRS Commissioner John Koskinen failed to comply with Congressional subpoenas; testify truthfully; preserve records; and to stop the IRS targeting campaign of political opponents. These failures ultimately led to him being censured by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform; all after his predecessor visited the White House 157 times, far more than any other Cabinet member.

In June 2016, over three years after the IRS admitted to targeting tea party groups, the IRS released a list of organization subjected to greater scrutiny. The number—426—was much larger than the 298 previously identified in the May 2013 IG report.

Fast forward to 2015 – 2017, five to seven years from the beginning of this scandal to see how the IRS continues to obstruct and resist:

  • July 2015:  Five years later, a Judge threatens to hold the IRS Commissioner and IRS attorneys in contempt for failure to release 1,800 uncovered Lerner emails.
  • July 2015:  Five years later, the GAO reports that the IRS may still be targeting conservative non-profits.
  • March 2016:  Six years later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit issued an opinion with blistering words, including these –

Yet in this lawsuit the IRS has only compounded the conduct that gave rise to it. The plaintiffs seek damages on behalf of themselves and other groups whose applications the IRS treated in the manner described by the Inspector General. The lawsuit has progressed as slowly as the underlying applications themselves: at every turn the IRS has resisted the plaintiffs’ requests for information regarding the IRS’s treatment of the plaintiff class, eventually to the open frustration of the district court. At issue here are IRS “Be On the Lookout” lists of organizations allegedly targeted for unfavorable treatment because of their political beliefs. Those organizations in turn make up the plaintiff class. The district court ordered production of those lists, and did so again over an IRS motion to reconsider. Yet, almost a year later, the IRS still has not complied with the court’s orders. Instead the IRS now seeks from this court a writ of mandamus, an extraordinary remedy reserved to correct only the clearest abuses of power by a district court. We deny the petition.

  • August 2016:  Over six years later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd District issued an opinion that Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Cato Institute Center for Constitutional Studies described as:

…a blistering rebuke to the IRS and its defenders…It takes on squarely the defense the IRS had raised in this case which is, ‘Whatever happened, we promise not to do it again’….The court goes through and systematically takes that apart in a way that’s very damaging to the IRS’s overall defense.

The Court stated:  “it is absurd to suggest that the effect of the IRS’s unlawful conduct…has been eradicated” when the two conservative groups in question still had their delayed applications pending before the IRS.

  • November 2016:  Over six years later, another federal judge granted a preliminary injunction against the IRS based on “strong evidence of viewpoint discrimination by the agency.” In response The Wall Street Journal editorialized,

According to the Treasury report, the IRS’s use of targeting criteria stopped in May [2012]. [Yet] In September 2016, when the litigation had already begun, the IRS sent a three-page questionnaire asking the group to provide extensive documentation on expenses like “salaries, administrative, overhead, fundraising and . . . volunteer as well as employee hours,” not to mention minutiae on its voter drives and voter guides. If the group hosts a speaker, the IRS asks whether it extends “an equal opportunity to participate to speakers on behalf of other political candidates seeking the same office.

  • March 2017:  Seven years later, a study showed that the IRS rule which allowed targeting in the first place remains in the IRS handbook.
  • March/April 2017:  Seven years later, the IRS reported it had discovered 6,924 newly identified documents in response to a 2015 Judicial Watch FOIA lawsuit that presumably were not turned over to Congress during earlier investigations. One month later, the first 695 pages were made public.

The difference between Obama and Nixon on political enemies? Nixon’s IRS commissioner refused to target political enemies.

Still think the 2010-2012 IRS targeting scandal and the doubling down in 2013-2014 was a series of random events, devoid of malicious intent? That there is not something structurally wrong at the IRS when years of public scrutiny by Congress and the courts still do not alter many practices? Do you think that swapping out a few political appointees will alter existing incentives and stop this kind of behavior when surprises are still coming out seven years later?

The IRS targeting was an intentional chaos strategy in action. Chaos creates uncertainty, uncertainty creates a vacuum, and a vacuum creates opportunities for bad people to grab political power.

As Investor’s Business Daily argued in one of their editorials, “IRS officials now know they can go after any political opponent they want, ruin them any way they wish, swing an election—as occurred with Lerner’s actions—and get away with it.”

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America • Defense of the West • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Section 1 • Section 2 • Terrorism • The ME Agenda • Trump White House

MOAB Makes Foreign Adventurism Less Likely Because Less Necessary

On Thursday, U.S. forces detonated the most powerful conventional weapon in the U.S. arsenal, the Massive Ordnance Air-burst Bomb or MOAB, against an ISIS tunnel complex in Afghanistan’s Nangahar Province which is just along that country’s northeast border with Pakistan. The MOAB first entered the US arsenal in 2003 during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. Its recent employment is the first time it has been used in a combat situation.

Weighing 21,000 pounds, the satellite-guided MOAB is packed with some 18,000 pounds of a gelled slurry of ammonium nitrate and powdered aluminum detonated by a highly explosive booster. The MOAB delivery package consists of an inertial guidance system, a global-positioning system, and fins and wings for course adjustment, making it extremely accurate. Given its massive size, the MOAB is dropped by parachute from a C-130 transport plane before the satellite-guidance system takes over.

The MOAB is a follow-on to a weapon designed to clear helicopter landing zones in Vietnam, the BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter,” a 15,000 pound fuel air explosive device. The BLU-82 was also employed in the 1991 Gulf War and more recently in Afghanistan, where along with the BLU-118/B thermobaric weapon, it was used against al Qaeda troops in fortified caves.

Military officers contemplated employing the MOAB during the Iraq War. Indeed, as the war approached, the Department of Defense made no effort to keep the effects of the MOAB secret. This lack of secrecy suggested that the weapon had a distinct psychological objective: the potential destruction of an Iraqi Republican Guard unit as an incentive to others to surrender.

A fuel-air explosion of the magnitude of the MOAB generates blast and overpressures similar to a small nuclear weapon, minus the radiation. But the fact that so much of the Iraq War took place in populated areas precluded the use of the MOAB. But the isolated area in which the ISIS compound was located before Thursday made it a perfect target for the weapon.

A few observations: first, the employment of the MOAB seems to be the fruit of President Trump’s decision to return to the idea that the military “on the ground” ought to have the authority to make tactical decisions. Reports suggest that the decision to use the MOAB came from Central Command, not the White House. This devolution of decision making is a welcome change. During the Obama years, the rules of engagement (ROE) were so restrictive that U.S. casualties were higher than necessary. In addition, opportunities to inflict damage on the enemy were often lost.

Second, although the purpose of the strike was tactical—the destruction of the ISIS complex—the use of the MOAB also sent a clear message to the mullahs in Iran, to Assad in Syria (and by extension to one of his sponsors, Putin), and to North Korea. Although the use of the MOAB is limited in many potential instances due to the possibility of civilian casualties, the United States has also developed a “bunker buster” version of the MOAB: the GBU-57 A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), a weapon designed to destroy deeply buried hardened targets.

The MOP is a 30,000 pound direct-strike hard-target weapon (DSHTW) featuring 5.300 pounds of high explosive enclosed in a cobalt-alloy bomb body. This configuration enables it to penetrate to depths of up to 100 feet underground before detonating.

So what does all of this mean? Does the Syria strike and the employment of the MOAB in Afghanistan indicate that President Trump is eager to broaden foreign adventurism? Not necessarily. More likely, President Trump is signaling to our adversaries that future aggression will not be cost free.

This is the essence of deterrence, a concept that has atrophied since the end of the Cold War and the perception that nuclear weapons are less important than they once were. But while deterrence was central to our thinking about nuclear weapons, the concept has broader application.

For deterrence to work, three conditions must be met. First, the party that seeks to deter an adversary must have the capability to do what it threatens to do. Second, the deterring party must demonstrate the will to follow through on a threat. Finally, there must be an element of uncertainty at work.

Our adversaries became more aggressive during the Obama years because of the absence of the last two factors. The Obama administration made it clear that it lacked the will to carry through on threats, e.g. Obama’s “red line” in Syria. Obama’s predictable behavior also lessened our adversaries’ uncertainty.

Trump’s actions have restored the missing two elements (our will to use force and the enemy’s uncertainty) to the concept of deterrence. Even though the employment of the MOAB was primarily a tactical decision, in the long run it has a strategic effect by putting adversaries on notice that the leadership of the United States possesses the will to act. Our adversaries also face a level of uncertainty that they did not face with Obama. Contrary to the fears of some Trump supporters, the new circumstances actually lessen the likelihood of US involvement in conflict abroad.

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America • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • History • Middle East • Section 1 • The ME Agenda • Trump White House

Syria Strike Brings Back Lost Paradigm of Proportional Response

In the unleashing of media passions following President Trump’s strike on Syria, there were few surprises. Political pundits of the left and right who have never had a kind word to say about Trump suddenly oozed approval, offering a staggering confirmation of the power of the bipartisan war party. By contrast, those pundits who supported Trump for his steadfast refusal to commit the United States to the military removal of Assad were dismayed. Yet both camps assumed that the strikes were aimed at military-backed regime change. Why?

There was no evidence of regime-toppling intent in statements by members of Trump’s administration. The military action was described as a one-time strike to punish Assad for the use of chemical weapons and to deter their further use. Secretary of State Tillerson immediately affirmed after the strike that there was no change of policy to attempt to instigate military backed regime change against Assad.

The narrative of imminent military-backed regime change is so strong, and so ingrained within media passions, because when it comes to discussing military strikes, the question of military-backed regime change has dominated practice for years.

In fact, if one sets aside all counter-terrorism activities, and considers only direct U.S. military strikes against foreign states, then the strike on Assad’s Syria is a stunning event. This strike marks the first time since Operation Desert Fox in 1998 that the United States has engaged in a direct military strike against a foreign state that does not have as its objective dramatically destabilizing or changing a regime. In 1998 concerns that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was failing to comply with UN resolutions governing the reduction of its capabilities to manufacture and use weapons of mass destruction prompted the United States to run a short bombing campaign against Hussein and punish him in an effort to encourage a reduction in these capabilities.

That the United States has gone almost twenty years without using similar punitive strikes is a clear indication of a paradigm shift with respect to our discussion of military action. By ‘paradigm,’ I mean here the principal questions and strategies that arise ordinarily in the public sphere when considering military action. These vary over time. In the 1940s, the deliberate targeting of civilian population centers for bombing raids was regularly debated as part of strategy. That was no longer the case in the early 1950s, as General MacArthur discovered during his showdown with President Truman.

At present, the dominant paradigm evaluates military action almost entirely with respect to the question of regime change: whether we should or should not use military force to remove so-and-so from power.

What kind of question would a re-invigoration of the old paradigm pose instead? Aaron Sorkin, of all people, supplied us with a plausible question during the first season of his hit series, The West Wing. Sorkin’s script sets up the new administration of Josiah Bartlett to respond to an outrage by, of all countries, Syria. The Syrian government, the story goes, has shot down an unarmed transport aircraft, killing dozens of American citizens. The President is livid. For retaliation, his National Security Council has drawn up a list of small Syrian targets. Yet President Bartlett will have none of it, seeing that it does not do justice to the lives lost. Pushing for a stronger military action that brings “total disaster” on the Syrian government, he asks his advisers: “What is the virtue of a proportional response?”

Bartlett receives the reply: “it isn’t virtuous, Mr President, it’s all there is.” The reply is wise. In considering military action, the proportional response at first blush seems paltry; certainly when compared to upholding a grand humanitarian ideal like bringing peace, freedom, and justice to a troubled country. Yet that goal is too vague to be achievable. To reach that goal, Bartlett realizes he would have to be ready to kill an indefinite number of people. Bartlett learns the real virtue of a proportional response: it places military action within a limited, restricted framework that minimizes destruction and loss of life.

The episode took for granted that the audience recognized the proportional response was the prudent course of action. The question of bringing ‘total disaster,’ never mind regime change, was meant to appear irrational and outrageous. Yet since that West Wing episode aired in 1999, Sorkin’s question has been swept aside.

The 1999 Kosovo bombings, begun for humanitarian reasons, were intended to make Serbia concede the region of Kosovo to separatists and to topple Slobodan Milosovic’s government. It worked. This started the process of normalizing regime change as the objective of direct military strikes. After 9/11, the Kosovo example looked like a readily applicable strategic option bringing lasting benefits. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were conducted for regime change.

The paradigm under which the United States has operated for the better part of two decades, then, is one in which military strikes have no other objective than the annihilation of the opposing government. But this paradigm is in crisis. Consider its most recent application, NATO’s military operations against Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya in 2011. Gaddafi’s armies were supposed to be on the verge of massacring civilians in Benghazi. Consequently, this justified a military operation to remove Gaddafi from power for humanitarian reasons. In 2016, the British Parliament released a report on the build-up and conduct of the war in Libya. Its conclusions were scathing. Although directed at then-Prime Minister David Cameron, its conclusions readily apply to other intervening Western governments. They failed to pursue readily available diplomatic options, and dropped any strategy of limited military engagement to pursue, instead, a strategy of regime change.

Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson recently drew attention to Libya as the example to avoid in Syria. The Parliamentary report’s conclusion on Libya makes it clear. The result of assuming that the removal of Gaddafi needed to be the objective of military action has been “political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises,” and “widespread human rights violations.” It is no wonder that President Obama hesitated about enforcing red lines in Syria in 2013. But even that famously cerebral President could not craft a course of action that while not attempting regime change did not also look inept and ridiculous (recall Secretary of State Kerry’s reassurances that a military strike in Syria would be “unbelievably small“).

So it has taken President Trump to shatter this paradigm. With a small, limited strike, but one he performed swiftly, he has conveyed a powerful and clear message. As long as he holds to the present strategy of a limited punitive strike, he will accomplish the biggest paradigm shift on military action in two decades.

The characteristics of this paradigm are several. First, it uses direct, limited military strikes to punish a state for actions that break international norms. Second, it does not to seek explicit approval from the UN Security Council for these kinds of limited military strikes. Third, it places the burden on Congress to discuss what kinds of military strikes are appropriate for the President to conduct. Fourth, it distinguishes between a punitive military strike directed at another state and the start of a war with that state.

Even careful reflections on the strategic options in Syria pass over this last characteristic, seeing military strikes as equivalent to full-out war to depose Assad. Does this one strike mean the US is at war with Assad’s Syria? As Reagan replied to an analogous question, after he launched a series of punitive strikes on Iran in 1987: ‘They’re not that stupid.”

Doubtless this paradigm is much older. For some, it brings back memories of the early 20th century: Trump is akin to Kaiser Wilhelm II, gambling with world peace to play soldier. However, reflecting on the limited objectives of the Syrian strike, I would submit that the paradigm his administration is trying to reintroduce is more like that of Cardinal Richelieu’s raison d’État, where war is an instrument of the art of politics.

Although raison d’État has been much maligned as an invitation to amorality, the essence of Richelieu’s raison d’État is proportionality. It calls for a just proportion between the ends pursued and forces of state used to achieve those ends. Richelieu’s understanding of the use of force subordinates war to politics. Rather than invite amorality, the subordination of war to politics is actually a moral principle. The principle is to restrain the idea of unlimited war through precise political objectives and political understanding of these circumstances.

These particular political means can still be stern and unscrupulous. In Trump’s case, for example, the timing of the strike must have sent a serious message to China. Yet they need not be wholly unscrupulous. A mistake frequently made about Richelieu’s raison d’État, notably in academic international relations theory is to see raison d’État as a mechanical system of balance of power governed by an under-developed concept of self-interest. That is not the case here. The ultimate ends of statecraft can still be to maintain and promote humanitarian ends—as long as the use of military action remains moderated and limited. In this paradigm, grand humanitarian ideals are not ends to be realized through military means. They are instead to be realized through example, persuasion, and—like Aristotle’s best regime—through prayer. So Trump concludes his brief address on the Syrian strikes:

We ask for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world. We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed. And we hope that as long as America stands for justice, that peace and harmony will in the end prevail.

Many editorials note Trump’s past statements on Syria that contradict his present actions, for he has indeed consented to a military strike against Assad’s Syria. From the perspective of raison d’État, this contradiction is not troubling. As any commander should know, a priori responses to unfolding military and political events are an invitation for strategic mistakes, because they disregard varying circumstances and conditions in coming to the conclusion at which one must arrive. Writing in the 1930s, Charles de Gaulle defended Richelieu and attacked the French military for adopting, based on the experience of the First World War, une doctrine a priori of static defense. From the perspective of raison d’État, military action can never be constructed a priori. Nor can military action be ruled out a priori.

The peril of the present application of raison d’État is that, unlike in Richelieu’s era, war creates great media passions. In the coming weeks, expect to see political pundits clamor for more strikes, and in the absence of more strikes write columns about how Trump has no Syria strategy. To hold off these passions, and recover proportionality in the use of force, Trump must show fortitude: this far into Syria, but no further.

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America • Center for American Greatness • Defense of the West • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Greatness Agenda • Middle East • Section 1 • Trump White House

Trump’s Realism: America First Not America Alone

Is Donald Trump a student of Charles Maurice de Talleyrand? Some of Trump’s recent actions suggest that he is, at least intuitively. I am thinking in particular of Talleyrand’s observation that “non-intervention is a metaphysical idea, indistinguishable in practice from intervention.” The question is not whether a state like America is part of the process. It is, by definition. The question is how effective a role it will play.

Thursday night, Donald Trump demonstrated his grasp of that truth.

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand

In August 2012, Barack Obama had some stern words for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime,” Obama said, “that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus.”

A year later, Assad launched a gas attack against parts of a suburb of Damascus. It killed some 1,500 civilians, including more than 400 children. As Politico reported, “Horrific video footage showing people with twisted bodies sprawled on hospital floors, some twitching and foaming at the mouth after being exposed to sarin gas” went viral on the internet.

The “red line” had certainly been crossed. Outrage. Consternation. Calls for action.

Obama did . . . nothing.

John Kerry and Susan Rice later took credit for removing “100 percent” of Syria’s chemical weapons without firing a shot.

Except that they left some of the toxic stuff behind.

Earlier last week, Assad’s forces conducted another sarin gas attack against rebel forces in Syria. This left some 70 people dead, “including children, . . . some writhing, choking, gasping or foaming at the mouth.”

Sixty-three hours later, around the time that Donald Trump was having dinner with President Xi Jinping of China at Mar-a-Lago, two US destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean fired fifty-nine Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat air base, from where the deadly gas attack originated. The carefully targeted attack destroyed aircraft, air defense control systems, fuel and ammunition storage facilities, and workshops. Barracks and facilities suspected of housing more chemical weapons were deliberately spared.

Naturally, the chattering class erupted like a flock of grackles.

Much of the bird song was familiar. Holding down the paranoid conspiracy corner, MSNBC Lawrence O’Donnell wondered whether Vladimir Putin had masterminded the chemical attack so that Trump could “look good by striking Syria.” Am I alone in thinking that the strange sound you hear above O’Donnell’s insane chirping is the theme from the Twilight Zone? (Confession: I do not watch MSNBC and have only recently become aware of O’Donnell’s existence. He clearly needs help.)

There were all the usual questions that arise when the US President unexpectedly uses military force. Chief among those questions: Was Trump’s authorized to order the strike without first obtaining the approval of Congress? Ted Cruz summed up the answer: Yes. In our system, the power to declare war is vested in Congress. But it is the Commander in Chief’s prerogative to take action to defend the country and to respond to exigent circumstances that threaten national security. The deployment and use of weapons of mass destructive constitutes such a threat. Ergo, etc.

There was a good dealing of novel chirping, too. My unofficial poll suggests that Trump’s action against Syria met with wide approval among the American people. It even earned plaudits from many anti-Trump Republicans, especially in the neo-conservative fraternity. Ralph Peters, for example, formerly a foaming critic of Trump, sang his praises. “The United States is back. There are, indeed, red lines. And the enemies of humanity cross those lines at their peril.”

There was a lot more where that came from.

I hesitate to intrude upon the novel warm glow of good feeling from that corridor of previously implacable disgruntlement. Nevertheless, that particular chirping chorus is bound to be disappointed. Trump’s attack on Syria was not the answer to that fabled call for the 1980s to send back its foreign policy. It was a carefully calculated response—to an atrocity, first of all, but also to a number of surrounding contingencies, some of which I’ll come to in a moment.

If the neo-conservative jubilation ought to be tempered, so should the alarm that coruscated through some precincts of the Trump faithful. Donald Trump campaigned on an America First platform that made avoiding foreign entanglements its centerpiece. Indeed he did. But as Chris Buskirk has noted on this site (and as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has corroborated), the strike against Syria did not in any way gainsay that ambition. There are no signs that the nation-building moral imperialism of the Bush era is making a comeback.

What is making a comeback, however, is the peace-through-strength realism that Trump repeatedly championed during his candidacy and first weeks of his presidency. And this brings me to those surrounding contingencies I mentioned.

As many observers have noted, the attack on Shayrat air base was directed not only at Bashar al-Assad. We can say with high confidence that it was intended to garner the attention of several other people. President Xi Jinping, for example. There he was, the guest of President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago, tucking into the Dover sole and New York strip steak. By the time he got to the chocolate cake, the attack was over. As the dinner broke up, Trump took President Xi aside and quickly informed him about the strike. Response? Our talks were productive and cordial.

Then there is Vladimir Putin. The Trump-colluded-with-the-Russians-to-win-the-election meme was never anything but preposterous. I think Democratic lawmakers have always known that, even if it has escaped the ken of hysterical fantasists like Lawrence O’Donnell. They persisted, I conjecture, because they thought it a useful distraction. The Susan Rice implosion pretty much put paid to that, I’d wager, and the strike against Syria rendered it utterly surreal. The result? Bluster from Russia followed by . . . crickets. “Russia Warns of Serious Consequences from U.S. Strike in Syria,” screamed a Reuters headline. You betcha. But Rex Tillerson is still scheduled to go to Moscow next week. Good timing. For one very serious consequence is that Russia now knows that this President of the United States is not planning to “lead from behind” as did his predecessor. Look for a marked adjustment in their posture.

Then there is the wide, wide world beyond Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. That clickety-clack-clack-clack sound you hear are the beads of the great foreign policy abacus recalculating its estimation of Donald Trump. He is not one of them, not part of the international administrative nomenklatura. But he is the most powerful man in the world and he means business. Who knew?

An interesting question is whether the bulbous Kim Jong-un has absorbed the memo. Since Kim inhabits a paranoid empyrean almost as surreal as the one occupied by Lawrence O’Donnell, it is hard to say with certainty. I hope so. The Carl Vinson Strike Group is steaming toward the Korean peninsula as I write and will be able to repeat the message in capital letters if necessary. Perhaps, if all goes well, President Xi will take a moment to whisper it in Kim’s ear as well.

Gregory of Tours began his History of the Franks (circa 590) with the unexceptionable observation that “A great many things keep happening, some of them good, some of them bad.” Donald Trump’s strike against Syria reminds us that no matter what happens the grackles of the press will fill the air with apodictic static. Take a look at the press reaction to the Syrian strike. In how many stories does the word “must” appear? “Now Donald Trump must . . .” Fill in the blank of that deontic imperative: He must consult Congress, reassure our allies/his base/Rosie O’Donnell, etc.

Substantively, most of that noise is barely distinguishable from static. But at the risk of adding to that chorus let me say what I think the Syria strike shows.

First, it shows that Donald Trump understands that a powerful state does not have the luxury of disengagement. His policy is America First: quite right. But in order to put America First, one must recognize that America inhabits a rivalrous and often hostile world of competing interests. America First does not mean America Alone.

Second, the attack on Syria takes its place beside a host of other initiatives, large and small, that Trump and his team have undertaken in the less than three months they have been in office. The Keystone pipeline. The enforcement of the country’s immigration laws. The Executive Order reorganizing, and trimming, the Executive Branch. The attack on the regulatory overreach that has stifled business and hampered freedom. The proposed budget, which zeroes out such dinosaurs as the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. The shake up of the Department of Education with Betsy DeVos—and look for lots more there soon. The advent of a United States Ambassador with backbone as our representative to the UN. The confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. And on and on. The media keeps telling us how chaotic and disorganized the Trump administration is. Don’t look now, but the most impressive Cabinet in decades has been acting with astonishing speed to keep the promises Trump made on the campaign trail.

Above all, the strike against Syria shows that Donald Trump—pace the insane maundering of unhappy females in need of a new haberdasher, pasty-faced academics, and hysterical newscasters and passed-over pundits—is leading in a calm, deliberate, eminently presidential fashion. You might not like some of his chosen modes of communication; you might think using Twitter is unserious or that his colloquial diction is unstatesmanlike. But what we’ve witnessed in less than three months is not only the normalization of Donald Trump everywhere but in the fever swamps of political disenfranchisement, but also his emergence as a figure of rare competence and command. He is well on his way, I believe, to making America great again.

 

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2016 Election • America • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Middle East • Section 1 • The ME Agenda • The Media • Trump White House

Crisis of the White House Divided

President-elect Donald Trump greets House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Congressional leaders as he arrives for his inauguration ceremony at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool)

In the first 100 days of the Trump administration, we have learned some important lessons about what it takes to be considered “presidential” by the establishment news media (both liberal and conservative), Hillary Clinton, the leadership of both the GOP and the Democratic Party, and NeverTrump conservatives. While possibly alienating much of his base, Trump has managed to bring together a divided Congress, winning plaudits from Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Mitch McConnell. Pelosi has gone so far as to urge Congress to cancel their April recess so that they can authorize what, to her mind, this very important and carefully planned war for regime change.

Here’s what we know:

Immigration ban from 7 countries? Unreasonable. Unconstitutional. Evil.

Border wall? Too expensive. Stupid. Won’t work.

Change your foreign policy on a dime and bomb a small war torn country, after promising to remove its sovereign ruler? “Beautiful!”Presidential!” So brave! “America is back!”

Forgive the snark, but the past weekend merits it. We’re all left with one burning question: what happened to Trumpism?

Let’s review.

Over the course of the election, Trump accomplished an incredible feat: he destroyed the legacy of Bush-era conservatism, and humiliated the neoconservative wing of the Republican party. The final nail in their coffin (so we thought) was his conquest in November, but the entire campaign can be viewed as a kind of march to the sea, burning one neocon stronghold after another until total victory was achieved.

Not only did he take out his major opponents during the primary, each of them mouthing the same invade-the-world-invite-the-world policy platform. He blew them away, one by one. At the South Carolina debate in February, 2016, Trump not only denounced our failed foreign policy of the past 15 years, shared by neocon and neoliberal alike, but he accused George W. Bush of lying about WMDs in Iraq. With GWB’s brother onstage and his mother in the audience, the SC establishment audience booed. But a few days later, in the reliable, evangelical, and red state, Trump won the primary handily. In that moment, the Bush legacy was defeated, and the dynasty wiped out.

A few months later in April, when his position as GOP nominee was all-but secure, Trump gave his first policy speech. It was on foreign policy. It was also the most radical position taken by Trump in the campaign. While his immigration policy decidedly went against the globalist establishment, and received far more attention from the media, it didn’t pose an existential threat to the Davoisie the way his foreign policy platform did. Building a border wall and enforcing existing immigration law is radical, to be sure. But there is no issue that the mainstream left and right junta agree on more than foreign policy, as shown by the sinister bipartisanship we have seen in the wake of this military attack on Syria.

Immigration and foreign policy are obviously tied together in the invade-the-world-invite-the-world strategy, but immigration is only about one country. Davoisie foreign policy involves a vision for the whole world. Donald Trump’s stated positions flew in the face of that oligarchic alliance. That’s why he explicitly defended the existence of the nation state. He wanted to finally put an end to what Decius once called, “endless, pointless, winless war.”

As Trump stated in that landmark foreign policy speech:

In fact, as time went on, our foreign policy began to make less and less sense. Logic was replaced with foolishness and arrogance, which led to one foreign policy disaster after another.

They just kept coming and coming. We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Obama’s line in the sand in Syria. Each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos and gave ISIS the space it needs to grow and prosper. Very bad. It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interests in becoming a western democracy.

We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed…

I will not hesitate to deploy military force when there is no alternative. But if America fights, it must only fight to win.

I will never send our finest into battle unless necessary, and I mean absolutely necessary, and will only do so if we have a plan for victory with a capital V.

Our goal is peace and prosperity, not war and destruction. The best way to achieve those goals is through a disciplined, deliberate and consistent foreign policy. With President Obama and Secretary Clinton we’ve had the exact opposite — a reckless, rudderless and aimless foreign policy, one that has blazed the path of destruction in its wake.

After losing thousands of lives and spending trillions of dollars, we are in far worse shape in the Middle East than ever, ever before. I challenge anyone to explain the strategic foreign policy vision of Obama/Clinton. It has been a complete and total disaster…

However, unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct. You cannot have a foreign policy without diplomacy. A superpower understands that caution and restraint are really truly signs of strength. Although not in government service, I was totally against the war in Iraq, very proudly, saying for many years that it would destabilize the Middle East. Sadly, I was correct, and the biggest beneficiary has been has been Iran, who is systematically taking over Iraq and gaining access to their very rich oil reserves, something it has wanted to do for decades.

While many pundits questioned Trump’s sincerity on immigration, most people took him at his word on foreign policy. They had reason to do so: In his long public career, It is one of the issues on which Trump has been most consistent, particularly during the Obama years. His tweets on Syria since 2013, in particular, served as evidence that he wouldn’t back down on this issue: and why should he? What motivation could he have to betray his base of support on one of the issues that most divided those people from the NeverTrump camp?

In that same foreign policy speech, Trump said this of the Bush-era neocon pundits, or as Decius called them, the Washington Generals: “We have to look to new people because many of the old people frankly don’t know what they’re doing, even though they may look awfully good writing in The New York Times or being watched on television.” Here we are, a year later. Did he mean it?

The core of Trumpism was defined by opposition to globalism, to open borders, to unfair trade, and to endless war without any clear American interest. As I stated shortly after the election, the key to Trump’s success in the first 100 days would depend on how far he kept the neocons from access to power, and how much he relied on men like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, the men who defined that Trumpian vision during the campaign. It seemed clear that they knew what they were up against, and how hard they would have to fight to accomplish…well, anything.

But now it seems that Trump isn’t listening as carefully as he once did to the people who got him elected. Instead, somewhat understandably, he seems to have turned to family members, bringing them closer into his inner circle; family members who may be well intentioned, but who do not seem to understand or ascribe to the Trumpian vision espoused by Donald Trump consistently during the campaign.

Having a variety of viewpoints in the White House isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the more pro-globalist Kushner cadre appears to be making a concerted effort to isolate and undermine the populist-nationalist thinkers who helped Trump define his campaign promises and policies. By demoting Bannon and promoting Kushner, Ivanka, and Dina Powell, Trump seems to have embraced the very ideas that we thought he had destroyed.

The meaning of Trump’s candidacy was clear. The meaning of his presidency is at stake.

At the 2016 Republican National Convention, Peter Thiel exclaimed, “Instead of going to Mars, we went to the Middle East.” If Trump further involves America in the Syrian civil war, this is precisely what will happen to his own agenda for greatness. The Trumpian dream will vanish after one brief shining moment. Flight 93 will have become a reality.

No revolution is pure. Those who cry “Revolution betrayed!” are often unrealistic purists. Once you actually ascend to power, certain realities set in. But let’s have total clarity on this point: personnel is policy, and Trump wasn’t elected by people who wanted regime strikes in Syria and brinksmanship with Russia. Americanism, not globalism, was our credo.

If he continues to freeze out Bannon et al, he’ll receive accolades from the press, like Bush in 2004, but only for a while. The ecstasy over a new humanitarian war will fade, just as it does with any other fad. Eventually, he’ll have to win another election. And he’ll have to run on, and answer, a few simple questions: did he keep his promises? Did he put America first? Did he close the borders? Did he keep us out of senseless wars?

Or was he just another Bush?

2016 Election • America • Congress • History • Section 1 • The Constitution • The Courts • The Leviathian State

The Filibuster as the Bastard Child of Aaron Burr

Neil Gorsuch will be the next Justice to serve on the Supreme Court. This is no longer in doubt. The use of the filibuster to block the will of the majority of the Senate is dead. To some observers, this is a tragic commentary on our polarized politics. But the truth about the filibuster’s origin is that it has mainly been used as a tool of the minority to subvert the will of the majority.

The confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch as a Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States would not have been controversial in almost any other era. Judge Gorsuch has an impeccable record, and an exemplary rating from the American Bar Association. He has authored no inflammatory writings or penned any previous decisions that can properly be described as embarrassing or demonstrating a reason for his exclusion from the court. His nomination should have been a slam dunk. But these are not ordinary times.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York led the effort to filibuster the nomination of Judge Gorsuch. Gorsuch was filibustered not because of any real objection to his qualifications, as Schumer was part of the 97-0 vote that confirmed Gorsuch when he was appointed to his position on the Court of Appeals, but out of a spirit of spite and revenge. Democrats are angered by the Republican leadership’s decision to refuse to consider President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.

Republicans are certainly not without blame for the hyper partisanship in Washington. During the 110th Congress, the Democratic-controlled Senate set a record with 139 filibusters. Most of these filibusters were delaying tactics by Republicans to stall the policies of President Obama, including holding up 59 of his executive branch nominees and 17 judicial appointments. The point to take away is that on both sides of the aisle, Senators have exploited procedural oddities to deny majority will in the legislature. Democrats reacted to these actions with the so-called “nuclear option” to end the use of the filibuster in all confirmations, save Supreme Court nominations. That motion passed on November 11, 2013 by a vote of 52-48 in the Democratic-controlled Senate under Harry Reid, thus changing the Senate rules. The motion was opposed by all 45 Republicans, as well as three Democrats.

In retrospect, the move set a good precedent. Regardless of whether or not President Obama’s or President Trump’s nominees are the best-qualified choices according to some abstract notion of correctness, or whether they are above petty partisanship, elections are supposed to matter. The President is constitutionally entitled to appoint who he thinks best, along with the “Advice and consent” of the Senate. Neither Obama, nor Trump, hid their political beliefs in 2012 or 2016. The American people had a clear understanding of what each man stood for, and a majority of the nation decided that each man in his turn was best choice available to them to lead the nation, and the will of the nation should be respected by their representatives in the Senate.

With the Schumer-led filibuster of the Gorsuch nomination, the Republican leadership opted to take what the Democrats did in 2013 one step further and to end the use of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Many Democrats with short memories are bemoaning this move as unjustified, extraordinary, and are accusing the Trump administration of subverting the Constitution. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s first examine the filibuster’s origin. The filibuster is not in the Constitution. It was not the intention of the founders to create a filibuster to allow unlimited debate and deliberation in the Senate. Article 1, section 5 of the Constitution includes only two relevant provisions. It allows majority quorums to do business, and empowers each house of Congress to makes their own rules regarding their proceedings. The fact that the Senate and House can change their rules by simple majority was confirmed in the Supreme Court’s United States v. Ballin decision in 1892.

In fact, the filibuster owes its origins to one of the most unsavory characters in American history, Aaron Burr. The rules of the Senate in the 1st Congress allowed members to move to the previous question; essentially allowing each member the power to end debate in the chamber and move on. Burr, presiding over the Senate as Vice President in 1805 (shortly after his infamous killing of Alexander Hamilton in a duel), advocated in favor of eliminating that rule, which he regarded as unnecessary and redundant. The Senate then changed the rule during the following year in 1806. This rule change unintentionally created the filibuster by denying any individual Senator the ability to end debate. This allowed any Senator to hold the floor as long as he was willing and able.

We know the filibuster’s creation was unintentional, as it took more than 30 years for the minority to figure out how to use it as in the way we have come to recognize it as a tool at their disposal to delay passage of measures of which they disapprove. In 1837, Senate supporters of Andrew Jackson sought to have his censure for withdrawing federal funds from the Bank of the United States erased from the record. The Jacksonians held up debate until the opposition caved after midnight and allowed a vote. The motion then passed by a vote of 24-19, removing the censure. In 1841, we see the first organized effort to use the filibuster as a weapon to prevent consideration of a bill. Again, it was the Jacksonians who used the tool—in this case to stop a bill from Whig Senator, Henry Clay, to re-establish the National Bank. Clay eventually withdrew his bill. Shortly thereafter, in 1842, the House of Representatives changed their rules to limit debate, thus ending the filibuster in that chamber. From that point forward, it became a unique characteristic of the Senate.

In the popular consciousness, we cannot help but think about Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of the heroic Senator Jefferson Smith railing against corruption in his filibuster during the climax of the classic 1939 film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The reality of the filibuster, however, is much darker. Filibusters were used repeatedly by a minority of Southern Senators to hold up numerous bills, approved by majorities in the House and supported by majorities in the Senate, that were intended to protect the rights of minorities. Anti-lynching bills were denied a vote in the Senate by filibusters in 1922, 1935, and 1938. Anti-poll tax bills were defeated by filibuster in 1942, 1944, and 1946. South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond was the real-life Jefferson Smith, holding the Senate floor for 24 hours and 18 minutes; not to fight corruption, but to hold up the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Even the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which eventually passed was held up 57 days by a coalition of Southern Democrat Senators. There were a total of eleven times that bills seeking to stop racial discrimination were held up by filibuster between 1946 and 1975.

Since the Democratic leadership in the Senate insisted on using the filibuster to hold up the President’s indisputably qualified nominee for the Supreme Court, the time has finally come to end the filibuster in the Senate, at least as it applies to Court appointments. The end of this quirk of the Senate is no end to the great vision of the founders of the American Republic. It is no extraordinary move to subvert American democratic ideals. The filibuster, the bastard child of Aaron Burr and the favorite weapon of segregationists,  has finally died its long-overdue death.

America • American Conservatism • Americanism • Declaration of Independence • Defense of the West • Harry Jaffa • Leo Strauss • Lincoln • Michael Anton • political philosophy • Section 1 • The Constitution • The Culture

Rod Dreher, Meet Leo Strauss and Friends

Leo Strauss

Rod Dreher has discovered an exotic tribe known as the Straussians.

Dreher, in case you’re not aware, is a blogger at The American Conservative and is the author of several books, including his newest and much-hyped The Benedict Option. Prior to landing his own blog at TAC, he worked at National Review, was an editor and columnist at The Dallas Morning News, and then worked at the John Templeton Foundation outside of Philadelphia as its publications director.

Dreher’s discovery, and a sudden onset of severe Straussophobia, occurred after a recent talk at Benedictine College where he encountered a student of the late Harry Jaffa, Susan Traffas. (Traffas wrote her PhD dissertation under Jaffa’s tutelage, which was later published as Jerusalem and Athens: Reason and Revelation in the Works of Leo Strauss.) Professor Traffas, says Dreher, was very critical of the Benedict Option concept and described herself as “a die-hard Straussian.” Dreher copped to not “know[ing] a lot about political theory,” and to therefore being unfamiliar with Straussians. But, never fear. He did some digging. After apparently taking a whole fifteen minutes to read through an essay on a website of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute about how different groups of conservatives view the American Founding, he came up with this sweeping claim:

Assuming that this is an accurate characterization of the Straussian view, it explains in part why so many politically oriented conservatives (not only those who affirmatively identify as Straussian) react strongly against the Benedict Option. America is not a state so much as it is a religion. To give up on the liberalism that created this creedal nation is, to use New Testament language about the Church, to allow the gates of Hell to prevail against America. It would invalidate their political religion. Therefore, they cannot admit the possibility that the American experiment might be failing, or can fail.

There is so much to be said about these and so many other casual assertions that Dreher makes in this piece, I am not sure where to begin.

East vs. West Revisited

First, Dreher misses a crucial distinction apparent even in the ISI essay he claims to have studied. It is West Coast Straussians, and not necessarily Straussians in general, who tend to view the American Founding as a high achievement both politically and philosophically. But before delving into particulars, we must back up a bit to get a larger view of the Straussian genealogy.

As a quick primer, the term “Straussian” refers to students and admirers of Leo Strauss, the German émigré who revived the teaching of political philosophy in the twentieth century. Whatever their differences, Straussians see that the study of political philosophy is still possible because great questions such as “Who rules?” and “What is the purpose of a just regime?” are always relevant to political life. The lessons of the great texts of philosophy such as Aristotle’s Ethics or John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government are always available to us because the truth of an idea does not hinge upon when or where or by whom it was first articulated. This is because truth, right and wrong, just and unjust, exist by nature—which Strauss opposed to the reigning orthodoxies of his day: historicism, positivism, and nihilism (hence the title of his most famous work, Natural Right And History).

A split emerged between Strauss’s students in the 1970s specifically over how the American Founding should be viewed, which stems from a more general disagreement about how to understand the relationship between politics and philosophy. The camps were dubbed East and West since they mostly broke down geographically, with West Coasters based mainly in California and East Coasters based in metropolises like New York, Washington, D.C., and Toronto. Today, the monikers East and West are less helpful since many East Coasters reside on the West Coast and vice-versa. As Charles Kesler once remarked in National Review, the “distinction is more a state of mind than of geography.”

West Coast Straussians are students of Harry Jaffa, his students, or his students’ students and can be found at places like the Claremont Institute and Hillsdale College. To generalize for the sake of clarity, West Coasters believe that America is a high and noble regime (Jaffa argued that it was the best regime in the history of Western civilization) because it is concerned ultimately with securing the highest ends of political life, the safety and happiness of its citizens. The American Founders combined the best elements of classical and early modern philosophy, along with biblical revelation, to form a coherent political theory that served the cause of liberty. The cornerstone of the American regime for West Coasters is the Declaration of Independence—especially the principle that “all men are created equal.” Though they see the principles of the Founding as theoretically sound, the Founding in practice was incomplete until the conclusion of the Civil War because of the stain of chattel slavery, which was in clear contradiction with the principle of natural human equality.

In contrast, East Coast Straussians tend to see the American Founding as, in Leo Strauss’s words (quoting Winston Churchill), “low but solid.” Some of the more famous East Coasters are Harvey C. Mansfield, Thomas Pangle, and the late Allan Bloom. America, in their view, is a modern commercial republic that is based upon the utilitarian virtue of acquiring wealth and property rather than more noble virtues or caring for the souls of its citizens. It is a country born of the modern mind of John Locke, whose philosophy was primarily founded upon sheer self-interest and a doctrine of individual rights that lowers the importance of the duties one owes to one’s family, country, and religion. Though lower in its aims, and perhaps even in spite of them, America became a great and prosperous country. Since natural rights are a dubious foundation for the perpetuation of a republic over the span of generations, the touchstone for East Coasters is the Constitution and the institutional constraints it imposes, which act as a stabilizing force against the rights revolution the Founders helped unleash in 1776.

Thomas G. West’s essay on the West-East division, “Jaffa vs. Mansfield,” is essential reading for those interested in a more detailed examination of the fault lines between these groups.

It’s also important to note that ISI is a traditionalist conservative organization that is far more amenable to the views of the East Coasters than West Coasters. Before branding them as heretics, Dreher should check out the Claremont Institute and American Greatness (especially the essays of Michael Anton “Decius”) and get a clear understanding of how West Coast Straussians understand themselves.

Deifying the State?

Dreher intimates that “Straussians” (he means West Coast Straussians) have an “idolatrous faith in the American ideal.” “America,” in the eyes of the West Coasters supposedly, “is not a state so much as it is a religion.”

What counts as “idolatrous” in Dreher’s mind you may ask? According to the section of the ISI website he quotes, it seems to be the idea that “the Declaration is the statement of the fundamental principles on which the regime is founded.” Furthermore, it’s the “special emphasis” West Coasters put “on the second paragraph in which Jefferson declares that ‘all men are created equal.’”

But if looking favorably upon the Declaration and the principle of equality is a sin against God, then America has been corrupt in the worldly sense from the very beginning. Many Americans apart from those who inhabit the fairly small circle of West Coast Straussians have considered the Declaration and the ideas it espouses—especially that of equality—as the bedrock foundation of the American political tradition.

To get clear on terms, equality in the Founders’ sense means simply this: Unlike a colony of bees in which a queen rules her drones by nature, there are no natural rulers of men. As it is expressed in the Declaration, the principle of equality recognizes that regardless of race, sex, ethnicity, or religion, human beings are free to order their lives as they see fit.

Abraham Lincoln described the place of equality in the American mind this way:

Public opinion, on any subject, always has a “central idea,” from which all its minor thoughts radiate. That “central idea” in our political public opinion, at the beginning was, and until recently has continued to be, “the equality of men.”

In the Founding era, the importance of the Declaration and equality rightly understood is found virtually at every turn. Eight state constitutions written and ratified in the 1770s and 80s feature language that paraphrase “all men are created equal.” For example, the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, which was written by future president John Adams, states in Article I, “All men are born free and equal.” Similarly, the Constitution of Virginia of 1776 contends that “all men are by nature equally free and independent.”

Jefferson, writing to George Washington in 1784, argued that “the foundation on which all [the state constitutions] are built is the natural equality of man.” In a letter to Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration who would later serve as James Madison’s Vice President, John Adams called equality “our first principle.”

Regarding the importance of the Declaration, at the top of a list of foundational core documents for the curriculum of a proposed law school, James Madison named the Declaration of Independence as among the “best guides” on the “distinctive principles of the Government of [Virginia], and that of the United States.” Frederick Douglass called the Declaration the “ring-bolt to the chain of [the] nation’s destiny” and argued that the “principles contained in that instrument are saving principles.” President Calvin Coolidge noted in his speech on the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration that it laid out “immortal truths” which would “liberate America” and “ennoble humanity.”

It’s difficult to understand how seeing the Declaration as the cornerstone of the American regime and its pronouncement of natural human equality as important to the meaning of America is somehow beyond the bounds of proper patriotism. Dreher, admittedly, isn’t too familiar with the Founders’ political theory (in his 2006 book Crunchy Cons, he butchers the Founders on religion and mangles a John Adams quote all in the span of two pages) so perhaps it’s not surprising he thinks along these lines.

Rod Dreher, Meet Decius

Dreher’s argument that West Coast Straussians would be aghast at conceding “that the American experiment might be failing, or can fail” is quite frankly absurd.

The irony in Dreher’s blind broadside against West Coasters in this instance is that West Coast-influenced places such as The Journal of American Greatness, American Greatness, and the newly established journal American Affairs all share a clear-eyed view of the current degraded state of our regime. In fact, it’s the very concern that “the American experiment might be failing” that served as the foundation of many West Coasters’ arguments for why Americans should elect Donald Trump.

If Dreher had read the writings of Michael Anton with care—especially his famous “Flight 93” essay (which I know Dreher read because he offered a critique of it)—he would know that they are replete with sober acknowledgements of how far we have descended from the Founders’ regime.

Here are some examples from Anton’s many writings that prove this point beyond a shadow of a doubt:

  • The Flight 93 Election” – “If conservatives are right about the importance of virtue, morality, religious faith, stability, character and so on in the individual; if they are right about sexual morality or what came to be termed ‘family values’; if they are right about the importance of education to inculcate good character and to teach the fundamentals that have defined knowledge in the West for millennia; if they are right about societal norms and public order; if they are right about the centrality of initiative, enterprise, industry, and thrift to a sound economy and a healthy society; if they are right about the soul-sapping effects of paternalistic Big Government and its cannibalization of civil society and religious institutions; if they are right about the necessity of a strong defense and prudent statesmanship in the international sphere—if they are right about the importance of all this to national health and even survival, then they must believe—mustn’t they?—that we are headed off a cliff.”
  • Restatement on Flight 93” – “I would also be overjoyed to be persuaded that the country into which I was born, which I have always loved instinctively, and which I was taught to love at the deepest theoretical level, is not in grave peril. Or if it is, that it can be saved even after eight more years of ‘fundamental transformation’—which means administrative state consolidation and managerial class entrenchment.”
  • Not ‘Reactionary’ But Right” – “I believe these are corrupt times and that America is on the downslope of the cycle. I don’t think the situation is yet irredeemable. But it soon may be.”
  • The Telos Crisis” – “My point here is not that we should cease to love America, our home, but simply that the sickness that has overtaken our country, a sickness that has stolen our sense of common national purpose, is quite possibly a sickness unto death.”

Actually, the last point was from a recent blog post written by none other than Rod Dreher. They sound remarkably similar, don’t they?

In fact just last September, Dreher argued that he wasn’t “remotely persuaded by [“The Flight 93 Election”] either, except in its contention that we are at a critical moment in the life of the Republic.” Why Dreher now thinks that West Coast Straussians would never admit that our country is balancing precariously on a precipice is a mystery that would take Sherlock Holmes to solve.

An Argument Between Citizens

Lastly, Dreher’s deeply immoderate rhetorical strategy seems to be to make hasty generalizations based on one-sided information and immediately hurl accusations rather than take part in reasoned reflection and dialogue. To paraphrase his arguments, “I’ve barely ever heard of Leo Strauss, and I hardly have any idea of who West Coast Straussians are, but they are committing heresy against God by deifying the state until someone proves otherwise” is probably not the best way to engage an audience who might actually sympathize with your arguments. This inquisitorial tactic is better at home with the modern approach of launching all-out rhetorical war against one’s political opponents, whereby individuals are said to be “DESTROYED” by the sniping of late night talk show hosts (yet, somehow, the individuals “annihilated” remain on earth to be targeted for future utterances that violate the ruling class’s god of political correctness).

Differences of opinion are, of course, welcome, and one need not accept the positions of West Coast Straussians in order to be counted among the learned. But, to quote Lincoln one last time, marking your opponent to be “shunned and despised” will cause him to “retreat within himself” and “close all the avenues to his head and his heart.” For not even “Herculean force and precision” will “be able to pierce him;” it would be akin to “penetrat[ing] the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw.”
Instead of immediately launching accusations that wither under the most cursory of examinations, Dreher should take some time to familiarize himself with the writings of Harry Jaffa, John Marini, Charles Kesler, William Voegeli, Thomas West, Ronald Pestritto, and others from which he would benefit greatly, even if he may ultimately disagree with their arguments. His regular readers would likely find such a dialogue to be very much worth their while. And those among the Straussian orbit would certainly find his opinions more compelling.

America • Deterrence • Donald Trump • Foreign Policy • Section 1 • Terrorism • Trump White House

Not So Fast: A Note of Caution for the Bipartisan War Party

A screenshot from video footage shot by the Russian state news agency from Al Shayrat airbase in the aftermath of a US air strike on 5 April 2017 Still via TASS

“There’s a new sheriff in town.” That’s what David Ignatius said on Morning Joe in response to overnight cruise missile strikes on a Syrian airfield as punishment for using chemical weapons against his own people. John McCain, who hasn’t had a kind word for the President since, well, ever, purred his approval noting that Trump’s national security team is the best in American history.

The bipartisan war party (“BWP”) is feeling good sensing in the missile attack on Syria that President Trump is changing direction. Gone are the days of an America First foreign policy that asks first the question, “How does this protect the American people and their interests?” They sense that the moral imperialism of the Bush years and its concomitant military adventurism are back and with it their return to status and power. In short, they think Trump won the election but that Washington won the peace. It’s been known to happen, but some circumspection is in order.

Sorry BPW, but one missile strike does not mean a new U.S. war in the middle east. And the Trump administration officials that McCain was praising have been very clear about that the president’s Syria policy is true to his campaign promises. In fact, just last week U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, said “You pick and choose your battles. And when we’re looking at this, it’s about changing our priorities, and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out. Our priority is to really look at how do we get things done, who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria.”

The Military Times reports that, “White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the U.S. approach was being driven by a new ‘reality’ and that Assad’s future had to be a decision for the Syrian people. Similar statements were made earlier by U.S. Cabinet members speaking in Ankara, London, and at the United Nations.”

So what does the missile strike mean? Trump supporters are concerned that it signals a return to the neoconservative globalism they roundly rejected last year. One can understand the concern. The attack on Syria is getting good reviews from all the wrong people. NeverTrumper Max Boot is happy. So is Anne Marie Slaughter, a former high ranking official at the State Department under Hillary Clinton who tweeted: “Donald Trump has done the right thing on Syria. Finally!!”

Meanwhile Trump supporters remember that it was Donald Trump himself who tweeted in 2013 that “The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria—big mistake if he does not!” That remains true today, if this strike represents part of a bigger shift in policy. But at this point there is no reason to believe that is the case.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last week, “I think the status and the longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”

Yet, chemical and nuclear weapons represent a unique threat and while the United States was under no obligation to act, this strike can be seen as statement against the use of weapons of mass destruction. And it is certainly in the national security interests of the United States to see that the use and proliferation of such weapons is not normalized.

Underscoring this, Secretary Tillerson reiterated U.S. policy Friday morning in light of the military action in Syria: “I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or posture relative to our military activities in Syria today. There has been no change in that status.”

Nor does there appear to be any increased appetite for entangling foreign conflicts more generally. Drawing a line—red or otherwise—on the use of chemical weapons does not necessarily indicate a broad change in policy or philosophy. The temptation among the political and pundit class to draw straight line extrapolations from every event is overwhelming yet more often than not leads to false conclusions. It was not so long ago that the same pundits who see the Syria attack as a sign of more to come were telling us that the president who ordered it would never see the inside of the White House. Their crystal ball has been proven to be a bit foggy.

Remember also the broader geopolitical context of this attack. It occurred just before President Trump was set to meet with Chinese Premier Xi about, among other things, North Korean nuclear weapons. And while we don’t want to be drawn into another winless war in the Middle East we do want to remind the world that America’s commitment to peace through strength is more than just rhetoric.

What’s more, this strike may serve a shrewd political purpose. It further blunts the baseless yet oft-repeated charge that Trump is somehow beholden to Vladmir Putin and it has caused some of his strongest critics to offer unstinting praise. Elliot Abrams wrote in The Weekly Standard, “the Trump administration can truly be said to have started only now” and that President Trump “finally accepted the role of Leader of the Free World.”

The fact Abrams and his colleagues only see Trump as fully president when he is waging war abroad speaks volumes about their politics and the critique that Trump and many who support him made of them.

But if, in the afterglow of last night’s cruise missile attacks the BWP sees a return to the Bush era status quo I would urge them caution. And if for the same reason Trump supporters fear betrayal I would urge them patience: A single missile attack need be nothing more than that. To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

2016 Election • Deep State • Democrats • Donald Trump • Intelligence Community • Russia • Section 1 • The Leviathian State • The Media • The Resistance (Snicker) • Trump White House

The Grand Old Banana Republic

Name the country that I am describing: A popular political figure rises to power in the midst of a contentious period of division. He espouses great aspirations and represents a break with a past mired in corruption, deceit, and war. Upon assuming power, this leader expands the size and scope of the government—aggregating ever greater power to himself—all in the name of “saving” the country. Meanwhile, the country’s debt is exploding on wasteful spending and its currency is increasingly devalued. Even still, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The middle-class, such as it was, contracts precipitously as citizens are increasingly forced to depend upon government handouts in a seemingly endless cycle.

The once popular leader is quickly beset by scandal. Soon, charges of corruption and cronyism are lobbed against the leader and his apparatchiks. The government is used to spy on its own citizens, targets political opponents, and bails out failing industries that are supportive of the leader and his political party. Oh, and the country engages in increasing levels of ill-conceived warfare abroad. Meanwhile, economic freedom in the country plummets to all-time lows. The government then misuses its power to enforce unpopular edicts that are anathema to the country’s constitution.

While I have just described what happens in every banana republic that populates the developing world, I have also just described the Obama administration. Barack Obama promised us he was a new kind of leader (despite having only ever worked as a political activist, itinerant academic, or a politician in his adult life). Looking back over his eight years in office, and fresh off the heels of what now appears to be a surveillance scandal beyond all imagined proportions, former President Obama then had the nerve to state that his was a “scandal free” administration.

Yet, from the start it was clear that Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress had little care for the constraints of constitutional governance. Rather, they cared mainly for acquiring and leveraging power for the purpose of advancing their progressive agenda. After all, these individuals are collectivists, but they are also statists. Just look at the type of scandals that characterized the Obama Administration. We had the illegal Department of Justice-sponsored gun-running scandal (Fast and Furious), the weaponizing of the IRS for the purpose of targeting conservative activist groups in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential election, and then there was the unconstitutional Obama executive order granting amnesty to scores of illegal immigrants to the country.

Remember, Mr. Obama is the man who arrogantly promised to run the country with a “pen-and-phone” if the Republicans did not tow his line. This is the guy who had Susan Rice, his National Security Adviser, lie to the public numerous times about what happened during the Benghazi Attack of 2012 that claimed the lives of American personnel—including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. Rather than admit that it was a terrorist attack, the Obama Administration blamed it on an innocent American man in California who made a YouTube video that was “disrespectful” of the Prophet Muhammad. That poor man now sits in prison.

Now it has been revealed that President Donald J. Trump and his team were targeted by President Obama’s national security team almost from the start of their campaign. Recently, a former Obama Pentagon official, Dr. Evelyn Farkas, admitted that she was aware of an ongoing Obama Administration effort to collect as much intelligence on the Trump team as possible.

Meanwhile, FBI Director James Comey told Newsweek that he wanted to release information about the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation on the Trump team as early as last summer. According to Comey, Mr. Obama ordered him to hold on to the information. The reason for that order should be obvious: 1) Mr. Obama and his national security team did not want his legacy tarnished by the fact that he was spying on his potential successor, 2) Mr. Obama knew that there was no actionable evidence linking either Mr. Trump or his senior advisers to Russia, and 3) Like everyone else, Mr. Obama assumed that Hillary Clinton was going to win the presidency in a landslide…why obscure her message?

Now that the Democrats have lost and President Trump is set to undo most of Obama’s legacy, the Democrats and their allies in the national security bureaucracy, the Mainstream Media, and academia are on the warpath. It was also confirmed that the Obama Administration’s National Security Adviser, Susan Rice (the woman who lied in public about the Benghazi attacks in 2012), had repeatedly demanded that she see the raw intelligence on the Trump team. Rice was given access to the names of American citizens who met with Russian officials—some of whom were Trump associates. It is this information that has been leaked to the press and that is aimed at delegitimizing the Trump victory. After all, as Evelyn Farkas conceded on Morning Joe, the Obama allies are trying their best to “preserve the sources and methods” that were used to surveil the Trump people (by leaking purportedly damning information to the press at politically inconvenient times for the Trump Administration).

So, in effect, the outgoing administration used state power to wage unremitting partisan warfare on its domestic political rivals. This is all aimed at neutering the Trump Administration’s ability to govern, thereby protecting many of the Obama era’s victories, and setting the stage for the DNC to defeat Trump and the GOP in the upcoming 2018 and 2020 elections. Using state power to undermine and defeat your political rivals is also another hallmark of a banana republic.

For President Trump to have a chance at effectively governing, he needs to start firing a large cohort of government employees and either shutting down or repurposing their agencies. He should also request significantly reduced budgets for most government departments. Meanwhile, if the press continues its disgusting and partisan attack, the Trump Administration should threaten to revoke their FCC licenses. The press and much of the bureaucracy has taken an unconstitutional stand. In the name of the Grand Old Republic, the Trump Administration must fight to preserve our institutions (and our constitutional government) from the excesses of totalitarian Statists run amok.

If the line is not drawn here; If drastic and long-lasting actions are not taken in defense of our republic, then the country will be relegated to simply being a giant banana republic.