Donald Trump • Post • Technology • the Flag • The Left

Defending Free Speech Is More Important Than Flag Burning Ban

Just as Americans are beginning to be persuaded that corporate leftists are attempting to censor the speech of those on the political Right, President Trump wants to ban a form of free expression.

In a Saturday tweet, Trump praised Senator Steve Daines’ amendment to make it illegal to burn the American flag.

It’s not clear what prompted the Montana Republican to propose such a bill. There is no epidemic of flag burnings and no recent major demonstration, apart from the odd Antifa protest in Portland or Oakland, has featured this ugly practice. Can you remember the last time you saw an American burn a flag?

Yet, for whatever reason, this has become a major concern for the Trump Administration. At a moment when the president is needed in the fight for free speech, he appears instead to encourage certain suppression of it.

Some of the arguments for the flag burning ban sound vaguely similar to the ignorant screeds of social justice warriors.

Blexit leader Candace Owens said if she were president, she would strip flag burners of their citizenship and give it instead to “LEGAL immigrants.” Owens said a flag-burning ban was right because the First Amendment doesn’t protect all speech, suggesting that falsely yelling fire in a crowded theater and uttering hate speech against minorities are not covered by the First Amendment.

Leftists who urge tech giants and colleges to censor conservatives make essentially the same claims. “Hate speech isn’t free speech” is a leftist rallying cry to silence those who challenge progressive orthodoxy.

You could easily see a leftist demand immigration restrictionists have their citizenship revoked and given to foreign nationals. That leftist would also claim the First Amendment doesn’t cover alleged hate speech in her desire to rid America of those who want immigration reduced.

Like alleged hate speech, flag burning is and ought to be constitutionally protected.

The U.S. Supreme Court 30 years ago ruled it unconstitutional to ban flag burning. The unquestionably conservative Justice Antonin Scalia concurred with that ruling. “If I were king, I would not allow people to go about burning the American flag. However, we have a First Amendment, which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged,” Scalia said in a 2012 CNN interview. “Burning the flag is a form of expression. Speech doesn’t just mean written words or oral words . . . Burning a flag is a symbol that expresses an idea.”

There are sensible reasons why you wouldn’t want Americans burning the flag. It’s a cherished national symbol that represents the many men and women who died for it. Patriots should naturally detest the act and those who would dare desecrate such a glorious symbol.

Legal scholar Stephen Presser articulated a reasonable case for a ban earlier this week. In Presser’s view, flag burning is more akin to an “inarticulate grunt” than actual speech. It only seeks to “sow discord” and incite rather than articulate an opinion.

While it is true that flag burnings are deplorable provocations, this same argument could be applied to a wide spectrum of free expression. Liberals could say right-wing memes are not articulate speech and amount to incitement. Thus, we need to ban those, too. Any opinion a liberal labels “hateful” could fall under the “not articulate speech” category.

In short, conservatives risk fortifying left-wing totalitarianism with arguments for the flag-burning ban.

However well-meaning a flag-burning ban may be, 2019 is not the time to fight over it. There are several other pressing issues more deserving of the limited political capital Trump and the Republicans have going into 2020, such as Big Tech censorship.

Trump has tweeted that he is monitoring the situation, but he has done nothing about it. The same goes for most congressional Republicans. A bill was finally proposed this week by Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) that would amend communications law to insist platforms operate as neutral forums. That’s a good first step, but much more needs to be done. Congress can’t let tech giants potentially sway the 2020 election with censorship and biased algorithms. Trump and Republicans need to back Hawley’s bill and look at other methods—such as hearings on Big Tech’s election interference—to tackle the problem.

Confronting Big Tech censorship is far more pressing than a flag-burning ban. These platforms operate as the town squares of our time. Nearly half of Americans get their news from social media. Those same Americans share their opinions on social media every day and those discussions drive the national conversation.

If you’re barred from social media, you’re effectively unpersoned. This has happened to numerous conservative personalities—and it’s only getting worse.

YouTube’s recent purge underscores this point. Dozens of channels were suspended and demonetized simply because journalists were upset that conservatives were allowed a platform on YouTube. Left-wing journalists still are not satisfied, and they will demand more blood in the future.

The Right can’t operate in the 21st century if it doesn’t have access to the digital town square.

A few liberal billionaires now shape the discourse and determine what views are acceptable.

The threat Big Tech poses is far worse than a gaggle of Antifa cowards burning the flag on a Portland street corner.

The flag ban proposal undermines the Right’s mission to protect free speech. Conservatives must fight against censorship within Big Tech and college campuses. Trump signed an executive order in March that would block federal funding to public universities that fail to protect free expression. It looks hypocritical to complain about the speech suppression of tech giants and liberal university deans when you want to outlaw a legal form of speech.

Defending the flag ban would require its advocates to make the same arguments as those advanced by Candace Owens. Conservatives unwittingly would be supporting the arguments of tech censors and university administrators. Rather than owning the few commies who burn the flag, conservatives would just own themselves.

Acknowledging the legality of flag burning does not make one a supporter of that awful act. It simply means you know the law and believe the protection of free speech is more important than punishing a handful of kooks.

Photo Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

America • Donald Trump • Post • the Flag • The Left

The Flag Protection Amendment and American Greatness

One of the great characteristics of Americans is their candor. Among the reasons we declared independence from what we believed to be the excesses of a corrupt British monarchy and aristocracy was our contempt for pretense, deference, and pomposity. We believed, instead, in simple virtue and simple values such as truth, decency, honesty, temperance, and humility.

Democrats and their increasingly dominant progressive wing fail to understand that Donald Trump has been an extraordinary champion of these traditional virtues, and he proved it again with his warm embrace of the Flag Protection Amendment, which has recently been reintroduced into Congress by Senators Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.).

The text of the amendment is simple and succinct: “Congress shall have the power to prevent the physical desecration of the flag of the United States,” but it strikes at the heart of contemporary progressivism, with its belief in what psychologists are wont to call “self-actualization,” but more astute observers have always known to be “unbridled license.”

Somehow our culture became so twisted that by 1989, a majority of the Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson declared that burning the flag (or shredding it, or defecating or urinating on it—all behavior formerly prohibited by state and federal law) was simply a form of “speech,” protected by the First Amendment.

It wasn’t always so. Earlier, respected liberals such as Earl Warren and Hugo Black had taken the position that flag desecration was obviously harmful action—not speech—and that there was no constitutional problem with prohibiting it. As Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote in a brilliant dissent in Texas v. Johnson, “flag burning is the equivalent of an inarticulate grunt or roar that, it seems fair to say, is most likely to be indulged in not to express any particular idea, but to antagonize others.”

How could it be that five members of the Supreme Court, including the late Justice Antonin Scalia, failed to see that? How could it be that this slim majority thought a protester’s purported right to attack a venerated national icon trumped the right of other Americans to preserve pristinely the symbol of what binds us together?

The answer, it would seem, was an unwise cultural shift, which made too many Americans believe that individual expression was the highest good, and that older notions—notions important in our founding, such as respect for the community, self-sacrifice, and altruism—were of lesser moment.

In 1989, many veterans’ and other civic organizations combined in something called the Citizens’ Flag Alliance (CFA), in order to push for a constitutional amendment overruling Texas v. Johnson, or, as some us privileged enough to work with the CFA argued, simply to correct the Supreme Court majority’s incorrect reading of the First Amendment.

The Flag Protection Amendment was the result, and it quickly garnered the required two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives, and it came within one vote of passing the Senate, but it was defeated by several Republican votes, including that of Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is something of a First Amendment absolutist. To his credit, for example, McConnell believes that laws regarding campaign contributions are a violation of the First Amendment. Unfortunately, he couldn’t grasp the argument that an “inarticulate grunt” is not speech.

Trump, with his characteristic shrewd insight, understands the difference between a harmful act calculated to sow discord and actual articulate speech. Anything that a flag desecrator wishes to say can be put into words, meaning there is no restriction on speech in protecting the flag.

Why is that so difficult to understand? Why, indeed, did so many liberals and progressives in the original battle to pass the Flag Protection Amendment see a profound constitutional threat? Those of us who argued for the amendment three decades ago were often smeared as something akin to fascists, as if the hallowed right to besmirch the national symbol was not something that had only sprung into existence in 1989.

Why was it that only three law professors—Robert Nagel of Colorado, Richard Parker of Harvard, and yours truly—were willing openly to lend our support to the CFA’s efforts?

The ideology of “anything goes” hyper-individualized liberalism is certainly an explanation, but so is the notion that allowing any object to be sacred is somehow dangerous. There was (and I daresay remains) opposition to the amendment based on the notion that to prohibit desecration of the flag is, in effect, to establish a national religion, an establishment barred by the First Amendment’s religion clauses. To forbid the desecration of the flag would violate freedom of religion. Or so the argument runs.

This is, of course, complete nonsense. Prohibiting flag desecration is not flag worship; it is simply a recognition that there are some things that any society worth dying for is entitled to hold sacred.

Perhaps when a progressive sees a flag, he sees something that can be trashed to score political points. But for many veterans and their families, and for many other patriotic Americans, some of whom still tear up when they watch the stars and stripes go by, the flag represents what binds us together as a nation and particularly the sacrifices of the men and women who have given life or limb in the service of our country.

For those Americans—and Donald Trump has now placed himself among them— it is important that the Constitution be understood as a repository of duties as well as rights, as a charter of community as well as a guarantee of liberty and freedom. This is what the Flag Protection Amendment seeks to do.

When the newly self-conscious people of the United States broke with Britain in 1776, we were not rejecting everything we gained from our British heritage. We thought that the British government had become corrupt, but we thought that the English Common Law, with its protections for persons and property, ought still to be the foundation of our Republic, as it came to be.

English Common Law, as Blackstone demonstrated (and Blackstone was the best-selling legal authority in the new American republic for many years) was based on a firm religious foundation. Indeed—as the Americans recognized at the founding and Justice Samuel Chase articulated in 1803, the idea that there can be no order without law, no law without morality, and no morality without religion was inherent in the English and American legal tradition.

Perhaps there is a religious aspect to preventing desecration of the flag but, if so, it is no more than a necessary recognition that something sacred exists about America itself—something worth protecting and preserving. Is it too much to suggest that passage of the Flag Protection Amendment not only would correct an error of the Supreme Court, but would help make America great again?

Photo Credit: Vragovic/Tampa Bay Times/Getty Images

KBO • the Flag

A Day for America

Thousands of flags pierce the earth, filling hundreds of acres of greenery with staffs of bronze and spears of gold, until every headstone and cross of stone, until every Star of David and star and crescent has a flag, until the land looks like a miniature battlefield; not a scene for Lilliputians, but a burial ground for giants, where heroes rest. Of many faiths, and some of no known name or faith except one: American.

Our war dead did not die for all nations. They did not die to honor the United Nations. They died on behalf of one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all—which is why we spend the day on our hands and knees, planting rows of American flags, not U.N. flags.

Our flag represents a creed, to which we pledge allegiance, irrespective of race or religion. An oath to protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. A declaration against fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereign. A promise by We the People, to all people born in America, to all people who seek to earn the right to be Americans, that we shall not meanly lose the last best hope of earth.

Our rights may not be self-evident to the enemies of America, in or outside the borders and territories of America. But history proves that we will fight to do right, that we will die with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right until all Americans are free to exercise their rights.

Our soil is free, not because of laws alone but because of what it takes to assure the survival and the success of liberty: life itself.

What our dead achieved, no man can undo.

Photo credit: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Big Media • Economy • Infrastructure • Post • Progressivism • the Flag • The Media

But, Seriously . . . Learn to Code

This has been a week of massive layoffs at the online magazines of our era, Huffington Post and BuzzFeed. Having evolved from mere opinion journals, many of their news desks are being removed, perhaps 1,000 of their employees have been pink-slipped, and a flood of self-pitying tweets, which include a combination of calls for sympathy, requests for assistance in a job search, and groveling for financial assistance, have made their way around Twitter.

While most people find unemployment a traumatic experience when it hits them and one that naturally inspires sympathy when it happens to others, in place of that sympathy for these mostly young and very liberal journalists there has instead been a lot of schadenfreude—typically including the following not-so-friendly advice: learn to code.

Even President Trump stuck it to the recently unemployed, tweeting:

If the news concerned any other group of people, I might consider the president’s remarks impolitic and cruel. After all, like many people, I have long been an avid consumer of news and opinion, both in the pre-internet era and online. I even wrote for my high school newspaper, started a conservative journal in college, and now write as an avocation. And I have known people who have been unemployed, and I realize it’s one of the worst things that can happen to a person.

But I feel about as much sympathy for the snarky recently unemployed e-journalists as I do when mafia hitmen and gulag camp guards are out of work. Both of these affected online operations are malevolent cancers on our public life.

Smug Self-Righteousness as Job Description
Fake news is not just a hyperbolic slogan; it accurately conveys what a great deal of the mainstream media is about. Their M.O. consists of peddling half-truths, ginning up lynch mobs, doxing of private citizens for having politically incorrect opinions, and spreading lies to encourage harassment of conservatives.

A representative case is what transpired with the Covington Catholic boys. BuzzFeed received and released a series of carefully curated images and video that were designed to destroy these young men. The public was already well disposed to buy into the narrative, as it consisted of various archetypes that have been part of the leftist kultursmog of TV, movies, and our public education system for many decades, i.e., the noble Indian “elder,” white bully boys in MAGA hats, stalwart suffering Vietnam veterans, and racist Trump supporters. Their school, the dioceses, and the moribund legacy conservative media all bought into the initial spin and issued condemnations. The facts were irrelevant, as was the youth and immaturity of the “perpetrators,” even assuming this fantasy story had happened the way the mob organizers imagined. No restraint or sympathy was present whatsoever. In fact, BuzzFeed’s Anne Peterson attacked Covington student Nicholas Sandmann for the crime of smiling while white.

Whether it was the recent Covington Catholic High School incident, the release of the completely unverified Steele Dossier of 2016, or the organization of a hate campaign against a Chipotle manager falsely accused of racism—these journals and similar publications have caused incalculable harm and almost no good, as they move quickly to condemn anyone or anything that can be shoehorned into being the villain of a leftist narrative. Even more irritating, they do all of these things with the most extreme lack of self-awareness conceivable.

Normally, I do not favor retaliation of any kind for the expression of personal or political opinions. Free speech as a legal matter has little value and will soon disappear if it is not bolstered by a “live and let live” culture of free speech. Moreover, anonymity is important in these times of thin skins and sharp knives, and doxing should not be routine, nor ever used in cases outside of real crimes and threat of violence. But the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed journals do not favor such a culture; in fact, they believe the world is a better place when the Right is harassed, doxed, dehumanized, and “deplatformed.” They are, in effect, the streetfighters, promoting the same multicultural, politically correct ideology as CNN and the New York Times in a more vulgar and reckless way.

Disruption Across the Board
The economy is always changing. Journalism, particularly, is a hard-hit field, and the hard times predate the rise and fall of these purely online journals. The internet moved print journals online, and they have failed to recover lost advertising revenue, having been hit by a combination of fewer subscribers, more widely available online content, and competition from websites unrelated to news and opinion writing diverting potential advertising revenue.

Of course, the internet has been disruptive to other industries as well. Mom-and-pop retail stores have been decimated by the ruthless price efficiencies of the Walmarts and Amazons of the world. Before the internet, factory workers in manufacturing lost many jobs due to the twin pressures of automation and low-cost manufacturing in China, as well as the short-sighted designs of their own unions.

Some of these job losses were also accelerated by public policy, specifically high rates of immigration, free trade policies indifferent to structural unemployment, and Draconian environmental regulations. But the structural unemployment of local retail outlets, factory workers, coal miners, and other “old economy” jobs occasioned little sympathy from the gang at Huffington Post and BuzzFeed.

Their techno-utopianism said this was all for the greater good and that these backwards people from the heartland probably had it coming due to their endemic racism and prejudice. Most unseriously, dozens of articles proposed these out-of-work 50-year-old coal miners and factory workers with high school diplomas “learn to code.” President Obama even endorsed the idea long before it became hate speech on Twitter.

This raises the question, of course, why did these journalists not learn to code already? Could it be that they were not capable or interested in doing it? Or could it be that even this job was too unstable, open to competition from H1Bs who could undercut wages through the simple expedient of a visa? Could it be that these coding jobs failed to leverage their advantages and were subject to wage pressure from young people and women, who are more interested in office work than in coal mining, lumberjacking, and factory work?

Everyone knows unemployment is a bad thing. Remember the maudlin account of the delayed federal workers’ pay? But I can’t forget Hillary’s obnoxious blaming of the victim with her claim that the middle of the country was simply less dynamic, rather than a territory hobbled by the public policies that she and the Huffington Posts and BuzzFeeds of the world championed. “Learn to code” is unrealistic advice, which is precisely why the aggrieved have pushed it back into the faces of the self-pitying laid-off journalists. As one would expect, it was not well received.

“Learn to code” is today’s equivalent of “let them eat cake.” It’s no less obnoxious and unrealistic when conveyed to out-of-work BuzzFeed and Huffington Post writers than it was when originally thrown at  truck drivers, factory workers, and coal miners. But it is so much more deserved.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

America • Americanism • civic culture/friendship • Declaration of Independence • Greatness Agenda • Post • self-government • statesmanship • The Culture • the family • the Flag • The Left

God Bless America—Right and Wrong

On our nation’s 242nd birthday, national holidays are increasingly an occasion for Americans to disparage patriotism. On social media, fringe and establishment voices on Left and Right spew outright cynicism or, at best, a paltry, half-hearted patriotism of sentiment, disconnected from any firm belief in national principle and purpose.

Disregarding the tired clichés promoted by the small-minded spite of our educational establishment and the irresponsibility of our dissolute elites, the truth is that habitual patriotism is better than intentional value-signaling; and even thoughtless patriotism is better than witless cynicism, as cynicism is not a virtue, but the default mode of decadence.

Apathy and snark about politics and political forms are the hallmarks of the worst tendencies of modernity; a sign of the severe decay of the corpse of western political thought. This current distaste for patriotism—made possible by a bloodless corporate globalism and the disgraceful lack of serious political thought in elite education—leads to much that could be called mere “silliness” if the results were not so harmful. And the hollow mainstream value-signaling of the virtue-less is not any worse than the hopeless dirges of the tiny groups of fringe traditionalists or leftists harboring utopian visions of unicorns and rainbows amidst their anger at “modernity” or “liberalism” or whatever.

These tribes are united in their essential impotence.

Claremont Review of Books editor and Claremont Institute senior fellow Charles Kesler opened the Institute’s annual Publius Fellowship program last week with readings that put these hollow voices in context:

“The crisis of the West consists in the West’s having become uncertain of its purpose,” wrote Leo Strauss in 1963. After leaving his native Germany before the rise of the Nazis, the Jewish professor spent the rest of his life helping American students read the great books and ideas of the western tradition, which American education had already begun to neglect.

Alongside this loss of purpose, as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn,the famed Soviet dissident and Nobel Prize winner, told the 1978 Harvard graduating class, “[t]he Western world has lost its civil courage” and this loss is “particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite.”

Ronald Reagan, in his farewell address, remained deeply concerned that the result was that “parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children” and warned us “of an eradication . . . of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.”

Our educated class is taught to use a wry aura arising from an  unconsidered and arbitrary moralism as a shield to evade dealing directly with the serious political questions that undergird the swirling currents of opinion. Paradoxically, they use this shield to avoid looking closely or for long periods at what is moral. As they hold to an ethics of simplistic assumptions about pure ideals, which they think are beyond rational or systematic consideration, they simultaneously develop a habit of political thought that simplistically savages the reality in which we actually live. Our collective ignorance and miseducation thus prevent any serious attempt to think about politics, never mind maintain a healthy political regime.

The net effect is to render cheap and easy cynicism a kind of civic virtue. The “news” becomes something best imbibed ironically through satirical comedic performances. But insofar as citizens deliberately cultivate this breezy ironic posture, we remain divorced from reality and unable to deliberate or evaluate deliberation over politics, thus perpetuating the very problem that caused our cynicism in the first place.

Cynicism is a never-ending, self-fulfilling prophecy of civic decay. What the critics of Trump fail to understand is that he is not buoyed primarily by gullible rubes fooled by carnival barking, but by a cynical public who has completely lost faith in the powers that be — by a cynical public that sees him as a visceral response to hollow, ineffective propaganda they increasingly recognize as such. Many do not wish to follow those they perceive as chestless, apolitical, unspirited pseudo-leaders anymore, but would rather follow Trump—in full knowledge of his defects—rather than follow those who mistakenly believe that they cleverly disguise their own defects.

Americans Are Tired of Being Pawns

Habituated to think that serious political thought is mere condemnation or deconstruction amidst a world of propaganda, we are unaware that this habit of thinking undermines and ultimately eviscerates our own political desires and aims, rendering us pawns in the game — leaving us at the mercy of forces, the existence of which we may be completely unaware. Yet, increasingly, at the end of television’s reign, amidst yet another era of new modes of media, we are all too aware that such forces are trying to manufacture our consent. And, like good Americans, we have begun to rebel.

This is not the kind of “unthinking patriotism” at which our elites are so ready to sneer. That sort of thing is rarer today than our pseudo-educated snobs believe, and, at least, it has the benefit of being a kind of necessary and normal sort of defect.

The intelligentsia loves to think that the many are simple idiots who adopt a “my country right or wrong” mentality even as the commoners generally understand political life in a much more realistic manner. Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, for instance, is a serious work of political philosophy, providing a better definition of politics and patriotism—for good and ill—than much modern political science. Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” is another great case in point. The intelligentsia loves to point out that such works are pure protest, and misunderstood by the poor, benighted, and common people who listen to them with some kind of patriotic feeling. These rubes just don’t get it, they jeer.

The idea that the people who actually had to fight in wars like Vietnam or who daily have interactions with worthless public schools and the bureaucrats who administer them believe in a simple “my country right or wrong” mentality is asinine on its face. They know more of what is “wrong” in the country than the elites who welcome self-criticism only when they think they are above it.

Poll after poll shows most Americans have little faith in their leaders and national institutions, and this faith has declined over time during the post-World War II era. The idea that those who are most affected by the decisions of their leaders every day—those who must live with those results—are simply sanguine ‘Merica lovers is absurd.

In fact, the common understanding you hear in both pieces of music is a bittersweet and nuanced one. You hear the whole of politics—good and evil together—set within the underlying realization that one can’t escape political life and ought not to try. It is a patriotism that understands we live in a painfully imperfect world and nation and yet it is ours, and we love it as we do our family, and it is sometimes painful, sometimes noble, sometimes ugly, but always serious and our love remains.

Love Looks Beyond the Warts

What the common man understands looking up from the ground floor of the regime is that you often can’t do much about the bad decisions of your leaders, especially after they happen, and you have to learn to live with them. But that’s life, which is naturally communal, or political.

Even more significantly, what the common man understands is that what makes the intellectuals possible is a politics that the intellectuals often do not understand—a community that sticks together and protects its own and deals with its many imperfections the best it can precisely because it loves its own. That this love—which is necessary, normal, praiseworthy and good—is often the source of pain when things, inevitably, go awry.

One ought to fight against bearing the weight of injustice, yes, but bearing this weight is also part of political life—and all of human life, really. The political community and its corresponding sentiments of this basic, communal sort are necessary and the ground upon which our increasingly apolitical (even if politically active) intellectual stands, and not only when it comes to tangible, material necessities.

It’s rarely “my country right or wrong” but rather an understanding, however inchoate, that “my country” allows for the basic ground of my existence and even to some extent moral judgment itself. Communal life is rife with imperfection, but it’s all we’ve got. This is why more people than you might think intuitively understand what Gilbert and Sullivan meant by the “idiot who praises with enthusiastic tone/all centuries but this/and every country but their own.”

Charles Kesler puts it this way:

Courage never demands that one be perfect or morally pure, and [Trump] isn’t, so this virtue fit his rhetorical needs and strength. America does not have to be perfect for him to defend her wholeheartedly against her enemies. He does not have to be perfect to seek or to assert the privilege of defending her. Warts and all. It’s necessary only to love her.

Citizens and Intellectuals

The problem with “America First” taken literally without historical baggage is not that it is morally repugnant but that it is redundant. Like saying “Family First.” Far from being immoral, such sentiments are in some sense the basis of morality itself. It is true that we are called to love others: as we love ourselves. You can only love others to the extent you love yourself.

When the masses are asses, their problematic sentiment isn’t normally “my country right or wrong” but “what can we get away with” or “how can I avoid discomfort?” Then again, it’s the same problem for the experts.  Like all humans, they like to act as if they are simply humble lovers of the common good—mere retired investors living on a pension in Florida.

But if the masses are asses, the intellectuals are sophists. Any of the sophists, one gets the sense, would have taken up the offer of his friends and escaped from Athens if the city unjustly sentenced him to death. The city-state, he might say, was clearly decaying as a political form and good riddance to it and all its injustice. My country right, but not wrong.

Socrates, of course, did not do so. He let his country unjustly sentence him to death and willingly accepted the punishment. My country right or . . . wrong? But then again, thankfully for us, he was no intellectual.

We hear more calls from intellectuals for a change to the Constitution and witness a sad lack of confidence in—along with a lack of understanding of—our form of government. Those actively thinking about alternative options, however, should consider: the only way to re-form is through the existing form.

Perhaps we should be thankful that much of the idiocy on display during patriotic holidays is simply ignorance of the past and the positing of fantastical alternatives. You can’t blame them for what they do not know  and have never been taught to consider. It is easier to paint politics in black and white, and speak of intrinsically evil and intrinsically good regimes. It is easier to write it all off and throw it all out due to the growing cancers rather than perform difficult surgeries, especially when you don’t have the right tools or training.

Does anyone? Hell if I know. But we all must do what we can regardless. Sadly, the institutions that ought to provide us those willing to try and lead us forward have failed us. This is why the Publius Fellowship exists. It shouldn’t have to.

Neither should the American people constantly have to defend their own patriotism against arrogant friendly fire.

Don’t give in to the wry arrogance accompanying education and wealth that disdains patriotism. After all, it was your country which gave you that wealth and education. Don’t give in to the quiet whispers or the tortured qualifications that eat away at any real acknowledgment of the genuine good of this stunning land—qualifications based on abstract or romantic and childish assumptions about other times and places. If you want as bad or worse, look closer at history.

If you want better, look closely at our principles (start by reading the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech) and consider how we can better live up to them. If you love this country and your fellow citizens, persuade others, and thank the universe for the opportunity afforded you by your birth or your circumstance: a regime that still yet allows for the possibility that the force of persuasion rather than the force of arms can guide our communal human life.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

America • Center for American Greatness • Donald Trump • Elections • Greatness Agenda • Hillary Clinton • Post • the Flag • The Media • The Resistance (Snicker)

Unforced Errors Drag Down the Greatness Agenda

President Trump’s job approval ratings had been rising for more than six months until last week. His rapid decline from 44.6 percent to 42.2 percent in the Real Clear Politics average cannot be explained by bad economic news or a foreign policy reverse. Quite the contrary: unemployment hit an 18-year low in figures released on June 1 and the summit with North Korea was re-started on the same day.

His ratings probably dropped, therefore, because of two pieces of news that broke June 3-4: Trump’s decision to disinvite the Philadelphia Eagles from a White House ceremony honoring their Super Bowl victory and his assertion that he had the power to pardon himself. This disconnect between public policy successes and Trump’s personal behavior points to the continuing political challenge he faces: how simultaneously to rally his ardent backers while drawing in others currently on the fence.

The Eagles decision likely turned what could have been a political success into a debacle. Had the event gone as planned, the focus would have been on the players who chose not to attend to protest the president. A gracious Trump could have recognized this, noted that many of the boycotting players disagreed with his approval of the new NFL policy barring players from kneeling on the field during the national anthem, and expressed sorrow that they could not overcome their personal feelings to express respect for the nation and their teammates.

The Left would have howled, but polls show that Americans support the new NFL policy. Americans on the fence also tend to think people should respect the office of the presidency even as they hold conflicting views about any particular president himself. Playing it this way would have sent the desired message to his base and to the undecided that he, not the players or the Left, was the bigger man.

Doing precisely the opposite sent exactly the opposite message. Disinviting the Eagles made Trump’s behavior the focus and canceling a visit from the Super Bowl winners just looked like bad manners. This, in turn, focused attention on the NBA finals, where team leaders and superstars LeBron James and Stephen Curry said they wouldn’t want to attend a ceremony honoring their teams either, leading Trump to cancel preemptively any potential celebration for either team. The focus was again on Trump’s behavior rather than on the athletes’.

Some Trump backers might say this approach actually helps him as it shows him fighting back. They might note that polls show over 20 percent of blacks agree with the new NFL policy and that some polls show Trump’s job approval ratings are between 15 and 20 percent among blacks in some polls. While other polls show Trump with the same abysmally low ratings with blacks that most Republican presidents receive, the conflicting evidence suggests that Trump might be making some inroads in the black community. Were he to get 15 percent of the black vote rather than the 8 percent he got in 2016, Democrats’ chances of retaking the Midwestern states Trump won from them would drop dramatically.

The problem is Trump needs to add support among everyone to ensure his re-election and to push through his agenda.

Don’t Talk About a Self-Pardon
If Trump is doing better than expected among blacks but the same compared to other Republican presidents among all other voters, it stands to reason that he is losing support that he could otherwise garner. The sudden drop in his approval rating strongly suggests this is what is happening. This, in turn, suggests that he would be losing potential support from Midwestern whites, wiping out the gains he could obtain from his potential advances among blacks.

Trump’s self-pardon tweets make the identical political error. The voters Trump needs to pick up hold conflicting views on the matter of Mueller’s investigation. Democrats overwhelmingly think that Trump colluded with Russia, that the investigation should continue, and that Trump should be impeached. Voters as a whole, however, only agree that the investigation should continue. They are split on the question of whether Trump colluded with Russia and a clear majority opposes impeachment. Given the massive splits among partisans of both parties on these questions, it’s clear that the vast American middle supports the idea of the rule of law as a primary virtue. As things now stand, that favors Democrats when the question is the continuation of the investigation, but it favors Trump when it comes to the underlying substantive questions.

This is why pushing back on Mueller is helping Trump. Prior to the self-pardon tweet, Trump generally criticized the investigation on substantive matters, pointing out that it has yet publicly to unearth substantial evidence of collusion with Russia. Keeping the focus on Mueller and the Democrats’ inability, thus far, to substantiate the claims often repeated in the media helps make Trump appear to be the victim in the eyes of his partisans and many of those he needs to attract.

Trump’s self-pardon tweets put the focus back on him, and that is not to his advantage. It does not matter that many legal scholars, even those on the Left, concur that he probably does have the constitutional power to pardon himself. His assertion makes him appear, at least to those less versed in the structure of constitutional law, to consider himself to be above the law and that triggers the same values regarding fairness and the rule of law that currently place many Americans on his side regarding impeachment.

Bill and Hillary Clinton understood this very well when they mounted their counterattack after the publication of independent prosecutor Ken Starr’s report. Their carefully crafted counterattack argued that Clinton was the victim of a partisan-motivated witch hunt that was using inflated charges arising out of an ill-advised extramarital affair to unseat a president with whom they disagreed. The American middle rallied to their cause, buying the argument that Clinton was the victim even as they deplored his affair and its consummation in the Oval Office. Democrats gained five seats in the House in that fall’s midterm elections, the first time since 1822 that a president’s party had gained House seats in an election held after that party had held the White House for six years.

Missing the Point
Some Trump backers could argue that the president’s behavior is correct because he is the victim of an unrelenting attempt by his adversaries to use the levers of power they control in the bureaucracy and media to overturn the results of a democratic election. Let’s assume that is correct, for the sake of argument. Trump’s strategy, in this case, ought to be geared toward winning the battle for public opinion, as only that will sustain him. He should argue that he cannot be removed from office through indictment and conviction; only impeachment and removal by the people’s elected representatives can do that. If he retains public support on that ground—that he might be a problematic president or a bad man in the eyes of some, but he does not deserve removal from office—Republican Senators can rest assured they can vote to acquit him and win re-election, much as Democratic Senators did after their votes in the Clinton impeachment trial.

Trump’s detractors say this misses the point, that Trump’s behavior is meant to obstruct the investigation from obtaining the evidence that could lead to his impeachment. Trump’s self-pardon tweet, in this view, is not meant to be a statement about himself but to his associates currently under investigation. If you don’t flip, this line of argument holds the president to be implicitly stating, I will pardon you for the other crimes Mueller is charging you with.

This argument also misses the forest for the trees. Americans view impeachment as a serious matter, to be undertaken only in cases of serious import. If the primary evidence against a sitting president is uncorroborated testimony from people like Manafort and Cohen, I suspect Americans not already convinced of the President’s guilt will be unlikely to go along with impeachment. Americans swung against President Nixon only because the White House tapes gave them evidence in the president’s own words that convinced them he was guilty. President Reagan was able to survive clear evidence of wrongdoing within his administration during the Iran-Contra Affair only because he could credibly claim not to have personally approved or been aware of his aides’ actions. Trump is likely to survive any attempted impeachment absent documents or secret recordings that directly implicate him personally. That would be doubly true if he followed a Clintonesque strategy of castigating the effort as part of a “vast deep state conspiracy” identical in kind to the “vast right-wing conspiracy” that the Clintons vilified in their effort to forestall impeachment.

Abraham Lincoln summed up democratic politics nicely in one of his debates with Stephen Douglas. “In this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed.” The polls in Trump’s case are clear: some of the aggressive tactics that thrill his supporters alienate those whom he could persuade.

Trump himself could prevail in the absence of their support so long as they see him as the lesser of two evils in 2020. Trump’s cause, however, cannot prevail without them. Molding public sentiment should be the primary goal of every Republican president, as Republicans can break through liberal media dominance only when they hold the White House’s bully pulpit and set the public agenda. Trump’s failure consistently to do that remains the central flaw of his tenure, one that threatens to derail the entire agenda.

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America Created the Sino-Russian Threat

Russia and China are forming a dangerous coalition of powers on Eurasia. This is bad for the United States and the world. The great geostrategist, Sir Halford Mackinder, once cautioned his audience to be on the lookout for the rise of a strong military power or an alliance of powers in Eurasia, as that could negatively impact global trade. Eurasia—the landmass of Europe and Asia (connected by the Mideast)—is the most populous region of the world and contains the bulk of the world’s natural resources. It is a critical engine for global trade and prosperity. The largest powers in Eurasia, Russia, and China, are all land-based powers.

It was only in recent decades that both Russia and then China started becoming maritime powers. Even then, the Sino-Russian relationship was fraught and ultimately created a strategic opening for President Richard Nixon to exploit during the Cold War. When the United States moved China into its camp during the Cold War, the Soviet Union was truly isolated globally, and the end was nigh.

For some time, the United States and China maintained affable relations (though China took advantage of the United States, draining it of economic vitality and coming to threaten it militarily today). Meanwhile, Russia continued its inexorable decline. Today, it is a shadow of its former self, though it retains nominal control over a sizable chunk of land and its military gives Russian leaders the ability to complicate American grand strategy (which it does routinely).

Yet, at the end of the Cold War, the world was made anew—or at least it could have been. The Russians wanted to be embraced in the Western camp whereas the Chinese were looking to craft an alternate power center, but did not at that time have the power to create one. After 30 years of diplomatic mismanagement in Washington, D.C., the Russians have been pushed into China’s camp and China has been allowed to become a real threat to the United States.

Never once did American leaders take the time to ask how their actions (or inaction) on the world stage would propel the Russians and Chinese into a closer alliance. Not only that, most American leaders didn’t even care, believing in the bizarre notion that the United States possessed an otherworldly capability to control events everywhere, all at once with its military. It was geopolitical malpractice of the highest order and it was allowed to continue for three decades. Now, the United States is paying the price.

Presently, the Russian Federation is a weak state with a large nuclear arsenal. It has demonstrated limited capabilities for intervening in nearby states and using superior diplomacy to exercise its will across the world, from the Mideast to Africa. The Russian population is unhealthy and dwindling in size, being replaced slowly by Muslims from the south and ethnic Chinese in the Russian Far East. Meanwhile, in the world of United States Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), Russia is a giant gas station masquerading as a country. It sits atop some of the wealthiest reserves of natural gas, oil, and water—Lake Baikal, for instance, is believed to have the largest stores of fresh water beneath its frozen surface.

The Russians have used their position atop this rich vein of natural resources—particularly its access to abundant stores of natural gas and oil—as a geostrategic lever to goad other states into adhering to Russian will. Currently, Europe is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas. The Russians have effectively created linkages with other oil-and-natural-gas-producing states, such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran, to intensify its standing in the Middle East. Also, the Russians sell their resources to the resource-starved China. In many respects, Russia is the geostrategic linchpin of the world order when it comes to natural resources.

Rather than bringing Russia closer to its orbit, the United States spent much of the last three decades alienating and insulting Russia whenever it could. Today, the United States has strict sanctions placed on the Russian economy for their boorish behavior in Ukraine. Unfortunately, though, all that the sanctions have managed to do is to force Russia to move more closely into China’s orbit. Russia is making energy deals with the Chinese (and Indians) to make up for their losses in Europe and the West. Also, the Chinese are providing diplomatic cover to the Russians, as they run roughshod over neighboring countries and throughout the Middle East. Then, of course, the Chinese are using the Russians to solidify their dream of connecting all of Eurasia with the Chinese-dominated Belt-and-Road Initiative.

As the Chinese move east-west with their “new silk road” project, the Russians are moving from the north-south to link Eurasia together that way. Much of this could have been avoided had the United States simply thought through how it would respond to a weakening Russia. Thanks to America’s draconian moves, Russia is now becoming a “partner” to China’s global ambitions and is providing close cover for rogue regimes, such as North Korea and Iran, as they move further in building arsenals of nuclear weapons.

America’s political class—the so-called foreign policy experts—failed this country royally in the post-Cold War era. The United States and Russia should be running the world. Instead, Russia and China are set to destroy the world order. Just wait for China’s petro-yuan project to take full form. Then even the threat of American sanctions directed against Russia, Iran, or North Korea will no longer hold any weight.

If we were smart, the United States would use what leverage it currently has over Russia with the sanctions to negotiate a longer-lasting settlement with Moscow over long-standing conflicts in Europe and the Middle East, and then build off that to stunt the growth of Chinese power in the Pacific. But, time is not on our side and Washington continues to dither.

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Gun Grabbers Deny the Science

Mark Rosenberg, former assistant surgeon general and founder of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control, claimed in Politico recently that there is still too little useful research into how to reduce “gun violence” in the United States. This is the same Dr. Rosenberg who, speaking in his official capacity in 1994, said firearms should be seen as “dirty, deadly—and banned.”  

(For the whole story about the CDC’s anti-gun activism then, see discussions by Timothy Wheeler, MD and Don Kates et al.)

Rosenberg claims “Research efforts had slowly but steadily ground to a halt following the passage of the [1996] Dickey amendment.” The Dickey amendment was a rider on a 1996 omnibus spending bill providing, “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Rosenberg’s claim about the implications of the amendment have always been false. The CDC, the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies have been free to fund research so long as it does not propagandize for gun control, which the CDC pointedly did during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Academics always want greater federal funding for their area of study, but the number of published studies on gun violence has significantly increased since 1996. Only their proportion of all medical research has decreased, which is perfectly reasonable as medical science expands. Even Dr. Rosenberg points out that there are many “. . . public health programs that are viewed as more central and critical to CDC’s mission—fighting infectious diseases like Ebola or influenza and chronic diseases like heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and stroke.”

Dr. Rosenberg says that gun control advocates can seem “so single-mindedly focused on safety that they would happily take all firearms out of civilian hands . . . [while] those who favor gun rights . . . have been conditioned by the NRA leadership to have zero tolerance for any discussion whatsoever about preventing gun violence.” Nonsense! “Gun safety” comprises the knowledge and skills to handle guns responsibly, and has nothing to do with the gun control restrictions that are perpetually in demand by those claiming to want “common sense gun control.” Many would happily deny Americans their right to keep and bear popular, historically legal arms of their choice. It is a distortion of reality to accuse gun owners of being “conditioned” by the National Rifle Association or any other pro-gun group. These groups are successful because they reflect the opinions of millions of Americans, among which include accomplishing background checks on nearly 90 percent of all firearm purchases. Reducing firearm deaths and injuries is important to everyone, and accusing pro-gun organizations and owners of refusing to talk about it is insulting.

What “gun contr . .”—excuse me, “gun safety” [sic] advocates want to accomplish is legislation that would mainly further limit the civil rights of the vast body of over 150 million safe, responsible, law-abiding American gun owners.

The flaw in the public health claim about the need for more research into gun violence is the idea that gun violence can be solved with “the same kind of scientific research that showed us how to save millions of lives from cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure. . . [to] save half a million lives from road traffic crashes, without banning cars. . . [and] that proved that second-hand smoke harms people.” And to compare “gun violence” to the thalidomide tragedy of the 1960s is just noxious.  We’ve addressed these irrelevancies many times at Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, in great detail here.

Guns are inanimate objects controlled by people. With any knowledge at all, they can be dealt with safely despite certain intrinsic risks like misfires. It’s entirely about where they are pointed and, literally, how they are handled. They cause no contagion (it’s psychological), no pathological spread (just illegal acquisition like straw purchases and theft), and no societal threat (except by criminal use). None of this compares to the issues addressed by true public health science, when people living normal lives are unknowingly, even helplessly subject to illnesses and other risks of pathogens, lack of sanitation, and accidental injuries in the workplace and at home.

Deaths (currently something more than 30,000 annually) and injuries (70 – 100,000 annually) by firearms have been in general decline for four decades, even while the stock of civilian owned guns in the United States has increased (up nearly 50% in 20 years).  During that time, our population has increased by about 20 percent, while the gun homicide rate has fallen by nearly 50 percent. By any standard, that is a remarkably, happy reduction of mortality that unquestionably confirms that the number of firearms in circulation does not increase harm, and may well be a factor in reducing it.

Criminologists address homicide and violent crime, mental health researchers seek to understand how to reduce suicidal thinking, and safety education by firearm experts on gun handling and storage options (no one size fits all here) continue to reduce accidents. Sociologists and economists are good at teasing apart societal fundamentals that foster violence as a way of life for poor urban youth, drug gangs, and criminal enterprises—central problems in “gun violence.”  Without our socioeconomically disadvantaged urban crime centers, the United States is one of the safest countries in the world. These are the areas of expertise that can promote further harm reduction. There is simply no useful role for the epidemiological “public health approach.”

Is it true that, as Rosenberg says, “. . . we don’t know whether arming all teachers in a school will save lives or take more lives. We don’t know whether making it easier for people to carry concealed weapons will save lives or result in more deaths. And we don’t know whether banning the sale of semi-automatic rifles will prevent mass shootings or lead to more gun deaths because there will be fewer good guys with a gun to stop the bad guys with guns”?

No, not at all.

We do know that trained, armed school staff has resulted in no harm where it has been established in recent years, and that mass shooters of every variety always target places that are touted to be “gun-free.” We know from studies of permitted concealed carriers that they are far more law-abiding (i.e., safer) than the general public or even law officers. We know that good guys with guns intervening do prevent or minimize casualties because attackers don’t like return fire (e.g., the Clackamas mall attack, the Colorado Springs and the Sutherland Springs, Texas church assaults). We know that banning semi-automatic rifles doesn’t help from the 1994-2004 “assault rifle” ban. These weapons have always been statistically insignificant, being used less than 2 percent of all shootings while mass shootings themselves are responsible for only about 1 percent of all firearm-related deaths.

A core component of any public policy analysis is balancing risks with benefits. Academic health researchers roundly ignore the fact that firearms are used every day by Americans protecting themselves, their property and others when facing assault with deadly weapons. The National Research Council reported in 2004 that this happens anywhere from 500,000 to 3 million times each year. That’s enormous benefit, with many lives saved and injuries prevented, to set against the tens of thousands of deaths and scores of thousands of injuries documented (a significant number of which are justified by being defensive). If only a fraction of these defensive gun uses prevent deaths and injuries to innocents, that more than balances the losses that occur from other causes.

If researchers care about true public health crises, I’d urge them to focus on much more damaging problems that are more amenable to public health solutions. These include the escalating opioid epidemic, which used to kill a fraction of those who die by gunshot. More than 64,000 people died of opiate overdoses in 2016. Or address the little noted epidemic of iatrogenic deaths (i.e., caused by health care professionals). Estimates of this tragically run to approximately 400,000 deaths per year, with 10-20 times as much serious harm.

Interestingly, after criticizing the Dickey Amendment two years ago with its framer, James Dickey, Rosenberg seems to have had a change of heart, saying “that the Dickey amendment should be preserved, to assure those on the gun-rights side of the debate that none of the funds they send to CDC will be used to lobby for gun control legislation and that these funds will be used only to support scientific research.” It will be a hard sell for a long-time gun restrictionist like Dr. Rosenberg to convince Americans who’ve felt condescended to and criticized by those on his side of the argument to buy this.

My advice to Dr. Rosenberg and anyone who wants to grow their careers in public health at the expense of Americans who stand by their natural right of self-defense and our Second Amendment’s guardianship of the consequent right to keep and bear arms is this: Heed the science as it already exists. We have a great deal of work to do to decrease violence and preventable causes of deaths in our country without questioning whether the wheel is round.

The truth is already out there. Let’s use it.

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The Unbearable Mendacity of NeverTrump-Inspired Comparisons

It requires a special degree of mendacity to compare Robert Mueller’s recent indictments to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Only someone desperate to get attention, or to please his new Trump-hating masters at a top news organization, or to improve his name recognition to sell his new book, would be shameless enough to equate one of America’s most horrific attacks to an unproven attempt by a handful of shady Russians to sway votes in a presidential election. One might even feel tempted to pity such a soulless, craven opportunist because, clearly, his brain is broken.

But you can’t feel sorry for Max Boot, the NeverTrump neoconservative whose tirades against the president and the Republican Party just earned him a primo spot in the Washington Post. Instead, you should feel sorry for the families and friends of the 9/11 victims Boot just exploited for clicks.

Boot called the alleged election interference by 13 Russian social-media agitators, “the second-worst foreign attack on America in the past two decades. The Russian subversion of the 2016 election did not, to be sure, kill nearly 3,000 people. But its longer-term impact may be even more corrosive by undermining faith in our democracy.”

Think about that for a moment. Boot, an historian who advocated going to war in Iraq, thinks a few Russian-funded Facebook campaign ads will have a longer-term impact than a massive terrorist attack on U.S. soil that killed 2,977 people, injured more than 6,000, and remains one of the most traumatic events in U.S. history. According to Boot’s logic, a Rooskie ploy to get a few unsavory hashtags trending is worse than the following: Fort Hood (13 dead), San Bernardino (14 dead), Pulse nightclub in Orlando (49 dead), Hudson bike path (eight dead), and Boston marathon (three dead). All because his candidate—Hillary Clinton—lost the election.

I dare Boot to try to persuade the parents of Martin Richard that low-level Twitter chicanery during a presidential election is a more devastating blow to our country than the murder of their child.

Boot went further, blaming Trump for “ignoring” the Russian threat—less than 48 hours after the Mueller indictments were announced. In more 9/11 comparisons, Boot accused the president of “refus[ing] to appoint a commission to study how to safeguard America,” much like the Bush Administration did after the 9/11 attacks. (Fun fact, Mr. Historian: The 9/11 Commission was formed 14 months later.) Nonetheless, Boot lamented how “we are at war without a commander in chief.”

His entire column was an adventure in false equivalence, imagining crimes that were not committed by people who were not involved, such as Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. Boot, like his fellow NeverTrumpers—folks on the Right who opposed Trump’s candidacy and voted for either Clinton or Evan McMullin—are on a hardcore mission to destroy the Trump presidency and take the GOP down with it. Their only hope now is for Robert Mueller to uncover clear cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, a fever dream that is quickly fading with each passing day and each inconsequential indictment.

Led by their de facto leader, Weekly Standard editor-at-large Bill Kristol, the NeverTrumpers’ raison d’être is keeping the Mueller investigation alive. Some have loosely organized into a group called Meeting of the Concerned. Has-been legislators, washed-up Bush Administration officials, and unknown political pundits have found a new purpose—and renewed media fame—by vouching for the credibility of the Trump-Russia probe. In December, a group of Republican outliers, including former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson, former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, and former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman (see a pattern here?) wrote an open letter defending Mueller and waving off legitimate charges of political influence on his team:

We understand concerns about a senior FBI agent detailed to Mueller’s team who sent anti-Trump texts with an attorney who had also worked on the team. But when Mueller learned of the texts, he ousted the agent. The attorney had already departed. That is evidence of the high standards that Mueller has imposed.”

They even justified reported political donations made to Democrats by some on Mueller’s team: “Many of the undersigned donated to candidates of one or another party in or around our government employment. It never impacted our faithful adherence to our oath to support and defend the Constitution.” (Oh, did I mention how intolerably sanctimonious they are?)

But instead of honestly facing the reality that the Mueller probe may come up empty, the NeverTrumpers are doubling-down, aiding and abetting a similarly seditious media and Democratic Party to stoke irrational fear among the American public. When Trump joked that maybe the Russians knew in 2014 that he would run for president, even though Trump himself didn’t know, Kristol tweeted this:

Are you serious? How far gone does one have to be to not only think that, but to post it on social media?

Not to be outdone, the man Kristol elevated to public notoriety (a sin, in my opinion, far worse than any of his anti-Trump campaigning), Evan McMullin, called Trump the “key” to Russia’s election interference:

Sensing their plan to help Democrats win the House and Senate in November is quickly fading, some NeverTrumpers are already blaming Russia and Trump’s inaction for the assumed outcome of the mid-term elections. Here is David Frum:

Most observers predict a grim year for the GOP in 2018. But the economy is strong, and selective tax cuts are strategically redistributing money from blue-state professionals to red-state parents. The Republican National Committee commands a huge financial advantage over its Democratic counterpart. A little extra help could make a big difference to Republican hopes—and to Trump’s political survival.” 

This is their out: Rather than having to admit they were wrong that Trump’s presidency would be a disaster and how he would wreck the Republican Party, they will now use the, “It was the Russians!” excuse for their once-again dead-wrong political predictions.

In the process, the NeverTrumpers are helping obscure from public view very important developments in the Russian collusion investigation. On the same day the Russian interference charges were announced, the judge in the Michael Flynn case issued an order for Mueller’s team to produce “any exculpatory evidence in the government’s possession” that wasn’t offered up during Flynn’s plea negotiations. This could set the stage for Flynn to withdraw his guilty plea, which would be a major blow to Mueller.

This week, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes sent a letter to more than 20 former and current government officials with several questions about the Steele dossier. The move suggests congressional investigators are getting close to identifying key players in the Obama administration who helped promote the Trump-Russia conspiracy scheme.

As this falls apart, expect the NeverTrumpers to become even more hysterical and hyperbolic: It might be only a matter of time before Boot and company roll out some Auschwitz comparisons.

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Russia Focus Neglects the Real Threat from China

Samantha Vinograd, a former senior national security advisor under President Obama, intoned Monday on CNN that in light of the previous week’s indictment of 13 Russian trolls, “We are under live attack and we’re doing nothing.”

Now, we know about these semi-hapless Russian trolls because Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Friday announced they had been indicted for “conspiracy to defraud the United States” over their meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Solemnly stating they’d committed “information warfare” against America, Rosenstein’s statement and the actual indictment made it apparent that the 2016 Russian effort was very limited in size and scope, with roughly 80 Russians in total, who together had managed to spend several million dollars.

Rosenstein’s announcement, with its pointed use of “unwitting” to describe any interaction with the Russians, was yet another nail driven in the coffin of the Trump-Russia collusion fairytale.

If one were taking the Democrats and their allies in press at their word for the the last 14 months you would have thought there was collusion at the very highest levels of the Trump campaign and a literal invasion of Russians meddling with the American elections: “The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming! We’re under live attack!” Amazingly the Russian footprint was so small in 2016 that were it not for the “helpful” screaming of bloody murder by those hoping to distract from Democrat malfeasance, we’d likely never even have known about it.

The Russian “information warfare” as it pertained to Facebook ads was a whopping total of $46,000 before Election Day 2016. That included targeted buys of $300 in Pennsylvania and $832 in Michigan—or basically what a B-evel actor would spend on a promoted post for a day.

Some of the Russians’ ads were so bad they got a total of 14 clicks. With the Clinton and Trump campaigns spending $81 million combined on Facebook ads, and the total expenditures in the 2016 election between presidential and congressional campaigns coming to almost $6.5 billion, we’re somehow expected to believe that this is really warfare? It’s like the Russians threw a pebble into the great monetary ocean of the U.S. elections and the Left and mainstream media screamed that it caused a tsunami.

Considering the numbers involved, it’s a question whether Vladimir Putin  should be proud or ashamed: proud that his measly investment paid off in spinning up a media frenzy or ashamed at the measly spend of the “awesome and terrible” Russian “empire” being exposed; warfare seems like such a grandiose term for what actually happened.

Real information warfare is when a British national by the name of Christopher Steele, with his former press buddies at Fusion GPS, manipulate a compliant media to create false narratives that no doubt created billions of earned media coverage across the American airwaves. With whispers and rumormongering, Steele and Fusion GPS were able to feed into anti-Trump biases at major newspapers and cable channels and then, with the complicity of senior level management at the FBI, have the fake dossier used as evidence to support a FISA warrant.

While it’s lovely that 13 Russians have been indicted, never to be able to return to the United States, inquiring minds nevertheless want to know: if they were indicted for “conspiracy to defraud the United States,” why isn’t Christopher Steele being indicted as well?

It’s clear from the Grassley-Graham memo that Steele likely lied to the FBI, but it is also clear is that Steele helped destabilize American democracy, with the help of the mainstream media. But of course we can’t have Steele indicted because that would imply that the ones who ultimately funded him, the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign, are also guilty by extension for the role they played.

The insanity in all of this is that while Democrats and the Left and mainstream media have been fixated on Russia, they’ve been missing what the real warfare story is: a Chinese army of 100,000 trained cyber warfare hackers who launched, according to NSA estimates, 30,000 cyber attacks on the United States in 2015 alone. This army of hackers, a division of the People’s Liberation Army, have increased their capabilities since 2015 and are still launching daily attacks on America. Yet the Chinese threat doesn’t fit the media narrative so, of course, nobody is really discussing it.

While the Trump Russia collusion fairytale is dying an inglorious death every day with new indictments of bit players for process crimes, there’s little doubt the Left and the media will never stop trying to undermine and destroy Trump. The entire Russia narrative in reality has little to do with the real threats to America’s national security. But it’s been a useful tool for #TheResistance to use to attack Trump, the country and the facts be damned.

What is troubling is that our biased and blinkered media are so determined to drive this narrative and this agenda, that they are actually becoming the darkness in which democracy may die.

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‘Reforming’ Confucius Institutes

With all the concern over the effect of Russian propaganda on American voters, it might be helpful now to recall that Russia isn’t the only nation trying to influence public opinion and create chaos in America. China remains a threat, too.

Of course, when China’s propagandists face criticism, they seem to have only one response: more propaganda.

Recently Xinhua News, the official press agency of the Chinese government, announced that Confucius Institutes would undergo a series of “reforms.” Confucius Institutes, as I noted at American Greatness last year, are teaching and research centers sprinkled across hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States and elsewhere. They have sparked significant backlash—not least because of their direct funding and control by the Chinese government.

Among the chief concerns is China’s censorship of its own history (Tiananmen Square? What’s that?) and its insistence on vetting all curricula. To ensure that instructors don’t stray from the approved text, China also staffs the Confucius Institutes with teachers it selects, trains, and pays. A Chinese government agency, the Hanban, provides textbooks plus additional operating funds to sweeten the deal for college administrators.

The only appropriate response to such inappropriate interference is to reject China’s overtures. The University of Chicago did so in 2014, when it shut down its Confucius Institute. The University of Texas at Austin, which recently rebuffed a funding offer from a foundation closely connected to the Chinese Communist Party, also deserves commendation. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has encouraged Florida Confucius Institutes and classrooms to close down, and in response, one at the University of West Florida announced its plans to shutter.

China is aware of growing criticisms. China’s Global Times, reporting on new “reforms,” observes, “The Confucius Institute is facing challenges overseas especially in the West.” It blames these “challenges” on Westerners’ tendency to “misconstrue” the Institutes “as a religious organization sponsored by the Chinese government.”  It insists that “in fact, [Confucius Institutes are] just for language teaching and cultural exchanges.”

In fact, they are not just for language teaching and cultural exchanges. I completed a study of 12 Confucius Institutes in the United States and concluded the Chinese government uses the institutes to shape students’ perceptions of China, build soft power, and intimidate American scholars into keeping quiet about China’s sub-par human rights record. In their less guarded moments, Chinese officials admit this. Li Changchun, former head of propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party, called Confucius Institutes “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.”

Nevertheless, Ma Jianfei, a deputy executive of China’s Confucius Institute Headquarters, is preparing to give Confucius Institutes a makeover. Far from permitting Confucius Institutes greater latitude to respect intellectual freedom, however, Ma’s plans would make Confucius Institutes only more insular and censorious.

The source of the plan highlights the intimate connection between Confucius Institutes and Chinese foreign diplomacy. The Global Times reports that President Xi Jinping presided over a meeting of the Leading Group for Deepening Overall Reform of the 19th Communist Party of China Central Committee where adoption of the reform plan was took place.It further notes, “Language education in other countries will surely serve the country’s diplomacy.”

Ma says the plan is rooted in “improving the quality of education and systems” and “offering more innovating programs.” This bureaucratic jargon obfuscates China’s troublesome goals of building soft power.

What does the plan entail? For one, Ma calls for providing “strengthened support from China” to all “local faculty”—that is, say, the American professors who also have roles at their university’s Confucius Institute. That amounts to a warning: We are watching you. China already sends everything from the textbooks and course maps to the logo decals for the front door and office decorations. The Chinese government regulates every aspect of each Confucius Institute.  American universities do not need more “support” from China. They need freedom.  

For another, Ma intends that going forward, “More Chinese deans and teachers will be employed overseas.” There is nothing wrong with American colleges hosting guest professors and participating in educational exchanges, to be sure. But Confucius Institutes are already staffed almost entirely by teachers selected by the Chinese government. Every Confucius Institute also has a “Chinese co-director,” a high-ranking professor or administrator from a Chinese university who helps oversee all operations and reports back to China. If China’s only interest is in promoting the study of Chinese language and culture, why not send strings-free funds to American universities and let them select promising American scholars of Chinese to employ?

Unfortunately for Ma, his reform efforts may be too late. University of Massachusetts, Boston’s Confucius Institute is under protest right now. Congress is considering various efforts to rein in improper interference in American higher education. Many scholars and their researchs—ranging from University of Chicago anthropologist Marshall Sahlins to the American Association of University Professors to my own research for the National Association of Scholars—have concluded that Confucius Institutes jeopardize academic freedom, compromise the quality of students’ educations, and skew American scholarship towards a conciliatory foreign policy with China according to Chinese designs.

It is time for Confucius Institutes to close. Host universities should shut them down. Congress should take up legislation to increase transparency and oversight. Students should be wary and shy away from Confucius Institute classes. Don’t fall for China’s “reform” efforts.

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Men With Chests and Those Without

Last week’s mass shooting at a Florida high school reminds us yet again that to live well—to live free—requires men with chests. That is a fundamental requirement of free government.

One young man in particular, Peter Wang, died with his chest out for all to see. As the Daily Mail reports, Wang was killed while “holding the door for classmates, dressed in his grey ROTC uniform.” For his heroism, the Army posthumously awarded Wang with the JROTC Medal of Heroism. In addition, the United States Military Academy appointed Wang to West Point’s class of 2025, as it was his dream to attend the academy.

Such honors are fitting, but they are not sufficient.

Peter Wang exhibited extraordinary courage under fire for a young man, and his example serves as a stark reminder of the republican virtue required to live in a free nation. His sacrifice deserves extraordinary attention to match his deeds. With that in mind, Trump should do one of the things he does best: dispensing honors to the deserving to teach our citizens what republican virtue really is.

The idea of men with or without chests comes from C.S. Lewis’s description in The Abolition of Man. Lewis ends his first chapter with an important passage:

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more “drive,” or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or “creativity.” In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

This, it seems, captures our predicament today. A man’s chest—the organ that enables one to know right from wrong and the source of virtues like courage—is a laughable idea to many today.

This utter disbelief in the need for boys (especially) but even adult self-governing citizens more generally, to develop manly chests in order to act like free men, is systemic. As the controversial author Doug Wilson points out, our problem has to do with “fatherless boys who are loaded up on psychotropic drugs, administered by the school nurse, and educated by a school system that is prohibited by law from telling anybody what the meaning of life is.” We’ve denied to our children our heavenly Father, Wilson writes, and “substituted the state—a ramshackle federal father, if ever there was one.” PJ Media’s Roger Simon makes it clear that this substitution is our fault. “This abdication of adult and, quite often, parental responsibility,” he says, “is rampant in today’s America.”

Wilson and Simon are not the only ones to make this point. When fathers lack chests, it should not be surprising that our sons do too. “Unstable homes produce unstable individuals,” notes Peter Hasson. But unstable homes do not arise as a common problem in ordinary circumstances. Representatives without chests helped make it this way. And voters without chests helped elect those representatives. The problem is more than one of simple fatherlessness; it is a disease in the whole body politic.

But it does not have to be this way. We can elect representatives who will end government practices that hurt the family. And we can raise our boys better. We can teach them what their chests are for. American Greatness’s own Joe Long wrote an excellent piece about this in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

And thankfully, there are still some men out there with chests. Which brings us back to Peter Wang.

While others died well that day, doing their duty and protecting the innocent, Cadet Wang’s courage was extraordinary. We should expect that any self-respecting man would have to charge someone shooting children, but we do not expect it of those as young as Cadet Wang. At the mere age of 15, Wang died a man’s death so that others might live.

For such heroism, we should honor Peter Wang. We should raise what he did up high in our minds, not simply because of the nobility of his actions, but because Wang vindicated himself in a way that represents what is required of all of us in lesser measure if we want to live free.

As James Madison pointed out so well in Federalist 55:

As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.

In other words, to live free we must have virtue. This is not limited to moderation and self-control. Adam Selene observes how the Founding Fathers knew keeping America free requires courage. They rallied behind sayings like “give me liberty or give me death” and “live free or die.” Our situation today requires no less courage—the courage to resist the tyranny of government and the tyranny of murders alike.

If we want to be free, we must be like Peter Wang, for where there is not “sufficient virtue among men for self-government…nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.”

In this statement about republican virtue the Founders echoed the ancient wisdom found in Pericles’ Funeral Oration. And the words of Pericles would be a fitting epitaph for Peter Wang, preferably etched on his monument in Arlington Cemetery: “Make up your minds that happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous.” This is a message that Peter Wang clearly understood; and a message many of us need to learn.

Peter Wang had the chest required to live free, and President Trump should heed the petition to give Peter Wang full military honors. Trump should offer to the family the option to process through the nation’s capital to Arlington Cemetery if they should so desire. He should attend the ceremony and present the flag himself.

I’m a military man myself, and I’ve had the honor to do a few funerals for soldiers who have passed on. When men like me present the flag, we say:

On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.

Harder words to say are difficult to find. But they are important, for they honor men with chests. The President should do the same, but in an extraordinary way to match the extraordinary courage displayed by Peter Wang. President Trump should look in Peter Wang’s mother’s eyes and say his own version: “On behalf of a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our gratitude for your son’s example and courage.”

Perhaps in so doing, we might all get a better sense of what is right and wrong, and the courage necessary to defend our freedom. We are in extraordinary need of such courage. Perhaps in honoring Peter Wang, we might find our chests, and keep our country “the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”

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Heroism Befitting Free Men

The U.S. Army on Tuesday announced it would award the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) Medal of Heroism to the three high school cadets slain attempting to protect their classmates during last week’s murderous attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. The grieving families of heroic JROTC Cadets Peter Wang, Alaina Petty and Martin Duque, were each presented with the posthumous awards, whose requirements include “an accomplishment so exceptional and outstanding that it clearly set the individual apart from fellow students or from other persons in similar circumstances.”

These cadets, and other members of their unit who performed bravely and selflessly in the midst of the deadly chaos, had already set themselves apart in smaller ways, and distinguished themselves from their peers through their participation in one of our nation’s best remaining patriotic programs for young people.

In the mid-1980s, having moved to the South from western New York, the JROTC program was a wonderful discovery in the course of adjusting to my new high school.

Junior ROTC was established in 1917, alongside the college-level Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, at a time when America was committed to training young men in the martial virtues. JROTC expanded during the Cold War to encourage military preparedness, and has entered the 21st century with a record of success in all of its goals. The program’s military trappings enhance its effectiveness for education in patriotism, personal character, and communications skills, as well as knowledge specific to the services; and JROTC’s military recruiting function, while secondary, is also significant.

I didn’t know all of that at the time, but I knew that here was an opportunity to wear my nation’s uniform (in my school, the Air Force uniform) and to try to live up to the responsibility that went with it. I felt as though I were actually joining the ranks of the heroes I’d been raised to emulate.

Once a week, on our uniform day, I’d stride proudly through the halls between classes sporting my uniform and, eventually, rank insignia and ribbons. (An active and capable cadet, in four years of JROTC, can often accumulate a “ribbon rack” rivalling in appearance those of members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. These awards do not carry over into college ROTC or active service—but the military socialization, along with the values and knowledge gained from JROTC, do.)

JROTC instructors are uniformed, retired U.S. military officers and noncommissioned officers with a unique place on their high school faculties. Their relationship to their students is part teacher and part coach, but also the students’ first glimpse of the military leadership paradigm that goes beyond both.

Great things could be accomplished through JROTC, a fast-forward to senior ROTC scholarships or service academy appointments—or an immediate boost in rank and pay upon enlistment, to cadets who choose that route. Naturally, silly things could happen too. Once, I received a minor ribbon which, as part of its citation, mentioned that I’d stayed after that year’s Military Ball was over, to help clean up; I called it my “Couldn’t Get A Date” ribbon. Still, in our daydreams we were heroes—and the steps we were taking towards those daydreams, guided by the wise leadership of instructors whose military careers gave them a broad base of experience, were making us better citizens. (Not universally, certainly; there were students who would not internalize the values the program promoted; generally they weeded themselves out after a semester. )

The essence of leadership training is accepting personal responsibility, for one’s actions as a “follower” and then increasingly for one’s decisions, as a leader. When this is taught in a military context, it’s reinforced in myriad ways beyond correct answers on a multiple choice “leadership test”

I suspect we all thought we wanted to be heroes; fortunately, we never got to be. None of us could have imagined how terrible an opportunity for heroism might have been.

Today,  we know of a Junior ROTC unit that has taken real-world casualties—young Americans who in some cases sacrificed themselves as surely and as valiantly as the Continentals at Bunker Hill, or young sailors at Pearl Harbor—teenagers who made the most of their limited training under the worst of circumstances.

The three members of the Junior ROTC unit at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who were killed in action were shot by a disturbed teen who had “weeded himself out” of their unit sometime before. And they did perish in action—as resisters and rescuers. Others—Cadet Captains Zackary Walls and Colton Haab have been names mentioned in the news—performed with outstanding, and lifesaving, leadership during the terrible events there. They, too, deserve formal recognition for actions in the highest traditions of the American citizen-soldier.

The ROTC Medal for Heroism’s criteria specifies: “… accomplishment so exceptional/outstanding as to set cadet apart from others in similar circumstances (which) must involve acceptance of danger or extraordinary responsibilities exemplifying praiseworthy fortitude and courage.”   

Based on news reports so far, this is an apt description of the performance of the Douglas High School cadets. Awarding the medal to surviving as well as well as to the fallen cadets would not only honor these exceptional young men and women, it might also help to direct national attention both to positive behavior by disciplined, patriotic young Americans, and to the difference individual valor can make during a horrific attack.

Focusing attention on these young people, speaks to who we are—or at least, who we should be, when we live up to the ideals of self-governing, free, and independent citizens. These cadets have not been coached to march to make loud demands—rather, while learning to march, they have also learned what duty demands of citizens and leaders.  They displayed courage, compassion, and individual initiative in the most difficult of circumstances.

That’s exactly what we need our young people to learn. Cadet organizations such as JROTC, Civil Air Patrol, and the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets (the latter two programs are even accessible to private-schooled and homeschooled students), provide challenge, guidance and inspiration for young Americans daily, establishing common values and reinforcing a sense of personal responsibility within a culture which desperately needs to reclaim both. We need to support these organizations, beyond the well-deserved public recognition of the heroism so recently displayed by the members of this JROTC unit. America’s greatness depends on the virtues and values which these programs, against the general drift of our culture, still promote.

American greatness is not found merely in economic prosperity or international respect; there’s no American greatness greater than a boy, in a man’s uniform, laying down his life for his friends.

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Once Again, A House Divided

And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. —Mark 3:25 (King James Version)

In the wake of the horrific shootings in Parkland, Florida, shouldn’t the people of this country be united in grief? Apparently not. Innocent victims are not yet buried, but rather than allowing us to mourn together over these senseless murders, the Left chooses to go on politicizing this heart-rending tragedy. The solitary reminder that the entire country is in mourning is that flags are at half mast—but the Left isn’t otherwise known for its demonstrations of respect for Old Glory.

Do I expect Democrats and Republicans to be united in their approach to solving the horror of mass killings? Unfortunately, no. Most likely there never will be agreement among the people of these United States when it comes to gun ownership: how best to interpret and conserve the Second Amendment of the Constitution; or whether, as some wish, to simply discard it entirely. Never has it been more abundantly clear that the left prefers to indulge their hatred for fellow Americans with whom they disagree over constructive discourse on any number of issues—from expressions of faith to the value of human life. Indeed, the context of the biblical reference to “a house divided” is not about issues and beliefs—it is about the hardening of hearts.

Call me an idealist, but I never expected such an atrocity to be the launching pad for liberals to drop f-bombs on anyone who won’t bow before the specifics of their command-and-control agenda. Their salvos further fracture any chance of actual discourse, which is the only means to explore possible solutions to the grave issues that divide us. From news to social media, rather than acknowledge that all persons across the political spectrum are in shock and grieving, the Left uses the horror of these senseless murders to blame and lash out at their political opponents for any number of other issues about which we disagree.

Among many divisive posts on Facebook, one of the more abhorrent I’ve read came from a young woman I once thought I knew. She says “Are you ready to blow up congress yet? Because I am. Those useless fucking asswipes take gun lobby money and chuckle through their ‘thoughts and prayers’ while … children bleed out in the hallway.”

Sorry, lady, but nobody (save, perhaps, the killer and others like him) chuckles when children are killed. Your perverse accusation says everything about the depth of your hatred toward others, and shuts down any meaningful conversation about the Second Amendment—or anything else, for that matter. You already have decided that those who own firearms certainly must intend to kill other people, when in fact most own firearms in order to protect life, hoping they never will have cause to do so. Since you don’t want to engage in discourse that might actually make a difference, you resort to a vile accusation.

And let’s not ignore the special jab ridiculing persons of faith—religion being something that many leftists want to eradicate. It’s not enough for some on the Left to disregard the Second Amendment—why not chuck the First Amendment, too?

A duplicity is inherent in leftist ideology. When President Trump addressed the nation and sincerely offered his “prayers and condolences to the family of the victims,” or when any person on the Right offers his thoughts and prayers, the Left is quick to castigate and ridicule that person—sympathy and prayer are subject to their immediate scorn and derision. They refuse to recognize that in times of great despair, consolation can heal hearts, and prayer becomes the bedrock for action. Those same leftists laud the sensitivity and caring of their idolized celebrities when they tweet phrases such as “my heart is with the students and parents” (Ellen DeGeneres), or “sending light and healing to the students” (Adam Lambert).

Another unconscionable statement now circulating comes from some deep thinker who tweets using the name Nathan G:

So this person admits that the occupant of a woman’s uterus is actually a child? Yet again, a liberal callously uses the shooting tragedy to fling an incendiary comment at the Right to Life movement, and not so subtly implies that those who fight to protect the life of an unborn child don’t care about the loss of life outside of the womb. This is despicable tripe rooted in the false narrative that one cannot be seriously “pro-life” unless one ascribes to the Left’s agenda. It’s yet another heinous ploy to circumvent any constructive conversation about stopping mass killings.

Ironically, a brain-trust respondent to Nathan G suggests:

Wait, what? Funny that when Republicans suggest this very solution—to harden schools against attacks instead of advertising them as “gun free zones”—the Left becomes infuriated that we don’t instead ban all firearms. In any case, President Trump’s adult children have stated they will decline Secret Service protection once their father is out of the White House.

And so the adolescent finger-pointing continues. Lefties hide within the safe-spaces of social media and say that which they would never dare to utter in the face of their supposed adversaries. Their sardonic name-calling includes charges that those on the right and President Trump are mentally ill, that Republicans in Congress are spineless cowards, and that they all have blood on their hands.

Is it not clear who demonstrates a hardening of hearts? Just in case there is any uncertainty, let’s revisit President Trump’s first State of the Union Address, when Democrats conspicuously exhibited their lack of compassion. They hurl vicious and unfounded accusations that conservatives don’t care when school children die, but their behavior was reprehensible—refusing to stand, sitting stone-faced and silent instead of honoring the family whose daughter and her friend were murdered by the MS-13 gang. Not all Democrats stood to honor Steve Scalise after he survived a mass shooting attempt, nor did they stand to honor the patriotism of a 12 year-old boy who placed 40,000 flags on the graves of veterans.

So, while an entire country grieves the deaths of fifteen high school students and the two unarmed heroes who tried to protect them, while this country is still reeling in shock as we learn more about the deranged killer—it is the Left who politicize this tragedy, and who use dead children as pawns as they shamelessly push an agenda demonstrably unrelated to the problem. Theirs are the hearts that are hardened—not because they aren’t in grief over this recent tragedy, but because they believe only they are capable of grief and only they operate in good faith. Meanwhile, they slander and defame anyone who isn’t one of their own.

If this country begins to lose it footing and becomes the house that cannot stand—it will be because the Left willfully divides us, willfully widens a chasm, and has divided the house that represents and serves every citizen in this country. Not even our flag at half-mast is enough to remind them we are meant to be united—if not over certain political issues and beliefs, then at least in our profound grief.

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Triumph of the Shills

Let’s begin with Godwin and get it out of the way.

Imagine for a moment that Joseph Goebbels, propaganda minister for the Third Reich, was an amicable fellow (which he was not), smiled often (which he didn’t), and decided to go on a goodwill tour of the West, with the cutest cheerleaders from the Hitler Youth in tow.

Imagine further that the Western media, knowing the scale of the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany, focused all its coverage on how cute the kids were and how well put-together Goebbels was—such a dashing fellow with his bespoke Hugo Boss suits, Italian shoes, and perfectly coiffed hair. Never mind his regime’s death camps, or its military ambitions, or its summary executions.

Sadly, over the past few days, this contrafactual seems far less far-fetched as Western media took on the role of Leni Riefenstahl—glamorizing and spreading propaganda for the murderous rogue regime of North Korea, all the while trivializing its human rights abuses.

North Korea sent Kim Yo-jong, sister of Kim Jong-un and the nation’s director of “Propaganda and Agitation,” on a “charm offensive” to South Korea over the weekend. With cheerleaders and pop-stars in tow, her mission was to help rehabilitate North Korea’s image and shift focus away from the regime’s human rights abuses and away from the fact that the Hermit Kingdom, essentially, is a giant prison. The Western media was all too happy to report on Kim’s sense of style, her shoes, her hair, and lack of makeup—to the exclusion of the moaning, emaciated elephant in the room.

Malicious, Lazy, or Both?

There could be many reasons for this embarrassing spectacle—ranging from outright complicity, to political malice, to plain old laziness. Most likely it’s that pre-existing biases and journalistic laziness are creating a witch’s brew that threatens to glamorize evil.

Western journalists are so blinded by disdain for the Trump Administration that any chance to embarrass the president and hurt his agenda is seen as a welcome opportunity. Reporting on the superficial North Korean overtures as though they were genuine while noting Mike Pence’s reluctance to engage those attempts is creating a moral equivalency between a vice president they don’t like with a murderess. Yes, this may hurt Trump politically, but at the cost of “normalizing” (to use a popular term these days) one of the most repressive regimes on the planet.

The desire to hurt Trump mixes easily with an increasingly lazy cadre of journalists, whose tendency to treat politics as an extension of the celebrity gossip pages plays up the superficial—shoes, smiles, memes, and cheerleaders—at the expense of the important—concentration camps, starvation, and summary executions. The media seems to apply TMZ journalistic standards to the coverage of politics, a trend that is increasingly tragic and dangerous.

I get it. I really do. It’s low hanging fruit, an easy story—the Greta Garbo of evil dictatorships finally goes out in public, takes off her sunglasses and lets you photograph her. But we’re not discussing a reclusive entertainment figure here. Kim Yo-jong helps oversee the mechanisms by which millions are enslaved, starved, and murdered. This conflation of the political with the theatrical, where coverage of the political is merely an extension of entertainment, is no joke. It has dangerous long-term and overarching consequences for how people view political dialogue and politicians. But, in the immediate case, it also turns the American “fourth estate” into an extension of Pyongyang’s propaganda machine.

“We’re Excited, So You Must Be, Too . . .”

In covering the actions of a propaganda minister the way they would Kim Kardashian’s glute implants, the media misses an important opportunity to bring into focus the immense suffering this woman oversees and, as a result, they become complicit in her crimes.

The press knowingly trivializes world events for clicks, selling headlines that ultimately serve to obscure and draw attention away from the institutionalized suffering caused by this woman and the regime she helps run. In turning naked North Korean propaganda into entertainment fluff pieces, the U.S. media debases itself as it denigrates the suffering of untold millions by taking the light off North Korean human rights abuses in favor of stories about cute cheerleaders, clothing, and shoes.

They’re doing exactly what the North Korean propaganda minister wants.  

It’s one thing to report on North Korea’s attempt to charm the world through the media. It’s another thing to fall for it and lead with stories that North Korea is “stealing the show” at the Winter Olympics. By fawning over the North Korean “Army of Beauties” and their leader, the American media essentially became captain of the cheerleading squad.

The media seems to have missed the fact that the bulk of those that the North Koreans seem to be charming are the reporters themselves, who are driving most of the story and, in turn, are helping sell the idea of a genial North Korea accepted by everyone. CNN writes: “In Pyeongchang, her presence is a major story line for reporters and the buzz on the street, with some in South Korea curious and accepting, while others are skeptical, if not downright cynical.”

Being the ambivalent “buzz on the street” is hardly “winning the charm offensive.” What the media seem unable or unwilling to grasp is that theynot the populace at largeare the target of the North Korean the “charm offensive.” To then turn around and try to convince all of us that North Korea is actually charming anyone other than the reporters themselves, despite evidence to the contrary, moves the press dangerously close to Walter Duranty territory.

She’s Not Just a Smile and a Pretty Face

How ironic, that in the midst of the #MeToo movement and the media’s preoccupation with pussy hats and fighting the patriarchy, institutional journalistic sexism plays into this blindness and fawning over a state where, incidentally, rape is so accepted and prevalent, that female soldiers stop getting their periods as a result. Instead of wearing pussy hats, they have to settle for reusing sanitary napkins when they do menstruate.

The media’s focus on Kim Yo-jong’s looks to the exclusion of deep reportage of the real world consequences of her political actions, the power she wields, and the mechanisms of state she oversees in her country is straight up sexism. Women can be tyrants, too! I have yet to see many standalone reports about Mike Pence’s haircut or choice of wardrobe for the day. North Korea’s propaganda ministry, run by the woman who, as far as the Western media is concerned, is only worth noticing for her looks and smile, is all too happy to capitalize on this.

It’s amazing to see the American press fall so easily for such brazen manipulation. Such is the media’s malice toward Trump. How else to explain it? Trump is a “madman” who would risk the lives of millions to stoke his own ego—or so the narrative goes. Compared to that, who wouldn’t fall for a pretty face? Not the public. But the press has happily stepped up to play the role of head cheerleader for North Korea’s diplomatic efforts. Useful idiots come in many shapes and sizes, but they never seem to go away.

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Whiggery in the White House

Since the day it became clear Donald Trump was a serious contender for the presidency, political pundits of all stripes have tried to put a name to the movement he leads: Trumpism. Liberals and conservatives alike have called him a neoconservative, a traditionalist, a nationalist, a crypto-fascist, and a populist, or have simply written him off as a political iconoclast. Among the more popular of the theories to explain him, however, is the notion that Trump is somehow at the front of some Jacksonian style revolt.

But let’s get one thing straight: although there are some Jacksonian elements to Donald J. Trump, he is not really a Jacksonian. If anything, you could say he more closely resembles an old-style Whig.

Nineteenth-century Whigs and Jacksonian Democrats agreed and disagreed on many things, but whereas the Whigs created a systematic worldview that survived the death of their party, Jacksonianism largely died out with the rise of European progressivism within the Democratic Party.

Those Whiggish and Jacksonian elements of America are reunited in Trump’s Republican Party under the maxim “America First.” It’s a phrase which speaks to the nationalist spirit found in Alexander Hamilton’s 1791 Report on Manufactures, and the Whig Henry Clay’s famous American System. Taken together, Hamilton and Clay remind us that the United States was not formed by lower-case “c” conservatives, but instead by revolutionaries. Those revolutionaries were American nationalists who directed their nationalism toward one overarching goal: American Independence. Once achieved in reality, it was not an idea then to be abandoned. It had also to be preserved.

That spirit of independence—a word lacking the modern baggage of “nationalism”—was diffused in both the 19th-century Whig and Democratic parties, though it manifested in different ways.

Both espoused economic protectionism and popular (“common man”) republicanism, to name just a couple of its broader principles. Likewise, both parties shared the philosophy of American exceptionalism under God. A young John C. Calhoun—the man who would later preach the nullification doctrine—was mentored by a Federalist and Congregationalist minister named Timothy Dwight, whose 1776 “Valedictory Address” to the graduates of Yale College identified Americans as a new “people, who have the same religion, the same manners, the same interests, the same language, and the same essential forms and principles of civic government.” Dwight’s belief was common “that a vast continent . . . inhabited by a people, in all respects one, is indeed a novelty on earth.”

Jacksonian Democrats, however, never succeeded in codifying their views into a lasting political philosophy. There was never a Democratic alternative to Clay’s American System, only reactionaries who increasingly came to rely on Southern tradition and patriotism to justify slavery.

But in foreign policy Whigs and Jacksonian Democrats often differed most intensely, with Whigs usually seeking national glory through economic development and modernization, and Democrats generally favoring rural growth and territorial expansion through war. This thirst for conquest, driven in no small part by the politics and economics of chattel slavery, began the Democratic Party’s slow abandonment of the Independent spirit—until it vanished altogether under Woodrow Wilson’s reign. By the time America entered World War I, the Democratic Party had ceased to be philosophically American, and the Jacksonians were left in the cold.

Trump’s presidency marks a return to the party of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, the son of a Democrat, in his early career called himself “an old Henry Clay-Tariff Whig.” The young Illinois congressman who saw in the Declaration of Independence “a rebuke and stumbling-block to tyranny and oppression” was joined by former Whigs and anti-slavery Free Soil Democrats, who saw in the newly founded Republican Party the Union’s last best hope.

Like Trump’s GOP, the early Republicans wed Jacksonianism and Whiggery—farmers and merchants, trade and tariffs, infrastructure investment and limited government—in a grand coalition with one aim: preserving Independence. And like Trump’s GOP, the early Republican Party was fraught with disagreement. In those years the disagreements revolved around slavery and the best ways to keep that institution from infecting the independent spirit of the nation.

Today we fight over building a wall on the southern border and overhauling immigration in order to keep America independent of the impulses of exploitation and dependence. We fight unrestricted and unassimilated immigration today for reasons similar to why early Republicans fought over slavery. Slavery was wrong in itself but it also had a bad effect on our political order and independence. And whatever their motivation, all Republicans then agreed slavery needed to end.

Nevertheless, with the benefit of hindsight we see that far more things united Republicans in the 1860s than divided them. Trump’s economic ideas ring true with the vast majority of Republicans because they’re essentially Whig ideas—built on a new American System that refutes our role as “Globocop.”

Like the men who fought to save the Union in the Civil War, ignoring the pleas of those who would “compromise” with the slave power, Trump Republicans prioritize independence from Europe, China, and the rest of the world over GDP growth. His party combines the Jacksonian ideal of the people’s sovereignty with the Whig devotion to the rule of law, opposing tyranny and plutocracy. And it sees an unchanging Constitution as the key to winning that struggle.

It recognizes a uniquely American culture—not global citizenship—as worth defending. “Because of our people,” the president said in his December national security speech, “America has been among the greatest forces for peace and justice in the history of the world.”  

It’s also pragmatic. The Trump Doctrine abroad rests on prudence; if we don’t break it, we don’t have to buy it. Unlike many of his predecessors who have invoked Woodrow Wilson’s high-flown idealism, Trump sees America’s ability to remake the world as limited. His national security strategy doesn’t aim to spread American-like democracies to other nations. Neither does it seek open-ended, utopian missions in distant countries. Like his Whig predecessors, Trump believes that Americans should only venture into foreign affairs with clear, defined objectives, not lofty maxims. In this, he channels John Quincy Adams in an 1821 speech:

And now, friends and countrymen, [what] if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world . . . should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind? Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government.

“America,” Adams famously warned, “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” There is a subtle warning to tyrants in his phrase—what we call “peace through strength”—and it forms the final pillar of the Trump Doctrine. America, Adams said, “has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace.

May it ever remain so in Trump’s Republican Party.

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I Love a Parade

U.S. Army tanks pass Eisenhower’s reviewing stand during the Inaugural parade. Jan 21, 1957. (Everett Collection Historical / Alamy Stock Photo)

After his Bastille Day visit last year with French President Emmanuel Macron, President Trump left with a new idea: to stage an American military parade after the French model. Having seen French military forces march and fly down the Champs-Élysées, Trump thought U.S. troops could stage such a spectacle too. Only bigger.

​This response to the French national celebration was typical Trump. Pundits at home and abroad have had a hard time putting their collective finger on exactly what it is that makes this new president’s political sensibility so distinctive. I know what it is: his understanding of America does not boil down to a formula or a phrase, and it cannot be captured in a creed or a pledge. It is, rather, visceral.

​He campaigned for America’s highest office partly on a promise to push Congress into funding dramatic improvements to America’s airports, roads, bridges, and ports. Why? Because it does not seem right to him that the great American public works should seem so ratty in comparison to those of, say, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, or the United Kingdom. What to do? How about a $1 trillion program of building or rebuilding such facilities?

​How unsophisticated! the cognoscenti sneered. Where did he get the figure $1 trillion, anyway? It seemed arbitrary. Random. Unrealistic. Definitely not the product of an approved Conservatism Inc.™ think tank.

Kind of like former Navy secretary John Lehman’s 1980s goal of building a 600-ship navy. Not 597 ships. Not 602 ships. Why 600, exactly? Because it was a nice, round number and made for a catchy slogan. Because it was a clear political marker. Because if Congress had been left to devise the plan, something unrelated to the nation’s needs—and likely far less substantial—would have been the result. Yet, somehow, the conservative talking heads of the day were on board with that.

​Other major Trump pledges were similarly visceral. It seemed wrong to the president that Americans consume so many products manufactured overseas. Why? It just did. The response to the reality was visceral. Voters shared this feeling. If America was a great nation, it should be the kind of manufacturing colossus it once was. So, he promised it would be. It was just right. The same went for putting coal miners back to work. Why? American coal miners ought to be mining coal.

​Scott Adams noticed the evident brilliance of Trump’s constant references to out-of-work coal miners as “our miners.” He saw marketing genius in that. Maybe so. On the other hand, it’s just possible that Trump is authentic in this way, and that many Americans share many of his sensibilities.

​Many Europeans, and Americans too, responded to the parade idea with derision, even revulsion. Not Macron, but Kim Jong-un or Leonid Brezhnev came to their minds. What kind of bent leader would propose a show of military might? Dwight D. Eisenhower, for one: the parade at his first inauguration ceremonies included 22,000 military personnel, including a cannon capable of firing a nuclear weapon. The parade at his second included troops, rockets, and tanks.
Scour the media, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find reference to Ike. There’s a reason for that: this fellow Trump just repels the Left, in America and abroad. Polite people don’t discuss such things as the president emphasizes in the faculty lounge or at the boarding school class reunion. Pride in the military! God forbid their kids should join the Army. Hillary Clinton would not have held a military parade.

​No, the kind of people who like that kind of thing are the same kind who disproportionately join the military, wave the flag, and want their country to have borders. They are the ones who would never dream of taking a knee for the National Anthem. They are also the same kind of people who tend to vote in midterm elections—and who voted for Donald Trump.

​Parades are a regular part of military life. Civilians do not see much of that, however. In 2018, a small and declining share of the American population has military experience, and so a grand military parade would be novel for them. The last that come to mind followed victory in the Gulf War. I know: I attended the Chicago parade in which General Colin Powell participated.

​There were also grand military parades after the Spanish-American War and the Civil War. They were patriotic occasions akin to fireworks displays. Hearing the Usual Suspects criticize the idea of a military parade makes me find the idea increasingly attractive. Something in all of us just loves a parade.

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Are Progressives Crazy?

Is it possible that progressives have gone completely insane? “Their new position is that it is immoral to restrict any kind of immigration, from any country, in any amount, for any reason ever,” Tucker Carlson said recently on his Fox News show.

But Progressives haven’t lost their minds. They haven’t gone further out on the left-wing of American politics. In fact they haven’t changed at all. They’re simply being honest about what they believe, always have believed, and now cannot believe that the rest of America disagrees.

When Donald Trump became our 45th president, Progressives found “patriotism” in the foxhole. The public has been informed, by the same people who built their careers deconstructing Americanism, that the #Resist movement is akin to our foundational rebellion, against the closest thing to George III this country has ever produced—or so we are told.

Americans were presented with a Muslim woman draped in an American flag hijab, to remind them of what real progress in the West looks like—even as women in the Middle East burn veils in their struggle for liberty. It might not be a coincidence that wherever Islamic regimes establish themselves, the first thing enforced is the dress code.

Illegal immigrants were used as props and placed before the cameras, characterized as the embodiments of civic virtue. “America is a nation of immigrants,” and we must accept an endless inflow of such “immigrants,” even as they partner with Democrats in an attempt to hold ransom the pay for over 2 million American troops and healthcare for 9 million children, in exchange for their citizenship.

Little by little, the façade crumbled, and the patrioteering subsided. Progressives who insisted they were for America gradually resumed chanting the good Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s favorite hymnal, “God damn America!” That’s Obama’s old pastor, by the way. Rev. Wright does a wonderful job of candidly summarizing how the political left views, and always had viewed this nation:

[The United States] government lied about their belief that all men were created equal. The truth is they believed that all white men were created equal. The truth is they did not even believe that white women were created equal, in creation nor civilization.

No, the founding fathers did not lie. They believed, in accordance with the precepts of natural law in which our nation’s principles are rooted, that all men are equal in the sense of their creation  in the image of the God, and unlike any other species, humans are equipped with the faculty to reason as much. This fact makes us boundlessly precious in our being, and it means that we are meant, therefore, to govern ourselves without asking leave of any expert who, by his nature, is somehow supposed to be our natural and sovereign superior. But it certainly does not mean we are equal in the contemporary progressive sense, complete with wealth redistribution and endlessly reductive egalitarianism.

It might come as a surprise to some that the “white men” in Rev. Wright’s scintillating sermon purchased slaves from African slavers, who enslaved their African kinsmen. This customarily took place in breezy little coastal slave markets and made African slavers immensely wealthy. Indeed, the greed of African slavers was such that, “[w]hen France and Britain outlawed slavery in their territories in the early 19th Century, African chiefs who had grown rich and powerful off the slave trade sent protest delegations to Paris and London,” Martin Henry writes for the Jamaica Gleaner. Finally, to quote Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson:

[America] is now the least racist white-majority society in the world; has a better record of legal protections of minorities than any other society, white or black; offers more opportunities to a greater number of black persons than any other society, including all of those of Africa.

It is not for nothing that when Muhammed Ali returned from his first visit to Africa and a reporter asked him what he thought of it, Ali replied, “Thank God my granddaddy got on that boat.”

The principles enshrined in our Constitution also provided the framework for early women’s rights advocates, and they have always been compatible with women’s rights on the basis that sex is not a prerequisite for individual or political rights in our Constitution. In fact, women voted in America, as early as 1790, long before they voted anywhere else. By 1913, women were voting in nine states. The 19th Amendment was not ratified in spite of American foundational principles; it was realized because of this nation’s principles. For a taste of real women’s inequality, take a trip to one of many Islamic nations—and be sure to pack a veil.

“Trump’s America is a shithole country,” Danielle Campoamor writes for Newsweek. To the contrary, Trump’s America is America; it’s struggling to be itself once more, or at least it offers us a chance to reaffirm the real America, against the pernicious narrative that has marched through our institutions since the 1960s under the guise of progress.

The march for progress today finds itself characterized by the “liberating tolerance” called for by Brandeis sociologist Herbert Marcuse in his 1965 book, A Critique of Pure Tolerance, wherein Marcuse demands tolerance for all things from the left, and intolerance for all things coming from the right. When the progressives and those aligned with them call for “progress” or “tolerance,” this is what they mean.

I have become a firm believer that Trump Derangement Syndrome is a misnomer, because I think TDS is more of a truth serum than Mad Cow disease. It has revealed what progressives—and progressively tendentious “conservatives”—want America to become, that is, a geographical expression utterly divorced from the foundational principles of the nation it once was.

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Nefarious or ‘Nothing Burger’? Our Oligarchy on the Nunes Memo

If you aren’t yet persuaded of the existence of a ruling class oligarchy in the United States today, the reactions to the release of the Nunes memo should prompt second thoughts.

The four-page memo made public last week by the House Intelligence Committee details abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department in obtaining a federal intelligence surveillance court’s permission to monitor Carter Page, a U.S. citizen who volunteered briefly with the Trump campaign.

As we now know, the “salacious and unverified” dossier (this is former FBI Director James Comey’s characterization from his June 2017 committee testimony, which the FISA memo cites) compiled by Christopher Steele for the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign “formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application.”

The memo further notes:

Neither the initial application in October 2016, nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s effort, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials.

How did our oligarchs react to such shocking news—news that would have sparked outrage and likely led to impeachment proceedings and prosecutions had the same story broke during the Bush Administration?

Eh… no big deal. With remarkable unanimity, the official channels of approved opinion dismissed the memo as a “nothing burger.” This is the same memo, remember, that Democrats and their mouthpieces in the kept media claimed just days before posed a dire threat to U.S. national security. Its very release to an ignorant public threatened the legitimacy of trusted institutions and could spur Trump to declare himself Lord Protector of the United States. Or something.

Steve Schmidt, the man who oversaw John McCain’s defeat to Barack Obama in 2008, likened the memo to “Al Capone’s safe and Geraldo—it’s a big nothing.”

NeverTrumper Bret Stephens—who has previously written half-joking columns about deporting American citizens and has argued for repealing the Second Amendment—called the memo a “nothing burger” where the “bun is missing, too.”

Stephens waves away the potential massive Fourth Amendment abuses by saying that Comey’s description of the dossier as “unverified” doesn’t make it “untrue.” (Ah, the old “fake but accurate” routine!) But why give it the benefit of the doubt? The only true thing we know for certain about the Steele dossier is that it was funded by the Clinton campaign and collected by a foreign agent who was also an FBI informant until he was caught leaking to the press.

Taking the silly “nothing burger” idiom to silly new heights, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “It’s worse than a nothing burger; it’s like having nothing mustard.” Lieu, who thinks the Framers of the Constitution wrote and adopted the 25th Amendment (it was proposed in 1965 and ratified in 1967), said that the memo is “misleading” and full of “factual inaccuracies,” though he has not read a single word of the memo’s supporting intelligence reports.

MSNBC commentator and failed TV host Donny Deutsch didn’t get his approved talking points in time, however, and he reported breathlessly,  “Our democracy is under siege.” He then called Trump a “dictator” and issued a call to arms: “We need a revolution here.”

Establishment mouthpieces in the media keep talking about how Trump threatens the integrity of our sacred democratic institutions. But those institutions were in peril long before Trump arrived on the scene. And the truth is, the only people talking seriously about “revolution” these days are in #TheResistance. Don’t forget, too: The House Intelligence Committee memo became public through constitutional and democratic means, rather than through the ruling class’s preferred method of unlawful leaks and innuendo. Who’s the real threat to our democratic institutions here?

Former FBI Director Comey, a man who has shown levels of pomposity and arrogance above and beyond those of mere mortal men, called the FISA abuse memo “dishonest and misleading.” Says the man who signed off on multiple warrants to continue surveillance of Page based on documents whose veracity Comey himself has called into question.

David French of National Review jumped on the fact that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) didn’t personally read the memo’s underlying intelligence reports. Scratching desperately for something resembling wit, French wrote:

But what French leaves out of his Adam Schiff-approved talking point is that the House Intelligence Committee had an agreement with the Justice Department to let only one committee member review the supporting materials. And that man was none other than former federal prosecutor Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). Nunes told Fox News’ Bret Baier that he chose Gowdy for his background and experience as a former federal prosecutor.

Gowdy, Nunes, and committee staff collectively wrote the memo and shared its contents with the entire House Intelligence Committee and, later, all House members. FBI Director Christopher Wray also reviewed the memo before its release. Two other senior FBI officials who vetted the memo said they “could not point to any factual inaccuracies.”

The unanimity of opinion from the oligogues on both the Left and the “conservative” Right demonstrates the strength of the gravitational pull of our contemporary groupthink. When ruling class interests capture the American mind, the bulk of Americans lose. Listen to cable news or read the opinion pages of major newspapers. There you will find Americans’ mores and character under incessant attack. Common sense is nothing. Expertise is everything.

Never mind the conventional wisdom of the commentariat. Congress has a duty to oversee the executive branch—that’s part of the “checks and balances” the Constitution’s framers envisioned. The FISA abuse memo provides the basis for a long and intensive investigation of top officials (current and former) at the FBI and the Department of Justice. How have political considerations altered their judgment and work? Americans have a right to know.

What’s more, Congress would also do well to examine the workings of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court in light of the Fourth Amendment, which safeguards American citizens in their “persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Between 1979 and 2015, the court has approved practically every FISA warrant application the government has submitted. That was 1,457 applications in 2015 alone.

As Winston Churchill once said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Let it be so with the memo. The movement to take back our government from the oligarchs and put sovereignty back into the hands of the people with steadfast fight and perseverance is at the end of its beginning.

America • Americanism • civic culture/friendship • Conservatives • Democrats • History • Law and Order • Lincoln • military • Political Parties • political philosophy • Post • race • Republicans • self-government • statesmanship • The Constitution • The Culture • The Declaration • the Flag • Uncategorized

American Publius: Grant Reconsidered

Summing up the importance of Ulysses S. Grant is a daunting task, given his ascension to the American political scene followed the august statesmanship of Abraham Lincoln.

Review of Grant by Ron Chernow (Penguin Press, 1,104 pages, $40)

Any president who followed so closely upon the heels of our martyred 16th president was destined to appear inferior.

Ron Chernow’s new biography, Grant, seeks to defend the general from his detractors. In this, he joins Ronald C. White, who also made an attempt at a popular rehabilitation with American Ulysses in 2016. The interest in our time for a reconsideration of Grant is telling and, perhaps, necessary. The academic view of so many things has come into sharp focus and the standard view of Grant for so long has been a negative one. For more than 100 years, the elite consensus about Grant has been that he was an adequate (though not great) general and a terrible president.

Soon after the war, both Grant and Lincoln were derided in academia under the Lost Cause Thesis, which romantically lauded Southern generals as stylish heroes while the Union generals (especially Grant) were criticized for being bumbling butchers. Of Grant, Woodrow Wilson said he was a simpleton who shouldn’t have been president. (Of course, the Democrat Wilson was also a segregationist who loathed Reconstruction, but this is largely forgotten as being among the reasons to be suspect of his opinions.) Historian William F. McFeely claimed that the general had no special intellectual ability. Even today, those disposed to view Grant in a more favorable light, feel compelled to issue caveats, as a recent review of Chernow’s book at the Law and Liberty website did in claiming Grant was an able general, but a failed president.

Overcoming long-received wisdom is a formidable challenge. Chernow makes an admirable but not definitive effort to defend Grant’s legacy. His book reminds us of Grant’s accomplishments and the honorable character he displayed throughout his life.

Grant was not only the most elevated general since Washington, he was also the only president between Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson to serve two full terms. Grant, moreover, was deft in his political sensibilities. He earned the affection of his countrymen and was recognized alongside Washington and Lincoln as among the most important figures of the Republic—the former being a founder, and Lincoln and Grant were its preservers. A human being is to be counted among the blessed if in his lifetime he can point to one such example of a statesman, but between 1860 and 1878, Americans had two.

If Lincoln was the thinker and oratory expounder of the idea at the bedrock of our union, Grant, at least initially, was a man who carried the burden of doing. We forget that both men were underrated, dismissed by an intellectual elite as backward and slow. We must admit that absent Grant, Lincoln would be considered a failed president. In fact, Lincoln’s delay as a result of practical and political realities in finding the right general to prosecute the war nearly cost him a successful re-election and hence the military victory that saved the Union.  

Grant married into a pro-slavery, ardently pro-Democrat family and navigated not only his overbearing, opinionated father-in-law (whom his wife adored) but also his own familial challenges. Grant’s  father always sought to capitalize on his son’s success, even to the point of being a hindrance on the war effort. Though his upbringing was decidedly pro-Union and anti-slavery, his ability to navigate family was a testament to how he could speak prudently or be silent when necessary. He honed these skills when, duty bound, he rejoined the military after years of toil and poverty in private life. It was only because,  in his words, “traitors fired on our flag” at Fort Sumter that Grant eventually accepted a position with the Illinois infantry volunteers. His ascension in rank from there was meteoric.

While Grant piled up military victories, others who were jealous of his talents and self-interested for their own advancement, sought to destroy him. Grant was an effective soldier, and continually had to cajole his superiors to take action. In the early years of the war, Lincoln was surrounded by timid and overly cautious generals who did not pursue the enemy aggressively. Except for a few occasions, wherever he turned, he found disappointment. Grant made a name for himself by being smart and aggressive. Lincoln fixed on him.

His success drew the ire of many who wanted to minimize his accomplishments or defame his character. He had to fend off continuous and myriad charges: drunkenness, sloth, undependability, unpreparedness, inattention to detail, insubordination, and of course butchery. It should come as no shock that many journalists in his day were all too happy to parrot these lies and slanders against Grant. Fake news was just as prevalent then as it is today. These charges were so numerous that even the head of the Union army, Henry W. Halleck (who harbored many jealousies of Grant), sent someone to spy on him.

Despite these allegations, one thing stood out. Grant was more often than not a winner. He was the only one who could see the entire map of the war. Wearing down and outsmarting Robert E. Lee was one of Grant’s greatest achievements as a military commander. Early on, Lincoln noticed his talents and declared that he could not spare such a man because he was willing to take the battle to an entrenched enemy. Grant was no coward and knew better than any (with the exception of maybe Sherman and Sheridan) what needed to be done to defeat the Confederacy.

A few remarks here about Grant and his consumption and alleged abuse of alcohol. The charge dogged him all his life. No one, not even Chernow, addresses why this is supposed to be so important. There were several generals, including Halleck, who drank to excess—so why is Grant’s alleged “abuse” so intriguing? Part of the attention to his alcohol consumption at the time was because of the growing influence of the temperance movement. Part of it was also that Grant was a rising figure, and so it was an attack meant to prevent him somehow from achieving further greatness.

Chernow spends too much time on this question trying to dissect which instances were real and which were not. He even ends his book on the question of Grant’s drinking as discussed by his good friend Mark Twain. This obsession detracts from the book. In the end, who cares? He was no alcoholic and it hardly affected his performance on the battlefield or in office, even if he did imbibe. One has only to look at the bar tab for the representatives to the 1787 Constitutional Convention to realize how the drinking question is blown out of proportion. Grant certainly drank at times and may personally have struggled with the temptation for part, though not all, of his life. He was no drunkard, however. We apparently care so much about this issue because his enemies carried it with some success, and that’s a shame. Perhaps there is something of prurient even in our desire to understand history.

Even before the war ended, Grant’s name was bandied about as a potential presidential candidate. He remained loyal to Lincoln, however, and focused on defeating the enemy. His good friend William Tecumseh Sherman begged him never to run, but eventually Grant allowed his name to be placed into nomination after deftly sidestepping the demagogue Andrew Johnson from pulling him into his own political machinations. Only someone intelligent and politically savvy could navigate both the war and the post-war atmosphere.

Grant always supported Lincoln’s emancipation turn. After Lincoln’s assassination, Grant bided his time and tried to salvage Reconstruction in the face of the hostile Johnson. As president, Grant was protective of former slaves, and oversaw the application of civil rights for these newly enfranchised voters—using the coercive power of the federal government when necessary. This fact makes Grant our first civil rights president. Reconstruction’s failure was not owing to Grant or to a lack of desire on his part to implement it. Reconstruction failed because Congressional Republicans lost the will to pursue protections for blacks amid the growing violence in the South. Still, Grant did everything he could in light of such opposition to protect the lives, property, and voting rights of these newly enfranchised citizens.  

Was Grant’s administration especially corrupt? Many of his appointees took bribes and engaged in other forms of self-dealing. Then again, corruption was a characteristic of the Gilded Age not limited to Grant’s  administration. In fact, government corruption was rampant before Grant became president. As president, Grant was always surprised by such betrayals of trust. Yet he never impeded any investigation and left office untainted personally by scandal.  Chernow rightly criticizes Grant for his “poor selection of cabinet officers and how he handled their downfalls.” But it’s a testament to his character that he never tried to interfere with the law even as he vehemently denied many of his friends were guilty. When it was clear they were guilty, Grant admitted the fact and was wounded by it.

As a matter of sound administration, Grant put the government on the road to pay off its debt, secured the economy on sounder footing, oversaw the education of the former slaves, slashed taxes, and turned trade to a surplus. No one could be unhappy with such deft administration.

Politics is a clarifier, not an opaque mask, to revealing the character of men. The obstacles Grant faced were in some ways more challenging than those faced by Lincoln. The 16th president had a crisis to manage and that tends to bring interests together even as the difficulty itself may seem daunting and insurmountable. Sometimes that very difficulty is the glue that makes winning more likely. Grant presided over a victory and a peace, with the exception of the proliferating domestic terror unleashed by the Ku Klux Klan. This caused the war coalition to fray with personal self-interestedness being more nakedly pursued. Grant, like Lincoln, may have had personal flaws, but also like the Great Emancipator, he shared Lincoln’s ability for circumspection.

When it comes to Grant and the eternal struggle for political justice, we suffer from a “national amnesia.” We forget that Grant faced an oppositional force in the South after the war that never laid down its arms. We ought to be grateful for his dogged determination to protect all citizens under the banner of natural rights in spite of the growing influence of progressivism.