Just last week, Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are closely aligned with Iran, claimed credit for a drone attack on Saudi oil processing facilities.
News changes fast — a surprising development is that now the Houthi’s say Iran is responsible for the attack and that the Iranians have more attacks planned in the near future. The Houthi’s also vowed not to launch any additional attacks themselves.
Something that is not surprising is that missile defense critics in the U.S. are now arguing that the drone attack proves that missile defense doesn’t work. This is, of course, entirely without merit. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin is offering Russian missile defense systems to “help” protect against future attacks from its client state of Iran. Let that sink in.
Given Russia’s intimate relationship with Iran, it is entirely possible the attack was coordinated with Russia. It is not as if this would be out of character for Putin. Of course, Putin has never done anything on the international stage simply to be helpful. He is simply trying to help himself and advance his ambitions.
Imagine if he could get U.S. allies to insert and integrate Russian hardware into their U.S.-made defensive systems. Imagine the hacking potential on something like that. Putin would love to learn more about our defensive systems. For that reason, the U.S. earlier this year canceled sales of high-tech American defensive systems to Turkey, a member of NATO, after they integrated Russian equipment in their defensive systems.
But back to the missile defense critics in the U.S. who are unwittingly helping Putin.
Right now very little is actually known about the attack. While preliminary indications are it was a drone attack, we are not even certain precisely what weapons were used. It is profoundly unhelpful to jump to hasty conclusions to support a misguided ideology — particularly when the primary beneficiary of those hasty conclusions will be an adversary like Putin’s Russia.
Beyond not jumping to silly conclusions without any real facts, it is important to realize that an effective missile defense system is layered. Parts of the system protect against ICBMs which actually at some point in their flight are out of the Earth’s atmosphere. Parts of the system protect against intermediate range missiles and other parts protect against shorter range missiles. Each of these missiles has different travel paths and different vulnerabilities. Thus different defenses are needed.
In football, a good defensive coordinator employs a different defense if the opposing team needs only one yard to score than he would if the opposition need twenty-five yards to score. The same concept is true with missile defense.
Having only one layer of missile defense in place to defend against all sorts of attacks leaves the region vulnerable to the other risks. For example, the Patriot defensive missile system is designed to protect against high-flying targets such as jets and ballistic missiles. It wasn’t designed to defend against low flying drones and short range cruise missiles. Patriot’s radars are not intended to scan such low flying means of attack. Nor was Patriot designed to intercept ICBM’s just outside the Earth’s atmosphere. But we know the Patriot system works very well as we’ve seen it in real life combat defend both troops and civilian populations from missile attack.
Criticizing any particular layer of missile defense for not stopping an attack that it was never designed or intended to stop is like criticizing a 350 pound defensive nose tackle for not doing a good job of racing down the sideline to cover a speedy wide receiver. A good defensive football team is made up of different parts, with different skills and capabilities. Together they are a formidable defense. But playing out of position, they are ineffective.
To defend Saudi oil faculties, they would need a layered system — one that has the ability to protect against ballistic missile attack as well as drones and low-flying cruise missiles. Missile defense critics know this, but they don’t care. They simply want to use an unfortunate news event to promote their misguided anti-missile defense ideology in hopes of a short-term political victory.
Since his return to power as Prime Minister in 2010, Viktor Orban has posed the greatest threat to the fledgling Hungarian democracy as well as to the gradual political integration of the European Union. Having been voted out of office unceremoniously after just a single four year term in 2002, he and his party, the Alliance of Young Democrats (Hungarian acronyms: FIDESZ), worked hard in opposition for eight long years to undermine successive Hungarian governments by developing and refining his all consuming ideological and institutional hatred for democracy. Domestically, his message centered around the extreme politicization of the historical miseries of the Hungarian people, and the emotional weaponization of the notion of being surrounded by a sea of hostile Slavic nations. This shameless and even unconscionable exploitation of Hungary’s turbulent history and lack of proper political culture, has resulted in an intellectual vacuum in politics that has prevented the country of leaving the past behind and to embark unequivocally on a pro-Western course. To add insult to injury, his relentless anti-Brussels’ rhetoric has cemented the centuries’ old Hungarian resentment vis-a-vis the leading powers of the European continent. However, these prior aberrations from core European values have not been taken into consideration as a wide assortment of European and American politicians mindlessly courted Viktor Orban, while in opposition, as the face of the “new Europe.”
In reality, Viktor Orban has never stopped being an authoritarian wolf in sheep’s clothing. Since 2010, he has wielded absolute power in Hungary. Thus, Hungary has reverted back to the status quo ante of being a one-party state. Therefore, knowing what motivates him means understanding the root causes of Hungarian domestic and foreign policies. Because he has worked very hard to create this situation, Viktor Orban has been determined not to give up even an iota of his powers. Voluntarily or constitutionally, he will never share it with anybody inside of Hungary or outside of it with the European Union’s institutions in Brussels and elsewhere.
His so-called “illiberal democracy”, which is in itself a contradictio in terminis, is decidedly anti-democratic as well as anti-capitalist. According to his primitiv and incoherent reasoning, the new era for Hungary has started not with the liberation of Hungary in June 1991, but with the financial crisis of 2008. Defining it as “a huge Western financial collapse” that changed the world forever, he states that the pre-2008 liberal world order is over, being replaced by the “illiberal democracies” of Asia, such as China, Singapore, India, and even the geographically hybrid Russia and Turkey. In his now infamous speech, delivered on July 26, 2014, in Baile Tusnad (in Hungarian: Tusnadfurdo), Romania, he spoke about his vision for the future of Hungary. Invoking former President Barack Obama, he claimed that the former “made numerous and repeated statements regarding how American society and the American government is to declare war on cynicism originating from the financial sector.” To underscore his thesis of America’s moral decline, Viktor Orban elaborated thus: “The US president says that if a hardworking American constantly has to choose between career and family, America will lose its place in the world economy.” To wit, without naming “a well recognized analyst”, Viktor Orban directly warned the United States of America that “the strength of American “soft power” is deteriorating , because liberal values today incorporate corruption, sex and violence, and these liberal values discredit America and American modernization.” Unsatisfied with calling the United States of America ubiquitously immoral, Viktor Orban turned on Western Europe thus: “Also, the Open Society Foundation published a study not long ago analyzing Western Europe. In this, we can read a sentence that says that Western Europe was so preoccupied with solving the situation of immigrants that it forgot about the working class.” Then, to up his anti-democratic and anti-capitalist rhetoric, he continued: “One of the richest Americans, who was one of the first investors in the company Amazon, stated that we are living in a society that is less and less capitalist and more and more feudal, and if the economic system does not reform itself then the middle class will disappear, and as he puts it, “the rich will be attacked with pitchforks.”
Following this idiotic and garbled reasoning, Viktor Orban came to the self-serving conclusion that there is a race in the world “to invent a state that is most capable of making a nation successful.” His solution is a system “that are not Western, not liberal, not liberal democracy, maybe not even democracy, and yet making nations (still) successful.” Designating China, Russia, India, Singapore, and Turkey “the stars of the world”, he found them all worthy of emulation. Again, reverting back to his fascination with authoritarianism and dictatorship, he stated: “Just because something is not liberal, it still can be a democracy.” How this feat could be accomplished is, according to this newly minted fake political philosopher, very simple. The world must abandon liberal democracy altogether and join the forces of authoritarianism and dictatorships, in order to establish divine justice, equality, prosperity; in other words, heaven on earth. What Viktor Orban failed to utter openly is that, according to him, universal peace and prosperity could only reign on earth when the almighty state, headed by people like him, would rule exclusively over everybody and everything.
The triumphant march of authoritarianism has started immediately after the 2010 elections in Hungary. Having secured a two-thirds majority in the Hungarian Parliament called Orszaggyules (the State Assembly) with a simple majority of the popular votes, Viktor Orban and his party decided to give the country a new constitution. The April 25, 2011, constitution that entered into force in 2012, and amended until now seven times to serve the increasingly authoritarian whim of the Prime Minister, starts with the first sentence of the Hungarian national anthem and continues with a preamble full of lies and historical distortions. Giving short shift and even denying the real history of the country between March 19, 1944, the occupation of Hungary by the Wehrmacht, and the withdrawal of the Soviet Red Army from Hungary in June 1991, Viktor Orban intended to hide that political developments in Hungary have failed to establish a solid foundation for democracy.
The main body of the constitution is laced with meaningless platitudes and political slogans, intended to conceal the intentional ambiguities of the legal guarantees of individual rights, the lack of separation of powers, the mocking of the rule of law, and the lost principle of checks and balances. Subsequent legislative acts resulted in total control by FIDESZ of the judiciary through the National Office of the Judiciary, the local governments, the media, academia, and the financial institutions by the long term appointments of loyal political soldiers of his party. In reality, the new legal system created by FIDESZ have destroyed the very principles of democracy by their actual application. Thus, Viktor Orban established a legal system that does not apply to him, his family, and his crownies. Clearly, such a dual implementation of the law makes the entire legal system a hoax. This hoax, in turn, cannot guarantee peace, freedom, and order in society. Today’s Hungary is an inverted democracy. Viktor Orban’s government is an instrument of legally sanctioned coercion.
Yet, along with this inverted and distorted democracy, Viktor Orban lives in permanent fear of the Hungarian people. For the majority of Hungarians, residing within the internationally recognized borders of Hungary, reject their growing tyrannization by the FIDESZ government. In 2014 and 2018 respectively, FIDESZ was only able to capture around 44% of the votes, while still maintaining its slim two-thirds majority in Parliament. Accordingly, the new citizenship and electoral laws have extended citizenship and granted voting rights to all ethnic Hungarians in the neighboring countries. These ethnic Hungarians are allowed to vote by mail, while Hungarian citizens residing within Hungary, but working abroad, have to go to one of the country’s diplomatic residences to cast their ballots. In this manner, general and local elections in Hungary have been tainted with serious irregularities, and even fraudulent schemes. Therefore, the Law CCIII of 2011 as amended, on the elections of members of Parliament, has been subjected to limitless criticism domestically by all the opposition parties as well as by the European Commission For Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission). To add political insult to legal injury, FIDESZ members in the National Election Committee also enjoy absolute majority. This construct, namely government within the government, could perpetuate Viktor Orban’s authoritarianism for decades to come.
The Orban administration’s rationale is obvious. Ethnic Hungarians resent to be a minority in states that the Hungarian kingdom controlled for centuries. For this reason, they are more inclined to vote for FIDESZ that they consider to protect them internationally. Hungarians who leave the country mostly to Western Europe, Canada, and the United States of America are less likely to prefer the current government. In this regard, reports of long lines in front of Hungarian embassies and consulates and the resulting chaos underscores the ulterior motives of Viktor Orban and his administration. In addition, votes submitted by mail cannot be monitored and verified as easily as ballots cast in person. Such vote rigging and ubiquitous electoral fraud, in order to maintain FIDESZ’s narrow supermajority in Parliament, has been well documented in numerous investigating journalistic reports in Hungarian social media and the international press.
The politically motivated overthrow of the pre-2010 legal system, accompanied by the aggressive dismantling of the democratic institutions and the persecution of private organizations representing core European values, finally has drawn the attention of the European Union to the Hungarian situation. Accordingly, on May 17, 2017, the European Parliament adopted by a vote of 393 in favor to 221 against with 64 abstentions a resolution to trigger the warning mechanism of Article 7, Section 1, of the Treaty of the European Union against Hungary. This resolution called upon the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs to produce a report on “the political situation in Hungary.” Invoking Article 7, Section 1, of the Treaty of the European Union was without a precedent before. Subsequently, the aforementioned Committee appointed Judith Sargentini of the Netherlands, as the rapporteur responsible for writing a report on the political situation in Hungary.
On June 25, 2018, the Committee adopted the Sargentini Report by a vote of 37 for and 19 against. On September 12, 2018, the European Parliament voted on the Sargentini Report, condemning with a four-fifths majority the anti-democratic turn of Hungary, and initiating the procedure related to Article 7, Section 1 of the Treaty of the European Union by requesting the Council of the European Union “to determine, pursuant to article 7, Section 1, of the Treaty of the European Union, the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded.”
Here, it is noteworthy to state that in the entire history of the European Parliament such an overwhelming consensus concerning a member state had never been recorded before. Up until that date, Viktor Orban’s political acrobatics, namely, his attempt to ride simultaneously two horses, the European and the Hungarian, with two inherently irreconcilable rhetorics, have not been challenged in a serious way. Yet, FIDESZ’s campaign against Brussels under the banner of “Let’s Stop Brussels”, and the subsequent “Stop Soros” movement with its anti-Semitic overtones, finally opened the eyes of the European Union to the blatantly anti-EU policies of and to the destruction of democracy by the Orban administration, which taken together have posed a mortal danger to the entire Union.
Citing Article 49 of the Treaty of the European Union that makes it the precondition of joining the organization the respect and the promotion of European values, the Sargentini Report enumerates the Orban administration’s transgressions in twelve points. For starters, the number twelve has its special significance for every Hungarian. When the Hungarians rose in 1848 against the Habsburg tyranny, young Hungarians condensed their demands for national independence and democracy in exactly twelve points. The public reading of the Twelve Points on March 15, 1848, signaled the beginning of the long and bloody Battle for Freedom (in Hungarian: Szabadsagharc) that was crushed in 1849 by the joint forces of the Habsburg Emperor and Nicholas I of Russia.
Generally speaking, the Sargentini Report raises three major issues: democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Primarily, it voices alarm over the functioning of the constitutional and electoral systems. In its second point, it deals with the independence of the judiciary and of other institutions, and the rights of judges. Next, it examines the topics of corruption and conflict of interest. In point four, it analyses the issues of privacy and data protection. This follows by taking under the microscope the subject of freedom of expression. Points six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, and twelve examine the state of academic freedom, freedom of religion, freedom of association, the right to equal treatment, the rights of minorities and their protection against hateful statements, the fundamental rights of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, and the state of economic and social rights.
More specifically, the Sargentini Report criticizes the endangerment of the separation of powers and the weakening of the national system of checks and balances; the restrictions on the authority of the Constitutional Court and the recent changes to the procedure of selecting judges; the excessive powers of the president of the National Judicial Office; the “serious irregularities” and “conflicts of interest” with regard to EU-financed public-procurement tenders; insufficient legal guarantees against unlawful surveillance for national security purposes; inadequate guarantees of freedom of expression; the procedures regarding the election of the Media Council; the legal provision granting exclusive rights to the Hungarian News Agency (Hungarian acronyms: MTI) to provide news for public television and radio; the singling out of about two thousand Hungarians by name through the press, who allegedly working to “topple” the Orban government; constraint on academic freedom by then Law on National Higher Education; the war on NGOs; incitement against foreigners; discrimination against women; rising sentiments of racism and intolerance against the Roma minority; and the politicization of anti-Semitism.
As a response, the Hungarian Parliament adopted a resolution by a vote of 129 in favor to 26 votes against, with 18 abstentions, on October 16, 2018, condemning the Sargentini Report. The resolution reads in its main part as follows:
“The Sargentini Report attacked the decisions, Fundamental Law, legislation and personal decisions that the democratically elected Hungarian Parliament ratified within its own sphere of authority. With this, it (the Sargentini Report) transcended its sphere of authority and violated Hungary’s sovereignty….. We reject the slander contained in the mendacious pro-immigration indictment called the Sargentini Report. We reject this report which attacks Hungary because it did not admit immigrants, rejected the quota, built a legal border barrier and made the organization of illegal immigration punishable….. We call upon the government of Hungary not to submit to blackmail: reject the false accusations against Hungary and take legal measures against the fraudulently adopted report slandering Hungary.”
In the spirit of this resolution, the Hungarian government recently submitted a 131 page Information Note to the General Affairs Council of the European Union. In it, Hungary attacks the decisions by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union on procedural as well as material grounds. Procedurally, Hungary objected to the method of vote counting. Because of the procedural irregularities, Hungary considers all the votes in this matter “null and void.” In its substance, Hungary judges the Report as being “politically motivated” and not being based on “facts, precise legal provisions and objective analysis.” The main body of the Note attempts to refute the Report point by point. However, the Hungarian government’s arguments are woefully one sided and selective. Contrary to its assertions, the NOTE is politically motivated and subjective in the extreme. Clearly, Viktor Orban is absolutely determined to prevent the Euopean Union from interfering with his authoritarian rule and his all pervasive criminal corruption schemes in Hungary.
Most recently, at the 28th Congress of FIDESZ, on September 28, 2019, Viktor Orban was reelected chairman of his party. His closing speech reinforced the message in the Hungarian government’s Information Note. To begin with, it was highly arrogant in its tone and extremely appalling in its content. Calling his fellow party members comrades, he credited their unquestionable loyalty to him as the most important political attribute of FIDESZ against his opponents. Defining the essence of membership as “of the same blood”, he thanked everybody for having shown understanding and forgiveness toward his weaknesses. Equating this with President Reagan’s eleventh commandment, he stated that in his party, members are mere workers and he alone is the boss. Rejecting 1991 as the initial date of regime change, he stated that the real political changes started to develop in 2010, from his second ascension to power. Repeating again his disdain for democracy, he termed the 2011 constitution the foundation of Christian freedom as opposed to liberal freedom. Without explaining what he meant by that distinction, he launched into an incoherent attack against “internationalism” and praised Hungarian patriotism. Displaying his total misunderstanding of the American and European democracies, he went after the liberal elites whose rule he termed “very dangerous.” Labeling his opposition “traitors of the nation”, he declared that the unity of FIDESZ and the Hungarian people is indivisible. Praising his like minded Polish colleagues and criticizing the new Italian government, and Prime Minister Conte personally, offering him sarcastically Hungary’s assistance in border protection, he again repeated his resolve not to cooperate with Brussels on immigration. In closing, referring to the Hungarian nation as “our race” (in Hungarian: a mi fajtank), he exhorted his comrades to persevere against those who try to harm Hungary. In his last sentence, he rejoiced over the “great powers that have moved around Europe and Hungary”, and assured his “comrades” that, for this reason, they are not animals but living souls, who understand that Hungary exists “over everything”, and that “the good Lord is present above everybody.” Finally, being the avid soccer fan he is, he yelled: “Go for it Hungarians! Go for it Hungary!” The message is: “My way United States of America and European Union or the highway.”
Two days later, on September 30, 2019, at a joint press conference with Finland’s Prime Minister Antti Rinne, Viktor Orban lashed out at everybody who, according to him, dares to question that Hungary is a nation of laws, and who dares to state that the rule of law does not fully exist in Hungary. “Anybody who questions that Hungary is a state of the rule of law threads on our honor, and I recommend everybody to contemplate such a statement very carefully.” In addition, he stated that international relations must be based on mutual respect and not on countries snubbing each other.
Realistically, the European Union is powerless to act effectively against the challenges to its authority by Viktor Orban. It can strip Hungary of voting rights and representation, but powerless of removing the latter from the organization. Thus, the wholesale destruction of democracy and the free economy will continue in Hungary unabated. Along with Hungary’s “illiberal democracy”, the number of like minded governments and counterfeit republics would most probably multiply. These governments will surely remain unstable and weak. The peoples that they supposedly represent, will be denied their basic rights and, with time, will decide to revolt. From these dangers the European Union must be saved. Clearly, only a great reconstruction of the Union will save all of Europe.
The United States of America would be well advised to assist in saving the continent again. In this context, Viktor Orban is a highly destructive force and a great political liability that Washington cannot afford. His goal is to weaken and ultimately destroy the European Union, in order to save his corrupt, criminal, and authoritarian regime. Surely, he must be stopped. The United States of America must rise above Viktor Orban’s false narrative about being the European Trump because of his anti-migrant policy. Clearly, he is not President Donald J. Trump. More importantly, Washington must understand that a strong and more unified European Union is a strategic ally whom the United States of America cannot weaken by supporting those who strive to destroy it. For, if the European Union fails, democracy and capitalism will be endangered, and the United States of America will be at a strategic disadvantage vis-a-vis Russia and China.
More globally, the world cannot stand idly by, witness the current corruption, and the ultimate destruction of the most successful civilization in human history. The choice between the future of the European Union and Viktor Orban is a no brainer. If he does not comprehend what is at stake, Viktor Orban must be relegated to the ash heap of history.
Professional American historiography has made steady advances in the breadth and sophistication with which it approaches certain aspects of the past, but those advances have come at the expense of public knowledge and shared historical consciousness. The story of America has been fractured into a thousand pieces and burdened with so much ideological baggage that studying history actually alienates young Americans from the possibility of properly appreciating their past. Nearly 20 years ago I wrote a small book called The Student’s Guide to U.S. History for ISI Books. I was unable to include in its bibliography a high school or college level textbook on U.S. history, because there was not one suitable for recommendation.
But criticism of the status quo is easy. What is harder is to create a better alternative. That was my aim in writing Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story.
Land of Hope swims against the prevailing currents in several ways, not the least of which is that it is a physical book. It is no coincidence that the giant textbook publisher Pearson has just announced its plans to go digital-first with its own massive array of textbooks, 1,500 titles in all, including those in history. Students will eventually be required to use—and institutions will be required to offer—the constantly updated texts, tethering students and schools exclusively to the publisher’s digital platform. George Orwell, please call the Ministry of Truth.
In the early years of printing, printers would often display a truncated version of a Latin proverb: Littera scripta manet, which means, “The written letter remains.” The whole proverb reads: Vox audita perit littera scripta manet, which can be translated, “The heard voice perishes, but the written letter remains.” It contrasts fleeting orality and settled literacy. What does such a proverb mean today, when our civilization—in which the great majority of inhabitants, as Christians and Jews, have been People of the Book—is fast becoming a civilization inhabited by People of the Screen, people tied to the ever-changing, ever-fluid, ever-malleable presentation of the past made possible by the nature of digital technology?
Land of Hope also goes against the current by not dumbing down the reading level. It is written with an underlying conviction that we should never sell short the capacity of young Americans to read challenging books if they are interesting and well-wrought. Such books are far more likely to stoke the fire of their imaginations and convey to them the complexity and excitement of history—history not as an inert recitation of facts, but as a reflective task that takes us to the depths of what it means to be human.
Let me mention three distinctive themes that run through the book, themes that are hinted at in the book’s title and are instructive about America’s character.
First, there is the theme of America as a land—not just an idea, but also a people and a nation; a nation with a particular history, connected to a particular piece of real estate. To understand our nation, it’s not enough to understand principles such as equality and liberty, as important as those are. We also have to understand how those principles were put into action, how they were developed, how they came to be forces in our national life. American history, to be sure, is inseparable from America’s principles and ideals, but America is not simply those things. It is a place with a venerable history created by men and women to whom our veneration is owed. Think of those who lie in Arlington National Cemetery and of countless others in the long history of such sacrifices made on behalf of our country. These things bind us to the land in visceral ways that go beyond ideas or principles.
Second is the theme of hope. The idea of America as a land of hope shouldn’t be misinterpreted as signifying a saccharine or sentimental view of America’s past, but rather as taking into account history’s spiritual dimension. We are creatures with free wills and aspirations, not merely tumbleweeds at the mercy of large historical forces. Hope is a quality of soul, something that’s not quantifiable or explicable in strictly material terms. It is a consistent characteristic of this country that we have always sought to rise above or move beyond the conditions that are given to us at birth—something not true of every people. To be an American is to believe that the status we are born into is never the final word. We have a spirit of striving, a spirit of hope that goes back to our very beginnings.
Third and finally there is the theme of story. Our narratives large and small are an essential part of the way that we Americans make sense of the world. As I write in the book,
The impulse to write history and organize our world around stories is intrinsic to us as human beings. We are, at our core, remembering and story-making creatures, and stories are one of the chief ways we find meaning in the flow of events. What we call “history” and “literature” are merely the refinement and intensification of that basic human impulse, that need.
The word need is not an exaggeration. For the human animal, meaning is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Without it, we perish. Historical consciousness is to civilized society what memory is to individual identity. Without memory, without the stories by which our memories are carried forward, we cannot say who, or what, we are. Without them, our life and thought dissolve into a meaningless, unrelated rush of events. Without them, we cannot do the most human of things: we cannot learn, use language, pass on knowledge, raise children, establish rules of conduct, engage in science, or dwell harmoniously in society. Without them, we cannot govern ourselves.
Nor can we have a sense of the future as a time we know will come, because we remember that other tomorrows have come and gone. A culture without memory will necessarily be barbarous and easily tyrannized, even if it is technologically advanced. The incessant waves of daily events will occupy all our attention and defeat all our efforts to connect past, present, and future, thereby diverting us from an understanding of the human things that unfold in time, including the path of our own lives.
The stakes were beautifully expressed in the words of the great Jewish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer: “When a day passes it is no longer there. What remains of it? Nothing more than a story. If stories weren’t told or books weren’t written, man would live like the beasts, only for the day. The whole world, all human life is one long story.”
Singer was right. As individuals, as communities, as countries: we are nothing more than flotsam and jetsam without the stories in which we find our lives’ meaning.
Of course, there are stories and then there are stories. French writer André Malraux once wrote, “A man is what he hides: a miserable little pile of secrets.” That’s one way of thinking about a man’s life, but it’s a reductive and simplistic way. We’ve all read biographies like that. But where in this approach is an account of a man’s striving, his ambitions, his ideals, his efforts at transcendence? Is it a fair and accurate account of a man to speak only or even mainly of his secrets and failings? Similarly with a nation’s history, it must be far more than a compilation of failings and crimes. It must give credence to the aspirational dimension of a nation’s life, and particularly for so aspirational a nation as the United States—arguably the most aspirational nation in human history.
A proper history of America must do this without evading the fact that we’ve often failed miserably, fallen short, and done terrible things. We have not always been a land of hope for everyone—for a great many, but not for all. And so our sense of hope has a double-edged quality about it: to be a land of hope is also to risk being a land of disappointment, a land of frustration, even a land of disillusionment. To understand our history is to experience these negative things. But we wouldn’t experience them so sharply if we weren’t a land of hope, if we didn’t embrace that outlook and aspiration. To use a colloquialism, we Americans allow ourselves to get our hopes up—and that is always risky.
Land of Hope’s epigraph is a passage that has long been a source of inspiration and direction to me. Written by John Dos Passos, a man of the radical left in his youth who later moved to the sensible right, it is from a 1941 essay, “The Use of the Past,” and it is uncannily relevant to the present:
Every generation rewrites the past. In easy times history is more or less of an ornamental art, but in times of danger we are driven to the written record by a pressing need to find answers to the riddles of today. We need to know what kind of firm ground other men, belonging to generations before us, have found to stand on. In spite of changing conditions of life they were not very different from ourselves, their thoughts were the grandfathers of our thoughts, they managed to meet situations as difficult as those we have to face, to meet them sometimes lightheartedly, and in some measure to make their hopes prevail. We need to know how they did it.
In times of change and danger when there is a quicksand of fear under men’s reasoning, a sense of continuity with generations gone before can stretch like a lifeline across the scary present and get us past that idiot delusion of the exceptional Now that blocks good thinking. That is why, in times like ours, when old institutions are caving in and being replaced by new institutions not necessarily in accord with most men’s preconceived hopes, political thought has to look backwards as well as forwards.
Isn’t that marvelous? There’s so much to unpack in it, but of special relevance today is his rather rough denunciation of “that idiot delusion of the exceptional Now.” This phrase expresses something that nearly all of us who teach history run up against. It’s harder than usual today to get young people interested in the past because they are so firmly convinced that we’re living in a time so unprecedented, enjoying pocket-sized technologies that are so transformative, that there’s no point in looking at what went on in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. To them the past has been superseded—just as our present world is forever in the process of being superseded.
While this posture may be ill-informed and lazy, a way to justify not learning anything, it also represents a genuine conviction, amply reinforced by the endless passing parade of sensations and images in which we are enveloped—one thing always being succeeded by something else, nothing being permanent, nothing enduring, always moving, moving, moving into a new exceptional Now. But it is a childish and disabling illusion that must be countered, in just the way that Dos Passos suggests.
Even in confronting the challenging questions of American history, most notably the existence of slavery, there are deep lessons to be learned. By the time of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the institution of slavery had become deeply enmeshed in the national economy, despite all the ways that its existence stood in glaring contradiction to our nation’s commitment to equality and self-rule as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Hence there was real bite to the mocking question fired at Americans by British writer and lexicographer Samuel Johnson: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”
How, we wonder today, could such otherwise enlightened and exemplary men as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have owned slaves, a practice so contradictory to all they stood for? As I write in the book:
There is no easy answer to such questions. But surely a part of the answer is that each of us is born into a world that we did not make, and it is only with the greatest effort, and often at very great cost, that we are ever able to change that world for the better. Moral sensibilities are not static; they develop and deepen over time, and general moral progress is very slow. Part of the study of history involves a training of the imagination, learning to see historical actors as speaking and acting in their own times rather than ours; and learning to see even our heroes as an all-too-human mixture of admirable and unadmirable qualities, people like us who may, like us, be constrained by circumstances beyond their control. . . .
The ambivalences regarding slavery built into the structure of the Constitution were almost certainly unavoidable in the short term, in order to achieve an effective political union of the nation. What we need to understand is how the original compromise no longer became acceptable to increasing numbers of Americans, especially in one part of the Union, and why slavery, a ubiquitous institution in human history, came to be seen not merely as an unfortunate evil but as a sinful impediment to human progress, a stain upon a whole nation. We live today on the other side of a great transformation in moral sensibility, a transformation that was taking place but was not yet completed in the very years the United States was being formed.
A related lesson of history is that acts of statesmanship often require courage and imagination, even daring, especially when the outcome seems doubtful. Take the case of Lincoln. So accustomed are we to thinking of Lincoln in heroic terms that we forget the depth and breadth of his unpopularity during his entire time in office. Few great leaders have been more comprehensively disdained, loathed, and underestimated. A low Southern view of him, of course, was to be expected, but it was widely shared in the North as well. As Lincoln biographer David Donald put it, “Lincoln’s own associates thought him ‘a Simple Susan, a baboon, an aimless punster, a smutty joker.’” Abolitionist Wendell Phillips called him “a huckster in politics, a first-rate, second-rate man.” George McClellan, his opponent in the 1864 election, openly disdained him as a “well-meaning baboon.” For much of that election year, Lincoln was convinced, with good reason, that he was doomed to lose the election, with incalculable consequences for the war effort and the future of the nation.
To quote the book again:
We need to remember that this is generally how history happens. It is not like a Hollywood movie in which the background music swells and the crowd in the room applauds and leaps to its feet as the orator dispenses timeless words, and the camera pans the room full of smiling faces. In real history, the background music does not swell, the trumpets do not sound, and the carping critics often seem louder than the applause. The leader or the soldier has to wonder whether he is acting in vain, whether the criticisms of others are in fact true, whether time will judge him harshly, whether his sacrifice will count for anything. Few great leaders have felt this burden more completely than Lincoln.
In conclusion, let me suggest that the story of the ending of the Civil War in April 1865 might hold a lesson for those of our fellow countrymen today who seem to regard America’s past with contempt:
On April 9, after a last flurry of futile resistance, Lee faced facts and arranged to meet Grant at a brick home in the village of Appomattox Court House to surrender his army. He could not formally surrender for the whole Confederacy, but the surrender of his army would trigger the surrender of all others, and so it represented the end of the Confederate cause.
It was a poignant scene, dignified and restrained and sad, as when a terrible storm that has raged and blown has finally exhausted itself, leaving behind a strange and reverent calm, purged of all passion. The two men had known one another in the Mexican War, and had not seen one another in nearly twenty years. Lee arrived first, wearing his elegant dress uniform, soon to be joined by Grant clad in a mud-spattered sack coat, his trousers tucked into his muddy boots. They showed one another a deep and respectful courtesy, and Grant generously allowed Lee’s officers to keep their sidearms and the men to keep their horses and take them home for the spring planting. None would be arrested or charged with treason.
Four days later, when Lee’s army of 28,000 men marched in to surrender their arms and colors, General Joshua L. Chamberlain of Maine, a hero of Gettysburg, was present at the ceremony. He later wrote of his observations that day, reflecting upon his soldierly respect for the men before him, each passing by and stacking his arms, men who only days before had been his mortal foes: “Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? . . . On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!”
Such deep sympathies, in a victory so heavily tinged with sadness and grief and death. This war was, and remains to this day, America’s bloodiest conflict, having generated at least a million and a half casualties on the two sides combined, [including] 620,000 deaths, the equivalent of six million men in today’s American population. One in four soldiers who went to war never returned home. One in thirteen returned home with one or more missing limbs. For decades to come, in every village and town in the land, one could see men bearing such scars and mutilations, a lingering reminder of the price they and others had paid.
And yet, Chamberlain’s words suggested that there might be room in the days and years ahead for the spirit of conciliation that Lincoln had called for in his Second Inaugural Speech, a spirit of binding up wounds, and of caring for the many afflicted and bereaved, and then moving ahead, together. It was a slender hope, yet a hope worth holding, worth nurturing, worth pursuing.
We all know that it did not turn out that way, due in part to Lincoln’s death at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. But the story is illustrative nonetheless. If Chamberlain’s troops could find it in their hearts to be that forgiving, that generous, that respectful of men who had only days before been their mortal enemies, we certainly ought to be able to extend a similar generosity towards men in what is now, for us, a far more distant past. Lincoln himself said something similar, at a cabinet meeting on April 14, the very day of his assassination:
I hope there will be no persecution, no bloody work after the war is over. . . . Enough lives have been sacrificed. We must extinguish our resentment if we expect harmony and union. There has been too much of a desire on the part of some of our very good friends to be masters, to interfere with and dictate to those states, to treat the people not as fellow citizens; there is too little respect for their rights. I do not sympathize in these feelings.
That was good counsel then and now, and it is an example of the wisdom that the study of history can provide us. May such wisdom be an impetus for us to rediscover such a humane and generous example in our own times.
To listen to most Democrats, they’ve got President Trump on the run when it comes to immigration.
The “big beautiful” wall he promised to build along the border with Mexico hasn’t gone up, and House Democrats will no longer fund even the border-security projects they supported in the past. Federal courts have also been preventing Team Trump from pushing through its efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants, let alone to attempt to fix a broken asylum system gamed by economic migrants from Central America who don’t fit the traditional definition of refugees fleeing for their lives.
But anyone who believes sanctuary-movement backers and Dems seeking to decriminalize illegal immigration are beating the president needs a reality check.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled to permit the administration to go on refusing to accept applications for asylum from migrants who have passed through another country without being denied asylum there, while a case challenging this common-sense policy works its way through the courts.
That comes on the heels of the court’s decision in July to allow Trump to use money from the defense budget to build the border wall. It was yet another significant victory for the administration’s initiatives and a sign that the left’s judicial guerrilla war that had been stymieing the president is starting to crumble.
Expect liberal efforts to prevent Trump from overturning President Barack Obama’s executive orders that effectively granted amnesty to millions of illegals to meet the same fate.
Fact is, despite the beating Trump has continued to take from the media about government tactics aimed at stemming the surge of illegal immigrants over the southern border, his policies have started to show signs of success.
While no one expects Mexico to pay for Trump’s wall, it is doing something more important: using its resources to stop its people from crossing over into the United States illegally. It has, for example, reinforced security on its southern border and set up checkpoints on highways leading north, dispatching 21,600 police and troops across the nation in the effort.
So far in 2019, the US Border Patrol has arrested more than 400,000 migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras for crossing the border illegally. But only 4,300 Mexicans were caught doing so.
It’s all strong evidence that, far from ignoring or rejecting Trump’s efforts to jawbone them into doing something to stop the flood of illegals, America’s most important southern neighbor is listening to him. Recall that Mexico stepped up actions to control the migrants in a bid to avoid tariffs Trump had threatened to impose.
The message has also gotten through to those seeking to come to the United States illegally. Mexican officials have said there has been a “significant decrease” in the number of Central Americans entering their country this year for the purpose of illegally immigrating to the United States.
It makes sense. The campaign by Obama and other Democrats to grant amnesty and a wide array of benefits to illegal immigrants fueled the surge across the border, with new migrants seeking the same lenient treatment. That led to the crisis in which federal resources were overwhelmed by the sheer number of asylum-seekers, prompting much grandstanding and crocodile tears from the left.
Trump’s critics have libelously denounced his attempts to enforce the law — and restore order at the border — as reminiscent of the Nazis and evidence of racism. Yet those efforts seem to be having the intended effect on those contemplating coming here without permission.
With the courts recognizing Trump’s right to use his power to protect the border and with Mexico now cooperating with the United States, perhaps there’s a chance to break the long deadlock over immigration in Washington.
Of course, everyone knows America’s immigration system is badly broken, but Democrats, who hope they will win control of both Congress and the White House next year, have prevented a compromise that would allow the so-called “Dreamers” to stay in the country in exchange for the building of a border wall. So a fix may have to wait until after the 2020 election.
But no matter who wins next year, Trump has shown that, his intemperate rhetoric on the issue not withstanding, strict enforcement policies combined with the help of both the Supreme Court and the Mexicans can provide a way forward to fix an illegal-immigration problem that has long seemed insoluble.
When Ronald Reagan was asked what his plan was for dealing with the communist threat, he responded, “We win, they lose.” Those four words led to an impressive victory for human freedom around the world. To this day, there are boulevards named after Reagan all over the world in nations that were once dominated and enslaved by communism’s hatred of freedom and lust for control.
In an extemporaneous moment at ground zero, President George Bush said, “I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” Because reasonable people can argue in good faith with some of Bush’s decisions in his efforts to protect America, it is perhaps too easy to forget some of the unassailable truths we learned or were reminded of on September 1, 2001.
First, America has enemies because America stands for freedom. We can waste time in self-flagellation trying to figure out why evil terrorist troglodytes hate us and we can even blame ourselves for their hateful, murderous actions. But we should accept the undeniable truth is that we attract the hatred of those who hate freedom.
Second, America must actively defend itself from those who hate freedom and therefore hate us. We have the right to do so. We do not need to die at the hands of cowardly terrorist madmen to prove we are the champions of freedom. They are working relentlessly to destroy us. Are we working tirelessly to defend ourselves and defeat them?
Third, we must be patient and be prepared for a long battle on the way to victory. Because America responded correctly after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and mobilized to protect itself and the cause of freedom, the course of history was changed for the better. America was the beacon of hope to freedom loving peoples in every oppressed land. After a long struggle, Soviet communism collapsed, the world became safer, and Russians and Eastern Europeans began to enjoy more freedom.
Likewise, the events of September 11, 2001, or more precisely, how we respond to those events, will shape the 21st Century and beyond. Defeating communism took more than four decades. Defeating this new variant of murderous freedom-hating thugs will likely take as long and could take longer — this enemy does not have obvious national boundaries and the movement of its troops cannot be traced by satellite.
Fourth, there are those in the world who are not obviously troglodytes, but who quietly support and aid these murderous neanderthals. We must stop them from lending aid. Those who aid the troglodytes toward their goal must be stopped — diplomatically if possible, with force, if necessary.
To President Reagan, it was clear that America is exceptional and that we have an extraordinary role to play in the world if the cause of human freedom is to advance. Sadly, in contrast, Obama does not see America in the same light. Sure, America has its flaws, but Obama seems far too quick to apologize for imagined foibles and too reluctant to acknowledge our true strengths and virtues. In his own words, Obama believes “in American exceptionalism, just as … Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism” — which is to say that he does not believe that America is exceptional in any important way.
America is exceptional! Part of the reason for that exceptionalism is that America has not only defended its own interests, but it has also championed freedom for others. Today, Russians and Eastern Europeans enjoy freedoms they could not have dreamed of when President Reagan was first elected. These once oppressed peoples were not Reagan’s enemy. They, too, longed for freedom. They were victims of communism. Reagan understood this. And his battle was not with the oppressed, but with their oppressors.
Likewise, today Americans understand that Arabs and Muslims are not our enemy. But their oppressors — Al Qaeda, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, and other terrorists — are. America has no quarrel with Muslims or Arabs. Many of our brave fighting men and women are of Arab descent. Like the Russians and Eastern Europeans who now enjoy more freedom, the Arab world will experience greater freedom and opportunity when the oppressive troglodytes are finally defeated.
We look back on the “greatest generation” with admiration because they faced the enemies that confronted them and soundly defeated them even at great personal sacrifice. Will future generations will look back on us as another “greatest generation” because we defeated the barbarians at the gate no matter how long it takes — or as unworthy laggards of the American dream of freedom and opportunity because we lost interest in defending freedom?
We must maintain the purpose and resolve we felt on September 11, 2001. We cannot allow that day to become a distant memory or merely a footnote in history. It must continually motivate us to champion freedom and to defeat those who intend to rule the world with fear and violence and who plan to subjugate our children to their intolerant, violent ideology of hatred.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
George Landrith is the president of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government. Mr. Landrith is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was Business Editor of the Virginia Journal of Law and Politics. In 1994 and 1996, Mr. Landrith was a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District. You can follow George on Twitter @GLandrith. This article was originally published at Frontiers of Freedom and OpEds.com on Sept. 11, 2011.
The problem with GBSD is that the acquisition approach did not keep pace or align with significant changes in the industrial landscape, and as a result, the cost to the American taxpayer will be higher and the quality of the system is apt to be lower. Competition is believed to provide the highest quality products at the lowest possible price. When a competition isn’t reasonable, balanced or fair, it provides none of those benefits.
America’s Minuteman Inter-continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) was first deployed in 1962 in the cold war environment of “Mutually Assured Destruction” and was a system designed to last 10 years. The system has been updated over 50 to 60 years to keep pace with the growing threat of adversarial nations but the aging system requires a complete overhaul to assure continued deterrence for the next 50 years. That is why Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) has bi-partisan support, is a high Department of Defense (DoD) priority and must be given our full attention.
The US has many allies and friends around the globe who rely upon the US umbrella of nuclear deterrence. But there are also many adversaries who have made it clear that they would attack the US if the cost and risk are low enough. Therein lies the wisdom of “peace through strength.” Being strong and capable means that the bad actors in the world refrain from attacking us because they fear what might happen to them as a result. Weakness invites attack. Strength repels it. Strength also deters it.
The problem with GBSD is that the acquisition approach did not keep pace or align with significant changes in the industrial landscape, and as a result, the cost to the American taxpayer will be higher and the quality of the system is apt to be lower. Competition is believed to provide the highest quality products at the lowest possible price. When a competition isn’t reasonable, balanced or fair, it provides none of those benefits.
The Air Force competitively selected Boeing and Northrop Grumman as the only viable providers of GBSD. Almost immediately, Northrop Grumman bought the sole, viable manufacturer of solid rocket boosters in the US – Orbital ATK, and likely did so to corner the market for GBSD. For technological, industrial base and reliability reasons, solid rocket boosters are a major part of the GBSD program and constitute about 1/2 of the cost of each missile. The advantage within the GBSD request for proposal to a single contractor has eliminated the balance, fairness and benefits of competition. Consequently, Boeing informed the USAF that they will not pursue an unfair solicitation. In my view, Boeing has made a self-evidently reasonable decision to not bid on GBSD because there is no good reason to invest millions in a “competitive” process that isn’t competitive because the outcome is predetermined by poorly conceived ground rules.
How could it have been done differently?
The Air Force could have removed the solid rocket booster component from the competition, at least within the price determination, and allowed the two engineering titans to fairly compete on the best solution that maximizes deterrent capability at the lowest price. In all cases, the new GBSD system would include solid rocket boosters designed and built by Orbital-ATK, now owned by Northrop Grumman. Instead, the GBSD solicitation tilted the competition for the entire GBSD program towards Northrop Grumman as a sole source contract and the cost and performance benefits of robust competition are lost.
The clock is ticking and there is an optimum solution right in front of us to resolve this problem and assure on-time GBSD deterrence. For almost 60 years, the two companies have partnered in one way or another to design, build and deploy America’s nuclear deterrent Minuteman and the similar missile defense systems. GBSD will require the expertise and contributions of both Boeing and Northrop Grumman as Minuteman did when America won the Cold War.
If the past is any indication, both companies should play a major role and provide the best outcome as they represent the best and only viable industrial capability. I, for one, would like to think that our nuclear deterrent is a best-in-nation effort.
Some might argue that reworking the acquisition strategy will only slow down GBSD development. But the truth is, a joint teaming approach would actually speed things up and save money. Boeing and Northrop Grumman are already working on Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction (TMRR) contracts for GBSD and could begin efforts immediately to join resources on a USAF-optimized design, rather than waiting for a competition that won’t be a competition at all. The Air Force owes it to the American taxpayer and citizen to provide a ground based deterrent soon that meets the country’s needs as cost effectively as possible. The only way forward is a joint industry team – the same team that secured our Nation in the past and can do so for the future.
Why ban BDS supporters?
Israel’s decision to ban Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering the country is, while controversial, the right one. Yes, America is Israel’s foremost ally and members of Congress, the elected representatives of the American people, must always be respected.
Like America, Israel is a nation of laws, and the democratically elected government adopted a law in 2017 which prohibits the entry into Israel of any foreigner who makes a “public call for boycotting Israel” or “any area under its control.” This includes proponents of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS).
Why ban BDS supporters?
The answer is that their objective is the destruction of Israel. They make no secret of this goal. As As’ad AbuKhali has said,” “The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel….That should be stated as an unambiguous goal. There should not be any equivocation on the subject. Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel.”
Who said that Israel is obligated to invite people into the country who seek its destruction?
Since entering Congress just a few months ago, and in the years before, Omar and Tlaib have waged war against Israel and the Jewish people. They have made disgustingly anti-Semitic comments, including accusations that the Jewish people are not loyal to the United States but to Israel; that the Jewish people buy politicians with their money; that Israel hypnotizes the world with its evil actions, and that Israel is an apartheid occupier which must be boycotted.
We can only assume that what Omar and Tlaib would be doing in Israel is simply inciting and inflaming the Palestinian population, or at the very least trying to visit upon Israel the most negative possible media coverage in order to delegitimize the Middle East’s only democracy before the eyes of the world.
Israel does not have to prove its commitment to freedom of speech by allowing foreigners into the country who want to exploit that liberty to propagandize against the state and advocate measures to undermine its democracy. Omar and Tlaib could have asked to travel with the other 40 Democrats who recently visited Israel, but they preferred to go separately to avoid the discomfort of meeting with Israeli leaders and experiencing an Israel that does not comport with their preconceived notions. Unlike their colleagues, they were uninterested in learning about Israel; they prefer to speak from ignorance. The two were clearly out for publicity and hoped to find opportunities to embarrass the Israeli people and their government while highlighting their anti-Israel agenda.
Israel is also not unique in determining who should be allowed to enter the country. Applicants for visas to the United States, for example, are asked several questions about their political views and activities. The USA Patriot Act allows the Secretary of State to bar admission to the United States to “any alien whose entry or proposed activities in the United States the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds to believe would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences for the United States.”
The list of people barred or excluded from the United States includes Irish politician Gerry Adams, British singers Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) and Austrian diplomat Kurt Waldheim. And none of them supported movements advocating the destruction of the United States.
Israel is under constant attack, not just from terrorists, but from boycotters and others who seek to smear Israel in any way they can, via social media, mainstream media, and public relations stunts. Omar and Tlaib have every right to disparage Israel, but they cannot disguise their anti-Semitism by claiming to be merely criticizing the Israeli government. No one is silencing them, but they cannot have it both ways; they cannot promote a movement that denies the Jewish people the right to self-determination in their homeland and then complain when they are not allowed into that home.
If Israel made an exception for two promoters of BDS because they are members of Congress, it would make a mockery of the law passed by Israel’s parliament and its democratic principles. And being a member of Congress does provide license to work to destroy the world’s only Jewish state.
Prior to this year’s elections, Ukrainians appeared to stumble collectively toward their second civil war in five years, thus forecasting a renewed domestic catastrophe as well as instigating an ominous foreign policy crisis for the Trump administration in a strategically pivotal part of Europe amid enduring tensions between the United States and Russia.
After declaring independence from the disintegrating Soviet Union on August 24, 1991, the elected representatives of the sovereign republic of Ukraine faced two fundamental problems: the establishment of a Ukrainian national state and the creation of a free market economy. Three decades later the verdict is in: successive Ukrainian presidents have utterly failed to make the people the real sovereign, while simultaneously, have managed to turn the Ukrainian economy into a tightly controlled corrupt, criminal political enterprise. The people’s feeble attempt at facing these challenges decisively in 2004, ended in a spectacular failure. A second similar attempt in 2014, proved to be even worse. It was an unmitigated disaster. By early 2019, during the waning days of the Poroshenko presidency, Ukraine was in an extremely deep political, financial, economic, social, cultural, and moral crisis.
Politically, the sovereignty of the Ukranian people was a shame. The citizens were held hostage to the reign of greedy and irresponsible oligarchs. Financially, the local currency, the hryvnia, became almost worthless and the national debt reached 40% of the GDP. Economically, Ukraine has turned into the poorest country of the European continent. Socially, destructive hatred and fear from each other among various ethnic
communities pushed society to the brink of another bloody civil war. Culturally, the establishment of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (Russian: Pravoslavna Tserkva Ukrayiny) on December 15, 2018, has created even among the 43.9% Ukrainian population fundamental confusions concerning their religious loyalties. Morally, this hatred and the resulting mistrust have inflamed long simmering racially motivated enmities mainly between the Ukrainian and Russian inhabitants of the country. As a result of the bloody Maidan coup d’etat and the subsequent policies of former President Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine has lost the Crimea and has triggered a deluge of fire and blood in the eastern part of the country. The latter in particular, has turned into a vicious circle, in which peace has become elusive.
Amid all these fundamental problems and uncertainties, most Ukrainian presidents have oscillated between their citizens’ desire to anchor the country in the West and the formers’ political inclination to maintain dictatorial powers with democratic facade. Their successive power grabs have moved Ukraine ever closer to its eastern neighbor Russia. In this manner, the so-called Ukrainian democracy has become a joke. That the West, in particular the United States of America, has been unable to stop the gradual descent of Ukraine into chaos is a tragedy for its sorry diplomacy. Specifically, the eight years of the Obama administration that allowed Vice President Joe Biden to take advantage of the all pervasive corruption, and help his son Hunter to enrich himself to the detriment of both countries, have been an unequivocal disgrace. Regrettably, the same Obama/Biden bureaucrats still control Ukrainian affairs from the State Department. Thus, American policy toward Ukraine remains abysmally contradictory and absolutely ineffective. In order to redefine the bilateral relationship with the new Ukrainian administration, the Trump administration should be guided by the facts on the ground. Accordingly, the White House must understand that what has transpired in the spring and more recently in the summer in Ukraine has been a real and fundamental transformation, in which the vast majority of the people have participated in a bloodless revolution to prevent another bloody civil war.
Onto this political minefield has stepped as an unlikely presidential candidate in early 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky. A lawyer by education and an entertainer by profession, he has succeeded to trigger a national uprising not just against President Petro Poroshenko who was running for a second term, but also against three decades of political and economic corruption.
The young Volodymyr Zelensky first introduced himself to the national audience in 2002, in the widely popular Russian language show called The Club of the Joyfuls and the Resourcefuls (Russian: Klub Viselikh i Nakhodchivikh). Starting to run in the Soviet TV in 1960, the show quickly became a national phenomenon. In 1972, Leonid Brezhnev closed the show, because of its increasingly critical political content. Under Mikhail Gorbachev the show was reinstated. In 2002, the best team was named The 95 Resident (Russian: 95-iy Kvartal) led by Volodymyr Zelensky from the town of Krivoy Rog. The team turned its newfound success into a permanent television show. Under the title Kiev Night (Russian: Vecherniy Kiev), they appeared every Saturday night on one of the Ukrainian TV channels. Not being satisfied with a weekly show, the team also performed live on streets and squares throughout the country. Finally, starting in 2006, they introduced a thirty five episode program entitled Servant of the People (Russian: Sluga Naroda) that became by far the most popular television show in Ukraine.
The storyline of the show is as simple as effective. A poor high school history teacher by the name of Vasyl Goloborodko (meaning in Ukrainian Clean Face), who lives with his parents, are convinced by his students to run for president. The show presents a critical picture of conditions in Ukraine from the Maidan events in 2014 on. Based on this criticism, the hero of the show builds a national movement and decisively wins the presidential election. In real life, Volodymyr Zelensky beat Petro Poroshenko 73.23% to 24.46%. Following the dissolution of the Verkhovna
Rada on May 20, 2019, parliamentary elections took place on July 21, 2019. President Volodymyr Zelenski’s party, appropriately named Servant of the People, received 254 mandates out of 424 overall.
In his inauguration speech, President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that presently he has no intention to run for a second term. Then, admonished his countrymen and countrywomen to internalize their desire to be an integral part of Europe. He added that anyone who feels to be Ukrainian and would like to help the country are welcome and could obtain citizenship. Turning to politics, he emphasized the overwhelming importance of peace. To achieve peace, he stated that he would be willing to go the extra mile. He proposed direct talks with all parties involved. He strongly emphasized the unity of the entire Ukraine. Ukraine cannot be divided. The Donbas region and the Crimean peninsula are parts of Ukraine. Acknowledged that the social conditions in the country are untenable. Accordingly, everything must be done to restore the viability of the economy. Finally, President Volodymyr Zelensky proposed symbolic measures to restore the people’s faith in government.
The most important question is how to achieve these objectives. First, the new president, as soon as members of the new parliament are sworn in, must deliver a decisive and crushing blow to all who took part in running Ukraine to the ground. Second, Russia should neither be hated or feared. Negotiations must be conducted with a great deal of patience, because Russia is also fears and even hates any sovereign government in Ukraine. However, peace in the east and negotiations regarding the future of the Crimean peninsula are vital to normalization of domestic and foreign affairs of Ukraine. Third, the most thorough audit of Ukraine’s finances must be undertaken by foreign auditors. Finally, the president must work to realize the two major unfinished objectives, namely, the establishment of the Ukrainian national state and the creation of a national free market economy.
The United States of America and the European Union must wish success to Ukraine and extend all the assistance they can possibly marshall for this onerous undertaking.
Just as inflation can destroy a nation’s currency, so too inflation of another kind can destroy a nation’s citizenry.
I’m talking about the Democrat plot to vastly expand the voter base by first importing illegal aliens and then making it as easy as possible for them to vote — sometimes up to and including giving them legal access to state and local elections.
This, coupled with the Democrat effort to diminish trust in our elections by constantly inventing ever-more ludicrous claims of voter suppression, has resulted in a deadly attack on our national sovereignty. If people no longer believe they can trust our elections, then they will feel justified in rejecting the legitimacy of the government itself.
Sound familiar? That’s the faux justification of the resistance in rejecting loyalty to the duly elected president. Remember, according to the Democratic left, President Trump is only in office as a result of foreign interference and voter suppression. Reality doesn’t matter. In the eyes of the far left, Stacey Abrams is the governor of Georgia even though she lost the election by 50,000 votes.
Now, Democrats rarely talk about allowing illegal immigrants to vote in elections, but that is not always the case. Following the Cass Sunstein strategy of effecting transformational change in society through small incremental “nudges,” some Democrats currently call for allowing illegal aliens to vote in school and other local elections on the theory that all residents have a stake in the operation of schools and city services. Sure they do, and all illegal immigrants also have a stake in federal immigration policy, which will eventually be the argument why they should be allowed to vote in federal elections as well.
Nor can we discount the possibility of non-eligible voters participating in federal elections as long as voter ID is not mandatory. Progressives typically label as “voter suppression” any policy that requires voters to present a legal ID before voting. The claim is that Democrat voters are less likely to be able to obtain such an ID, though there is never any realistic explanation of why that is the case. Nor can they explain why they think cashing a check at a grocery store should have a higher bar than exercising your sacred trust of participating as a sovereign voice in the government of the United States.
Since many illegal immigrants now have access to a driver’s license in “sanctuary states” such as California, it is difficult if not impossible to tell a legal citizen from an interloper. The only thing that prevents illegal immigrants from voting is an unwillingness to break the law, and they have already proven that they think the law doesn’t apply to them.
Mark Hemingway wrote exhaustively at RealClearInvestigations earlier this month that it’s not only illegal aliens who present a threat to the sanctity of our elections. According to his report, Los Angeles by itself has 1.6 million more people registered to vote than eligible voters. But it’s not just Los Angeles or California that present a risk. According to Hemingway:
“Eight states, as well as the District of Columbia, have total voter registration tallies exceeding 100%, and in total, 38 states have counties where voter registration rates exceed 100%. Another state that stands out is Kentucky, where the voter registration rate in 48 of its 120 counties exceeded 100% last year. About 15% of America’s counties where there is reliable voter data – that is, over 400 counties out of 2,800 – have voter registration rates over 100%.”
If you think it is absurd that Democrats might want to take advantage of the large illegal immigration population to increase their vote totals, consider this: When passing their first piece of legislation in the Nancy Pelosi-led House of Representatives in 2019, Democrats rejected a GOP amendment stating that “allowing illegal immigrants the right to vote devalues the franchise and diminishes the voting power of United States citizens.”
There’s that idea of inflation again, which brings us back to the question of the value of citizenship. This is no longer a merely academic exercise, as we learned in the first round of Democratic presidential debates. Many of the candidates confirmed they want to decriminalize illegal immigration and even offer government benefits to those who are in the country without permission. Moreover, we’ve been told by the Supreme Court that we can’t ask about citizenship on the census unless our “motive” is politically correct. This raises the question of whether citizenship even matters in the world that Marx built.
What, for instance, makes an American an American? If citizenship rights are fungible — if, for instance, you can exchange your Guatemalan citizenship for quasi U.S. citizenship merely by stepping across a border — then what obligations does government have to its own citizens? Don’t we at some point surrender our own rights to the claims of sovereignty if borders are not barriers but merely props for a social-justice docudrama? At least in the realm of rhetoric, citizenship should no longer be considered a once-and-for-all privilege. Easy come, easy go.
I wonder if that’s what President Trump had in mind when he made the supposedly outrageous comments about “the Squad” of four socialist Democrats who want to demolish our borders. He has been attacked for asking, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Three of the four congresswomen were born in the United States, so Trump was technically wrong to say the “‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen … originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe,” but under the new rules of fluid citizenship, he may have been even closer to the target than even he knew.
If citizenship no longer protects us, if we are obligated to shelter anyone who crosses our borders, then the value of that citizenship has been deflated just as the voter rolls have been inflated. Will the Squad really be “sent back” to some ancestral homeland? No, obviously not, but their advocacy of a country without borders makes them an apt target for those who want to defend our sovereignty.
President Trump, as usual, is ahead of the curve. He has pushed the open-borders argument to its natural conclusion. Citizenship and the responsibilities of citizenship either mean something specific or they don’t. Since Democrats in Congress refuse to acknowledge that U.S. citizenship has a real and permanent and impermeable meaning in law, then they need to live with the consequences of their globalist agenda. Sure, they are citizens of our great country, but if they are right in their defense of illegal immigrants, then that citizenship has no lasting value and offers no guarantees to those who possess it. In the brave new world without borders, the four congresswomen — and the rest of us — will have no certainty where we belong nor whether our citizenship rights can be taken away from us as easily as our protections.
Make no bones about it, the southwest border is facing a crisis like nothing the region has ever seen before. The human wave pouring over the border continues unabated, and it will only continue to do so. None of the traditional tools used to combat illegal immigration will work. A wall won’t work. Placing more sensors won’t work. Even hiring more agents to patrol the border won’t work.
They come from places as far away as India and Nepal. They speak ancient Mayan languages found only in remote central American villages. They claim to be Christians persecuted by the Chinese government. Their stories are so familiar that the officers and agents interviewing them could write the stories without bothering to interview the individuals telling the stories. They are all well coached, and know exactly what to say.
Asylum. That is the magic word, the golden ticket. The story is simply the means to the end, and the stories are familiar because those telling the story have been told exactly what to say in order to get an interview with an asylum officer.
These would be immigrants don’t bother to attempt to try to get away. All they need is a toe hold on American soil. Once they cross, they simply sit and wait for the Border Patrol to pick them up. If there is a Border Patrol Agent in the area they will save the agent the effort and walk to him or her to give themselves up. Why risk their lives when all they have to say is one little word?
The word is so small, but it has an oversized effect on our border security agencies. Border Patrol stations are bogged down with people who never bothered attempting to escape. Agents spend time working with interpreters attempting to interview individuals even though the agents already know exactly what the individual will claim. The only thing different is the names of people and places, the rest of the story is identical to the last story they heard. While agents are processing the asylum seekers, the real bad guys, the gang bangers, rapists, murderers, and potentially the terrorists are able to slip by either undetected or detected but unacted on because there are not any agents available to do anything about it.
President Trump is doing what he can to combat this flow of humanity, but there really is nothing that he can do. There is only one way to stop this wave of humanity, and only one entity can stop it.
Under current law anyone who has been in the United States for up to a year can apply for asylum regardless of how they entered the country. It is amazing that it has taken as long as it has for people to take advantage of this gaping loophole in our immigration law. The only way to fix it is for Congress to change the law. The fix is very simple.
Anyone who is able to present themselves to a port of entry for inspection and enters the United States by way other than the port of entry shall be ineligible for asylum.
There. Simple. If you are able to enter through a port of entry and you choose not to, you lose your shot at asylum and are shipped home. If you are coming from a Caribbean island country, you get a pass because you end up wherever the boat drops you off. For everyone else, you have to go to a port of entry if you want to petition for asylum.
Such a simple word, such a simple solution. Unfortunately, Congress has proven over and over that they do not work with simple solutions. So our asylum officers are backlogged for years, our Border Patrol Agents are busy processing people who simply give up, and the people who we really want to keep out of our country have a free pass to slip by overwhelmed Border Patrol Agents.
We the People.
That’s right, we the people have the right to demand that Congress act. Unless we do so, this problem will persist. It is up to you, the patriot, the concerned citizen, to contact your member of Congress and your Senators and demand that the laws be changed to reflect the current crises.
It won’t happen unless you take action.
This essay is part of a RealClearPolicy series centered on the American Project, an initiative of the Pepperdine School of Public Policy. The project looks to the country’s founding principles to respond to our current cultural and political upheaval.
The Declaration of Independence served a dual function at the momentous occasion of its adoption, July 4, 1776. The first was that it was the issuance of a statement of political independence containing within it a rational defense of our dramatic break with the government of Great Britain and its unaccountable king. The second, however, was the annunciation of the principles animating that declaration. According to the Founders, it was the violation of these principles that justified separation; their defense demanded the birth of a new nation.
These principles are outlined in the document’s most famous line: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The rights to life and to liberty suggest the autonomy of the individual, whereas the statement that men are created equal highlights the universal dignity of all. The dynamic tension between these two principles, liberty and equality, underlies the ongoing left-right dialectic that has characterized American politics from the beginning. For this reason, it may be easy to overlook the last phrase in this statement, “the pursuit of Happiness.” It reads to modern eyes, perhaps, like a poetic after thought to the weightier philosophical statements that precede it. Yet it is in the pursuit of happiness that we are called upon to exercise the virtues needed to weave the fabric of a nation.
It is the role of virtue in realizing happiness through community — especially a community of free and equal citizens — that conservatism should remind us of today.
What is virtue? Before offering an answer, it is worth noting that it is a term that exists in our moral vocabulary today largely as an artifact of classical literature and our Christian heritage — rather like a poetical term sapped of substantive meaning. We think of moral questions today predominantly in deontological or consequentialist terms, rather than in terms of the virtues. Deontological ethics holds that an action is right or wrong depending on whether it conforms to some rule or maxim (“It is always wrong to do X,” “It is my duty to do Y.”). Consequentialism, by contrast, holds that we should evaluate an action based on its outcomes or consequences. In the political sphere, we often waver between these two, incompatible approaches to moral questions.
Take just about any debate in the realm of policy. The right to own a firearm or the right to health care is often met with arguments about why such alleged rights may or may not be practical. The right to bear arms makes it too easy for bad actors to buy guns; universal health care is too expensive or will have other harmful consequences, etc. Some oppose abortion on the basis of the right to life for unborn children, whereas opponents object with practical arguments about the difficulty of raising children in certain conditions. These disagreements, however legitimate, leave us speaking conflicting moral languages that offer no path to resolution. More importantly, both moral languages overlook the importance of moral character, which is what yields meaningful happiness and establishes the basis of flourishing community.
The virtues are habits of moral character. In the classical tradition, these include such qualities as fortitude or courage, prudence, temperance, and justice. The Christian tradition adds the “theological virtues:” faith, hope, and charity (love). We might easily add qualities such as honor, nobility, fairness, equanimity, and wisdom (the cornerstone of the good life, according to Aristotle). According to the tradition of virtue ethics, we should aspire to cultivate these habits, which conduce to lives of human flourishing, rather than basing our actions on rules or consequences.
This classical understanding informed the founding of the United States. Though the empirical orientation of the Enlightenment had much to do with setting us on a course away from virtue as the ground of morality, the founding fathers nevertheless recognized the indispensability of moral virtue in securing the project of liberty, representative government, and the pursuit of happiness. As Benjamin Franklin put it: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” Or Thomas Jefferson: “A nation as a society forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society.” Or, finally, George Washington: “There is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists … an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness.”
This is not to downplay the glaring vices present in American society at the founding. The point is that the Founders were at least minimally aware of the vital role virtue plays in establishing a political society capable of securing individual liberty and the common good. Whence the motivation for John Adams’ saying: “Public virtue cannot exist in a nation without private, and public virtue is the only foundation of republics.”
American society today has reaped the benefits of a prosperous economy aided by a political system that is the legacy of previous generations of Americans bound by more than the pursuit of riches. Indeed, the political liberalism of the Enlightenment has had much to do with the quest for a more egalitarian society in America, rooted in the dignity of the individual. However, the moral basis not merely of the Founding but also many of the great periods of moral progress in our history since the Founding can be traced to a religious consciousness that has stirred popular demands for social reforms, expressed through a moral language preserved by a Christian culture far older than classical liberalism.
Examples of this include the Abolitionist Movement, the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. William Lloyd Garrison, apart from Frederick Douglass perhaps the most well-remembered figure of the late abolitionist movement, might be described as less orthodoxly Christian than some of his peers in the movement. Yet, he could not have been more Christian in the framing of his moral arguments against slavery and the institutions that abided it, decrying both South and North in the years preceding the Civil War for their complicity:
The reason why the South rules, and the North falls prostrate in servile terror, is simply this: with the South, the preservation of slavery is paramount to all other considerations above party success, denominational unity, pecuniary interest, legal integrity, and constitutional obligation. With the North, the preservation of the Union is placed above all other things-above honor, justice, freedom, integrity of soul, the Decalogue and the Golden Rule-the infinite God himself.
Such language leans heavily upon conceptions of virtue harvested from Christian ethical teachings. Similarly, the sermons of Quaker minister and women’s rights activist Lucretia Mottemphasized the ethical substance of New Testament teachings against dogmatic interpretations that justified the subjugation of women, emphasizing religious behavior over rigidity of doctrine.
The nonviolent philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr., should be understood as the application not only of the methodology of Gandhi but also the moral substance of the Gospels. “Christian love” demanded more than a belief in equality. One of the most important and distinguishing elements of nonviolence, according to Reverend King, was that it “avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love.” Love was not only the preeminent value but also the preeminent virtue of the Nonviolent Civil Rights Movement. The embrace of love as a virtue required the embrace of attendant virtues such as patience, courage, forgiveness, humility, and the suite of moral attributes that lent such ethical force to the work of King and those who followed his moral path.
If the importance of virtue is evident in great social movements it is also visible in the ideational edifice of America’s long-standing institutions. The United States Armed Forces is not merely as a functional organization that safeguards our national security, it is also, at its best, an institution that models and cultivates in its soldiers many of the virtues that we associate with what is most admirable in the American character. “The Army Values” lists seven key virtues that soldiers are trained to adhere to: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. In a similar way, the judicial oath taken by every judge or justice of the United States requires that they “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and the rich,” and to do so “faithfully and impartially,” clearly implying the virtues of faithfulness and impartiality as necessary to the moral character of a proper judge or justice. Even the traditional etiquette of reference that attends the addressing of members of congress (‘the honorable senator…’) expresses the hope that our elected officials possess, or should be held accountable to, the virtue of honor.
It may not be an exaggeration to say that virtue alone serves as the enforcer of all social contract and civic obligation. There are practical arguments that may justify the existence of our institutions, and there are rules, more or less reasonable, that might compel certain behavior from individuals or groups. But if the inward motivation to act in accordance with these rules or to seek the common good through participation in these institutions is lacking, what prevents any of us from subverting our institutions and social relationships for our own gain or becoming altogether alienated from them and one another?
The institution of marriage requires its participants to practice the virtues of selflessness and fidelity in order for it to be sustained. To be a proper friend, one must exhibit the qualities of understanding, patience, and helpfulness. To be a good parent, educator, or really anyone in a position of authority, one must be temperate, fair-minded, and balanced. To be a good student, employee, or soldier, one should be humble and coachable. To be a good leader, one ought to have courage, integrity, and, perhaps, even nobility.
Virtue, as opposed to legal compulsion or mere rationality, forms the basis of genuine interpersonal and social trust. The more we are able to see in and demonstrate for each other those habits of character necessary for flourishing, the more we find ourselves able (as both a reflection of our own virtues and those of our fellows) to collaborate with others, bear with each other’s faults, accept each other’s legitimate authority, and refrain from doing one another harm, whether out of fear, contempt or ambition.
Individual virtue breeds communal virtue, and vice versa, making virtue the great nourisher of our social fabric. If virtue seems to be vanishing from our social, political, and cultural spheres — if it is no longer something that we even pretend to demand of our politicians — this may be because virtue is vanishing from our moral language. At a moment when our political discourse is increasingly limited to our commitments to equality or individualism, and the policies they may seem to imply, American conservativism would do well to reintroduce the virtues into our moral vocabulary — those inward qualities of moral character have always formed the basis for our national excellence and our political community.
The savage beating of journalist Andy Ngo in Portland by far-left antifa rioters last Saturday shocked everyone. Well, conservatives anyway, plus a few honorable liberals. As the police stood by watching at a distance, masked thugs hit him, stole his camera and threw milkshake, rocks and eggs at him. He ended up in the hospital with a brain hemorrhage.
Criminal laws are supposed to deter criminal behavior. But that only works when the criminal gets caught and punished, and when people are permitted to hide their identities behind a mask, as antifa thugs are, no one gets caught.
Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, has vowed to hold the offenders accountable. Let us know who the perpetrators are, he asked, and the city would hold them accountable — a supremely useless plea when dealing with a largely masked and anonymous group.
The antifa slogan in Portland is “we own the streets.” And they do. The city has let it happen. Last October, they blocked a street and threatened drivers and passers-by who wanted to get through. A few months before that, they beat up a Bernie Sanders supporter who was carrying an American flag.
And it isn’t just Portland. We saw similar brutality in Washington, during President Trump’s Inauguration. Hundreds of rioting antifa members took over downtown DC. They marched in black bloc fashion, five abreast, their faces wholly covered, smashing windows and pushing people off the sidewalk. The police arrested 234 people, but not one of them was found guilty.
It’s the masks that save them. They’re a get-out-of-jail-free card. Deterrence doesn’t work when you can hide your identity. That’s a lesson we should have learned from the Ku Klux Klan.
Thanks to the masks, antifa won’t pay a cost. Instead, they will luxuriate in their sense of justified political hatred. They will also have the backing of prominent apologists in the liberal establishment, including Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who endorsed the antifa handbook, and CNN’s Don Lemon, who said in defense of the group that “no organization is perfect.”
Best of all for antifa, their actions have an effect. They are letting conservatives and even dissident liberals like Ngo know that they aren’t safe in Portland.
Mind you, that only works if the state is complicit. And when the city abandons its duty to protect its citizens, its inaction amounts to permission.
Mayor Wheeler is picky about the people he will protect. When a federal immigration building was surrounded by protesters last summer, its workers feared for their safety. But the mayor supported the protesters, and, following his orders, the local police refused to take sides.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement workers were effectively imprisoned in their building until federal forces from Homeland Security arrived to rescue them. When it was over, Homeland Security installed a “no-climb” fence to protect the ICE workers, to which the city objected because it was too high.
Wheeler says he is against violence. But the hooded antifa riots are still tolerated. The Portland police chief wants to ban masks, but fat chance the state will pass such a law, against protests by civil libertarians. And an anti-mask law isn’t necessary. The state already has a perfectly suitable remedy, in its anti-riot law. A person commits the crime of riot if, while participating with at least five other people, he engages in tumultuous and violent conduct and thereby intentionally or recklessly creates a grave risk of causing public alarm.
I can’t think of a better definition of the antifa method of operation.
After Ngo was beaten, the police declared a riot. Next time, the riot should be declared the moment hooded antifa protesters show up. But Wheeler won’t let that happen. That would get in the way of antifa’s free-speech rights, he thinks.
Evidently, it’s time for the federal government to step in — and crack down. It has had to do so in the past, especially during the civil rights era in the South.
There’s a federal law against conspiring to injure or intimidate a person in the free exercise of enjoyment of his rights or privileges, and I should think the elements of the offense are complete the moment the antifa goons show up in Portland.
What’s missing is the will to protect ordinary citizens, and since the city of Portland won’t do so, it’s time for federal marshals or the FBI to step in.
Democracy dies in arresting genocidal would-be militants
The most amusing part of the Washington Post‘s profile of Representative Ilhan Omar this past weekend was unquestionably the part where they caught her blatantly ripping off classical literature and passing it off as part of her life story. As Omar tells the story, she was once in a courtroom and saw a “sweet, old . . . African American lady” arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to feed her “starving 5-year-old granddaughter.”
The old woman spent two days in jail awaiting trial, and the when the woman was given a fine of $80 that she couldn’t pay, Omar stood up and yelled “Bulls—!” The entire room began to clap. Omar then addressed the judge and said, “And so, Your Honor, you see it’s true, that woman bears no more guilt than you!” Ripping open her jacket, Omar revealed a tattoo on her chest and bellowed “2-4-6-0-1!”
That last part I made up of course, but Omar seriously tried to pretend everything up to and including the loud profanity was true. One wonders how she beat the contempt of court charge. Yet as the Post notes, Omar’s story “echoed the plot of ‘Les Miserables.'” If not entirely fictional, it’s highly embellished; Minneapolis police are not allowed to lock people up simply for shoplifting and the typical sentence is just attending a three-hour class. The Post reports that Omar later acknowledged that “she may have flubbed some facts.”
That was certainly worth a chuckle, but what really threw me for a loop came later on in the piece, when the Post profiled another typical Minnesota Somali-American family. Filsan Ibrahim and her family run a day care, they celebrate Ramadan together, they share jokes around the dinner table, they worked their way through college and graduate school, they got a welcome letter from George W. Bush when they immigrated to the States, they rally behind convicted ISIS terrorists, they lived through the “uncertainty, hope and joy that accompanied her family’s first days in America,” and “have complicated views of their adopted country that mix gratitude, frustration, alienation and pride.”
Wait, what was that one part? About the ISIS terrorists?
A few days later Filsan, her mother and her sisters attended a fundraiser and rally for nine Somalis who had been convicted in 2016 of trying to travel to Syria to fight on behalf of the Islamic State.
Omar had written a letter on behalf of the men on the day she was elected in 2016, urging rehabilitation instead of prison time. “The desire to commit violence is not inherent in people — it is the consequence of systemic alienation,” she wrote the judge. She had known other young men from school who died fighting for al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia.
Since her letter she has kept her distance from the case, which she knew was politically toxic, an easy opportunity for her enemies to paint her as un-American.
Can you imagine? If Omar’s enemies used her public defense of a convicted ISIS terrorist? To “paint her” as un-American?
For Filsan, the trial remained a source of anger and frustration. Her generation of Somali refugees saw America as home, but they lived under a shadow of suspicion. Armed American drones regularly fired missiles into their homeland. In Minneapolis, the FBI was surveilling their mosques and paying off informants.
Filsan had protested the FBI’s “countering violent extremism” program in Minneapolis, which sought to dissuade Somalis from joining terrorism groups, but which she believed stigmatized the Somali community.
Just your average Somali-American family that opposes Obama-created federal programs to peacefully persuade American Muslims to reject radical terrorism and feels “anger and frustration” when radical terrorists are arrested. You’d think the apprehension of nine radical Islamic terrorists in Minneapolis– a hotbed for terror recruitment— would be seen vindication of the FBI’s surveillance and persuasion efforts, but I guess not.
To Filsan, it didn’t make sense. The men on trial had never touched a weapon or left the United States. “I don’t think they knew what they were getting into and I don’t think they need to give up their lives for something that never happened,” she said. “That’s madness.” The heavy sentences, she said, were the product of racism, Islamophobia and the never-ending war on terror.
The men never touched a weapon or left the United States because they were arrested before they went through with their concrete and detailed plan to leave the United States and take up weapons. They knew exactly what they were getting into. Ibrahim surely knows this.
As for the heavy sentences, racism has nothing to do with it. It’s true that the specific terrorist Ibrahim was rallying for, Guled Ali Omar, received 35 years. That was a combination of the fact that he was the ringleader and that he refused to take a plea deal and elected to take his chances at trial. The two other members who refused plea deals got 30 years. Those who took deals got only ten years and those who turned state’s witness got even less prison time. That seems more than fair for plotting to join a genocidal enemy of the state.
About a dozen of Guled’s friends lingered in the parking lot, posing for pictures they planned to post on Instagram. “Fingers up,” someone called out.
Most of the men raised their index fingers, a gesture that symbolizes the oneness of God and has become widely associated with the Islamic State. They flashed the same sign during the trial in 2016, drawing the ire of the prosecutor.
The young Somalis in the parking lot — a mix of men and women — said they didn’t subscribe to the Islamic State’s fanatical interpretation of the Koran. And they certainly didn’t support any terrorist groups. But, on this night, they were trying to send a message — one of Muslim solidarity, alienation and defiance.
You must be kidding.
Imagine this sequence of events: a group of young white, right-wing people attend a rally for, let’s say, the man convicted of threatening to kill Ilhan Omar. In the course of this rally, they tell reporters that they feel anger and frustration at the government’s surveillance of nativist groups and hostility to white nationalism. They downplay the crime– because hey, it’s not like he ever went through with it!– suggest the harsh sentence was politically motivated. Then afterwards, they all head outside and flash the alt-right “okay sign” or grab some tiki torches, but then explain that they don’t subscribe to alt-right beliefs or support alt-right terrorists.
Do you believe, in a million years, that Washington Post reporters would A) credulously parrot the claim they aren’t actually extremists, and B) finish by characterizing it all as a show of “solidarity, alienation and defiance”? Or might they conclude that this rally is at best a hotbed of white nationalist apologists, and more realistically is full of plain old white nationalists?
Alas, the actual extremists and terror sympathizers in questions are part of a liberal constituency, supported by a popular young liberal politician, and are members of a faith group often targeted by the Trump administration. The reporters allowed their biases to blind themselves to reality and the result is absurd: an honest-to-god puff piece of a rally on behalf of convicted terrorists. Take a bow, WaPo.
Democratic presidential candidates are trying to revive a dead deal
On Monday, the regime in Iran announced that it’s intentionally violating the 2015 nuclear deal. Since then, no Democratic presidential candidates have reversed their pledges to reenter the accord if elected. In other words, several Democratic candidates would prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons by returning to a nuclear agreement that Iran is no longer following. If that strategy sounds illogical, that’s because it is. But that isn’t the worst of it. Recall that, under the deal, the most important restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program begin to disappear at the end of the next presidential term and the beginning of the following one. So, assuming for a moment that a Democrat is elected president in 2020, the tool by which that president would constrain Tehran’s nuclear ambitions—the deal—would effectively expire as they are set to start a second term, or as their predecessor is set to take office, in either case putting the United States in an impotent position to stop an Iranian capability to develop nuclear weapons. And yet, too many Democrats are hell-bent on preserving a nuclear deal that is on its deathbed. At this point, arguments for reviving the narrow nuclear deal in roughly its original form are dangerous and delusional.
The nuclear deal, which President Trump withdrew from last year, allowed Iran to store 300 kilograms of uranium. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said Monday that his country exceeded that limit. The International Atomic Energy Agency has since confirmed this violation. The deal also allowed Tehran to enrich its stored uranium to a low concentration of 3.67 percent, a cap the regime also plans to breach in the coming days. “Our next step will be enriching uranium beyond the 3.67 percent allowed under the deal,” Zarif said.
Despite what the media have reported this week, Iran’s latest actions are hardly its first in violation of the nuclear accord. Indeed, Tehran has repeatedly exceeded the limits of heavy water, which is used in nuclear reactors to help produce plutonium, permitted under the deal. The regime has also operated more advanced nuclear centrifuges than are permitted by the accord, while refusing to grant international inspections of nuclear research and military facilities. Furthermore, German intelligence agencies have flagged Iran’s continued illicit attempts to buy nuclear and missile technology. As I explainedin January, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told Iranian media that the regime
circumvented a section of the deal that explicitly requires Tehran to remove the reactor core at its Arak nuclear facility in central Iran, and then to fill its tubes with cement so the facility cannot be used to pursue a plutonium path to a bomb. Iran’s nuclear chief explained that Tehran secretly acquired and stored replacement tubes, noting that only Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, knew about the decision. … [Salehi] added that images showing the reactor core filled with cement were “photoshopped.”
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani warned Wednesday that the regime “will restore the Arak reactor to its previous condition.”
We know about Iran’s most significant violation of the deal thanks to the Israelis, who last year captured about 100,000 secret files from Iran concerning its nuclear program. The files revealed, among other insights, that the regime had plans to build at least five nuclear bombs. That the Iranians were hiding such information strongly suggests that they were planning to use it later and still seek nuclear weapons today. Why would a bank robber who promised to quit still have blueprints of banks stashed away in his basement? Recall one of the deal’s first sentences: “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop, or acquire any nuclear weapons.” It seems that Iran was lying from the start, violating the most basic and overarching term of the agreement.
News of Iran’s latest illicit activities came a few days after the first Democratic presidential debates, during which several candidates promised to reenter the nuclear deal if elected.
At the first debate on Wednesday, moderators asked the 10 candidates present whether they would rejoin the deal. Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) was the only one not to raise his hand, although he said he wants to return to a similar agreement. “It was a mistake to pull out of that deal,” he said. Trump “took us out of the deal that gave us transparency into their nuclear program and push back a nuclear breakout 10—20 years. We need to renegotiate and get back into a deal.”
The other two candidates allowed to comment on the issue, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii), expressed similar sentiments.
Every Democrat running for president has said or heavily implied that they would reenter the nuclear deal, either before entering the race or during the campaign. Some, such as Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, have added a caveat that they would seek tougher conditions. But the leading candidates have all indicated that they would return to the original agreement.
A few of the candidates have alluded to the fact that, under the deal, the key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program expire over the next 12 years. Beginning in 2026, Tehran is free to enrich uranium using advanced centrifuges, which make the enrichment process much more efficient, and to install and operate more of its older models. In 2031, restrictions on the amount and level of enriched uranium that Iran can stockpile disappear—restrictions that Iran is already violating. These are the two key dates, after which Iran will be able to build as large of a nuclear program as it wants. And the best part: If the United States were in the deal, Iran could also enjoy relief from sanctions.
But there are several key expiration dates before then. In 2025, for example, the “snapback” provision, under which sanctions by the United Nations would be reimposed should Iran violate the deal, will end. New sanctions would require the U.N. Security Council to pass another resolution, which China or Russia would surely veto. Moreover, in 2023, Iran will have an easier time acquiring components and technology for its ballistic-missile program, the key for Tehran delivering nuclear bombs, with the lifting of a U.N. ban on assisting Iran’s missile program.
Taken together, these dates show that, regardless of who is inaugurated in January 2021, the president will find the nuclear deal unsustainable over the next four years, as key clauses of the deal expire. And if the president during this time foolishly returns to the nuclear deal, imagine the situation they would hand to their successor, who, at that point, would only be able to stop or delay an Iranian nuclear bomb with military strikes. Of course at that point Iran would be better able to defend itself, with the U.N. ban on Iranian arms imports and exports set to expire in 2020 under the deal. Reentering the nuclear accord simply boxes in future presidents, giving them fewer options.
With Iran breaching the deal today and key provisions set to expire in a few years, it simply does not make sense for the United States to return to a dying agreement. Some Democrats at the debate said they wanted to renegotiate their way back into the accord. Well, like it or not, the best way to make that happen, to return to some kind of an agreement, is to follow the Trump administration’s policy: to exert maximum pressure on the regime to force it back into negotiations, with the United States having greater leverage. Other options will lead down a predictably dangerous road of appeasing the Iranians to prevent a full-scale war that won’t erupt if America shows strength and resolve—the opposite of what most Democratic candidates are proposing. So, looking at the big picture, the Democratic candidates can get an agreement. They just have to follow Trump’s road to get there. Don’t hold your breath.
Donald Trump is many things. But one thing he is not is a defender of the 2009-2016 status quo and accepted progressive convention. Since 2017, everything has been in flux. Lots of past conventional assumptions of the Obama-Clinton-Romney-Bush generation were as unquestioned as they were suspect. No longer.
Everyone knew the Iran deal was a way for the mullahs to buy time and hoard their oil profits, to purchase or steal nuclear technology, to feign moderation, and to trade some hostages for millions in terrorist-seeding cash, and then in a few years spring an announcement that it had the bomb.
No one wished to say that. Trump did. He canceled the flawed deal without a second thought.
Iran is furious, but in a far weaker—and eroding—strategic position with no serious means of escaping devastating sanctions, general impoverishment, and social unrest. So a desperate Tehran knows that it must make some show of defiance. Yet it accepts that if it were to launch a missile at a U.S. ship, hijack an American boat, or shoot down an American plane, the ensuing tit-for-tat retaliation might target the point of Iranian origin (the port that launched the ship, the airbase from which the plane took off, the silo from which the missile was launched) rather than the mere point of contact—and signal a serial stand-off 10-1 disproportionate response to every Iranian attack without ever causing a Persian Gulf war.
Everyone realized the Paris Climate Accord was a way for elites to virtue signal their green bona fides while making no adjustments in their global managerial lifestyles—at best. At worst, it was a shake-down both to transfer assets from the industrialized West to the “developing world” and to dull Western competitiveness with ascending rivals like India and China. Not now. Trump withdrew from the agreement, met or exceeded the carbon emissions reductions of the deal anyway, and has never looked back at the flawed convention. The remaining signatories have little response to the U.S. departure, and none at all to de facto American compliance to their own targeted goals.
Rich NATO allies either could not or would not pay their promised defense commitments to the alliance. To embarrass them into doing so was seen as heretical. No more.
Trump jawboned and ranted about the asymmetries. And more nations are increasing rather than decreasing their defense budgets. The private consensus is that the NATO allies knew all along that they were exactly what Barack Obama once called “free riders” and justified that subsidization by ankle-biting the foreign policies of the United States—as if an uncouth America was lucky to underwrite such principled members. Again, no more fantasies.
China was fated to rule the world. Period. Whining about its systematic commercial cheating was supposedly merely delaying the inevitable or would have bad repercussions later on. Progressives knew the Communists put tens of thousands of people in camps, rounded up Muslims, and destroyed civil liberties, and yet in “woke” fashion tip-toed around criticizing the Other. Trump then destroyed the mirage of China as a Westernizing aspirant to the family of nations. In a protracted tariff struggle, there are lots of countries in Asia that could produce cheap goods as readily as China, but far fewer countries like the United States that have money to be siphoned off in mercantilist trade deals, or the technology to steal, or the preferred homes and universities in which to invest.
The Palestinians were canonized as permanent refugees. The U.S. embassy could never safely move to the Israeli capital in Jerusalem. The Golan Heights were Syrian. Only a two-state solution requiring Israel to give back all the strategic border land it inherited when its defeated enemies sought to destroy it in five prior losing wars would bring peace. Not now.
The Palestinians for the last 50 years were always about as much refugees as the East Prussian Germans or the Egyptian Jews and Greeks that were cleansed from their ancestral homelands in the Middle East in the same period of turbulence as the birth of Israel. “Occupied” land more likely conjures up Tibet and Cyprus not the West Bank, and persecuted Muslims are not found in Israel, but in China.
An aging population, the veritable end to U.S. manufacturing and heavy industry, and an opioid epidemic meant that America needed to get used to stagnant 1 percent growth, a declining standard of living, a permanent large pool of the unemployed, an annual increasing labor non-participation rate, and a lasting rust belt of deplorables, irredeemables, clingers and “crazies” who needed to be analyzed by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. At best, a middle-aged deplorable was supposed to learn to code or relocate to the Texas fracking fields. Perhaps not now.
In the last 30 months, the question of the Rust Belt has been reframed to why, with a great workforce, cheap energy, good administrative talent, and a business-friendly administration, cannot the United States make more of what it needs? Why, if trade deficits are irrelevant, do Germany, China, Japan, and Mexico find them so unpleasant? If unfettered trade is so essential, why do so many of our enemies and friends insist that we almost alone trade “fairly,” while they trade freely and unfairly? Why do not Germany and China argue that their vast global account surpluses are largely irrelevant?
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) assured us that the world would be suffocating under greenhouse gases within 12 years. Doom-and-gloom prophecies of “peak” oil warned us that our oil reserves would dry up by the early 21st century. Former Vice President Al Gore warned us that our port cities would soon be underwater. Economists claimed Saudi Arabia or Russia would one day control the world by opening and closing their oil spigots. Not now.
Three million more barrels of American oil are being produced per day just since Trump took office. New pipelines will ensure that the United States is not just the world’s greatest producer of natural gas but perhaps its largest exporter as well.
Trump blew up those prognostications and replaced them with an optimistic agenda that the working- and middle classes deserve affordable energy, that the United States could produce fossil fuels more cleanly, wisely, and efficiently than the Middle East, and that ensuring increased energy could revive places in the United States that were supposedly fossilized and irrelevant. Normal is utilizing to the fullest extent a resource that can discourage military adventurism in the Middle East, provide jobs to the unemployed, and reduce the cost of living for the middle class; abnormal is listening to the progressive elite for whom spiking gasoline and power bills were a very minor nuisance.
Open borders were our unspoken future. The best of the Chamber of Commerce Republicans felt that millions of illegal aliens might eventually break faith with the progressive party of entitlements; the worst of the open borders lot argued that cheap labor was more important than sovereignty and certainly more in their interests than any worry over the poor working classes of their own country. And so Republicans for the last 40 years joined progressives in ensuring that illegal immigration was mostly not measured, meritocratic, diverse, or lawful, but instead a means to serve a number of political agendas.
Most Americans demurred, but kept silent given the barrage of “racist,” “xenophobe,” and “nativist” cries that met any measured objection. Not so much now. Few any longer claim that the southern border is not being overrun, much less that allowing a non-diverse million illegal aliens in six months to flood into the United States without audit is proof that “diversity is our strength.”
The Republican Party’s prior role was to slow down the inevitable trajectory to European socialism, the end of American exceptionalism, and homogenized globalized culture. Losing nobly in national elections was one way of keeping one’s dignity, weepy wounded-fawn style, while the progressive historical arc kept bending to our collective future. Rolling one’s eyes on Sunday talk shows as a progressive outlined the next unhinged agenda was proof of tough resistance.
Like it or not, now lines are drawn. Trump so unhinged the Left that it finally tore off its occasional veneer of moderation, and showed us what progressives had in store for America.
On one side in 2020 is socialism, “Medicare for All,” wealth taxes, top income tax rates of 70 or 80 or 90 percent, a desire for a Supreme Court of full of “wise Latinas” like Sonia Sotomayor, insidious curtailment of the First and Second Amendments, open borders, blanket amnesties, reparations, judges as progressive legislators, permissible infanticide, abolition of student debt, elimination of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau and the Electoral College, voting rights for 16-year-olds and felons, and free college tuition.
On the other side is free-market capitalism but within a framework of fair rather than unfettered international trade, a smaller administrative state, less taxation and regulation, constitutionalist judges, more gas and oil, record low unemployment, 3-4 percent economic growth, and pressure on colleges to honor the Bill of Rights.
The New, New Normal
The choices are at least starker now. The strategy is not, as in 2008 and 2012, to offer a moderate slow-down of progressivism, but rather a complete repudiation of it.
One way is to see this as a collision between Trump, the proverbial bull, and the administrative state as a targeted precious china shop—with all the inevitable nihilistic mix-up of horns, hooves, and flying porcelain shards. But quite another is to conclude that what we recently used to think was abjectly abnormal twenty years ago had become not just “normal,” but so orthodoxly normal that even suggesting it was not was judged to be heretical and deserving of censure and worse.
The current normal correctives were denounced as abnormal—as if living in a sovereign state with secure borders, assuming that the law was enforced equally among all Americans, demanding that citizenship was something more than mere residence, and remembering that successful Americans, not their government, built their own businesses and lives is now somehow aberrant or perverse.
Trump’s political problem, then, may be that the accelerating aberration of 2009-2016 was of such magnitude that normalcy is now seen as sacrilege.
Weaponizing the IRS, unleashing the FBI to spy on political enemies and to plot the removal of an elected president, politicizing the CIA to help to warp U.S. politics, allying the Justice Department with the Democratic National Committee, and reducing FISA courts to rubber stamps for pursuing administration enemies became the new normal. Calling all that a near coup was abnormal.
Let us hope that most Americans still prefer the abnormal remedy to the normal pathology.