In a blistering dissent, Judge Laurence Silberman said The New York Times and Washington Post are 'Democratic Party broadsheets.'
The control of major media by one political party is a dangerous threat to the country, a federal judge warned in a blistering dissent that called for courts to revisit libel laws that generally protect the press from being held liable for their reporting.
“It should be borne in mind that the first step taken by any potential authoritarian or dictatorial regime is to gain control of communications, particularly the delivery of news,” wrote Judge Laurence Silberman of the D.C. Circuit for the Court of Appeals. “It is fair to conclude, therefore, that one-party control of the press and media is a threat to a viable democracy.”
Silberman argued that it’s time for courts to revisit New York Times v. Sullivan, which has shaped press law in favor of media outlets for more than five decades. The New York Times and the Washington Post “are virtually Democratic Party broadsheets. And the news section of The Wall Street Journal leans in the same direction,” Judge Silberman wrote in his March 19 dissent.
He said that orientation also controls the Associated Press and most large papers in the country, including the Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, and Boston Globe. “Nearly all television—network and cable—is a Democratic Party trumpet,” Judge Silberman added.
Silicon Valley also has “enormous influence” over the distribution of news and it “similarly filters news delivery in ways favorable to the Democratic Party,” wrote Judge Silberman, highlighting the shocking suppression of stories about Joe Biden and his family when he was running for president.
In that case, Twitter and Facebook censored media outlets that reported accurately about the Biden family’s dealing with foreign entities. Twitter suspended users, including sitting White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, for merely sharing accurate information, and prevented people from sharing the information privately on its platform. Facebook said it would censor coverage of the Biden family corruption pending a “fact-check,” an unprecedented privilege given to Biden in the closing days of one of the closest presidential elections in history.
Only a few major media outlets are not controlled by the left, Silberman noted, citing Fox News, where this reporter is a contributor, the New York Post, and The Wall Street Journal. “It should be sobering for those concerned about news bias that these institutions are controlled by a single man and his son. Will a lone holdout remain in what is otherwise a frighteningly orthodox media culture? After all, there are serious efforts to muzzle Fox News,” he wrote. CNN hosts and other leftist activsts are currently on a campaign to deplatform their rival.
“Admittedly, a number of Fox’s commentators lean as far to the right as the commentators and reporters of the mainstream outlets lean to the left,” Silberman wrote in a footnote, in a dig at reporters inserting their extreme partisan views into news stories.
A New York Supreme Court judge last week ruled against The New York Times’ effort to get a defamation suit against it dismissed. The Times had said that its reporters were inserting opinion into news stories, and that opinions are not actionable for defamation. The argument didn’t hold sway with the judge, who critiqued the blending of news and opinion in purported news stories.
Another footnote critiqued the tepid response of some to “big tech’s behavior” censoring conservative speech. Silberman called repression of political speech in large institutions with market power “fundamentally un-American.”
“Some emphasize these companies are private and therefore not subject to the First Amendment. Yet—even if correct— it is not an adequate excuse for big tech’s bias. The First Amendment is more than just a legal provision: It embodies the most important value of American Democracy. Repression of political speech by large institutions with market power therefore is—I say this advisedly—fundamentally un-American,” Silberman wrote.
He then cited Tim Groseclose’s book, “Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind,” which empirically argued that media bias even a decade ago gave Democrat candidates an 8-10 point advantage. “And now, a decade after this book’s publication, the press and media do not even pretend to be neutral news services.” Silberman noted.
“The First Amendment guarantees a free press to foster a vibrant trade in ideas. But a biased press can distort the marketplace. And when the media has proven its willingness—if not eagerness—to so distort, it is a profound mistake to stand by unjustified legal rules that serve only to enhance the press’ power,” Silberman concluded.
The Magna Carta created the moral and political premise that, in many ways, the American founding was built upon. The Magna Carta came to represent the idea that the people can assert their rights against an oppressive ruler and that the power of government can be limited to protect those rights. These concepts were clearly foundational and central to both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.
First, a bit of history about Magna Carta — its full name was Magna Carta Libertatum which is Latin for “Great Charter of Freedoms.” But, it became commonly known as simply Magna Carta or the “Great Charter.” It was written in 1215 to settle an intense political dispute between King John of England and a group of barons who were challenging King John’s absolute right to rule. The terms of the charter were negotiated over the course of three days. When they reached agreement on June 15, 1215, the document was signed by the King and the barons at Runnymede outside of London.
This was a time when kings asserted the absolute right to rule, and that they were above the law and that they were personally chosen to rule by God. At this time, even questioning the King’s power was both treasonous and an act of defiance to God himself.
The Magna Carta limited the king’s absolute claim to power. It provided a certain level of religious freedom or independence from the crown, protected barons from illegal imprisonment, and limited the taxes that the crown could impose upon the barons, among other things. It did not champion the rights of every Englishman. It only focused on the rights of the barons. But, it was an important start to the concept of limiting the absolute power of governments or kings that claimed God had given them the absolute right to rule.
Magna Carta is important because of the principles it stood for and the ideas that it came to represent — not because it lasted a long time. Shortly after signing the charter, King John asked Pope Innocent III to annul it, which he did. Then there was a war known as the First Barons War that began in 1215 and finally ended in 1217.
After King John died in 1216, the regency government of John’s nine-year-old son, Henry III reissued the Magna Carta, after having stripped out some of its more “radical” elements in hopes of reuniting the country under his rule. That didn’t work, but at the end of the war in 1217, the original Magna Carta’s terms became the foundation for a peace treaty.
Over the following decades and centuries, the importance of Magna Carta ebbed and flowed depending on the current king’s view of it and his willingness to accept it, or abide by it its concepts. But subsequent kings further legitimized or confirmed the principles of Magna Carta — often in exchange for some grant of new taxes or some other political concession. But the path towards limited government and individual rights had been planted and continued to grow.
Despite its relatively short political life as a working document, Magna Carta created and memorialized the idea that the people had the right to limit the powers of their government and they had the right to protect basic and important rights. By the end of the Sixteenth Century, the political lore of Magna Carta grew and the idea of an ancient source for individual rights became cemented in the minds of reform-minded political scholars, thinkers and writers.
Obviously, it wasn’t as written in 1215 a document that protected the rights of the average Englishman. It only protected English barons. But the concepts of individual rights and the limitations of governmental power had grown and were starting to mature. Magna Carta was the seed of those powerful concepts of freedom and constitutionally limited government. By the 17th and 18th Centuries, those arguing for reforms and greater individual rights and protections used Magna Carta as their foundation. These ideas are at the very center of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.
As English settlers came to the shores of North America, they brought with them charters under the authority of the King. The Virginia Charter of 1606 promised the English settlers all the same “liberties, franchises and immunities” as people born in England. The Massachusetts Bay Company charter acknowledged the rights of the settlers to be treated as “free and natural subjects.”
In 1687, William Penn, an early American leader, who had at one point been imprisoned in the Tower of London for his political and religious views, published a pamphlet on freedom and religious liberty that included a copy of the Magna Carta and discussed it as a source of fundamental law. American scholars began to see Magna Carta as the source of their guaranteed rights of trial by jury and habeas corpus (which prevented a king from simply locking up his enemies without charges or due process). While that isn’t necessarily correct history, it is part of the growth of the seed of freedom and liberty that Magna Carta planted.
By July 4, 1776, the idea that government could, and should be, limited by the consent of its citizens and that government must protect individual rights was widely seen as springing forth from Magna Carta. The beautiful and important words penned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration spring from the fertile soil of Magna Carta:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Obviously, Thomas Jefferson’s ideas of liberty and freedom had developed a great deal since Magna Carta was penned in 1215. But, it is impossible to read Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence and not see the common DNA.
When the Founders debated, drafted and ratified the U.S. Constitution, it is also clear they were creating a set of rules and procedures to limit and check the power of government and to guarantee basic, individual rights.
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution which guarantees “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” is a concept that comes from Magna Carta. Our constitutional guarantees of “a speedy trial” as found in the Sixth Amendment are also founded in the political thought that grew from Magna Carta. The Constitution’s guarantee of the “privilege of the writ of habeas corpus” (Art.1, Sec. 9) is also a concept that grew from Magna Carta.
Even the phrase “the law of the land” comes from Magna Carta’s history. And now we use that phrase in the United States to describe our Constitution which we proudly label “the law of the land.”
To this day, Magna Carta is an important symbol of liberty in both England and the United States.
The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are in my estimation the two most important and influential political documents ever written. What they did to provide promote and protect the freedom, opportunity and security of the average person is almost impossible to overstate. As British Prime Minister William Gladstone said in 1878, “the American Constitution is the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.”
I believe Gladstone was correct. But, Magna Carta was an important development in political thought and understanding about government power and individual rights. It is difficult to imagine the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution without the foundational elements provided by Magna Carta.
Democrats say Muslim terrorists aren’t terrorists, but their political opponents are.
The Biden administration responded to protests against its stolen election by embedding a domestic extremism office into the National Security Council. The man in charge of making it happen, Joshua Geltzer, had previously denied that Black Lives Matter was a terrorist threat and had attacked the Trump administration’s response to Antifa and BLM violence in Portland.
That means that the only domestic extremists the NSC will be fighting are Republicans.
Even while the Biden administration is preparing to double down on Obama’s abuse of the national security state to target his political opponents, it’s also giving real terrorists a pass.
Joe Biden, whose biggest bundlers included the Iran Lobby, announced he was ending support for American allies fighting the Houthis, and then went even further by preparing to remove the terrorist organization whose motto is, “Death to America”, which took American hostages and tried to kill American sailors, from the list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.
The motto of Iran’s Houthi Jihadis is, “Allahu Akbar, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse the Jews, Victory to Islam.” The Houthis took over parts of Yemen as a result of the chaos unleashed by Obama’s pro-Islamist Arab Spring. Since then they’ve been engaged in a protracted war while causing a local famine by confiscating food from the local population.
Last year, the Trump administration had finally secured the release of three American hostages, Sandra Loli, an American aid worker who had been held for 3 years, another American who had been held for a year, and the body of a third American, in exchange for 240 Houthis, including three dozen Islamic terrorists who had been trained in the use of missiles and drones by Iran.
Like those launched at the USS Mason.
The Houthis lived up to their “Death to America” slogan by repeatedly launching cruise missiles at the USS Mason which had been protecting shipping in the area. And they lived up to the second half of their slogan by ethnically cleansing the remaining local Jewish population, locking them up, and confiscating their homes and land. Local reports stated that the Houthis were “cutting off water & electricity to Jewish homes and preventing Jews from purchasing food.”
“No Jew would be allowed to stay here,” one of the Jewish refugees said.
The Iran-backed Islamic terrorists fight using 18,000 child soldiers. The soldiers, many abducted, some as young as 10, are taught to hate America and to kill enemies of Iran.
None of this stopped Biden’s State Department from taking the Houthis off the terror list.
“Secretary Blinken has been clear about undertaking an expeditious review of the designations of Ansarallah,” the State Department claimed. “After a comprehensive review, we can confirm that the Secretary intends to revoke the Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist designations of Ansarallah.”
‘Ansarallah’ or ‘Defenders of Allah’ is what the Houthis call themselves. Blinken had only been confirmed on Tuesday. By next Friday, he had already somehow completed the “comprehensive review”, amid all the other minor business like China, Russia, and a global pandemic, and decided that the Islamic terrorists whose motto is “Death to America” aren’t really terrorists.
How can the Biden administration deny that Islamic Jihadis backed by Iran who attacked Americans are terrorists? The State Department claimed that this, “has nothing to do with our view of the Houthis and their reprehensible conduct, including attacks against civilians and the kidnapping of American citizens.” Not to mention the attacks on the USS Mason.
But the Biden administration isn’t even going to pretend to care about attacks on our military.
The Bidenites are claiming that they’re taking the Houthis, whom they don’t deny are terrorists, off the list of designated terrorist groups because of the “humanitarian consequences”.
That’s a lie, no matter how often you hear it in the media, because Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States would be providing licenses to “humanitarian activities conducted by non-governmental organizations in Yemen and to certain transactions and activities related to exports to Yemen of critical commodities like food and medicine.”
That’s despite the fact that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen was caused by the Houthis.
Nevertheless the media, echoing propaganda from the Iran Lobby and Qatar, a close terrorist ally of Iran, has falsely claimed that the Houthis are the victims of the Yemen famine. A number of politicians, mostly Democrats, but some Republicans, as well as various aid groups, have pushed this same disinformation campaign about the causes of the Yemen famine.
America and its allies have spent billions providing food, medicine, and other humanitarian aid to Yemen. That aid has been seized by the Houthis who have used it for their own troops or to resell on the black market. This is a familiar problem from Syria to Somalia, and aid groups have refused to honestly address their complicity in aiding the terrorists who caused the crisis.
There’s no money in admitting that the aid an organization is providing is being seized by the terrorists, prolonging the conflict and worsening the humanitarian crisis. Some aid organizations share the same goal as the Houthis of worsening the crisis because it boosts their donations.
That’s why international aid organizations don’t want to talk about the Houthis taking their food donations, or about their use of child soldiers. “It’s a taboo,” an anonymous aid official had said.
When Secretary Pompeo announced that the United States was finally designating the Houthis a foreign terrorist organization, the United Nations took the lead in claiming that it would cause a humanitarian crisis. But the UN’s World Food Program had already admittedthat its food shipments weren’t getting to the starving people because the Houthis were intercepting them.
The Middle East director for UNICEF also admitted that the Houthis were seizing food.
An Associated Press investigation found entire stores seling “cooking oil and flour displaying the U.N. food program’s WFP logo.” The former Houthi education minister said that 15,000 food baskets that were supposed to go to hungry families instead went to the Houthi terrorists whom the Biden administration is defending. Massive amounts of aid have been pumped into Yemen, and the famine has only grown worse because the Houthis have used starvation as a weapon.
The only way to end the famine is to end Iran’s grip on Yemen through its Houthi terrorists.
That’s obviously not what Biden or the Democrats have in mind. The loudest Democrat voices against designating the Houthis as a terrorist group have a troubling history with Iran.
“Reversing the designation is an important decision that will save lives and, combined with the appointment of a Special Envoy, offers hope that President Biden is committed to bringing the war to an end,” Senator Chris Murphy tweeted.
Murphy had been among the loudest voices against the designation.
And Murphy had met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last year. That same year, he had advocated lowering sanctions on Iran for “humanitarian reasons”. Biden had also joined the push to use the pandemic as a pretext for reducing sanctions on the terror state.
That same year, the Left succeeded in forcing out Rep. Elliot Engel, one of the few remaining pro-Israel Democrats, and replaced him with the militantly anti-Israel Rep. Jamaal Bowman, whose election was backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and her antisemitic ‘Squad’.
Engel, who had served as Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was replaced by Rep. Gregory Meeks, a strong backer of the Iran Deal. Meeks’ position was cheered by Iran Lobby groups. As far back as 2009, Meeks had declared at a hearing, “I have developed a tremendous appreciation for the work of the National Iranian American Council. I am pleased that we will hear the perspective of NIAC’s President, Mr. Trita Parsi.”
Emails released allegedly showed Parsi telling Iran’s Foreign Minister, “I am having a meeting with Gilchrest and Meeks, and they asked for our assistance in getting some communication going between the parliamentarians.”
Speaking to the Islamic Republic News Agency, the official state news agency of the Islamic terrorist state, Chairman Meeks allegedly stated that he was willing to travel to Iran and had been engaged in dialogue with Iranian legislators.
Meeks took the lead in attacking the designation of the Houthi Islamic terrorists as terrorists, arguing that, “No solution in Yemen will be sustainable unless the Houthis are involved.”
And that gets at the real reason why Biden and Democrats oppose the designation.
It’s not about humanitarian aid, which would have kept on going anyway, only to be stolen by the Houthis. It’s about supporting Iran’s bid to take over parts of Yemen in order to control shipping and tighten the grip of the Islamic terrorist regime over the entire region.
The ‘diplomatic’ solution advocated by Biden and the Democrats would finalize Iran’s grip over parts of Yemen. Designating the Houthis as terrorists would get in the way of another in a series of Islamist dirty deals with Iran that began with Obama and that will continue on under Biden.
Even while the Democrats insist loudly that the Houthis must be part of the solution in Yemen, they just as vocally cry that the Republicans must be isolated and eliminated in America.
The Democrats militarized D.C. with an armed occupation and are criminalizing political dissent. They have claimed that one riot, after a year full of them by their own activist wing, requires a permanent state of emergency that will be run through the National Security Council.
The Biden administration is not only taking the Houthis, and likely other Islamic terrorist groups, off the terror list, it’s putting the domestic political opposition on its terror list. This is an extension of the same Obama policy that illegally shipped foreign cash to Iran even while it was using the NSA to spy on pro-Israel members of Congress and on the Trump campaign.
The Democrats are happy to fight terrorism by designating their domestic political opponents as terrorists while removing the “Death to America” Houthis who have kidnapped and killed Americans, who fired on the USS Mason, and ethnically cleansed Jews, from the terror list.
And what do the Houthis plan to do with their newfound support from the Biden administration?
In addition to sanctioning the Houthis, the Trump administration sanctioned three of their leaders, beginning with Abdul Malik al-Houthi. The Houthi leader has made it clear that he intends to build up the same missile program that was used to attack the USS Mason.
“To have rockets that could reach far beyond Riyadh, this is a great achievement,” he said, referring to the Saudi capital.
He also promised to send terrorists to fight against Israel.
“Many of Yemen’s tribesmen are ambitious to fight against Israel, and they are looking for the day to participate along with the freemen of the Islamic nation against the Israeli enemy,”
This is the terrorist group that the Biden administration and the Democrats are bailing out even while they’re criminalizing the Republican political opposition as terrorists.
“Death to America” is something that the Houthis and their Democrat supporters can agree on.
White House doesn't list Israel as American ally
President Joe Biden is the first American leader in 40 years not to contact Israel’s leaders as one of his first actions in the White House, setting up what could be four years of chilly relations between America and its top Middle East ally.
Biden has already phoned multiple world leaders, including Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping, but during his 23 days in office has yet to speak with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu—making Biden the first president in modern history to punt on bolstering U.S.-Israel relations during his initial days in office. Every president going back to at least Ronald Reagan in 1981 made contact with their Israeli counterpart within a week of assuming office, according to a review of news reports.
Congressional foreign policy leaders slammed Biden’s Netanyahu snub, prompting a flurry of questions for White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who has declined to disclose when or if Biden will call the Israeli leader. Psaki also said on Friday the White House would not list Israel as a U.S. ally when asked about the relationship during her daily press briefing.
Modern presidents going back to Reagan made calls or overtures to Israel during their first days in office, sending a message the United States would continue to stand for the Jewish state’s security. Biden’s diplomatic slight comes as Israel faces encroaching terrorist threats and the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran. He also has hired several individuals with a background in anti-Israel activism, including Maher Bitar, a top White House National Security Council official who spent his youth organizing boycotts of the Jewish state. The State Department’s Iran envoy, Robert Malley, also has been a vocal critic of Israel.
Upon assuming office in January 1981, Reagan made overtures to Israel, vowing to protect its interests, and sent Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to meet with Israel’s leaders to build “Israeli confidence in the administration of President-elect Ronald Reagan,” according to an Associated Press report from the time.
President George H.W. Bush followed this trend. He called then-Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir on Jan. 25, 1989, five days after he entered the White House.
President Bill Clinton reached out to Israel even sooner. He called then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on Jan. 23, 1993, three days after being sworn in.
President George W. Bush phoned former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak on Jan. 27, 2001, a week after taking the White House, to express his support for the U.S.-Israel alliance.
President Barack Obama, who faced criticism from Republicans for policies they branded anti-Israel, called the Jewish state’s leaders on his first day in office. Obama also called Palestinian leaders that day, laying the groundwork for that administration’s failed bid to foster peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
President Donald Trump not only called Netanyahu but made the historic decision to invite him to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22, 2017, two days after he took the oath of office.
GOP leaders on the House Foreign Affairs Committee raised multiple concerns with Biden’s refusal to express support for Israel with a phone call.
“I’m not sure why President Biden has already called world leaders from 10 other nations, including China but hasn’t yet bothered to speak with Israel,” Rep. Mark Green (R., Tenn.) told the Washington Free Beacon on Thursday, adding that “Israel deserves to be treated with respect from every world leader—especially the president of the United States.”
Rep. Ronny Jackson (R., Texas), another HFAC member, asked, “What is President Biden avoiding?”
“The American-Israeli relationship is vital to our national security for a litany of reasons,” Jackson told the Free Beacon. “I urge President Biden to ignore the radical left in his party and make a strong show of support for our partnership with Israel by calling Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
As inaugural speeches go, Joe Biden‘s will be remembered (if at all) for its forgettability. Its best line was borrowed. It lacked the soaring rhetoric of a Reagan, Roosevelt or Kennedy calling us to search within ourselves to find the strength to make America the nation most of us believe it can be. It was, instead, as workmanlike and pedestrian as the man who gave it.
In and of itself, this is not an especially bad thing. Biden’s reputation as an orator was irreparably damaged by the plagiarism scandal that destroyed the then-senator’s 1987 run for the Democratic presidential nomination. After four years of flash and sass, the American people may be ready for a president who operates at a consistently lower frequency.
Trump fatigue will only get Biden so far. He’s going to have to produce, and quickly, to show the American people their decision to change horses midstream was the right one. So far, he’s not doing it. His heavy reliance on executive orders to set policy is rankling the remaining constitutionalists within his own party who upbraided his immediate predecessor for doing what the new president himself once referred to as dictatorial. Through executive orders he’s killed jobs, reapplied the heavy hand of federal regulation and readopted radical theories that keep the nation divided into camps. So much for the unity he supposedly called for in his address.
But was he really calling for unity? If Trump was the polarizer, as the conventional wisdom has accepted, then Biden is the unifier whose main job is to bring America together at a time when our differences threaten to rip the very fabric of our democracy apart—at least, this is how the folks on MSNBC and CNN and at The New York Times portray it.
And that’s the tack Biden took in his maiden presidential address. The need to bring the country together, addressing the problems as he defined them would require “that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity.”
Biden used that word 11 times in the speech—mostly erroneously. His repeated calls for unity were actually appeals for uniformity which, as any student of democracy will tell you, is among the most undemocratic things that can be found anywhere on Earth. The absence of dissent, the absolute sameness of opinion and direction, is deadly to truth, to scientific inquiry, to progress, to entrepreneurship and to liberty itself.
Biden isn’t alone among the Left and progressives, either in his desire for uniformity or his willingness to disguise it in more noble terms. For years now there’s been a concerted effort to push conservative voices out of the public square. What started on college campuses has spread to the business community, to social media and to the national conversation itself. Progressives believe their analysis of what the problems are and where they came from is conclusive—while efforts to dispute those conclusions are not only disharmonious but dangerous to everyone.
It’s not enough for large groups of people to be woke. Those who are not must be, in the minds of progressives, still asleep. How else does one process the calls from prominent persons for the “deprogramming” of Trump supporters and the suppression by Big Tech of what it all too easily and without basis labels misleading information?
The survival of the American system depends on room continually being made for rigorous, civil, constructive debate, even over topics people find unpleasant. Yes, we must all come together to fight the evils that exist—as Mr. Biden called for us to do in his speech—but who gets to pick what those evils are? This is not an anodyne question. The one who takes it upon himself to define the terms and identify the problems has the advantage when it comes to proposing the solutions.
The sense of oneness Mr. Biden invoked in his calls for “unity” may be benign rather than threatening if he’s leaving room for a broad diversity of opinions and approaches to confronting “the common foes we face: Anger, resentment, hatred. Extremism, lawlessness, violence. Disease, joblessness, hopelessness.” If he’s not—and it’s clear that important leaders in his party and the movement he leads are not—then the nation’s political polarization will continue at an accelerated pace.
America is a big place with room for the big ideas that will see us through our current conflicts. Rather than focus on unity or uniformity, Mr. Biden would do better to approach the challenges before him from the perspective that he needs to build a consensus and not simply expect people to fall in line behind him. There needs to be space for lots of voices—not just his.
Life lessons from the dissident, politician, and activist
Natan Sharansky has been a computer scientist, a chess player, a refusenik, a dissident, a political prisoner, a party leader, a government minister, a nonprofit executive, and a bestselling author. He never expected to be a school counselor.
But the coronavirus dashes expectations. In early March, when the virus began to appear in Jewish communities outside New York City, Sharansky found himself online, in an unaccustomed position. He began to share with students and parents whose schools were closed how he had coped during years in confinement.
“At first, it seemed absurd, even obscene,” Sharansky writes in his latest book, Never Alone, coauthored with the historian Gil Troy. “How could my experience of playing chess in my head in my punishment cell compare to being cooped up in gadget-filled homes wired to the internet—with computer chess—especially because this isolation is imposed to protect people, not break them?”
What Sharansky realized is that the costs of lockdowns do not depend on the reasons behind them. The sudden and seemingly arbitrary interruption of individual plans, movements, and relationships causes psychological harm. Sharansky recorded a brief YouTube video for the Jewish Agency—you can watch it here—offering his five tips for quarantine. Recognize the importance of your choices and behavior, Sharansky advised. Understand that some things are beyond your control. Keep laughing. Enjoy your hobbies. Consider yourself part of a larger cause.
“Surprisingly,” Sharansky writes, “this short clip went viral, reaching so many people all over the world within a few days that it made me wonder why even bother writing this book.” His reaction was another example of his droll and often self-deprecating wit. The video, however helpful it may be, does not match the power and wisdom of Never Alone. Part autobiography, part meditation on Jewish community, the book ties together the themes of Sharansky’s earlier work, from his prison memoir, Fear No Evil (1988), to his defense of cultural particularity, Defending Identity (2008). It is a moving story of emancipation and connection, of freedom and meaning.
Sharansky was born in 1948 in the Ukrainian city of Stalino. His given name was Anatoly. His parents were educated professionals who downplayed their Jewish identity. They did not want to risk political and social reprisal. “The only real Jewish experience I had was facing anti-Semitism,” he writes. The precocious youth spent his early years playing chess. He learned to navigate a Soviet system that maintained its rule through fear. He became captive to doublethink. He repeated official lies and myths not because it was the right thing to do, but because it was the safe thing to do.
Sharansky enrolled in the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. “I dived into the republic of science,” he writes. “This world seemed insulated from the doublethink I had mastered at home.” Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War prompted him to discover his heritage. “Realizing how little I knew about this country that so many people were now asking about made me hungry to learn more.”
Sharansky studied representations of Biblical scenes hanging from the walls of Moscow’s galleries. He came across a samizdat copy of Leon Uris’s Exodus, a potboiler historical fiction that describes Israel’s founding. “It drew me into Jewish history, and Israel’s history, through my Russian roots. It helped me see myself as part of the story.”
The following year the Soviet nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov wrote his “Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom.” Sakharov argued for freedom of inquiry. He demanded the protection of human rights. “Sakharov was warning that life in a dictatorship offers two choices: either you overcome your fear and stand for truth, or you remain a slave to fear, no matter how fancy your titles, no matter how big your dacha,” Sharansky writes. “Ultimately, I couldn’t escape myself or my conscience.”
Inspired by Sakharov, Sharansky applied for a visa to immigrate to Israel in 1973. He was rejected. He was unable to leave the Soviet Union. That made him a refusenik. “My life as a doublethinker, which I had consciously begun at age five the day Stalin died, was over. The professional world I had built for myself, my castle of science, collapsed instantly. Now, I could say what I thought, do what I said, and say what I did.”
The twin concerns of Sharansky’s life—identity and freedom—became fused. “Democracy—a free life in a free society—is essential because it satisfies a human yearning to choose one’s path, to pursue one’s goals,” he wrote in Defending Identity. “It broadens possibilities and provides opportunity for self-advancement. Identity, a life of commitment, is essential because it satisfies a human longing to become part of something bigger than oneself. It adds layers of meaning to our lives and deepens the human experience.” Freedom offers choice. Identity provides direction.
It would be a while before Sharansky could enjoy his own freedom. By 1975, he was working with Sakharov. The next year he formed the Moscow Helsinki Group to pressure the Soviets to live up to the commitments they had made in basket three of the Helsinki Accords. The KGB arrested him in 1977. “I spent the next nine years in prison and labor camp,” he wrote in Fear No Evil, “mainly on a special disciplinary regime, including more than 400 days in punishment cells, and more than 200 days on hunger strikes.”
In prison he played chess games in his head. “I always won.” He would tease the guards with anti-Soviet jokes. He was not afraid. What could they do—put him in jail? He communicated with his fellow inmates through morse code. They would drain the toilets and speak to one another through pipes. He read Soviet propaganda esoterically, between the lines. He figured out what was actually going on by determining what the authorities had omitted.
Sharansky was in prison when he heard that President Ronald Reagan had called the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire.” The year was 1983. Reagan had uttered the famous—and controversial—words in a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals. “It was one of the most important, freedom-affirming declarations, and we all instantly knew it,” Sharansky said in a 2004 interview. “For us, that was the moment that really marked the end for them, and the beginning for us. The lie had been exposed and could never, ever be untold now. This was the end of Lenin’s ‘Great October Bolshevik Revolution’ and the beginning of a new revolution, a freedom revolution—Reagan’s Revolution.”
Sharansky and his wife Avital had been apart since her immigration to Israel the day after they married in 1974. Throughout his imprisonment she worked tirelessly on his behalf, and on behalf of other refuseniks and dissidents. She found an ally in Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Benjamin Netanyahu. She met with Reagan, who began asking Soviet leaders to release Sharansky. Gorbachev freed him on February 11, 1986. He was reunited with Avital in Frankfurt Airport. They flew to Israel. “‘It was just one long day,’ Avital sighed later that night, in our new home in Jerusalem. ‘I arrived in Israel in the morning. You arrived in the evening. It was just one very, very long day in between.’”
He became Natan. He entered Israeli politics. He helped resettle one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union. He opposed the Oslo peace accords. He resigned from Ariel Sharon’s government over the policy of unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. His work as an activist was devoted to building what Reagan had described as “the infrastructure of democracy.” Sharansky distinguished between free societies and fear societies. “The structural elements that enable democratic societies to respect human rights—independent courts, the rule of law, a free press, a freely elected government, meaningful opposition parties, not to mention human rights organizations—were all glaringly absent in fear societies,” he wrote in The Case for Democracy (2004).
Sharansky’s career resists summary. It offers lessons in courage, freedom, justice, belonging, and hope. What makes his example especially relevant is his insistence that freedom and identity, liberty and tribe, are not just compatible but codependent. “To have a full, interesting, meaningful life,” he writes in Never Alone, “you have to figure out how to be connected enough to defend your freedom and free enough to protect your identity.” The same puzzle confronts nations. “Benefiting from the best of liberalism and the best of nationalism, together we can champion the joint mission to belong and to be free as both central to human happiness.”
Governments establish the conditions of liberty. But identity must come from below. The most positive and enduring sources of identity are not found in politics. They are located in civil society. The institutions of family, faith, and community tell us who we are, what we want, where we should turn.
People are antecedent to government. And they must remain so, if democracy is to survive. This is the unforgettable teaching of Natan Sharansky, hero and champion of freedom.
The combustible politics of a coronavirus ‘dark winter’
For the past half decade, Europe has acted as a preview of coming attractions in American politics. The reaction to the confluence of immigration and terrorism on the continent foreshadowed the direction the Republican Party would take under Donald Trump. The surprise victory of “Leave” in the Brexit referendum hinted at Trump’s unexpected elevation to the presidency. The terrible images from coronavirus-stricken Italy last March offered a glimpse into New York City’s future. This week, when Italian authorities reimposed curfews, restrictions on business, and bans on communal gatherings, violent protests broke out in Turin, Milan, and Naples. Consider it a taste of the next populist revolt.
Lockdowns remain the preferred tool of governments whose public health authorities decide the coronavirus is out of control. In September, Israel shut down for a month during the Jewish holidays to reduce its coronavirus infection rate. In October, New York City targeted certain neighborhoods. In recent days, Newark ordered “nonessential” businesses to close at 8 p.m., a county judge imposed a curfew on El Paso, and Massachusetts has gone back-and-forth on whether schools should be open or closed.
This response has placed the public under extraordinary strain. When officials tell businesses to close, they not only deny individuals who can’t work from home the opportunity to earn a living. They also impose social costs that much of the public is increasingly unwilling to bear. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation increased during the spring. Extended families limited contact. Religious practice was curtailed. Having canceled spring holidays, Americans are now informed that Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas need to be reconsidered as well. When individuals inevitably question, disregard, or disobey the commands of science, they are censored, stigmatized, condescended to, or punished.
Nor is expert authority the only form of power at work. In spite of evidence that schools are not sites of widespread transmission and remote education harms children in incalculable ways, only 39 of the 50 largest school districts have reopened for at least some in-person instruction. In Fairfax County, Va., the teachers’ union has called for schools to remain closed at least until September 2021. Amidst the many Biden-Harris lawn signs are a few for #OpenFCPS, a parent-driven campaign to resume in-person instruction. The parents are circulating a petition to recall members of the school board who oppose bringing the students back.
Governments resort to shutdowns to impose discipline on an unruly population. But shutdowns do not solve the problem. They turn public health crises into economic and social ones. After a while, the price of shutdowns grows too high. The government reopens the economy. The virus returns. Before long, the cycle repeats.
There are plenty of ways to think about the politics of the Trump era. You can analyze the parties according to the traditional left-right axis. You can study public debate through the prism of liberal democracy versus authoritarianism. You can understand recent elections as pitting establishment insiders against populist outsiders. You can see the ideological contest as a three-way grudge match between common-good conservatives, neoliberals in both parties, and woke progressives. Coronavirus has spawned yet another interpretive framework. In this frame, politics is the struggle between the faction that wants to keep the economy and society relatively open during the pandemic and the faction that is ready and willing to shut them down.
Joe Biden has been able to straddle these two poles. He says you can have a (relatively) open society as well as a public health system that reduces infection to a negligible level. He says he will “shut down the virus, not the country.” What he hasn’t explained is how that can happen in the absence of a widely administered vaccine. Only Taiwan and South Korea contained outbreaks without nationwide lockdowns. It is hard to see the United States replicating their success. Taiwan benefited from its rapid response at the outset of the crisis. South Korean authorities rapidly approved tests while enjoying access to cell phone data. None of that happened here.
If Biden takes office during the “dark winter” he prophesied at the final presidential debate, he will have to decide, in addition to his national mask mandate, whether to put the country through another “30 days to slow the spread.” The bureaucratic pressure to shut down will be immense. The media, entertainment, and technology sectors will be sure to support and promote his decision. Polarization between “red” states and the nation’s capital will intensify. The commanding heights of culture and business will consign the Republican Party to the ash heap of history. And opposition to the restoration of progressive rule will manifest itself as a populist revolt whose character, magnitude, disposition, and endgame can only be imagined.
In a heated presidential campaign year, two dates in history have illustrated our deep national divide. The New York Times spoke for liberal America when it declared last year that the real founding of the country was in 1619 when the first African slaves arrived on its shores. In short, the 1619 Project argued that what was distinctive and problematic about America was its economic system of capitalism and the original sin of slavery that established it.
President Trump responded for many conservatives last month when he proposed the creation of a 1776 commission, underscoring that the real founding of the country came with the Declaration of Independence and, a decade later, the Constitution. What makes America distinctive, in this view, is political freedom guaranteed by a unique constitutional system.
While this is an important debate, two other numbers speak more clearly and less divisively about today’s most serious problem with U.S. history: Twenty-four and 15. Those are the percentages of eighth graders who scored “proficient” or better in government/civics (24%) and U.S. history (15%) in National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores announced earlier this year. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rightly called these scores “stark and inexcusable.”
Sam Cooke’s 1960 song lyric is now literally true of America’s children: “Don’t know much about history.”
We fail to appreciate the profound effect civic ignorance has on the body politic. Only about 60% bother to vote, described by Founding Father Thomas Paine as “the primary right by which other rights are protected.” Only 55% voted in 2016, even fewer (40%-50%) when there is no race for the presidency. Data published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that U.S. voting rates are only rated 26th out of 32 highly developed democratic states. Young people’s trust in government has plummeted, with only 27% expressing trust in elected officials. Indeed, only 17% trust the government “to do what is right most of the time.” As one expert said, “How can you trust what you do not understand?”
At other times in our recent history, failures in our educational system led to alarm and action. The Soviets’ launch of Sputnik, the first satellite in space, in 1957, led to calls for improvement in science and technology education. A discouraging national report on the state of education generally, “A Nation at Risk,” launched a series of reading and math initiatives in the 1980s and beyond. Despite failing test scores and reduced curriculum offerings in civics education, however, little or nothing has been done.
In a recent article published by the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, I have proposed a series of steps to reverse our civics decline. Happily, we do not have to wait for the gridlock and hyperpartisanship in Washington to go away in order to fix this because there are many important goals to be addressed at other levels, especially in the states and schools.
The main point is that we need to make civic education a national priority with extra emphasis everywhere. The federal government needs to restore and increase funding for civics that it practically eliminated in 2010. In fact, by one estimate, the federal government now spends $54 per schoolchild on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and a meager 5 cents per student on civics.
States that required multiple courses in civics and government in the 1960s in most cases now mandate only a single semester in civics education, with almost no attention to it in elementary and middle school. Studies show that teachers are often ill-prepared themselves to teach civics education. Is it any wonder that students in Rhode Island have sued their state for poor civics education?
Civics have taken a back seat in our schools to reading, math, and especially STEM. But can saving our democracy be any less important than getting good jobs in technology? That is what is at stake if we do not make a national commitment to strengthening civics education.
Just over a week ago, Emanuel Macron said he wanted to end ‘Islamic separatism’ in France because a minority of the country’s estimated six million Muslims risk forming a ‘counter-society’. On Friday, we saw yet another example of this when a history teacher was decapitated in the street on his way home in a Paris suburb. Samuel Paty had discussed the free speech in the classroom and shown cartoons of Mohammed. Some parents had protested, leading to a wider fuss – and, eventually, his murder. M Paty was murdered, Macron said, “because he taught the freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or not believe.” The president is now positioning himself as the defender of French values, determined to drain the Islamist swamp.
That Macron even gave an anti-Islamism speech was itself a sign of how fast the debate is moving in France. Five years ago, when Fox News referred to ‘no-go zones’ in Paris, the city’s mayor threatened to sue. Now we have an avowed centrist like Macron warning that the ‘final goal’ of the ‘ideology’ of Islamism is to ‘take complete control’ of society. Anyone making such arguments just a few years ago would have been condemned by the left as an extremist. Macron is promising a law on ‘Islamist separatism’, restricting home-schooling of Muslims and demanding that Islamic groups in receipt of French state funding will have to sign a ‘secular charter’.
But if he’s serious, why stop there? A week before his speech, for example, there was a stabbing outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo, which France’s interior minister described as an ‘act of Islamist terrorism’ and a ‘new, bloody attack against our country’. It would be brave and powerful to put up a monument in memory of people who were killed by the Islamists while fighting for freedom of speech: perhaps a statue of the Charlie Hebdo team or my late friend Theo van Gogh. At the statue’s unveiling, Macron might refute the false notion — increasingly widespread today — that scrutinising Islamism and Islamists is an act of ‘Islamophobia’. Defending universal human rights is an act of compassion, not a ‘phobia’; failing to make this point only leaves an opportunity for the real bigots of the far right.
In his speech, Macron also said that the ‘challenge is to fight against those who go off the rails in the name of religion… while protecting those who believe in Islam and are full citizens of the republic’. If he really means this, perhaps he could provide security and support to those French Muslims courageously speaking out against radical Islam? He could also support those French Muslims who seek to modify Sharia, historically contextualise the Sunnah (traditional Muslim practices) and establish a meaningful boundary between religion and state by challenging doctrinal purity. In the effort to combat the extremists, it is vital to distinguish the Muslims pushing for real change from the Islamists with silver tongues. A great many French Muslims are fighting against the Islamists, and Macron could do far more to support them.That he even gave an anti-Islamism speech was a sign of how fast the debate is moving in France
The battle of ideas against Islamism will, of necessity, be a long one and if he hopes to succeed Macron must ensure that French civil society and philanthropic foundations are fully engaged in this effort. He should disband subversive Islamist organisations that lay the ideological groundwork for violence, while calling on his fellow European leaders to do the same. It’s amazing how many of them, even now, prefer to avoid the topic.
He might also strengthen immigration laws to ensure that French civic values are taken into account in admission decisions. Those admitted to the Republic from abroad should be told to embrace the French notion of social cohesion, which means they cannot embrace separatism or Islamism, or belong to organisations that do.
Existing laws should be used more too. Not so long ago, an Algerian woman who refused to shake hands with male officials at a French naturalisation ceremony was denied citizenship as a result. Islamists can, in this way, be served notice that France is not their natural home.
French law allows the government to reject naturalisation requests on grounds of ‘lack of assimilation, other than linguistic’. So in the spirit of this law, Macron should start to repatriate asylum-seekers who engage in violence or the incitement of violence — particularly against women.
In foreign policy, he could tackle the ideological extremism that is disseminated by the governments of Qatar and Turkey — among others — through their support of Islamists, Islamist foundations and communitarianism in Europe (including France). He could take a much stronger stand against the Iranian regime — bilaterally as well as at the EU level — for its hostile activities on European soil, its vicious cruelty towards its own population and its efforts to export revolutionary Islamism throughout the Middle East. This would also mean further strengthening France’s ties to Israel, the UAE and Egypt and demanding that Saudi Arabia stop funding Wahhabi extremists abroad.
France’s corps diplomatique still possesses exceptional historical and linguistic knowledge of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. This could be used to counter the activities of groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Tablighi Jamaat, Hezbollah, Hizb ut-Tahrir and their many branches and offshoots. Macron says his Bill will ‘dissolve’ Islamic groups whose principles clash with those of the French Republic. He can do so by cutting off the financial flows from foreign powers to the Islamist organisations within France.
Macron is right: Islamic separatism does indeed threaten to turn France into two nations. But if the problem is to be addressed, the French people need to be shown that the President has the guts not just to call out radical Islam — but also to take real, practical steps to defeat it.
Anywhere ideology trumps science, public service, history, art, and entertainment, ruin surely follows.
In the 21st century, hallmark American and international institutions have lost much of their prestige and respect.
Politics and biases explain the lack of public confidence in organizations and institutions such as the World Health Organization, the Commission on Presidential Debates, the Nobel Peace Prize, the Pulitzer Prizes, and the Academy Awards.
The overseers entrusted with preserving these institutions all caved to short-term political pressures. As a result, they have mostly destroyed what they inherited.
The World Health Organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is the first person without a medical degree to hold that position. Why? No one really knows.
In the critical first days of the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic, almost every statement issued by Tedros and the WHO about the origins, transmission, prevention, and treatment of the virus was inaccurate. Worse, the announcements predictably reflected the propaganda of the Chinese government.
The bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates was formed in 1987 for two purposes: to ensure that during every presidential campaign, candidates would agree to debate; and to ensure that the debates would be impartial and not favor either major party.
Unfortunately, in 2020, the commission so far has a checkered record on both counts.
Conservatives have argued that the moderators of the first presidential debate and the vice-presidential debate — Chris Wallace of Fox News and Susan Page of USA Today — were systematically asymmetrical in their questioning.
The moderators asked both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to explain prior controversial quotes and then to reply to critics’ accusations. The moderators did not pose the same sort of gotcha-type “When did you stop beating your wife?” questions to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden or vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris.
Although the vice-presidential debate was conducted with proper social distancing, along with screens and testing to protect the candidates, the commission abruptly canceled the second live presidential debate for safety’s sake and insisted it be conducted remotely.
Yet White House doctors have cleared Trump, who recently contracted COVID-19, as both medically able to debate and no longer infectious.
The public perception was that a remote debate would favor the frequently teleprompted Biden, who has been largely ensconced in his home during the last six months, and would be less advantageous to Trump, who thrives on live, ad hoc television.
Susan Page is currently writing a biography of Trump’s chief antagonist, House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.). The designated moderator of the now-canceled second president debate, Steve Scully of C-SPAN, once interned for Vice President Joe Biden.All Our Opinion in Your Inbox
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The Nobel Peace Prize has been subject to criticism over the years for failing to adequately recognize either diplomatic or humanitarian achievement.
Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization won the prize in 1994, despite conducting lethal terrorist operations. He allegedly gave the final order to execute U.S. Ambassador to Sudan Cleo Noel and two other diplomats in 1973.
In 2009, the Nobel Peace Prize went to President Barack Obama, despite the fact that Obama had only been president for eight months when the prize was announced. Many felt the award was a political statement — aimed at empowering Obama and criticizing the policies of his then-unpopular predecessor, George W. Bush.
Much later, Geir Lundestad, the longtime director of the Nobel Institute, confessed that the prize committee had indeed hoped the award would strengthen Obama’s future agendas and wasn’t really in recognition of anything he had actually done.
“Even many of Obama’s supporters believed that the prize was a mistake,” Lundestad lamented in his memoir. “In that sense the committee didn’t achieve what it had hoped for.”
Earlier this year, New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her work on the 1619 Project. She has argued that 1619, the year African slaves first arrived on North American soil, and not 1776 marked the real founding of America.
Almost immediately, distinguished American historians cited factual errors and general incoherence in the 1619 Project — especially Hannah-Jones’s claim that the United States was created to promote and protect slavery.
Facing a storm of criticism, Hannah-Jones falsely countered that she had never advanced a revisionist date of American’s “real” founding. Yet even the New York Times — without explanation — erased from its own website Hannah-Jones’s earlier description of 1619 as “our true founding.”
The annual Academy Awards were once among the most watched events in America. In 2020, however, Oscar viewership crashed to its lowest level in history, due in large part to backlash against the left-wing politicking, sermonizing, and virtue-signaling of award winners.
Recently, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which oversees the Oscars, announced that it will adopt racial, gender, and sexual identity quotas for nominees — refuting the ancient idea of “art for art’s sake”
Such ideology has also infected, and thus tarnished, the Grammy and Emmy awards, and left-wing virtue-signaling has also become part of the NFL and the NBA.59
The lesson in all these debacles is that anywhere ideology trumps science, public service, history, art, and entertainment, ruin surely follows.