A group of vile racists in Charlottesville, VA, planned a rally for Saturday, “Unite the Right,” in part to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The protest was met predictably by a counter-protest, including by members of the “Antifa” movement, the left’s violent protest wing.
The Charlottesville newspaper, The Daily Progress, has the best description of the events of Saturday. We strongly recommend everyone read it to learn how both sides were prepared for violence. It’s still unclear how the violence broke out, although by most accounts the police were inadequate to the task of keeping the two sides separate. Given the desire for both sides for a confrontation, it was probably expecting too much of the police to keep order completely, and the city did try to change the venue to make the rally safer.
As the violence escalated, a state of emergency was declared and the rally, comprised of the KKK, Nazis, the “alt-Right,” and other racists, was canceled. Unfortunately, the violence didn’t end.
A young man from Ohio, James Fields, allegedly intentionally drove his car into the crowd of demonstrators, killing at least one person and injuring 19 others, an act of terrorism similar to terror vehicle attacks elsewhere. He is currently charged with second degree murder.
The day’s tragedies continued with the crash of a helicopter containing two state troopers who were monitoring the events on the ground. Both were killed.
The lesson some would draw from the events of Saturday is that free speech is too high a price to pay, that Nazis and other racists should not be allowed to have free speech, or for that matter anyone that the left deems unacceptable. Glenn Greenwald has an article in The Intercept defending the ACLU and its defense of the rally planners in Charlottesville after the city council tried to move the rally. As the article points out, the ACLU is no friend to the racist organizers of the rally, but they recognized (just as they famously did in Skokie, IL) that defending the right to unpopular, even racist hate speech, is defending the right to all speech. Unfortunately, that understanding, always fragile in America, is rapidy becoming lost.
And, on cue, groups like One Wisconsin Now (OWN) are already using the violence in Charlottesville to attack a bill in the Wisconsin legislature that would protect free speech on college campuses by punishing those that would disrupt the free speech of others. Of course, OWN is mischaracterizing the bill, claiming it would punish people for protesting. It does not. It only punishes those would try to prevent others from speaking.
Republican legislators should not be cowed by this tactic of a political left that wishes to preserve their ability to decide what speech can and cannot be protected, expressing that power through mob violence. As liberal writer Peter Beinart in the Atlantic points out, “Antifa believes it is pursuing the opposite of authoritarianism. Many of its activists oppose the very notion of a centralized state. But in the name of protecting the vulnerable, antifascists have granted themselves the authority to decide which Americans may publicly assemble and which may not. That authority rests on no democratic foundation.”
The real lesson of Charlottesville is that racist speech should be condemned loudly and often, but confronting the racist organizations with violence is not the answer. Because, as Beinart also points out, while attempting to suppress racist speech through violence, the left is becoming racism’s greatest ally in spreading the hate. The “alt-right” will just attract more adherents convinced that their speech needs to be defended by violence, too. In the escalating political fire, the First Amendment freedoms we cherish are those that will be at risk.
The Wall Street Journal:
As ever in this age of Donald Trump, politicians and journalists are reducing the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday to a debate over Mr. Trump’s words and intentions. That’s a mistake no matter what you think of the President, because the larger poison driving events like those in Virginia is identity politics and it won’t go away when Mr. Trump inevitably does.
The particular pathology on display in Virginia was the white nationalist movement led today by the likes of Richard Spencer, David Duke and Brad Griffin. They alone are to blame for the violence that occurred when one of their own drove a car into peaceful protesters, killing a young woman and injuring 19 others.
The Spencer crowd courts publicity and protests, and they chose the progressive university town of Charlottesville with malice aforethought. They used the unsubtle Ku Klux Klan symbolism of torches in a Friday night march, and they seek to appear as political martyrs as a way to recruit more alienated young white men.
Political conservatives even more than liberals need to renounce these racist impulses, and the good news is that this is happening. The driver has been charged with murder under Virginia law, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions opened a federal civil-rights investigation and issued a statement condemning the violence: “When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.” Many prominent conservatives also denounced the white-nationalist movement.
Mr. Trump was widely criticized for his initial statement Saturday afternoon that condemned the hatred “on many sides” but failed to single out the white nationalists. Notably, David Duke and his allies read Mr. Trump’s statement as attacking them and criticized the President for doing so.
The White House nonetheless issued a statement Sunday saying Mr. Trump “includes white supremacists, KKK, Neo-Nazi and all extremist groups” in his condemnation. As so often with Mr. Trump, his original statement missed an opportunity to speak like a unifying political leader.
Yet the focus on Mr. Trump is also a cop-out because it lets everyone duck the deeper and growing problem of identity politics on the right and left. The politics of white supremacy was a poison on the right for many decades, but the civil-rights movement rose to overcome it, and it finally did so in the mid-1960s with Martin Luther King Jr. ’s language of equal opportunity and color-blind justice.
That principle has since been abandoned, however, in favor of a new identity politics that again seeks to divide Americans by race, ethnicity, gender and even religion. “Diversity” is now the all-purpose justification for these divisions, and the irony is that America is more diverse and tolerant than ever.
The problem is that the identity obsessives want to boil down everything in American life to these categories. In practice this means allocating political power, contracts, jobs and now even salaries in the private economy based on the politics of skin color or gender rather than merit or performance. Down this road lies crude political tribalism, and James Damore’s recent Google dissent is best understood as a cri de coeur that we should aspire to something better. Yet he lost his job merely for raising the issue.
A politics fixated on indelible differences will inevitably lead to resentments that extremists can exploit in ugly ways on the right and left. The extremists were on the right in Charlottesville, but there have been examples on the left in Berkeley, Oakland and numerous college campuses. When Democratic politicians can’t even say “all lives matter” without being denounced as bigots, American politics has a problem.
Mr. Trump didn’t create this identity obsession even if as a candidate he did try to exploit it. He is more symptom than cause, though as President he now has a particular obligation to renounce it. So do other politicians. Yet the only mission of nearly every Democrat we observed on the weekend was to use the “white supremacist” cudgel against Mr. Trump—as if that is the end of the story.
It isn’t, and it won’t be unless we confront this underlying politics of division. Not long ago we were rereading Justice Clarence Thomas’s prophetic opinion in Holder v. Hall, a 1994 Supreme Court ruling on dividing voting districts by race.
“As a practical political matter,” he wrote, “our drive to segregate political districts by race can only serve to deepen racial divisions by destroying any need for voters or candidates to build bridges between racial groups or to form voting coalitions.” Writ large, Justice Thomas was warning that identity politics can destroy democratic trust and consent.
Or put a different way 50 years ago …
I was, perhaps ironically, at a concealed-carry class when news of what happened in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday started filtering out. (For those who don’t think it’s a dangerous world, that and Saturday night’s triple homicide at Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove should disprove your mistaken belief.)
Facebook Friend Rick Esenberg had the two best thoughts I’ve seen on what happened:
I should think that the universal reaction to [Saturday’s] events ought be condemnation. It gets harder when we begin to muse about some larger meaning. My own sense is that we ought to think carefully about where identity politics takes us. I consider myself to be on the political “right” — at least as I understood that term prior to last year. To me, being on the right meant absolute equality before the law, individual freedom and limited government. It meant encouraging a robust civil society and a commitment to what I am not afraid to call Western values. It meant rejection of both the licentious and authoritarian tendencies of the “intersectional” left and the blood and soil nationalism and authoritarianism of the rightest parties of Europe. I don’t think Donald Trump is a champion of the “alt-right.” In fact, I don’t think that he represents anything in particular — he seems to have no firm convictions about anything – but is a product of disparate and conflicting forces. One of them, however, is a very different view of the American right – a view that is every bit as post-constitutional, illiberal and authoritarian as that which has come to characterize much of the American left. It is very much a product of the notion that we need a Saul Alinsky of the “right.” But the risk is that in trying to save our values — individualism, freedom, subsidiarity and a common morality that we root in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we wind up destroying them. I don’t think that Donald Trump has much — if anything — to do with what happened today in Virginia. What bothers me is that he does not understand what to do about it. …
I do not believe that Trump “empowered” the idiots in Virginia. But here’s what’s wrong with his statement in response. To be sure, the racist white nationalist march was constitutionally protected speech. For those who do not understand why that is so, I’d be happy to explain. But that does not mean that it is within the bounds of respectable political discourse. Its a marginal movement that gets more attention that it’s numbers warrant. But it’s no less vile for that. Referring to it as part of “all sides” of our political community confers a certain respectability that it does not deserve. Doing so also reflects a certain studied tone deafness on his part. I am not prepared to call Trump a racist or a tool of the Russians. But, knowing that many people feel that he is both, he has still has this bad habit of behaving in ways that feed their beliefs. An obstreperous guy writing on FB can do that, but a President should not.
Facebook Friend Ken Gardner adds:
Fundamentally, the neo-Nazis who marched in Virginia over the weekend, the Bernie nut who tried to assassinate GOP Congressmen, the Berkeley riots, and the rest of them — on all sides of the political spectrum — are all the same people. They are all wannabe authoritarians and collectivists who are filled with hate for anyone who does not belong to their favored groups. They hate disagreement and crave both attention and obedience backed up by violence and threats of violence.
Here is what I learned about America over the weekend. After 6 months of organization and promotion, the “largest white supremacist gathering in decades” drew only several hundred sick puppies from around the country on Saturday. Several hundred. And on Sunday, 52 million Americans went to church – where everyone is welcomed and we all drink from the same cup. 62 million Americans volunteer in any given year, and 83% of American adults give to charity. And 145 million Americans went to work today – where people of every race, gender, ethnicity, religious belief, orientation, and ability get along just fine. America is not those few hundreds who hate; it is those tens of millions who don’t. Let’s keep our perspective.
Outrage is the currency of modern America. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “An extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation.”
Every day, another statement, joke or action provokes anger, shock and indignation against the hapless offender.
A dentist hunts a lion in Africa. Outrage! A woman tweets a joke before boarding a plane bound for Africa. Outrage!! A white cisgendered male op-ed writer mentions Africa in three different outrage examples. OUTRAGE!!!
It’s exhausting just to read about the outrage, so it must be debilitating to those peddling it.
Why do people get so offended?
I’ve never understood why people get offended by, well, anything. Even if someone attempts an insult, it’s up to you to choose whether to accept it as such. Just as you shouldn’t give others the power over your emotional state, you can’t be offended without your consent.
Or as some fancy-pants old white cisgendered male said, “Remember that it is not he who gives abuse or blows who affronts, but the view we take of these things as insulting. When, therefore, any one provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you.”
Epictetus wrote that in The Enchiridion, Greek for “the handbook,” which means I have appropriated Greco-Phrygian culture. And if you’re offended on behalf of that extinct ethnicity, you need to keep reading.
Let’s reinterpret this 2,000-year-old dead white male for modern audiences. When a thin-skinned audience member shouts “I’m offended!” at a stand-up comic, it only reveals the heckler’s fragile psyche and low self-worth.
Insult me? Then you must be an idiot
If you’re insulted when a co-worker holds the door for his female associate, you are projecting your hang-ups on what is most likely a simple act of politeness. If a Swedish bongo player sports blonde dreadlocks and you’re offended instead of amused, you have more baggage than a deposed Haitian dictator fleeing to Paris.
Perhaps I’m an outlier, but if someone tries to insult me, I don’t feel badly about myself — I just conclude that they’re an idiot. Some might find this attitude arrogant and they’re probably right. But if some humorless scold attacks me for being a white cisgendered male, that’s their problem, not mine. In fact, I pity them for not appreciating the single-malt, double-barreled awesome that I’m bringing.
Here’s an interaction I had on Twitter, the Algonquin Round Table of the digital age. One interlocutor noted that vaccinations might cause autism. (They don’t.) Another wondered if a government can mandate immunization. (Sure.) But shouldn’t parents have the right to say no? (Not if they put the community at risk; at least that’s how I see it.)
All fair questions and a fine debate to have. And on it went until one person replied with what he felt was the trump card: “That really offends me!”
To which I said, “So what?”
This doesn’t help you win an argument
A brusque response, but the anonymous stranger’s taking of offense is not my or anyone else’s concern; public health is. Harrumphing “that offends me!” has no bearing on any argument, pro or con. It’s a non sequitur revealing naught but a delicate constitution.
I don’t intend to argue the pros and cons of vaccination; that specific debate isn’t the point. As our culture has slid to the so-called “social justice warriors” of the left and the trolls of the “alt-right,” activists on all sides believe that their being offended carries some sort of moral authority as a victim. Does their sense of grievance make their arguments more compelling? It does no such thing.
British comedian Stephen Fry said it best:
It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that,” as if that gives them certain rights. It’s no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase.
“I’m offended by that.”
Well, so [bleeping] what?
Various conservative websites have been excerpting (to put it mildly) CNN contributor Fareed Zakaria and his new book, Why Trump Won.
Specifically, this excerpt:
The Trump vote is in large part an act of class rebellion, a working class revolt against know-it-all elites who run the country. These voters will stick with Donald Trump even as he flails, rather than vindicate the elite, urban view of him.
Here is what Zakaria wrote on CNN.com:
The real question of the 2016 presidential election isn’t so much why did Donald Trump win, as why did he even get close?
After all, Trump was a totally unconventional candidate who broke all the rules and did things that would have destroyed anyone else running for president. So why did he break through?
Here’s the answer: America is now divided along four lines, each one reinforcing the others. Call them the four Cs.
The first is capitalism. There was a time when the American economy moved in tandem with its middle class. As the economy grew, so did middle class employment and wages. But over the last few decades that link has been broken. The economy has been humming along, but it now enriches mostly those with education, training, and capital. The other Americans have been left behind.
The second divide is about culture. In recent decades, we’ve seen large scale immigration; African-Americans and Hispanics rising to a more central place in society; and gays being accorded equal rights. All of this has meant new cultures and narratives have received national attention. And it’s worried a segment of the older, white population, which fears that the national culture they grew up with is fading. One comprehensive study found that after party loyalty, the second strongest predictor of a Trump voter was “fears of cultural displacement.”
The third divide in America today is about class. The Trump vote is in large part an act of class rebellion, a working class revolt against know-it-all elites who run the country. These voters will stick with Donald Trump even as he flails, rather than vindicate the elite, urban view of him.
The final C in this story is communication. We have gone from an America where people watched three networks that provided a uniform view of the world to one where everyone can pick their own channel, message, and now even their own facts.
All these forces have been at work for decades, but in recent years, the Republican Party has been better able to exploit them and identify with those Americans who feel frustrated, anxious, angry — even desperate about the direction that the country is headed in. Donald Trump capitalized on these trends even more thoroughly, speaking openly to people’s economic anxieties, cultural fears, and class rebellion. He promised simple solutions, mostly aimed at others — Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese people and, of course, the elites and the media.
It worked. He won. Whether his solutions are even enacted is another matter. But the real victory will come for this country when someone looks at these deep forces that are dividing it and tries to construct a politics that will bridge them. Rather than accept that America must remain a country split between two tribes — each uncomprehending of the other, both bitter and hostile — he or she would speak in a language that unites them.
First, from the way left, A.M. Gittlitz:
In the postwar period, however, scientists inspired by Cosmism launched Sputnik. The satellite’s faint blinking in the night sky signaled an era of immense human potential to escape all limitations natural and political, with the equal probability of destroying everything in a matter of hours.
Feeding on this tension, science fiction and futurism entered their “golden age” by the 1950s and ’60s, both predicting the bright future that would replace the Cold War. Technological advances would automate society; the necessity of work would fade away. Industrial wealth would be distributed as a universal basic income, and an age of leisure and vitality would follow. Humans would continue to voyage into space, creating off-Earth colonies and perhaps making new, extraterrestrial friends in the process. In a rare 1966 collaboration across the Iron Curtain, the astronomer Carl Sagan co-wrote “Intelligent Life in the Universe” with Iosif Shklovosky. This work of astrobiological optimism proposed that humans attempt to contact their galactic neighbors.
Interest in alien life was not just the domain of scientists and fiction writers. U.F.O. flaps worldwide captured pop cultural attention, and many believed that flying saucers were here to warn us, or even save us, from the danger of nuclear weapons. In the midst of the worldwide worker and student uprisings in 1968, the Argentine Trotskyist leader known as J. Posadas wrote an essay proposing solidarity between the working class and the alien visitors. He argued that their technological advancement indicated they would be socialists and could deliver us the technology to free Earth from the grip of Yankee imperialism and the bureaucratic workers’ states.
Such views were less fringe and more influential than you might think. Beginning in 1966, the plot of “Star Trek” closely followed Posadas’s propositions. After a nuclear third world war (which Posadas also believed would lead to socialist revolution), Vulcan aliens visit Earth, welcoming them into a galactic federation and delivering replicator technology that would abolish scarcity. Humans soon unify as a species, formally abolishing money and all hierarchies of race, gender and class.
“A lot has changed in the past 300 years,” Captain Picard explains to a cryogenically unfrozen businessman from the 20th century in an episode of a later “Star Trek” franchise, “The Next Generation.” “People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We’ve eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We’ve grown out of our infancy.”
For all its continued popularity, such optimism was unusual in the genre. The new wave of sci-fi in the late ’60s, typified by J. G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick in the United States and by the Strugatsky brothers and Stanislaw Lem in the East, presented narratives that undercut this theme of humans’ saving themselves through their own rationality.
The grand proposals of the ’60s futurists also faded away, as the Fordist period of postwar economic growth abruptly about-faced. Instead of automation and guaranteed income, workers got austerity and deregulation. The Marxist theorist Franco Berardi described this period as one in which an inherent optimism for the future, implied by socialism and progressivism, faded into the “no future” nihilism of neoliberalism and Thatcherite economics, which insisted that “there is no alternative.”
The fall of the Soviet Union cemented this “end of history,” in Francis Fukuyama’s phrase, and signaled a return to late-capitalist dystopian narratives of the future, like that of “The Time Machine.” Two of the most popular sci-fi films of the ’90s were “Terminator 2” and “The Matrix,” which both showcased a world in which capital had triumphed and its machinery would not liberate mankind, but govern it. The recent success of “The Road,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Walking Dead” similarly predict violent futures where only small underground resistance movements struggle to keep the dying flame of humanity alight.
Released the same year as “Star Trek: First Contact” — and grossing three times as much — “Independence Day” told a story directly opposed to Posadism, in which those who gather to greet the aliens and protest military engagement with them are the first to be incinerated by the extraterrestrials’ directed-energy weapons. (In Wells’s 1897 vision of alien invasion, “The War of the Worlds,” the white flag-waving welcoming party of humans is similarly dispatched.)
The grotesque work of 1970s white supremacist speculative fiction, “The Camp of the Saints” by Jean Raspail — recently referenced by the White House strategist Steve Bannon — has a similar story line. A fleet of refugee ships appears off the coast of France, asking for safe harbor, but it soon becomes apparent that the ship is a Trojan horse. Its admission triggers an invasion of Europe and the United States.
The recent rise of right-wing populism indicates a widening crack in the neoliberal consensus of ideological centrism. From this breach, past visions of the future are once again pouring out. Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg feel empowered to propose science fiction premises, like space colonization and post-scarcity economics, as solutions to actual social problems. Absent, however, are the mass social movements of the 20th century calling for the democratization of social wealth and politics. While rapid changes in the social order that are the dream of Silicon Valley’s disruptors are acquiring an aura of inevitability, a world absent of intense poverty and bigoted hostility feels unimaginable.
Shortly after World War II, [H.G] Wells became so convinced of humanity’s doom, without a world revolution, that he revised the last chapter of “A Short History of the World” to include the extinction of mankind. Today we are left with a similar fatalism, allowing the eliminiationist suggestions of the far right to argue, in effect, for a walling-off of the world along lines of class, nationality and race, even if this might condemn millions to death.
If humanity in the 21st century is to be rescued from its tailspin descent into the abyss, we must recall the choice offered by the alien visitor from the 1951 sci-fi film classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
“Join us and live in peace,” Klaatu said, “or pursue your present course and face obliteration.”
I think of it as science fiction’s useful paraphrasing of Rosa Luxemburg’s revolutionary ultimatum: “socialism or barbarism.”
The last sentence reminds me of the UW–Madison journalism class where I had to sit through a lecture about Luxemburg. That’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back.
Be that as it may, I suppose it might never occur to a writer “who specializes in counterculture and radical politics” that socialism understood as everybody sharing everything preceded Karl Marx, to include various Greek philosophers and the 12 Apostles. (By choice, not government edict, in the case of the Apostles.) It is always tiresome to hear or read those who believe the world revolves around them.
I doubt creator Gene Roddenberry was a socialist. He was, however, a progressive, and progressives believe mankind can be improved with the right people in power. That utopian view has been proven false in the 100 years or so since the Progressive Era, to everyone but progressives.
I blogged an opposing view from the Claremont Institute, from which I excerpt:
Roddenberry and his colleagues were World War II veterans, whose country was now fighting the Cold War against a Communist aggressor they regarded with horror. They considered the Western democracies the only force holding back worldwide totalitarian dictatorship. The best expression of their spirit was John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, with its proud promise to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
This could have been declaimed by Captain James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner), of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise, who, as literature professor Paul Cantor observes in his essay “Shakespeare in the Original Klingon,” is “a Cold Warrior very much on the model of JFK.” In episodes like “The Omega Glory,” in which Kirk rapturously quotes the preamble to the Constitution, or “Friday’s Child,” where he struggles to outwit the Klingons (stand-ins for the Soviet menace) in negotiations over the resources of a planet modeled on Middle Eastern petroleum states, Kirk stands fixedly, even obstinately, for the principles of universal freedom and against collectivism, ignorance, and passivity. In “Errand of Mercy,” the episode that first introduces the show’s most infamous villains, he cannot comprehend why the placid Organians are willing to let themselves be enslaved by the Klingon Empire. Their pacifism disgusts him. Kirk loves peace, but he recognizes that peace without freedom is not truly peace.
This was not just a political point; it rested on a deeper philosophical commitment. In Star Trek’s humanist vision, totalitarianism was only one manifestation of the dehumanizing forces that deprive mankind (and aliens) of the opportunities and challenges in which their existence finds meaning. In “Return of the Archons,” for example, Kirk and company infiltrate a theocratic world monitored and dominated by the god Landru. The natives are placid, but theirs is the mindless placidity of cattle. In the past, one explains, “there was war. Convulsions. The world was destroying itself. Landru…took us back, back to a simple time.” The people now live in ignorant, stagnant bliss. Landru has removed conflict by depriving them of responsibility, and with it their right to govern themselves. When Kirk discovers that Landru is actually an ancient computer left behind by an extinct race, he challenges it to justify its enslavement of the people. “The good,” it answers, is “harmonious continuation…peace, tranquility.” Kirk retorts: “What have you done to do justice to the full potential of every individual? Without freedom of choice, there is no creativity. Without creativity, there is no life.” He persuades Landru that coddling the people has stifled the souls it purported to defend, and the god-machine self-destructs.
This theme is made more explicit in “The Apple,” perhaps the quintessential episode of the original Star Trek. Here Kirk unashamedly violates the “Prime Directive”—the rule forbidding starship captains from interfering with the cultures they contact—by ordering the Enterprise to destroy Vaal, another computer tyrant ruling over an idyllic planet. Like Landru, Vaal is an omniscient totalitarian, and he demands sacrifices. The natives, known only as “people of Vaal,” have no culture, no freedom, no science—they do not even know how to farm—and no children, as Vaal has forbidden sex along with all other individualistic impulses. This sets Kirk’s teeth on edge. There are objective goods and evils, and slavery is evil because it deprives life forms of their right to self-government and self-development.
What differentiates “The Apple” from “Archons” is Spock’s reaction. In the earlier episode, he joined Kirk in condemning Landru; now the half human/half Vulcan is reluctant to interfere with what he calls “a splendid example of reciprocity.” When chief medical officer Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForest Kelley) protests, Spock accuses him of “applying human standards to non-human cultures.” To this cool relativism, McCoy replies, “There are certain absolutes, Mr. Spock, and one of them is the right of humanoids to a free and unchained environment, the right to have conditions which permit growth.”
Kirk agrees with McCoy. Spock—who in later episodes invokes the Vulcan slogan celebrating “infinite diversity in infinite combinations”—is comfortable observing Vaal’s servants nonjudgmentally, like specimens behind glass. But Kirk believes there must be deeper, universal principles underlying and limiting diversity, to prevent its degeneration into relativism and nihilism.
This is an insight Kirk shares with Abraham Lincoln, who—as we learn in a later episode—is Kirk’s personal hero. When in 1858 Stephen Douglas claimed to be so committed to democracy that he did not care whether American states and territories adopted pro- or anti-slavery constitutions, Lincoln parodied his relativism as meaning “that if one man would enslave another, no third man should object.” Instead, Lincoln insisted, the basis of legitimate democracy was the principle of equality articulated in the Declaration of Independence. Without that frame firmly in place, democracy could claim no moral superiority to tyranny. Spock, by regarding this as a merely “human standard,” and defending Vaal’s suzerainty as “a system which seems to work,” falls into the same relativistic trap as Douglas. By contrast, as Paul Cantor notes, Kirk believes “that all rational beings are created equal,” and extends the Declaration’s proposition “literally throughout the universe.” Kirk orders the Enterprise to destroy Vaal. “You’ll learn to care for yourselves,” he tells the people. “You’ll learn to build for yourselves, think for yourselves, work for yourselves, and what you create is yours. That’s what we call freedom.”
Spock’s hesitation here is an early glimmer of the relativism that would eventually engulf the Star Trek universe. Roddenberry’s generation emerged from World War II committed to a liberalism that believed in prosperity, technological progress, and the universal humanity they hoped the United Nations would champion. In the Kennedy years, this technocratic liberalism sought to apply science, the welfare state, and secular culture to raise the standard of living and foster individual happiness worldwide. Then came the rise of the New Left—a movement that saw the alleged evils of society as the consequence not merely of capitalism but of technology and reason itself. Civilization was not the perfection of nature or even a protection against nature, but an alienation from nature. Throw off its shackles, and man could reunite with the universe; unfairness would fall away, and peaceful coexistence would reign. “Peaceful coexistence” was especially crucial. The war in Vietnam and other crises helped foster a debunking culture that saw American principles of justice as a sham, as cynical rationalizations for American greed, racism, and imperialism. The older generation of liberals—and their literary proxies, including Captain Kirk—hardly knew what to make of it, or of the “turn on, tune in, drop out” escapism that often accompanied it.
The original Star Trek savagely parodied such Age of Aquarius romanticism in the episode “The Way to Eden,” in which theEnterprise encounters a group of space-age hippies searching for a legendary planet where all will be equal, without technology or modernity, living off the land. Almost all of Kirk’s crew regard these star-children as deluded, and their longing for prelapsarian harmony does turn out to be a deadly illusion: the Eden planet they find is literally poison—all the trees and even the grass are full of an acid that kills them almost the instant they arrive. Kirk is hardly surprised. All Edens, in his eyes, are illusions, and all illusions are dangerous.
Spock is more indulgent. “There are many who are uncomfortable with what we have created,” he tells the captain, “the planned communities, the programming, the sterilized, artfully balanced atmospheres.” Spock insists he does not share their views, yet he secretly admires them, and devotes his considerable scientific skills to helping locate their paradise planet. Later he tells one of the few survivors of the acid, “It is my sincere wish that you do not give up your search for Eden. I have no doubt but that you will find it, or make it yourselves.” The skeptical, spirited Kirk could never utter such words.
Kirk, it turns out, has personal reasons for his skepticism. In “The Conscience of the King,” we learn that he is something of a Holocaust survivor himself. When he was young, he and his parents barely escaped death at the hands of the dictator Kodos the Executioner, who slaughtered half the population of the colony on Tarsus IV. Having eluded capture, Kodos lived 20 years under an assumed name, making a living as a Shakespearean actor, until one of Kirk’s fellow survivors tracks him down. Now Kirk must decide whether the actor is really the killer.
Aired in 1966, this episode is a commentary on the pursuit of Nazi war criminals, and it typifies the original Star Trek’s moral outlook. During the show’s three seasons, over 20 former Nazis were tried for their roles in the Holocaust, including five who only two weeks after this episode aired were convicted for working at the Sobibór extermination camp. Intellectuals like Hannah Arendt were preoccupied with the moral and jurisprudential questions of Nazi-hunting. “Conscience” puts these dilemmas into an ambitiously Shakespearean frame.
Like Hamlet, Kirk faces a crisis of certainty. “Logic is not enough,” he says, echoing Hamlet’s “What a rogue and peasant slave am I” soliloquy. “I’ve got to feel my way—make absolutely sure.” Yet one thing Kirk is already sure about is justice. Hamlet may curse the fact that he was ever born to set things right, but he knows it is his duty. Likewise Kirk. When McCoy asks him what good it will do to punish Kodos after a lapse of two decades—“Do you play god, carry his head through the corridors in triumph? That won’t bring back the dead”—Kirk answers, “No. But they may rest easier.”
For Shakespeare, justice is less about the good prospering and the bad suffering than about a harmony between the world of facts in which we live and the world of words we inhabit as beings endowed with speech. When the two fall out of sync—when Claudius’s crime knocks time “out of joint”—the result is only a perverse and temporary illusion. And Kirk is, again, not impressed by illusions. “Who are you to [judge]?” demands Kodos’s daughter. Kirk’s devastating reply: “Who do I have to be?” …
By 1987, when the new Enterprise was being launched on the new series Star Trek: The Next Generation, the liberal landscape had changed. The show premiered a year after feminist philosopher of science Sandra Harding referred to Newton’s Principia as a “rape manual,” and a year before Jesse Jackson led Stanford student protesters chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go!” The Kennedy-esque anti-Communist in the White House was now Ronald Reagan, a former Democrat and union leader who thought the party had left him.
Next Generation’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) was more committed to coexistence and non-intervention than to universal liberty and anti-totalitarianism. Following Spock’s lead, Picard would elevate the Prime Directive into a morally obtuse dogma and would seek ways to evade the responsibility of moral judgment. Time and again, the show featured false equivalency on a grand scale, coupled with the hands-off attitude that the Kirk of “The Apple” had dismissed as complicity with evil. …
What accounts for this incoherent foreign policy? Nothing less than Picard’s commitment to non-commitment. He represents a new, non-judgmental liberalism far shallower than that embraced in Roddenberry’s era. Where Kirk pursues justice, Picard avoids conflict. Just as Kirk’s devotion to universal principles goes deeper than politics, so does Picard’s sentimentalism. When it comes to the universe of real suffering, real need, and a real search for truth, he is content not to decide, not to take responsibility, and not to know.
The Claremont piece is much better than the New York Times piece, not merely because I agree with the Claremont point of view more than the Times’ point of view. Kirk is an idealist, as is The Original Series, but he is not naïve. Kirk also has much more moral fortitude than Picard, as seen in episodes of each series. In TOS’ “A Taste of Armageddon,” Kirk brings about the end of a computer-run war between two planets by destroying the computers that conduct the war:
I’ve given you back the horrors of war. The Vendikans now assume that you’ve broken your agreement and that you’re preparing to wage real war with real weapons. They’ll want do the same. Only the next attack they launch will do a lot more than count up numbers in a computer. They’ll destroy cities, devastate your planet. You of course will want to retaliate. If I were you, I’d start making bombs. Yes, Councilman, you have a real war on your hands. You can either wage it with real weapons, or you might consider an alternative. Put an end to it. Make peace.
The conflict in The Next Generation episode “The Hunted” is between a planet’s leadership and its war veterans, at the end of the last act Picard is asked to intervene, but answers:
In your own words, this is not our affair. We cannot interfere in the natural course of your society’s development. And I’d say it’s going to develop significantly in the next few minutes.
What kind of answer is that? We don’t care if you blow yourselves up in the next few minutes; that’s your problem. (Reportedly a different ending was shelved due to cost considerations, but a better ending could have been set entirely on the Enterprise bridge, with Worf reporting explosions on the planet’s surface. That would stick a knife in the heart of that Enterprise’s moral preening.) There are other examples (“Syubiosis” and “Pen Pals,” to name two) where Picard’s first impulse is to leave the primitives be, even if that means they die. That’s like washing your hands of what you’ve heard taking place in Nazi Germany to Jews in World War II.
The Left has been struggling to disassociate the anti-cop hatred spewed by the Black Lives Matter movement from the assassination of New York police officer Miosotis Familia during the Fourth of July holiday. Police Commissioner James O’Neill demolished those efforts in his blazing funeral oration for Officer Familia on Tuesday. Assassin Alexander Bonds “hated the police,” O’Neill said, because he had heard and read “countless times” in conversation, on television, and in the newspapers that the cops were the “‘bad guys.’” That hate “has consequences,” O’Neill warned. “When we demonize a whole group of people—whether that group is defined by race, by religion, or by occupation—this is the result.” Bonds had mental problems, but it’s no coincidence that they culminated in the deliberate slaying of a cop.
The Left denies that the Black Lives Movement is anything other than a reasonable movement for justice and insists that it has no connection with anti-cop violence. Never mind the “Fuck the Police” signs, the “Police = KKK” chants, the “Racist, Killer Cops” tee-shirts. Never mind the exclusive attention to a handful of officer-involved shootings and the refusal to acknowledge why officers focus on minority neighborhoods in the first place, or why they are more likely to encounter armed and resisting suspects there. Never mind the media stampede to justify riots as an understandable reaction to supposed police racism. While any given Black Lives Matter protest, however virulent its rhetoric, enjoys First Amendment protection, it is disingenuous to pretend that the all-consuming anti-police narrative is not making officers’ work more difficult and more dangerous. The anti-cop Left has no explanation for the 53 percent increase in gun murders of officers last year. It turns its eyes away from the growing animosity and resistance that officers now encounter when they try to investigate suspicious behavior on the street. And most important, the anti-cop Left ignores the truth: we are not living through an epidemic of racially biased police killings of black males. In fact, if there is a bias in police shootings, it favors blacks against whites, as four studies found last year. The widely held impression that blacks make up the majority of people killed by the police is entirely a media creation.
Most tellingly, the Left has nothing to say about the rise in black-on-black violence that the demonization of cops has produced. An additional 900 black males were killed in 2015 nationally compared with the previous year, the result of officers backing off of proactive policing. Commissioner O’Neill rightly asked where the demonstrations were in protest of Familia’s killing: “Why is there no outrage?” he wondered. But he could as well have asked where the Black Lives Matter demonstrations were in protest of the mindless and constant drive-by shootings of black civilians. A handful of grass-roots activists in Chicago and elsewhere have protested the slaying of children and the elderly, but not one Black Lives Matter leader has seen fit to organize against the rising street violence. Seven thousand blacks, overwhelmingly male, were killed in 2015—2,000 more deaths than all white and Hispanic homicide deaths combined, though black males are only 6 percent of the nation’s population. Not a peep of protest from Black Lives Matter agitators.
The people who are paying attention are the police, who analyze crime patterns on a minute-by-minute and corner-by-corner basis, seeking to break the grip of violence on a community. When no witnesses will cooperate in solving the latest drive-by shooting, the police work tirelessly to try to track down the shooter on their own.
Commissioner O’Neill celebrated what drove Familia and her colleagues to become police officers—the desire to improve people’s lives. “Cops are regular people who believe in the possibility of making this a safer world,” O’Neill said. “It’s why we run toward, when others run away.” But fewer and fewer individuals are choosing to take on what O’Neill called the “vast responsibility” of becoming a police officer, knowing that the first assumption that the media, the activists, and academia would make about them is that they are implicit, if not explicit, racists. Recruiting has dried up. And many police departments, pressured by the Obama Justice Department, are lowering hiring standards, including clean criminal-record requirements, in order to increase what is speciously referred to as “diversity.”
We can hope that O’Neill’s stirring testament to the dignity and compassion of policing will inspire more upstanding individuals like Miosotis Familia to become guardians of the peace. During Familia’s funeral, however, a teen blasted the rap song “Fuck tha Police” from his third-floor window, in deliberate contempt of the proceedings below. As long as that sentiment has so many elite enablers, the violence in inner-city neighborhoods will continue, taking lives both black and blue.
Alexandria DeSanctis considers how the Democrats have been doing since the November 2016 election:
Democratic candidates have fallen in special election after special election this spring, most recently in Jon Ossoff’s nearly four-point loss to Republican Karen Handel in Georgia’s sixth district, despite the historic $23 million Ossoff raised and the extra millions poured into the race by the national Democratic party.
In the wake of that demoralizing defeat, some have suggested that the party’s top leadership is the main issue, and Democratic politicians in the House have begun openly grumbling against minority leader Nancy Pelosi. Others on the Left believe that Democratic candidates have been losing because they’ve stayed too close to the center, rather than endorsing the increasingly progressive policies some voters desire.
Still others have posited that the underlying issue is the party’s dismissive attitude toward religious values and even organized religion itself. While the problems afflicting the party must stem from some combination of these factors, Democrats’ scorn for religion should be their biggest concern. That scorn is compounded by the party’s sudden and dramatic swerve to the Left on key social issues — abortion, contraception, religious liberty, and marriage, to name a few — in a quest for votes from far-Left, progressive Americans.
Mr. Sanders’s non-Christian background may have hurt him in the South; he did poorly among African-American voters, despite his consistent civil rights record. But he did what few other secular candidates have done: He won a sympathetic hearing from conservative evangelicals with a speech that gave a religious grounding for his economic views, complete with biblical citations. When Mr. Sanders spoke at Liberty University, he did not pretend to share evangelical Christians’ faith, but he showed respect for his audience’s religious tradition.
Williams concluded by arguing that Democratic politicians must convince religious voters that they are not enemies of faith, and they ought to do so by “grounding their policy proposals in the religious values of prospective voters.” This week, in a New York Times column, Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf offered an alternative model. The co-authors suggested that Thomas Jefferson’s unique attitude toward religion — which pervaded his contributions to the nation’s founding and early government — could serve as a model for today’s Democrats, especially Jefferson’s vigorous embrace of civil religion and peaceful pluralism.
These debates may provide Democrats a method of attaining electoral success, perhaps even in the near future. But while each suggestion hints at a way of combating negative public perception, neither of these models can eliminate the underlying obstacle: progressivism’s inherent contradiction of religion.
Progressivism has always been premised on the notion that man has a changeable nature and thus is able to achieve perfection during his time on earth. As a result, progressives consistently maintain that government is responsible for transforming men and women into perfect creatures. They develop programs and reforms suited not for man as he is, but for man as he ought to be (and, progressives would argue, for man as he could become, with the right societal structures).
Against that idea, most religious believers contend that man is flawed by his very nature and incapable of perfecting himself without the help of God, and that perfection is in fact unattainable during earthly life. While sects and denominations differ vastly, religion itself — and indeed any dependence on a Creator — is a direct contradiction to the progressive conception of man as changeable and perfectible. In short, progressivism and religion — understood as a fundamental reliance on God rather than on oneself or on other men — are inherently incompatible. Where progressivism asserts that properly ordered government can and should transform
In short, progressivism and religion — understood as a fundamental reliance on God rather than on oneself or on other men — are inherently incompatible. Where progressivism asserts that properly ordered government can and should transform man into a perfect being who lives in a man-made utopia, religion insists that God, not government, is responsible for changing men’s hearts.
To be sure, many religious Americans believe that progressive social programs are helping to carry out God’s work — caring for the world’s poor and needy. But that underlying contradiction remains a stumbling block for many faithful voters, especially when seen in conjunction with Democrats’ increasing repudiation of traditional values. Unless Democratic politicians understand and address those legitimate concerns, they won’t sway those who reject the notion that government should take the place of God.
I’ve stated here before that everything Jesus Christ told Christians to is an individual responsibility of each of us as Christians, not as a group (like a church), and certainly not of government. Pope John Paul II probably had it right when he told Catholic politicians (including U.S. Rep. Robert Cornell (D–De Pere), a priest) to get out of office.
For anyone still wondering why Middle America’s so angry, just take a look at the guest list for the annual bash thrown by Washington Post heiress Lally Weymouth, currently the paper’s senior associate editor, in the Hamptons last week.
It was full of politicians and power brokers — the ones who pantomime outrage daily, accusing the other side of crushing the little guy, sure that the same voter will never guess that behind closed doors, they all get along.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner partied with billionaire Democratic donor George Soros, who rubbed shoulders with billionaire GOP donor David Koch.
Chuck Schumer and Kellyanne Conway were there. So were Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Ronald Lauder, Carl Icahn, Joel Klein, Cathie Black, reporters Steve Clemons and Maria Bartiromo, columnists Richard Cohen and Margaret Carlson, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Ray Kelly, Bill Bratton and Steven Spielberg.
Oh, and Lally’s uncle, former Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham, and cousin Gwen Graham, who’s currently running for her dad’s old job as Florida’s governor.
Weymouth’s party is the latest reminder that for all the bruising rhetoric, the constant polls showing a deeply divided America and the most polarizing president in history, our battle isn’t red vs. blue, right vs. left: It’s about the 1% vs. the rest of us. They laugh as we take their political theater for real.
“If you believe any of these people care about you, you are mistaken,” Samuel Ronan tweeted. “The Hamptons might as well [be] another planet.”
Ronan’s running for Congress from Ohio’s First Congressional District. His platform? Campaign finance reform and lobbying restriction. We’ll see how long that lasts if he wins next year.
No one’s immune. Even Barack Obama, who once said, “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money,” has spent his post-presidency cashing $400,000 speaking fees and kitesurfing with Richard Branson. Hillary’s campaign was compromised by shady dealings with big donors to the Clinton Foundation. Trump won by fighting for the forgotten worker yet advances policies that benefit the wealthy.
The journalists who want to belong are no better. The press is supposed to be oppositional, adversarial — comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, as the old saw goes — yet almost every year, otherwise respected reporters jockey for seats at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner like desperate kids playing musical chairs.
In the Trump era, such familiarity cuts both ways. The president was wrong, of course, tweeting insults at MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski, but what were she and Joe Scarborough doing at Mar-a-Lago last New Year’s Eve? Why were they so chummy with an incoming president?
In February 2016, CNN reported that Scarborough’s then-friendship with candidate Trump was a major network concern.
“I’ve actually called him up and said, ‘Donald, you need to speak in complete sentences at debates,’ ” Scarborough boasted at the 92nd Street Y in November 2015. A member of the media, ratings bolstered by Trump’s frequent appearances, giving the front-runner advice — often.
Little wonder that trust in politicians and the media has reached historic lows: According to Gallup, 42 percent of Americans trust their political leaders and only 32 percent trust the mainstream media.
At Lally Weymouth’s party, her brother toasted Spielberg for making a film about former editor-in-chief Katherine Graham, their mother, and her superstar editor Ben Bradlee, who made his career on the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. Yet throughout his life, Bradlee boasted most of one thing: He may have been a journalist covering John F. Kennedy, but he truly believed they were best friends.
Over the past generation, members of the college-educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status. They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.
How they’ve managed to do the first task — giving their own children a leg up — is pretty obvious. It’s the pediacracy, stupid. Over the past few decades, upper-middle-class Americans have embraced behavior codes that put cultivating successful children at the center of life. As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids.
Upper-middle-class moms have the means and the maternity leaves to breast-feed their babies at much higher rates than high school-educated moms, and for much longer periods.
Upper-middle-class parents have the means to spend two to three times more time with their preschool children than less affluent parents. Since 1996, education expenditures among the affluent have increased by almost 300 percent, while education spending among every other group is basically flat.
As life has gotten worse for the rest in the middle class, upper-middle-class parents have become fanatical about making sure their children never sink back to those levels, and of course there’s nothing wrong in devoting yourself to your own progeny.
It’s when we turn to the next task — excluding other people’s children from the same opportunities — that things become morally dicey. Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution recently published a book called “Dream Hoarders” detailing some of the structural ways the well educated rig the system.
The most important is residential zoning restrictions. Well-educated people tend to live in places like Portland, New York and San Francisco that have housing and construction rules that keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities.
These rules have a devastating effect on economic growth nationwide. Research by economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti suggests that zoning restrictions in the nation’s 220 top metro areas lowered aggregate U.S. growth by more than 50 percent from 1964 to 2009. The restrictions also have a crucial role in widening inequality. An analysis by Jonathan Rothwell finds that if the most restrictive cities became like the least restrictive, the inequality between different neighborhoods would be cut in half. …
Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.
American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion. Their chief message is, “You are not welcome here.”
In her thorough book “The Sum of Small Things,” Elizabeth Currid-Halkett argues that the educated class establishes class barriers not through material consumption and wealth display but by establishing practices that can be accessed only by those who possess rarefied information.
To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.
A New York Times columnist has been mocked after he described taking a friend with ‘only a high school degree’ to a Mexican restaurant after she was ‘anxious’ about his first choice, a gourmet eatery, because of the words on the menu.
David Brooks, 55, was made fun of for his column published on Tuesday titled, ‘How We Are Ruining America’. …
The column made Brooks a trending topic on Twitter, with some users mocking the story as condescending.
‘This is an utterly insane graf from david brooks’s latest column,’ Max Read wrote, referencing the above paragraph. …
‘For any woman who has ever felt overwhelmed or scared by a sandwich menu, david brooks is here for you sweetie. He’ll help,’ writer Eve Peyser tweeted.
‘Me: *takes friend to sandwich shop* Friend: *not sure what to order* Me: Ah, you’re too stupid for sandwiches, we’ll go somewhere else,’ another person said.
‘Another great morning for me, David Brooks’ friend. Time to dig into my pedestrian Mexican lunch and read his latest column…,’ Luke O’Neill added.
Fellow Times columnist Ross Douthat also chimed in, tweeting that he too was intimidated by Italian menus, despite having an elite education.
… which in turn got snarky responses:
So this genius doesn’t know that when you graduate from high school you get a diploma, not a degree?
One of the key characteristics of liberals/leftists/Democrats/Progressives/etc. individuals is the absolute, unshakable certainty that they are both morally and intellectually superior to any who are not like minded. It is this characteristic that drives them to strive to dominate the lives of those that they refer to as “irredeemable deplorables” . They claim that they are doing this to improve the lives of the benighted but, in truth, it is because that attitude validates their self esteem. Moreover, they cannot hold themselves accountable for the failures of their attempts because in all instances they are convinced that the failure is due to the inability of the benighted to rise to the level necessary for their intended objectives to be attained. In this instance Mr. Brooks, rather than admit that in in spite of his superiority he was unable to foresee the unfortunate result of his choice of restaurant, he blames his benighted companion for being benighted.
Rod Dreher writes about Donald Trump’s speech in Poland and hysterical reaction thereto:
You can say this for Donald Trump: he’s great at useless provocation, but sometimes his provocations are helpful by what they force his opponents to reveal. The Warsaw speech was stunning in this way. I’m glad I read it before I read any of the left-liberal comment on it, else I might have thought it had been drafted by Dr. Goebbels.
Here’s a transcript of the entire speech. Go read it yourself. It won’t take long.
I thought it not a bad speech, if somewhat anodyne in the way all such speeches tend to be. It is risible to hear Donald J. Trump talk about how we need “strong families” and “strong values” to survive as a civilization, but the hypocrisy of the speaker doesn’t negate the truth of what he has to say, any more than the great personal virtue of a speaker makes his own claims true (see Jimmy Carter).
Here’s the part that some on the left see as Goebbels-gibberish:
Americans, Poles, and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty. We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are. (Applause.) If left unchecked, these forces will undermine our courage, sap our spirit, and weaken our will to defend ourselves and our societies.
But just as our adversaries and enemies of the past learned here in Poland, we know that these forces, too, are doomed to fail if we want them to fail. And we do, indeed, want them to fail. (Applause.) They are doomed not only because our alliance is strong, our countries are resilient, and our power is unmatched. Through all of that, you have to say everything is true. Our adversaries, however, are doomed because we will never forget who we are. And if we don’t forget who are, we just can’t be beaten. Americans will never forget. The nations of Europe will never forget. We are the fastest and the greatest community. There is nothing like our community of nations. The world has never known anything like our community of nations.
We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers.
We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art that honor God. We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression. (Applause.)
We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success. We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the center of our lives. And we debate everything. We challenge everything. We seek to know everything so that we can better know ourselves. (Applause.)
And above all, we value the dignity of every human life, protect the rights of every person, and share the hope of every soul to live in freedom. That is who we are. Those are the priceless ties that bind us together as nations, as allies, and as a civilization.
What we have, what we inherited from our — and you know this better than anybody, and you see it today with this incredible group of people — what we’ve inherited from our ancestors has never existed to this extent before. And if we fail to preserve it, it will never, ever exist again. So we cannot fail.
We have to remember that our defense is not just a commitment of money, it is a commitment of will. Because as the Polish experience reminds us, the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have. The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?
I’m sorry, duckies, but how is this all that controversial? An American president, standing in the capital of a nation that suffered in the last century the domination of two tyrannies — Nazi and Communist — that tried to eradicate its culture, a nation whose Catholic faith kept its spirit alive and led to its rebirth — proclaims that there are things unique and valuable about Western civilization, and that we should remember those things, affirm them, and defend them.
The shocking thing here is that this is controversial at all. It shows how decadent we have become.
Let’s sample some of the left-liberal freakout, shall we?
In his speech in Poland on Thursday, Donald Trump referred 10 times to “the West” and five times to “our civilization.” His white nationalist supporters will understand exactly what he means. It’s important that other Americans do, too.
… The West is a racial and religious term. To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian (preferably Protestant or Catholic) and largely white.
Oh for pity’s sake, this is pants-soiling stuff. Broadly speaking, what we call the West are the countries and peoples formed by the meeting of Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Hebrew religion. There’s a great deal of diversity within the West, but religion, ideas, art, literature, and geography set it apart from other civilizations. One doesn’t have to wonder long to imagine if Peter Beinart would have seen the world this way were he aboard one of the Venetian warships sailing to meet the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Lepanto.
For that matter, has Beinart ever traveled abroad? Go to Istanbul. Turks are heirs to a great civilization; you have to look no further than the religious architecture of the city to know that. But you also would never mistake Istanbul for a city of the West. So what?
Every descendant of Africa and Asia who lives in the West and broadly affirms the values that shaped Western civilization is a Westerner. Louis Armstrong and Muddy Waters are as much sons of the West as J.S. Bach and Ludwig von Beethoven. I wrote a book about how reading a poem written by a 14th century Tuscan, Dante Alighieri, utterly changed my life. I have no Italian blood in me at all, but I am part of Dante’s civilization in a way that I simply am not part of the civilization that produced, say, the Analects of Confucius. If not for my mind having been shaped by the Christian narrative, and by Greco-Roman narratives, the poem would not have meant at much to me. Again: so what? This is normal human experience the world over. The civilization shaped by Islam have broad diversity too, but they all share a core belief and experience that binds them.
Thank God that the deracinated, de-Christianized EU elite plan to integrate Turkey into the European Union did not work. And if I were a Turk, I would thank Allah for preserving my Islamic country from that fate too. Elites in both countries wish to deny the religious basis of their respective cultures, and pretend that we’re all a bunch of universalists. We’re not, and never will be.
The most shocking sentence in Trump’s speech—perhaps the most shocking sentence in any presidential speech delivered on foreign soil in my lifetime—was his claim that “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.” On its face, that’s absurd. Jihadist terrorists can kill people in the West, but unlike Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, they cannot topple even the weakest European government. Jihadists control no great armies. Their ideologies have limited appeal even among the Muslims they target with their propaganda. ISIS has all but lost Mosul and could lose Raqqa later this year.
Trump’s sentence only makes sense as a statement of racial and religious paranoia. The “south” and “east” only threaten the West’s “survival” if you see non-white, non-Christian immigrants as invaders. They only threaten the West’s “survival” if by “West” you mean white, Christian hegemony. A direct line connects Trump’s assault on Barack Obama’s citizenship to his speech in Poland. In Trump and Bannon’s view, America is at its core Western: meaning white and Christian (or at least Judeo-Christian). The implication is that anyone in the United States who is not white and Christian may not truly be American but rather than an imposter and a threat.
Poland is largely ethnically homogeneous. So when a Polish president says that being Western is the essence of the nation’s identity, he’s mostly defining Poland in opposition to the nations to its east and south. America is racially, ethnically, and religious diverse. So when Trump says being Western is the essence of America’s identity, he’s in part defining America in opposition to some of its own people. He’s not speaking as the president of the entire United States. He’s speaking as the head of a tribe.
I don’t know what was in Trump’s mind (or the mind of his speechwriters) when he delivered that line, but I interpret it like this: Yes, the United States is, at its core, Western, because it is a product of the Enlightenment, which is at its core a secularization of Christian values. The United States makes no sense except as a product of Western civilization. I would say that maintaining Judeo-Christian “hegemony” — meaning understanding ourselves as a people through our unity with the story in the Bible — is vital to maintaining our identity. We no longer do that, which is why I believe we are in decline. (This is a long story; read The Benedict Option for a longer version.)
Here’s the thing: the defense of classical liberal values depends on the Christian religion (which also entails the Hebrew Bible) far more than secular liberals like Beinart wish to concede. Read Glenn Tinder’s long 1989 Atlantic essay on the political meaning of Christianity. More:
It will be my purpose in this essay to try to connect the severed realms of the spiritual and the political. In view of the fervent secularism of many Americans today, some will assume this to be the opening salvo of a fundamentalist attack on “pluralism.” Ironically, as I will argue, many of the undoubted virtues of pluralism—respect for the individual and a belief in the essential equality of all human beings, to cite just two—have strong roots in the union of the spiritual and the political achieved in the vision of Christianity. The question that secularists have to answer is whether these values can survive without these particular roots. In short, can we be good without God? Can we affirm the dignity and equality of individual persons—values we ordinarily regard as secular—without giving them transcendental backing? Today these values are honored more in the breach than in the observance; Manhattan Island alone, with its extremes of sybaritic wealth on the one hand and Calcuttan poverty on the other, is testimony to how little equality really counts for in contemporary America. To renew these indispensable values, I shall argue, we must rediscover their primal spiritual grounds.
Let’s move on. Here’s a tweet by Slate’s Jamelle Bouie:
Imagine being a political writer in this moment and being utterly unable to identify clear white nationalist dogwhistles.
— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) July 7, 2017
The last element of the European identity is religion. I do not wish to enter into the complex discussion of recent years, but to highlight one issue that is fundamental to all cultures: respect for that which another group holds sacred, especially respect for the sacred in the highest sense, for God, which one can reasonably expect to find even among those who are not willing to believe in God. When this respect is violated in a society, something essential is lost. In European society today, thank goodness, anyone who dishonors the faith of Israel, its image of God, or its great figures must pay a fine. The same holds true for anyone who dishonors the Koran and the convictions of Islam. But when it comes to Jesus Christ and that which is sacred to Christians, freedom of speech becomes the supreme good.
This case illustrates a peculiar Western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological. It is commendable that the West is trying to be more open, to be more understanding of the values of outsiders, but it has lost all capacity for self-love. All that it sees in its own history is the despicable and the destructive; it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure. What Europe needs is a new self-acceptance, a self-acceptance that is critical and humble, if it truly wishes to survive.
Multiculturalism, which is so passionately promoted, can sometimes amount to an abandonment and denial, a flight from one’s own things. Multiculturalism teaches us to approach the sacred things of others with respect, but we can do this only if we ourselves are not estranged from the sacred, from God. With regard to others, it is our duty to cultivate within ourselves respect for the sacred and to show the face of the revealed God—the God who has compassion for the poor and the weak, for widows and orphans, for the foreigner; the God who is so human that he himself became man, a man who suffered, and who by his suffering with us gave dignity and hope to our pain.
Unless we embrace our own heritage of the sacred, we will not only deny the identity of Europe. We will also fail in providing a service to others to which they are entitled. To the other cultures of the world, there is something deeply alien about the absolute secularism that is developing in the West. They are convinced that a world without God has no future. Multiculturalism itself thus demands that we return once again to ourselves.
So, for Jamelle Bouie, a Westerner asserting the value of Western civilization is barely-veiled racism? If that’s true, then the term “racism” is meaningless. In fact, it’s worse than meaningless: it’s dangerous. If you tell people that to love and to want to defend the culture of the West is a racist act, then they will cease to care about your judgment on the matter, because you are requiring them to hate themselves as an act of virtue. In that regard, Jamelle Bouie’s sentiment here is a much greater gift to the racist alt-right than anything Donald Trump said in Warsaw.
I mean, really, how ignorant and provincial do you have to be, Messrs. Beinart and Bouie, to hear Trump’s speech and think of it as a #MAGA version of a Nuremberg Rally Address? Is the degree of self-hatred of the West required to be a virtuous, woke person such that you cannot tell the difference between Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and the Horst Wessel Song? Do they really think Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation (all of which is available on YouTube, starting here) is a plummy version of Triumph of the Will? If standing against this kind of liberal insanity means I have to stand with Donald Trump, well, okay, I’ll stand with Donald Trump. I won’t like it, but at least Donald Trump doesn’t hate his own civilization.
Has Donald Trump ever heard of Leni Riefenstahl?
:::faceplant:::. I give up. This is madness.
Actually, Ross Douthat makes a good point about the liberal freakout over the Warsaw speech. He says that Trump’s rhetoric is a response to the failure of liberal democracy as a universal, and universalizing, force — something that the mainstream, globalizing left and right shared, and still do.
But it’s not white nationalism. It’s just … not. It’s a shift responsive to Bush and Obama-era dashings of universal-civilization hopes.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) July 7, 2017
In that tweet stream (thread starts here), Douthat says that conservatives who are not alt-right talk about “the West” all the time. It does not make them (us) white nationalists.
True, and it’s a contemptible slur to say so. But note well that this is how leading lights on the contemporary mainstream left regard cherishing and defending Western civilization and its particularities. It is not Trump who interprets Western civilization in racial terms; it is they. They’re going to call us all deplorables at best, Nazis and white supremacists at worst. They are going to keep waging culture war, and blame us for being the aggressors. We are going to have to fight back, but as Polish Catholic philosopher Ryszard Legutko once told me, it will not be enough for defenders of the West and its traditions to say what we’re against. We also have to be for something — and I would add, amplifying his point, we have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
Don’t misunderstand me here. The West is certainly no utopia, nor ever has been. It is necessary to criticize ourselves constructively, for the sake of growing in virtue. But that is not what these people are doing. By anathematizing any and all who cherish the culture and history of the West, they will ultimately force conservatives to embrace Reaction as the only bastion of resistance to their nihilistic crusade. But they don’t see it anymore than the Social Justice Warriors grasp that their militant illiberalism is calling up and equal and opposite reaction from the people they have demonized.
There’s something fitting about Trump’s giving this speech in Warsaw. Every conservative should read Legutko’s book, The Demon In Democracy, a reflection on Poland’s post-communist experience with liberal democracy. Here are excerpts:
Having cast away the obligations and commitments that come from the past, the communist and the liberal democrat quickly lose their memory of it or, alternatively, their respect for it. Both want the past eradicated altogether or at least made powerless as an object of relativizing or derision. Communism, as a system that started history anew, had to be, in essence and in practice, against memory. Those who were fighting the regime were also fighting for memory against forgetting, knowing very well that the loss of memory strengthened the communist system by making people defenseless and malleable. There are no better illustrations of how politically imposed amnesia helps in the molding of the new man than the twentieth-century anti-utopias 1984 and Brave New World. The lessons of Orwell and Huxley were, unfortunately, quickly forgotten. In my country at the very moment when communism fell and the liberal-democratic order was emerging, memory again became one of the main enemies. The apostles of the new order lost no time in denouncing it as a harmful burden hampering striving for modernity. In this anti-memory crusade, as in several other crusades, they have managed to be quite successful, more so than their communist predecessors.
The people, structures, thoughts that exists outside the liberal-democratic patter
n are deemed outdates, backward-looking, useless, but at the same time extremely dangerous as preserving the remnants of old authoritarianisms. Some may still be tolerated for some time, but as anyone with a minimum of intelligence is believed to know, sooner or later they will end in the dustbin of history. Their continued existence will most likely threaten the liberal-democratic progress and therefore they should be treated with the harshness they deserve.
The only change that one could imagine happening was one for the worse, which in the eyes of supporters meant not a slight deterioration, but a disaster. The communist would say: if communism is rejected or prevented, then society will continue to be subjected to class exploitation, capitalism, imperialism, and fascism. The liberal democrats would say: if liberal democracy is not accepted, then society will fall prey to authoritarianism, fascism, and theocracy. In both cases, the search for an alternative solution is, at best, nonsensical and not worth a moment’s reflection, and at worst, a highly reckless and irresponsible game.
Legutko has the number of these liberal journalists and commenters. I can’t urge you strongly enough to read his eye-opening book.
“Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?” Trump asked. Maybe he was thinking about Islamic terrorists. I’m thinking about the educated barbarians who cannot create a living culture, only live off the last vestiges of one they inherited, even as they scatter salt in its fallow fields. Donald Trump may be the enemy of culture in many respects, but he is in no way as potent an enemy as these mad evangelists for the Anti-Culture.