The Left Going Crazy, Trump Being Trump

Watching the cultural/political Left go crazy the past few weeks should be instructive to many Americans. Although there’s nothing really surprising about the “progressive” reaction to Trump’s presidency, their out-of-control rage, whining, and actual destruction of property offers a valuable lesson about the dangers of Totalitarian Leftism.

The University of California Berkeley retains an iconic status in the minds of those on the Left. They believe it is the place where free speech was born in the 1960s. That image is imaginary. Free speech existed long before the presumed free speech movement at Berkeley.

Recently, Berkeley is again in the news as riots have broken out on campus, complete with attacks on local businesses. No one is allowed to have a different idea at Berkeley; genuine free speech is a rarity on many American campuses—all in the name of tolerance.

As a university professor myself, I think I can assign a grade:

Conservative voices are either silenced or harassed in many of our cultural venues. Calm, reasoned debate no longer is the norm; emotions rule all too often:

Stakeholders on the Left are all upset that a woman who fervently believes children need better educational options is now confirmed as the new secretary of education. Apparently, working for school choice (I thought the Left loved “choice”) and donating tons of personal funds toward helping children get the education they need is now a disqualification for being the education secretary. Their reaction has become typical:

And of course there are all the organized and funded protests over a travel executive order that has been characterized undeservedly as a “Muslim ban.” Never mind that it was in accordance with previous legislation and similar to what other presidents have done; rationality and constitutionality are not part of the Left’s thought process anymore.

The real problem with that particular EO was the way Trump handled it and how it was applied to people who should not have been targeted. What Trump should have done is make a short address to the American people about what he was going to do and explain the precise nature of the order ahead of time, thereby short-circuiting some of the hysteria that erupted.

Instead, he just dumped it out there without sufficient explanation. That’s one of Trump’s ongoing problems. He just does things and doesn’t take into account the possible reaction.

He also continues to have a brain-to-mouth issue. In an interview with Bill O’Reilly, when asked about Putin, whom O’Reilly correctly called a killer, Trump came back with the quip that the US has done its share of killing as well.

That came across as Trump proclaiming a moral equivalency between an increasingly totalitarian Russia and the US. Putin finds ways to create suspicious deaths for those who criticize him; when has that been US policy?

Trump continues to harbor admiration for Putin and other strong dictators, and he somehow seems to think that America has been just as bad as other nations in how its citizens have been treated. Tell that to the 7 million Ukrainians starved to death by Stalin. Explain how the persecution and executions of Christians in communist countries compares favorably with how we treat our people.

This moral equivalence argument is fantasy land, and Trump needs to disavow it immediately. It reverses the realistic view that Reagan brought to policy in his day.

Donald Trump remains his own worst enemy. If he wishes to succeed as president, it’s going to take more than bluster and insults toward those who disagree with him. He’s going to have to learn some statesmanship. Will his basic character allow this?

Clinton-Trump: Real Moral Equivalence

Historians and political scientists have used the term “moral equivalence” to describe things they hold to be about the same morally. I’ve taken them to task on some applications of the term. For instance, I see no moral equivalence historically between a power-hungry, genocidal Soviet Union and a United States that attempted to defeat totalitarianism and free people from tyranny. The Cold War was not the result of moral equivalence but of a communist regime declaring its goal of dominating the world.

I’ve also rejected all along the idea that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the Democrat and Republican parties, regardless of how often I’ve been disappointed by how Republicans let down their supporters. Publicly, the party platforms couldn’t be more at odds on issues like abortion and marriage. That divide also can be seen in the majority of elected officials: Democrats don’t win the nomination of their party if they are pro-life; Republicans risk losing support if they stray from pro-life.

This election is changing the argument I’ve always made against a false moral equivalence. By nominating Donald Trump, Republicans have take a big step away from their platform; by endorsing him, many Republican officeholders have declared that his character and views don’t matter, even if they ultimately destroy what the party has stood for historically.

Trump-ClintonWith Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton now the presumptive nominees, there is a moral equivalence that comes to the forefront. Trump’s latest foray into foolishness (the “Mexican” judge controversy) has some Republicans now backing away from outright support, for which I’m glad. However, his many antics—which won’t change because he won’t change—are highlighting just how reprehensible he is.

Here is the real moral equivalence: there is no difference in character and/or temperament, and I’m not at all convinced there is any real difference in policy. Trump’s character is not trustworthy, so I don’t believe the promises he makes now.

Some cartoonists are making this same point.

Meet the Authors

A number of cartoonists seem to be making the comparison on the foreign policy side:

Joker-Mediocre

How Bad

Trusty Server

Democrats are thrilled that Trump is the Republican nominee because they believe he is eminently beatable—and they are right. However, to extend the moral equivalence argument further, when they really stop and think, they realize they have just nominated the most eminently beatable person in their party:

Ha

They have to come to grips with just whom they have made the image of their party:

History Made

In the same way, many Republicans are coming to grips with what they have done:

Leap of Faith

Yes, moral equivalence is an appropriate term for what we are experiencing now.

No, This Is Not Moral Equivalence

Nicholas ThalasinosNicholas Thalasinos was one of the victims in the terrorist attack in San Bernardino last week. He was one of Syed Farook’s co-workers. Thalasinos was a Messianic Jew—a Jew who had come to recognize Jesus Christ as the Jewish Messiah—and who was deeply concerned about the threat of radical Islam.

Reports indicate that Thalasinos and Farook had argued over whether Islam is a religion of peace, with Thalasinos challenging Farook’s assertion that it is. Apparently, Farook sought to prove he was correct by peacefully murdering fourteen of his co-workers, of whom Thalasinos was probably a chief target.

The mainstream media wants to hide as much as possible the fact that what is occurring here is a jihad against Christianity. Both Christians and Jews have reason to be wary of Islam. For Thalasinos, the threat was doubled because he was both. He paid for his outspoken faith with his life. His reward is that he is now with the Lord.

A New York Daily News columnist, Linda Stasi, wrote an opinion piece a couple of days ago that has garnered a lot of attention. Stasi wrote that Thalasinos was not an innocent victim but the equivalent to Farook on the Christian side. Why? She wrote,

Make no mistake, as disgusting and deservedly dead as the hate-filled fanatical Muslim killers were, Thalasinos was also a hate-filled bigot. . . .

Thalasinos was an anti-government, anti-Islam, pro-NRA, rabidly anti-Planned Parenthood kinda guy, who posted that it would be “Freaking Awesome” if hateful Ann Coulter was named head of Homeland Security.

And for those views, he must die?

Do you see what she has done here? She has cultivated a time-dishonored technique called “moral equivalence.” Leftists used to do this with the Cold War, declaring that yes, the Soviet Union wasn’t wonderful, but that the US was just as bad. The goal was to diminish the evil in the former and concoct evils in the latter.

Stasi has done precisely this. Because Thalasinos fervently believed in his Christian faith and it led him to be in favor of the Second Amendment and become vocally and “rabidly” pro-life, he was just as bad as Farook.

Her “journalism” is the worst kind. Unfortunately, it is gaining ground. The mainstream media continues to search for ways to exonerate the real terrorists and blame others for supposedly making them radicalized. They have staked out their own territory around every Islamic act of terrorism:

Political Correctness Line

There are those, even in the Christian community, who want to deny there is a culture war going on. Some will even blame people like me who comment on what we see happening. It’s a special type of spiritual blindness, and if not halted, will only aid and abet future atrocities.

There is no moral equivalence here. One side speaks out for life and religious liberty; the other uses guns and terror to make its points. We need to see the difference clearly and continue to stand against both the terrorists and those who, by design or unwittingly, make apologies for them.

Obama’s Moral Equivalence Ploy

The tradition of the National Prayer Breakfast started during the Eisenhower administration with the encouragement of Billy Graham, who spoke at most of them at that time. President Eisenhower sought, in those crucial years when atheistic communism seemed to be in the ascendancy, to call the nation back to its Christian roots. Those were also the years when “In God We Trust” was added to our coins and “under God” was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Breakfast was meant to be an occasion for reaffirming our basic Biblical beliefs as a nation. It was never intended to become a lightning rod for undermining those beliefs or diminishing their inherent value to a people. Yes, a civic religion, as such, is not sufficient for salvation. That’s fine—government was never meant to be our savior; only Jesus can take that title legitimately. But I see nothing wrong with calling government officials together to acknowledge our dependence on God. It can lead to saving faith for some if the message is clear.

National Prayer BreakfastMuch has been written and said about President Obama’s remarks at this year’s Breakfast. I waited a couple of days before adding my own. First, let me say in what sense I might agree with him. Certainly, anyone in the world, both now and throughout history, can hijack a religious tradition and do things in the name of that tradition that are abhorrent. That’s called free will; God doesn’t always intervene directly to stop human beings from being foolish and/or downright evil.

From that premise, I have no problem acknowledging that many have “used” the name of Christ for their own selfish purposes, whether to gain ecclesiastical or political power or to get rid of those they consider their enemies. So far, so good.

Here are the problems with the President’s remarks.

First, he offered them as a way of deflecting attention from the atrocities currently being committed by Islamists. It’s a standard ploy when you want to minimize the terrible actions of people you seek to support. Draw attention elsewhere. Kind of like “Look! Squirrel!”

Second, he attempted to turn the whole conversation into a “moral equivalence” argument. This is what some historians have done with the Cold War. They have tried to point out America’s sins and thereby downplay the actions of the Soviet Union in the struggle. They have argued that there really is no essential difference between the sides, i.e., they are the same morally. That analysis—if that word really can apply here—ignores the actions that started the Cold War, that forced the United States to take the actions it did to defend itself, and the evil inherent in the communist system.

CrusadersThird, he twisted some history to make the moral equivalence argument. Why did the Crusades take place? Could it perhaps have had something to do with the fact that Muslims, by military might and methods of forced conversion, took over most of the the territory where Christianity began? Could it possibly have been an attempt to take back that territory that had been grabbed unjustly? Could these Crusades have been initiated to help the beleaguered Christians living in a hostile environment?

Then there’s the Inquisition. Do I agree with what happened in the Inquisition? Of course not. It was the instrument used by the Church at one period in history to try to make sure no one upset the status quo. Did some people die in the Inquisition? Yes. Was it unjust? Yes. Did the inquisitors wipe out entire populations, rape the women, and kill all the children? No.

Then there was Obama’s linkage of Christianity to the support of slavery and segregation. Some people will always use their religious beliefs to bolster other things they want to believe. One thing he left out, though, is the crucial role Christians have played throughout history to rectify those inequities. All he sees is complicity because it bolsters his theme. He ignores the other side of the story. He also says nothing about where slavery exists today, largely in the Muslim world.

What we are witnessing in our day is a large-scale attempted genocide of any people group that stands in the way of Sharia law being imposed on the entire world. It is not, as the President says, only .1% of the Muslim population that favors jihad; in some countries, according to a recent survey, almost half the population finds jihadist terrorism acceptable.

And we have a president who now seems oblivious to the inherent evil of that system of belief and who has done virtually nothing to stop it from spreading. It’s not just Al Qaeda and ISIS. Iran’s rapid development of nuclear weapons comes with its development of intercontinental ballistic missile capability. Israel is not Iran’s only target; the United States is on that list as well. Yet, what seems to be President Obama’s chief concern?

Overreact

By all means, let’s continue with the National Prayer Breakfast tradition. It has yielded some excellent speakers—Eric Metaxas, Ben Carson, Darrell Waltrip—who have boldly proclaimed Biblical truths. What we may need to do, though, for the remainder of this presidency, is to find the courage to decline the traditional invitation that allows the president to make remarks also. We would be better off as a nation if he didn’t say anything.

The Moral Equivalence Fallacy

I was introduced to the concept of moral equivalence when I was working on my doctorate in history. It came up in explanations of the Cold War. Moral equivalence, in that context, meant that the Cold War was the result, not of Soviet aggression, but of a mutual misunderstanding of one another. Further, it posited that there was no real difference morally between the Soviets and America; both were equally to blame for the Cold War.

As an explanation for the Cold War, I found it very dissatisfying. I knew about the horrific system set up in the Soviet Union, and it in no way compared to the American system of government. I also knew of the systematic repression and genocide that occurred under Stalin’s reign, and which continued after his death. Then there were the broken promises and the takeover of occupied countries, thereby setting up satellite regimes totally subservient to The Soviets. Therefore, I rejected that explanation of the Cold War because it overlooked the obvious brutality that existed in the USSR.

Why does this come to mind now? The moral equivalence idea continues to pop up in other contexts. It has come to the forefront in the current debt crisis debate. We are told over and over that Congress can’t get its act together, thereby making no distinction between the actions of the two political parties. In the public mind, they are both to blame for the mess. Never mind that the Republicans have offered solutions, only to have them shot down by Senate Democrats and President Obama. Don’t acknowledge that the Democrat-led Senate hasn’t offered a budget for over 800 days. Just keep chanting the mantra of moral equivalence.

What’s even more disturbing is how this view has come to dominate the political cartoons, even from conservative cartoonists. Here are some examples:

Notice that this cartoon makes no distinction between Boehner and Obama; both are depicted as little children arguing over how to steer the car.

How about this one?

Again, there is no moral difference in this image: Boehner and Obama both doing the same thing. Another one:

You see, if the NFL can come to a solution for its disagreements, why can’t Washington? Well, how about showing who is blocking the ball? Not in this case. I’ll give you two more examples:

In the first one, voters are angry at both parties, blaming both for the debt impasse; in the second, both parties are playing chicken with the looming default [which is not really going to occur anyway, since the interest on the debt will be paid regardless what happens]. This type of unthinking, undiscriminating moral equivalence gives a false impression of what’s really taking place in the Congress.

One cartoonist got it right, though:

It’s nice to witness at least one example of clear thinking.

The Appropriate Response to the Death of bin Laden

I’ve had a couple of different questions directed at me after the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. Let me use my post today to give my perspective on these questions.

One of the questions is ancient—not new at all—dealing with the concept of a “just war.” There has been a strand of Christian thought that rejects the idea that any war is just. This viewpoint, normally labeled pacifism, says it is always wrong to take up arms regardless of the situation. We are supposed to let God be the one to carry out any necessary vengeance, according to this philosophy. Mennonites, Amish, and Quakers are the strongest in this belief.

While I can respect their desire not to hurt another human being, this view is not Scriptural. When Jesus said to turn the other cheek, in context, He was saying not to return an insult for an insult. But didn’t Jesus allow His persecutors to kill Him rather than strike back? Yes, but He had a specific purpose; He was on a mission to lay down His life for all.

Throughout the entire Old Testament, God commanded His people to defend themselves, and He even used them militarily to destroy some civilizations that had completely defiled themselves with child sacrifices and other horrors. In the New Testament, he told a soldier to continue in his job. Wouldn’t that have been the perfect opportunity to declare he should walk away from the military?

One of the biggest problems I have witnessed in those today who espouse this view is that they posit a moral equivalence between opposing sides. In other words, they don’t seem to think that one side is actually more evil than the other, and they equate mass murder of innocent civilians (September 11, 2001) with a legitimate response to exact justice upon the evildoers. Our move into Afghanistan to take out the Taliban who were harboring Al Qaeda was the proper response of a government tasked with the responsibility of protecting its people. That’s the primary purpose of government. What took place late Sunday evening was not the murder of innocent civilians (in fact, no one else was hurt at all) but the carrying out of a justice supported by Scripture.

I might add here that when Quakers ran the government in colonial Pennsylvania, they refused to protect their citizens from cruel attacks by Indians who sought to kill all the settlers. Because of their pacifist approach, the attackers were emboldened; the Quakers eventually had to relinquish control of the government so others could take that governmental responsibility seriously.

The other question raised had to do with the celebratory mood of crowds in New York City and Washington, DC, among other places. Was it unseemly to rejoice in the streets over bin Laden’s death? Was this a Biblical response? How do we manifest a true Christian spirit over this outcome?

First, I presume that many of the revelers were not there out of any Christian conviction. Personally, I cannot conceive of going into the streets to dance and cheer over this. Some of that may be my personality. I’m rather subdued outwardly. However, I can rejoice inwardly that bin Laden is dead. I won’t condemn others who show their joy more openly, but we do have to be cautious. I would urge Christians to make sure their response is measured and appropriate. We should be leaders in manifesting gratitude and humility even when rejoicing over a victory in the war on terror.

Here’s where that foolish moral equivalence again rears its head.

Some have said that the street celebrations over bin Laden’s demise are no different than what has taken place in Islamic nations when terrorist acts are successful.

The difference is vast: they celebrate when innocent people are killed; we celebrate when killers are killed.

They rejoice over towers plummeting to the ground with thousands trapped inside; we rejoice when the mastermind of that evil receives his due.

Not long ago, some Palestinians sneaked into an Israeli settlement and murdered a family, cutting their throats, and even beheading an infant. The Palestinian streets erupted in jubilation over the act; people were even handing out cookies to the celebrants. Please don’t try to convince me that our response to bin Laden meeting his Maker is equivalent to that moral depravity.

Before closing, I’d like to make a comment or two about Obama’s role in this. First, I must say that he acted properly in giving the go-ahead to the operation. For that action, I am grateful.

Also, the announcement he made had elements of rhetoric that were nearly inspirational; someone penned a good speech for him. Yet buried in the middle of that speech was a comment that rankled. I’m not sure how many caught it. He deliberately made a point to say that when he took over the Oval Office, he called in Leon Panetta, his CIA director, and told him that finding bin Laden was now the highest priority. Some may think I’m reading something into this, but to me it came across as if this were practically a new idea, as if the Bush administration had never seriously crossed that bridge or made such a commitment.

Pardon me, but that came across as rather smug and self-important. He said nothing about the previous administration’s efforts to capture the Al Qaeda ringleader. Yet now we know that the trail to bin Laden began in 2007, not under the new administration. It simply took nearly four years to complete the scrutiny and come to a place of certainty that led to action. I think the president needs to publicly recognize his predecessor’s achievements. That will be hard for him, I know, but it’s a reality, and he should show gratitude for those who came before him in this struggle.

That would require humility of course, which has been sorely lacking in this president. He could use a little tutorial from Ronald Reagan, who famously noted,

There’s no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.

Reagan always had that attitude, never taking credit for himself for the achievements of his administration, but constantly praising the American people for their character and initiative. The current White House needs to recover that spirit.