Who Was Harry Freeman? And Why Should You Care?

Harry Freeman is not a household name; most Americans have no idea who he was. Why should anyone care? Well, Harry Freeman was an example of just how devoted someone can be to a political party regardless of the drastic changes that might occur.

Whittaker Chambers knew Harry Freeman. When Chambers joined the open Communist Party in America in the late 1920’s, he worked alongside Freeman at the party’s newspaper, The Daily Worker.

Allow me to draw from what I’ve written in my book on Chambers and Reagan:

Freeman was the perfect communist in his responses to the party line. As Chambers relates, “No matter how favorable his opinion had been to an individual or his political role, if that person fell from grace in the Communist Party, Harry Freeman changed his opinion about him instantly.”

Others in the party also shifted their viewpoints to match the leadership, but Freeman was unique because he would do it “without any effort or embarrassment. There seemed to vanish from his mind any recollection that he had ever held any opinion other than the approved one. . . . More adroitly and more completely than any other Communist I knew, Harry Freeman possessed the conviction that the party line is always right.”

Freeman, after he left the Daily Worker, went on to become the managing editor of the American Bureau of Tass, the Soviet news agency. In 1976, two years before his death, he received a special award from the Soviet leadership—the Order of Peoples Friendship. His achievement, according to the Soviet government, was his devotion to strengthening cooperation between the peoples of the Soviet Union and the United States. Freeman’s commitment to the communist cause was total.

Chambers, for all his devotion to communism, could never be a Harry Freeman. He could not stomach the politics within the party, and when Stalin initiated a purge of the American leadership, Chambers saw it for what it was—a power struggle unrelated to whether or not a person was a genuine communist.

“It seemed to me,” Chambers wrote years later, “that the party, of which it had been said in Lenin’s time that it peopled the jails of Europe with philosophers, had simply gone insane. … I thought: ‘The pigmies have taken over.'” He refused to play along with this political game and dropped out of the party for a time. This made him a pariah, someone not to be trusted.

How many Harry Freemans, I wonder, exist in America today? The Harry Freemans of today are those who hold to the party line, regardless of which party, no matter how that party may shift and bend itself out of shape.

The Democrat Party in our day is not the Democrat Party of yesteryear when it had a strong anti-communist center. It never dallied with changing basic morality with respect to the right to life and marriage.

The Republican Party of 2017 has morphed also. It’s no longer the party led by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Its purported leader has little in common with Reagan’s sunny disposition, his devotion to constitutionalism, and his thorough knowledge of the conservative philosophy.

I’m concerned because I see Harry Freemans popping up all over the place. I see supposed conservatives, for instance, jettisoning basic conservative/Biblical principles for pure pragmatism.

My goal in this post is simple: it’s a warning—don’t be a Harry Freeman. Stay faithful to what you know is true and don’t bend yourself out of shape to keep up with whatever the “party” wants you to do. Maintain your integrity.

A Compromised Principle, Unfortunately

The guideline I try to follow when considering whether I support a policy action is whether it actually advances the position I ultimately want to see enacted. I have stated that stance in these words before and will do so again:

A compromised principle leads to unrighteousness, but a principled compromise is a step closer to the principle’s ideal.

For instance, on abortion, I don’t take an all-or-nothing approach. If a proposed bill decreases the number of abortions, I support it because lives will be saved. I then hope for further steps that will get policy even closer to my ideal.

Obamacare repeal is now on the front burner in Congress. I’m trying to figure out whether what the Republican Congress is proposing is truly an advancement in repeal—a principled compromise—or if it is instead a compromised principle.

I’m willing to be patient if I know that the proposed bill is only a first step toward an effective repeal and replacement. I also know that some compromise is probably necessary due to lack of unity among Republicans on what should be done. I don’t really envy Mitch McConnell’s job:

The problem, as this political cartoon illustrates, is that some of the ducks are more like chickens—they are afraid of losing their prestigious Senate seat by supporting something that will anger too many voters.

The House bill already was rather weak; the Senate bill, which was released yesterday, is, by most accounts, even weaker, as most commentators predicted it would be.

Already four senators—Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ron Johnson—have declared they cannot support it in its current state. They say it does nothing to reduce premiums and it leaves most of the infrastructure of Obamacare in place. Even the principal architect of Obamacare, Jonathan Gruber, gleefully declared that this proposed bill keeps Obamacare basically intact.

Obamacare’s regulatory scheme remains untouched; insurance companies will continue to receive subsidies (from taxpayers, keep in mind); it says it will reform Medicaid (but not for a number of years, so who really believes that will happen?); Planned Parenthood is defunded (for one whole year; after that, it reverts back to current funding); the individual mandate and taxes do go away, but all the regulations continue as before.

Those four senators who said they cannot support the bill are now going to try to strengthen it. If they don’t succeed, and they stay firm in their opposition, it will go down to defeat, and rightly so.

Why rightly so? It’s not enough of a principled compromise; it leans heavily toward a compromised principle.

How often were we told by Republicans that once they got control of Congress and the White House that they would destroy the Obamacare monster once and for all? Well, here’s the reality:

This is so sad, it’s hard to know what else to say.

Declaring Rights in Virginia in 1776

The year 1776 is auspicious for the United States because that’s when we became the United States. Most of our attention in commemorating that event centers on the Declaration of Independence, and rightly so. I’ll have something to say about that document in a post next month.

Another document, which was at Thomas Jefferson’s elbow when writing the Declaration, came out of his home state of Virginia a month earlier, but far too many of our citizens are ignorant of it.

George Mason, along with other key leaders in Virginia who were fashioning the new government there in anticipation of independence, created the Virginia Declaration of Rights as a bold statement of the limits of civil government.

This Declaration made clear the following concepts:

  • Inherent rights (meaning those given by God) cannot be surrendered to the government.
  • Government derives its power from the people, who set its limits.
  • Oppressive government may be altered or abolished.
  • The branches of government must be separated to avoid tyranny.
  • The society operates on due process of law.
  • There will be no excessive bail or fines and no cruel or unusual punishments meted out by government (wording later to be included in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution).
  • No general search warrants were to be allowed (there must be specific cause for a search—anything else is an invasion of a person’s property).
  • Freedom of the press should not be restrained.
  • A militia of the people is a guarantor of liberty.

Sections 15 and 16 of this Declaration are worth quoting in full. Principles and character are the subject of section 15:

That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.

Notice how the Founding generation focused on the significance of the character of its citizens. The consensus at the time was that a free government would fail without fundamental principles and without a people willing to exhibit those key character traits mentioned in the document.

Then there is section 16:

That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

This is a clarion call for recognizing that civil government cannot dictate what an individual is required to believe. That’s between each individual and God. We should be free to follow our consciences. This statement comes fifteen years before the same concept was applied nationally in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Another interesting aspect of this section is how it ends: it calls for Christian forbearance, love, and charity for all. The inclusion of the word “Christian” is another testimony to the consensus of the era. The Founders saw Christian faith as the bedrock of society even as they allowed everyone to have their own liberty of conscience.

In my view, Biblical principles are the foundation of everything that is good in the governmental institutions established in America. That’s why I labor to reintroduce them to this current generation. Ignorance of that fact and rejection of those principles are the reasons we are witnessing the slow decay of our culture and the various dysfunctions of our governments.

Discernment in the Trump Era

Feelings run high on Donald Trump . . . on both sides. What I’m seeing on the Left and on some parts of the Right is practically an unthinking response to anything Trump does.

The “Resist” movement won’t rest until Trump is impeached or, as in the case of New York City’s “Shakespeare in the Park” program, possibly assassinated. The group put on a modern version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with “Julius” looking suspiciously like the current president. It was so blatant that big corporate sponsors have pulled out.

Certain media outlets have made Trump their focus with a constant barrage of stories, documented or not, that always put him in a bad light. Here’s looking at you, CNN, with a dishonorable mention to MSNBC.

Real journalism doesn’t rely on anonymous sources before airing “news” stories. Real journalism finds the facts first. Real journalism wants to inform, not promote an ideological agenda. But unthinking ideology is where we are today.

Bottom line: the Left, which usually is unhinged anyway, has gone off the deep end.

The antidote, for me, used to be certain talk radio hosts and Fox News, which were willing to give the other side. They provided the balance so that progressive brainwashing wouldn’t have complete sway over people’s minds.

I no longer listen to Rush Limbaugh because I believe he has allowed his principles, which he used to enunciate so clearly, to drift downstream.

Let me be clear (how often do I say that?) that I still appreciate the straight news offered by Fox. Bret Baier’s Special Report, for instance, is one program I continue to watch because I trust his journalistic integrity. Chris Wallace is another who doesn’t let an agenda drive his interviews. Neil Cavuto is willing to tell the truth no matter whom his target may be.

But I’ve been greatly disappointed with some of the other Fox programs. I stopped watching Sean Hannity long before the last campaign. Intellectual depth was in short supply. Now he’s basically a shill for Trump regardless of what Trump does.

Then there’s the Fox and Friends morning show. It was always a favorite of mine because the hosts are very likeable and Christian views have been respected on the program. Those two factors remain. Yet I can hardly stand to watch it now because it’s one long commercial for how grand and glorious Donald Trump is.

I hope you’re getting my point—I disagree with blind loyalty no matter which side of the political spectrum.

Here’s the difference, though: I’ve come to expect ideological blindness from the Left; it’s how they naturally operate. What’s new, ever since the Trump Bandwagon has appeared, is the same type of blindness on the Right. And that is deeply disturbing.

An essay on the Red State site yesterday laid out the problem very well. Responding to someone who tweeted that principles are only a means to an end, the writer countered,

Principles are not a means to an end. Principles are those things you believe to be fundamentally true. If you can easily set them aside in order to attain a goal, they weren’t principles so much as they were postures. If your moral compass is only something you use to gauge what you can probably get away with, it’s not really a moral compass.

Those of us who have tried to maintain balance on the person and actions of Donald Trump, praising him when he does something right and drawing attention to those things he does that are damaging, are now being accused of disloyalty. I see it differently, and the writer of that essay does as well:

I do think that for people who once claimed to be outraged by the immoral antics and low character of certain Democrats, the morally superior choice is to apply the same standard to your own party.

It’s the only rational choice, unless you’re someone who really doesn’t know the difference between postures and  principles or who thinks political expedience is more important than telling the truth.

If you don’t think Trump is his own worst enemy, you may not be paying close attention:

And if you haven’t noticed the near-chaos within his administration—constant rumors of Trump’s disapproval of his people, threats of firing, general incompetence in running the executive branch—it’s time to remedy that inattention.

While I’m concerned about what has happened to conservatism in the Trump Era, I’m even more distressed about what I see in the evangelical community. I’m witnessing far too many Christians who are willing to turn a blind eye to Trump’s faults and automatically rush to his defense no matter how foolish he has been.

God calls us to discernment.

We are not to be tribal loyalists who willfully shield our consciences from unpleasant truths about our president.

We are called instead to be the conscience of the nation. We abandon that calling when we refuse to call out sin and/or incompetence on our “side.”

My goal ever since Trump won the election has been to support him whenever I can and to critique him honestly when he goes astray from a principled foundation.

Trump needs us to critique him because we are not the ideologically driven Left. He needs to hear from those who want him to succeed. Our honesty and integrity is crucial for the future of our nation.

Evangelicals, please heed this call.

Will Honest Critique Be Allowed?

I’m trying to like Donald Trump. I really am. Why does he insist on making it so difficult?

I’m not the least bit upset that he spoke with the elected leader of Taiwan. We never should have treated that nation the way we have. So, good for him on that count. Taiwan is not Iran or Cuba.

talking-to-taiwan

I’m pleased with a number of his nominations for his administration. If they are allowed to do what they believe, we will be in much better shape than we have been for the last horrendous eight years.

not-brain-surgery

But I’m still bothered.

I’m bothered that he acts like a bully toward companies that are simply trying to make the best choices given the tax atmosphere on businesses in this nation. Carrier Corp. decided to keep some of its production in Indiana after Trump and Pence talked with the company. Good for those who kept their jobs. Bad for the whole concept of free-market choices as crony capitalism triumphs once again.

Whenever you give a break to one company only, you have picked winners and made other similar companies the losers. That’s government getting in the way and doing what it should not be doing.

And when conservatives who are naturally concerned with such a violation of principle speak up, they are ridiculed for holding to principle. Don’t they know Trump is the savior? Why be so picky?

The conservative critique of what Trump did with Carrier is principled, and not the same as the Democrats’ critique:

incentives

Trump’s thin skin continues to percolate. When a union leader at Carrier dared to criticize Trump for exaggerating the number of jobs saved, that led to a typical Trump tweeting flurry that demeaned the man personally.

As David French so aptly put it, “There is no dignity, no decency, in Trump’s actions.” Even worse are some of his most ardent followers. French continues,

If you’ve been following politics in 2016, you know that if you publicly cross Trump, then Trump fanatics will immediately pile on, trying to threaten and intimidate critics into silence.

And that’s exactly what happened here: Half an hour after Trump tweeted about Jones on Wednesday, the union leader’s phone began to ring and kept ringing, he said.

One voice asked: What kind of car do you drive? Another said: We’re coming for you. He wasn’t sure how these people found his number. “Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, you better keep your eye on your kids,” Jones said later on MSNBC. “We know what car you drive. Things along those lines.”

The president-elect’s words have power, and when he turns that power on ordinary Americans who dare to criticize him, he’s not only abusing his office, he’s creating a target for an avalanche of scorn, vitriol, and intimidation.

But this is of course a pattern with Trump. If someone irritates him, he’ll punch back no matter their status and no matter the consequences. That’s not leadership. It’s bullying. The president-elect needs to grow up and take criticism like a man.

It’s becoming risky to ever criticize Trump. My deep concern remains what it has been all along, that this is becoming practically a cult following that will never allow an honest critique. I hope I’m proven wrong.

donald-trump-4Jonah Goldberg recently commented on this phenomenon, and I think his words deserve a hearing:

My real problem is with all the people who seem to think that any skepticism of Trump’s actions on my part can only be explained by anti-Trump bias or bitterness.

These people seem to think that the most positive, most pro-Trump spin on any new event is not only always correct but obviously so, and any skepticism about the genius of his actions is a sign of illegitimate bias. And that’s crazy.

I’ve praised Trump and I’ve criticized Trump since he was elected. Yes, I’m skeptical, but all politicians deserve skepticism, and Donald Trump more than most. And yet every day I hear from people saying that’s not good enough. “Get on board the Trump Train!” people are still shouting at me.

One must bend every position and principle to his. One must acknowledge that he is smarter than everyone. He has a plan. He’s playing chess to everyone else’s checkers. And if you don’t see that, you’re irrationally biased against him.

It’s pretty obvious to me that the irrational bias here runs the other way. If I say Trump is sometimes right and sometimes wrong and you say “Shut up! He’s a genius in everything!” an objective observer would probably think you’re the biased one.

My goal today is not to denigrate the president-elect, but if you see it that way, I want to caution you: you might be tending toward the irrationality Goldberg mentions.

I’m going to give Trump room to improve. I’m going to hope he develops some maturity when others criticize his actions and decisions. I’m still praying for the best, but I will point out when what he does is less than that.

Why is that wrong?

Principled Conservatism

I teach a course on Ronald Reagan and modern American conservatism. I begin the course with definitions of those terms.

Conservatism: a predisposition to maintain existing institutions and practices.

American: a particular brand of conservatism unique to American institutions and practices.

Modern: the distinct development of a conservative philosophy since WWII.

I then explain the three strands of thought that have been weaved together to create modern American conservatism:

  • Economic individualism: limited government; free enterprise; the inviolability of property
  • Social traditionalism: primary concern for the spiritual and moral values of society
  • Anti-communism: even with the fall of the USSR, the communist mentality continues to dominate; a collectivist philosophy remains strong in our politics

While there are some differences in the emphases these three strands of thought bring to the coalition, there are enough similarities that a coherent modern American conservatism has been able to have an impact on our society. Common beliefs can be summarized in this way:

  • There are absolute moral standards
  • The individual is more important than the state
  • Suspicion of centralized government power

biblical-worldviewMy Christian faith is foundational to everything I believe. I discovered, as I learned about modern American conservatism, that this brand of conservatism accurately reflected the truths of my faith. As a result, I’ve attempted to mesh my Christianity with political conservatism.

The connection has worked well. The absolute moral standards of Christianity are essential for our society. The Biblical principle that we are all made in the image of God is consistent with the conservative belief that the individual is more important than the state/government. Centralized government power has often been used to tear down Christian faith and influence people into accepting the government as their provider, thereby setting up a false god, making the state into an idol.

These bedrock concepts are what I have always hoped would guide Christians, in particular, in their decisions when voting and advocating public policies. In this recent election, I’ve had my hopes shaken somewhat. I’m concerned about how grounded we are in principle. Are we allowing emotion to guide us now? Are we perhaps thinking that the state can create the type of society we want?

Where is our faith? In God or in politics?

I want us to be a principled people. I hope we won’t awake one day to discover we have placed our faith where it does not belong.

My pledge: I will pray for this nation, as God instructs me to do. I will pray for its political leaders even when I disagree with them, both in their personal morality and in their public policy.

Yet I know, in my heart, that the only real hope is a diffusion of a vibrant Christian faith throughout our society. Government is not our savior; it will always disappoint in some way.

We have only one Savior.

The Cruz Reversal

ted-cruzSo now Ted Cruz has said he will vote for Donald Trump. He didn’t go so far as to say, when asked pointedly, that Trump is fit to be president; in fact, he deflected that specific question and went in a different direction in his answer. In his heart, I think he still knows Trump is unqualified for the office.

I had hoped the day wouldn’t come when Cruz would bow the knee to a con man. I remember all so clearly Cruz’s comments on May 3, the day Trump secured the nomination and the Republican party threw away its heritage.

On that day, after Trump incredibly floated the absurd idea that Cruz’s father was somehow implicated in the JFK assassination, Cruz said this (and I will quote at length):

This man is a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth. And, in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying. . . .

The man cannot tell the truth, but he combines it with being a narcissist. A narcissist at a level – I don’t think this country’s ever seen. Donald Trump is such a narcissist that Barack Obama looks at him and goes, “Dude, what’s your problem?” Everything in Donald’s world is about Donald. . . .

I say pathological because I actually think Donald, if you hooked him up to a lie detector test, he could say one thing in the morning, one thing at noon, and one thing in the evening, all contradictory, and he’d pass the lie detector test each time. Whatever lie he’s telling at that minute, he believes it. . . .

The man is utterly amoral. Morality does not exist for him. . . .

donald-trump-3Donald is a bully. . . . Bullies don’t come from strength, bullies come from weakness. Bullies come from a deep, yawning cavern of insecurity. There is a reason Donald builds giant buildings and puts his name on them everywhere he goes. . . .

Donald will betray his supporters on every issue. If you care about immigration, Donald is laughing at you. And he’s telling the moneyed elites that he doesn’t believe what he’s saying, he’s not gonna build a wall – that’s what he told the New York Times, he will betray you on every issue across the board.

I couldn’t agree more with Cruz’s words on that day. So what has changed?

Cruz says he has forgiven Trump for the insults and innuendoes about his wife and father. As a Christian, I certainly appreciate that Cruz has chosen not to allow bitterness to dominate. However, it is instructive to note that Trump has never acknowledged doing anything wrong, has not even uttered one word of regret for his lies, and acts as if Cruz owes him an endorsement, despite Trump’s despicable actions.

Trump now heaps praise on Cruz for having been a formidable challenger. In his mind, are they now best buddies? Hardly. If Cruz were to say something critical tomorrow, Trump would respond with his typical “loser” designation and say that he will find someone to run against Cruz in his next Senate race.

So why did Cruz make this endorsement? Theories abound. He himself says it’s because Hillary must be stopped and this is a binary election. In other words, the same old tired reasons given by every Republican who has capitulated to the Trump nomination. At least he’s not Hillary.

Never mind the future of the Republican brand; it has now morphed into the Trump brand.

So, I ask: Has Cruz really changed his mind about Trump’s acceptability as the nominee? Or did he not really mean the things he said back in May? Or is he more concerned about his own political future?

From what I’ve read from more than one source, Texas Republicans have been putting on the pressure and major donors have threatened not to support Cruz in his Senate reelection bid.

If that’s the real reason, I am simply sad because it will mean that another man has succumbed to the desire to maintain political office at the expense of principle.

Cruz has undermined his biggest supporters with this Trump endorsement. When he talks about principle and constitutionalism from now on, many will take it with that proverbial grain of salt.

I won’t judge Cruz too harshly at this point. One bad decision does not override everything good a man has done. But neither will I immediately respond to a call to arms for a 2020 presidential bid. He will have to earn my support all over again.