Chambers, McCarthy, & Trump

An interesting question was posed to me yesterday by a former student, wanting to know what Whittaker Chambers might think of Donald Trump. I gave him my short answer but then decided it would be perhaps insightful to provide a fuller one here today.

For those of you unfamiliar with Chambers, here’s a short synopsis of his life.

Chambers at DeskWhittaker Chambers, in the 1920s, became a member of the Communist party because he saw it as the hope of a world filled with destruction after WWI. At one point, he was ushered into the communist underground movement where he helped place communists in government positions to influence policy; he also served as a liaison between those officials and underground leaders, to whom he passed on information stolen from the government.

He soured on communism in the late 1930s as he saw the fruit of Stalinism: the purges of faithful party members, in particular. He had to go into hiding to protect his family, emerging later as a writer for Time magazine, eventually becoming one of its senior editors.

After WWII, Chambers appeared before a congressional committee and told all he knew about the underground subversion taking place. One of the men he fingered in the underground was Alger Hiss, a top State Dept. official. When Hiss denied the accusation, it became front-page news.

To shorten the story considerably, all I’ll say is that Chambers was proven correct, Hiss went to prison, and Chambers then wrote a masterful autobiography entitled Witness, which came out in 1952. It is one of my all-time favorite books.

Joe McCarthy 2Sen. Joe McCarthy is infamous for trying to root out the communist conspiracy in the early 1950s. Nothing wrong with that, except McCarthy seems to have been motivated more by personal glory than principle. He also was not a man of towering intellect like Chambers. Neither did he have the inside knowledge Chambers did.

Naturally, McCarthy sought to have Chambers on his side publicly. Yet Chambers declined to join in his crusade. Why? It had to do with the character of the man.

In letters Chambers wrote to William F. Buckley, the dean of the modern conservative movement in America, he laid out his concerns—even fears—of what McCarthy might do inadvertently to undermine genuine anti-communism.

Odyssey of a FriendIn one of those letters, responding to Buckley’s queries as to why he wouldn’t come out in support of McCarthy, Chambers replied,

One way whereby I can most easily help Communism is to associate myself publicly with Senator McCarthy; to give the enemy even a minor pretext for confusing the Hiss Case with his activities, and rolling it all in a snarl with which to baffle, bedevil, and divide opinion.

That is why I told Senator McCarthy, when he asked me to keynote his last Wisconsin campaign, that we were fighting in the same war, but in wholly  different battles, and that the nature of the struggle at this time enjoins that we should not wage war together.

I do not think that the Senator really grasps this necessity. For it is more and more my reluctant opinion that he is a tactician, rather than a strategist; that he continually, by reflex rather than calculation, sacrifices the long view for the short pull.

While Chambers obviously wanted much of what McCarthy wanted—the exposure of the communist threat—he didn’t see McCarthy as the man to accomplish this.

In that same letter to Buckley, Chambers expressed his deepest fear:

All of us, to one degree or another, have slowly come to question his judgment and to fear acutely that his flair for the sensational, his inaccuracies and distortions, his tendency to sacrifice the greater objective for the momentary effect, will lead him and us into trouble.

In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that we live in terror that Senator McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder which will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anti-Communist effort for a long while to come.

Chambers was prophetic. That’s precisely what happened. McCarthy ultimately went too far with his accusations and fell from his lofty perch politically. Ever since then, anytime a conservative sounds a warning about socialism/communism, critics on the Left have been able to sound the alarm of “McCarthyism.” The senator dealt a deadly blow to intelligent concerns about subversion.

So what about Trump? What would Chambers think if he were here today? Of course, we are dealing with a hypothetical, but we do have Chambers’s own words and feelings about someone who could be disastrous to a good cause. That’s how I see Trump.

Looking again at Chambers’s comments, I can see Trump in many ways. Just as McCarthy was not a principled person, but rather someone out for his own notoriety, so is Trump, in my view. He has no solid principles; he is no conservative; he has little knowledge of constitutional government.

Then there are the tactics. Chambers criticized McCarthy for being merely a tactician, not a strategist, someone who went for the short-term advantage rather than having a long-term goal. Trump again.

Chambers questioned McCarthy’s judgment, his flair for the sensational, and the inaccuracies and distortions in his comments. I see Trump there as well.

Finally, there was Chambers’s biggest fear, that McCarthy would do more damage to the cause in the long run and discredit real anti-communism that knew what it was talking about. I believe Trump will cause great damage to conservatism in our day. People will associate him with that ideology, despite the fact that he is a man of no particular ideology himself. He is merely a narcissist looking for a way to advance himself.

If Trump doesn’t change (and that’s highly unlikely), and he wins the presidency, we may, in the future, hear the alarm of “Trumpism” just as readily as the Left has used “McCarthyism” for the last six decades.

If Chambers were alive today to see what’s transpiring, there is no way I believe he would be a Trump enthusiast. Rather, he would be on the front lines sounding a proper alarm, fearful that conservatism will be undermined by support for Trump.

As an addendum, Ronald Reagan’s son, Michael, has stated that he doesn’t believe his father would have jumped on the Trump train either. From everything I know about Ronald Reagan, I have to agree. Although Reagan called for unity in the Republican ranks, he always wanted that unity to be based on principles.

I find it kind of ironic that those who are excoriating Ted Cruz for not endorsing Trump forget that Reagan, who lost the nomination to Gerald Ford in 1976, spoke at that convention at Ford’s request. While delivering an impromptu speech about the need for Republican principles to win in the election, Reagan pointedly didn’t specifically endorse Ford in that speech. Neither did he campaign for him prior to the election. If that was acceptable for Reagan, why not for Cruz, who has even far more reason to decline a Trump endorsement?

Book Cover 1I have studied both Reagan and Chambers for many years. That’s why I came out with this book last year, The Witness and the President: Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, and the Future of Freedom.

If you want greater depth of understanding of both men, I heartily endorse this book (for some reason). As you dig into the thinking of both Reagan and Chambers, I hope you will come away with a greater appreciation of those who stand on principle.

I also hope you will also grasp why I have not been able to endorse Donald Trump. I want men (and women) of principle taking the lead. We have to look beyond the short-term “victory” of one election and concentrate instead on the long-term. Christian faith and conservative governance are my guidelines; I don’t want them to be denigrated by the unprincipled antics of politicians today.

No, Mr. Trump, You Are Not Ronald Reagan

Reagan-TrumpIn an attempt to legitimize Donald Trump’s candidacy in the eyes of conservatives, both Trump and his supporters like to say that his metamorphosis politically into a Republican is the same as Ronald Reagan’s. This is a comparison that doesn’t survive even the most casual scrutiny.

The only similarity is that both were Democrats. I would argue that Trump, essentially, still is a Democrat, but masquerading as a Republican. A fuller treatment of that thesis may be forthcoming. For today, though, let’s examine the supposed Reagan-Trump connection.

Ronald Reagan was raised in a Democrat household; he voted for Franklin Roosevelt in each of FDR’s election victories. After WWII, Reagan spoke out forcefully against the rise of fascism, for which his liberal audiences cheered. Yet one fateful day, when he ended a speech saying that if he ever found out that communists were a real threat to the nation, he would speak out just as forcefully, his speech before a liberal audience ended in silence. No applause this time.

Reagan had to reconsider his views and eventually realized that American liberalism, resident in the Democrat party, had a strong streak of sympathy for the socialist worldview.

General Electric TheaterDuring the 1950s and into the early 1960s, Reagan worked for General Electric and hosted its weekly television program. GE at that time was a bastion of conservative economic principles that spread the free-market philosophy among it workers nationwide. Reagan studied those economic principles seriously for the first time in his life and became convinced they were right.

So, to shorten the story somewhat, let’s just say that over a period of nearly two decades, Reagan carefully rethought all his former positions and came out a convinced conservative in his understanding of the Constitution, of the limitations on government, and in defense of economic freedom. He later added a strong stance against abortion when he belatedly realized that a bill he signed as governor of California opened the door to abortion on demand. Again, this was the result of careful study of the issue.

Donald Trump’s avowed conversion to conservatism doesn’t follow such a path. As late as 2008, he was supporting Hillary Clinton for president. Just a couple of weeks ago, he publicly stated that being conservative is not what matters; we just need to fix the country. Well, I would argue that the country cannot be fixed except through those exact conservative principles that he says aren’t all that important.

Trump’s assertion that he is now a conservative doesn’t pass the test. He claims a Reaganesque switch on abortion, yet continues to say that Planned Parenthood does some really good things. He would also like to see the abortion language in the Republican platform softened.

Do you really trust this man to defund Planned Parenthood and to appoint Supreme Court justices that will uphold the Constitution? You have more faith than I do.

There’s also the matter of both Reagan and Trump having been divorced. Trump’s people love to make that comparison. They say there is no difference. I beg to differ.

Trump’s divorces were entirely at his instigation. His obsession with beautiful women (I refuse to use his terminology about what he seeks) has led him twice to discard a wife so he could marry someone else. His entire attitude toward women, evidenced by his lurid language that he doesn’t mind using publicly, is an affront to common decency.

Reagan, Jane Wyman, Maureen, & MichaelWhat about Reagan’s divorce? He married actress Jane Wyman in the early 1940s. They began a family; he wanted it to stay that way. The divorce was not of his doing; he fought against it but lost. Wyman chose to leave him, not because he was unfaithful [he wasn’t] but because she had apparently tired of his political participation, among other reasons. She also had an affair with one of her co-stars in a movie at that time.

Wedding 3-4-52Reagan was devastated by the divorce and hit a low point in his life over it. When he remarried a few years later, it was a marriage that lasted the rest of his life—more than fifty years.

Does anyone really think Donald Trump was devastated over his divorces? Does anyone really believe he would be faithful to one woman for more than fifty years?

Is there anyone with even half a brain on this planet who truly accepts the superficial reasoning that dares to compare Donald Trump with Ronald Reagan?

I’ve outlined the many reasons I cannot support Trump in other posts, so I won’t repeat them all here. My goal today is to try to put to rest the silly attempt to equate the principled Reagan with the unprincipled Trump.

He who has ears to hear, please listen.

Cruz-Fiorina 2016

Donald Trump was supposed to be at the top of the news cycle yesterday with what he called a major foreign policy speech, but Ted Cruz deflated that with the bold announcement that Carly Fiorina had agreed to be his vice president should he receive the nomination.

Cruz-Fiorina Ticket

It was a bold move, one that no presidential candidate still in the hunt for the nomination had tried since Ronald Reagan did it in 1976. Reagan waited until the convention to do so; Cruz chose an appropriate time, the day after Trump’s wins in the eastern primaries, designed to lessen the effect of those wins and regain the narrative in this race.

All the usual suspects are dismissing this move as some kind of cheap trick, but I think it is brilliant, both in the image it projects and in substance.

First, the image: by putting a woman on the ticket who has a business background, Cruz capitalizes on Trump’s woman problem (they don’t like him all that much) and has someone conversant with the business world who can take on Trump’s supposed acumen in that area (if by acumen, you mean four bankruptcies and a fraud case going to trial over the fake Trump University).

I’m not one for identity politics. Having a woman on the ticket is not the big thing for me. But having a woman with principles is.

That’s the second half—the substance. Fiorina impressed me throughout the campaign with her solid pro-life stance, her command of facts, and her ability to verbalize those facts intelligently. The combination of Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina is, in my view, a ticket with a higher level of intellectual firepower and devotion to principle than we have seen in a long time.

Trump, of course, ridiculed the selection. That’s his standard operating procedure for anything he feels threatens his dominance. He’s busy touting his latest endorsements: Bobby Knight and Mike Tyson. Interesting endorsements. Knight, as longtime basketball coach at Indiana University, was infamous for his temper tantrums during games, making a name for himself by throwing chairs. He was his own Trumpertantrum before anyone heard of the term.

Knight also raised a furor once when he commented that if a woman knew she was going to be raped, she should just relax and enjoy it. Really. And Tyson? He was convicted of sexual assault back in 1991 and served jail time for it.

These are celebrity Trump endorsers; they kind of mirror the “best people” Trump always says he surrounds himself with—bullies and thugs.

So, back to Cruz and Fiorina. I applaud what Cruz has done here. He has taken the reins and shown courage as he continues his quest to keep the Republican party from committing suicide. May that quest be successful.

Book Cover 1My book, The Witness and the President: Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, and the Future of Freedom, has been out now since early November. I’ve had the opportunity to speak about it before a number of groups locally.

It documents the impact Chambers had on Reagan as the latter read Chambers’s masterful autobiography, Witness. Chambers helped Reagan understand why people would be attracted to communism, and spurred him on to take on communism, which ultimately led to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The “future of freedom” part of the title refers to an analysis of which of these two key individuals in American history was more accurate in his prediction about how freedom will fare as we move forward in Western civilization.

Chambers was pessimistic, convinced that modern man would shut his ears to the message of civilization’s decline and the need to turn back to God. Reagan, however, saw freedom as the wave of the future, pushed by the desire God placed in everyone to shake off tyranny’s shackles.

I’m pleased to announce that the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara, California, has decided to make my book one of its offerings to visitors. The Center is a division of Young America’s Foundation (YAF), which is an organization devoted to teaching high school and college students the principles of American liberty (on a basis of Christian beliefs).

The Center informs me that the book definitely will be useful in its programs. I’m also hopeful that I will be invited at some point to be included as a speaker in those programs.

Reagan Ranch Center

YAF also owns Reagan’s ranch, situated close to Santa Barbara, high up in the nearby mountains. During my sabbatical, I was honored to have been given a personal tour of the ranch. Cross one off my bucket list.

20141027_151616

What a blessing to have the book that was a labor of love for me for so many years now being sold by the organization that has such a close connection to the Reagan legacy.

If you haven’t yet obtained your copy of The Witness and the President, simply click here and be enlightened on the link between Chambers and Reagan.

The book is also being considered for sale in the bookstore of the Reagan Presidential Library. Your prayers for that are solicited as well.

Remembering Nancy Reagan

Nancy ReaganNancy Reagan passed away Sunday at the age of 94. It’s like the end of an era. The students I teach now were born after Ronald Reagan left office; they have no personal knowledge of him or how he impacted our country. Lacking knowledge of perhaps the greatest president of the twentieth century, they obviously know nothing about his wife either.

Nancy Davis Publicity Photo 1949-1950Nancy Davis was a Hollywood actress in the late 1940s who was falsely accused of being a communist, her name being the same as another Nancy Davis who was the suspicious one. Out of concern for her future, she called on the president of the Screen Actors Guild, Ronald Reagan, to explain the situation. He got it straightened out and, in the process, their relationship began.

Reagan had just gone through a wrenching divorce from another actress, Jane Wyman, a divorce he didn’t want and for which he was not at fault. When Nancy Davis entered his life, he said later, she gave his life back to him. They were married in 1952, a marriage that lasted fifty-two years until his death in 2004.

Nancy Reagan’s film career pretty much came to an end after her marriage, and she spent those next fifty-two years as an anchor of stability for her husband. When he embarked on his political career in 1966, she was solidly in his corner. She also was his prime encourager to seek the presidency in 1980.

Ronald Reagan Assassination Attempt 2After the assassination attempt in 1981, she began to turn to an astrologer for some guidance, something that her husband did not engage in. When I had the opportunity during my sabbatical to interview the Reagans’ former pastor, Donn Moomaw, he indicated that he was never sure just where she stood spiritually but that he had stayed in touch with her and had recently (2014) spoken with her again about faith in Christ. He believed she was very open to his words.

Of course we have to leave it in God’s hands as to her eternal destination, but based on Rev. Moomaw’s testimony, I am hopeful that she is now not only reunited with her husband but also basking in the presence of her Savior.

Nancy Reagan was a woman of class and good taste, someone admired by many. May that be the memory we have of her this day. Her body will be laid to rest next to Ronald Reagan’s at his presidential library. The next time I visit there—and I do hope there will be a next time—my visit to the gravesite will be to commemorate both of them and the public demonstration they offered of a marriage—if not exactly made in heaven—that showcased how genuine love for one another can be achieved on this earth.

Reagans on Boat 1964

Will Scalia’s Legacy Be Honored?

News of the death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia stunned the political world over the weekend. Scalia, a stalwart defender of the Constitution, will be sorely missed, especially in this era of constitutional ignorance and/or apathy. His firm conviction that one must look to the Founders’ words and their original meaning kept the Court from straying more often than it did.

Nominated to the Court by Ronald Reagan and confirmed by the Senate unanimously, Scalia was considered a legal giant, a towering intellectual who knew how to skewer foolish and unconstitutional Court rulings with a biting wit in his many dissents.

Meeting with Scalia

When Reagan nominated Scalia, he said this of him:

Reagan Quote-Scalia

His death was a graduation for him personally, as he was an outspoken Christian believer. He is far happier right now than all of us he left behind.

Yet his death, at this time, opens a political debate that has ramifications for the future of this nation. President Obama would love to place another justice on the Court who reflects his personal philosophy of progressivism, which ignores constitutional limitations on the federal government.

To be clear: he has the right to nominate. To be just as clear: the Senate has the right to reject any nominee he puts forward. Will the Republican majority in the Senate show some backbone this time and not allow another progressive on the Court? They are showing signs of a growing spine. We will see.

Scalia’s death was announced just a few hours before the Republican presidential debate in South Carolina. At the beginning of the debate, all joined in a respectful moment of silence.

Unfortunately, with Donald Trump on the stage (who was the only one not even to close his eyes during that moment of silence), the air of respect soon vanished.

I won’t go into a blow-by-blow description of what took place at the debate, except to say it would have been a genuine debate without the circus atmosphere created by Trump.

February 2016 SC DebateHis favorite word of the night was “liar,” aimed constantly at Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, and mostly in response to their accurate accounting of his liberal beliefs and attitude of personal insults. Trump interrupted continually, attempting to disallow other candidates from completing their sentences. As I watched, even I, as someone who has always considered Trump to be a rude, crude joke of a candidate, could hardly believe how low he sank in this debate.

In all the commentary afterwards, very few have voiced what I saw, but Stephen Hayes came closest when he referred to Trump as unhinged. He was, quite often, out of control emotionally. Any other person running for this nomination who acted like that would be considered poison politically, yet Trump and his supporters somehow consider his manner justified.

He was the most unpresidential man on the stage. Yet he leads the polls.

Even fewer commented on what else I saw: the calmness of Ted Cruz while Trump berated him as the greatest liar he had ever known. Frankly, I was impressed that Cruz could keep his cool throughout the tirade. In my opinion, that’s the kind of character trait I want in a president.

I will admit to being discouraged that a narcissist who, under normal circumstances, would be dismissed as a serious candidate, is on the cusp of becoming the Republican nominee for president.

What’s wrong with this electorate?

I’m reminded of a passage of Scripture that I hope doesn’t truly describe where we are as a nation—a passage that deals with what it will be like as the Second Coming approaches. We’re told by the Apostle Paul in the little book of 2 Thessalonians what will transpire with the ascendance of the Antichrist, who will deceive people “because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” He continues,

For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.

Is that where we are now? I don’t know. I sincerely hope not. But there certainly is a lot of deception taking place and a lot of voters who seem to want to be deceived.

Will Antonin Scalia’s legacy of faithfulness to God and to the rule of law be honored this political season, or will we instead take another step into spiritual chaos and darkness?

Introduction to Chambers-Reagan

Book Cover 1For those of you who have been thinking about buying my new book on Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers, yet haven’t quite made the commitment, let me provide you with an excerpt from my introduction:

Any author should ask himself certain questions before attempting to write a book. Some immediately come to mind when considering the topic of this book:
• Are there not enough books on Ronald Reagan? Why add another one to the ever-increasing supply?
• Why focus on Whittaker Chambers, a man virtually unknown to the majority of potential readers? How can anyone so marginal to most people’s knowledge be a subject of interest for them?
• A literary agent added another: because Reagan and Chambers never met or wrote to one another, how can there be enough here for a full book? Would it not be better to write an article and be done with it?
There are answers for all these questions.

First, the market will determine if there are enough books on Reagan. At the moment, that market exists. It also may be a market that extends into the future indefinitely. Have historians stopped writing about the American Revolution or the Civil War? Has the final word been spoken about either topic?

20141025_095359Historians have only begun examining the voluminous information concerning Reagan’s life, his beliefs, and the results of his presidency. Most of the material at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, still has not been opened to researchers. The supply of new Reagan books will not be ending anytime soon.

Second, just because someone is virtually unknown is not an excuse for not making him better known. Are books not supposed to increase one’s knowledge? Further, if that relatively unknown individual can be linked to a subject of more general interest, the public is benefited by understanding that linkage.

Chambers with Newspaper of Hiss VerdictChambers deserves more exposure. For many social and political conservatives in America, he is not unknown; he is considered to be a near-legendary figure who helped birth modern American conservatism. George H. Nash, arguably the foremost authority on the history of modern American conservatism, states with respect to Chambers and his accusations against Alger Hiss, “As much as any other event, the Hiss case forged the anti-communist element in resurgent conservatism.”

That leaves the third issue—Reagan and Chambers never met or corresponded, so how can a book be justified? Chambers provided major inspiration for many conservatives in his flight from the Communist Party and in his attempt to reveal its inner workings in America. His autobiography, Witness, seemed to resonate with a broad swath of conservatives, even budding ones such as Reagan.

Reagan’s appearance before the House Committee on Unamerican Activities in 1947 to testify to the communist influence in Hollywood preceded by one year Chambers’s confrontation with Alger Hiss before the same committee. Witness gave Reagan the insight into communism that molded his thinking on the subject as he embarked upon his political career.

Reagan had portions of Witness committed to memory, so impressed was he by the power of Chambers’s writing. Portions of Witness kept showing up in Reagan’s speeches as president, and he posthumously awarded Chambers the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984 for his contribution to American liberty.

Chambers and Reagan are bookends: Chambers inaugurated the battle against communism and Reagan, with help from allies such as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, helped bring the Soviet chapter of that movement to a close. Chambers, though despising the word “conservative,” nevertheless helped initiate that movement; Reagan, it can be argued, was the fulfillment of that burgeoning movement, even though the movement continues beyond his administration.

That’s my rationale for the book. I’ll be providing more excerpts in future posts. Hope you find it intriguing enough to get a copy for yourself. Here’s the Amazon link.