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.

The Eisenhower Decade

I am in Abilene, Kansas, researching at the Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library. Spent all day there yesterday and will finish my research today.

Ike Library

It’s rather sad that Eisenhower is practically a forgotten president for the current generation. Of course, I’ve often commented that students today know next to nothing about American history, but what they do know spans only their lifetime, or a portion of it.

Ike StatueThe Eisenhower decade was really rather prosperous for America, and he kept the peace as we squared off with a hostile Soviet Union determined to bring us down. They knew they had to be careful dealing with Eisenhower because he was no fool. He had successfully navigated the plans for D-Day and brought Nazi Germany to its knees. He knew an enemy when he saw one, and he also knew what to do to keep an enemy at bay. Unfortunately, he was followed in office by a man with little to no experience on that front, leading to the Bay of Pigs, the building of the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Eisenhower, although not very religious throughout most of his life, became more attached to the Christian faith in his later years. Billy Graham played a central role, as did Eisenhower’s Presbyterian pastor in D.C., Rev. Edward Elson. Before he died, Eisenhower called Graham to his bedside one more time to be sure he understood the essence of salvation through Christ. I trust he died a convinced Christian.

This is my final presidential library stop for my sabbatical. It’s been quite a journey: the Reagan and Nixon libraries in California, the LBJ and George H. W. Bush libraries in Texas, and the Clinton library in Arkansas were my other destinations. I’ve amassed a ton of information in the form of personal correspondence between these presidents and the ones they looked to for spiritual guidance. Now it all needs to be manifested in a series of books. Please pray for my collaborator and me on this mission to publish this valuable information.

The Russian-Ukrainian Crisis

I’ve refrained until now from commenting on the situation in Ukraine. I know this is a tough situation with few easy answers. The history of tension between Ukraine and Russia goes back a long ways. One of the worst episodes in twentieth-century history occurred in Ukraine in the winter of 1932-1933 when Josef Stalin was the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union. During that winter, Stalin, in an attempt to strangle Ukrainian resistance to his destruction of independent farmers, removed the region’s food supply, thereby starving approximately seven million Ukrainians to death.

This horror was largely unknown to the West, primarily because journalists like the New York Times’s Walter Duranty, who was given lavish gifts by Stalin, refused to tell the truth about the government-enforced famine. Back in 1983, I was hired by a Ukrainian organization to contact media people to get them to publicize the fiftieth anniversary of this atrocity. I discovered, much to my chagrin, that most of the media didn’t really care to bring it up. It was like the 1930s repeated.

This foolish infatuation with the communist vision was encouraged throughout the decades by people who were referred to as “fellow travelers.” Although not members of the communist party, they trod the same path, giving aid and comfort to the cause of the enemies of Western civilization. That same spirit remains today in the form of liberals/progressives who continue to see the United States as the main obstacle to peace in the world. Remember when Barack Obama took office? There was this famous [infamous?] “reset” button that Hillary Clinton took to Russia to show that a new era had dawned in U.S-Russian relations. Well, how has that worked out?

Reset

It was based on a faulty worldview. In the current Ukraine crisis, the perception of the world, it seems, is that the American government is all talk and no action. Our leaders, both Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, are seen as weak and impotent. Who is really afraid of any threat offered by this administration? Besides, the approach is anything but threatening:

Please Be Nice

Do Nothing

Vladimir Putin is seen, in the world’s eyes, as the strong man here. Obama, not so much.

Middle School

One gets the impression our president really doesn’t know what to do when faced with Russian intransigence:

Extend Our Hand

We continue to rely on good intentions, long after it’s obvious that Russian intentions are not good. Maybe there’s one action the president can take that will cause great consternation within the Russian government:

That'll Teach Him

Dream on.

Obama’s Syria vs. Reagan’s Grenada & Libya: The Differences

Syria SpeechI agree with President Obama. Now, get up off the floor and read the rest. I know the first sentence was a shock to your system, but it is a limited agreement with all kinds of cautions. On what do we agree? His decision to turn to Congress to debate what action should or should not be taken in Syria was the correct decision. I have no illusions as to why he finally decided to do so—it had far more to do with public opinion and lack of support from other countries than from any constitutional scruples of his own. But I’ll take what we can get.

Only the Congress can declare a war. I realize that’s rather quaint to say nowadays, but it’s still the truth—at least if we seek to abide by even a shred of the concept of rule of law anymore. I’m glad Congress is going to take up the issue when it returns on September 9; my hope is that, after the debate, we will not commit any military to this theater of action. My reason? There is no side to support. One side uses chemical weapons against the other and is an ally of Iran, while the other commits atrocities of its own, particularly on the Christian community. It does so primarily because Al Qaeda is part of the rebel coalition. As I stated in a previous post, it would be unconscionable to provide military aid to any movement associated with that terrorist organization. I also believe that if the opposition should win, Syria won’t be a better place, and it certainly could get demonstrably worse.

There’s another facet of this as well. If the Congress should do as I have outlined, Obama may disregard the vote and go ahead with military strikes anyway. His administration has concluded it can act unilaterally, and cites the War Powers Act for authorization. I fully agree that, if attacked, or if America or American citizens are in imminent danger, the president can move forward without a protracted debate first. But those are worst-case scenarios. Neither can the War Powers Act go contrary to the Constitution, regardless of the rationalizations used by supporters of taking action.

Some may cite what Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s as a similar situation. Again, I disagree. Reagan used the military in two specific instances: Grenada and Libya. Here are the differences.

C18148-8First, in Grenada, a radical Marxist government took over, Cubans were employed to build a runway for aircraft, and the island would have become another outpost for the Soviets in the Western Hemisphere. The other islands nearby were frightened by this prospect and asked America for help. In addition, there were American citizens on the island, medical students, whose lives were endangered by this takeover. Reagan moved swiftly and without congressional debate primarily because if he hadn’t, those students would undoubtedly have been used as hostages and/or human shields. He did consult with congressional leaders from both parties before acting, but he couldn’t afford to wait until Congress had aired everything. A public debate would have allowed time for the Soviet allies to prepare. When those students returned home, he welcomed them to the White House. They were exuberant that their nation had put their safety first.

In 1985, a disco in West Berlin was the target for a terrorist attack,  bombs killing and wounding many, including American soldiers stationed in that city. The investigation led back to Qaddafi in Libya. This was a direct attack on Americans, and Reagan responded with a military strike on specified targets within that country. He also hoped he could take out Qaddafi as well. While the latter objective wasn’t achieved, Qaddafi’s direct involvement in terrorism lessened from that day forward.

Today, in Syria, while events on the ground are horrific, and even though in a general sense what happens in the Middle East will affect us, no Americans are in imminent danger and, as I have already stated, there is no one to support. All options are lose-lose. For those reasons, I am not in favor of using our military in this situation. But above all, I am opposed to the president simply doing whatever he wishes in disregard of the Constitution.

So, President Obama has done one thing right. Now it’s Congress’s turn to do what is right. If Congress does so, Obama must then abide by that decision. I have no illusions that he will do so because it is the right thing to do, but I’m hopeful there will too much pressure on him to do otherwise.

The Wisdom of Ronald Reagan

Yesterday was Ronald Reagan’s birthday. He would have been 102. Many of us long to have a president like him again. To commemorate his presidency and to remind you of his insights, I hereby present an excerpt from one of his most famous speeches. In 1983, he spoke to the National Association of Evangelicals, where he blatantly called the Soviet Union an evil empire. He was correct. Yet, beyond that, I hope you can see the heart of the man through these words:

We must never forget that no government schemes are going to perfect man. We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin. There is sin and evil in the world, and we’re enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might.…

They [the Soviets] must be made to understand we will never compromise our principles and standards. We will never give away our freedom. We will never abandon our belief in God.…

Let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness—pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.

It was C. S. Lewis who, in his unforgettable “Screwtape Letters,” wrote: “The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid ‘dens of  crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.” …

You know, I’ve always believed that old Screwtape reserved his best efforts for those of you in the church. So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride—the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.…

While America’s military strength is important, let me add here that I’ve always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.

Whittaker Chambers, the man whose own religious conversion made him a witness to one of the terrible traumas of our time, the Hiss-Chambers case, wrote that the crisis of the Western World exists to the degree in which the West is indifferent to God, the degree to which it collaborates in communism’s attempt to make man stand alone without God. And then he said, for Marxism-Leninism is actually the second oldest faith, first proclaimed in the Garden of Eden with the words of temptation, “Ye shall be as gods.”

The Western World can answer this challenge, he wrote, “but only provided that its faith in God and the freedom He enjoins is as great as communism’s faith in Man.”

There is much wisdom in those words, and they still apply today.

Needed: Another Ronald Reagan Moment

The third, and final, presidential debate is tonight, and the topic is foreign policy. Most Americans, apparently, find the topic of lesser interest than domestic policy, yet is has a direct impact not only on pocketbook issues but our very survival as a nation. I guess what I’m saying is that we ought to be intensely interested in what transpires overseas.

America has always been affected by the ideologies and actions of foreign nations. In our first decade, with George Washington as president, our political scene was poisonously divided over the matter of the French Revolution. Founding Fathers who fought side by side in our war for independence accused each other of either wanting to reestablish British control over us or of seeking to set up guillotines on the street corners. It was only Washington’s steady hand and the general esteem in which he was held that got us through the crisis. It does matter who is in charge.

Closer to our day, in 1979, when Iranian radicals invaded the American embassy and took hostages, we didn’t have a strong leader. The Carter presidency shriveled under the stress and the crisis dragged out until 1981. The hostages were released on the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated. Perhaps the Iranians had second thoughts about tangling with someone who exuded greater confidence.

One of Reagan’s signal achievements was the part he played in the demise of the Soviet Union. The pressure he put on that country via aid to Afghans who sought to remove Soviet troops from their homeland, and the announcement of his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to counter Soviet missiles aimed at the U.S. pushed the Soviets to the brink of economic extinction. When he then sat down with Gorbachev, he did so from a position of strength. The Cold War, which loomed over us for four long decades, ended not with a bang but with a whimper. Today, there are monuments to Ronald Reagan throughout the old Soviet-dominated Eastern European countries.

Yes, foreign policy matters, and it also matters who is in charge of it.

The Obama campaign had hoped to capitalize on the death of Osama bin Laden and their predetermined theme that Al Qaeda was diminished and on the run. The Libya debacle capsized that strategy. If they were to admit it was terrorism, and terrorism associated with Al Qaeda, it would seriously damage their credibility in the handling of a war on terror they never liked from the beginning. Remember how they changed the wording to “overseas contingency operations”? They’ve been adept at wordsmithing all along the way. When the gunman at the Ft. Hood massacre made it evident he carried out his act because of his radical Islamic ideology, the Obama administration swept that under the rug by calling it “workplace violence,” as if Islamic terrorism had nothing to do with it. I’m surprised they haven’t yet employed that terminology to the Libyan situation.

I wonder if that’s what we will hear tonight? At the very least, Obama is going to have to explain why he and his people took so long to call the attack on the consulate and the murder of our ambassador simply a demonstration against a movie trailer hardly anyone has seen. If he tries to deny that was the case, he has history against him:

The key to this debate will be whether Romney is up to the challenge of clearly exposing this hypocrisy. There are other issues as well—our relationship with Israel, the misnamed Arab Spring, violence in the Middle East in general, the failure of the “reset” button with Russia—that also should come up.

Foreign policy is vitally important, and it’s just as important who is leading America on the world stage. We are suffering through another Jimmy Carter Moment. Will another Ronald Reagan Moment follow?

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.