Archive for the ‘ Politics & Government ’ Category

Politics & MS-13

There’s a world of difference between being an honest evaluator of Donald Trump and being a dishonest purveyor of distortions. My goal, as I’ve shown many times in this blog, is to point to the problems I see in Trump’s character that could lead to disasters and to the steps he takes that can do some good.

My goal is honesty in evaluation.

That’s why when he makes a statement that is sound and reasonable and the media and Democrats (I know, I know, I repeat myself) make it into something he never said, I will point to the truth.

Trump, in reference to the murderous, violent MS-13 gang, which consists predominantly of El Salvadorans who have come to the US, called them “animals.” He was not referring to all immigrants; he was mentioning specifically only this deviant crime “family.”

That’s not how some in the media played it:

According to an article in Time—that vehement expositor of right-wing rhetoric (note to those who are not in the know—sarcasm alert!)—MS-13 operates in 42 states and Washington, DC, with approximately 6,000 members nationwide. When I was living in Northern Virginia, just outside DC, I heard many accounts of its activity in my area.

The Time article goes on to say that murder and drug trafficking are staples of MS-13. Then it quotes New York Governor Andrew Cuomo calling them “thugs,” as he announced new initiatives to take them down for their crimes. No one has ever accused this ultra-liberal governor of being anti-immigrant.

Other Democrat politicians are not quite as connected to this part of reality:

Trump had a good reason for his comment about MS-13.

That’s my honest evaluation.

The Lewisian View of Democracy

My doctorate is in history. My teaching career included seven years in a graduate school of government, showing how history needs to be taken into account when considering the function of government and public policy. And of course the basis for everything I have taught has been Biblical principles.

Therefore, it’s not hard to understand why I maintain an active interest in politics and current affairs. I seek to educate others in those principles and hope to see them influence our nation’s public policy.

I’m also a devotee of a republican form of government, one that is usually called “democratic,” but which is more properly “republican,” meaning that there is a certain amount of representation of the governed involved. In an imperfect world, this outward form is the closest to a government tied to what I consider to be Biblical principles.

But as I said, this is an imperfect world, and there is no such thing as a perfect government.

C. S. Lewis recognized this also. In his essay, “Equality,” he used the word democracy to write about it, but I can give him some leeway on that. He meant the same thing as I would mean by representative government, i.e., a republic.

What’s so good about his ruminations on “democracy” is his understanding for why it is desirable despite its faults.

I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason.

A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true.

Many reading those words might be startled. Where is Lewis going with this? To the foundations of Biblical principles, of course.

I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost, much less a nation. . . . The real reason for democracy is . . . Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows.

Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.

The rub, though, is that many men and women jockeying for political office really do think they are well suited to be the masters of others. They all do it in the name of the people, naturally; they use the grand rhetoric of “democracy” to convince others they should be trusted with power. They are grand in their own minds.

In another essay, “Democratic Education,” Lewis offers this warning:

Democracy demands that little men should not take big ones too seriously; it dies when it is full of little men who think they are big themselves.

As I survey the political field currently, I see a lot of little men—and women—who think they’re really something wonderful. They think that leading a nation is the apex of life. They think nations are greater than individuals. They are wrong. Why? Lewis explains in a familiar passage in Mere Christianity:

Immortality makes this other difference between totalitarianism and democracy. If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual.

But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment.

If our political leaders were to grasp that truth, it would be a start down the path of proper humility. Humility is in short supply in the political realm; it is one of our most urgent needs.

Iran & North Korea: Good Developments

The deal Obama and the Democrats forged with Iran over its nuclear program was supposedly going to spare us from a major nuclear conflagration. I didn’t believe it then, and I still don’t believe it now. That deal was no better than the phony deals people have foisted on the gullible throughout history.

The Iran deal was only a ten-year moratorium (again supposedly) on developing nuclear material and allowed Iran itself to do its own inspection on whether it was keeping to the agreement.

Huh?

That’s a long way from the Reagan approach called “trust but verify.” In fact, it’s downright foolish. How many people who still use their brains actually believe that Iran is keeping its word? Well, Obama and John Kerry are prime examples, in spite of how Israel’s top-notch spy service tries to enlighten us.

Then there’s the very nature of the deal. Whenever nations enter into these types of agreements, they’re called treaties. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of a treaty is as follows:

An agreement or arrangement made by negotiation; a contract in writing between two or more political authorities (such as states or sovereigns) formally signed by representatives duly authorized and usually ratified by the lawmaking authority of the state.

There’s a reason I highlighted that last portion of the definition. The Constitution of the United States (that document largely ignored by the previous administration) requires that agreements such as this Iran deal should be brought to the Senate for ratification. Obama chose not to go that route (which is called “constitutional”) and simply declared it a “done deal.”

He was always very good at just doing things whenever he wanted. Remember his “I’ve got a pen and a phone” comment? He’s a little upset at the moment now that President Trump has pulled out of the deal.

I’m going to give Trump credit here for following through on this. I’m sure he was emboldened by the addition of John Bolton to his team, but his was the final decision, and it was the correct one.

One of the things he has done well has been the reversal of a number of Obama’s executive orders.

We need to face reality, though. Pulling out of a phony deal is one thing; finding a way to stop Iran’s march toward nuclear proliferation and carrying out its evil desire to wipe Israel off the face of the Middle East map is another matter. Much hard work remains.

Immediately after this welcome decision to call Iran out for its deviousness, there was other good news as the Trump administration secured the release of three Americans who had been imprisoned by the unstable North Korean government.

To Trump’s credit, he greeted those three in person at 3 a.m., which showed how important he considered the release to be.

Yet, even when something good happens, he has a tendency to detract from the moment. First, he declared that they had received “excellent” treatment from the North Korean dictator. He is slavishly devoted to using every superlative imaginable in the English language. I would not have lavished that kind of praise on the monster in charge of that nation.

Second, he just had to say something about TV ratings, commenting that this event was probably the highest-rated one ever for anything broadcast at 3 a.m. His inflated ego and desire for popularity stepped on this significant moment.

Please, Mr. President, consider that not everything is about you. Just savor moments like these as a plus for the American people and let it go at that. I pray there are those in his inner circle who are trying to make that same point.

Overall, though, these developments are reasons for encouragement. May there be more of them.

Comics Commentary

I’ve been an aficionado of clever comic strips all my life. My favorite, throughout my childhood and into high school, was Charles Schulz’s wonderful “Peanuts” strip with all the memorable characters: Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, etc. The strip was a cultural phenomenon back in the 1960s, in particular.

Schulz used his strip to communicate his Christian faith as well as offer commentary on cultural changes and the meaning of life. He never preached stridently; he allowed the message to come at you indirectly, making one stop and think a bit about what he was saying.

Later, I became a great fan of the “Calvin and Hobbes” strip. My students sometimes must feel they are awash in the insights from that one.

When Bill Watterson, the brilliant artist of the strip, brought  “Calvin and Hobbes” to an end in the 1990s, I was deeply saddened, but later some of my students presented me with the entire collection, from which I have helped “instruct” students ever since.

Nowadays, one of my favorite comics that touches on the foolishness/silliness of our modern cultural trends is “Mallard Fillmore,” a title with a nice touch for an American historian like me. The artist, Bruce Tinsley, is a conservative in politics and, based on what I’ve seen in his strip, a committed Christian. He takes on political correctness in a poignant way.

Lately, Tinsley has been on target with some of the most egregious modern trends and/or practices based on wrong ideas, one of which is that people really aren’t accountable for their actions:

In the wake of the Parkland shootings, Tinsley offered this commentary on the drift of society:

Just the right amount of sarcasm, in my opinion, in the pursuit of communicating truth.

He often pokes fun at education trends and the issue of free speech. Sometimes, he can combine them rather easily, as universities have become a haven for the stifling of speech that the prevailing “wisdom” decries:

While I am a devotee of expounding Biblical principles and trying to explain how they apply to each one of us individually and to our society as a whole, I appreciate the ability of comics such as these to help me make my points. Regular readers of this blog know that I punctuate many of my posts with what I believe are appropriate comics and political cartoons to aid in my explanations.

That will never stop as long as there are talented artists (and I do believe that is the correct term) who can highlight the concepts I want to expound upon.

The Compulsory “Cure”

I wonder how often I’ve said, “This is one of my favorites,” when speaking of something C. S. Lewis wrote? I’ve probably used that phrase for far too many of his writings, so that it loses its impact when repeated. Yet it always remains true of one particular essay, “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State.”

Out of the many insights contained therein, here is one that stands out to me: what Lewis identifies as “the changed relation between Government and subjects.” A prime example, he notes, is how we’ve changed our concept of punishment for crimes committed: we’ve decided that criminals must be cured, not punished.

But a “just cure,” Lewis objects, is a “meaningless” term. Why?

When we switched from the “old” idea of punishment and turned to providing “remedies” for what used to be called criminal actions, we have turned the criminals over to the experts who will ultimately determine if a “cure” has been achieved.

Thus the criminal ceases to be a person, a subject of rights and duties, and becomes merely an object on which society can work. And this is, in principle, how Hitler treated the Jews. They were objects; killed not for ill desert but because, on his theories, there were a disease in society.

Then comes one of Lewis’s most bracing statements (at least to me): “If society can mend, remake, and unmake men at its pleasure, its pleasure may, of course, be humane or homicidal. The difference is important. But, either way, rulers have become owners.”

Lewis then offers another example, one that should make Christians follow his logic more seriously:

Who but the experts can define disease? One school of psychology regards my religion as a neurosis. If this neurosis ever becomes inconvenient to Government, what is to prevent my being subjected to a compulsory “cure.”

It may be painful; treatments sometimes are. But it will be no use asking, “What have I done to deserve this?” The Straightener will reply: “But, my dear fellow, no one’s blaming you. We no longer believe in retributive justice. We’re healing you.”

In modern America, sixty years after Lewis wrote this, Christians have not yet been subjected to a compulsory “cure,” but we have definitely been subjected to societal pressures to accept what the “experts” now consider to be normative in matters of sexual morality (as one example). We are facing a rising crescendo of “informed opinion” that our views are rather inconvenient to the new order of things. We must conform—or suffer the penalties (in the workplace, for instance) for being nonconformists.

And far too many of us have the same mindset Lewis saw back in his day, when he observed that WWI and WWII, which “necessitated vast curtailments of liberty,” led to a populace “accustomed to our chains.” Intellectuals, he argued, “have surrendered first to the slave-philosophy of Hegel, then to Marx, finally to the linguistic analysts.”

What was lost in the process?

As a result, classical political theory, with its Stoical, Christian, and juristic key-conceptions (natural law, the value of the individual, the rights of man) has died.

The modern State exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good—anyway, to do something to us or to make us something.

But that “something” is up to the State, whatever it considers to be “good.” What we would choose becomes irrelevant.

Hence the new name “leaders” for those who were once our “rulers.” We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils, or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them, “Mind your own business.” Our whole lives are their business.

Lewis concludes his masterful essay with this warning:

Let us not be deceived by phrases about “Man taking charge of his own destiny.” All that can really happen is that some men will take charge of the destiny of the others. They will be simply men; none perfect; some greedy, cruel and dishonest.

The more completely we are planned the more powerful they will be. Have we discovered some new reason why, this time, power should not corrupt as it has done before?

Merely a rhetorical question, to be sure, but one that ought to make us ponder the direction our society is taking.

Reagan & Modern American Conservatism

Finals week is upon my students and me. Another semester nears an end. Naturally, I am relieved, but I do enjoy the teaching. When students ask which courses are my favorites, I have to say I like them all. Yet there are some that usually stand out because of my particular interests: my course on C. S. Lewis is one, as is the course on Whittaker Chambers.

Then there’s the one I just completed called “Ronald Reagan and Modern American Conservatism.”

That course has two purposes: first, to highlight the life and accomplishments of the man I believe to be the best president of the 20th century; second, to understand him within a movement of modern conservatism, of which he was the prime example, exemplifying the various strands that comprise the movement.

To understand Reagan the man, as well as the president, I have students read his autobiography. It reveals what motivated him to aspire to the highest office in the land. They are pleased to learn about his Christian faith.

This course, though, is more than a simple biography of one man. It describes how some men and women responded to the drift in America toward the idea that government can manage our lives better than we can, as well as the cultural drift away from traditional moral principles (which most of them found in the Bible).

The most comprehensive book to deal with this rising movement after WWII is George Nash’s masterful work, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945.

It can be a tough read in some spots, as my students earnestly inform me, but it’s also an essential read.

Nash shows how modern American conservatism built on a philosophical basis, not merely as an emotional reaction to liberalism, socialism, or communism. Instead, it had bedrock principles that formed the core of a movement that eventually landed Reagan in the White House.

In addition to those two books, I offer selections from my own study of Reagan and Whittaker Chambers (yes, he figures in this course also).

My goal is to help these students grasp that conservatism has a good history. True conservatives are bound by the concept of the rule of law, they hold to the tenets of the Constitution, and they realize the necessity of a firm spiritual/moral grounding for our government to function properly.

I also hope they come away from the course with an ability to discern what genuine conservatism is in our day and what is not all that genuine. I don’t want them to fall in line with something trendy that may pass itself off as conservative when, in fact, it’s much closer to populist demagoguery.

My mission from God, if I were to put it in those terms—and I do—is to provide them with truths that will become the anchor of their lives and will stay with them to the end. This course helps achieve that goal.

I sincerely hope that everything I teach leads my students toward faithfulness to God and His purposes in their lives. He has given me this privilege—and this responsibility—and I do not take it lightly.

The Ongoing Comey Saga

Former FBI chief James Comey entered most of our minds for the first time back in the summer of 2016 in the heat of a presidential race.

I listened carefully as he held a press conference to share the bureau’s conclusion concerning the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail fiasco. He came across as professional and, as he proceeded to lay out all the reasons why she should be indicted—and those reasons were substantial—he then startled me, and probably most who were watching that press conference, with the assertion that she had done nothing that called for an indictment.

The case he presented and the conclusion he came to were diametrically opposite. The veneer of professionalism seemed to melt into what appeared to be either a fear of going forward with the prosecution of a Clinton due to pressure from Attorney General Loretta Lynch or some kind of political bias on behalf of the Democrats.

Or perhaps both.

Then, just a few weeks before election day, Comey re-emerged with the astounding news that the investigation had been reopened due to further information that needed to be followed up. At this news, the Clinton camp screamed while Republicans rejoiced.

Within a few days, that matter was settled, but many Democrats blamed Comey for Clinton’s loss.

After Trump was inaugurated, and Comey was still the head of the FBI, rumors surfaced that he and Trump were not seeing eye-to-eye on very much. Reports indicated that Trump wanted some kind of statement of loyalty from the FBI chief and that he refused because his primary loyalty was to his job and the Constitution.

Trump, concerned about the ongoing Russian collusion investigation, summarily fired Comey, thereby stoking another “fire” when the DOJ appointed Robert Mueller as a special counsel to carry on that investigation.

Along the way, Comey has raised the ire on both sides of the political divide, depending on his latest action:

After his firing, Comey didn’t disappear. He was called on to testify before Congress and made it clear he passed on information to someone else for the express purpose of having it made public so that a special counsel would be appointed. That admission in itself raised many eyebrows.

But that wasn’t the end of James Comey’s public persona. Recently, he came out with his book (doesn’t everyone in the news come out with a book eventually?) that purports, by its very title, to show that its author is above politics. He claims that he has a higher loyalty to truth, and that he has maintained that high standard.

I certainly agree that we all have that responsibility to put truth ahead of loyalty to any one person, and that someone in the position Comey once held has a particularly heavy responsibility to do so.

The question is whether the book actually backs up its title. Comey has been everywhere lately, interviewed apparently by anyone who has a camera, attempting to make his case that we should believe in his integrity.

Many, though, on both sides of the political aisle, have been less than convinced by his manner. To many, he appears primarily to be self-consciously casting himself as some kind of modern hero standing up to the powers-that-be. Could this book be more self-serving than nation-serving?

Political cartoonists seem to think so. Here’s a litany of their responses thus far:

Comey’s book has sold well, but how much of it is truth and a commitment to a higher loyalty, as the title claims, and how much is mere egotism? That’s your call.