Winning the Semantics War

One thing the American Left has been very good at is winning the semantics war. If you use words that sound appealing, you can mask their true meaning and fool a lot of people. A prime example is Planned Parenthood. That sounds so reasonable; after all, who would be in favor of chaotic parenthood?

The buzzword list keeps growing. It’s incumbent upon those who still use their brains to read between the lines.

Nowhere is this semantics war played out better than on college and university campuses. UC Berkeley students started the game back in the 1960s with the so-called Free Speech Movement. What a masterstroke. By saying they were the ones in favor of free speech, they intimated that the university was squelching speech. History shows that to be false. Neither did any of the “students” who used violence to get their way suffer any reprisals.

What’s really strange is that they get away now with using the same semantics while simultaneously stomping on the free speech of those with whom they disagree.

Few want to say it, but there’s an eerie kind of parallel that can be made historically:

America has always allowed the greatest freedom of speech of any nation. If you are on the Left, you can get away with saying almost anything you want, regardless of the outrageousness of your statement. If you are on the Right . . . well, not so much, it seems.

While we’re on the subject of free speech, let me go in a little different direction with that term.

Following in the giant footsteps of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama is now earning unbelievable speaking fees. How does anyone defend giving a person, no matter how famous, $400,000 for talking less than an hour?

Shame on Obama for taking the money. Shame on Wall Street for offering it.

I talk many hours every year teaching classes. It’s going to take me a while to get to that figure. And if I go to some organization to speak, most of the time I receive no compensation. You see, I really believe in free speech because most of mine is free to whoever wants to hear it.

The Barack Obama theme: socialism for thee, but not for me.

It’s hard for the Left to keep raging against the establishment when the Left is the establishment. They got there largely by winning the semantics war.

When is our side going to wise up and communicate more effectively?

The Left Going Crazy, Trump Being Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berkeley Plantation: A Hidden Treasure

Berkeley Plantation 2As I noted yesterday, I’m in Virginia, showing students some of the most significant historical sites of early America. On Sunday, we visited one of the hidden treasures of early American history,Berkeley Plantation, located about thirty miles outside Williamsburg. It’s in Charles City County, which has absolutely no real towns or cities within it. That’s on purpose. They’re attempting to keep the rural nature of the area. The county, though, is replete with plantations. None, in my view, is more connected to the entire gamut of American history from the founding of Virginia through the Civil War than Berkeley.

The site’s entrance into the mainstream of colonial history begins prior to the building of the house. It was one of the first settlements outside of Jamestown as colonists began to spread upriver.

1st Thanksgiving Shrine Upon arrival at this site, the English adventurers followed their instructions to the letter: they were told to hold a thanksgiving service immediately, which they did. This was in 1619, one year before the Pilgrims arrived in New England. The plantation commemorates that first thanksgiving with a shrine down by the river where it took place.

This early settlement was wiped out in the 1622 Massacre when the Powhatan Indians rose up and tried to kill all Englishmen in Virginia. They were unsuccessful, but the damage was great, with nearly one-third of the settlers murdered. Jamestown itself was spared the worst of the attack, having been warned by an Indian who had become a Christian. His name was Chanco, and he is memorialized in the church at Jamestown with the following plaque:


The Harrison family bought the property at Berkeley in the 1690s and constructed the first shipyard in the New World. Later, in the 1720s, Benjamin Harrison IV built the house that stands there still today. If you look at the side of the house, you can see an inscription in the wall:

Berkeley Inscription

It is difficult to read from this distance—it’s as close as I could get—but it has an “H” at the top for Harrison, a “B” on the left side for Benjamin, and an “A” on the right side for Anne, his wife. Between the letters is a heart, indicating the love they had for one another. A touch of humanity in the middle of the bricks.

Benjamin Harrison VI was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His son, William Henry Harrison, was a renowned general who won the Battle of Tippecanoe and served in the War of 1812. He later won the presidency in 1840 and returned to this house to write his inaugural address. Unfortunately, one month after delivering it, he died of pneumonia, making his the shortest presidency in American history.

The plantation came to the forefront again during the Civil War. Gen. George McClellan used it as his headquarters in 1862 in his unsuccessful attempt to take Richmond. While the army camped there, it was reviewed by President Lincoln. Another interesting claim to fame is that “Taps” was composed there at that time and first played to the troops. We now use “Taps” at flag ceremonies and at military funerals.

Although not directly connected to Berkeley, the Harrison family didn’t disappear from influence: William Henry Harrison’s grandson—another Benjamin Harrison, became the 23rd president, elected in 1888.

History comes alive at Berkeley Plantation.