A Supreme Choice Tempered by Moral Equivalence

Give thanks today for an organization known as the Federalist Society, which vets potential federal court nominees for President Trump. The latest Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, even with a few question marks in the eyes of some conservatives, seems to be a solid choice.

Of course, Democrats were poised to oppose whomever Trump nominated; it didn’t matter who it was. This political cartoon makes the point rather well:

Pray for Kavanaugh—he is about to go through one of the worst experiences of his life:

If he survives it, we will (hopefully) have a Supreme Court more likely to adhere to constitutional principles. Alito and Roberts (the latter for the most part) began the move back toward constitutionalism—along with the stalwart Clarence Thomas—and the addition of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh should strengthen that move.

Trump made a good choice with Kavanaugh.

I also have to come down on Trump’s side when certain FBI agents made it quite clear that they had an agenda against him as they pursued the Russia investigation. The bias of the two agents, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, can’t legitimately be downplayed.

Yet Democrats, when Strzok appeared before the House committee, did their best to ignore the evidence. That particular hearing highlighted the deep polarization of our politics perhaps more than anything else recently:

Yet Trump has a problem in that he cannot seem to distinguish between the fact of Russian meddling and the investigation into possible collusion. Proving the former does not prove the latter, but he always wants to conflate them.

I seriously doubt that he colluded. But when he says that the Mueller investigation is only a witch hunt and that there is no real evidence that Russia tried to meddle in the election, he raises questions as to why he is so insistent on that. It makes one wonder if there’s some truth to the collusion after all.

No matter what one thinks of that investigation, keep in mind it has not indicted Trump at all; it has fingered the Russians who were involved, and that’s important to know even if they never are brought to justice. We need to learn from what happened.

Putin says there’s no truth to the investigation or the indictments. And we should believe him? Why? Because this dictator, invader of Crimea, and strong-armed murderer of opponents is entirely believable? Really?

Trump’s now-infamous press conference with Putin, in which he said he saw no reason to believe Russia was involved, and in which he cast equal blame on America for problems with Russia, was cringe-worthy.

The reaction wasn’t just from the nether regions of the Lunatic Left. His own Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, felt he had to go public with a statement that the meddling was a matter of fact. Coats, by the way, if you are unfamiliar with him, is a Christian man of high integrity. He would not have made that statement if he didn’t believe it is true.

Others have noted that conservatives in the intelligence community, who are not anti-Trump, feel betrayed by their commander in chief.

Trump played the moral equivalence game—America is just as bad as Russia. At the very least, it diminished him as he stood next to Putin.

Some of his best advisors helped him see he had to walk that back. His statement the next day, though, was just as problematic because he attempted, rather awkwardly and not very authentically, to say he didn’t really mean what he said. The whole thing looked forced, and he ended by saying that while the Russians might have been involved, there might have been others as well.

It didn’t help.

I would have welcomed a President Pence, Cruz, Rubio, or Walker with greater assurance that they all have a deeper understanding of constitutionalism and principles of government than Trump. Republican primary voters, though, opted instead for this.

It’s the hand we’ve been dealt. We have to make the best of it.

Russia’s New Cold War

Ronald Reagan, with invaluable help from Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, brought the Evil Empire to its knees by the end of the 1980s. He was ridiculed by many when he said that communism and the Soviet version of it would soon be on the ash heap of history.

But he was correct.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The USSR ceased to be officially on January 1, 1992.

For a while, it looked as if it might be a true, long-term change. Then came Vladimir Putin. Many Russians longed for the “strong man” to lead them; he was more than ready to fulfill that wish. He made them look back at an idealized—and false—image of the Soviet Empire. He made them think they could recover those supposed glory days.

While he doesn’t say this is communism that he’s reinvigorating, there are many similarities with the old heresy. Chief among them is the ritual of conducting phony elections. Russia just had another one. The Babylon Bee had a little fun with it:

Unfortunately, though, what’s transpiring in Russia is anything but funny. In my book on Reagan and Whittaker Chambers, I pointed to the danger signs:

Expectations were high that Russia could be transformed into a stable commonwealth. The reality is that Russian nationalism came to the forefront and political leaders such as Vladimir Putin attempted to reestablish Russian power.

The Washington Post’s former correspondents in Moscow authored a book detailing the demise of freedom in Russia. They wrote of the “Putin Project,” which was an attempt to get rid of all challenges to his authority. The Post’s review of the book noted that the authors have provided “a powerful indictment of Putin’s years as president. In his obsessive quest for control and a stronger Russian state, Putin is undermining Russia’s long-term future just as Soviet leaders did in their own repressive days.”

The U.K.’s Daily Mail newspaper told of Russia’s new claim to the North Pole. It spoke of Putin’s “astonishing bid to grab a vast chunk of the Arctic—so he can tap its vast potential oil, gas and mineral wealth.” One British diplomatic source warned, “‘Putin wants a strong Russia, and Western dependence on it for oil and gas supplies is a key part of his strategy. He no longer cares if it upsets the West.’”

Meanwhile, The New Yorker, hardly a bastion of conservative thought, devoted an article to suspicious deaths of some of Putin’s critics. Reagan, of course, could not have foreseen this turnabout; it simply reflects that times change while human nature remains unchanged.

I recall the final debate between Mitt Romney and Obama in the 2012 campaign. Obama made fun of an assertion Romney made in a book, saying sarcastically,

“When you were asked, what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said ‘Russia.’ Not Al-Qaeda; you said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

It was a “zinger,” according to the enlightened commentariat, that sealed the coffin on Romney’s candidacy. But Romney was right to call attention to the fact that Russia was reemerging as a worrisome power.

Putin sees himself as a Stalinesque figure, and we need to take the threat seriously. What does he hope to achieve?

That restart may have already occurred.

Russia, Sessions, & the Media: Oh, My!

Russian influence has been all the rage lately. Democrats want to prove that somehow Russia caused Hillary to lose the election. Good luck with that. She was her own worst enemy. Denial is a terrible thing, leading to blindness.

I won’t deny something, though, and that’s the uncomfortable sense that Trump is far too comfortable with Vladimir Putin. For that reason alone, I don’t mind investigations going forward to find out who may have been too connected to Russian influences. But I want that investigation to go both directions: Republican and Democrat.

Amnesia works wonders. How many recall that accidental hot mike incident when Obama told the Russian leader at the time that once he got reelected, he could be more flexible? Investigations, anyone?

Now AG Jeff Sessions has become the latest target. He is accused of meeting with Russian officials during the campaign. What is forgotten is that he was a senator with foreign relations responsibilities. One of those “meetings” has now been revealed as having been set up by the Obama administration, and it was with a number of foreign officials, not just Russian.

Do I know all the truth about those accusations? No. But do I suspect they are bogus? Yes.

I support the call for a thorough investigation; let the chips fall where they may. But the news media’s thirst for a Republican scandal says more about them than Sessions. Most of the media is, and has been, simply another arm of the Democrat party, in concert with its goals:

I seem to recall another AG who did some things that didn’t seem to bother the media:

Trump may be generally unpopular, but the media may be even more reprehensible in the public’s eyes, and for good reason:

I will never be at ease with Trump’s tweeting, nor with his basic character. As I have said before and will repeat now, I will support him when he is right and call him out when he is wrong. I will do my best to be an honest commentator.

His war with the media has many conservatives thrilled; I think some would like to see him go even further:

Frankly, though, I’m not convinced the “war” is all that genuine. He’s a showman; he knows how to whip up an audience. As long as he can do so with this approach, he will use it. If it becomes counterproductive, he will switch gears.

Character remains the bedrock foundation upon which good government is built. Let’s never forget that.

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?

Fake News Is Not New News

Everyone is now decrying “fake news.” As if it’s a new phenomenon. I’m a historian; I can testify that fake news is nothing new.

Three decades ago, while working on my doctorate, I was immersed in fake news—from the 1790s. Newspapers of the era were sponsored by either Federalists or the Democrat-Republicans. The “news” in some of those papers was sometimes pure speculation, often made up just to undermine the political opposition. My subject of study was Noah Webster, who was editor of a New York City newspaper at the time. He stood out as one of the few who refused to succumb to the fake news temptation.

Read all the commentary on Abraham Lincoln during his presidency, then tell me that fake news has only popped up in the last campaign. I recall scurrilous stories about Ronald Reagan when he took office. He supposedly hated minorities; he sought to throw old people out in the streets; Nancy was taking taxpayer money to buy china for the White House (that’s “china” as in plates, not the country).

I hate to be the one to break this “news”—human beings lie, cheat, and slander other human beings all the time. It’s something called sin.

The latest example, apparently, is the report of a dossier about Russia that purports to show Donald Trump is pretty much owned by the Russians. Beyond that, there were hints of sexual improprieties. Those were only hints until a liberal organization called Buzzfeed decided to open the sewer.

Is everything in this dossier untrue? We don’t know. Is anything true? We don’t know. Why? Nothing has been substantiated. It was unethical in the extreme for Buzzfeed to feed the controversy without proof of the allegations.

Unfortunately for Trump, he has not done himself any favors by seeming to be almost buddy-buddy with Putin. He has made a number of statements that show admiration for the Russian dictator. He is the one who has created that impression, so if it’s not really how he feels, he needs to correct that impression as soon as possible:

Maybe Putin can do his part to help:

There also has been pushback against Trump in the arts. Some performance artists have decided to use the liberty this country provides to decline to perform at Trump’s inauguration (it’s a good thing they aren’t Christian bakers or photographers, for whom that liberty doesn’t exist). Well, who needs them? I’m sure Trump’s people can find substitutes:

Meryl Streep, at the Golden Globes, where Hollywood pats itself on the back each year, gave a short speech that, while not mentioning Trump by name, made it clear that she had contempt for him. Hollywood wants to think it is somehow the conscience of the nation.

Streep didn’t say anything unusual; these award ceremonies are always politically liberal. It’s just expected. Yet because Trump is going to be the president with the thinnest skin since Andrew Jackson, he couldn’t help himself—he had to immediately tweet that Streep is an “overrated” actress.

Now, while I disagree with everything Streep said, there is no way she is an overrated actress. When I know Streep is in a film, I know at least one thing about that film: the character she portrays will be handled wonderfully. She is an excellent actress.

Trump continues to hit back at anyone who insults him. Streep is only the latest in a long line of individuals and/or organizations to be called overrated, losers, etc. What if even the pope were to give him advice he doesn’t like, advice he considered insulting?

Let’s pray it doesn’t come to that.

Don’t Do Stupid Stuff

The new Congress is now seated and ready for business. Already the Republicans have moved forward with repealing Obamacare. They put that provision inside a budget bill that doesn’t allow a filibuster. Maybe they are finally learning how to govern.

The Democrats find themselves in an unusual situation after this past election:

Democrat leadership is at a historic low, and prospects for the future are not the greatest:

With electoral devastation all around him, President Obama seems oblivious to the carnage:

He’s giving indications he will not go away quietly. He plans to live in Washington and speak out whenever he thinks the country needs his “wisdom.” It could make for an interesting next four years:

My concerns about a Trump presidency remain. He has made some good choices for his cabinet, seems poised to approve the repeal-and-replace strategy on Obamacare, and I’m grateful for his solidarity with Israel.

The big question for me will always be his character. One never knows what to expect from him. We could be in for a surreal ride:

Yet haven’t the past eight years been a sort of Twilight Zone as well? If Trump follows through and reverses Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders and actually puts a good person on the Supreme Court to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat, some of my concerns will be lessened.

Now, if only he will see that Vladimir Putin is not really a man to be admired . . .

That’s very good advice. Will he take it?

Trump’s Questionable Picks

My previous post was full of praise for a good number of Trump’s cabinet nominations. Proper analysis, though, requires honest scrutiny of picks who may not be as praiseworthy. There are a few.

It took a while for Trump to make a choice for secretary of state, and everyone was waiting for that crucial decision. The job is always considered one of the most significant, as it bears the responsibility of representing the administration to other countries.

Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, has been chosen to be the next secretary of state. That nomination, though, has already come under fire. The biggest concern for many is the close ties Tillerson has developed with Vladimir Putin.

Russia, in the Putin era, has not been America’s friend. It is an ally of Iran, which has lately reconfirmed its desire to wipe Israel off the map. Russia also has been the most visible backer of Syria’s despotic leader Bashar Assad.

With accusations of Russia’s attempted interference in our presidential election (pretty well established, but not necessarily something that influenced the outcome), Tillerson is a controversial pick.

I have that concern as well. Yet my concerns run deeper.

As head of the Boy Scouts of America, Tillerson led the charge to open the organization not only to boys who claim to be homosexual but to homosexual leaders, thereby changing the entire direction of the Boy Scouts. ExxonMobil also is a prominent donor to Planned Parenthood, apparently unfazed by the 300,000-plus babies who are murdered each year with the help of that organization.

I was gratified to see Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, come out firmly opposed to Tillerson’s nomination. Perkins had visibly lined up the FRC in favor of Trump during the election.

Some will say that those criticisms shouldn’t be part of this process, that the job of secretary of state won’t get Tillerson involved in those issues. That’s not necessarily so. When dealing with other nations, all kinds of policies may be on the table. I don’t want someone with Tillerson’s views representing this nation.

Less controversial, but also questionable, are the nominations of Steve Mnuchin for secretary of the treasury and Wilbur Ross for secretary of commerce.

Mnuchin was Trump’s national finance director for the campaign. He is a lifelong Democrat who spent seventeen years at Goldman Sachs, eventually becoming a partner in the firm.

What’s amazing to me is that for many of Trump’s most fervent backers, Goldman Sachs is the epitome of all evil. Trump himself attacked the firm during the campaign and loved to link Ted Cruz to it because Cruz’s wife, Heidi, used to work there.

Yet I hear crickets now from those who think Goldman Sachs is the focus of evil in the modern world. Trump wants a former Goldman Sachs partner running the treasury department and no one who vilified the firm earlier has publicly criticized the move.

Let’s be honest. Trump never really believed Goldman Sachs was all that bad. He was merely manufacturing outrage to get votes.

What bothers me most about this is the propensity of the most dedicated Trump backers to give him a pass for things they would loudly condemn if others did them. This is close to a cult of personality. Haven’t we had enough of that these past eight years?

Mnuchin may be a fine secretary of the treasury. I will give the benefit of the doubt, but his record certainly bears scrutiny.

Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce designee, is another lifelong Democrat who is an outspoken critic of free trade, which is Trump’s position also. Personally, I favor free trade, so I’m at odds with Trump’s views on that from the start.

As someone who has spent his career buying up and restructuring failing companies, Ross does have vital experience to offer if he truly knows how to bolster commerce in that way. But Trump has another reason for choosing him.

Trump owes Ross a lot. His relationship with Trump goes back decades. Ross helped Trump keep control of his failing Taj Mahal casino in the 1990s by persuading investors not to push out the real estate mogul.

What? Trump, the expert businessman who is great at all he does, needed to be bailed out? Balloon punctured.

Those are the most questionable of Trump’s cabinet picks. All of the ones I’ve highlighted, both positive and negative, over these last two posts, require Senate confirmation. Tillerson, in particular, may face some rough sledding, but Senate Republicans may feel like they have to give Trump what he wants at this point.

There are other appointments Trump has made that don’t have go through the Senate confirmation process. I will deal with those in another post.