There is No “Why”

On Tuesday night into Wednesday, I couldn’t sleep until the very late (or very early) hours; after watching President Biden’s speech to the nation, I resorted to escapism:  I reread a couple of the James Bond novels in my cherished but now rarely-visited set.  Arguably an odd choice given the events of Uvalde; but in every adventure, Bond ultimately dispatches evil and in some way saves innocents.

No one is dispatching evil and saving innocents in Congress today.

In these pages, I try when I can to offer a different perspective – at the very least, a thought that occurred to me about an issue before I heard it spoken elsewhere. 

On the issue of gun control, that’s obviously impossible. 

Subject to the exception below, “assault weapons” should be banned in America for all but military use and law enforcement.  Now. 

[In this post, I mean “assault weapons” to include any weapon (and attendant high-capacity magazines) designed or reasonably modifiable to kill a lot of people in a short amount of time, as needed for use in war.  I don’t know enough about weapons to make finer distinctions, and lack the patience to quibble with gun rights apologists.  If a reasonable case can be made for a weapon’s inclusion within the definition, it’s included.]

Let’s take the Constitution first.  For those that hear a lot about the hallowed “Second Amendment,” but have better things to do than delve into arcane legal jargon, Amendment II to the Constitution of the United States of America, ratified along with nine other Amendments constituting our Bill of Rights, provides as follows:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Although this Amendment was written when we had a tiny standing army and our legendary Minute Men had only laid down the weapons they wielded against the British about six years earlier – for context, then no further in the past for them than the Trump-Clinton presidential campaign is to our current day – put aside any question you may have as to whether an amendment, drafted to ensure that our ordinary citizens could have weapons at the ready (to form a “militia”) at a time when it was reasonable to assume that we might again need them to defend our nation, has any application or relevance today.  Forget about it.  It’s been decided.  In District of Columbia v. Heller (“Heller”), written by Justice Antonin Scalia for a 5-Justice majority including present Justices (Chief) John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court held that an individual has the right to bear arms, apart from service in a militia, for lawful purposes such as self-defense.  At the same time, Justice Scalia — a hero to younger conservative jurists such as current Justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett – was ultra-conservative, but he wasn’t crazy.  Toward the end of the Heller opinion, he gave the Court and himself some leeway for the future gun rights cases he knew would inevitably arise: 

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.  From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.  … [N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.  We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms.  [U.S. Supreme Court decision United States v. Miller, 1939] said … that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.”  … We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’ …  It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause. … It may well be true today that a militia, to be as effective as militias in the 18th century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. … But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right [i.e., that the right is not “unlimited”]. [Emphasis Added]”

Although Justice Scalia’s language can only be described as tortuous, courts have interpreted his words to uphold state bans on assault weapons such as AR-15s (akin to the M-16s he referred to in his opinion).  The reason we have not had a federal ban since 2004 is because Congressional Republicans lack the guts to enact one.

There is not time in this lengthy note to address all of gun rights advocates’ supposed concerns; just three of my favorites:

Citizens need assault weapons to protect themselves against an impending government takeover.  Let’s put aside reason, dive into the weird world of the Conspiracy-Obsessed, and communicate on their plane:  Dude [or Dudette 😉 ], for years, we killed terrorists in the Middle East – smarter, and better equipped than you will ever be — from tens of miles away.  If the President decides to take you out, the AR-15 won’t save you.  You’ll be vaporized while standing in front of your house, wearing your helmet, waving your weapon and pounding your chest.  You won’t even see it coming. 

Let’s give guns to the good guys in churches, schools, and stores, and they’ll defend themselves against the bad guys.  Put aside the fact that most religious, educators, and shop keepers don’t want to assume the responsibility to defend those within their purview from perpetrators with firearms.  How can they reasonably be expected to defend themselves and others in situations that are sometimes beyond the capabilities of trained officers?  Aaron Salter, a retired Buffalo police officer, although armed, was outgunned by an 18-year-old in protective gear, and died attempting to defend Tops patrons.  It has been reported that the Uvalde shooter was “engaged by law enforcement” before entering the school, but he still got in.

 If we start to regulate guns, where does it stop?  This … makes one blink.  Across this country, citizens have had to register their motor vehicles at the state or local level for many decades; this hasn’t resulted in government or anybody else taking our cars away.  One obeys traffic lights and speed limits; these regulations haven’t surreptitiously limited anybody’s operation of his/her car.  From time to time, for the public good, one needs to demonstrate driving proficiency to maintain your legal right to drive – a right, unlike the use of firearms, that many literally rely upon to sustain their livelihoods — and no one objects, although the number of victims in the vast majority of negligently-caused automobile accidents pales in comparison to the number of victims of many mass shootings. 

What’s the exception to the ban I would impose?  Citizens ought to be able to retain the assault weapons they already own.  The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution provide that no person shall be deprived of property “without due process of law.”  That said, in addition to a ban on all future manufacture and sale of assault weapons except for and to military and law enforcement authorities, Congress should pass legislation that provides: for a national registry of all assault weapons; that an owner’s failure to register any such weapon(s) within a year after the effective date of the law is a federal crime, making the weapon subject to confiscation and the violator to mandatory fine and jail time; a specific purchase price scale, annually adjusted for depreciation and inflation, at which the government would be obligated to purchase any registered assault weapon offered for sale by its owner; a ban on the sale or other disposition (e.g., by inheritance) to any private party of any registered assault weapon, with a proven violation resulting in weapon confiscation and a fine and jail time for the violator; and since the perpetrator of an injury caused by an assault weapon would almost certainly be beyond civil recourse, a repeal of any laws shielding manufacturers or sellers of assault weapons from civil liability for loss caused by the weapons they manufacture and/or sell, combined with a provision granting anyone suffering physical and/or emotional injury caused by an assault weapon a federal cause of action against the maker or seller of the assault weapon.  In order to collect from a defendant under the latter provision, a claimant would need to establish only (i) injury (ii) and that the injury was caused by an assault weapon made or sold by the defendant.  Any judgments would not be subject to discharge in bankruptcy. 

Such laws would have no effect on citizens’ unlimited rights to purchase, keep and bear multiple handguns, shotguns, or rifles.  Even I can see that a citizen might consider more than one handgun necessary for defense of his/her home and a hunter stalking bear would require a more powerful weapon than s/he would use to hunt deer or fowl.

Are any of the proposals set forth in this note going to happen?  Obviously not.  Are they too extreme?  Certainly not.  Although it is unrealistic to suggest that banning all assault weapons would have prevented all of the losses suffered by all of the victims of mass shootings that we have witnessed over the past decades – an expert with a long-range rifle can obviously inflict significant damage upon a crowded area — it is fatuous not to recognize and acknowledge that such a ban would have avoided a significant share of the loss and grief – the agony which will never go away — arising from these tragedies.  Although it is for the Almighty, and not for me, to judge, I would nonetheless venture that the blood of some of these victims stains the hands of the politicians, who out of fear and ambition have failed for almost 20 years to enact strict controls on assault weapons, every bit as surely as the blood of innocent Ukrainians festers on the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin.   

“So for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin.”

  • Jas 4:17.  From the Bible’s only recorded Letter of James, the man referred to as the “brother of the Lord” in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.

Quite some time ago, I received a comment from a follower of these pages, who suggested that some of these notes perhaps provide me a measure of catharsis, a means through which I address internal conflict regarding issues over which I have no control.  There was more than a little truth to that observation, and I admit that such has never been more so than with this post, which borders on rant.  Still, I think of these babies, wiped away for nothing.  On the morning after the Uvalde shooting, we saw an obviously extremely distraught television reporter indicating that authorities were seeking to determine why the shooting had happened.  Despite my complete sympathy for his obvious emotion – he was on the verge of tears – I considered his point irrelevant.  I don’t care, “why.”  With these terribly disturbed perpetrators, there is no “why.”  If there was ever a good faith belief that we could control this risk to our children and ourselves by identifying the crazies, our experience has made a mockery of that belief.  We’ll never identify all the crazies.  We can’t do worse than we have been by instead doing what we can to keep these terribly destructive weapons out of their hands.

Where Do Sen. McMorrow and I Fit on the Alt-Right Compass?

On April 19, 2022, MI State Sen. Mallory McMorrow, describing herself as a “straight, white, Christian, married, suburban Mom,” having been attacked by a Republican adversary for “grooming and sexualizing children,” took to the floor of the Michigan State Senate and delivered a blistering response to the attack that proceeded to go viral.  You may well have already seen it.  A link to a YouTube video of her speech is set forth below.

On April 30, 2022, The New York Times published a detailed article on the manner and messages of Fox News Channel Commentator Tucker Carlson.  Mr. Carlson is apparently the highest-rated host on cable news channels.  (It appears from the report that Mr. Carlson’s audience is almost exclusively white and “overwhelmingly” older.)  I have neither the strength of stomach nor sufficient remaining life space to devote attention to Mr. Carlson’s broadcasts, and thus, cannot independently vouch for the veracity of the Times’ account; with that disclaimer, the gist of the Times article seems to align with numerous other reports I have seen of Mr. Carlson’s program over the last several years.  (Mr. Carlson has reportedly relished rather than disputed the Times report.)  A link to the online version of the Times piece is also set forth below; hopefully, you can access it.

The Times indicates (and demonstrates through video) that Mr. Carlson frequently makes use of a “You – They” dichotomy in his monologues:  You for his viewers, and They for those he calls the “Ruling Class” that he claims seeks to denigrate, among others, whites and men:  the Ruling Class that hates You, that wants to control You, that wants to replace You with malleable (colored) immigrants.  Feeding fear and dissatisfaction has made his ratings go higher and higher (arguably akin to setting up a salt lick for deer hunting).  (I did find it particularly cruelly hypocritical for Mr. Carlson to call the Mainstream Media a “Propaganda Machine” for describing the January 6 Capitol uprising as an “insurrection,” when it is patently obvious to anybody with at least one eye that the riot was, indeed, a Trumplican insurrection.)

Sen. McMorrow’s remarks and the Times’ report of Mr. Carlson’s premises have caused me to revisit reflections I’ve had since the political rise of former President Donald Trump upon the contradictions implicit in the way that the political alt-right views some of those who do not adhere to its views.

Sen. McMorrow clearly thinks enough of public service to have placed herself in the political arena.  TLOML and I have been voting and paying taxes for longer than Ms. McMorrow has been alive, have held down jobs, attended town halls, church socials, and parent-teacher meetings, coached Little League and led Brownie Troops.  We shovel our snow and mow our lawn (sometimes, we even fertilize).  Like Ms. McMorrow, we are straight, white, Christian, married, and parents.  (We are also grandparents.)  [I do fit in the “overwhelming older” segment of the Fox audience 😉 ].  By these measures, all three of us are presumably upstanding Fox Nation Real Americans.

That said, while I feel no guilt about being white, I certainly don’t feel under attack because of it; it’s pretty obvious that at least in America, it’s easier to be white than not.  Although white birth rates are declining, I have yet to hear of any white couples who say that they have had fewer children than they wished because immigrants of other colors invaded their homes and forcibly kept them apart.  I feel no threat from those of other races and ethnicities attempting to get ahead; this is America.  (I favor equal treatment, not favoritism – in either direction.)  I don’t feel under attack because I’m straight; again, in America, and I suspect in just about everywhere else in the world, it’s easier to be straight than not.  If those of other gender and sexual orientations find solace in expressions that seem unusual to me, I don’t see how such harms me.  (I find the notion that “unconventional” gender and sexual orientations are not inherent, but rather, can be “taught,” to be – stated tactfully – misguided.)  I don’t feel that my Christian faith is succumbing to non-Christian elements; even aside from my personal belief that Christianity is but one of many paths to the Almighty, of one thing I’m absolutely certain:  He (please excuse the male pronoun) can take care of Himself.  On top of that, I’m male.  Again, I feel no guilt about it, but certainly don’t feel threatened because of it.  I don’t think that any foreigner has stolen any of my testosterone.  If any of Mr. Carlson’s male viewers feel so endangered by the advance of women in our society that they would prefer to be female – and assume the burdens of dealing with oblivious males, conflicting societal expectations, etc., etc. — the line forms to the right. While Mr. Carlson is absolutely correct that those in our country with greater opportunities have frequently exploited those with fewer advantages, I would also suggest that some who focus on their disadvantages refuse to recognize that they didn’t always see or seize the opportunities available to them to better their situations. 

Sen. McMorrow is one state legislator in one state’s legislature.  I have been rereading approvingly – ever more so as the alt-right intensity has seemingly increased since the 2020 election — The Federalist articles of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay and the discourses of John Locke and Winston Churchill – odes to the “Western Civilization” that Mr. Carlson claims to be under siege.  Even so, neither Ms. McMorrow nor I look like the “Ruling Class” to me.  Despite Mr. Carlson’s rants, I don’t hate – and sincerely doubt she hates — the ordinary Carlson viewer.  I don’t wish – and sincerely doubt she wishes — to control the ordinary Carlson viewer.  I don’t want – and sincerely doubt she wants — to replace the ordinary Carlson viewer.  We simply believe that the promise of America embraces more than a single race, a single gender preference, a single faith.

So where do she and I fit within the Alt-Right Compass, given our Whiteness, our Straightness, our Christianity, our Good Citizenship, and the fact that we obviously don’t rule anybody?

Sen. McMorrow called it in her speech, either deliberately or inadvertently invoking Mr. Carlson’s framework:  “[Because I have a different view than my Republican adversary] … you dehumanize and marginalize me … I am one of them.”

In his book, Anti-Pluralism, William Galston quotes Mr. Trump as saying at a May, 2016, rally:  “The only important thing is the unification of the people … the other people don’t mean anything.  [Emphasis Added]”  In Foxconned – a book given me by a close friend detailing the Republican-fostered Wisconsin debacle that merits more extensive treatment in these pages before the 2022 elections — Lawrence Tabak quotes former WI Gov. Scott Walker as saying that it was a “flawed argument” that “a vote in [progressive] Madison [where TLOML and I reside] counts the same as a vote in a very rural community or in a suburban community.”

So it’s not enough even if one is, demographically, what the alt-right claims to appreciate.  Those that don’t think like they do can’t “mean anything,” their votes can’t “count,” elections lost by alt-right candidates must be “stolen” … because good people wrapping themselves in rhetoric such as Mr. Carlson’s would otherwise have to admit, even to themselves, that they no longer believe in democracy.

On Politico’s Report of SCOTUS’ Impending Reversal of Roe v. Wade

As all are aware, on May 2 Politico published a February draft U.S. Supreme Court decision, apparently having the support of five conservative Supreme Court Justices, which would overrule previous Court rulings, the most famous being Roe v. Wade, that have opined that women have a constitutional right to abortion during certain stages within a pregnancy. On May 3, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a statement that confirmed the draft’s authenticity but indicated that it did not constitute a final and definitive ruling by the Court.

While there is talk both that the leaker is liberal, seeking by the leak to galvanize public opinion against the decision, and that the leaker is conservative, seeking by the leak to solidify any potentially wavering conservative Justice(s), such is obviously pure speculation.  The leaker must recognize that it is almost inevitable that his/her identity will ultimately become known.  While not a compromise of a classified document, this was a breach of such a sacrosanct confidentiality obligation within the Court that the leaker, if a lawyer, must have felt that the act was worth risking his/her career. (Of course, if the leaker is conservative, s/he may have a more profitable future as a Fox News pundit.)

I have previously noted in these pages that notwithstanding my legal background, I have no knowledge of the relative merits of the legal Constitutional arguments surrounding abortion rights beyond that of any layperson who tries to stay informed regarding public affairs.  I have also noted that while I am personally opposed to abortion, I consider that belief to be literally a matter of faith.  I understand that my Roman Catholic creed is not shared by all faiths, nor by many Americans who do not have any religious belief, nor by a significant segment of the scientific community.  I accordingly support a woman’s right to abortion because we are not supposed to be running a theocracy here; it is not mine to impose my religious beliefs on another where there is a rational basis for dispute.  It is up to the Almighty to ultimately judge, not me.  [I have plenty enough to worry about how He (please excuse the male pronoun for a spirit without gender) will judge my transgressions.]

That said, and in addition to the direct effect on women’s abortion rights, several potential consequences seem to me likely to result from the Politico report and/or from any Supreme Court decision with the effect of that in the Politico report.

The first is terribly corrosive but not original.  Any outright reversal of Roe and its progeny will eviscerate any vestige of confidence remaining in our citizenry that the Court decides cases on the law and precedent and not on personal political philosophy and preference.  If a member of the Court, even if I felt that Roe and its progeny were truly wrongly decided, I would, given the potential impact on the Court’s credibility, find it difficult to overturn them outright.  (That said, the balancing of such considerations necessarily retains a significant element of subjectivity; the Court was obviously both legally and morally correct to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 precedent that had upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine.) 

The second is tragically negative.  The hyper-partisan paroxysm that will now grip our polity for the foreseeable future will undoubtedly distract us from all other issues – most notably, our support for Ukraine’s ongoing fight for freedom.  Virtually all I’ve seen anybody talk about since the Politico story broke is The Draft and The Leak.  Overnight, they’ve seemingly done what neither Russian President Vladimir Putin nor vaccines could do – eradicate Ukraine and COVID. I fear that the political conflagration surrounding abortion will taint what has been, up to now, a generally amicable and bipartisan support of American’s assistance to Ukraine.  Citizens of democracies cannot afford that.

The third is purely surmise.  While the draft fosters the notion that states are free to deal with abortion rights differently, its author, Justice Samuel Alito, also declared, “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives [Emphasis Added].”  I had this thought before I saw it mentioned, so feel free to add it here:  it doesn’t take much prescience to suggest that if Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress this fall – more on this below — they will immediately abandon their professed allegiance to states’ rights and seek to construct and pass a federal law banning abortion nationwide.  For 2023 and 2024, our federal regime will resemble what we Wisconsinites have had throughout WI Gov. Tony Evers’ term:  a Democratic executive (President Joe Biden) needing to regularly veto Republican partisan pandering legislative spasms. It is not hard to envision what might occur if Republicans control both Congress and the White House.

The last is perhaps counterintuitive.  I would preliminarily venture that the Politico publication has shifted the emotional goal posts for the Court’s upcoming abortion decision.  Until the Politico report, a Supreme Court ruling upholding Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks was viewed as a likely incremental win by conservatives and a lamentable defeat by liberals, but given the Court’s conservative complexion, such a result was – to borrow a phrase frequently used to describe Wall Street’s assessments of the effects of the Federal Reserve Board’s prospective interest rate moves on stock market valuations – already “baked into” the parties’ November electoral prospects.  I ventured in these pages in January that if the Supreme Court declared that there was no Constitutional right to abortion:  most or all states with Republican governors and legislatures would outlaw abortion within their jurisdictions, either de jure or de facto; and that such a decision would provoke such liberal and progressive backlash and generate sufficient unease among Independents and Republican moderates that Democrats, despite all historical trends and the way 2022 political winds have appeared to be blowing, would retain their majorities in Congress.  In reading that post now, I think I may have been a little strong; the House of Representatives may now be so populated by gerrymandered Republicans that even the most frenetic Democratic reaction may well not be enough to stave off a GOP takeover of the House.  However, although I’ve heard analysts express doubt about this contention, I continue to believe that if the Supreme Court overrules Roe during this term, the inevitable state-by-state aftermath will so arouse liberals and progressives and disturb Independents that swing state Democratic Senatorial and Gubernatorial candidates will largely prevail.  Taking an example from close to (my) home:  I would submit that in Wisconsin, such a decision will ironically hurt Republican Senator Ron Johnson’s re-election prospects and aid Mr. Evers’.  On the other hand, if conservatives, now anticipating total victory in the abortion dispute, end up with what they perceive as only half a loaf – i.e., the Supreme Court upholds a woman’s Constitutional right to abort for some specified period of time – they will be infuriated and liberals, relieved; but such reactions will help Republicans at the polls in November. 

“… I offer the Krauthammer Conjecture:  In sports, the pleasure of winning is less than the pain of losing. … For every moment of triumph, there is an unequal and opposite feeling of despair.”

  • Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post, June 30, 2017

If Mr. Krauthammer were still alive – and I unfortunately only came to appreciate his sagacity after reading The Point of It All, a compilation of his columns published after he had passed away – I’m pretty sure that he would agree that it is not inapt for me to apply the Krauthammer Conjecture to our political maelstrom, which has, regrettably, degenerated into another sports maxim he quoted in his column, well known to us in the land of St. Vincent Lombardi:  “Winning isn’t everything.  It’s the only thing.”

Ten Years of “Unique” Stupidity in American Life

I continue [not surprisingly 😉 ] to have plenty of notions about the Ukrainian conflict and various domestic issues we face, and hope to return to publishing fairly regularly in the not-too-distant future.  That said, MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning included an interview of Dr. Jonathan Haidt (pronounced, “Height”), author of The Righteous Mind, the book that I suspect that I have cited in these pages more than any other.  Dr. Haidt discussed his recent article in The Atlantic, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid,” an essay describing how social media has affected our polity and our children and how it has been exploited (on the edges of both sides of the political spectrum).  Apparently, Billionaire Jeff Bezos tweeted recently that he considered the essay well worth reading, albeit long.  I wholeheartedly agree (on both counts; although as all are well aware, I’m in no position to criticize lengthy pieces  🙂 ]. 

A link to Dr. Haidt’s article is below.

Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid – The Atlantic

The State of the Union

If counseling President Joe Biden on the strategy for tonight’s State of the Union address, I would advise that he focus on the primary challenge facing the future of global democracy:  the poisonous partisan divisions within America eating away at our national core.  That said, such would have to be done obliquely.  He should seek to leverage Americans’ overwhelming support for Ukraine in its struggle against Russia by devoting more than half of the speech to the Russian invasion, and assert that the attack is on the freedom of all democracies, an assault on all free peoples.  As I suggested in an earlier note, he must make it “real” for Americans:  what Russia is doing is the same as if Canada simply decided to take Alaska; I would remark that I had seen a commentator compare Ukrainians’ toughness to Texans, and note what would happen if somebody tried to invade Texas – intentionally invoking the support of two of our states politically inhospitable to him.  I would quote Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s declaration, “I need ammunition, not a ride.”  He should note how he and his team have worked with our NATO allies to stand up to a ravenous aggressor.  He should note how the Western nations’ combined economic sanctions are crippling Russia, and that we are shipping Ukraine all the military equipment we can.  Then – creeping up on the point – he might declare that no matter where an American might stand on gun rights, abortion rights, vaccines and masks, or whatever, these are differences of opinion that a free people can have – as contrasted with the Ukrainians’ fight for actual freedom:  that they’re throwing themselves under Russian tanks to slow the Russian advance; that they’re ready to die rather than be swept back behind the Iron Curtain; that they want real elections, not Russian mockeries.  I would recommend that he be so bold to declare that anyone that defends Vladimir Putin or the Russian actions is providing aid and comfort to tyrants.  He should tell our citizens that he was going to talk straight with them:  that although his Administration will do all it reasonably can to soften the impact of inflation – and call on Congress to suspend the federal 18-cent gasoline tax through the remainder of 2022 — it is likely that while this battle rages inflation could worsen.  We cannot commit soldiers to the Ukrainians’ struggle for freedom, but we can do this.

While he should make references to his Build Back Better Plan, to COVID, to Climate Change, to his recent nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, he shouldn’t dwell on these or other domestic issues.  He needs to evoke Americans’ visceral feeling for freedom.  If he can keep the majority of Americans on his side on this critical point, it creates a rallying point, something for all of us to be against – Russian aggression — that we desperately need.

Fiery, inspirational speeches are obviously not Mr. Biden’s forte.  Frankly, I’d have him spend the last hour before the speech watching clips of John F. Kennedy’s delivery and of President Zelenskyy’s recent speeches from bunkers.

I have no illusions that this crisis or even the best speech of Mr. Biden’s life will be a panacea for what besets us; our partisan divisions are too deep.  Even in much more congenial times, George H. W. Bush was defeated for re-election after a term that saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and a resounding military victory in Desert Storm.  That said, if Mr. Biden can use this moment to get at least some of our people to recognize the difference between real freedom and the faux freedom now at the center of our domestic strife, and to focus us as a people on a common and true enemy, it’s a start.

A Requiem for Economic Diplomacy

Putin might want Nord Stream 2 [the natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, financially advantageous to both nations, which will presumably be scuttled if Russia invades Ukraine], but … he definitely wants Ukraine more than that pipeline.

  • Kadri Liik, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, on January 28, 2022, at an event held by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

As this is typed, there are reports of an imminent invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops and materiel massed at Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Russian satellite Belarus. Putting aside – if one can – the human loss and destruction of freedom which will attend any Russian attack, I would submit that Russia’s bellicosity despite the allied democracies’ threat to apply what Russian President Vladimir Putin undoubtedly understands will be truly punitive economic sanctions on the Russian economy and people provides a final debunking of the notion of Economic Diplomacy:  the theory that forging economic interdependence between nations will discourage them from engaging in military and other provocative actions likely to earn the enmity of other nations with whom they do business to sustain their respective economies.

Economic Diplomacy didn’t seem like a bad idea in the 1990s, when China was desirous of expanding its economy and providing at least marginally greater freedoms for its citizens, and Russia’s fledgling democracy was seeking economic stability after the fall of the Soviet Union.  It was seemingly based on the belief in some liberal democratic economic quarters that economic priorities would become the dominant driver of world affairs.  More money for everybody would make it less likely that anybody would want to threaten the golden goose.  In retrospect, it appears that its adherents underestimated the strength of other prevalent motivations among states and their leaders, such as national aspirations, power, religion, patriotism, and ancestral antipathies.  With the benefit of hindsight, I would venture that a fundamental underpinning of the premise that economic interdependence would facilitate equilibrium among traditionally contentious powers was the assumption that Western-style liberal democracy would inexorably sweep across the globe.  If such sweep had continued – bringing forth an international system where most militarily- and economically-powerful nations were governed by officials who were dependent upon the support, and thus at least to a certain extent the economic wellbeing, of their respective citizens to stay in power — perhaps economic interdependence would have indeed salved political frictions between nations.  It didn’t, so it hasn’t.  Instead, the global meshing of the economies of democratic and authoritarian nations has inadvertently created an asymmetric advantage for the autocracies. 

The most blatant indication that Economic Diplomacy has failed – and has, indeed, provided a strategic advantage to authoritarian powers — is the muscular disdain which China presents a world disturbed by its established human rights abuses, its unapologetic subjugation of Hong Kong, its flouting of other nations’ corporations’ intellectual property rights, etc., etc., etc.  The Mainland regime’s flagrant disregard of the credibility of Hong Kong – for over a century, one of Asia’s foremost financial centers — shows that it thinks first in political, not in economic, terms.  It doesn’t care what the world thinks.  In theory, a nation hosts the Olympics to create a positive image, generate economic opportunity, and foster worldwide goodwill.  If that was originally China’s aim, it is clear that such is no longer a strategic goal; instead, visiting athletes and the nations they represent figuratively tiptoe at the Games rather than risking offending the Chinese government.  Chinese President Xi Jinping and his government don’t need to heed international concerns or the preferences of ordinary Chinese citizens to stay in power.

Contrast this Chinese indifference with the political and economic attitudes in the democracies.  The world was outraged for a period after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre … but it came back.  Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that major movie studios now scrupulously avoid casting China or Chinese as villains in their films, lest they be cut off from Chinese consumers.  Apple, Tesla, Google, and other global corporate icons comply with Chinese government demands rather than lose access to the China market (and in Apple’s and Tesla’s case, critical Chinese manufacturing resources), which would probably result in significant reductions in their stock prices.  Such price declines not only affect the careers of these organizations’ senior executives; they also affect the prospects of politicians dependent upon the votes of citizens alarmed at losses in their nest eggs.  Recall that former President Donald Trump’s last trade arrangement with China was primarily designed to reinstitute China’s purchase of produce raised in states that strongly supported Mr. Trump.  Maybe Chinese citizens would truly be angry if their government terminated their access to Google Search, Apple phones, American films, and Tesla EVs.  Mr. Xi doesn’t need his citizens’ approval to keep his job.  Democratic leaders do.

Let’s move to Russia.  It has been widely reported that the most influential member of NATO reluctant to confront Russia in the Ukraine crisis is Germany, to the point that Germany has even in some ways obstructed other NATO nations’ support of Ukraine.  Despite Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Germany authorized the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany in 2018.  Germany’s dilemma is clear:  as it is winding down its coal and nuclear power sources to address climate change concerns, it is becoming ever more dependent on Russian natural gas.  While Germany has come under increasing pressure to be more supportive of NATO’s efforts against Russian aggression, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, as a democratic leader, obviously needs to be responsive to the needs of his citizens.  (In fairness, while I strongly support the defense of Ukraine, it is cold in Madison, WI as this is typed.  If our heat was dependent upon Russian resources, would I be as aggressively calling for my government to confront Russia?  I hope so, but would certainly have a measure of pause.)  On the other hand, although democratic sanctions and loss of German natural gas revenue will certainly inflict hardship on the Russian economy and people, Mr. Putin has already weathered national demonstrations related to his unjustified imprisonment of his chief domestic political opponent, Alexei Navalny; he is obviously not worried about being ousted by Russian citizens as a result of the loss of revenue and resources from allied democracies.

If counseling Mr. Biden, I would indicate that it falls to him to accelerate the dismantling of America’s economic interdependence in areas in which such now places our nation at a strategic disadvantage.  I would advise him to completely recast the thrust of his Build Back Better Plan toward national security concerns, broadly conceptualized.  While the following suggestion would undoubtedly irritate progressives [and elicit strong pushback from someone very, very close to me  😉 ], at this juncture I’d be less concerned with domestic challenges such as early education, child care, health care expansion, etc., and would instead seek legislation to accelerate our preparations where our most advanced military capabilities are lagging and in areas where we are currently strategically exposed, such as sophisticated microchip design and production and rare earth mineral mining and refinement capabilities.  (Reflect:  while these pages have noted Mainland China’s ancestral territorial desires to control Taiwan, one should not overlook the strategic technological vulnerability for liberal democracies that could be created by any Chinese takeover of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company — described by Time Magazine as the company “that makes the world’s tech run.”) 

I admit that these suggestions have a hint of parochialism – a bit of, “Buy American,” or at least, “Buy Reliably Democratic.”  Such measures would increase good-paying American jobs, but right now finding workers, not opportunities, is obviously our economic challenge.  It might well perpetuate if not exacerbate our currently uncomfortable inflationary pressures.  In some instances, it might even slow global climate change efforts – for example, if Germany sought to reduce its current and projected reliance on Russian natural gas by slowing its plans to move away from its nuclear energy and carbon fuel resources.  Even so, insurance costs money.  Even if Mr. Putin ultimately stands down rather than have his forces invade Ukraine, I would suggest that he will do so not because he fears democratic economic sanctions or the loss of German natural gas revenues but because he discovered that NATO had greater military resolve to resist his advances than he had anticipated.  He, and particularly Mr. Xi, will learn from this incident and look for other means to probe democratic vulnerabilities.  It is up to Mr. Biden and other democratic leaders to move aggressively to counteract such likely future endeavors.

It Was God and Guns

A number of years ago, on our then-annual summer sojourn to central Wisconsin – before the political rise of former President Donald Trump, but after former Republican WI Gov. Scott Walker had taken office and assumed the acrimonious, politically warlike approach toward Democrats, liberals and all who opposed him that Mr. Trump subsequently adopted on a national scale — we noted a wide number of enthusiastic expressions of support for Mr. Walker throughout the area.  I was then fairly surprised by it.  This part of Wisconsin was then and remains today fairly economically deprived.  Even in summer – the tourist season – many of these little Wisconsin communities are ghost towns during the week.  One day, we happened to encounter a retired social studies teacher who had spent his career in one of the small local high schools.  Some way or other, we became aware of the fact that he was liberal, which enabled me to ask about the issue that had been puzzling me:  all one had to do was look around to see that the Walker Administration had done nothing for these people, but their support for the Republican Governor was ardent and palpable.  Why?  I was even then geeky enough to say:  “These people should be for Roosevelt.”  He was of the vintage to understand the reference.  He replied:  “It was God and guns that did it.”

Although this is merely repeating a lament that I have previously recorded in these pages, it nonetheless seems appropriate today to note that the true danger facing our nation is not Mr. Trump or his cohort.  Through their messaging, spread by propagandists such as Fox News, they have provided an alternate reality regarding the 2020 presidential election, the Capitol insurrection, COVID, the environment, and on and on; but their supporters have zealously chosen to embrace narratives that anyone willing to apply any level of discernment would immediately recognize as false.  These citizens have done so because they loath what they perceive that a multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-gender, urban-based segment of our electorate has done to desecrate their values and denigrate their standing in society — what they consider America to be.  I have heard more than one alt-right proponent – U.S. OH Rep. Jim Jordan comes to mind – declare that the Democrats and progressives hate conservatives.  I ask you to consider whether in any aspect of life, winners “hate” their adversaries.  They don’t – they’ve won.  It is sometimes the losers that hate.  Mr. Jordan’s declaration amounts to pure projection — not because progressives are any morally better; they reek with condescension toward rural America and its values — but because over the last decades, progressive attitudes have come to dominate our culture.  I would submit that it may be some among those who consider their country to have been overrun by attitudes they find abhorrent that perhaps harbor the deepest antipathy.  They reject demonstrable truths.  I recently heard a commentator use a phrase that frequently comes to my mind:  They want what they want.

I have sometimes quoted Dr. Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, in these pages; based upon his research, Dr. Haidt articulately argues that people are ruled by their emotions and use their intellectual powers to provide rationalizations for their visceral inclinations.  Given our national posture today, on the anniversary of the event that I consider to portend the most danger to our democracy since Pearl Harbor, I instead quote another, perhaps as insightful about certain aspects of human nature as he was malignant:

“The broad masses of a people consist neither of professors nor of diplomats.  The scantiness of the abstract knowledge they possess directs their sentiments more to the world of feeling.  That is where their positive or negative attitude lies.  … Their emotional attitude at the same time conditions their extraordinary stability.  Faith is harder to shake than knowledge, love succumbs less to change than respect, hate is more enduring than aversion, and the impetus to the mightiest upheavals on this earth has at all times consisted less in a scientific knowledge dominating the masses than in a fanaticism which inspires them and sometimes in a hysteria which drove them forward.”

  • Adolf Hitler:  Mein Kampf 

I believe in America:  it has been very good to me and mine, and for the billions in this country and across the world for whom it has, despite its failings, been Ronald Reagan’s Shining City on a Hill.  I do not dismiss the possibility that we will regain a level of political and cultural equilibrium.  At the same time, I confess that a year after the Capitol insurrection, we continue to face the greatest challenge to our system of government that we have faced since the end of World War II.

The Green Bay Sweep (NOT a Football Post)

Amid all of the mounting revelations of the Trump Cohort’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election, I had been vaguely aware of the reports of the publication of In Trump Time, a book by former Trump Administration Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro, but hadn’t focused on it.  I obviously haven’t read the book.  The link below is to an interview of Mr. Navarro conducted last night by MSNBC Commentator Ari Melber.  Mr. Navarro gets to speak his piece, in which he unabashedly outlines the Trump Plotters’ “Green Bay Sweep” strategy to sidestep the certified results of the 2020 presidential election. I am, frankly, numb after viewing it.  Prefatory comments:  as Mr. Melber pointed out and as all who care are aware, over 60 challenges to presidential election results by Trump advocates were rejected by courts across the country; and that in Michigan and Pennsylvania, two states whose Secretaries of State were specifically singled out as partisan by Mr. Navarro during the interview, former President Donald Trump lost to President Joe Biden by, respectively, 150,000 and 80,000 votes.  These weren’t close.

Perhaps as unnerving as any other element of the exchange is that Mr. Navarro clearly believes that what he was undertaking was right.  Further:  as a resident of Wisconsin, where Mr. Biden’s margin of victory was significantly narrower than in Michigan and Pennsylvania, I would venture that the shameless GOP charlatans masquerading as this state’s legislature – despite the fact that before Republicans got it into their heads that they could simply claim black was white, no less a partisan than former Republican WI Gov. Scott Walker tacitly signaled that any challenge to Mr. Biden’s Wisconsin victory was futile – would have used any pretext to throw Wisconsin’s Electoral College votes to Mr. Trump. 

We are in a dangerous fantasy land.

“Never Seen Anything Like It.”

On Thursday, a young couple in our extended family to whom we are very close had to flee their home to escape the wildfires that swept Colorado in the Boulder vicinity.  They and their young daughter were thankfully able to evacuate safely.  They discovered yesterday that their house was one of the few in their area not consumed by the flames, but as this is typed, they don’t know whether the structure, given its immediate proximity to the inferno, is or can be made habitable.

Friday morning reports were full of what we have come to recognize as standard reporting for these tragedies:  that it had been exceptionally dry for a Colorado December; that the winds, driving the fire in seconds across football field-sized areas, were unprecedented; that those covering this wildfire declared that they had “never seen anything like it.” The comments, though wrenching, were dishearteningly familiar — the same as those we have heard in descriptions of our nation’s fires, floods, and mudslides in the northwest, tornados across the great plains, droughts devastating once-fertile farmland, and hurricanes ravaging Puerto Rico, the east, west, and gulf coasts, let alone of the destruction wreaked in so many areas of the world:  Haiti, Africa, Asia, South America, etc., etc., etc.  From the comfort of our homes, we view these disasters with horror and sadness but now, perhaps also a level of detachment:  there have been so many, they have become so common, that it is difficult – at least for me – not to become a bit numb … until it hits somebody you know, somebody you love. 

While progressives passionately advocate for all measures that will reduce America’s carbon emissions to limit the destructive effects that these have upon our climate, there are factors that the most ardent frequently ignore, among them:  we have a lot of families that depend on the fossil fuel industry for their incomes, with at this point – despite Democrats’ protestations – less than comprehensive means to avoid the significant deleterious economic and psychological effects on many of these Americans that would result from the elimination of their livelihoods; our efforts will have little impact if other nations, most notably China (who is reported to be currently relaxing its climate control efforts to counter its slowing economy), don’t employ similar measures; and the more we rely on electricity, the more our power sources may become prey to terrorism and natural disasters that might critically impact our access to power during the north’s frigid winters and the south’s torrid summers.

When we visited Alaska, I was struck by the fact that although it is among our most politically conservative states, no Alaskan we met disputed climate change or the need to address it.  They have seen their glaciers disappear and watched the abundance of their wildlife and its behavior patterns – upon which so many depend for their livelihoods – alter drastically.

I am confident that our young couple will be fine; they survived, and no matter what the ultimate determination of the condition of their home, they are smart and resilient, they will be sustained by their love of their daughter, and they will enjoy the support of a large and loving family.  Even so, the fact remains: It’s not that we haven’t seen anything like this before; it’s that we’ve seen too many like this before.  As I’ve indicated earlier in these pages, I consider the need to safeguard voting rights and outcomes our most immediate national legislative priority.  That said, while taking into account the many interests and issues affected by climate change policy, may this new year be the year in which we as a nation, despite our factious political atmosphere, make meaningful progress toward protecting our world for our children and grandchildren.

May you and your family have a Happy and Healthy New Year.  Stay Safe. 

On Conservatism with a Small “C”

I consider one American commentator to stand above all others, who articulates what I wish I was bright and erudite enough to think:  David Brooks, Columnist for the New York Times, contributor to The Atlantic, participant on Friday’s PBS NewsHour.  Below is a link to an article Mr. Brooks published in The Atlantic earlier this month, “What Happened to American Conservatism?”.  An ode to what American conservatism used to be and making stark distinctions between that philosophy and what passes for Conservativism in the Trump Era, it is not the lightest of reading, but I would submit that it is well worth the investment of your time.