Politics, et Cetera

A publication from The Political Forum, LLC

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

They Said It:

Atheist teachers in the West are bringing up a younger generation in a spirit of hatred of their own society. Amid all the vituperation we forget that the defects of capitalism represent the basic flaws of human nature, allowed unlimited freedom together with the various human rights; we forget that under Communism (and Communism is breathing down the neck of all moderate forms of socialism, which are unstable) the identical flaws run riot in any person with the least degree of authority; while everyone else under that system does indeed attain “equality” – the equality of destitute slaves. This eager fanning of the flames of hatred is becoming the mark of today’s free world. Indeed, the broader the personal freedoms are, the higher the level of prosperity or even of abundance – the more vehement, paradoxically, does this blind hatred become. The contemporary developed West thus demonstrates by its own example that human salvation can be found neither in the profusion of material goods nor in merely making money.

This deliberately nurtured hatred then spreads to all that is alive, to life itself, to the world with its colors, sounds, and shapes, to the human body. The embittered art of the twentieth century is perishing as a result of this ugly hate, for art is fruitless without love. In the East art has collapsed because it has been knocked down and trampled upon, but in the West the fall has been voluntary, a decline into a contrived and pretentious quest where the artist, instead of attempting to reveal the divine plan, tries to put himsef in the place of God.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn “Men Have Forgotten God,” Templeton Prize Address, 1983.

 

TRUMP, WATERGATE, AND THE HEROIC-JOURNALIST TALE.

We’ll begin today with a brief civics quiz, of sorts.  Name three reporters.  Print reporters, that is.  None of these pretty fellas on TV.  And no “opinion journalists” either.  Just plain, old newspaper – or new media – reporters.  Name three.

Can’t do it?

Well, let’s make it easier.  Name two.

OK, now that that’s done, and now that every single one of you named the exact two same reporters – whose names go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly – we want to make a point or two about the press in the Age of Trump.

Everyone everywhere – or at least everyone of a certain age – knows who Woodward and Bernstein are.  Not everyone knows their first names (Bob and Carl), but everyone has heard of the two great men, the two journalistic superstars who “brought down a president.”  Indeed, just two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (a.k.a. “nerd prom”), the New York Times reminded its readers just how super-wonderful-terrific-awesome-spectacular these two now-septuagenarian reporters are and how important they are in the ethos of contemporary journalism.  “Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, seated on the dais, reminded the room of journalism’s power,” the Times wrote, “and Mr. Woodward articulated the subtext of the evening when he addressed Mr. Trump directly, saying, ‘Mr. President, the media is not fake news.’”  “‘Having Woodward and Bernstein sends another message,’” the Times later quotes longtime Washington hysteric E.J. Dionne as stating “that journalists can, under the right circumstances, topple a presidency.”

Now, it doesn’t really matter that this characterization of Watergate is suspect at best.  W. Joseph Campbell, a professor of Communications at American University and a long-time media critic, recently called the media’s self-righteous Watergate tale a “trope” and a “myth.”  He is right, of course.  But no one really cares.  Woodward and Bernstein are media heroes.  They are idols.  They had a movie made about them, for cripes sake.  And Carl Bernstein, a man with a face created for print journalism and not for TV, was played by Robert Redford of all people, the dashingest, hardest-Left heartthrob of his day.  Together, this dynamic duo saved the world and everyone in it from Nixon, the most dastardly human being ever to walk the face of the earth.

Until now, that is.

Today, of course, Nixon’s eviler twin sits in the Oval Office, plotting ways to destroy the Constitution, round up all the undesirables, make the rich richer, and generally make Hitler look like a piker by comparison.  Or at least that’s the impression the mainstream press wants to sell you.  They can’t stand Trump – even though they’re largely responsible for him – and they want, with all their hearts and completely-secular-but-nonetheless-real souls, to destroy him, to “topple” his presidency.

We would like to tell you that all of the hysteria extant in our political system these days comes exclusively from fringe nutjobs, people like Congresswoman Maxine Waters or former British MP Louise Mensch.  But we would be lying.  The truth of the matter is that the press is equally hysterical about everything President Trump does.  Last week, for example, CNN tried with all its might to turn the fact that Trump had two scoops of ice cream at a White House dinner into a scandal.  We kid you not.  Ice cream.

On a more serious note, the President’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey sent the media into fits of apoplexy akin to those usually seen only on college campuses.  Nixon comparisons were, naturally, de rigueur.  But some journalists – even some who are generally respected by the Washington in-crowd – took the search for precedents even further, into even darker territory.  CBS News’s Bob Schieffer thought that Trump’s behavior with respect to Comey was like “something out of a Godfather movie.”  Even worse, in an interview with his network’s Gayle King, Schieffer went full conspiracy nut:

You know, there are many parallels Watergate.  But I have to tell you, I think all the way back to the Kennedy assassination, to draw parallels.  I was there, as you know.  I have always felt that if Lee Harvey Oswald had been put on trial, a lot of these conspiracy theories that are still circulating today would have been put at rest then. . . .

Look at what’s happened in Washington right now.  It’s come to a complete stop while the country and Washington tries to digest the firing of James Comey.  Putting this to rest is not going to be helped by firing the guy who was doing the investigation.  Sending these people out to explain the inexplicable is not going to help.  He’s making fools of his own staff.  The White House appears to be in chaos.  It is the original amateur hour as we look at it from the outside.

Just by way of reference, we should note that Schieffer is, among other things, the former host of CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” and, more to the point, one of the most “respected” presidential debate moderators.  And he’s gone off the rails.  Because of Trump.

Schieffer is hardly alone, of course.  The entire mainstream press appears to have gone nuts because of Trump.  Most people assume it is because the members of the press are lefties, biased ideologues who hate Republicans and love Democrats.  There is a great deal of truth in this.  We won’t pretend otherwise.  Media bias is real and it’s pernicious.

But there is something else here as well, something that can only be explained by Woodward and Bernstein and by the media’s sanctification of the two.

Consider, if you will, how the media describes, debates, and assesses Democratic administrations.  As a general rule, they rate Democratic presidents based on their effectiveness in terms of accomplishing goals, advancing a “progressive” agenda, popularity with the voters, or economic performance.  Rarely do they discuss scandals, failures, corruption, or the appearances of untoward behavior.  And when they do, they focus only briefly on one aspect of corruption, preferring to call it a “distraction” rather than a major factor in the presidency.

Bill Clinton, for example, is known to the media as the most popular president in recent memory.  Sure, he devastated the Democratic Party and helped Republicans gain the Congressional majority for the first time in half-a-century, but a lot of people liked him.  Moreover, the economy did pretty well under Clinton, which means he was a super president.  As for scandal, there was that Monica Lewinsky business, but that was a “personal matter” and Republicans should just grow up anyway.

Longtime readers of this newsletter, as well as most sentient beings, know that the Lewinsky business was a side show for the Clintons and that the real corruption took place elsewhere, over the span of several years, and involved countless violations of both the law and accepted ethical norms.  If, say, we told you that one president (Trump) fired the FBI Director, whom it was well within his power to fire, who had broken Justice Department protocol on countless occasions, and who had been nearly universally deemed ineffective and out of his element by most observers; and meanwhile, another president (Clinton) had confidential FBI files on a former White House employee delivered, by hand, to the Oval Office, and had another 800-plus confidential FBI files on prominent Republicans sent over to the White House at a later date; which one would you think had committed a major breach of political ethics?  Which one would you think was Nixonian?  Which one would you think had obstructed justice, violated the public trust, ignited a constitutional crisis, and deserved to be impeached?  In our estimation, the answer is pretty cut and dried, not that anyone in the media even cares or remembers who Billy Dale or Craig Livingstone were.

Consider as well the presidency of Barack Obama.  To hear the media tell the tale, he was a well-liked, decent man who did everything in his power to advance a compassionate agenda and, more to the point, managed to avoid any and all scandal in his eight years in the White House.  This is crazy, to say the least.  If, say, we told you that one president wanted to use the IRS to attack his political opponents but was thwarted by the Director of the agency; and another president saw his appointees to the IRS succeed in using the agency to damage his political opponents, perhaps even contributing to his reelection; would you know that Nixon was the former and Obama the latter?  We suspect you would.  We also suspect that no one in the media cares.

A couple of months ago, National Review’s Kevin Williamson, who just happens to be one of the most aggressively and consistent anti-Trumpers around, penned a piece documenting the ridiculousness of the media’s treatment of our 45th president.  He began as follows:

The problem with the man currently leading the Republican party is that he is, as the Washington Post puts it, a hostage to the “fanatical policies of the extreme right.”  His administration “insults women” and his unwelcome presence in public life “insults us all.”  And, because the Republican party is all about the winning these days, the GOP establishment is “ready to forgive” . . . what? . . . ”just about anything — as long as he wins.”

So says the Post, which is not alone in this estimate: Extreme on economic issues, extreme on the so-called social issues, he even has had an “extreme foreign-policy makeover,” according to The Atlantic.  His views on immigration, MSNBC says, represent the Republican party “shrinking down to its most extreme elements.”  One cable-news panelist insists he was the most extreme Republican presidential candidate ever.  Paul Krugman laments that he has forsaken all serious policy thinking for “dangerous fantasy.”  Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times is also alert to the “dangers” he presents, the “most dangerous of all” being his views on Iran, though Kristof also worries that he is too buddy-buddy with that awful, scheming Benjamin Netanyahu.  Predictably, Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow dogpiled him for his perplexing relationship with Moscow.  Vice calls him a “sociopath” and Maureen Dowd dismissed him as “an out-of-touch plutocrat” who keeps “his true nature . . . buried where we can’t see it,” a devious figure who is so awful deep down inside that he “must hide an essential part of who he is” from the public.

Only then did Williamson reveal his little secret.  NONE of this has anything to do with Trump:  “President Mitt Romney sounds like he would have been a riot.”  The point?  The members of the media not only presume that Republicans are dangerous, corrupt, and out-of-the-mainstream, but they go out of their way to make the case.  They go out of their way to cast Republicans specifically as violators of political and ethical norms – even if said Republican happens to be one of the more decent and honest men to subject himself to running for president in at least the last century.

Some of this, as we said, is bias.  The media treat Democrats and Republicans differently.  There’s no way around that.  Still, some of this, some of this focus on ethics and corruption with Republican presidents is more than mere prejudice.  Some of it is the expression of a fantasy, a desire to act out what the aforementioned C. Joseph Campbell calls the “heroic journalist tale.”  Campbell notes that this tale springs from Watergate, which is “deeply ingrained in American journalism as one of the field’s most important and self-reverential stories.”

At the top of this piece, we asked you to name two reporters.  Here’s the catch, though: today’s journalists don’t see the two you named (and we named and everyone else named) as mere reporters.  As we noted earlier, they see them as real American supermen, selfless champions who saved the United States from itself and its stupid voters.  And they want nothing more to be like these heroes, to have everyone everywhere know who they are and what they did, to become household names, to have Brad Pitt or Amy Schumer play them in a movie.  They can’t go after Democrats, of course, not just because they like Democrats, but because they still want to be invited to cocktail parties and have their kids get into the “right” pre-schools.  And so they go after Republicans – every Republican who occupies or dares to occupy the White House.  They try their damnedest to live out their fantasy, to find the right tidbit of unsubstantiated and unsourced information that will bring down Trump – or Bush, or Bush, or Reagan, or whomever the Republicans nominate next time.

Why should anyone other than these poor souls’ psycho-analysts care about this?  Well, largely because it creates a false sense of chaos, a false notion that Republicans are so busy committing, covering up, and deflecting from scandal that they can’t and SHOULDN’T get anything else done.  Ever.  If we go back to Bob Schieffer’s silly quote above, comparing Trump to Lee Harvey Oswald, he finishes his thought, saying, “He has got to give them [his supporters] some reason to believe that these things are not true.  Frankly, unless he is able to do this, this is going to dog his presidency for the rest of his term . . . . He’s got a lot of work to do, and so far what he has done has not helped in my view.”  Trump, Schieffer implies, can’t do anything else – tax reform, health care reform, regulatory reform – until he proves a negative and shows that the conspiracy theories circling in Democratic and media circles are false.  And since we all know that the one conspiracy theory will, in time, be replaced by another and then another and then another, what Schieffer is really saying is that Trump can’t and SHOULDN’T do anything at all in his four (or eight) years in the White House other than play along with the media’s heroic myth, a myth in which the President plays the bad guy.

Additionally, and perhaps more to the point, the media are so invested in this myth and in their own place in the myth that they can’t and won’t ever give up.  If Trump manages to elude the media cops on Russia, they’ll have to get him on something else.  And then there will be new heroes in the Pantheon.  And if they fail to get Trump, they’ll get the next guy – Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, whomever.  Heck, even if they get Trump – and that’s a theoretical possibility, we’ll concede – they’ll still try to get the next guy.  The hero myth will be reinforced, and every journalist for another two, three, four generations will set out to save the world from the ravages of Republicans.

We do not know what the future holds.  Or more specifically, how Trump will react to all of this as it worsens, which it most likely will.  But our guess is that he will soon figure out that the Left is not simply out to stop him from enacting a conservative agenda, but is actually trying to destroy him personally; that stopping his tax and health policies is not the goal; that the goal is impeachment.  Knowing what we known about Trump, our guess is that at that point, he too will make the fight personal.

And in the meantime, the rest of us will still be waiting for our tax cuts, or our health care reform, or the destruction of the regulatory state.  The whole thing is depressing, predictable, and depressingly predictable.  Trump may or may not be the crooked fabulist the media tells us he is, but in the end it doesn’t matter.  They would have told us that Mitt Romney was as well.  And John McCain.  And Bob Dole.  Etc., etc., ad infinitum.

 

EDUCATING THE LEADERS OF TOMORROW.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in a cave in Afghanistan for the last few years, you don’t need us to tell you that American universities have once again become the home of intolerant tolerance and incipient authoritarianism masquerading as “politeness.”  From anti-fascist fascists waging (literal) war against speakers who violate their sense of propriety to professors who demand that campus police provide “a little muscle” to keep student- newspaper photographers from getting too close to their drum circles, the nation’s campuses have been overrun of late with violence-promoting nuttiness.

Just over the last couple of weeks, the reports from various spots around the higher education world would cause Orwell to roll his eyes at the ridiculousness and implausibility of it all.  At Clemson University, the newly elected student government insists that all staff and faculty submit to mandatory LBGT “ally training.”  At Duke, a professor of Catholic theology has come under attack from various circles – including his department chair – for calling diversity training “a waste.”   At St. Olaf College in Minnesota, students boycotted classes and called for mandatory diversity training, after a “racist” letter was found on campus; the students maintained their protests and their demands, even after the letter was proven to be a hoax.  At Arizona State University, the administration went full-Stalin and went about trying to turn its students into snitches.  Heat Street provides the details:

Administrators at the University of Arizona are now accepting applications for “social justice advocates,” whose job it is to snitch on other students accused of bias.  They’re also expected to hold educational programs about “the mosaic of diversity, multiculturalism and inclusivity” and maintain “social justice bulletin boards” in student residence halls.

The job, which officially calls (archived link) for the advocates to “report any bias incidents or claims to appropriate Residence Life staff,” pays the student workers $10 an hour.  They’re expected to work 15 hours a week, which means they could be making as much as $600 a month to police their fellow students . . . .

The core responsibility . . . is to report bias claims.

All of this, needless to say, is bat-guano crazy.  Unfortunately, on the crazy-scale, none of them – not even the ASU’s NKVD informers – comes close to Nora Berenstain, a philosophy professor at the University of Tennessee, who recently railed against a fellow feminist professor, Rebecca Tuval, for daring to stray too far from currently accepted leftist dogma.  National Review’s David French reported the “two-minute hate” directed at Tuval as follows:

[Tuval’s] crime was serious: She had the audacity to write a paper exploring the arguments “for and against transracialism” and argued that “considerations that support transgenderism extend to transracialism.”  In other words, she took the question that millions of Americans asked when Rachel Dolezal was exposed — if a man can “really” be a woman, why can’t a white person “really” be black? — and explored it through a liberal, feminist lens.

Judging from the reaction, you would have thought she burned a cross in the quad.  A fully woke University of Tennessee professor named Nora Berenstain fired the first shots.  Her (now-private) Facebook post reads like an Onion parody of political correctness.  It’s worth quoting at length:

Tuvel enacts violence and perpetuates harm in numerous ways throughout her essay.  She deadnames a trans woman.  She uses the term “transgenderism.”  She talks about “biological sex” and uses phrases like “male genitalia.”  She focuses enormously on surgery, which promotes the objectification of trans bodies.  She refers to “a male-to- female (mtf) trans individual who could return to male privilege,” promoting the harmful transmisogynistic ideology that trans women have (at some point had) male privilege.  In her discussion of “transracialism,” Tuvel doesn’t cite a single woman of color philosopher, nor does she substantively engage with any work by Black women, nor does she cite or engage with the work of any Black trans women who have written on this topic.

In a sense, it’s hard not to laugh at Professor Berenstain.  For crying out loud, this reads like a parody of leftist academic gibberish.  In another, more appropriate sense, there is really nothing to laugh at here.  Berenstain’s response isn’t a joke.  It’s honest-to-goodness academic jargon, which is to say that it is representative of what passes for scholarship on America’s campuses today.

Years ago, we used to write about higher education somewhat frequently.  And the focus of our meditations was the effect that academic incompetence and fatuity were having on the nation’s young men and women, the people who would, in time, be expected to take over the day-to-day operations of America’s businesses, charities, churches, families, and government.  We – and countless others – were concerned that the descent of higher education into leftist pabulum would foster successive generations of dumber and dumber “leaders” who know nothing about civics, economics, philosophy, and history, if for no other reason than they were taught nothing about civics, economics, philosophy, and history.  And while we were right about this, we were also, unfortunately complacent.  And over time our focus – again, along with that of countless others – shifted from the effect on students to the effect on more ethereal notions like “free speech” and “academic freedom.”  This was a terrible mistake.

We understand that academic freedom and freedom of expression are important.  And we support both wholeheartedly.  At the same time, we think it’s worth keeping in mind that all of this authoritarian nonsense, not to mention the jargonistic gibberish, is taking place at the nation’s institutions of EDUCATION and professional training.  It’s clear that Nora Berenstain is immersed in subject matter and research that is a joke.  But the joke no longer seems funny when you stop to think about the fact that she gets paid to TEACH 18, 19, and 20 year-olds.

Now, lest you think that this is a problem only in the humanities, that America’s great universities will continue to produce great and well-educated students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), we have bad news for you.  No segment of American higher education is immune from the insanity/failure to educate.  Earlier this spring, for example, Purdue University hired a new professor/administrator, a woman named Donna Riley, who will head the university’s School of Engineering Education.  Professor Riley, who received her PhD from Carnegie Mellon, prides herself on her bona fides as an advocate for social justice.  On her bio page at Smith University, where she taught for many years, she wrote the following:

My scholarship currently focuses on applying liberative pedagogies in engineering education, leveraging best practices from women’s studies and ethnic studies to engage students in creating a democratic classroom that encourages all voices.  In 2005 I received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation to support this work, which includes developing, implementing, and assessing curricular and pedagogical innovations based on liberative pedagogies and student input at Smith, and understanding how students at Smith conceptualize their identities as engineers.  I seek as an engineering educator to be part of a paradigm shift that these pedagogies demand, repositioning concerns about diversity in science and engineering from superficial measures of equity as headcounts, to addressing justice and the genuine engagement of all students as core educational challenges.

I currently teach traditional courses in the areas of chemical and environmental engineering, as well as elective courses on engineering and global development, science, technology, and ethics (cross-listed with SWG) and technological risk assessment and communication.  I seek to revise engineering curricula to be relevant to a fuller range of student experiences and career destinations, integrating concerns related to public policy, professional ethics and social responsibility; de-centering Western civilization; and uncovering contributions of women and other underrepresented groups.

Sadly, it gets worse.  In a 2013 interview with Autostraddle as part of its “Queered Science series,” Riley said:

One of the biggest sources of sexism and homophobia is lodged in the epistemology of science.  How we think, and what we think, matter in determining what we know and don’t know, and affects our workplace interactions in very negative ways.  We think that we eliminate bias by keeping our “personal lives” – some aspects of ourselves – out of the lab, classroom, or office.  But actually this is how we allow implicit bias to seep in and saturate everything we do, because that which is male, straight, white, able-bodied, monied, is not left behind in the practice of science and engineering – it is just so normative that lots of us don’t notice.

I have learned that talking about these issues and building solidarity with like-minded others is the only way we can ever address them.  Ultimately scientists and engineers have to be able to think outside the epistemological boxes we’ve been trained into to understand diversity and social justice.  Cultural change takes a lot of hard work, it takes talking to people and organizing — skills typically not in our wheelhouses as scientists and engineers.

Sigh.

Throughout the Obama presidency, we lamented the fact that Obama embraced a “post-Western” cultural ethos, an ethos he learned at the feet of his post-modern professors at Occidental, Columbia, and especially Harvard Law School.  Obama’s education, we argued, informed his decisions as president.  And since his education focused on the sins of Western Civilization and the Anglosphere in particular, Obama’s political thought was, in turn, antagonistic to the traditional ends of Western and American interests.  Obama was, we argued, associated, both personally and intellectually, with the strains of American leftism that see the United States and its Western progenitors as forces for evil rather than good in the world.  And it showed in his foreign policy.

Now, if you have the stomach for it, fast forward three decades into the future and imagine the foreign policy of a president educated by the likes of Nora Berenstain and Donna Riley.  We can’t say what sort of foreign – or domestic – policy such a mal-educated dolt might embrace, but we do know that it will be a disaster.

Longtime readers will note that we have long been critical of the liberal Baby Boomers and their negative impact on American politics.  Sadly, we think we’ll miss them when they’re gone.  We have little faith in their Gen-X successors and even less in the Millennials.

American higher education has been the envy of the world for the better of a century.  Countries from all over the globe send their best and brightest here to absorb all that there is to learn.  Maybe all of this is part of some super-secret CIA program to destroy our enemies by turning their future leaders into babbling idiots.

We can hope anyway, can’t we?

P.S.  In the meantime, we can also hope that the robots who will actually do the work for which these people are being trained are not programmed to share their weird beliefs.

Copyright 2017. The Political Forum. 3350 Longview Ct., Lincoln NE  68506, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.