Politics, et Cetera

A publication from The Political Forum, LLC

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

They Said It:

Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in “ordinate affections” or “just sentiments” will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting, and hateful. In the Republic, the well-nurtured youth is one “who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart. All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her.

C.S. Lewis, “The Abolition of Man,” 1947.

 

FROM OPPOSITION TO GOVERNANCE, THE GOP CHALLENGE.

Over the course of an otherwise dreary, rainy, and overcast weekend, we had the pleasure of enjoying one brief but powerful ray of sunshine.  That ray came courtesy of Mark Morford, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.  And to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, one must have a heart of stone not to laugh while reading his latest:

Did you survive? It would appear you have survived.

Albeit, barely.  Albeit sour, sickened, every day for 100 straight waking up merely to endure that first horrorstruck clench of the heart, that moment when you – and really, the entire world – snap out of your calm, liminal dreamhaze and suddenly remember, with a plaintive groan, who the president is, and just how lost, cruel and hopeless everything appears to be. . . .

It’s only been 100 days, but that’s a lifetime in Trump years.  If disillusion is your measure, Trump is a runaway success.  If moral heartache is the yardstick, we are miles high and screaming doom.  If this had all been a reality TV-show contest to see how quickly a single human could disembowel the national spirit, poison international goodwill and bring a pox upon all our houses, Trump has indeed proven to be the biggest loser.

Right now, there is, across the media spectrum, analysis, commentary, a number of outlets sort of half-heartedly attempting to take the “100 days” benchmark semi-seriously.  As in, “Trump promised these 30 things in the first 100 days.  How did he do?” and the like, as though he were an actual, functioning politician with actual, functioning ideas designed to improve the well-being of the nation.

He has nothing of the sort.  He is just an ogre, the hell-mouth incarnate, a shockingly incompetent, weak-kneed, kindness-abhorring con man incapable of a single complex thought, a charlatan merely using the most powerful office in the land to rape the U.S. Treasury and launder mountains of cash through his own businesses. . . .

Everything feels broken, nothing feels healthy.

Poor Mark Morford.  He’s taking this pretty hard.  It’s too bad really.  Just a few short years ago, Mr. Morford was convinced that the world was changing for the better, that it would never be the same, that it could and would be improved by the presence of one man in its midst.  You see, on the off chance that the name sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because “Mark Morford” is also the author of one of our favorite columns of all time, one in which he proclaimed that he was a voice crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the lord.  Seriously.

Barack Obama isn’t really one of us.  Not in the normal way, anyway. . . .

Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment.  These kinds of people actually help us evolve.  They are philosophers and peacemakers of a very high order, and they speak not just to reason or emotion, but to the soul.

The unusual thing is, true Lightworkers almost never appear on such a brutal, spiritually demeaning stage as national politics.  This is why Obama is so rare.

It’s possible we’re wrong, but it strikes us that Mr. Morford has a little trouble with perspective.  He has gone from “lightworker” to “hell-mouth incarnate” in eight short years, two short columns, and one short election.  This suggests not just that the man’s grip on reality was always somewhat tenuous, but that he is taking the Democrats’ loss in last November’s election pretty badly.  He seems, at least, to believe that the loss was decisive, that Donald Trump’s election not only ruined Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Christmas plans, but also knocked humanity off track.

Now, on the one hand, this is entertaining.  Barack Obama ushered in “a new way of being on the planet,” and yet, we suspect that Mark Morford’s life changed not one iota.  Likewise, Donald Trump has broken and raped everything – everything! – and still Mark Morford would have a difficult time explaining how his life is any different today than it was last night . . . or last year.  His obsession with political calculations and his penchant for imputing baseless substance to the least substantive matters are, in a very real sense, comical.  As Ed Driscoll noted on Instapundit, reading Morford induces the very “Dictionary definition of Schadenfreude.”

On the other hand, what we see in Mark Morford’s derangement is a very important and very illustrative phenomenon.  Morford is wrong.  His problem isn’t that “everything” is broken.  Rather, he is broken; he has seen his fantasy world collapse at his feet; and he has had to create another fantasy world to keep him from having to deal with reality and with its discomforts.  His world is shattered.  He and everything he believed was real have been defeated.  Now all he can do is whine and rage about the injustice of it all.  And in this sense, he is perfectly emblematic of the Democratic Party more generally and indeed the entire American Left.

Last week, we noted that the new chairman of the Democratic Party is running around the country, dragging with him, the party’s most popular member – a septuagenarian socialist who only joined the party a year ago.  On this tour, the chairman – the former Obama Secretary of Labor Tom Perez – has been swearing like a sailor and, more to the point, insisting that anyone who doesn’t support abortion on demand is no good, dirty, rotten scoundrel who has no place among civilized Democrats.  Perez is lost.  He is beaten.  He’s cussing at audiences and promoting a man who honeymooned in the Soviet Union.  In short, he is flailing about wildly.  He is raging and whining and acting like a spoiled child.  And he, like Mark Morford, is perfectly representative of the party at the moment.

Aha, you say!  But isn’t this precisely what the Republicans did eight years ago?  Weren’t they broken and beaten, and flailing about aimlessly?  Well, yes and no.  The Republicans were defeated, but they weren’t nearly as disoriented as the Democrats appear to be now.  In any case, the similarities between the Democrats now and the Republicans then are beside the point, or at least beside our point.  Rather, we’d like to take a crack at explaining why the more critical distinction has to do with the behavior of the victorious party in these scenarios.  What that means is that the most important part of the political calculation here is the Republicans’ behavior.  How do they react to the psychosis exemplified by the likes of Morford and Perez?  How do they handle victory?

Back in 2009, when the Obama coalition was ascendant and conservatism had been trounced, the Left assumed that its positioned was foreordained, that it didn’t have to do anything at all to maintain its supremacy.  This is, of course, in keeping with the general tenor of leftism and of Obama’s leftism in particular.  The former president was, you might recall, fond of paraphrasing the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. (among others) in declaring that “the arc of history bends toward justice.”  What he meant by this was that the arc of history bends toward him and his beliefs.  And in both cases, he was wrong.  There is no “arc of history.”  This is a quasi-religious fabrication fashioned by the Left to suggest that its political program – and only its political program – will bring about the long-awaited “good society.”

The Democrats presumed that they were the anointed ones – they were the “change we have been waiting for.”  And as a result, they didn’t think that they had to do anything to maintain their status.  They could continue to behave as they had for the previous eight years.  They could yell, scream, embellish, amplify, and generally carry on in as bombastic a manner as possible.  They had won by being pompous and shrill, after all, and they could consolidate their victory simply by carrying on thusly.  But they were wrong.

While the Republicans were wondering around, out of power, expressing their own rage and frustration, the Democrats continued to insist that they had it all worked out.  When Obama was challenged on his economic plans, his bailout plans, and his health care plans, he responded by saying “I won,” or by demanding that Republicans “get in the backseat” and allow him and his fellow Democrats to drive the car.  (We know; it’s a terrible analogy, but it was his, not ours.)  When they should have been working to explain their ideas, to convince others to give their policies a chance, and to avoid the ridiculousness and hyperbole that had characterized their political rhetoric during the Bush administration, they chose instead to wallow in their contempt for the voters and to demand that anyone who disagreed with them shut up and make themselves scarce.  In brief, they governed precisely as they had operated in opposition – as loud, obnoxious, dismissive, condescending jerks.

And it cost them dearly.  The Democrats were swept in the 2010 midterms.  They barely survived the 2012 election, despite Obama’s personal popularity.  They were crushed again in the 2014 midterms.  And then, in the pièce de résistance of their arrogance, they lost the 2016 election to DONALD TRUMP.  After their victory in 2008, the Democrats proceeded to squander everything they had earned, and they did so specifically because they refused to acknowledge that governing is different from opposition.  Thus they permitted the beaten and broken Republicans recover their wits and recover their lost power.

As you may have guessed by now, we think that there is a lesson here for the Republicans.  Right now, they have more political power – in Washington and in the states – than they have since before the Great Depression.  If they continue to behave as they have, however, this point will represent the apex of that power, which is to say that they will begin to give power back to the otherwise lost and hopeless Democrats.  Now, some loss of power is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be as dramatic and majority-shifting as the last three midterms were.  Indeed, the Republicans have the people on their side.  They simply must govern and communicate with the people as a responsible governing party.

What this would entail, obviously, would be abandoning the bluster and the hyperbole of the past few years.  It would mean giving up the wild rants and adopting a communications strategy designed specifically to explain the intellectual and practical rationale of their policies to the people.  More to the point, it would involve explaining these aspects of their governing philosophy in a manner that suggests they understand that the people are fully grown, fully functional adults.  Barack Obama treated the people like they were children.  That was a mistake of unmeasurable proportion.  Of course, it was the only thing he knew to do, since it’s precisely what he believed (and believes).  And rather than convince the people of anything, he very nearly killed his party in the process.

We’ll be blunt.  In our estimation, the Republicans are off to a terrible start.  And while one might think that the chief offender here is ol’ Cap’n Bombast himself, the Mad Tweeter in the Oval Office, we’re pretty sure that’s not the case.  President Trump may well be obnoxious and hyperbolic, but at the very least, he believes in communicating directly with the people, making them think that he sees them as his equals, his clients, not his subjects.

Naturally, if the problem isn’t Trump – or at least not Trump primarily – that leaves the rest of the GOP in Washington, the feckless and senseless peacocks on the Hill.  The poster boy for Congressional Republicans this spring is Oklahoma Congressman Markwayne Mullin, who last month was caught on video telling angry constituents that it’s “bullcrap” that they pay for him to represent them in Congress.  “This is a service for me,” the Congressman continued, “not a career.”  We can only hope that the people of Oklahoma are grateful to their dear leader for deigning to provide them the “service” of deciding how their lives should be managed by the federal leviathan.

Unfortunately, Mullin is hardly alone.  Republicans in Congress have promised considerable reform and have delivered almost none of it, insisting that “political considerations” keep them from proceeding with any sense of purpose.  For our part, we’d suggest that if they are so concerned that their policies will have negative electoral repercussions, then they should get better at explaining the rationale behind those policies, rather than simply complaining that the media is unfair, that the Democrats are nasty, and that the President is a complicating factor.  If they quit whining and exaggerating – ala Mark Morford – they might learn something.  More to the point, they might be able to teach something.

If the Republicans – on the Hill, in the White House, in the states – need examples of the type of actions they might want to consider, they could do worse than to pay attention to Fox News.  Now, we know that the conventional wisdom has it that Fox is self-destructing, that it is abandoning its core demographics to appease the politically correct and especially to sooth the less-than-animal spirits of Rupert Murdoch’s sons, Lachlan and James.  There is undoubtedly some truth to this, but we’re not certain it’s the entire truth.  Certainly, it’s not all that evident form the direction the network has taken over the last few weeks and months.

Last summer, the network dismissed its principal architect, Roger Ailes.  A few weeks back, it did the same to its most popular anchor, Bill O’Reilly.  Rumors these days suggest that Sean Hannity is next.  It’s a PURGE of the conservatives, we’re told.  But again, we’re not sure.

At least for the time being, O’Reilly’s slot in primetime has been filled by Tucker Carlson.  Now, Carlson may not be a bona fide intellectual in the tradition of William F. Buckley, but he’s not too far off.  He was a print journalist and essayist for several years before getting into television, and he is both well versed in conservative thought and easily able to apply that thought to political discourse.  And he has thus far been a very successful, very welcome addition to the Fox lineup.  Or, to put it another way, he is the calmer, more respectable, more intellectual version of O’Reilly, a man capable of explaining conservatism, rather than simply regurgitating the talking points written for him by his ghostwriter.  He represents precisely the transformation that conservatism needs to go from opposition to governing ethos.

Obviously, we don’t know if this single data point will represent a genuine trend at Fox.  But we do know that it’s a good start.  More to the point, we know that it is a model for broader conservative action.

This may sound strange, coming as it does from two hacks who were run out of their big time Wall Street jobs because their work product did not conform to the operating philosophy of the firm, but the time for conservative bomb throwing is over.  Now is the time to move beyond the bombast and incitement and to adopt a reasoned approach to governing.

Americans no longer need to be told over and over and over again why cultural and economic liberalism is inimical to their values, their beliefs, their communities, their families, and their very souls.  With a few million exceptions – that 30% who are diehard leftists — Americans know all of this by now.  And they voted accordingly, if not for Trump specifically, then for conservative representation at some level of government.  They did so, we believe, not because they were completely sold on conservative ideas, but because they were sick of the liberal ones.  They’re tired of being treated like children, for starters.  Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity and the entire cast at Fox News can take a great deal of credit for this, for making the people aware of the disdain in which their “betters” held them.  The Fox folks were invaluable during the war to “take back America,” by explaining the damage being done by the liberal ethos.  But that war is over.  And the task now is to win the peace, to calmly and clearly sell conservative ideas and conservative governance to Americans.

It will be an uphill struggle, no doubt.  The American educational system has intentionally created a vast population of citizens who have no understanding of economics, civics, or even the basic notion of the social contract.  The job ahead for the Republicans is to begin the process of teaching their constituents the truth about these matters.

Again, to be blunt, Trump is actually doing a far better job here than most other Republicans.  It helps that he has the bully pulpit, of course, but he still treats his fellow Americans like his fellow Americans, not the rabble over whom he is compelled to sit in judgment.  He talks about trade and jobs and bringing order back to our cities.  He may not always understand the phenomena as well as others, but at least he discusses the issues directly with the people.  And that in itself is a big deal.

Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, by contrast, were still haranguing against liberalism.  That’s understandable, we suppose, but it’s also boring.  And there is no greater sin in politics or entertainment that to be boring.

Nearly seventy years ago, another scorned and ridiculed president made his bones by speaking bluntly and honestly.  Harry Truman said of his political foes: “I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it’s hell.”

That’s what the Republicans should be doing.  And if they can, they will absolutely infuriate the already infuriated and unhinged leftists.  The voting public will see the Left attacking normal, mild-mannered intellectuals – like, say, Charles Murray – rather than provocateurs like Ann Coutler and Milo Yiannapoulos.  This will damage the Left, even as it encourages the right.  It will enable Republicans to keep the Democrats on the fringes.

The Democrats didn’t have the discipline – or the intellectual background, frankly – to do this.  Time and elections will tell if the Republicans do.

 

CHAOS AND OLD NIGHT, REDUX.

As you may have heard, yesterday, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for ALL of Europe.  Apparently, the threat of terrorism is such that Americans travelling to the Old World should be careful. Reuters reports:

In the alert, the State Department cited recent incidents in France, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom and said Islamic State and al Qaeda “have the ability to plan and execute terrorist attacks in Europe.”

The State Department’s previous travel alert for Europe, issued ahead of the winter holiday season, expired in February.  A State Department official said Monday’s alert was not prompted by a specific threat, but rather recognition of the continuing risk of attacks especially ahead of the summer holidays.  The alert expires on Sept. 1.

Malls, government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, airports and other locations are all possible targets for attacks, the State Department’s alert said.

This is a bit disconcerting, as terrorism always is.  Nevertheless, it isn’t the reason that we would hesitate to travel to Europe these days.  Our reason has little to do with attacks and targets, and everything to do with health concerns.  In late March, the World Health Organization issued its own advisory, which read as follows:

Over 500 measles cases were reported for January 2017 in the WHO European Region.  Measles continues to spread within and among European countries, with the potential to cause large outbreaks wherever immunization coverage has dropped below the necessary threshold of 95%. . . .

559 measles cases were reported in the Region for January 2017.  Of these, 474 cases were reported in 7 of the 14 endemic countries (France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Switzerland and Ukraine).  Preliminary information for February indicates that the number of new infections is sharply rising.  In all of these countries, estimated national immunization coverage with the second dose of measles-containing vaccine is less than the 95% threshold. . . .

Romania has reported over 3400 cases and 17 deaths since January 2016 (as of 10 March 2017).  The majority of cases are concentrated in areas where immunization coverage is especially low.

According to reported data, the 3 measles genotypes circulating in Romania since January 2016 were not spreading in the country before, but were reported in several other European countries and elsewhere in 2015.  Comprehensive laboratory and epidemiological data are needed before the origin of infection and routes of transmission can be concluded.

Italy has seen a sharp rise in cases in the first weeks of 2017. With 238 cases reported so far for January 2017 and preliminary information indicating at least as many cases for February, the total number of cases reported for 2016 (approximately 850) may soon be surpassed.

For the record, since the WHO issued its report, Italy’s number of cases has risen to some 1,700 and Romania’s has risen to nearly 4,000.  All of which is to say that Europe is quite a dangerous place right now – and not because of terrorism.

Of course, the simple fact of the matter is that you really have to go all the way to Europe to find a measles outbreak.  Heck, you don’t have to go any farther than Minnesota’s own Twin Cities.  According to a St. Paul Pioneer Press story from over the weekend, the Twin Cities now have 32 confirmed cases, 28 of which are found in the area’s rather significant Somali-American community.  Fortunately, there’s no reason at all to worry.  The Minnesota Health Department said that the outbreak is related to fears of vaccinations among the Somali-Americans that are unfounded but nevertheless prevalent.  Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease division director at the Health Department, says that “anti-vaccine groups are quite aggressive” in targeting the Somali immigrants, which has created a major vaccination problem.

For our part, we’re not really worried about measles.  We’ve had our shots.  Our kids and/or grandkids have had their shots.  We’re not really at risk – whether we’re in Bucharest or Burnsville.

The catch is that measles isn’t the only infectious disease in the world.  It is among the most contagious, which is why it tends to pop up in various places from time to time, but there are countless other communicable diseases, and many of those have neither cure nor vaccine.  And the prevalence of measles of late suggests to us that there may be a problem bubbling just below the surface, which could be even more serious and potentially more deadly.

Nearly three years ago, as Ebola was rampaging through West Africa and, on occasion, making its way out of Africa to the United States and Europe, we warned that the state of the world – and especially the volatility causing massive migration and massive military deployments – should be cause for concern.  We put it this way:

[T]he world is a pretty messed up place right now.  We have all been treated of late to scores of articles detailing the physical, social, cultural, and economic destruction wrought by World War I.  It is worth remembering, we think, that despite the fact that that war is now a century in the past, it is undoubtedly still relevant today, as many of the conditions that fostered all of that destruction are still extant in the world.

We are lucky, we suppose, that the epidemic currently ravaging Africa is not airborne, as was the Spanish Flu.  Nevertheless, the Ebola outbreak, if not contained, can and will have significant economic impact on Africa at least, and possibly on other parts of the globe.  Imagine, for example, what would happen if Ebola were to spread to the Middle East, where war, refugees, and lack of sanitation suggest a public health disaster in the making.  Imagine further a different virus, one which might be airborne, spreading in that region.

And then imagine what that might mean, given the staggering number of refugees at present in the Middle East.  Just last week, for example, 50,000 Iraqi Yazidi were displaced from their homes by the advance of ISIS (The Islamic State . . . ) Just.  Last.  Week.  Currently, there are at least THREE MILLION Syrian refugees who have fled their country’s civil war.  Some of these have fled to Turkey.  Others have gone to Jordan.  But by far and away, the greatest number have gone to Lebanon, the population of which is now estimated to be roughly 1/3rd Syrian refugees. . . .

Now, consider that the Middle East is home to one of the least understood and potentially most dangerous infectious respiratory viruses around.  MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, is a potential mass killer. . . .

The United Nations refugee agency, among others, is lamenting the fact that polio vaccinations among the refugees in Lebanon will be unable to continue.  The sheer volume of refugees, combined with the cost of the program makes it impossible to maintain.  And that, in turn, means that these masses of refugees, an estimated half of which are children, will remain vulnerable.

Lastly, consider the fact that the United States alone has nearly 20,000 military personnel deployed in the Middle East and Africa, with an additional 30,000 in Afghanistan.  And the Americans are hardly alone; Australian, British, and EU troops and aid workers join them in the region, as do countless NGO and UN employees.

Think, for a minute, what it would mean to the global economy – and especially to the energy sector – if any one of these highly contagious viruses were to metastasize among the refugee populations in the Middle East and then spread, as it inevitably would, to the aid workers and military personnel stationed there to help.  Said virus could well follow the path travelled by the Spanish Flu, creating a global pandemic.

We should note that we wrote this piece a full year before the refugee crisis began in earnest, which is to say before the displaced populations of Africa and the Middle East began making their way to Europe in massive numbers.

To be fair, all of the information provided by national health agencies, the WHO, and various and sundry government officials asserts that the current measles outbreak in Europe has nothing whatsoever to do with the new migrants from the developing world.  As WHO spokesperson Cristiana Salvi stated, “Most outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles occur in the Region [Europe] independently of refugee and migrant population movement.”  To be realistic, however, we should note that Salvi’s declaration is far from proven.  Moreover, even if it were proven, it would represent sheer dumb luck and nothing more.  Writing recently in the journal Pathogens and Global Health, Daniele Mipatrini, Paola StefanelliSantino Severoni & Giovanni Rezza, reported the following:

The decline of immunization rates in countries of origin of migrants and refugees, along with risky conditions during the journey to Europe, may threaten migrants’ health.  We performed a systematic review of the scientific literature in order to assess the frequency of vaccine preventable diseases, and vaccination coverage among migrants and refugees in Europe. . . . In summary, several studies highlighted that migrants and refugees have lower immunization rates compared to European-born individuals.  Firstly, this is due to low vaccination coverage in the country of origin.  Then, several problems may limit migrants’ access to vaccination in Europe: (i) migrants are used to move around the continent, and many vaccines require multiple doses at regular times; (ii) information on the immunization status of migrants is often lacking; (iii) hosting countries face severe economic crises; (iv) migrants often refuse registration with medical authorities for fear of legal consequences and (v) the lack of coordination among public health authorities of neighboring countries may determine either duplications or lack of vaccine administration.

To put that into English:  migrant populations have lower likelihood of vaccinations in their home countries and are also less likely to get vaccinated upon arrival in their new homes.  And again, this applies whether you’re in Milan or Minnetonka.

Does this mean that migrants will cause an outbreak of some disease or another?  Of course not.  It does, however, mean that all of the conditions we noted back in 2014 are now exacerbated by the fact that many of the displaced populations are travelling farther and wider than they were back then.  Additionally, neither Europeans nor Americans are about to “shut their borders” to these migrants like some of their neighboring countries did, which means that there will be greater numbers of people, having traveled greater distances, with less opportunity for government officials in host countries to keep track of, much less monitor the health of, newly arrived populations.  That too is disconcerting.

The world is complicated and messy place.  Black swans lurk is a variety of places.  Don’t be caught completely unprepared.

 

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.