American “leadership”

I thought I might fail to blog today, but a kerfuffle between the President and Senator John McCain got the juices running.

When I read stories about “far right” European parties or candidates, I keep encountering the same feelings.

  • First, there’s appreciation that immigration can change a society, destroying much of what current citizens value.
  • Second, the appreciation that many of the immigrants in issue are refugees, and that American actions (with varying complicity by Western European nations) arguably have created the refugee crisis.
  • Third, and weakest, a suspicion that if we hadn’t broken the Middle East, something else would have. How long can strongmen like Sadaam Hussein and Bashir Al Assad keep power and order in their lands, U.S. support or opposition notwithstanding?

Which brings me to the kerfuffle:

Mr. McCain condemned “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats” than solve problems.

“You know, I’m being very nice. I’m being very, very nice,” the president said. “But at some point I fight back and it won’t be pretty.”

“It’s fine with me,” Mr. McCain responded on Tuesday to Mr. Trump’s remark. “I’ve faced some fairly significant adversaries in the past.”

The verbal sparring was the latest round of animosity between Mr. Trump and the Republican senator, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. The president has criticized and taunted Mr. McCain, most recently for his vote dooming a Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act; early in the presidential campaign he said Mr. McCain was “not a war hero” and that “I like people who weren’t captured.”

In Philadelphia on Monday night, Mr. McCain spoke after the National Constitution Center bestowed on him an award honoring his fight for liberty. He emphasized the benefits that arise from America’s willingness to engage with the world.

“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history,” the Arizona Republican told hundreds who gathered and applauded outside the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

“We live in a land made of ideals,” he said, “not blood and soil. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”

(Siobhan Hughes, Wall Street Journal) The money line in this, of course, is “some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”

But another line gave me, and others, pause.

John McCain is being applauded for delivering a fiery speech denouncing “half-baked, spurious nationalism” as he accepted the National Constitution Center Liberty Medal in Philadelphia on Monday.

The cheers are understandable. Whatever your views of his Senate voting record, McCain is an American hero who is justly celebrated for his sacrifices in Vietnam. He is showing grace and resilience in fighting a terrible illness. And yes, his targets are clearly the likes of President Trump and former White House strategist Stephen Bannon.

Nevertheless, there is much about McCain’s remarks that is wrong or at least incomplete. And his errors are precisely what is fanning the flames of the populist and nationalist backlash he now denounces to such great fanfare.

”We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil,” McCain declared. This is something the man who beat McCain in the 2008 presidential race might describe as as “false choice.”

James W. Antle III McCain’s Abstract America. The editor’s sub headline was that “McCain appeals to abstractions as much to avoid debate as to engage in it.” “A land made of ideals” surely was in mind.

Peter Beinart at the Atlantic almost perfectly captures my ambivalence about John McCain and confirms my wisdom in subscribing:

[Y]ou can’t help but notice that many of the conservatives who condemn Trump most passionately—Bill Kristol, Bret Stephens, Michael Gerson, Jennifer Rubin—remain wedded to the foreign policy legacy of George W. Bush. And in criticizing Trump’s amoral “isolationism,” they backhandedly defend the disastrous interventionism that helped produce his presidency in the first place.

The godfather of this brand of hawkish, anti-Trump conservatism is John McCain …. Sure, McCain—being a Republican Senator—doesn’t condemn Trump as forthrightly as his “neoconservative” allies in the press. But the terms of his critique are similar.

Look at his speech on Tuesday after being awarded the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal …

As a man, McCain is as honorable as Trump is dishonorable. But this narrative is false. The last seventy-five years of American foreign policy are not the story of a country consistently pursuing democratic ideals, only to see them undermined now by a fearful “blood and soil” isolationism.

[A]nti-communism … justified America’s overthrow of elected governments in Iran, Guatemala and Chile. It justified Ronald Reagan’s decision to label Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress a terrorist organization and America’s longtime assistance to the kleptocratic Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. And far from keeping the peace, it led the United States to drop more bombs on Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War than it had during World War II.

Since 1989 … [t]he United States has sought to extend its global preeminence while battling a range of enemies—from “rogue states” seeking “weapons of mass destruction” to hyper-nationalists murdering ethnic minorities to jihadist terrorist groups—that challenge the American-led order. During the Gulf War, this imperative led the United States to strengthen the United Nations and defend international law. But during the Iraq War, it led the United States to defy international law and obliterate the Iraqi state, thus creating the conditions for ISIS. In Bosnia and Kosovo, American power helped stop genocide. In Libya, it helped create chaos.

All of that narrative brings me back to my “we broke it so we bought it” suspicions that we must not turn our backs on the human beings whose “refugee” status our policies helped create.

Beinart continues:

The point is that American “leadership” sometimes furthers the ideals that Americans revere and sometimes it desecrates them. Sometimes it makes America stronger; sometimes it doesn’t. McCain’s implication is that it’s only when American “abandon[s]” and “refuse[s]” its leadership role that it fails its people and the world. But that’s not true. Over the last fifteen years, in a spasm of military hyperactivity, the United States has toppled governments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, in wars that have cost America dearly, and bred more conflict in their wake. Trump won the Republican nomination, in part, because—facing establishment candidates who would not criticize George W. Bush’s foreign policy—he condemned such adventures and pledged to avoid new ones.

McCain is right to (obliquely) condemn Trump’s hostility to refugees, his indifference to human rights and obsession with ensuring that America’s allies don’t rip it off. But that’s not the same as foreign policy restraint. Sometimes America best serves its people and its ideals by not trying to bend the world to its will …

John McCain once understood that. As a young congressman in 1985, he told the Los Angeles Times that America was neither “omniscient nor omnipotent. If we do become involved in combat, that involvement must be of relatively short duration and must be readily explained to the man in the street in one or two sentences.” In violating that principle, George W. Bush—with the support of an older John McCain—helped discredit the Republican foreign policy establishment, and lay the groundwork for Trump’s nationalist insurgency.

Now McCain and many of his hawkish allies are criticizing Trump’s amoral nationalism, which is good. But until they question the disastrous overstretch that helped create it, they will remain his useful ideological foils.

So take the refugees but stop trying to bend the world to our will.

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

American Churches’ Persecution

While conservative Christians have long complained about worsening societal hostility and persecution for their beliefs, there’s been little empirical evidence to gauge such claims—until now.

Sociologist George Yancey analyzed 30-plus years of data to track approval ratings for evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. His big takeaway: What has changed is not the numberof Americans who dislike conservative Christians, but which Americans.

According to American National Election Studies (ANES) questionnaires, the people who rated evangelical and fundamentalist Christians most negatively over the decades have consistently—and unsurprisingly—been politically liberal, highly educated, and less religious. But in recent years, particularly 2012 and 2016, they’ve shifted to become richer.

This trend means the people pushing back against conservative Christians now have bigger budgets to bankroll their viewpoint, argues Yancey.

American evangelicals “are clearly incorrect in the notion that hostility towards conservative Christians has increased over the last few decades,” the University of North Texas professor wrote in the latest issue of the Review of Religion Research. “But if those with anti-Christian hostility have gained economic power, then Christian activists may be correct in that they now pay a stiffer price for that animosity.”

(Kate Shellnutt, Christianity Today) The teaser for the article says this “nuances the American Church’s ‘persecution complex’,” which seems fair.

Nobody who thinks Russia bought the White House for Donald Trump with some advertising on social media should dismiss out of hand the increased risk when one’s enemies now can buy their ink by the barrel. The Battle of Indiana was the test case; “Chamber of Commerce” hostility to Christianity is now in full production.

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

 

Is “Classical Liberalism” Conservative?

The Wall Street Journal’s Saturday essays sometimes are real gems, and October 14 was one of those times. If you can get through the paywall, by all means take the time to read Yoram Hazony’s Is ‘Classical Liberalism’ Conservative?

There’s nothing really new in it factually or historically, but it gives a welcome reminder and, for me at least, sticks a helpful pin on the political map that says “you are here” — vital information for getting out of the woods since I aspire not merely to stay there and curse the trees.  

In a very brief and inadequate summary, Hazony (author of a forthcoming book praising nationalism) contrasts conservative empiricism (and implicit incrementalism) with the crypto-imperialist “universal reason” ideology of classical liberalism. It’s important to note the adjective “classical” in “classical liberalism” because our putative conservatives have been what I, echoing others who knew the terrain better than I, call “right liberals” in contrast to the left liberals in our Democrat party.

The right- and left-liberals of classical liberalism have been the folks who have created todays chaos in the middle east, which has facilitated the slaughter and expulsion of middle east Christians, with another Copt having been martyred this week. That’s especially offensive to me.

Indeed, it was George W. Bush’s right-liberal Second Inaugural speech that forever broke my identification as a Republican:

We have seen our vulnerability—and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny—prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder—violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat. There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.

We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time.

So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

I saw the preface as McCoy saying why Hatfield is the bad guy, and the bolded phrase as a formula for endless war — which is exactly what we’ve had since before that speech.

It absolutely is not true that I opposed Donald Trump from a preference for Hillary Clinton, or for Democrats over Republicans, or for left liberals over right liberals. My opposition to Donald Trump as President has been based on his narcissism, demagoguery, and lack of any discernible and predictable political policies.

But putting a reasonably benign interpretation on the election, Trump voters were motivated partly — and maybe mostly — by opposition to classical liberalism even if, in all likelihood, they don’t know that category by name. They didn’t want one of the Republican field’s sixteen right-liberals. They wanted the guy who fairly consistently opposed classical liberalism’s current instantiation, globalism.

That’s not quite the same as saying they were motivated by classical conservatism, or by any real conservatism that I can recognize, unless “America first” nationalism be “conservative.” But maybe the enemy of my enemy can at least be my co-belligerant for a while, as right-liberals and conservatives made common cause for decades.

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.