The clueless would-be rulers

Today’s must-read, by Walter Mead:

This is not what his critics expected. At 49% overall job approval in the latest Gallup poll, and with 60% approval of the way he is handling the coronavirus epidemic, President Trump’s standing with voters has improved even as the country closed down and the stock market underwent a historic meltdown. That may change as this unpredictable crisis develops, but bitter and often justified criticism of Mr. Trump’s decision making in the early months of the pandemic has so far failed to break the bond between the 45th president and his political base.

One reason Mr. Trump’s opponents have had such a hard time damaging his connection with voters is that they still don’t understand why so many Americans want a wrecking-ball presidency. Beyond attributing Mr. Trump’s support to a mix of racism, religious fundamentalism and profound ignorance, the president’s establishment opponents in both parties have yet to grasp the depth and intensity of the populist energy that animates his base and the Bernie Sanders movement. . . .

That a majority of the electorate is this deeply alienated from the establishment can’t be dismissed as bigotry and ignorance. There are solid and serious grounds for doubting the competence and wisdom of America’s self-proclaimed expert class. What is so intelligent and enlightened, populists ask, about a foreign-policy establishment that failed to perceive that U.S. trade policies were promoting the rise of a hostile Communist superpower with the ability to disrupt supplies of essential goods in a national emergency? What competence have the military and political establishments shown in almost two decades of tactical success and strategic impotence in Afghanistan? What came of that intervention in Libya? What was the net result of all the fine talk in the Bush and Obama administrations about building democracy in the Middle East? . . .

On domestic policy, the criticism is equally trenchant and deeply felt. Many voters believe that the U.S. establishment has produced a health-care system that is neither affordable nor universal. Higher education saddles students with increasing debt while leaving many graduates woefully unprepared for good jobs in the real world. The centrist establishment has amassed unprecedented deficits without keeping roads, bridges and pipes in good repair. It has weighed down cities and states with unmanageable levels of pension debt…

Mr. Trump’s supporters are not comparing him with an omniscient leader who always does the right thing, but with the establishment—including the bulk of the mainstream media—that largely backed a policy of engagement with China long after its pitfalls became clear. For Americans who lost their jobs to Chinese competition or who fear the possibility of a new cold war against an economically potent and technologically advanced power, Mr. Trump’s errors pale before those of the bipartisan American foreign-policy consensus…

…the U.S. establishment won’t prosper again until it comes to grip with a central political fact: Populism rises when establishment leadership fails. If conventional U.S. political leaders had been properly doing their jobs, Donald Trump would still be hosting a television show. (emphasis added)

To reinforce the point, Exhibit A, from the just-passed Senate coronavirus relief bill:

Kennedy Center

The legacy media portion of the establishment is no better, in their deranged hatred both for Trump and those in the country who prefer risking him rather than the proven failures of past leadership.  CBS screamed in a headline recently that a man died and his wife was seriously hurt after taking an anti-malarial drug (hydroxycloroquine) Trump and Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have expressed optimism about as a possible treatment for COVID-19.  The problem?  What the Arizona couple actually did was notice their fish tank cleaner contained the chemical, and consumed it as a preventative measure, without consulting any medical expert.  Only two-thirds of the way through the story does it clarify the headline: “The difference between the fish tank cleaning additive that the couple took and the drug used to treat malaria is the way they are formulated.”  In other words, despite the headline, the couple didn’t take the drug.  They drank fish tank cleaner!  A factual headline, though, wouldn’t have been potentially damaging to Trump, which seems to be the primary goal of all mainstream journalism these days, facts and context be damned.

We’re supposed to be practicing social distancing.  But the elites in this country are (and have been for some time) so far out of touch with the common person’s daily experience that it shouldn’t be a surprise the latter has had more than enough of the former.

Some reflections

Most of the government is shut down today, in an homage to the late President George H.W. Bush.  Americans have been encouraged to reflect on his life.  So I will.  But first, a keen observation by another that mirrors my own thoughts:

It is in no way to insult George H. W. Bush — or any other president, for that matter — to ask whether the retooling of their calendars is an appropriate way for the people of a republic to respond to the death of an elected representative. Tomorrow, the press reports, is to be a “day of mourning” — a day on which the stock market will be closed, on which the federal government will shut down, on which the House of Representatives will begin a week-long break, on which various universities will cancel classes, on which the Postal Service will halt deliveries, on which the Supreme Court will adjourn, and on which major American newspapers will postpone events that they had previously planned to hold. Across the U.S., flags will be flown at half-staff for a month.

Why? Irrespective of whether he was a great man or a poor one, George H. W. Bush was a public employee. He was not a king. He was not a pope. He did not found or save or design the republic. To shut down our civil society for a day in order to mark his peaceful passing is to invert the appropriate relationship between the citizen and the state, and to take yet another step toward the fetishization of an executive branch whose role is supposed to be more bureaucratic than spiritual, but that has come of late to resemble Caesar more than to resemble Coolidge.

Well said, Mr. Cooke.  I’d also add that the current practice of naming $1 billion warships after presidents has the same effect.  (Why not return to naming carriers after famous battles/events in U.S. history?  Honor the many who fought – not the ones who gave the orders from a fortress in D.C.)  Presidents do have an impact on the course of history, and their lives are worth remembering and examining.  But in a Republic, they should not be revered.

So what about Mr. Bush?  Politics aside, I submit his greatest legacy and example is in the 73-year marriage he shared with Barbara — the longest marriage of any president.  This marriage survived the death of a child, issues of depression, and the rough and tumble of political life.  Our nation could use many more such examples of love and commitment.

I have mixed feelings about Bush’s presidential legacy.  Clearly he had a successful foreign policy run.  Desert Storm restored a large measure of faith in the U.S. armed forces that had been missing since Vietnam.  Almost 30 years later, though, one could argue America fell inappropriately in love with its high-tech military, to the point of misapplying it to problems that are not intrinsically solvable by force of arms.  Where Bush’s legacy is likely greatest, though, is in his handling of the end of the Cold War.  As the Soviet Union collapsed, and with it the Warsaw Pact empire, it was by no means a foregone conclusion the great transition would be a peaceful one.  The Bush administration navigated a failed coup against Gorbachev, Yeltsin’s populist revolt, and the thorny question of what to do with Germany after the Berlin Wall fell.  It was not an amateur’s hour, and the nation was fortunate to have at the helm what might have been one of the best-prepared presidents for such a time.

Despite such impactful success on the international stage, Bush was unable to translate the political capital from it to impact issues at home.  Exiting the Gulf War with an approval rating of almost 90 percent, within months his inability to articulate “the vision thing” as he put it, cost him support in an America facing economic turmoil and uncertainty in a post-Cold War world.  As the 1992 election cycle began, six words came back to haunt him: “Read my lips.  No new taxes.”  Only 18 months into his presidency, Bush relented on that pledge as part of a deal that was supposed to include spending cuts.  Predictably, the taxes rose.  The cuts never came.  Once again, the Democrats’ Lucy had yanked the ball away from Charlie Brown, and Bush looked foolish for having trusted his political opponents, who gloated over the misstep.  Coupled with his reference to a “new world order” in the wake of the Cold War, the tax issue cost him dearly among fiscal conservatives and those wary of international entanglements.  This opened the door for the challenge by Ross Perot, who pulled enough support away (including, I regret to say, my own vote) that Bill Clinton was elected president.  Comparing the two men’s resumes, it’s laughable to think America would reject Bush in favor of “the man from Hope, Arkansas.”  But as I’ve pointed out on this blog, critical decisions are made more often on emotion than reason, and in this case Clinton connected with people in a way Bush did not.  And so it was that two of the most conniving political creatures America has ever produced — Bubba Bill and Her Hillariness — entered the White House, beginning a three-decade-long spree of influence peddling and assorted other nefarious activities.

It’s worth noting, however, the letter Bubba found in the Oval Office from his predecessor:

Jan 20, 1993
Dear Bill,
When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.
I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.
There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.
Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.
Good luck — George

That last line should serve as a model in our electoral system, which has devolved into political total war against those who disagree.  Since that transition in 1993, both Republicans and Democrats have been guilty of wanting to see a president from “the other side” fail, seeking political opportunity regardless the cost to the country.  We need to relearn the ability to stand firmly on principle while still extending an open hand to those of good will and honorable intentions.

We also need to regain the discernment to tell those honorable opponents from charlatans and snake oil salesmen.

Politically, I’m even less of a Bush family fan than I was in 1992, in large part due to what I believe to have been wrongheaded policy by Bush the Younger after 9/11.  Despite all that, I offer my humble condolences to that family on the passing of a man who, regardless any political faults, was clearly a devoted husband and father.  May our nation be blessed to have many more such men.  And may we continue to remember that even when they occupy the highest office in the land, they are still just that: men.

Freedom of… uh… umm…

The latest example of why I believe we need not only strong voter ID laws, but mandatory civics testing before anyone is registered to vote:

Of the more than 1,000 people surveyed in May and June of this year, only one person was able to name all five First Amendment rights. A whopping 40 percent, however, couldn’t name any.

This report comes at a time when the American Civil Liberties Union, allegedly a bastion for personal liberties, is reconsidering whether “hate speech” should be excluded from the provisions of free speech. Such a development, of course, would give great power to the person defining “hate speech,” as Christians in Canada have found out the hard way.

Americans take their First Amendment rights for granted… even those who can’t name them.  If they paid closer attention, many would be shocked at how more restrictive other supposedly “free” countries are about the limits of speech, including our erstwhile parent country, Great Britain.  A lack of appreciation for the uniqueness of our traditions is a key element in undermining them.  This level of ignorance is what has allowed “hate speech laws” to become in fashion.

It is never “hateful” to speak the truth.  Uncomfortable at times, yes.  Inconvenient, often.  But never “hateful.”