Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
It’s been a rough last few months, and I’m not just referring to the alarming presidential contest between the two most egomaniacal, morally-compromised and disliked candidates in electoral history.
Perhaps it’s divine intervention that I’ve been intermittently away from my column to care for, mourn and deal with the affairs of my Mom, who passed away before I attended the Republican National Convention as a Colorado delegate.
A staunch critic of GOP elites, I ran to be a delegate (at my Mom’s urging) because I wanted to help select a presidential nominee who’d unite the “Party of Lincoln” around its bedrock principle – the democratic self-government of a free people.
My pre-convention column argued for allowing delegates to vote their conscience – for Donald Trump or whomever – yielding the strongest nominee to oppose Clinton whose Espionage Act violations and cover-up make her the most brazenly dishonest presidential candidate since Nixon. Her election would advance the banana-republic notion that the powerful are above the law.
The column elicited severe rebukes, the most scolding from Trump supporters. While Clinton backers played the “liar” card, Trumpsters told me to Think Again, grow up and get over my “high falutin ideals.” I was called airhead, globalist and RINO, and my columns were bashed for being “so formulaic they’re almost unreadable.”
In Cleveland, I was among the troublemakers who protested the RNC’s Mao-like suppression of dissent regarding the party rules, which had produced the weakest presidential nominee in modern GOP history. I left dispirited, feeling like a Republican in name only. Now with Election Day nearing, my swing state’s mail-in ballot awaits my vote for president, the most gut wrenching of my life.
As expected, the election has been an ugly slugfest punctuated by predictable surprises – leaks about Trump’s taxes and the 11-year-old video of his grotesque predatory boasting, and WikiLeaks disclosures revealing Clinton Inc. corruption. The biggest shocker is that each party nominated the one candidate the other could beat.
Meanwhile, a real electoral bombshell hit: Obamacare premiums are skyrocketing nationwide as consumers, providers and more insurers desert the law that’s hurting those who can least afford it. It’s a debacle foreseen by critics, though not their media “fact-checkers.”
In steamrolling his signature policy reform, President Obama relied on “the stupidity of the American voter,” as Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber notoriously boasted, getting away with false claims including: premiums would decline; illegal immigrants wouldn’t get subsidies; not one dime will be added to the deficit; and “if you like your plan, you can keep it.”
In an illuminating New York Times interview, White House aid Ben Rhodes (whose brother is President of CBS News) boasted similarly, describing the manipulative tactics used to sell Obama/Clinton foreign policies, including the unpopular Iran nuclear deal, which guarantees the mullahs will eventually get their nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Describing the White House spin machine, Rhodes bragged, “We created an echo chamber” of “prominent Washington reporters and columnists” to “carry our message effectively…saying things that validated what we had given them to say.” Hence, “warmonger” was the smear assigned to Iran deal critics.
Here’s the undemocratic playbook used to short-circuit the honest debate on which national consensus depends: make false claims, spin the media, co-opt the bureaucracy to evade laws/break rules, stonewall investigations, smear adversaries, and label self-inflicted controversies “phony scandals” until the truth becomes any story that sticks.
Consequently, no one’s ever held accountable for the resulting wreckage: unaffordable health insurance, dying vets, terrorist attacks, sanctuary city tragedies, IRS harassment, and murdered U.S. diplomats and border guards. Not surprisingly, only 19 percent of Americans say they trust the government most of the time, down from 73 percent in 1958, according to Pew Research Center.
That’s because Washington is so politicized, even institutions charged with equal enforcement of laws have been sullied. Dueling media accounts of the FBI probes into Clinton’s national security-imperiling violations and the Clinton Foundation’s pay-for-play practices reflect the smoldering rift between disgruntled FBI agents and their higher-ups at the Bureau and Justice Department.
Filmmaker Michael Moore described Trump as a Molotov cocktail thrown at the self-dealing ruling-class system. Clinton, who preaches redistribution of wealth while living like a monarch off her public office, personifies the politically corrupt status quo. Worse then her sense of entitlement and lying is her quarter-century of behaving as if laws are for the little people, not the echo chamber’s aristocracy.
Unfortunately, inside the echo chamber the aristocrats can’t hear the Molotov cocktail-hurling legions outside. Though I shudder at the thought of President Trump, and worry about his authoritarian inclinations, I’m rooting for the little people to burn down the chamber.
Think Again – At the risk of sounding formulaic, might the introduction of an aggressive pathogen like Trump provoke a healthy antibody reaction, helping restore the checks and balances necessary for the democratic self-government of a free people?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“Our long national nightmare is over,” President Gerald Ford declared at his swearing-in, marking the end of the most dangerous constitutional crisis since the Civil War – Watergate.
After becoming the only U.S. president to ever resign, Richard Nixon revealed in an interview his mistaken belief that “When the president does it, that means it isn’t illegal.”
Thankfully, our constitutional system and watchdog media proved Nixon wrong, having investigated, judged and expelled the rogue president for abuses of power and obstruction of justice. Even Nixon’s fellow Republicans didn’t Think Again before putting country and the rule of law before party.
“Our Constitution works,” Ford reassured. “Our great Republic is a government of laws and not men. Here, the people rule.” Unfortunately, absent this consensus, 2016’s menacing clouds forecast another nightmare.
Today’s revolt against Washington signals voters’ belief that the people no longer rule. Worse, many citizens feel betrayed and villianized by a “ruling class” (elected and bureaucratic officials and their corporate and media cronies) that’s presided over the greatest scandal – an explosion of government, an avalanche of debt and the imperiling of our children’s future.
As government has grown, so have its anti-competitive powers, forcing those who “work hard and play by the rules” to subsidize elites who don’t. Incentivized to invest in political influence, not innovation, Big Business reaps trillions in spending, tax and regulatory favors, resulting in a heavily indebted citizenry and a warped and stagnant economy.
Consider these corporate welfare policies, sold to the public as economic saviors: bailouts, farm and energy subsidies, cash-for-clunkers, Export-Import Bank loan guarantees, Dodd-Frank’s “Wall Street reform,” and Obamacare.
Not surprisingly, five of the nation’s seven wealthiest counties surround Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, with the economy growing at half its 100-year historic average and small business failures exceeding starts, working Americans suffer stagnant wages, job uncertainty, rising health-care costs and reduced living standards.
Yet neither party’s front-runner is proposing to dismantle the cronyist system that’s the source of this despair. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have harvested fortunes from it – she from selling influence, and he from investing in lucrative political favors.
Most worrying, majorities of Americans hold “stubbornly low opinions of the leading figures in the Democratic and Republican Parties,” reported Michael Barbaro in the New York Times.
The first words voters associate with Clinton are “dishonest” and “liar,” while a large plurality of Republicans would consider a third party if Trump is the nominee. Hence, campaign aids predict, “a Clinton-Trump contest would be an ugly and unrelenting slugfest,” Barbaro wrote.
If that isn’t nightmarish, consider the fallout if FBI Chief James Comey recommends Clinton be prosecuted for Espionage Act violations related to her private email server, which he’s reportedly close to doing.
Of Clinton’s Nixon-like lapses, Watergate sleuth Bob Woodward said recently, “It shows that she…feels immune, that she lives in a bubble and no one’s ever going to find this out.”
Is Ford still right, that we’re a nation of laws, not men? If not, is another constitutional crisis looming?
That the presidential frontrunners are famously flawed confirms the advantage of brand ID, and the adage, “any publicity is good publicity.” Do supporters of campaign finance limitations realize they’re helping transform our political system into a reality show in which self-funding honchos and celebrities are the survivors?
Though Trump has “one of the smallest campaign budgets,” the New York Times reported he’s “earned close to $2 billion worth of media attention, about twice the all-in price of the most expensive presidential campaigns in history.” Wall-to-wall Trump coverage “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” confessed CEO Les Moonves.
Despite Trump’s free media bonanza and “believe me” appeals, he’s yet to persuade Republican majorities who share his supporters’ political, cultural and economic anxieties, but not their confidence in Trump.
“Not-Trump” voters – the one’s he’ll ultimately need to win the nomination and unite the party – find Trump incoherent and inconsistent, worry that his “cures” will intensify the disease, and reject his campaign-by-insult tactics.
Yet just as the field winnowed to finally allow substantive discussion between candidates, Trump refuses to debate, suggesting he’s entitled to the nomination, even if he doesn’t attain the delegate majority threshold met by all Republican nominees since 1856.
Consider that, except for this nomination rule, there’d be no President Abraham Lincoln. He won the Republican nomination on the third ballot, despite entering the 1860 convention behind front-runner William Seward.
Foreshadowing a nightmare from a similarly contested convention that enforces the rules, Trump warned, “’cause we’re way ahead of everybody, I don’t think you can say we don’t get it automatically. I think you’d have riots.”
Think Again – to avoid political nightmares and riots, shouldn’t we insist on remaining a nation of laws not men by upholding the principles that brought Nixon to justice and Lincoln to the presidency?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Among this election season’s oddities was the dust-up between Pope Francis and Donald Trump. After departing Mexico, the Pontiff appeared to criticize Trump in an interview, suggesting that building walls – not bridges – “is not Christian.”
Calling the comment “disgraceful,” the presidential front-runner and insulter-in-chief compelled the Vatican to Think Again before retreating. Meanwhile, comedians joked that the perceived papal putdown would cause church attendance to fall and Trump’s poll numbers to surge.
Indeed, by crossing swords with the Pontiff, Trump burnished his image as a fearless fighter, a trait his voters prize. Unfazed by his incoherence, lack of policy specifics or controversies, Trump supporters, like columnist Jim Nolte, are tired of losing and want “someone who will do whatever it takes to win.”
Buoying Trump is Americans’ sense of powerlessness and insecurity. Consider these controversial policies, imposed on disapproving majorities using extra-constitutional means: the Iran deal; the irresponsible and never-debated Omnibus budget; Obamacare; trade promotion; and executive actions and sanctuary-city policies that nullify immigration laws.
But for Trumpkins, “Making America Great Again” isn’t about restoring government of, by and for the people. It’s about elevating their own Julius Caesar to make deals with a ruling class that runs government like a spoil system – of special interests, by unelected bureaucrats and for political elites.
Apparently, Trumpkins want a warrior who’ll “bork” political opponents. The angry verb “to bork” means to discredit by whatever methods necessary. It was coined after the character assassination of eminent jurist Robert Bork, killing his 1987 Supreme Court nomination the year after recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia won a 98-0 Senate confirmation.
Anti-Bork activist Ann Lewis later explained the unprecedented smear campaign: there’d be a “deep and thoughtful discussion about the Constitution, and then we would lose.” Hence, Kennedy’s fabrication that in Bork’s America, “women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters.”
Writing 24 years later, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera lamented the nomination battle’s “essential unfairness,” noting “the line from Bork to today’s ugly politics is a straight one.” Whatever one thinks about Bork’s views, Nocera argued, “they cannot be fairly characterized as extreme…. Rarely has a failed nominee had the pedigree – and intellectual firepower – of Bork.”
That Bork was Scalia’s ideological and intellectual equal, but was rejected shortly after Scalia’s unanimous approval, speaks to how politicized the theoretically independent judiciary has become. Consider that it was President Franklin Roosevelt’s fellow Democrats who foiled his plan to pack the Supreme Court.
Thomas Jefferson warned that giving “judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not… would make the Judiciary a despotic branch." Now, having morphed from “the least dangerous branch” into an unelected super-legislature of nine philosopher kings with lifetime appointments, it’s not surprising Supreme Court nominations are hotly contested – and fraught with hypocrisy.
Though waxing indignant over Republican refusals to consider a lame-duck president’s Supreme Court nomination during this election year, Sens. Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden favored obstructing Republican judicial nominees.
In 1992, Biden, then the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, proclaimed, “action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over,” insisting the president not nominate anyone. And in 2006, then-Sen. Barack Obama voted to block an up-or-down vote on Justice Samuel Alito’s nomination.
Ironically, an activist and politicized judiciary is what Scalia wanted to roll back, favoring the founders’ original intent: separation of powers, checks, and an independent judiciary with limited authority to resolve legal disputes by applying – not writing – the law. Other issues should be decided democratically – at the ballot box or by representatives accountable to the people.
By short-circuiting the democratic process for resolving emotionally charged issues, Scalia believed the Court was violating “a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation.”
Feeling voiceless and powerless in an America that’s migrated away from it’s founding purpose – the democratic self-governance of a free people – many Trumpkins want a strong-arm “borker” to wield power on their behalf. But do they really want a vengeful president using the IRS, NSA, FBI and CIA to target and punish critics?
As Scalia argued while pointing to unfree nations that have charters of rights, “It isn’t the Bill of Rights that produces freedom; it’s the structure of government that prevents anybody from seizing all the power.”
Essentially, the founders used constitutional walls to separate and check power so that diverse people with differing beliefs would be free to build bridges of mutual respect and tolerance, forging an open and decent society. The Supreme Court’s unlikely “best buddies” – rivals Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg – built a remarkable bridge, a lesson for Pope Francis, Trump and Trumpkins.
Think Again – Isn’t the best way to Make America Great Again to elect a president who’ll adhere to America’s great constitution?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
In this topsy-turvy election year, wonders never cease, as Americans Think Again about how to throw the bums out, even unelected bureaucrats.
The willingness to break with long-standing political norms isn’t surprising, considering voter anger, pessimism and spiking anxieties. Recent surveys of Americans show overwhelming majorities believe the country is on the wrong track, the American Dream is unachievable, and our powerful, unaccountable government is America’s biggest threat.
Consequently, political dynasties have been rendered passé, as mega-donor darlings Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton discovered en route to their coronations. Not even their powerful Super PACs (funded by unlimited individual, corporate and union support) can assure their victories.
The standard trump cards aren’t working either, including the gender card, played recently by former Secretary of State and Hillary-backer Madeleine Albright who admonished, “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
For Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, the normally formidable race card trumps nothing. But a blustering and incoherent Donald Trump trumps everything, thanks to the limitless free airtime the ratings-hungry media grant him. ”I’m winning by a lot,” the self-funder boasts, but “I spent almost nothing.”
Meanwhile, the media leaves unexamined Trump’s assertion that his wealth is a scorecard of his abilities. Some analysts calculate the present value of Trump’s inheritance would approximate his current net worth, if he’d simply invested it in the S&P 500.
Undermining Trump’s inevitability, the self-described winner’s first electoral outing was a loss to Cruz and near-upset by Rubio, as 76 percent of Iowa caucus-goers voted not-Trump. His New Hampshire victory was impressive, capturing all demographic groups, but two-thirds still voted not-Trump.
As under-performing contenders like Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina exit the crowded field, the eventual consolidation – and Trump’s record-breaking unfavorability in the general population – bode poorly for his candidacy.
Nevertheless, the ratings-magnet is well positioned to parlay popularity into a Trump network, like the media platform that made Michael Bloomberg – who’s contemplating his own self-funded presidential campaign – one of the world’s richest.
Another surprising result was Cruz’s defeat of King Corn in Iowa. The anti-Washington agitator won record numbers of votes in a historic GOP turnout while arguing that farmers are hurt by government ethanol mandates – not helped, as powerful agribusiness lobbyists allege.
Most extraordinary is Bernie Sander’s durability. Polls show the septuagenarian-socialist tied with Clinton nationally, after narrowly losing Iowa but routing her in New Hampshire where 93 percent of Democrats prioritizing honesty preferred Sanders.
Are voters drawn to Sanders’ socialism, or is he the beneficiary of a “no more Clintons” mindset, especially after reports the Clintons “earned” $153 million in speaking fees since leaving the White House?
It’s probably both, since Sanders’ support skews young. Thirsty for trustworthy leadership, “Sandernistas” have witnessed government bailouts and rampant cronyism, while suffering through the feeblest economic recovery since the Great Depression.
According to Pew Research, this generation is “the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty, and unemployment and lower levels of wealth and personal income.”
No wonder they find political revolution tempting. But they should study the American Revolution before accepting Sanders’ plan to concentrate ever-growing government power in the name of “social justice.”
As founder James Madison explained, “The essence of government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” Concerned that a government would eventually encroach on rights and liberties, Thomas Jefferson forecast “debt, corruption and rottenness,” absent constitutional guardrails.
That’s why, after overthrowing King George’s arbitrary and unfair rule, America’s founders established a government with limited powers to protect the equal rights of the people, believing the boundless potential of individuals operating in a free society would “make America great” – and they were right.
Yet as government has grown, so have its anti-competitive powers, corrupting our founders’ liberty-preserving system with cronyism that rewards political connections over competitive excellence.
Using massive powers to legislate, tax, spend and regulate, policymakers have rigged the economy and undermined the principles on which freedom, fairness and opportunity rely – equality under the law, property rights and sound money.
Given America’s heritage and Big Government’s dismal track record, it’s stunning that Sanders and Trump -- both advocates of using unprecedented government power to centrally plan and control economic life – could win New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” state. Have its freedom-loving voters forgotten the national purpose their state helped found – the democratic self-rule of a free people?
Hopefully, America is in revolt and casting about for outsiders not because they want more government, but because of the failures of our hyper-politicized, unaccountable government: contaminated water, terrorist attacks, dying vets, IRS harassment, illegal immigration, health care chaos, and murdered U.S. diplomats and border guards.
Think Again – in this anti-conventional wisdom year, may our founders’ wisdom about the dangers of Big Government ultimately prevail.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Ancient Talmudic wisdom teaches that whoever destroys a soul, destroys an entire world. So it’s understandable that in unveiling heightened gun control measures last week before an audience of shooting victims’ relatives, President Obama shed tears.
Inspired by the San Bernardino massacre to take unilateral action he admits “will save few lives” (nor would they have prevented any recent mass shooting), the president urged Americans to Think Again about “common-sense” gun reforms.
Obama’s executive actions bypass bipartisan congressional majorities, and 58 percent of voters who say “the government should only do what the president and Congress agree on,” according to last week’s Rasmussen poll.
“We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence,” Obama frequently laments, a claim judged false by Politifact and the Washington Post who called his language “slippery.”
In fact, the US ranks 11th in per capita fatalities from mass public shootings – behind European countries with stricter gun control laws such as France, Switzerland, Norway and Belgium – according to a Crime Prevention Research Center analysis of the period 2009 through 2015. Meanwhile, total U.S. homicides are at historic lows.
Turns out, Obama is a better salesman for guns than gun control, the New York Times noted. During Obama’s tenure, gun ownership has nearly doubled, with women and concealed-carry owners representing the fastest-growing segments. Even as the stock market suffered its worst yearly start ever, shares of firearm manufacturers soared.
At his CNN town hall meeting, Obama faced gun rights defenders, including rape victim Kimberly Corban. “I have been unspeakably victimized once already and I refuse to let that happen again,” Corban explained in asking Obama to understand that restrictions make it harder for her to possess a gun, “making my kids and I less safe.”
While Obama was repeating his “if you like your guns you can keep them” mantra, presidential frontrunner Donald Trump drew deafening applause in Vermont after saying, “You know what a gun-free zone is to a sicko? That’s bait!”
Even in Bernie Sanders country, people wonder why after a shooting spree lawmakers reflexively seek to limit the gun rights of law-abiding citizens, making them vulnerable to criminals who account for the vast majority of gun violence.
America’s killing fields aren’t in suburbia; they’re urban centers blighted by societal decay, gang warfare and beleaguered law enforcement. The perpetrators aren’t mentally ill loners; they’re mostly criminals killing criminals.
If addressing gun violence is such an urgent priority, why have weapons convictions declined six percent since last year and 35 percent since peaking in 2006? Why is Obama releasing dangerous gun felons and hardcore Guantanamo Bay jihadists? Why insist on resettling Syrian refugees whom the FBI says it can’t vet and Islamic radicals intend to infiltrate?
Why does Obama sanction “sanctuary city” policies that ignore immigration laws by releasing criminal illegal immigrants into unsuspecting populaces? Between 2010 and 2014, 121 released illegals proceeded to commit murder – that’s two souls lost per month.
Obama’s gun fiats came amid an ominous 2016 debut: escalating Middle Eastern conflict; a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan; mass sexual assaults by Arab refugees in Germany; a hydrogen bomb test in North Korea; sanctions-violating ballistic missile facilities in Iran; captured footage exposing ISIS’s “jihadi university”; and an ISIS-inspired terrorist ambushing a Philadelphia policeman with a stolen gun.
Seemingly indifferent to these life-imperiling events, Obama intends to override the will of the people – as with his 2014 executive order to grant amnesty to 5 million illegals, and the Iran deal, granting them $150 billion to fund terrorism and build ballistic missiles – setting dangerous precedents for our constitutional system.
Testifying before Congress about accumulating separation of powers violations – over-reaches for which the Supreme Court unanimously rebuked the White House 12 times – constitutional law professor and Obama-voter Jonathan Turley said Obama is “becoming the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid -- the concentration of power in any single branch.” Turley insists the President “can’t say the solution to gridlock is you simply have to resolve it on my terms.”
By forcing his agenda on Americans, Obama is building a Trump Tower of insecurity and distrust, an edifice Trump unapologetically promises to destroy to “make America great again.” He’s tapping into Americans’ “dissatisfaction with government,” which tops Gallup’s latest list of voter concerns, with gun control barely rating.
That such an unlikely and flawed candidate is contending for the presidency speaks to America’s state of disunion. It’s tear inducing considering Obama ascended to the White House with this plea for national unity:
“There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America…There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United State of America.”
Think Again – Since elections are designed to punish failures and reward success, may 2016 reveal a statesman capable of delivering the legitimate government Americans deserve.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
With the civilized world reeling from the Islamic State’s “no-lives-matter” terrorism, it’s worth recalling how General George Patton inspired college-age G.I.’s to vacate their safe spaces for D-Day’s virtual suicide mission. Rallying them to Think Again about their lives’ purpose, Patton’s micro-aggression-laced appeal established, “Americans play to win.”
Could college students cocooned on today’s morally confused campuses appreciate such stridency in defense of liberty, or would they banish Patton as they have other unfashionable voices, including former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice?
“We’ll win this war,” Patton proclaimed, “by fighting and showing the Germans that we’ve got more guts than they have…. We’re not going to just shoot the bastards,” he clarified, “we’re going to rip out their living goddamned guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks.”
Responding more fearlessly than today’s campus “crybullies” could fathom, Patton’s troops helped crush Nazism while others extinguished Imperial Japan, ending tyrannical threats to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Seven decades after winning World War II, the greatest threat to individual rights is not Islamic radicalism, but a fading commitment to bedrock democratic values – free expression, equality under the law, and pluralism.
As Abraham Lincoln understood, "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms,” he predicted, “it will be because we destroyed ourselves."
To appreciate the freedoms we’re in jeopardy of losing – and the medievalism to which jihadists want to return – recall humanity’s condition before our rights-assuring ideals civilized the world. As 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes described, life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
Oscar Wilde once observed how America’s youth, “are always ready to give to those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience.” Proving Wilde’s point, 40 percent of millenials support government restrictions on offensive speech, according to a recent Pew poll, compared to 12 percent of seniors.
That America’s youth disproportionately favor speech suppression explains headline-grabbing campus meltdowns – and refusals by Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld to perform for students too sensitive to take a joke.
Most distressing is how adults charged with teaching the young to thrive in a world of potential offenses are ceding control to children who are ill-equipped to govern themselves never mind society, creating what essayist Joseph Epstein calls “Kindergarchy.”
Instead of learning how to cope with divergent ideas, values, and speech, many young adults in our Kindergarchy invert the Golden Rule, doing unto others what they wouldn’t want done to them. Increasingly, they’re disrespectful – even hostile – to those with different viewpoints.
Consider these campus absurdities: Mount Holyoke canceled “The Vagina Monologues” for lack of “transgender inclusivity”; Wesleyan’s student government cut funding for a newspaper that published an “offensive” op-ed; Columbia students claimed Greek mythology “marginalizes student identities,” requiring trigger warnings; Brown created a secret group for discussing controversial topics freely; Amherst activists demanded banning free speech posters.
Under pressure to promote the toxic concept of “microaggression” (subconscious bigotry), University of California campuses discourage phrases deemed offensive, including “America is the land of opportunity,” and “There’s only one race, the human race.”
Missouri’s recent protests over alleged racism devolved into demands for the now former university president to write a handwritten resignation letter apologizing for “white, male privilege.”
Yale’s debate over potentially insensitive Halloween costumes morphed into outrage after a faculty member suggested, “free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.” Is there room, she wondered, to be “obnoxious,” “inappropriate,” or offensive” on campuses that are increasingly “places of censure and prohibition?” In response, a student whined, “I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.”
In their widely-discussed Atlantic essay, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” co-authors Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff argue “teaching students that their emotions can be used effectively as weapons…may be training students in thinking styles that will damage their careers and friendships, along with their mental health.”
Herein lies the problem with the “victimhood culture” that permeates our Kindergarchy – it disempowers and hurts people. Wouldn’t young adults “be better prepared to flourish,” Haidt and Lukianoff ask, “if we taught them to question their own emotional reactions, and to give people the benefit of the doubt?”
Ultimately, coerced silence kills democracy for as Edmund Burke noted, “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Americans have always been a people willing to do something about evil, but as Patton understood, defeating evil is a choice, not a destiny.
To secure the open and vibrant society from which America’s creativity, prosperity and decency spring, we must continuously defend our democratic values, at home and abroad.
Think Again – without America as a bulwark of liberty, how will the Islamic world ever embrace freedom and modernity?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
As a giant marketplace of ideas, Facebook is an astonishing opinion barometer, for better or worse. Its force multiplying “likes” and “shares” can direct masses toward aspirational “Arab Spring”-type movements, or incite mobs with false grievances, like the “Hands up, don’t shoot” mythology that plagued Ferguson.
Whether people of goodwill are swept toward virtue or delusion and chaos depends on their willingness to Think Again about unexamined facts and “likes” – “to follow truth wherever it may lead,” as Thomas Jefferson urged.
Martin Luther King inspired a national self-examination that touched Americans’ conscience. Motivated by the self-evident truth that all men are created equal, Americans flocked to King’s moral crusade – a movement Facebook would have turbocharged. Conversely, social media-fueled lies about Jerusalem’s Temple Mount have incited cascading barbarism against Jews and ancient holy sites.
Last fall, I noticed a New York friend’s wildly liked Facebook post about massive student demonstrations in the Denver suburbs of Jefferson County. What injustice – real or perceived, I wondered – had sparked such passion and national attention?
Turns out, the school board was considering a proposal to review the College Board’s recently revised Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum. They’d also passed a merit-pay plan opposed by the education establishment.
Hell broke lose as teacher sickouts roused aggrieved teens to protest, citing “censorship” of their education. “JeffCo wants to remove slavery from the history curriculum,” they cried, bemoaning the elimination of the civilly disobedient King.
“We don’t believe our education should be filtered by those who might not have the same values we do,” one agitator clarified. Another candidly linked the protests to disgruntled teachers, “I think it’s because they’re all mainly upset because they’re not getting enough raises…that’s what I was told by my history teacher.”
Using the hashtag #standup4kids, social media supporters likened the protestors to MLK, and compared their school board “oppressors” to Nazi book-burners and communists.
For perspective, fast-forward to this summer when dozens of distinguished academics published a scathing letter about the College Board, criticizing its power over local policymakers and its “notable biases” and “misleading account of American history” – as if rebutting the #standup4kids narrative. Acknowledging errors, the College Board issued a “clearer and more balanced” curriculum, satisfying most critics.
Today, despite this vindication, the 3-member JeffCo board majority is the target of a November 3rd recall election, after decisively winning in 2013 on a platform to reform Colorado’s second-largest and underachieving school district (serving 85,000 students), and to better govern its billion dollar annual budget and 5,000 professionals.
JeffCo’s math and science scores lag national norms, flat since the 1970s despite an inflation-adjusted tripling of K-12 education spending. For years, fewer than one-in-two JeffCo students have rated “college and career ready” on the all-important ACT test; one-in-five don’t graduate in four years; and of graduates, one-in-four require educational remediation.
Yet since the new board assumed office, the education establishment and #standup4kids allies have fiercely opposed the reformers’ ideas to bolster student achievement, especially pay-for-performance and per-pupil funding equalization for charter schools.
At the start of the board’s tenure, Colorado Education Association President Kerrie Dallman labeled it “hostile,” promising to “make the educator voice strong and loud.” Consequently, board meetings – streamed live – are like the Hatfields and McCoys, filled with conflict, acrimony, and audience catcalls.
Nevertheless, the board has passed reforms to encourage innovation and school choice; devolve decision-making authority and accountability to principals and teachers; and boost compensation 7.5 percent. Recognizing that while change is difficult, not changing can be fatal, board reformers are buoyed by already-improved student achievement and graduation rates.
The Denver Post editorial board has repeatedly lauded these accomplishments, noting the critics’ “ongoing beef with the board often was over policies that actually made sense and most parents might well support.” Blasting “falsehoods” in the “alleged indictment,” the Post argues recallers are “out of line” for “misusing a process that should be reserved mainly for malfeasance and corruption, or when the official can’t do the job.”
Garnering national attention again, JeffCo’s recall election is “ground zero” in the battle to improve K-12 education. Whether every student has a shot at realizing their unique talents, and competing in our hyper-competitive globalized economy, depends on modernizing the entrenched system stymying them.
Most importantly, it requires leaders who accept the insight of Martin Luther King, one of America’s most consequential change agents. “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable,” he said, for “every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle.”
The truth is, it’s a struggle to reason someone out of a position they’ve unreasonably taken, whether white supremacists, knife-wielding terrorists, “hands up, don’t shoot” myth-promoters, or #standup4kids campaigners.
Think Again – before joining social media crusades to express solidarity or outrage, recall social critic Aldous Huxley’s truism: “facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
If only Pope Francis were in my Buenos Aires taxi last Christmas.
I could have used his moral authority (and Argentine-accented Spanish) in negotiating with a driver who’d forgotten the “Golden Rule.” And in witnessing my struggle, the self-described “very allergic to economics” pontiff might have gleaned a moral lesson, helping him Think Again about the free enterprise system he’s criticized.
Perhaps he’d grasp why the life-enhancing innovations that America continuously exports – cars, vaccinations, refrigerators, iPhones, 3-D printers, and the cheap and reliable taxi-alternative Uber, for which I longed – don’t happen in Argentina.
Nor do they spring from other Latin American countries, like Venezuela where a protest sign encapsulated people’s contempt for the social-justice espousing frauds who run many Latin nations: “These Castro-Chavistas speak like Marx, govern like Stalin, and live like Rockefeller, while the people suffer.”
Would His Holiness recognize how Argentina’s corporatism – the unholy alliance between government and conglomerates – corrodes social trust, rendering his countrymen voiceless and crucifying their wellbeing and dignity?
After successive governments eroded the rule of law, property rights, and sound money, replacing free enterprise with central planning and a debt-financed welfare state, Argentina slid toward the bottom of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World Index.
Once the world’s breadbasket and fourth-richest nation per-capita – hence the saying “rich as an Argentine” – the Pope’s native land is now a basket case with economic wellbeing (GDP per-capita) only one-third America’s.
If the Holy Father had heard our cabdriver despair over widespread deprivation, corruption and distrust of everyone except the pontiff, might he agree with fellow rock-star Bono about how to lift up the masses? “In dealing with poverty,” Bono stresses, “welfare and foreign aid are a Band-Aid. Free enterprise is a cure.”
The patient is mending, the World Bank reported: For the first time in history, extreme poverty afflicts less than 10 percent of world population. Meanwhile, people in economically freer countries enjoy higher living standards, cleaner environments, longer lives, and better-protected civil rights. They also have less corruption, child labor and unemployment.
In his new book, “The Conservative Heart,” American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks calls the free enterprise system “America’s gift to the world,” enabling more people to pursue their happiness through earned success derived from work.
“It was the free enterprise system that not only attracted millions of the world’s poor to our shores and gave them lives of dignity, but also empowered billions more worldwide to pull themselves out of poverty,” Brooks asserts.
At home, however, America’s asymmetric recovery “has cleaved the country into winners and losers like never before,” he writes. Consequently, Americans fear our free society’s trademarks – opportunity and social mobility – are disappearing, imperiling our children’s security and prosperity.
We may be better off than Argentines, but with median income down 6.5 percent since 2007, record numbers out of the workforce, poverty and government dependency rates at all-time highs, and deaths of small businesses (job creation’s primary engine) exceeding starts for the first time on record, it feels like we’re slouching toward Argentina.
While Wall Street and Silicon Valley have boomed, the richest and most generous nation on earth contains pockets of destitution and immiseration – like Baltimore – where millions are deprived of the dignity and fulfillment of work.
Brooks’ snapshot of the last seven years is “deja-vu all over again,” Argentine-style: “People see corporate cronies getting rich because of their cozy relationship with the government. They see bailouts for huge banks but small businesses going bust. They see government loan guarantees for big companies with friends in high places, but hear ‘No loans for you’ from their local bank.”
Ranked among the world’s most economically free nations for decades, America has fallen to 16 in Fraser’s Index, due to these unfair government policies. Consequently, US annual growth is projected to be half its 3 percent historic average.
That His Holiness is unaware of the relationship between economic freedom and human flourishing is a sin, though not original. After all, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders sins similarly, arguing for greater government control of our lives, even at the expense of economic growth.
“You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants,” Sanders declared, “when children are hungry in this country” – as if narrowing deodorant choice could decrease hunger.
The truth is, poverty is humanity’s natural state, and free enterprise is the most merciful economic system yet designed for moving people toward productive and dignified lives. No central planner exists who’s capable of improving on the endless autonomous decisions made efficiently, creatively and cooperatively in the free market, as if divinely guided.
Think Again – as long as we enjoy the blessings of economic freedom, we have the choice not to attend the Pope Francis & Bernie Sanders School of Economics where the tuition is free, but extraordinarily costly, as my Argentine cabbie would confirm.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the entire government working for you,” Will Rogers quipped, capturing his era’s zeitgeist, and explaining the popularity of our moment’s outsider presidential candidates.
It’s good to be a non-politician when 75 percent of Americans say government corruption is widespread, up from 66 percent in 2009, and half say government is an immediate threat to lives and freedoms, according to Gallup.
It’s bad to be the debate-shy “candidate of destiny,” Hillary Clinton, when the first three words voters associate with her are “liar,” “dishonest,” and “untrustworthy,” according to a Quinnipiac poll.
Even early GOP front-runner and heroic “outsider” Scott Walker succumbed to skepticism, exiting the race after getting trumped by voters who won’t Think Again about his policy reversals.
With median incomes down 6.5 percent since 2007, U.S. debt surging to perilous heights, and the world melting down, voters resist limiting their choice to donor favorites – Clinton 2.0 or Bush 3.0.
If there’s a “Rosetta Stone” deciphering Americans’ malaise, it’s the unprecedented and often extra-constitutional way lawmakers make consequential decisions, in defiance of public opinion.
Fans of self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders and conservative Ted Cruz meet at the intersection of their contempt for a government that gives sweetheart deals to well-connected cronies.
The newly-elected may arrive in Washington convinced it’s a cesspool, but after harnessing governmental power and dispensing billions, they discover it’s an inviting Jacuzzi, where big government and big special interests collude to enrich the few, trumping the interests of the many.
Consider Obamacare, which passed on a party-line vote using political payoffs and parliamentary trickeries never before deployed for such far-reaching legislation. As consumers suffer choice and affordability frustrations, the health industry’s largest stakeholders – drug, hospital and insurance companies – profit, at taxpayers’ expense.
Now it’s the high-stakes Iran nuclear deal – perhaps history’s most consequential – that’s advancing without congressional review, never mind Senate ratification, trumping Americans who overwhelmingly agree with George Washington, “Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light.”
Our government’s Iran deal Kabuki Theater, featuring protagonists from both parties, renders obsolete Will Rogers’ famous jest: “The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets.”
The Iranian theocracy’s aim – “Death to America” and the destruction of Western civilization – is, after all, the ultimate trumping of the American people. Hence, our long-standing bi-partisan policy to deny the world’s most dangerous regime the planet’s most lethal weapons.
The Iran deal’s break with consensus prompted me to join a Colorado delegation to meet with our senator Michael Bennet on September 9th. Despite “deep concerns about what the shape of Iran’s nuclear program could look like,” Bennet had broken with a bipartisan majority of 58 senators who opposed the pact and the secret side deals involving Iranian self-inspection.
Our goal was to confirm that Bennet wouldn’t filibuster the Iran deal, voting instead with at least 60 senators to allow the agreement’s merits to be considered by the people’s representatives, an expectation Bennet set by co-sponsoring the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which passed 98-1 in May.
Disappointingly, Bennet didn’t show. But his cowering staffers assured us he wouldn’t filibuster, just as the anti-Iran deal rally at the Capitol with headliner Trump was starting. The next day Bennet proved his partisan chops by voting to filibuster, trumping the will of the American people.
President John F. Kennedy said, “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” Eager to restore our sovereignty, Americans are searching for an independent leader, one they believe will “make America great again.”
In his New York Magazine commentary, Frank Rich argues Trump is saving our democracy by “exposing, however crudely and at times inadvertently, the posturings of both the Republicans and the Democrats and the foolishness and obsolescence of much of the political culture they share.”
Perhaps so, but the truth is, when politicians are elevated before winning in the free marketplace of ideas, they stop answering questions and being held accountable, and then everybody gets trumped.
Americans want candidates who are serious, knowledgeable and responsive, which explains why Sanders’s crowds trump Clinton’s, and why idea-filled debate performances by Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio turbocharged their campaigns. It’s why Democrats are starving for their own debates.
For the American people to trump Washington’s agenda, we mustn’t allow cults of personality to cocoon candidates, or divide ourselves into “virtuous” and “dishonorable” camps. Most importantly, we must demand accountability.
Think Again – As Will Rogers eventually conceded: “This country has gotten where it is in spite of politics, not by the aid of it. That we have carried as much political bunk as we have and still survived shows we are a super nation."
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Last week during the most-watched primary debate in history, a U.S. senator fired a cogently argued objection at his party’s leader, drawing a contemptuous and insulting personal attack.
No, it wasn’t Sen. Rand Paul who chastised Donald Trump for being “on every side of every issue,” criticism for which Trump poked Paul for “having a bad night.”
It was Sen. Chuck Schumer who, after taking a month to Think Again about the Iranian nuclear agreement, announced his carefully considered rationale for opposing President Obama’s controversial foreign policy objective – an accord that reverses America’s long-standing policy to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon and the proliferation it would spawn.
Schumer judged the deal not on “whether the agreement is ideal, but whether we are better with or without it.” He concluded we’d be worse off and less able to thwart the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism after giving Iran’s “brutal, theocratic” regime $50-150 billion in unfrozen assets to “pursue nefarious goals,” and allowing them to become a nuclear-threshold state.
Schumer’s conclusion reflects the opinion of experts who’ve appeared before Congress, including Amb. Robert Joseph, chief U.S. negotiator of the 2003 Libya deal that dismantled the country’s nuclear program.
Calling the Iran deal a “bad agreement” with “fatal flaws,” Joseph testified “the threat to the U.S. homeland and to our NATO allies of an Iran armed with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles will increase, not decrease, under the anticipated agreement.”
Schumer cited the ayatollahs’ long track record of deceit and deception, and their "tight and undiminished grip on Iran," in deciding it’s “better to keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations, and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more, difficult as it may be.”
Unwilling to tolerate principled opposition, deal supporters launched a vicious smear campaign, branding Schumer “Warmonger Chuck,” even though Americans by a two-to-one margin oppose the Iran deal and believe it will make the world less safe, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.
About the presumptive next Senate Minority Leader, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest suggested Democrats should “consider the voting record of those who want to lead the caucus,” proving Voltaire’s observation: “it’s dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong.”
Schumer’s lambasting followed Obama’s speech at American University, the stage from which President Kennedy made his case for the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. “Let us not be blind to our differences,” Kennedy encouraged, “but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.” The Senate voted 80-19 to ratify the treaty.
Standing in Kennedy’s place, Obama dismissed critics who are concerned the Iran accord doesn’t reflect pre-negotiation promises, saying it’s not a “tough call” to support the deal. After insisting the only alternative is “another war in the Middle East,” Obama denounced opponents’ “knee-jerk partisanship,” “stridency” and “lobbyists” demanding war.
“It's those hardliners chanting ‘Death to America’ who have been most opposed to the deal. They're making common cause with the Republican Caucus,” Obama charged, as if America’s duly-elected representatives are the moral equivalents of unelected theocrats who stone women, hang gays, and shoot peaceful protestors.
Supreme Leader Ali Khameni has already violated the deal, most significantly by having his top aid declare, “entry into our military sites is absolutely forbidden.” Yet Obama maintained the deal “permanently prohibits Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” one of many evidence-free assertions that underscore Kennedy’s key insight: "no treaty ... can provide absolute security against the risks of deception and evasion."
Equally practiced in the art of evidence-free political rhetoric, Trump is a word salad-spewing colossus atop an untidy Republican presidential field. The ultimate anti-politician to disaffected voters enraged by ruling elites and political correctness, Trump wins plaudits for disparaging “stupid people” and those who “don’t treat me nice” – not for persuasive abilities.
All style and no substance, even on issues that make supporters swoon – illegal immigration, trade deals, Planned Parenthood – Trump is imprecise, incoherent, and inconsistent, though it matters not to his champions. Asked about Iran in last week’s debate, Trump mustered “I would be so different from what you have right now. Like, the polar opposite.”
Our democratic system relies on leaders who say what they mean and then get elected to go do what they said. More than celebrity, Trump’s surge derives from a smoldering frustration with politicians who don’t respect their contract with the people.
On the high-stakes Iran deal, Obama is poised to override the will of the people, and an overwhelming bi-partisan majority in Congress, unless Americans insist otherwise. Kennedy was right, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.”
Think Again – May the right answer on the Iran deal emerge from an open, informed and respectful debate in Congress next month.