Peter Kreeft: The Benefits of Belief with VideoAugust 30, 2017
Saint of the Day for August 31: Saint Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (1st century)August 31, 2017
By Dov Fischer, American Spectator, August 31, 2017
He knows it’s a fight to the finish — he has no other choice.
Any fair assessment of our President is that he is flawed as a person. His sense of self much exceeds the norm. Some of his insults famously transcend those we associate with the meme “Politics Ain’t Beanbag.” On discrete occasions, he has disappointed staunch supporters by punctuating certain powerfully valid viewpoints with “facts” that are so demonstrably wrong that they approach the coveted Gold Standard for Public Falsehood established by the dual-gender political tag-team of Clintons and exceeded only by Barack Obama. (See also: “Shovel-ready jobs”; “If you like your [ ], you can keep your [ ]”; “More young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities across America”; Solyndra.) President Trump infuriates his foes and leaves his supporters ofttimes squeamish.
Shall we rue his election, as “Never Trumpers” continue to do? Well, first of all — He’s what we’ve got for the next 41 or 89 months. Had we gotten Hillary instead, we would not have encountered fewer lies from the Oval Office, nor from whatever new bathroom she would have selected to store her next-generation stealth computer server. In a world where Benghazi was caused by a YouTube video that almost no one saw — and which no one conceivably viewed through its painfully not-soon-enough conclusion — and in which a Secretary of State had exchanged tens of thousands of emails regarding her yoga classes and daughter’s wedding dress, one need not fantasize to grasp how much public lying would have emanated from a new Clinton West Wing, Oval Office, and from under the President’s desk had we been Hillaried.
Hillary would have assured the Obama Revolution a prospective permanence, endangering the future of the Republic without slowing the rise of the seas or healing the planet. Would Michelle Obama by now be the ninth Supreme Court Justice casting tie-breaking votes? Or Barack? Or a kindred soul? If so, before we mourn an imperiled Second Amendment, what would have become of the First Amendment? In a world in which the politically deranged and morally challenged Southern Poverty Law Center can defame the most decent of Christian religious-freedom advocates, groups like Alliance Defending Freedom, as “Hate Groups,” what would have been left of religious freedom under a Hillary? And what of the embattled First Amendment right to speak one’s mind freely in an environment where there is no inducement to violence, no imminent lawless action, but a plethora of campus intolerance and university schemes aimed at taxing speech into silence by imposing exorbitant “security fees” and moving conservative groups and scholars to off-site inaccessible venues and to obscure dates when students are otherwise engaged?
One is reminded of the O.J. book that never saw light of day: “If I Did It.” If she had done it and won, would she have been less combative and vindictive against her perceived foes than is President Trump? Just to know her was to risk wrath (Dick Morris), scorn (Gennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick), termination (seven employees of the White House Travel Office), and imprisonment (Susan McDougal; Billy Dale, director of said travel office). If her new book is titled “What Happened” — a question frequently asked, upon regaining consciousness, by those who have been knocked out for a ten-count — the answer is: American dodged a political bullet and now has a chance to recover its soul. That is what happened.
And, yet, how explain the raw and brusque President Trump-the-Divider when compared to a previous modern conservative President, Ronald Reagan-the-Unifier? Reagan, too, was the media celebrity who defied the odds, won the election that the pollsters expected him to lose, thereafter was pilloried by the left media as a buffoon actor, a pretender, and incompetent who belonged more in bed with Bonzo than with the strange bedfellows of politics. So, now that Donald Trump has won and has been in the White House for seven months, why isn’t he more like Reagan?
Alas, the media never have given President Trump even the begrudging chance they gave President Reagan. Yes, Ronald Reagan entered the White House with a reputation as a tough governor, a man who had dispatched the California national guard to Berkeley to delay the premature emergence of Antifa for another half century. However, he also came in as a likable guy. The leftist news media could mock him and deride First Lady Nancy’s dresses and chinaware, but people had seen him in the movies and on TV. Reagan played the good guys, the cowboys with white hats, the doggone Gipper. His mere smile persuaded Americans to buy light bulbs by General Electric, Royal Crown cola, Van Heusen shirts, Westinghouse refrigerators, V-8 juice, and Chesterfields. He lay in bed with impish monkeys for silliness, playing an absent-minded psychology professor in an era when professors did not penalize students’ grades and withhold letters of recommendation from students reading Ayn Rand, Bill Buckley, or Milton Friedman. Reagan was lovable. Even die-hard liberals who hated his tough politics still knew that, at bottom, Reagan was a sweet pussycat. He told wonderful stories, funny anecdotes, delivered great one-liners with punch. And he smiled self-effacingly.
That never stopped the vicious leftist media from hounding First Lady Nancy Reagan, as they later would do to Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, over their outfits that actually cost a fraction of a Hillary Clinton pantsuit or jacket or a taxpayer-funded regal European designer couture creation commissioned by and for Michelle Obama. In the time before Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the internet, the media had no boundaries in hounding the President and mocking his elegant and graceful wife. But Americans liked Reagan, even more when contrasted from his immediate predecessor, the dour and sour tight-lipped Jimmy Carter, who by-the-way presided over a 14 percent inflation rate and 444 days of an Iranian hostage mess. And then a certified nut decided to impress Jodi Foster by shooting Reagan. The President’s personal courage and humor during the aftermath, while his life hung in the balance, sealed the deal. The Gipper took one for us.
By contrast for Donald Trump, although our nation’s Chief Executive likewise entered the Presidency as a TV star, his stardom was rooted in being the guy who terminates prospective employees — “You’re fired.” He has a likable side, especially if you go for the superficially tough brash New Yorker macho, but also a very dislikeable side if you don’t. He came in hated. He was hated because he regularly escalated the rhetoric stratospherically, having divined an Achilles’ heel in the media that assured him unbridled access to billions of dollars (billions with a “b”) of free air time on the news channels and talk shows by speaking irrepressibly and with calculated irresponsibility. He was hated because he up-ended the Republican establishment’s carefully laid plans for yet another four-year sequel of Bush kinder gentler rigor mortis. Trump was brazen, unscripted, out of control. An embarrassment to the party. In time, he was running against both major political parties on the ballot: Hillary-Bernie Democrats and the “Never Trump” GOP elite.
As he became ever-predictably more unpredictable, gaining even more air time, a new sport ensued, aimed at misinterpreting his every word, his every intent. Perhaps the nadir of misstating his true meaning, the art of turning his words into something he never contemplated, came during the presidential campaign when he said that Hillary, in her prior race against Obama four years earlier, had been “schlonged.” Yes, that verb is the Yiddish word for the male reproductive organ. Immediately, the media shifted into overdrive, citing his using the term against a female candidate as proof of vile dark misogyny. But for those of us whose parents and neighbors actually spoke Yiddish, we who grew up in Brooklyn and Queens on the streets where Donald Trump grew up and learned life’s lingo, the term never was used colloquially to mean the physiological organ. Rather, it was used merely to convey that someone had gotten beaten really badly in a fair competition: “The Mets get schlonged again yesterday, 14-3.” “Did you see Liston get schlonged in the first round?” Men clobbering men in a contest governed fairly by rules. No misogyny. That is how people tawk in Brooklyn and Queens.
That leftist media feeding-frenzy, mischaracterizing Trump’s vocabulary, reflected early-on the degree to which he would not get a break for the duration of his political career. The fabrication of intent was akin to a contemporary commentator bemoaning a politician’s bad political debate performance by saying “He (or she) really sucked” — and then having media parasites, reflecting their own coarseness of mind, imputing a sexual connotation to the verb. Before long, Trump had been labeled not only a misogynist and racist but even an anti-Semite, having issued a statement thoughtfully remembering the Holocaust — written by a Jewish staffer descended of Holocaust survivors — that failed to satisfy his critics among the wordsmiths of the left. As such, the circumstances underlying media acceptance of Trump’s ascent to the Presidency are not comparable to those encountered by Ronald Reagan but to those that greeted a different Republican whom the media despised, Richard Nixon. Like Nixon, Trump is the Republican who never had a chance with the left media, not from Day One — and not before Day One.
Nixon, who famously articulated that he knew full well that the media were devoted to kicking him around, handled the never-ending onslaught during his presidential years the “professional” way, the way that Trump critics now wish he would employ. When in the public eye, Nixon always acted “presidential” and spoke properly. He saved his cursing, his hatreds, and his vendettas for the clandestine arena of his ubiquitous recording devices and for the benefit of historians and scholars. However, as a public actor, Nixon delegated to Vice President Spiro Agnew the task to bark at the media as an attack dog, while Nixon postured above it all, parodying “Sock it to me!” on NBC’s Laugh-In and greeting Elvis. Nevertheless, history teaches conclusively that determined aloofness from confronting the leftist media in direct fray never bought him succor, and ultimately the driven media took Nixon down, as they had set out to do from Day One.
That is Trump’s dilemma. From before he even set foot in the White House, the media have been intent on taking him down, Nixon-style, instead of parrying with him Reagan-style. The “presidential” way of dealing civilly with such a merciless and continuous onslaught failed Nixon (exacerbated when his henchman, Agnew, was revealed to be a crook). It simply does not work to play nice when there are too many TV stations, too many hours of too many talking heads echoing each other’s verbal assaults on this President, too many websites and libelous bloggers, too many self-certified psychoanalysts dissecting a mind that is at least as functional as that of Maxine Waters. And, yes, too much darn fake news. (Remember that first day, when Time magazine already was reporting falsely that he had removed a bust of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King from the Oval Office?) That is why poor Trump — in this context, truly poor Trump — finds himself caught in the first round of a never-ending eight-year boxing match, with a binary choice: either they take him down, or he takes them down. There is no in-between, no kibitzing with a funny tale of a fictional plumber setting an appointment ten years hence to repair a leak in a Communist Russia apartment. Rather, it is a battle to the political death, no holds barred — because the attackers are armed and, as though embarking on Vicksburg, are supplied amply for laying an eight-year siege.
Ronald Reagan, never the hyphenated American, nonetheless was blessed further with a fellow traveler sharing roots hailing to a common old sod. House Leader Tip O’Neill, his drinking buddy and erstwhile pal, would share laughs and warm moments at night with Reagan after a tough day of politics. Like an Oxford debate or a pre-season baseball game, it never was personal; it simply was that thing we do. But Trump has no friends in D.C. with whom to muse. With uncanny certainty, everything he says, every muse, every “what-if?” gets leaked, investigated, and consumes another 24-hour or week-long news cycle. Moreover, Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer, like the media whom they symbiotically feed and nourish, will not rest until they take him down and destroy him — unless he takes them down first. It is a post-Obama world, where eight years of Saul Alinsky’s “rules for radicals” have taken hold of the national culture, particularly in academia and in entertainment. A CNN-affiliated comedienne, albeit no longer CNN and never really comedic, holds a decapitated, bloodied head of the President of the United States. This is funny? A late-night talk-show host rambles viciously about the President of the United States in terms not only disgusting and vile but also startlingly homophobic. He hosts an evening of humor sponsored by the news media? A worn-out singer publicly wears a “Vagina Hat” on a rostrum (and it is offensive to use the term “schlonged”?) and voices her wish that she could blow up the White House. A Shakespearean performance in the people’s park degrades into a metaphor for assassinating the President of the United States, a federal felony whose very suggestion is punishable by up to five years’ incarceration. 18 U.S.C. § 871.
This is the coarse and degraded post-Obama society that Donald Trump inherited. In great measure, his election conforms to the laws of Physics, comprising an equal and opposite force generated by eight immediately preceding years of an unparalleled coarsening of the American culture and abandoning of traditional American morality. This brave new world evidences new bold and daring on the left. They brazenly assemble frontally like terrorists, dressed in black and masks, armed with lethal weapons, battering and pummeling even peaceful, passive conservative demonstrators who publicly condemn racism and white supremacy, and who explicitly dissociate from the associated groups of hate. The First Amendment and free speech no longer are sacrosanct at the liberal university. Eight years of Obama changed America and empowered a new tyranny. The free exchange of ideas increasingly is the province only of those who talk to themselves.
Trump assuredly is a divisive person, disturbingly thriving in the role. That is a shame. But the prior eight years saw that, first, John McCain and thereafter Mitt Romney were hopelessly unsuited to counter the new tyranny and repression of academia and the media left merely by advancing ideas and postulates with the grace and gentility of “Reasonable Minds May Differ.” The playing field is not structured evenly for the dignified conservative. At the earliest sign of a winning conservative idea, there now will be a Candy Crowley — less a person, more a metaphor — to sabotage the debate, trample the rules, and cheat to win. When one Crowley rolls aside, a Donna Brazile emerges to find a surrogate to pass along debate questions surreptitiously. In such a volatile environment of static, of a new tyrannical left that honors none of America’s rules of civil engagement, the political left shamelessly rejects the voters’ choice to render it the “Loyal Opposition” and instead remarkably proclaims itself “The Resistance.” To counter, the pugnacious and divisive Trump emerges as the new-and-improved iteration of conservatives simply trying to be heard over a media din of dogmatic liberalism pocked by their coordinated corruption of conservative ideas and proposals, augmented by their blackout of any and all positive news of the good things that conservatives do and the excellent results that implemented conservative programs accomplish.
In such a public environment where the climate indeed has changed, it emerges that our flawed President is the right man for the wrong time.
Rabbi Dov Fischer, an attorney and adjunct professor of law, is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, congregational rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, California, and holds prominent leadership roles in several national rabbinic and other Jewish organizations. He has been Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, clerked for the Hon. Danny J. Boggs in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and served for most of the past decade on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. His writings have appeared in the Weekly Standard, National Review, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Jerusalem Post, American Thinker, Frontpage Magazine, and Israel National News. Other of his writings are collected at www.rabbidov.com .