Sunday, June 28, 2020

America Is Headed In the Wrong Direction, But Be Not Afraid

I am not normally prone to morosity, quite the opposite. The Kitten accuses me of irrational optimism, and she says that I tend to look back across the failures and setbacks of my 55 years through the lens of how each actually set me up for some future good turn. She isn't wrong. I imagine that were she not so very patient with me, I could tend to be annoying. 

I spent the first two hours of consciousness this morning with my tablet-app version of the Sunday New York Times, reviewing the news of our world. Fellow denizens of the political right may upbraid me for my choice of reading material, but there really is no equal to a deep dive into the Sunday Times for nice beginning of the week base-lining. Afterward, I spent some time on Twitter. 

The sum total of these two immersive experiences is that I sat down to write this blog tending toward morosity. There really is quite a bit of bad news. Our President retweeted this little gem this morning. Should he at some point delete the Tweet, a short summary follows. What we have is two minutes of video in which anti-Trump and pro-Trump demonstrators at a senior citizen village in Florida hurl insults and general upleasantries at each other. Included in these generic vocalizations is the ironic cry--from the driver of a golf-cart piloted by someone who presumably owns it in order to conserve his waning energy--of "White Power". Ordinarily, something of this nature would muddle around the cesspool of alt-right Twitter without great distribution, but the President of the United States chose not only to retweet it, but to praise his supporters there. I suppose the only good news I could take from the exchange was the possibility that folks in this demographic may be learning from their 2016 mistake

Moving on to the global pandemic (you like that segue?), it appears that the United States is leading the world in how poorly it has responded, with the President simply deciding there was no electoral profit in, you know, being President during a time of global pandemic. And so he has moved on to other pursuits as the nation slips into another phase of this disease, one in that APPEARS somewhat less fatal, but which is nevertheless clogging up ICU's with aplomb. We here on the farm aren't quite as locked down as we used to be, but we're not far from it. We practice social distancing (though the presence of Gen-Z daughters and their insatiable need for social interaction stresses this), we wear masks on any trip out of the house, and we continue to watch and wait. 

Don't get me wrong. I am absolutely onboard with those who said we could not stay in quarantine forever. Opening up in mid May made a lot of sense as a way of looking at how we might arrive at a more manageable approach to the pandemic without destroying our economy. But what has happened across broad swathes of the country--aided and abetted by the most irresponsible leadership imaginable from the White House--is absolute entitled recklessness. I'm not an epidemiologist, so forgive me if I am skating on your ice, but it occurs to me that IF WE ALL JUST WEAR OUR DAMN MASKS WHEN WE ARE AROUND PEOPLE OTHER THAN THOSE SHARING LODGING WITH US, THE VIRUS WOULD BE A GOOD BIT LESS VIRULENT and we could all carry on as homo economicus, in effect, walking and chewing gum at the same time. But no. Wearing a mask is an affront to Karen's Civil Rights (or Corey, in the case of her male counterpart), and led by our adolescent President, a common sense approach to public health has now become a loyalty oath to The Bad Orange Man.

As it is nearly July, thoughts turn to autumn, and football, and Saturday home games in Charlottesville. But you know what? I'm beginning to think all these mid May/mid June predictions of a return to normalcy on campus--may be JUST a tad bit premature. We'll see--clearly the demo in college is among the more resistant to the full damage of this virus--but six weeks from now, parents across the country are going to be making a very important risk decision in whether or not to swim out into what by then, could be a full-blown re-emergence (not that it ever de-emerged) of the virus.

I guess what I'm getting at here--and where when I sat down, I had believed would be the point of this piece--is that there is a lot to be morose about.  

But then I thought about an email exchange I had a few days ago with a friend in which I tried to cheer HIM up from a bit of crushing morosity. It goes like this. If we look back at the years from roughly 1972-1984, it plays out like a complete disaster. We lost our first war and high-tailed it out of there. The Arabs woke up and realized that they had us "over a barrel" (so to speak) when it came to our reliance on oil. A man who was already considered somewhat corrupt by many, resigned his presidency over corruption, and then was pardoned by his successor. We learned what "inflation" was. We elected the second most inept President in our history who then (quite rightly) told us we suffered from "malaise". Iranian thugs took 52 Americans from our Embassy and held them for 444 days. The Russians invaded Afghanistan. Our economy faced double-digit inflation, unemployment, and interest rates--all at the same time. The Japanese were cleaning our clock, and American cars came to suck like no other time since cars existed. 

And a fellow from California came along and told us our best days were ahead of us. And he was right. He led us for two terms with effectiveness, honor, and dignity. And then his Vice President led us for one term of honor and dignity. And then a fellow from Arkansas came along and led us for two terms with somewhat less dignity, but no less of a position of hope and effectiveness. American ingenuity and productivity--always there, returned.

My point is--we can, and will, get through all this. No, there is no land of rainbows and unicorns on the other side, but there is a time of more peace and civility, of love and honor, of respect and admiration, of health and stability. As dark as things seem now, it will one day be light again. I am certain of it. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

What's Next for the Right-of-Center National Security Community?

Four years ago, former George W. Bush administration State Department appointee Eliot Cohen (now Dean of the  Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University) and I placed an Open Letter on Donald Trump from GOP National Security Leaders in the online media and education forum “War on the Rocks”. In it, we laid out a case for Trump’s unfitness for office in the hope that his early primary momentum could be stopped. Ten dozen right-of-center national security experts of all ages and foreign policy approaches signed the letter, the overwhelming number of whom continue to support its assertions. Included among our warnings were words about Trump’s unmoored and inconsistent approach to foreign policy, his affinity for authoritarian dictators, and his basic and lifelong dishonesty. Additionally, we cited Mr. Trump’s own statements and concluded that he would use the authority of his office in ways that made America less safe, and that his expansive view of presidential power posed a threat to civil liberty.

Today, the Trump Administration is in deep trouble, unable to respond effectively to the COVID pandemic and now fanning the flames of race war as a re-election strategy. To say our warnings were prescient demeans the concept, as little we asserted took much imagination to conjure. We were right. But what to do now? How should the Trump-unfriendly right-of-center national security community move forward?

First, we should help defeat Donald Trump in November. A second Trump term would be a colossal mistake for this nation, and the unique cocktail of power and corruption he dispenses represents a continuing threat to the Republic. Then we must prepare for the future. Principled right-of-center national security thinkers must begin to prepare for the post-Trump era, one in which basic institutions and norms that have historically buttressed our power and influence will have to be strengthened, along with a number of friendships and alliances with international partners. Additionally, opportunities to cooperate with a Biden Administration must be explored, especially those that better posture the nation for continuing competition with China and Russia.

On the policy front, returning to the pre-Trump consensus is unlikely, but clinging to the GOP’s current fascination with nationalist populism cannot continue. Domestic missionary work is necessary, work that would help Americans who had been previously ignored  by the national security thinkers of both parties understand the value of free trade, the centrality of alliances, the importance of U.S. leadership in international organizations, and the need to build national strength across the whole of government for the competitions already underway.

The post-Trump right needs to prepare for a policy environment in which persuading others of the value of our ideas is the path to realizing them, putting the intimidation tactics of the racketeer behind us, as well as those who enabled them. There must be a reckoning in the post-Trump world, a time in which the right re-captures its emphases on ethics, values, and ideas, and systematically exposes the excess of the unprincipled who led it astray. Newly fashionable Trump-lite fan service dispensed by young and attractive faces peddling “re-alignment” should be exposed for what it is, a dramatic expansion of the power and reach of the government into areas of civil life where its influence should always be looked at with a jaundiced eye. Those warning us of the dangers of unbridled capitalism should be made to cite where exactly the bridles are, as what seems to bedevil growth and prosperity in this country—and consequently, our power and influence in the world—is a surfeit of bridles (regulation, crony-capitalism, tariffs) rather than an absence.

Rebuilding the right along classical liberal lines mixed with an updated post-Cold War primacy in the international sphere will not happen overnight, though the damage has been swiftly wrought. The hangover of Trumpism must not be allowed to weigh down a renewal, and the enablers of that decline must not be allowed to outrun their complicity. Those hoping for leadership in this new right must begin by immediately repudiating their support for Trump and Trumpism in all its forms, and they must rededicate themselves to the proposition that ideas, honesty, and persuasion comprise the best path to lasting change.


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A Good Mind is Capable of Holding Many, Seemingly Opposed Ideas

The Age of Trump has caused me to spend several years examining my ideas and ideology, a process many a former kindred spirit has abandoned while they express politics through their equally opposed political dark hearts and near-Freudian ids.  I've been thinking recently about seemingly opposed ideas in the same head, and the quote attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald that "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." This essay attempts to do something like that. In it, I will explore the deep recesses of my political/social mind in an attempt to put forward a number of opposed or "not necessarily aligned" ideas that I hold equally in good standing.  Here goes.

I am a conservative. 
President Trump is not conservative.

I am not a Republican.
I cannot be a Democrat.

A well-trained police force is essential to law, order, and civil life.
Many communities in this country have legitimate beefs with the police. Many of those communities are minority, including black communities.

Peaceful protests are a constitutional right are to be encouraged in a free society.
Looting and violence are crimes and should be met with force if necessary.

Law and order and the protection of bodily and property safety is the purview of state and local police forces. Federal intervention into local disturbances should come after deep deliberation and caution, and in cooperation with state and local authorities.
Federal intervention can become necessary when local disturbances exceed local ability to quell.

Police reform and criminal justice reform are reasonable policy options in response to current upheaval.
De-funding police departments is not reasonable.

It is asinine for Trump supporters to say "take him seriously, not literally".
It is asinine for activists to say that "De-fund the Police" does not mean--de-fund the police. 

All Lives Matter.
Black Lives Matter.

Racism exists in the United States.
The United States is not racist.

Capitalism will inevitably create losers. 
The alternative makes everyone a loser.

Free markets are a form of liberty.
Markets are far from free.

Our friends and allies around the world do not spend enough on their own defense.
Abandoning our friends and allies is a terrible thing.

American participation in international organizations constrains policy choices.
Participating--no, leading--international organizations is in our national interest. 

Socialized medicine is an evil worth avoiding at all costs.
Our system linking insurance coverage to employment is ridiculous.

Taxation is confiscation.
Taxes are the price paid for a functioning civil society.

America has a gun problem.
The crime rate has dramatically fallen over the same time there has been a significant increase in the number of privately held guns. 

Determining who enters and who stays in this country is the table-stakes of sovereignty.
America is improved by its immigrants.

A wall or physical barrier on our southern border is a prudent policy choice.
This choice should be made by our representatives in our Federal legislature, not funded by Presidential fiat through questionable re-allocation of appropriated funds.

That was fun. You are invited to share oppositions from your own supple minds in the comment section. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

On Parting with the Past

During our ongoing COVID hunkering, The Kitten has been very busy with various projects that we have long put off, made somewhat worse by her Mother's death last year and her duties as executor. Between us, there is a good deal of the past that needs cleaning up, looking into, throwing out, and passing along. She is a great respecter of the past. Her family history in this county goes back to the mid 1600's, she has a sharp eye for colonial era antiques, and she is far better at appreciating the value of things than I am. This is a very pleasant way of saying that she doesn't like to throw things out, and donating them is often a difficult decision. But she has made the decisions, she is working hard, and progress is being made. Along the way, I have been made to examine my own approach to the accumulation of things, and that is what this post is about. 

The Navy, and its tendency to move me from place to place every 30 months or so, created in me a dedication to not only having only what I need, but in divesting of things every time the moving van's arrival was imminent. Over the 21 years I was in the Navy, I gave away a LOT of stuff. Beds, bedding, towels, kitchen stuff, clothes, whatever. At each new duty station, I arrived lightly equipped, and added a little here and there.

When I left the Navy and accepted The Kitten's offer of bliss here on the Farm, I began what has turned into a new experience for me as an adult--living in one place. I've been here over twelve years now, and honestly, I've become something of a pack-rat. We have a nice sized place, but most of the available storage (see para 1) was taken, so ten years ago, I started renting a storage unit. In it were placed items of furniture, old computers/monitors/printers, the bedding and linens from my final Swinging Bachelor Pad (some of you remember it, we all honor it), the kitchenware from the Swinging Bachelor Pad, boxes of books that didn't make the cut to be on my bookshelves, lamps, prints (yes, the frolicking beagles and the hunt scenes), etc. And there are other things there. A box of uniforms. A box of the stuff I pulled off USS BULKELEY when I left--a copy of every fitrep I signed, every letter I wrote, pictures, photo CD's. Every plaque I ever got in the Navy. Photos. Memorabilia. But that's not all. Virtually every note I ever took in grad school, all the papers I wrote, and a good bit of the undergraduate versions thereof. It's all there. 

For the longest time, The Kitten--from her glass house--has chided me for the expense of the storage unit. Up until I lit myself on fire politically, I would tell her that I need all that household stuff to set up a DC apartment when my people come into power and I go to work in government. I abandoned that hope several years ago, and made a halting first step last summer when my Godson--newly commissioned Ensign James A. Blanford, USCG--and I raided the unit for stuff to help him set up his first place--in Kodiak, AL.  I felt really good passing that stuff along.

This morning, The Kitten asked me if I had room in my storage unit for some of the treasures from her mother's house. While I of course, wanted to to a little end-zone dance proclaiming how wise I was for spending $900 a year for ten years on it, I said "of course", and then headed across town to it to make sure I wasn't lying. It was 2/3 full or so, but I have a loaner while my car is getting serviced, and it is one of those little SUVlets with some storage area. I folded down the seats, and dedicated a little time to making some more room for The Kitten's treasures.

I made two trips back and forth to Goodwill. The first was primarily books. Between us, The Kitten and I have accumulated a LOT of books. With her came along all the books accumulated by her late-husband, and so between the three of us are seven degrees and decades of book accumulation. Then there are her mother's books. I have a wall full of books in my ManCave, we have bookshelves in our bedroom, our upstairs master, and our library/dining room. We have a ton of books. But there are no longer any books in my storage unit.

I've begun to wonder about the breezy way I acquire books, and whether I am just saddling my heirs with the backbreaking job of figuring out what to do with them. I'll be on the Metro reading a book review, and then I'll hit the link to Amazon and buy it. I do this more than I ought. Because I see my retirement as the golden age of reading--I just may decide to do it all on a Kindle in order not to be such a burden.

I donated two Keurig coffee makers. I donated the linens and kitchen stuff from my last apartment. There will be no DC apartment. 

There are a ton of electronics that need to go bye-bye, but most of what remains for some odd reason, continues to have meaning for me. When I got home, I talked to The Kitten about my morning, and she said she understood pretty much all of my decisions except the one to retain the undergrad and grad school work. I thought long and hard about it, and decided it was just too soon. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

America is Burning

Like much of the country, I have been transfixed over the images playing out on my screens of whatever size these past few days. I am truly sad for my country; no, I am sadder. I have been sad for several years now, but the feeling has intensified as that which I and others warned of has now come to fruition, and our country is being torn apart at least in part by the words and actions of the President. I have much to say on this. Strap in because not everyone is going to be happy.

There is a rich alchemy at work in the streets of America's cities, one in which 400 years of slavery and oppression is mixed with 90 days of isolation, and then ignited by devious forces of chaos and anarchy riding the wave of technology. Atop it all sits a man uniquely unqualified for the moment, who has convinced himself that it is 1968 and he is Richard Nixon, while the much of the country realizes that he is in actuality, Mayor Dailey. Put another way, he isn't here to "fix" anything; he caused it.

Well, that's actually wrong to say. This--and by this I mean the riots--was not caused by Donald Trump. We'll get to his role and culpability in all of this. Let's look at what is going on here.

First there is the undeniable contribution of the country's legacy of slavery and oppression. The black community in America had a much different start than any other immigrant group, so different that it is a strain to even make a comparison. But we must. While you may not believe systemic racism exists, it once did in the form of democratically sanctioned law-making, and one result after hundreds of years is a particular darkness in the hearts of many white people. While laws of changed, many hearts have not.

We move then onto the police, and we think about the startling, nearly miraculous decline in crime in America in recent decades. Go and look. Check the FBI's crime statistics, and you will find that crime (mugging, robbery, assault, random gun crime, etc) was a MUCH bigger problem in the 60's and 70's than it is today. America's cities are incredibly safe today--compared to their Johnson-era predecessors. How did this happen? It happened like most complicated things, through a complicated series of inputs. Here are a few. First, there was a revolution in policing that started in academia and then moved to the streets, one in which police were encouraged to become MUCH more visible. In that visibility was included an added emphasis on the suppression of petty crime, under the theory that cleaning up the criminal underbrush would slow the spread of criminal conflagration. Police over time, became not only more visible, but more active. Dare I say, more aggressive. This added aggression over time, established a "new normal" in many places, and in that new normal, what passed for acceptable police behavior changed--and it changed in a way that behavior that went over the line now had become dangerous, abusive, violent, and life-threatening. The recipients of this treatment--tended to be members of the community discussed in the previous paragraph, inner city minorities, especially black people. Indeed, the perception grew that the police were racist, because the professional conduct of policing changed so dramatically and was felt so substantially by black people. I think racism was in the mix. But I think there was more to it.

The police also have become militarized. Or more militarized. I do not like seeing armored vehicles on America's streets operated by police. I do not like hearing police officers on television referring to "civilians", as if they are not very much part of the civilian population, the part paid and trusted to serve and protect. But let's not kid ourselves--they are facing more effective and more militarized opponents on the rioting field.

Keep in mind--there are a TON of angry but law-abiding citizens on the streets of our cities. The murder of George Floyd by a white police officer playing out on an eight and half minute video like some sick snuff porn, was just the latest instance of a black man in police custody being killed. It occurs to me that the police officer involved did not set out to kill George Floyd. He did nonetheless, and he did it for all the world to see. There are other names. There are other lives. This is a problem, and it is a problem worth protesting.

The fact that protesters have been quarantined for months is not helping, as many protesters are also newly jobless in addition to stir-crazy. There is palpable rage among a group of people for whom "the system" is not working. Much of the looting being done seems to me to be coming out of this group, but it has ever been thus when cities burn. 

And then there are the free-lance chaos artists, anarchists, and thrill seekers. Many are college students newly without summer jobs and much to do, looking for an outlet for their woke-i-tude.  They are super-empowered with modern technology, and they are--like the President they despise--accelerating the burn.  

Speaking of the President, the man is a menace. He has never been one to unite, and his go-to move is to divide. Guilty last evening of impeachable abuse of power in using federal law enforcement to violently disburse a crowd so that he could waddle across the street in the company of his co-conspirators grasping a book he has never opened to a building he does not know for a thirteen second photo-op, he is like a boy in a backyard firework display with a lighter in his hand and a crazed look on his face. He simply cannot WAIT to federalize the National Guard and force military power on Governors and Mayors who have not asked for it. Aided and abetted by men of low character (the Attorney General, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs), he has decided to make his last stand atop the wreckage of American civil life. He has utterly lost interest in a virus that has killed 100,000 of his fellow citizens, and he seems unfazed by the irony of his statements providing for any and all means to stop the urban violence even as he was unable to summon up these same forces to stop a virus. 

Armchair historians quick to curry favor with the regime point to the various times in our history when more virtuous Chief Executives called out federal power to quell disturbances, without ever considering the unique role this Chief Executive is playing in the disturbances he fosters and supports. 

To be sure, there must be order. We cannot go on each night having businesses torched and looted. We cannot have a caviling media on the one hand criticizing law enforcement for excess force, even as they criticize the same law enforcement for standing by while stores are looted--knowing that to stop the looting would require the use of force they would then broadcast in real-time without context. 

There may be a time where federal troops are necessary to quell these outbreaks. It occurs to me that these troops should be requested prior to their being deployed. But with a President like this one who respects not a single pillar of our founding--federalism included--we cannot be sure.

It is going to be a long, hot, summer. God be with us. 

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