Pessimism and Optimism in American Culture

Norman_Vincent_Peale_NYWTS

Norman Vincent Peale, Author of The Power of Positive Thinking

Over at The New Republic, senior editor Jeet Heer reflects on the meaning of optimism and pessimism in the rhetoric of Donald Trump and Barack Obama, the theology of Norman Vincent Peale, and the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Here is a taste of his piece: “The Power of Negative Thinking”:

The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, during his long imprisonment under Benito Mussolini’s regime, famously wrote, “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” In an American context, this combination can be found most potently in Abraham Lincoln, whose very awareness of the enormity of the problem of slavery pushed him toward the radical solution of abolition. There are few more negative national appraisals than Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, where he said, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

Traditionally, modern politicians shy away from such a dismal portrait of their own country, for fear of furthering polarizing the nation and thereby making governance more difficult. Yet as both Trump and Bernie Sanders proved in 2016, pessimism is an effective mobilizing tool because it raises the stakes of an election, bolstering the case for risk-taking change. If such a case proved convincing for Trump in the waning days of a popular presidency and steadily improving economy, then surely it would be even more convincing under a historically unpopular president who is undoing efforts to fight climate change, proposing tax cuts for the rich, sabotaging health care for the poor, demonizing non-white people, monetizing his presidency, and posing an existential threat to American democracy itself.

Trump’s curious mixture of pessimism and optimism might be rooted in the flimsy self-help gospel of Positive Thinking, but it would be a mistake to confuse the message with the messenger. There is carnage in America indeed, even if it’s largely not the carnage that Trump claimed. The problem is that the solution he offered—his supposed skills as a deal maker—was quack medicine. But an accomplished politician could, as Trump did, appeal to suffering Americans while also selling a remedy that would, unlike Trump’s, actually address their troubles. In other words, the risk for Democrats lies not in preaching such a self-serving gospel. The real risk would be to dismiss Trump’s effective rhetoric simply because he failed to deliver on it.

Read the entire piece here.

We’re Right There With You Barack!

Barack,_Malia,_and_Sasha_Obama_at_the_2012_Democratic_Convention

Many of us know what this is like.  From The New York Times:

After Malia Obama went off to Harvard University last month, her father couldn’t hold back the tears.

Barack Obama described that moment on Monday in a speech for the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children, which was named for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s older son, who died of brain cancer in 2015.

The former president said some kind words about Beau and his parents, Joe and Jill Biden, before talking about the joys and sorrows of watching children grow up.

“For those of us who have daughters, it just happens fast,” Mr. Obama said in a video published by WDEL, a news outlet based in Wilmington, Del.

“I dropped off Malia at college, and I was saying to Joe and Jill that it was a little bit like open-heart surgery, and I was proud that I did not cry in front of her. But on the way back, the Secret Service was all looking straight ahead pretending they weren’t hearing me as I sniffled and blew my nose. It was rough.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Court Evangelical Spin on DACA

Trump court evangelicals

Believe it or not, the court evangelicals have managed to spin this entire DACA fiasco in their favor.

According to Heather Sells’s article at Christian Broadcast Network News, court evangelicals Tony Suarez, Jentezen Franklin, Bishop Harry Jackson, and Johnnie Moore are patting themselves on the back for speaking “truth to power.”

It seems the court evangelicals believe that they were influential in convincing Trump to wait for six months before he deports 800,000 children of immigrants who came into the United States illegally.  It seems the court evangelicals are optimistic that Congress will get its act together and pass legislation that protects the DACA recipients.

Here is a taste of Sells’s piece:

Evangelicals on the President’s informal faith advisory board believe their access to the White House made a difference in protecting young immigrants from an immediate end to what’s known as the DACA program.

Rev. Tony Suarez, executive vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), told CBN News Tuesday, “I feel like our work on the faith advisory council is vindicated today…this is precisely why we joined way back in the campaign last year because we felt if we had access to this office, if we had access to this man we needed to speak truth to power, believing that at some point God would touch, God would convict and there would be compassion for children.”

Members of the president’s faith advisory council met with him and White House officials on Friday and discussed DACA as well as other political priorities. Council member Bishop Harry Jackson attended and told CBN News he thinks the board helped to make a difference for Dreamers–as those in the DACA program are often known. “The evangelical church had the president’s ear,” he said calling the six month extension “an extreme act of mercy.”

I understand the argument, but is this really speaking truth to power?  Are these court evangelicals really patting themselves on the back for placing nearly 1 million Americans in a state of constant anxiety about their future?  Will the DACA recipients be gone in six months–deported to the countries of their birth? (The video below suggests that the Department of Justice has already told them to start packing).  Will they get a reprieve from Congress?  Is Trump so wed to his anti-immigration/law and order base that he is incapable of showing empathy for these people?  And then, to top it all off, he tweeted last night that he might revisit DACA if Congress does not come through.  Is he for DACA or against it?  If he will revisit it in 6 months why not revisit it now?  Where is the presidential leadership here?  Lead, Donald.  Please lead!

I don’t know what role the court evangelicals played in this whole situation, but I find it hard to believe that any evangelical would be happy with the results.  Once again Barack Obama has driven the court evangelicals off the moral playing field.

Watch this video:

 

Obama on Trump’s Decision to End DACA: “Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question.”

From Obama’s Facebook page:

Immigration can be a controversial topic. We all want safe, secure borders and a dynamic economy, and people of goodwill can have legitimate disagreements about how to fix our immigration system so that everybody plays by the rules.

But that’s not what the action that the White House took today is about. This is about young people who grew up in America – kids who study in our schools, young adults who are starting careers, patriots who pledge allegiance to our flag. These Dreamers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents, sometimes even as infants. They may not know a country besides ours. They may not even know a language besides English. They often have no idea they’re undocumented until they apply for a job, or college, or a driver’s license.

Over the years, politicians of both parties have worked together to write legislation that would have told these young people – our young people – that if your parents brought you here as a child, if you’ve been here a certain number of years, and if you’re willing to go to college or serve in our military, then you’ll get a chance to stay and earn your citizenship. And for years while I was President, I asked Congress to send me such a bill.

That bill never came. And because it made no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know solely because of the actions of their parents, my administration acted to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people, so that they could continue to contribute to our communities and our country. We did so based on the well-established legal principle of prosecutorial discretion, deployed by Democratic and Republican presidents alike, because our immigration enforcement agencies have limited resources, and it makes sense to focus those resources on those who come illegally to this country to do us harm. Deportations of criminals went up. Some 800,000 young people stepped forward, met rigorous requirements, and went through background checks. And America grew stronger as a result.

But today, that shadow has been cast over some of our best and brightest young people once again. To target these young people is wrong – because they have done nothing wrong. It is self-defeating – because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel. What if our kid’s science teacher, or our friendly neighbor turns out to be a Dreamer? Where are we supposed to send her? To a country she doesn’t know or remember, with a language she may not even speak?

Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question. Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us. They are that pitcher on our kid’s softball team, that first responder who helps out his community after a disaster, that cadet in ROTC who wants nothing more than to wear the uniform of the country that gave him a chance. Kicking them out won’t lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone’s taxes, or raise anybody’s wages.

It is precisely because this action is contrary to our spirit, and to common sense, that business leaders, faith leaders, economists, and Americans of all political stripes called on the administration not to do what it did today. And now that the White House has shifted its responsibility for these young people to Congress, it’s up to Members of Congress to protect these young people and our future. I’m heartened by those who’ve suggested that they should. And I join my voice with the majority of Americans who hope they step up and do it with a sense of moral urgency that matches the urgency these young people feel.

Ultimately, this is about basic decency. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated. It’s about who we are as a people – and who we want to be.

What makes us American is not a question of what we look like, or where our names come from, or the way we pray. What makes us American is our fidelity to a set of ideals – that all of us are created equal; that all of us deserve the chance to make of our lives what we will; that all of us share an obligation to stand up, speak out, and secure our most cherished values for the next generation. That’s how America has traveled this far. That’s how, if we keep at it, we will ultimately reach that more perfect union.

Barack Obama Gave Donald Trump a Lesson in Historical Thinking

Obama oval

In case you have not seen this yet, the letter that Barack Obama left for Donald Trump has been released.  Here it is:

Dear Mr. President –

Congratulations on a remarkable run. Millions have placed their hopes in you, and all of us, regardless of party, should hope for expanded prosperity and security during your tenure.

This is a unique office, without a clear blueprint for success, so I don’t know that any advice from me will be particularly helpful. Still, let me offer a few reflections from the past 8 years.

First, we’ve both been blessed, in different ways, with great good fortune. Not everyone is so lucky. It’s up to us to do everything we can (to) build more ladders of success for every child and family that’s willing to work hard.

Second, American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It’s up to us, through action and example, to sustain the international order that’s expanded steadily since the end of the Cold War, and upon which our own wealth and safety depend.

Third, we are just temporary occupants of this office. That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions — like rule of law, separation of powers, equal protection and civil liberties — that our forebears fought and bled for. Regardless of the push and pull of daily politics, it’s up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them.

And finally, take time, in the rush of events and responsibilities, for friends and family. They’ll get you through the inevitable rough patches.

Michelle and I wish you and Melania the very best as you embark on this great adventure, and know that we stand ready to help in any ways which we can.

Good luck and Godspeed,

BO

For me. as a historian, the key paragraph is the one that deals with the temporary nature of the office and the president’s responsibility to guard “democratic institutions and traditions.”

In order to take this advice seriously, Donald Trump must have a historical consciousness.  He must see himself as part of a larger national story that has unfolded over the course of the last 241 years.  As Sam Wineburg reminds us: “the narcissist sees the world–both the past and the present–in his own image.  Mature historical understanding teaches us to do the opposite: to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in human history into which we have been born.”

Who Said It: Trump or Obama?

Trump Obama

Every quote below was uttered by either President Donald Trump in his Afghanistan speech last night or President Barack Obama at some point in his presidency.  Can you match the speech with the POTUS?

  • The men and women of our military operate as one team, with one shared mission and one shared sense of purpose. They transcend every line of race, ethnicity, creed, and color to serve together and sacrifice together in absolutely perfect cohesion.

 

  • That is because all service members are brothers and sisters. They’re all part of the same family. It’s called the American family.

 

  • I see what’s possible when we recognize that we are one American family, all deserving of equal treatment. All deserving equal respect. All children of God. That’s the America I know.

 

  • They’re all part of the same family. It’s called the American family. They take the same oath, fight for the same flag, and live according to the same law. They’re bound together by common purpose, mutual trust, and selfless devotion to our nation and to each other. The soldier understands what we as a nation too often forget: that a wound inflicted upon a single member of our community is a wound inflicted upon us all. 

 

  • When one part of America hurts, we all hurt. And when one citizen suffers an injustice, we all suffer together. Loyalty to our nation demands loyalty to one another. Love for America requires love for all of its people. When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry, and no tolerance for hate. The young men and women we send to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home. We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other.

 

  • As we send our bravest to defeat our enemies overseas—and we will always win—let us find the courage to heal our divisions within. Let us make a simple promise to the men and women we ask to fight in our name: that when they return home from battle, they will find a country that has renewed the sacred bonds of love and loyalty that unite us together as one.

I will post the answers in the comments section below at the end of the day.

What if Trump Did That?

Rob

Instead of asking “What if Obama did that?,” perhaps we should think about this kind of “whataboutism” in a different way.

Barry Friedman, a comedian who blogs at Friedman of the Plains, asks this question in the context of Barack Obama’s 2015 conversation with novelist Marilynne Robinson.

Here is a taste of Friedman’s piece:

Chronicled in two parts in the New York Review of Books, the conversation is not rushed, not formulaic, not fawning. The president, in fact, does most of the asking.

There’s all this goodness and decency and common sense on the ground, and somehow it gets translated into rigid, dogmatic, often mean-spirited politics. And some of it has to do with all the filters that stand between ordinary people who are busy and running around trying to look after their kids and do a good job and do all the things that maintain a community, so they don’t have the chance to follow the details of complicated policy debates…

Why bring up this 2015 interview now?

Because Donald Trump has no such approach to life — or governance. Rather than being awed by the things he doesn’t understand, he blames them, discounts them, ignores them, or claims special powers over them. Can you imagine him going to talk to a writer about books — imagine him with book — and asking about culture and direction and national mood, instead of barking about them? Can you imagine him trying to understand, to appreciate, to respect the 65,844,610 who didn’t vote for him? Can you imagine him trying to deconstruct the new 21st Century paradigm, not only for himself, but for the country?

Read the entire post here.  (HT: Richard Bernstein, via FB)

Was Obama Right When He Said Americans Cling to Guns and Religion?

GUns

Courtesy of Vimeo via Creative Commons

Over at Christianity Today, Kate Shellnut reports on a new Pew study that helps us to quantify the relationship between evangelicals and guns.

Here is a taste:

One of past President Barack Obama’s most infamous quotes was his 2008 campaign trail comment on small-town citizens that “cling to guns or religion.” New research identifies how many Americans actually favor both.

Two out of five self-identified white evangelicals own a gun, higher than any other religious group, according to a recent study from the Pew Research Center. Four out of five have fired one.

But only a quarter of white evangelical gun owners are members of the National Rifle Association (NRA), and more white evangelicals actually want US gun laws to be more strict than less strict. (A plurality are satisfied with the status quo.)

Pew gave CT an exclusive look at the religious breakdowns behind its recent comprehensive report on firearms (which excludes air guns such as paintball, BB, and pellet guns).

Read the rest here.

New U.S. Citizens Are Still Receiving A Welcome Letter From Barack Obama

Apparently the “welcome packet” for new Americans still contains a letter signed by Barack Obama.  The Independent reports:

Aisha Sultan’s UK-born husband became a US citizen and received the customary welcome letter from the President, however it was not written by Donald Trump.

The US government is still using a letter signed by President Barack Obama.

It has not been updated in the six months since Mr Trump has taken office.

Read the rest here.

Praying for the President is Fine

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I have to slightly part ways here with Reverend William Barber II.  The liberal anti-Trump minister recently described the court evangelicals praying for Donald Trump as “theological malpractice bordering on heresy.”

As Cleve Wootson Jr.’s piece on Barber in the Independent notes, “the person sitting in the Oval Office needs all the help he can get–earthly or divine.”  Since Barber was not in the room, he does not know the content of these prayers.  That is the real issue here.

Yet knowing what we know about the court evangelicals, I am not optimistic that the prayer they offered was apolitical.

Praying for the president is not the problem.  Stuff like this is the problem.

Court Evangelical Jeffress Defends “Make America Great Again” Song

I actually thought the “Make America Great Again” song was pretty catchy.  (It starts at about the 34:00 mark in the video below):

I was, however, surprised at the way Robert Jeffress, the pastor First Baptist Church–Dallas, defended the song against critics who thought it was inappropriate for a church choir.

In a recent interview at The Christian Post, Jeffress said:

There is no difference in singing “Make America Great Again” than there is in singing any other patriotic song, like the “Star Spangled Banner.” This song was sung at a patriotic rally at a concert hall on Saturday night, not sung in a church as a worship song on Sunday morning.

Fair enough.  I was willing to give Jeffress a pass here.  But then he says that the song is okay because it was “not sung in a church as a worship song on Sunday morning.” Oh boy.  By this logic,  how does Jeffress explain what happened at First Baptist–Dallas on Sunday, June 25, 2017?

Patheos blogger Jonathan Aigner recently wrote about the “Make America Great Song”:

It’s not only their candidate’s campaign slogan, it’s now a part of their gospel…It’s their mantra, their creed, their prayer, and they shout it out with nationalistic fervor. Pledging allegiance to God and to America in the same breath, melding together the Kingdom of God and self, they pray a blasphemous prayer to a red, white, and blue Jesus.”

Frankly, it is hard to see this any other way when the song is interpreted (like any historian would interpret it) in the context of the June 25, 2017 “Freedom Sunday” service and Jeffress’s remarks of introduction for Trump after the song was performed last Saturday night.

The Jeffress interview does not stop there.  He describes his evangelical critics as “gnats”:

They are absolutely nothing but evangelical gnats who are looking for any excuse to nibble at the president. What we do have in President Trump is the president who has done the most to protect religious liberty of any president in America…If you take these critics’ argument to their logical end, then Christians need to quit saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

Actually, some Christians do think that they need to quit saying the Pledge of Allegiance. I am not one of them, but I fully understand why some of my fellow Christians might find this problematic.

And then Jeffress continues:

These evangelical Never Trumpers are incensed because President Trump’s election demonstrated how irrelevant they are to Christians. Christians did not listen to these Never Trumpers, in spite of all their blogs and all of their tweets about President Trump,” Jeffress said. “If anybody listened objectively to what President Trump said Saturday night, it was the most god-honoring, faith-affirming speech I have ever heard any president give at any time in history.

“At any time in history?”  I can think of at least five (and probably more) Obama speeches that were more “faith-affirming” than what Trump said last Saturday night.  But let’s go back even further.  How about Lincoln’s Second Inaugural for starters?

Jeffress is probably correct when he says that Trump’s election demonstrated the irrelevance of the evangelical “Never Trumpers.” What scares me here Jeffress’s attempt to equate the “relevance” or popularity of a particular political view with whether or not such a view is correct or moral.  Do we really want to go there?  Anyone who knows anything about American history will understand what I mean when I ask this question.

Apparently Jeffress’s new moral standard is 81%.

I remain a faithful #19percenter.

Progress Report on the Obama Presidential Center

HOK-Obama-Library

Over at Process, the blog of the Organization of American Historians, David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, provides us with an update on Barack Obama’s presidential “library.”

Here is a taste:

Will there be an Obama Presidential Library like the other 13 presidential libraries administered by the National Archives?

Not in the traditional sense of how presidential libraries are thought of today. The current plan is for the National Archives and the Obama Foundation to partner on an unprecedented effort to digitize all of the unclassified Obama White House paper records to provide the widest access possible for scholars and the public.

Why did President Obama and the Obama Foundation decide not to include a presidential library as part of the Obama Presidential Center?

I am not privy to the reasons that went into this decision and would refer you to the Obama Foundation. I believe they weighed a number of factors including space constraints on the site, architectural considerations, and the cost of the building and the 60-percent endowment that is required by Congress. Moreover, as more records are born-digital, this transition is a natural one. In fact, the majority of the records of the 44th President came to NARA in digital form, and it is appropriate for his presidency to be reflected as the first complete digital presidential library in our nation’s history.

That sounds exciting. How will it work?

We are in the process of working out the details with the Obama Foundation, who have committed to raising the funds to support a NARA-led effort to digitize these materials. We are currently working with the Obama Foundation to gather information necessary to develop a project plan and schedule for this initiative.

Read the entire post here.  We a post we did on this subject back in May 2017.

Obama’s Response to U.S. Withdrawal From Paris Agreements

Obama Scandals

Courtesy of the Boston Globe:

“A year and a half ago, the world came together in Paris around the first-ever global agreement to set the world on a low-carbon course and protect the world we leave to our children.

“It was steady, principled American leadership on the world stage that made that achievement possible. It was bold American ambition that encouraged dozens of other nations to set their sights higher as well. And what made that leadership and ambition possible was America’s private innovation and public investment in growing industries like wind and solar — industries that created some of the fastest new streams of good-paying jobs in recent years, and contributed to the longest streak of job creation in our history.

“Simply put, the private sector already chose a low-carbon future. And for the nations that committed themselves to that future, the Paris Agreement opened the floodgates for businesses, scientists, and engineers to unleash high-tech, low-carbon investment and innovation on an unprecedented scale.

“The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created. I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack. But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this Administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we’ve got.”

Ben Sasse’s New Book

SASSEI need to read it.

After I read Emma Green’s review of Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult I was struck by two things:

First, I am eager to see how Sasse’s understanding of a virtuous republic differs from the Obama vision of a virtuous republic.  Obama did not use the term “virtue” that often, but his appeals to self-sacrifice for the good of the country certainly drew heavily from the founding fathers’ understanding of the term.  I have argued this multiple times, including here.

Second, it looks like the Nebraska Senator’s call for a republic of virtue draws deeply from the wells of American history, political philosophy, theology, and ethics.  (One might expect this from a Yale Ph.D in American history).  It sounds like it is a much more thoughtful and intellectually respectable argument than the one put out last year by evangelical culture warrior and radio host Eric Metaxas.

Here is a taste of Green’s review:

Sasse pays little attention to the real divides in income, race, and religious conviction that have left many Americans feeling like they live among strangers in a country that wasn’t built for them. Some of his ideas seem punitive, showing the dark side of the Protestant work ethic he so cherishes: Historically, Sasse writes, “the important American cultural cleavage was … not rich versus poor, but rather dignified working poor versus supposedly lazy, undeserving poor.” He updates this mythical archetype for the modern age: parents who stream another Netflix sitcom instead of shoveling their neighbor’s walk, or “needy, undisciplined, coddled, presumptuous” young people who lack “much of a filter between their public personas and their inner lives.” Blaming Millennials for American’s cultural drift is the book’s most grievous and inexplicable category error—maybe we could call it ad millennialem, in the spirit of Sasse’s exhortation for the young to study ancient Rome on their path to virtue. It’s an out for the 45-year-old senator to finger the generation below him rather than grapple with the structural inequalities and cultural differences that have fractured the country over the course of many years.

But it’s also a mistake to call The Vanishing American Adult a “consummate politician’s book” or a naïve ode to the power of chores, as The New York Times has done—Sasse is working in a much older tradition of writing and thinking. Throughout the book, he keeps returning to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile as a reference point and implicit model for what he’s doing. In keeping with Sasse’s studied performance of folksy erudition, this 18th-century text is a bit of a political-philosophy deep cut. It follows the fictional story of a child, Emile, as he gains the education he needs to survive in a corrupt society. The book is about the wisdom that comes from firsthand experience, like flying kites to teach a sense of direction or swimming streams that will one day become the Hellespont.

Like Rousseau, Sasse believes challenging experiences form a person’s character and the heart of education. Like Rousseau, Sasse sees healthy society as a function of virtuous individuals. The senator is making “a plea for self-discipline and self-control” as “the one and only dignified alternative to discipline and control” by the government. At its core, the book also pleads for something greater: the rehabilitation of shared values in a time of intense difference; a focus on culture as the deepest challenge of politics; and the ability to imagine virtue as part of who we are as citizens, whether Sasse gets it right or not.

Read the entire review here.

 

Is Donald Trump More “Politically Correct” Than Barack Obama?

President_Trump's_Trip_Abroad_(34417809900)

Peter Beinart of The Atlantic compares the speech Donald Trump gave yesterday in Riyadh to Barack Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo.  He concludes that Trump was much more “politically correct.”

Here is a taste:

“Political correctness,” as it is used in common parlance, means avoiding hard truths so as not to offend the people around you. And Trump made his hostility to political correctness a centerpiece of his campaign. Nowhere was this more evident than in his discussion of “radical Islam.” Again and again, Trump blamed America’s vulnerability to jihadist terrorism on President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s refusal honestly to speak about the pathologies of Muslims and Islam. At a Wisconsin town hall in March of last year, CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked, “Do you trust Muslims in America?” Trump responded, “We have a problem, and we can try and be very politically correct and pretend we don’t have a problem, but, Anderson, we have a major, major problem.” In June, in defending his proposed ban on Muslim immigration to the United States, Trump declared that, “The current politically correct response cripples our ability to talk and to think and act clearly” to keep America safe from terrorism.

But for all the pillorying Obama received for supposedly whitewashing the problems of the Islamic world, his Cairo speech actually addressed them quite bluntly. Speaking at Egypt’s prestigious Cairo University, Obama condemned Holocaust denial in Muslim countries, calling it “baseless, ignorant, and hateful.” He denounced people who “threaten Israel with destruction” and “repeat vile stereotypes about Jews.” He highlighted the oppression of women in Muslim lands, declaring that “a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.” He referenced the Middle East’s economic failures, arguing that “no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work.” And in a clear challenge to his host, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, he insisted that “all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”

Compare that to Trump, who said virtually nothing that caused his hosts any discomfort. Trump criticized terrorist groups like ISIS for their “persecution of Jews,” and he condemned Iran for pledging “the destruction of Israel.” But since ISIS and Iran are Riyadh’s most bitter foes, those condemnations won’t have bothered the Saudi monarchs at all. Unlike Obama, Trump avoided the broader problem of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in Islamic countries, a problem in which his Saudi hosts are deeply complicit. Nor did he even hint at the fact that Saudi Arabia still does not recognize Israel.

On the question of women’s rights, it was much the same. Trump attacked jihadist terrorists for “the oppression of women.” But he described King Salman’s government as a virtual beacon of women’s rights. “Saudi Arabia’s Vision for 2030 is an important and encouraging statement of tolerance, respect, empowering women, and economic development,” Trump declared. You would never have known that women in the Kingdom still can’t drive.

Read the rest here.

The Obama Presidential Center

HOK-Obama-Library

It will be built in the Jackson Park neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.  And according to Anthony Clark’s article at Politico it will be unlike the presidential libraries of all his predecessors.  It will not be operated by The National Archives and Records Administration and it will not house Obama’s presidential papers.

Here is a taste of Clark’s piece:

Presidential libraries are perfect examples of just how far presidents will go to control their own legacies. Since the first one was created in 1941, what were intended to be serious research centers have grown into flashy, partisan temples touting huckster history. Built with undisclosed, unlimited donations, often to sitting presidents, libraries have traditionally been donated to the government after their construction. But even though they are taxpayer-funded and controlled by a federal agency, the private foundations established by former presidents to build the libraries retain outsize influence. The libraries’ whitewashed exhibits are created by presidential boosters; they host political events; their boards are stacked with loyalists; and many of their important historical records may never see the light of day.

You could say that the rise of the presidential library has followed the fall of the presidency. We once held the office of president in high regard. As we have lowered our opinion of it, presidential libraries have grown larger and more powerful—and less truthful.

The Obama Presidential Center could break this pattern, and solve at least some of the major flaws of the system, by creating a new model for a privately run presidential museum that can be laudatory in its exhibits and partisan in its programming, but not while under the troubling imprimatur of the federal government—and without the taxpayers footing the bill. At the same time, the new arrangement will leave presidential records and the terms of their release to the public in the hands of the government, where they belong. Freeing NARA to process and produce those records without the interference of the Obama Foundation will be our best hope for learning what really happened during the Obama presidency—and, if others follow his example, future presidencies as well.

Read the rest here.

Now Trump is Going After National Monuments

Bears Ears

He wants to make sure that national monuments designated in the past twenty-one years conform to the 1906 Antiquities Act.  The act, which was signed into law by Teddy Roosevelt, gives the President the authority to create national monuments from federal lands to protect the land’s natural or cultural resources.

Here is the pertinent section (2) of the Antiquities Act:

The President of the United States is authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected. When such objects are situated upon a tract covered by a bona fide unperfected claim or held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government, and the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to accept the relinquishment of such tracts in [sic] behalf of the Government of the United States.

Apparently Utah conservatives were not happy when Barack Obama used the Act late in his administration (December 2016) to create the Bears Ears National Monument.

Here is a taste of a Salt Lake City Tribune article on Trump’s latest attempt to wipe Barack Obama from the face of history:

While no president has attempted to withdraw a monument named by a predecessor, there have been those who have scaled back those designations.

For his part, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has pressed Trump for action on the Bears Ears declaration and visited the area last week.

“For years, I have fought every step of the way to ensure that our lands are managed by the Utahns [who] know them best and cherish them deeply,” Hatch said in a statement Sunday night.  “That’s why I’m committed to rolling back the egregious abuse of the Antiquities Act to serve far-left special interests.  As part of this commitment, I have leveraged all of my influence—from private meetings in the Oval Office in the president’s first week in office to my latest trip to Bears Ears this week–to ensure that this issue is a priority on the president’s agenda.”

Environmental groups quickly raised concerns that Trump was acting without looking at the reasons that Obama used the 1906 Antiquities Act to preserve the 1.35 million acres of Bears Ears….

“Utah’s national monuments are our first line of defense against the very real specter of climate change, providing resiliency to not only the species within them, but also to nearby communities,” said Jen Ujifusa, legislative director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “President Trump and the Utah delegation should focus their energies on solving America’s challenges, rather than unraveling the solutions that are already working.”

Josh Ewing, executive director of the Friends of Cedar Mesa, which along with an American Indian tribal coalition had pushed for the monument declaration, said he welcomes the review because, if done correctly, it will show the need for protection of the  area.

Read the entire article here.