Don’t Blame Everything on Imperialism

The lessons we draw from the past often do more to shape the future than the past itself, even if they are the wrong lessons. Most of our errors and exaggerations contain more than a grain of truth. We are highly capable of taking a valid insight and pushing it a bit too far, or maybe blowing it out of all sense of proportion. In these cases, an incomplete reading of history can be worse than no reading at all.

In this post, I will examine a particularly pervasive “lesson” in world history circles: the idea that almost every problem ailing the world today is the product of western imperialism. This argument has been on my radar for the last week or so as various authors look back on the Sykes-Picot Agreement, that infamous document where France and Britain divided the Middle East during World War I into their respective spheres of influence, a move that would contribute to the “arbitrary” borders of Syria and Iraq. Later agreements also slighted the Kurds, leaving them without a state. To say that Sykes-Picot was a self-interested move that neglected the will of the Arabs and Kurds is obvious. To blame two diplomats – one French and one British, both trying to preserve their country’s alliance against the Central Powers – for everything that ails the Middle East today is madness.

The blame-imperialism thesis fits into the larger “blame the West” narrative that has profound consequences for our politics. There’s almost no problem some people will not pin on imperialists of yester-century.

Global inequality between the western and non-western world? Blame imperialism.

Genocide and civil war in Africa? Imperialism.

Economic collapse in Latin America? Imperialism.

Paris terror attacks? Imperialism, obviously.

When people bemoan “imperialism,” they often mean western imperialism, of the sort practiced by white guys (American or European) in non-white places (Africa, Middle East, Asia) in the relatively recent (though not directly experienced) past. Sometimes this first category is enlarged to include the non-white Japanese, but with the added explanation that they must have gotten the idea to invade other people from the Americans, or else it would have never occurred to them.

But the West no more invented imperialism than it invented slavery. To cast problems of greed and selfishness as uniquely Western, as opposed to simply human pathologies, is to employ a double standard in historical judgment.

We don’t tend to blame Russia’s present-day problems on the fact that it experienced Mongolian imperialism in the 13th century. We don’t explain the U.K.’s current crises with the fact that they have been conquered or invaded by Romans, Angles, Saxons, and Normans. Somehow the Russians and the English survived their experiences with imperialism in ways Latin Americans, Africans, and Asians have not.

Why is western imperialism such a popular explanation?

First, because there is a large measure of truth to it. Belgian imperialism in Central Africa certainly contributed to the ethnic tensions between Hutus and Tutsis that exploded into genocide in the 1990s. The Sykes-Picot Agreement did help set the stage for the somewhat-illogical division of the Middle East following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

But while it is important to recognize the influence of imperialism on more recent or ongoing tragedies, it would be a mistake to overstate the explanatory power of this argument. The Belgians were not the ones ordering bands of rage-filled Hutus to kill Tutsis. Poor Mssrs. Sykes and Picot did not draw up the plan for ISIS back in 1915, nor did they conspire to ensure that despots and tyrants would gain control of the Middle East. Nothing in history is inevitable. To blame Group A’s problems on Group B can have the unintended effect of turning Group A into passive victims of Group B’s villainy, depriving them of their agency in the past, present, and future. When people really don’t like their current borders, they act to change them. Sometimes attempt to redefine borders more “logically” can have the perverse effect of leading to more genocide and strife. Just look at South Sudan today.

Second, Western imperialism has a long history. In many ways, it has dominated the last 500 years of world history. It began in the late 15th century, when the Portuguese started seizing ports in the Indian Ocean and Spain started colonizing the Caribbean. At the time, however, Europeans were still suffering under the imperialism of the Ottoman Turks, who seemed poised to extend their control across the entire continent.

Western imperialism held off the Turks, but suffered a temporary setback in the 18th and early 19th centuries as large parts of North and South America broke free from European rule (thought they remained dominated by European descendants). It reached its peak in the 19th century, when European and American adventurists achieved a level of dominance over Africa and Asia, powered by industry and motivated by a potent blend of global capitalism, nationalism, and a newfound sense of moral and cultural superiority. Imperialism suffered two more setbacks in the First and Second World Wars, after which most colonized people gained independence. However, the blame-imperialism crowd will speak today of neo-colonialism, by which they mean the continued exploitation of the Third World by western business interests, international organizations, and even humanitarian agencies.

Again, there is some measure of truth to this. When the U.S. and U.N. try to impose a population control agenda on developing countries, this is neo-colonialism. When the U.S. criticizes African countries for failing to conform to the LGBT or abortion agendas, this is cultural imperialism of a particularly noxious variety.

But once again, there are limits to this argument, especially when explaining the origins of global inequality.

Why does the West still dominate “the rest” on many indicators of wealth and health? Why have China, Japan, and Russia imported far more elements of western civilization than we have borrowed from theirs? The blame-imperialism crowd would have us believe that this global imbalance in wealth and power is the cumulative effect of five centuries of plunder, while defenders of the West credit superior institutions. It’s probably not all one or the other, but what is the right combination?

If one believes the West predominates because it stole from the non-West, then the solution is for the western nations to “give back” the wealth they unjustly stole through some form of reparations, as some Caribbean nations have suggested. At the very least, westerners should feel very guilty for their ill-gotten advantage and non-Westerners should seethe with resentment. However, if one believes the success of the West is due to its superior institutions of private property and intellectual property protections, human rights, the rule of law, and the democratic process, then the non-West should be encouraged to emulate the West, to “westernize.”

But there is a certain degree of arrogance among the blame-imperialism crowd. No matter how distant the injustice, the West is always to blame. “It has to be our fault for their problems!” they insist. As if African and Asian societies did not have their own problems before the first white men arrived with their treaties or guns.

The truth is, imperialism has a complicated legacy. Some members of indigenous societies actually benefited from European colonization. Just ask the Native Americans not subjected to human sacrifice, or the Indian women not forced to commit sati. Several sources from Indians themselves attest to both the benefits and drawbacks of their experience with British colonization. On a big-picture scale, imperialism resulted in the diffusion of modern science and technology to peoples eager to exploit them. India and China once fell victim to European capitalist expansion. Today, they use the global free market and many western innovations to increase the standards of living for their people.

In the history of humanity, one would be hard-pressed to find a group that has never suffered injustice, never been defeated in battle, never been encroached upon by territorial rivals. The fact that we are all alive today can be viewed as a sort of historical “privilege,” to use the popular buzzword. We all descend from the people who did not die before they could reproduce. But we likewise descend from a mixture of conquered and conquerors, invaders and invaded. The Peruvian mestiza may have a hard time determining whether to blame or praise their European ancestors on behalf of their Native American ones, as might the Brazilian mulatto. The Spanish conquistadors who subjugated the Americans likely carried the blood of Moorish invaders who once subjugated Iberia.

But the blame-imperialism crowd suffers from a pervasive double standard. Somehow, everything must be the fault of the lighter-shaded group, while darker-shaded people must remain blameless. In this paradigm, the Crusades were a terrible case of Europeans trying to take over lands that didn’t belong to them, but little is said of the Arab conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries that devastated the earliest Christian communities. Israel is loathed as an illegitimate state built on the theft of Palestinian land and culture, while the ancient claims of the Jews are dismissed. The Atlantic Slave Trade is rightly criticized, but the Muslim-dominated trade that predated and out-lived it is ignored.

A more complete and honest reading of history would acknowledge the challenges imposed by past imperialism without laying all the blame at the feet of long-dead colonizers. We should be able to acknowledge the damage the slave trade and imperialism did to Africa, while also examining the roles of indigenous slavery, lack of women’s rights, and cruel dictators like Robert Mugabe and Idi Amin. We can acknowledge that Sykes-Picot did little to help the Middle East, while also examining the problem of extremist violence within Islam.

By blaming the West for everything, we let off the hook many of those directly responsible for present-day atrocities. It is an odd reality that much of the rhetoric of extremist groups like ISIS is virtually indistinguishable from left-wing accounts of history. Young Muslim radicals in Europe gush over the film-making of Michael Moore, while left-wing intellectuals seem to argue that if non-Western groups hate us, we must have done something to deserve it.

It’s a cliché that “those who do not study the past are doomed to repeat it.” A less-acknowledged truth may be that those who draw the wrong lessons from the past are doomed to never move beyond it. If someone were to confess to an unhappy or even abusive childhood, we would not look at them and say “what a pity you will never get ahead.” Instead, we would encourage them to not let their past define them, to seek out new opportunities, and to accept personal responsibility for their future. The same should be the case for peoples with unhappy histories, as most histories at some point are.

Advertisements

What’s Really at Stake in the Bathroom Wars

On February 22nd, the city of Charlotte passed an ordinance allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, regardless of biological sex. North Carolina’s state legislature responded on March 23rd by passing a law requiring individuals to use the restroom corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificate. Since then, our country has been engaged in a national debate over who should pee where. But the real debate is about much more than that, and the outcome matters more than one would think.

First, it’s not about stigmatizing transgender people, or making it easier for them to perform necessary biological functions throughout the course of their day. Yes, transgender people often struggle over the issue of which restroom to use, especially if they look like one sex but have the parts of another. But as many have noted, transgender people have been using the facility of their chosen gender for decades. It’s not like there’s a gender policeman stationed at each bathroom checking birth certificates.

Second, the debate is not primarily about sexual predators, though the safety and privacy of women and children is certainly at stake. Policies like the one recently announced by Target will make it easier for sexual predators to gain access to women and girls. Several men have already been caught trying to film women under the stall dividers. But bathrooms – both men’s and women’s – have always been places where predators could lurk, as they feature people at their most isolated and vulnerable. This is why girls pee in packs. This is why I don’t let my eight-year-old son use the men’s locker room without a male relative present.

The great bathroom debate, like the marriage debate, comes down to this – will our culture and our laws recognize the fundamental truth that men and women are different in important and immutable ways, and that this difference structures much of human society? Or will we abandon reason, tradition, and common sense in our attempt to deny the obvious and assert the opposite?

Claire Chretien recently made this argument in Lifesite News:

The battle over men accessing women’s bathrooms and vice versa has little do with bathrooms or even transgenderism, a well-known LGBT activist admitted last week.  It has everything to do with re-working society and getting rid of the “heterobinary structure” in which we live—eliminating distinctions between “male” and “female” altogether.

But these distinctions are not matters of opinion. People are born male or female. This is a scientific fact. Sex is binary. Men have XY chromosomes, male genitalia, and higher levels of testosterone. Women have XX chromosomes, female genitalia, and higher levels of estrogen.  There are very rare exceptions where an intersex person may not fit neatly into male or female categories, but these exceptions do not disprove the rule that sex is binary. Some people are born without arms, but this does not mean that arms are just an arbitrary thing that some people have and others don’t.

Your sex is assigned to you before birth, at the moment of conception. It cannot be changed. No amount of hormonal therapy or surgery can transform someone to the extent that they are indistinguishable from a person born as that sex. A man that seeks to become a woman will never bear a child. A woman that seeks to become a man will never impregnate anyone. The best that can be accomplished is a crude imitation, a farce.

During childhood, males and females must develop healthy gender identities as men and women. A biological male must figure out what it means to be a man, and a biological female must figure out what it means to be a woman. This is where “nurture” enters an equation that has previously been dominated by nature. Not all biological males like getting dirty, playing with trucks, or tackling other boys. But they must all accept their role as men so that they can become tomorrow’s fathers, uncles, and husbands. Not all biological females like playing with dolls, wearing dresses, or doing other “girly” things. But they must all accept their role as women so that they can become tomorrow’s mothers, aunts, and wives. Sexual difference is born out in numerous statistics, but where we mainly see it is in the disproportionate success of children raised by their biological mothers and fathers.

Long-term success and happiness can only be found in the truth, never in a lie. It may be initially liberating for a man to try out a new identity as a woman, or for a manly woman to quit trying to be feminine and just “be a man.” But statistics and personal testimonies show that transgender people are far more likely than just about any group to suffer from depression and to commit suicide. This heightened risk is not due to a lack of social acceptance. Even transgender people in liberal areas with tons of social support are more likely to take their own lives than a random “cis-gender” person.

Across numerous statistical measures, gender dysphoric disorder is more harmful to a person’s long-term health than alcoholism. What is the compassionate response to alcoholism? Obviously, it is not to accommodate the alcoholic by installing beer kegs in bathrooms and workplaces. A combination of counseling and support are required to help the alcoholic cease engaging in destructive behaviors and create a new identity as a non-alcoholic.

I have noticed an abundance of Facebook statuses seeming to extoll that person’s tolerance and compassion for transgender people by criticizing HB2 or voicing support for men being allowed in women’s restrooms. “I am happy to share a bathroom with a biological male who identifies as female,” many have suggested, “I would even hand her the toilet paper if she needed it.”

While the intentions of such posts may be noble, they do not consider the long-term consequences of promoting gender confusion. Many people today act like hurting someone’s feelings is the worst thing you can do to another person; thus all subjective beliefs must be validated by society as “real” lest some irreparable emotional damage occur. But what about the confusion this debate is causing children who are still in the delicate stage of developing a gender identity that fits their biological sex? What about the pain and frustration and regret that will be suffered by more boys who decide they are really girls, and more girls who decide they are really boys? As with so many other issues, we celebrate the short-term emotional satisfaction of supporting a certain policy with no regard to the long-term damage it will inevitably produce.

Gender is binary. Men and women are different. We complement each other in important ways. We are not just people, not just interchangeable individuals. We are men and women.

What happens to us when we deny this basic truth?

For starters, we forget what marriage is. We used to understand that marriage requires both sexes, a man and a woman. Sexual difference was essential to the definition of marriage. Now this understanding is gone. Marriage has been redefined as just another relationship, just two people who love each other and get sexual satisfaction from each other’s bodies (though not of the sort that creates and nourishes new life).

Now that marriage has been redefined, it is only a matter of time before it is legally destroyed. People in polygamous and incestuous relationships will demand that their love be recognized as marriage. Singles will defend their “rights” by demanding that all laws privileging people in relationships are discriminatory. People will soon tire of the endless controversies and debates that result when such a core truth is abandoned. Finally, both sides will embrace a “compromise” – get the state out of the marriage business altogether. Gone will be parental rights, gone will be the rights of children, and gone will be the legal recognition of the family unit, all in an attempt to be “tolerant” and “inclusive” of the small minority threatened by the traditional understanding of marriage.

The truth is, marriage has never been especially compatible with the homosexual lifestyle, especially for gay men, who have much higher rates of promiscuity than their heterosexual peers. Even “married” gay men are likely to have multiple sexual partners and agree to open relationships. Now that the male-female component of marriage is gone, the expectation of fidelity will not be far behind. Why should married straight men be expected to be faithful to their spouses when gay men are free to explore other options?

Numerous sources can be found from gay rights activists admitting that they seek to transform or just outright destroy marriage, not simply access it as they claimed. While the transgender movement claims it only wants to broaden the definition of what it means to be a man or a woman, the end game is to abolish these labels entirely. Chretien quotes Stella Morabito, an expert on cults and propaganda who writes for The Federalist:

“What we are really talking about is the abolition of sex. And it is sex that the trans project is serving to abolish legally, under the guise of something called ‘the gender binary.’  Its endgame is a society in which everyone is legally de-sexed.  No longer legally male or female.  And once you basically redefine humanity as sexless you end up with a de-humanized society in which there can be no legal ‘mother’ or ‘father’ or ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ or ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ without permission from the State.  Government documents are already erasing the terms.  In such a society, the most intimate human relationships take a hit. The family ends up abolished… A sexless society is ultimately a totalitarian society because it erases in law the most basic human relationships, particularly the mother-child bond.”

When most people support gay marriage or trans bathroom access, they don’t understand that they are really working toward the abolition of male and female identities; they just think they’re fighting for equal rights. But others know exactly where the train is headed. Just this morning, John Sutter published an opinion piece for CNN calling for a “restroom revolution.” He starts by highlighting the plight of James Sheffield, a transgender man, who looks far too manly to be allowed in a ladies restroom without causing alarm. Sutter writes:

But you know what else is absurd? The idea that Sheffield — or anyone else — should have to choose a male or female restroom at all. And, beyond that, that any of us would feel entitled to decide someone else’s gender for them — and, consequently, where they can and can’t pee.

This isn’t a binary gender world. People don’t fit neatly into the “M” and “F” boxes. It’s time our public restrooms reflected that. The fairest way to do so is to desegregate restrooms by sex, and that means eliminating the men’s and women’s rooms in favor of “all gender” restrooms.

According to Sutter, “the only justification” of refusing to let a biological female in a men’s restroom “is bigotry and ignorance.” Forget reason or common sense; gendered bathrooms are now “absurd.” Sutter notes that several buildings have already removed gender identification from restrooms. The restroom revolution is already underway; we just haven’t noticed it yet.

While the worst may be yet to come, there is hope for those who would like to see a return to reason in our culture. Writing in 1938, the great Catholic historian Hillaire Belloc noted the anti-rational nature of what he labeled the “Modern Attack” on the Faith:

Being Atheist, it is characteristic of the advancing wave that it repudiates the human reason. Such an attitude would seem again to be a contradiction in terms; for if you deny the value of human reason, if you say that we cannot through our reason arrive at any truth, then not even the affirmation so made can be true. Nothing can be true, and nothing is worth saying. But that great Modern Attack (which is more than a heresy) is indifferent to self-contradiction. It merely affirms. It advances like an animal, counting on strength alone.

The contemporary reader will find this description all too familiar. Recall PayPal’s hasty decision to pull out of the entire state of North Carolina over HB2. The message is clear: get in line– or else. After all, when one attempts to deny objective truth, one must get everyone else onboard. If the emperor is truly to parade around in no clothes, even the voice of a child may expose the whole charade. However, Belloc offers this glimmer of hope:

Indeed, it may be remarked in passing that this may well be the cause of its final defeat; for hitherto reason has always overcome its opponents; and man is the master of the beast through reason.

In the bathroom wars as in the marriage wars, our culture may yet return to its senses, triggering a change in our laws. Even better, the triumph of reason may yet inspire a return to the Faith, allowing our society to recover its moral center.

Questions for Each Candidate after the 11th GOP Debate

Here’s my analysis of the 11th Republican Primary Debate in Detroit, as well as some general observations and questions for each candidate.

First, Trump. It should be clear by now that Donald Trump lacks the seriousness, maturity, temperament, policy knowledge, etc. to be President of the United States. Last night, he brought the Republican primary race to a new low by reassuring a national audience of 15 million about the size of his penis. I didn’t really appreciate Rubio’s schoolboy joke about Trump’s small hands at the time, but now I think I get it. It was all bait, and Trump took it.

Trump has dictatorial tendencies like Benito Mussolini and Vladimir Putin. He has to see himself as the alpha male, the top dog. He can’t let a dig at his privates go unanswered. But by answering it, Trump revealed that all his braggadocio and bluster may mask a deep-seated insecurity. It’s never a good sign when you have to fall back on bragging about the size of your manhood. It’s quite pathetic, really, like a bunch of teenage boys measuring themselves with rulers in the locker room. Does Trump realize that he is vying to run against Hillary Clinton, who will be attempting to make history as the first woman president? Does he really think voters care about his size? Trump may have sealed up the frat boy vote, but his short standing with women likely shrunk even further (pun intended, can’t help myself).

I actually think Trump’s low of the night was when he said that the military would do whatever he told them to do because that’s leadership. This is the biggest confirmation that Trump does not understand the difference between being a womanizing CEO and the leader of the free world. It is one thing for a “wolf of Wall Street” to go around bragging about his affairs and penis size, rating women on their physical appearances, and insisting that all his underlings do as they are told or “you’re fired!” The military doesn’t work that way, and neither does this country.

In the course of the debate, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and yes – Megyn Kelly – were able to reveal the full extent of Trump’s “flexibility.” Trump has no core, no principles, just blind faith in his own power of personality to get things done. But Trump has spent his entire life abusing the very system he now seeks to change. He wrote checks to Democrats and checks to Republicans, and you can bet he expected something in return. He defrauded thousands of students at “Trump University,” and left a trail of failed businesses in his wake.

Through it all, Trump always manages to come out unscathed. He has lived the most sheltered, protected, privileged life one can imagine. He already has everything. The question for Trump is: why does he even want to be president to begin with? Despite his oft-repeated red baseball cap slogan, I have not yet been able to answer this question. Was it all just a big joke, a publicity stunt, except too many people took it seriously? The question for America is how long his supporters can persist in their delusions. I still have a little bit of sympathy for the unemployed blue-collar worker still clinging to the hope that Trump can bring back American manufacturing and stick it in the eye of the establishment. I have none for people like Sean Hannity and Chris Christie who should know better.

Second, Rubio. I think it’s pretty clear why fewer candidates attacked Trump early on. Attacking a fellow Republican candidate never makes you look good in the process. But Trump must be exposed, and Rubio is doing the country a favor by unmasking him as a con man and a scam artist. Rubio gave mostly solid answers to questions on foreign policy, gun control, and the economy. But while John Kasich was able to rattle off a long list of governing accomplishments, Rubio’s resume looks pretty thin in comparison. He also got down in the gutter with Trump, interrupted too often, and seemed a little under the weather. His voice was raspy, his energy lower than usual. It’s hard to be the Republican “hope and change” as well as attack dog for the establishment at the same time.

I still love Rubio for his ability to inspire, his appeal to Millennials, and his beautiful family. I’ve seen people falling over each other to get his autograph. I’ve pushed through crowds trying to shake his hand. Like Obama, he has a bit of the celebrity factor. But so much of Rubio’s appeal is the idea of what could be. His lack of experience and willingness to work with the establishment in the past (both Democrats and Republicans) leaves some real questions. I think he has the biggest upside, but also the biggest potential downside if things don’t pan out. The question for Rubio supporters (myself included) is: is he worth the risk? Can he be trusted? I still think so, but in the words of Donald Trump, I’m flexible.

Third, Cruz. I honestly believe Ted Cruz is probably the smartest man to ever run for president. In last night’s debate, he was sharp, prepared, and focused throughout. If voters are serious about turning the establishment upside down, they should vote for Ted Cruz. He would be the most principled, uncompromising man to ever hold the office. But I still have doubts about whether he could get there in the first place. The rest of the country is not nearly as conservative as Cruz, and he would need to build on his existing support. Cruz can be charming at times, but he remains personally unlikeable to much of the electorate. The question for Cruz is: can he grow his support in swing states? If I knew Cruz could defeat Clinton in November, he would have my support now.

Fourth, John Kasich. I hate to say it, but Kasich had a great debate. He didn’t speak as well as Ted Cruz, but he probably picked up more new supporters. He didn’t attack Trump; with Rubio and Cruz leading the charge, he didn’t have to. He got to be the “adult in the room,” as he likes to say. He also reassured conservatives like myself on the issue of religious freedom, a topic over which he had stumbled in the previous debate. I personally know at least four moderates, some of them Democrat-leaning independents, who voted for Kasich in the Virginia primary. They would support him over Clinton, but not Rubio or Cruz.

The question is, would the moderates Kasich picks up outweigh the loss of enthusiasm on the conservative end of the spectrum? My guess is yes. One of the biggest conservative goals is a balanced budget, and Kasich seems like he might be the guy to do it. Usually nominating a moderate Republican is a bad bet (see Romney, McCain, Dole), but this year moderate Democrats are looking to jump ship. They’re not all socialists like Sanders, and they’re not all so forgiving of Clinton’s pretty obvious corruption.

In terms of personality, Kasich still reminds me of a high school guidance counselor, or your awkward-but-sincere uncle. He’s Mr. Responsible, at the ready with some old-fashioned life advice, or (when needed) a hug. Kasich’s a little too “aw-shucks-y” for my taste, but based on resume alone he’s the most qualified for the job. The question for Kasich: is it too late? Also, would he be tough enough to take the fight to Hillary Clinton, or would he once again stay “above the fray,” this time to his detriment?

Of course, the bigger questions are for the Republican Party (can they survive Trump?) and the country (will we go from eight years of Obama to at least four years of Clinton?). I think the answers can still be yes and no, in that order, but only if we are very careful.

Everyone is talking about the need for more candidates to drop out, but I think that would actually be a mistake. If any of the remaining three non-Trumps leaves the race now, it just means more votes for Trump and a greater risk that he wins the required number of delegates outright. None of the three are currently strong enough to take Trump down on their own. In my opinion, they should all stay in the race and take us to a brokered convention in July. Rubio, Cruz, and Kasich should start building the necessary bridges between their campaigns now to pave the way for the coming reconciliation.

As for Trump supporters, there’s a very real chance they refuse to come along and instead go full-rebellion mode. There’s also the chance that the GOP establishment resigns itself to the fate of a Trump candidacy, but a smaller one after the recent allegations of racism and the prospects of a 2016 shellacking in the House and Senate. But each week that goes by exposes more Trump weaknesses. The coming onslaught of attacks will prevent him from gaining additional followers, as he has already failed to win over late-deciders. We may have already hit peak Trump. My guess is the rural, working class whites who form the base of Trump’s support are more interested in sending a message to the establishment that they will no longer be ignored than they are personally loyal to the New York billionaire.

The breakup of the Republican Party and the election of Hillary Rodham Clinton are still possibilities, but they are far from certainties. There is still time for the party of Lincoln and Reagan to rally. For the sake of this country, I pray they do so quickly.

Are We Serious?

In the wake of their resounding victories in New Hampshire, the excitement emanating from the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump campaigns is palpable. Both (old, white) men are populist leaders. Both have built their campaigns on the promise of what they can do for the people, though in somewhat different ways – Sanders by getting the government to fund everything from your health care to your college education, Trump by using his force of personality to revive the economy and stop illegal immigration.

Even if you disagree with Trump and Sanders, which I emphatically do, it’s not hard to understand their appeal. Both men are unapologetic “straight talkers” who claim to be beyond the influence of big corporations and their party’s establishment. In fact, both men only recently joined the parties they are now vying to represent.

I get it. People are fed up with Washington. They’re fed up with Wall Street. They’re tired of both parties, let down by Bush and Obama. Voters are sending the message that they will not be controlled. They will not dutifully line up behind their party’s Chosen One. This year, people are choosing passion over pragmatism.

And perhaps this is not an entirely bad thing. Party leaders who would prefer to bypass the people will now have to persuade them. In a democracy, this is where all power originally resides. But the same can be said for a lynch mob. What keeps our system of government from descending into mob rule, anarchy, and despotism? Respect for the rule of law, certainly, but also the virtues of moderation, prudence, and humility. In embracing Trump and Sanders, I fear we have abandoned both.

My question for America after New Hampshire is, are we serious? Do we realize that we are choosing someone to do a job here, the most important job in the world? This is not reality TV, and it’s not a popularity contest. We are not deciding the next American Idol here, but the leader of the free world.

The next President of the United States will have to work with Congress to pass legislation that the American people will accept. Not a passionate quarter of the electorate, but the whole country. You might love the idea of socialized medicine, but guess what? The rest of the country doesn’t. You may want to deport all twelve million illegal immigrants currently residing here, but this is never going to happen.

The main task of the next president will be to deal with the international crises that have been accumulating over the past seven years, as well as any others that may arise. These include, but are not limited to: the Syrian Civil War, the spread of ISIS, deteriorating security in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russian and Chinese aggression, the threat of a nuclear Iran, saber-rattling in North Korea, and European democracies threatening to buckle under the weight of millions of Muslim refugees.

And yet it is on foreign policy that both Trump and Sanders are at their weakest. Trump offers few specifics beyond “getting along” with Putin, killing the families of terrorists, and doing “much worse” than waterboarding. For all his tough trade talk on China, he erroneously identified them as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Sanders is even worse, preferring to ignore foreign policy altogether. I don’t doubt he would dissolve the military entirely if it meant being able to fund his domestic agenda. When Sanders does address the issue of global terrorism, it is to utter something truly idiotic, like the claim that ISIS is the result of climate change.

I know that a good chunk of the American electorate would prefer to ignore the rest of the world and focus on things here at home. I recently had a Bernie Sanders supporter tell me that ISIS doesn’t matter because more people die from car accidents than terrorist attacks. But whether we like to think about it or not, these are dangerous times. In an era of globalization and terrorism, the distinction between domestic and foreign policy is increasingly blurred.

Just think beyond the rallies and debates and campaign trail euphoria, and imagine an actual Trump or Sanders presidency. Do you really want to see either of these men in the Oval Office? Do you want them representing America, negotiating with Congress, and handling all the inevitable crises and surprises of a presidential term?

I realize the Democrats don’t have much of a choice here, as a Hillary Clinton presidency would be no better. Their rejection of Jim Webb, the only Democratic candidate qualified to do the job, is truly disturbing. But Republicans still have options. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are conservative alternatives to Trump, though I still don’t see how Cruz gets elected. Even Jeb Bush and John Kasich, though too moderate for my liking, could do the job of commander-in-chief.

You wouldn’t choose a doctor, a pilot, or even a dog-walker on the basis of their rhetoric alone. Why are we treating this election with less seriousness?

Rubio’s Night Not as Bad as Reported

The big story being reported by the media this morning is that Marco Rubio had an awful debate. Marco Rubio did not have a bad debate. He didn’t say anything offensive, there were no “gaffes,” and he never even appeared flustered. He had a bad ten minutes of what was otherwise a solid performance.

First of all, Rubio gave the best answer of the night on foreign policy, explaining with force and nuance a clear strategy for defeating ISIS. He articulated an intelligent and appealing definition of conservatism’s three pillars – limited government, free enterprise, and strong national defense.

He also gave a good answer on abortion, with a particularly memorable line that he would rather lose an election than be wrong on the issue of life. He was brave to defend all life, even life that results from rape (a crime of the father, not the child). He was pragmatic enough to accept signing a law that limited abortion even if it kept these exceptions. However he also accepted the faulty premise that abortion pits the rights of a pregnant mother against the rights of her unborn child. But, otherwise solid and principled.

Rubio did have a shaky start. It usually takes him about twenty or thirty minutes to settle in and move beyond his talking points. In the past few debates I thought Rubio started off too fast and took a tone that was too angry before he was able to relax and be more natural. But this time, Chris Christie was waiting. He pounced on Rubio early, and kept hitting him hard.

When asked about the question of his limited experience and accomplishments, Rubio smoothly rattled off a list of accomplishments before pivoting to his message, that Obama is a failure because of his ideology, not his inexperience. Christie interjected that Rubio was too inexperienced to be president, as all he had were canned stump-speeches. Rubio responded, most unfortunately, with a canned stump speech.

Now, usually it is smart politics to repeat yourself, to hammer your message home. Think Trump’s “build a wall” and “make America great again.” Your message needs repetition to stick with voters. You also don’t want to be seen as retreating from your points. However, this was the one moment when Rubio desperately needed to speak off the cuff. He needed to appear authentic, not automatic. This was his moment to shine the spotlight on his ideas, his record, and his potential, not rehash Obama’s failures. Instead he repeated, almost word for word, his previous answer. Then he followed with a pretty weak attack on Chris Christie, that the New Jersey governor didn’t want to go back to his home state to deal with the recent snow storm.

Chris Christie may be feeling pleased with himself for drawing blood, but he did himself no favors. If anyone benefits from a Rubio slide, it will be Kasich and Bush in New Hampshire, and possibly Cruz in the long-term. Chris Christie is a bully with baggage who will not be the nominee. His “I’m a tough guy, I don’t care what people think about me” persona is much better-suited to his former job as a prosecutor than it would be to President of the United States.

Still, the ten-minute exchange did hurt Rubio, and that’s unfortunate. Rubio is the brightest young star in the GOP. He has stood up to pressure in a way that Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker have not. Ben Carson would love to be able to deliver a stump speech with Rubio’s ease. His answers may be more impromptu, more “from the heart,” but they are often too stilted to really follow, and he always looks on the verge of falling asleep. Rick Perry would be happy to just remember all three points to his three-point plan. He may have been an effective governor, and he can pull off the “average guy” demeanor, but voters also want a good communicator. This is an asset for Rubio, not a liability.

Rubio might emerge from last night’s debate bruised, but he is not broken. If anything, he will be hurt more by overblown reports that he “lost the debate” than what he actually said or didn’t say. Remember, Cruz also had his worst debate of the campaign before going on to his greatest victory in Iowa. Once again, we will have to wait until the results come in from New Hampshire to know for sure.

Still, I doubt we are about to witness a major resurgence for Kasich, Bush, or Christie. The biggest criticism against Rubio is that he is “too perfect,” not real enough, a GOP version of Barack Obama. But that is far less troubling than Cruz’s personality (and equally inauthentic tone), Jeb’s legacy issues, Kasich’s moderate mushiness, and Christie’s Bridge-gate scandal.

If this were an NBA game, I’d say Rubio turned the ball over early, but then recovered to score a solid 20 points on 10/18 shooting. Unfortunately, politics is not sports. What matters isn’t the score at the end of the debate, but the moments that will survive beyond it, and the impressions they leave. Still, if this is a Rubio “bad night,” then that just goes to show what an All-Star he is. 20 points from Kobe Bryant or Lebron James is a “bad night,” but for other players it would be a career-best. In sports as in politics, it is easy to play the Monday-morning quarterback. It is something else entirely to actually go out and perform.

Maybe GOP voters should remember that, despite his youth and inexperience, Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton in 2008. Don’t Republicans want to beat her in 2016?

Why Acknowledging “White Privilege” Won’t Help

America has made tremendous progress on the issue of race over the last fifty years. In 1960, a black man could be lynched for the “crime” of flirting with a white woman, very few African-Americans could exercise the right to vote, almost none held elected office, and the most profitable careers were off-limits. I can only imagine the psychological pain of being barred from restaurants, parks, and theaters restricted for use by “whites only,” or the difficulty of explaining such an unjust system to one’s children. Today, there are no laws left in place specifically discriminating against African-Americans (though some still allege unequal enforcement). Since President Obama’s election, a black man has held the highest office in the land, a feat deemed impossible just a decade ago.

Does racism in America still exist, despite all this progress? Certainly. The everyday experiences of millions of Americans attest to this reality. But the degree of racism depends on how it is defined. Our culture is still heavily influenced by stereotypes, ranging from the “gangbanger” to the “dumb blonde” to the soulless corporate executive. Yet only a very small and discredited minority still claim the superiority of the white race, or favor a return to segregationist policies. In 1958, only 4% of Americans approved of interracial marriage; by 2013, that figure had jumped to 87%. A Swedish study found that the United States is one of the least racist countries in the world, with less than 5% saying they would not want “people of another race” as neighbors. Compare this to the 40+ percent in countries like India and Jordan, and we seem pretty tolerant.

Half a century after the Civil Rights Movement, most Americans are ready for the sort of “race blind” society envisioned by Dr. King. We want to judge people on the basis of their individual merits – the content of their character – not the color of their skin. Millions of Americans interact peacefully and harmoniously with people of other races on a daily basis. They are our friends, our neighbors, and our coworkers; increasingly, they are our spouses and children. There is a deep yearning on the part of most Americans to come together, acknowledge our common humanity, and truly be one nation under God.

Ironically, a small but powerful segment of mainly liberal activists (black and white) seems unwilling to accept decades of progress on civil rights, or to take the vast majority of white Americans at their word that they are not racist. They prefer a race-obsessed society to a race-blind one. In their view, it is wrong to simply “move on” from the undeniable racism in America’s past, as this glosses over its enduring pain and ongoing legacy. They are determined to lay the blame for every problem affecting black America at the feet of white racists. Recently, the idea has gained traction that it is not enough for whites to simply disavow racism; they must also acknowledge – publicly or privately – the relative “privilege” they enjoy vis a vis their black counterparts.

Many whites are understandably confused and frustrated by the suggestion that they have unfairly profited from the mere fact of being white, especially as they feel themselves disadvantaged by racial preferences benefitting minorities. The term itself seems an insult, insinuating that their success was not entirely earned, but unfairly obtained. In a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post, Christine Emba attempts to soften the definition of “white privilege” to be more palatable to reluctant whites:

A request to acknowledge one’s privilege is just a reminder to be aware — aware that you might not be able to fully understand someone else’s experiences, that the assumptions you were brought up with may be blinding you, that some people may have to struggle for reasons foreign to you…

A worthy sentiment indeed, and one that we should all attempt to practice regardless of the race, religion, social class, or nationality of whoever we happen to encounter. But racism is just one of the difficulties an individual can experience in his or her life. Are we to assume that the supposed “benefit” bestowed by white skin cancels out the challenge of being mentally or physically handicapped, the pain of childhood abuse, or even the more commonplace disadvantages of being unattractive, unintelligent, or unhealthy?

I have never met a single person who did not struggle with some significant challenge. This includes people who appear to have it all – the wealthy, the intelligent, the beautiful. It seems a fairly universal aspect of the human condition. Why should I see a non-white person and assume, purely on the basis of their skin color, that they have experienced painful traumas beyond my ability to comprehend? Why should I see a white person and assume they have led an easier life than most? It seems as though the white privilege crowd is calling for just the sort of prejudice that was once part of the standard definition of “racism.” Why can’t we all just focus on being better human beings, as Emba’s explanation of white privilege exhorts?

Even less clear than the basis for this white privilege is how its acknowledgment (just a step below an apology) would result in better lives for African-Americans. Emba writes:

Generally, we expect those with advantages to help out those who are disadvantaged. The leg up provided by white privilege offers a chance to do just that. Understanding that you benefit from white privilege offers the freedom to amplify important issues in ways that those without it cannot. It represents an opportunity to speak out more loudly against injustice, knowing you’re better-protected from negative outcomes. It’s the ability to use the access you’re given to create opportunity and space for others.

There is so much wrong going on here, I hardly know where to start. First, Emba argues that acknowledging white privilege is good because it creates a sense of obligation (some might call it guilt) on the part of the privileged to help the under-privileged. As a Christian, I already believe I have the moral duty to help my fellow man; but this responsibility is derived from our equal value as God’s creations made in His own image, not our unequal power. Instead of partners standing side by side to defend our mutual dignity, Emba sees the obligated looking down at the obligators, the helpless staring up at their benevolent helpers. This unequal power dynamic is more likely to foster patronizing condescension on the part of the part of the in-power group and bitter animosity on the part of the out-of-power group than genuine love or solidarity.

The truth is, we are all called to be helpers; none of us is helpless. Even if I feel myself at the bottom, chances are there is someone even lower than me who would appreciate what I have. We rise by lifting others. But encouraging someone to see himself as a victim does the double injustice of depriving both himself and society of his talents.

My second objection to Emba’s argument here is that she projects onto whites a special invulnerability, a superhero-like quality that is almost totally out of sync with reality. Whites have the unique ability to “amplify important issues?” When a non-white person raises the issue of unfair treatment, it is often taken far more seriously than if they were white, not less. For example, two University of Virginia students were recently arrested by ABC officers using excessive force – a white female and a black male. You have possibly heard of Martese Johnson, whose troubling arrest video went viral, but what about Elizabeth Daley? Her “white privilege” didn’t keep her from being unfairly arrested for the “crime” of purchasing bottled water, nor did it attract a fraction of the national publicity or outrage. And let’s not forget about “clock boy” Ahmed Mohammed. His arrest for bringing a hoax bomb to school earned him a trip to the White House and international celebrity status.

I also fail to see how whites are “better-protected from negative outcomes,” unless they are the minority of whites with the power or money to insulate themselves from dangerous or costly decisions (a privilege that has extended, at least for a time, to powerful African-Americans like Bill Cosby and O.J. Simpson). The racist is the one category of persons almost universally abhorred and despised in this country. No one desires this label, as even the mere suggestion of racial bias can be career-ending. This is why most white people prefer not to discuss race. On this sensitive, emotionally-charged issue, they have less of a voice, not more.

But my biggest problem with the unequal power relationship Emba sets out is that it pits white America against black America in an almost Marxist fashion, assuming that one group’s privilege come at the price of another group’s rights. Once you internalize this belief, there are only two possible responses – acceptance or agitation. I can imagine no greater disservice to an African-American child than to indoctrinate him with the belief that America is still too racist for him to succeed, that he must wait until the day when no white person benefits from his majority-status or holds a single racist idea in his head, a day that will never come. How utterly defeatist and soul-crushing.

The irony is that white people pushing the narrative of white privilege may be the the real “subconscious racists.” They are the ones implying that African-Americans cannot help themselves; they need white allies to “speak out” on their behalf.

Emba concludes:

The use of white privilege tends to be unintentional. White privilege isn’t asked for, but it’s also not earned. The advantages it brings are uncomfortable to acknowledge and easy to take for granted. But they shouldn’t remain invisible. There’s no way to level the playing field unless we first can all see how uneven it is.

But would acknowledging white privilege actually help level the playing field? Let’s assume for the sake of argument that white people do enjoy certain cultural advantages denied to their black peers (a contention that is likely true, at least to a limited extent). They aren’t expected to represent their race in all matters, they don’t get unfairly judged for their exotic-sounding names, and they see more people in positions of power who “look like them.” Let’s then posit that every single white person in America signs an official document acknowledging this ill-begot privilege. How many fewer black men are in prison? How many fewer black children are in poverty? How does this admission of white privilege grow the black middle class? How does it lead to more black CEO’s and business owners?

It’s hard to understand how “confronting” white privilege would improve the lives of African-Americans on any of these measures. But perhaps that’s not the point. If white privilege is, as the liberal narrative holds, the original sin of every white American – a condition inherited at birth through no fault or virtue of one’s own – then acknowledging or denouncing it is but a means of atonement; it is more about consoling white guilt than easing black pain.

Respected African-American philosopher Lewis Gordon adeptly summarizes the whole problem with viewing race through the lens of privileges instead of rights:

A privilege is something that not everyone needs, but a right is the opposite. Given this distinction, an insidious dimension of the white-privilege argument emerges. It requires condemning whites for possessing, in the concrete, features of contemporary life that should be available to all, and if this is correct, how can whites be expected to give up such things? Yes, there is the case of the reality of whites being the majority population in all the sites of actual privilege from prestigious universities to golf clubs and boards of directors for most high-powered corporations. But even among whites as a group, how many whites have those opportunities?

If we truly want to be a country where everyone has a fair chance in life, why not focus on the things that could realistically improve the economic situation of all Americans, black and white: promoting intact families through marriage, ensuring access to high-quality education, fostering greater job and business creation, and reforming corrupt inner-city governments, just to name a few? Or are we really too busy wringing our hands over the lack of diversity in the Oscars to tackle these more meaningful issues?

Emba calls the idea of white privilege “uncomfortable” for whites to accept, but perhaps the narrative of a subconsciously racist America is too comfortable, too convenient for the white privilege crowd to give up. They prefer to see themselves as noble heroes out to slay the dragon of white racism – if only its lingering ghost – than to acknowledge the possibility that their policies, no matter how well-intentioned, may have actually contributed to the problem.

Dear Western Civilization, Please Stop Hating Yourself

The challenges confronting America and the West are manifold and well-documented, but the biggest problem we face today is a crisis of confidence. Any problem is surmountable if you have the courage to look at it with clear eyes and act on principle. This is how we built the Hoover Dam, defeated the Nazis, secured civil rights for all races, and put a man on the Moon. But if you lack this resolve – if you are determined to blindfold yourself to the truth and wallow in apathy and self-doubt – then even the simplest task becomes nearly impossible. A gust of wind could blow you over, a pinprick result in paralysis.

This crisis of self-doubt is not confined to one country; rather it afflicts western civilization as a whole. According to Samuel Huntington, a civilization is the largest unit by which people can be divided. Beyond civilization, we all belong to the human race. Within civilization exist various nation-states and ethnic groups. Even within these states and groups, we divide further by party and ideology.

Historically, western civilization has rested on two pillars: Greco-Roman rationalism and Christianity. The first gave us the confidence to use reason to understand the world, thus freeing ourselves from superstition and fatalism. The embrace of reason led to the most advanced classical civilization in the world, and then the most powerful empire. It gave us democracy and the rule of law.

But it was not enough. For despite the technical, military, and legal prowess of both the Greeks and the Romans, such evils as infanticide and slavery were widespread. It took the dawn of Christianity to take the moral ideals first developed in Judaism and make them universal. Christianity offered protection to the weakest members of society – the disabled, the young, the ill – but it did even more than that. Christianity put forth the powerful and previously unimaginable idea that the poorest members of society were actually the most beloved by God. Women and slaves understandably flocked to this new creed. More surprising was the fact that even the powerful, who had the most to lose and least to gain, were also attracted to its teachings. The triumph of Christianity was near total in the West. Today it is the world’s most popular religion, while virtually no one still worships Jupiter or Zeus.

While some might have predicted a conflict between the Christian faith and Greco-Roman reason, the two were beautifully synthesized in the Middle Ages by such intellectual geniuses as Saint Thomas Aquinas. Classical scholarship and legal traditions endured, despite the fall of the Roman Empire and near-constant invasions from Muslims, Vikings, and other groups. Beginning in the Late Middle Ages, Europe became the birthplace of modern commerce, science, and industry. Europeans went from being relatively poor and insignificant vis-à-vis their Asian and Middle Eastern neighbors to dominating the globe by 1900, when 90% of the world was controlled by Europeans and their descendants. The twentieth century continued to see advances in technology and science, as diseases were cured and standards of living rose. But it also witnessed two destructive world wars, both originating in Europe, and the ascendancy of communism as a global threat to freedom.

Still, considering its many gifts to mankind, one would expect people in the West to be proud of their civilization’s accomplishments and eager to secure its blessings for their posterity. Instead, we see the opposite. Westerners are made to feel guilt and shame for the misdeeds and alleged shortcomings of their ancestors. Violence and greed – once understood to be flaws inherent in human nature – are now viewed by many as uniquely western, while non-western societies past and present are mythologized as utopian Edens.

European colonial powers certainly had their share of injustices. The Atlantic Slave Trade, the destruction of Native American tribes, and the use of forced labor in Africa were all inexcusable. But so was the indigenous slavery and warfare practiced by both Africans and Native Americans, by no means the “noble savages” of the romantic imagination. It has become routine every October to charge Christopher Columbus with crimes against humanity, but not Tlacaelel, the Aztec leader who sacrificed at least 4,000 and as many as 84,000 victims to dedicate a new temple.

The fact that someone is born into western civilization is no guarantee that each individual will accept or practice all of its values. Every human society has its share of deviants and criminals, as well as its heroes and saints. Consider the examples of King Leopold of Belgium and Bartolome de las Casas. The former was responsible for as many as 10 million deaths in the Congo, while the latter famously defended the human rights of Native Americans in Spanish colonies. Much less noted than the crimes of certain individuals and groups is the fact that the West was the first civilization to abolish slavery and give all people equal protection under the law.

But things are different now. We have lost ourselves. People who still champion the superiority of western values are accused of bigotry, racism, and intolerance (ironic for sure, as tolerance and equality are some of the western values its proponents seek to protect). Europe is told it must fling open its doors to millions of immigrants who do not share their values, some coming with the stated goal of replacing western civilization with Islam. Yet we would never demand that Saudi Arabia, China, or Pakistan open its doors to European immigrants (not that many westerners would want to live under sharia law or communism).

None of this makes any sense unless one understands the depths of western self-doubt and self-loathing, the roots of which are brilliantly traced in an article by Jonathan Pidluzny. The actions currently being taken or avoided by western governments appear suicidal to the outside observer. But suicide is the only rational outcome of irrational self-hatred.

Open borders and mass immigration are perhaps the clearest signs of disdain for the West by Western elites. Women in European countries are now being instructed to change the way they dress for fear of provoking harassment. Free speech is censored. Unspeakable crimes are brushed under the rug.

Where else do we see this self-hatred? First in our schools, where both world history and U.S. history curricula downplay western achievements while dwelling on their faults. This is not to suggest that we whitewash the past or replace serious inquiry with cultural propaganda, just that context is important. Yes, European colonial empires witnessed many abuses. So too did the United States, the first nation to break free from European control and the current leader of the West. But so did the Mongols, the Aztecs, the Mughals, and the Turks. These empires saw the slaughter of entire cities, the sacrifice of innocent victims to appease angry gods, and the terrible torture of rivals. Women in western civilization had to fight long and hard for equal rights. But women in Chinese, Indian, and Islamic civilization were considered little more than the property of their fathers and husbands. They are still undervalued and marginalized today.

We see this self-hatred in the climate change movement. Forget the fact that industrialization has lifted millions of people out of poverty and eradicated diseases that once decimated entire communities. Forget that western nations have done much in recent decades to reduce pollution and conserve the environment. We are made to feel irrationally guilty over our “carbon footprint.” We are offered different ways of atoning for our sins, few of them rational. We may purchase green products like electric cars that are in fact no better for the environment than traditional ones. We are told we must transfer billions of dollars from western taxpayers to corrupt governments in developing countries to help them mitigate the effects of climate change. It makes sense to blame the West for imperialism in the Philippines, but not a typhoon.

We see this self-hatred in the restrictions placed on our natural rights to speech and religion. We are not to criticize other cultures or religions, even when they explicitly call for violence against non-believers, apostates, and blasphemers. We are not to notice when people of other cultures commit crimes or propagate injustice. Instead, we are to search our speech for microaggressions and our subconscious for unrecognized biases. Even if we disavow racism and come from modest backgrounds, we are told to feel guilty over the “privilege” bestowed by our skin color.

We see this self-hatred in the fight against Islamic terrorism, the greatest external threat to freedom today. We are told by our leaders that if the terrorists hate us, we must have done something to deserve it. It is not the terrorists who are to blame, but rather our past foreign policy mistakes, our reluctance to open our borders, or our perverse attachment to the Bill of Rights. Or maybe it’s just an 800-year grudge over the Crusades. It couldn’t possibly be anything to do with Islam, and to suggest as much would be bigoted. Instead of killing the terrorists who wish us harm, we are told to shut up and disarm. Hillary Clinton blamed the murder of four Americans at Benghazi on an amateur YouTube video criticizing the prophet Muhammad (who, to anyone who has ever studied his life, certainly merits criticism). This blaming of the West for terrorist attacks on the West is tantamount to blaming a victim of domestic violence for provoking her attacker, or the rape victim for her short skirt. In fact, it seems impossible for critics of the West to find blame anywhere outside of the West.

We must understand the roots of this crisis if we are to have any hope of reversing it. Jonathan Pidluzny identifies five causes of western self-doubt and self-loathing: modern science, which made us doubt anything that could not be empirically demonstrated; romanticism, which elevated subjective feeling over objective reason, democratic egalitarianism, which led to excessive individualism and isolation from the body politic; democratic materialism, which transformed us into mundane pleasure-seekers; and the erosion of the liberal arts, which no longer satisfy man’s thirst for higher knowledge and meaning.

How can these forces be countered? How can the West regain its confidence? These are difficult questions, but there are certain things we should not do. We do not need to export our civilization to foreign lands through Iraq- and Afghanistan-style nation building. Clearly this does not work well. We do not need Donald Trump-style populism. One real danger of elite disdain for the West is that it pushes people to embrace just such demagoguery. We should also not forget the real contributions made by other civilizations, or dismiss their potential to contribute to our future advancement. Having confidence in ourselves does not mean putting others down, or forcing them to change.

Pidluzny hopes for a revival of the liberal arts as a starting point. I agree that such a movement is needed, though the recent reaction on college campuses against freedom of speech leaves me doubtful that it can be spearheaded by the university. Our culture needs nothing short of a modern renaissance, a rediscovery of the habits and values that made our civilization great. I know such revitalization is possible. The only question is, will we have to endure another Dark Age to reach it?

To Pray, or to Politicize?

The recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have functioned as a wake-up call to the dangers of radical Islamic terrorism. Yet more surprising than the attacks themselves (in many ways, not shocking at all) was the backlash on social media to the idea that we should pray for the victims.

Expressing thoughts and prayers in times of tragedy used to be pretty safe territory, sort of like saying “thank you” for a favor or “I’m sorry” for an offense. It is – or at least used to be – the standard response.

Not this time. While thousands offered thoughts and prayers in solidarity with the victims, others disparaged such prayers as meaningless and condemned their offerors as hypocrites. A better response, they argued, would be to politicize the tragedy to push a gun control agenda before the blood had even time to dry.

Consider for a moment the rudeness of such behavior. Few would reject a gift offered in good faith. But accusing those who pray for others is like ripping a gift out of the hands of its recipient and stomping on it in front of both the giver and receiver. When someone has just been injured or lost a loved one, they usually don’t solicit your policy analysis. A woman whose son has just died on the operating table isn’t interested in your opinion on what the surgeon should have done. A man whose wife has just died in a car accident does not care to hear your thoughts on car safety, at least not as he holds her hand for the last time.

Now that the victims of San Bernardino terrorist attack have had the chance to speak out, many have specifically requested prayers. As far as I know, none have called for gun control – the knee-jerk liberal response to all violence where guns are involved, even if bombs are also used or planned to be used, as was the case in both attacks.

Why is prayer preferable to politicization?

First, prayer unites, whereas politics by its very nature divides. We should all condemn violence – whether it is the result of a terrorist attack, a criminal act, or a mass shooter. We should all comfort grieving victims. But we don’t always agree on the underlying causes of violence, much less what specific laws or policies would best prevent it.

Second, prayers are offered from a position of humility, whereas tragedies are politicized from a position of arrogance. The Oxford Dictionary defines prayer as “a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.” Thus, someone offering prayers makes the following assumptions:

  1. I need (or somebody else needs) help.
  2. I am blessed in many ways.
  3. I am not able to do this on my own.
  4. God is the source of all blessings, and He alone can fulfill our needs.

Every step of this assumption tree requires humility. In the final step, we acknowledge that we are not the most powerful beings in existence, but rather subject to God’s authority and the recipients of His divine mercy. Perhaps this irritates the politicizers most of all, who like to consider themselves the all-powerful, all-merciful elites. They would prefer we come to government with our problems and thank government for our deliverance. Their assumption tree looks something like this:

  1. I need (or somebody else needs) help.
  2. I am (or the government is) more intelligent than the average person.
  3. People can’t be trusted to make decisions on their own.
  4. Government is the source of all blessings, and it alone can fulfill our needs.

Notice how the first step is the same, but every subsequent step requires an abundance of arrogance.

It is no secret that we tend to pray the most when going through particularly difficult situations. In moments of extreme stress or danger, even atheists are likely to be caught praying that God exists and that He respond to their need. Intuitively, even non-believers understand that government is not going to help them find their lost car keys, get that new job, or make it through surgery successfully. But God just might.

While we need God’s help all the time, we are most likely to realize it when we are feeling particularly helpless. Praying for others when we ourselves are not directly threatened is a way of both acknowledging our blessings and asking God’s help for our fellow man. Circumstances have already brought them to their knees, be they friends, acquaintances, or complete strangers. When we pray, we get down on our knees with them.

Prayer is not magic. We do not believe that the right combination of ritual or incantation will give us the power over nature that only rightly belongs to God. However, prayer is not fatalist, and it is not passive. When we pray, we are not sitting on our hands waiting for God to do the job. “I’ll pray for you,” does not imply, “Stop whatever you’re doing; God will fix it!” Rather, prayer inspires action. Christians believe we are called to use our time and talents to serve one another, and every year millions of Christians around the world do just that.

Ironically, it is the Twitter and Facebook “slactivists” who seem to think that voicing their opinion on gun control and calling for more government regulation absolves them of the need for further personal action. While Christians open their pockets every year to support thousands of deserving charities, secular liberals lobby for government redistribution.

That we have differing responses to tragedy is to be expected, but why are the politicizers so irritated by the pray-ers?

First, many people are actively hostile to religion, and to the Christian faith in particular. They have succeeded in driving religion out of public life and prayer out of our schools, but it is still not enough. The fact that they can’t control what is going on in our minds – the possibility that we might be thinking “wrong” thoughts beyond their power to correct – bothers them in a way that should truly frighten supporters of the First Amendment.

Second, some people seem to think that by praying for one person or group of people, we are leaving out others who might be more deserving. When people started voicing prayers for Paris, some condemned them for not praying for Beirut (as if they somehow knew this was not the case).

Should we pray for all victims of tragedy, whether they be in Africa, Europe, or the Middle East? Of course, and many American Christians do just that. Last Easter, my church prayed for the victims of the Garissa massacre in Kenya long after its news slipped from the headlines. Certainly if prayer fell under the authority of the federal government, there would be an entire bureaucracy set up to evaluate whose need was more deserving. Fortunately, God’s grace is infinite, thus obviating the need for man to regulate it. Unlike government largesse, there is always enough supply to meet the demand.

But the real reason for the prayer-shamer’s distress is competition. For while Christians worship God, many liberals worship the State. They are the high priests and followers of a secular religion, the new magicians claiming a power over nature that Christians long ago left to God.

Time For Republicans to Rally Around an Experienced Candidate

I wrote my first analysis of the 2016 Republican Primary race back in early August, when most Americans were still getting to know the candidates in the respective fields. In the roughly ten weeks since then, we’ve seen three debates: two Republican and one Democrat. Two Republican candidates have dropped out of the race, including an old favorite (Rick Perry) and an early leader (Scott Walker). Now there are reports that Jim Webb is bowing out of the contest for the Democratic nomination.

Yet for all the ups and downs of the campaign, there has been remarkably little movement in the polls. Hillary Clinton continues to tower over the rest of the Democratic pack, despite her many scandals and complete lack of authenticity on the campaign trail. In the recent CNN debate, she made her competitors seem small. None would challenge Her Highness, save the embarrassing and ineffective Lincoln Chafee. On the Republican side, Donald Trump continues to lead the still-overcrowded Republican field, to the bewilderment of the pundits and the dismay of the Republican establishment. Party insiders who scoffed at a Trump candidacy weeks ago are now beginning to entertain the possibility that he just might win. In fact, he will win unless Republicans can rally around a compelling alternative.

With that being said, I’d like to offer my thoughts on the best course of action for Republicans, as well as some general observations on the current state of American politics.

First, the political landscape has changed over the past decade. We used to have a center-left Democratic Party and a center-right Republican Party. The Democrats’ embrace of socialist Bernie Sanders and rejection of centrist Jim Webb is proof that the center-left element of the Democratic Party is gone. In 2008, Barack Obama became the most liberal politician to ever occupy the White House. In 2015, Democrats are debating whether to run slightly to his left (the Hillary approach) or way to his left (the Sanders approach). Keep in mind that Clinton ran to Obama’s right in 2008, just seven years ago.

Three factors help explain this change. First, Obama’s failed policies have been disastrous for centrist Democrats, now an endangered species. After disastrous midterms in 2010 and 2014, most of them are gone. In fact, Joe Manchin of West Virginia may be the last one standing. Second, the only remaining Democrats represent reliably liberal districts or states where they have more to fear from a primary challenge than a candidate from the other party (the same being true for most Republicans). Politicians can now take what would have once been considered extreme positions without fear of voter reprisal. In fact, they have more to fear from appearing too eager to compromise with the opposition. Remember when politicians used to brag about “reaching across the aisle?” Yeah…

Third, Democrats have stopped even competing for working class whites without college degrees, the party’s former bread and butter. They have surrendered the political center in favor of a demographic strategy that relies on rising numbers of Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, and young people, cobbled together with urban-dwelling, over-educated white liberals, to carry them at the national level.

But while the Democrats’ identity as a hard-Left party is settled, the Republican future is less certain. Moderates like John Boehner and Jeb Bush would like to see the Republican Party remain center-Right or center-center-Right: rejecting the Democrats’ identity politics and European-style socialism, but not the premise of big government intervention in areas like the economy and education. On the other hand, conservative insurgents would like to do to the Republican Party what the Democrats have done to theirs, eschewing centrist compromise in favor of ideological purity. Conservative frustration with the Republican establishment is certainly warranted, and this intra-Republican rivalry is in many ways a sign of health, but it carries its share of risks. If Republicans can find a way to bridge the right wing of their party with what remains of the political center, while making modest inroads with Millennials and minorities, they beat the Democrats in a landslide. If not, the Republican Party may be headed for a messy divorce.

This brings me to my second point – the state of the Republican race. In August, I wrote favorably about the inclusion of “outsiders” Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Since then, I’ve had a bit of a change of heart that I think is (or will soon become) fairly typical of Republican primary voters. I now believe that in order to beat Hillary Clinton—who, barring the late entry of Joe Biden, will be the Democratic nominee—Republicans need to nominate someone with political experience. I was never a fan of Donald Trump, and that much has not changed. But if I can rationally conclude that Ben Carson, a man I personally respect and admire, is not qualified to be president, can Trump supporters not do the same?

Don’t get me wrong; I love the idea of a non-lawyer, non-politician running for office. If a successful businesswoman, doctor, teacher, or actor wants to run for senator or governor or delegate, more power to them. This is government of the people, by the people, and for the people, as envisioned by our founders. From there, they can move up to the national stage, like Ronald Reagan did in 1980.

But when you are seeking the highest office in the land, isn’t it nice to have at least some experience running a government? Isn’t it important to have at least some record that voters can judge against the soaring rhetoric of the campaign trail? Expertise in one area does not necessarily translate into expertise or even competence in another. Michael Phelps might be the best swimmer of all-time, but there’s a reason he’s not pitching in the MLB. Tom Brady might be an elite quarterback, but no one is asking him to run the point in the NBA.

In 2008, America was so disgusted with George W. Bush and “politics as usual” that we elected a man who just a few years before was a back-bencher in the Illinois state senate. But lest we heap all our scorn on Democrats, let’s not forget that Republicans also celebrated the nomination of Sarah Palin, an obscure governor who turned out to not have a clue about anything beyond the narrow range of issues affecting Alaskan politics. Both cases were the equivalent of promoting jayvee quarterbacks straight to the NFL. To use Bill Clinton’s term, we put a complete amateur in the Oval Office, trusting that his inspiring biography and professorial eloquence would compensate for a complete lack of experience or accomplishment.

The results speak for themselves: disaster for the economy, which would be much worse if the Fed hadn’t kept interest rates at near zero for his entire term; disaster on healthcare, as Obamacare enters its predicted “death spiral;” disaster for average Americans who have seen their jobs disappear or their wages drop, and disaster in foreign policy as the Middle East falls apart, threatening to take the rest of the world with it. America appears weak and indecisive on the world stage, complacent and divided at home. Yes, we face significant challenges that would exist with or without President Obama, but it didn’t have to be this way. Not only has our country fallen deeper into the hole, we have lost precious time to right the course.

So, let’s consider the Republican candidates.

Fiorina and Carson, while compelling, are not qualified to lead the free world. This should go without saying, but neither is Donald Trump. Of the three, I would trust Fiorina the most to stand up to Vladimir Putin, but I have no idea how she would actually implement her domestic agenda, as there is no political record available for me to scrutinize.

Pataki, Graham, Santorum, and Gilmore remain irrelevant. Jindal has the vision and experience, but not the gravitas or political savvy. Huckabee was never a great national candidate, and his time has passed.

This leaves John Kasich, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio as the only five serious contenders. But Kasich, Bush, and even Christie are unlikely to inspire the conservative base, while Cruz is unacceptable to the establishment center. I would put any of these four men against Hillary Clinton, but with reservations in each case. Kasich has nothing to offer social conservatives at a time when they are on the ropes. Cruz has alienated his own party, not a recipe for success for any candidate. Christie has Bridge-gate, and Bush carries more baggage than the rest of the field put together on account of his brother. In this anti-establishment climate, America’s appetite for political dynasties is greatly diminished; Republicans should leave this liability to the Democrats.

Now we’re down to one man: Marco Rubio. He is young, but experienced. He has had enough time to make mistakes (immigration reform), and the humility to learn from them. He can excite conservatives without frightening the establishment class, whose support will be needed to take down Clinton. He is not the perfect candidate, but such a man does not exist. The best the Democrats have been able to dig up so far against him is that his wife got some parking tickets and he bought an expensive boat. This, compared to a Democratic frontrunner whose spouse associates with known sexual predators and who would likely be facing jail time for violating federal law if her last name didn’t place her beyond its reach.

Rubio is likeable and competent: a good fundraiser, debater, and campaigner. He might not be your favorite candidate, or occupy the top slot of your “dream ticket,” but is there anyone you would rather pit against Hillary in a one-on-one debate? Would you rather Donald Trump insult her appearance, or Ben Carson put her to sleep?

No other candidate can articulate an optimistic, conservative agenda with Rubio’s combination of nuance, clarity, and passion. If Republicans are going to win in 2016, they need to unite the political right and center against a Democrat who will be running to the Far Left. Trump, Carson, and Cruz supporters can throw up their hands and say “it shouldn’t be this way,” but that doesn’t change the fact that it is this way. Politics is about more than lofty rhetoric and personality; it is the art of the possible. Our Founding Fathers devised a political system in which compromise is necessary to accomplish anything; whatever our personal beliefs, we should have the maturity to accept this. The contrast between the two parties has never been so clear, and the stakes have never been so high.

A Question for Atheists

In 2012, a Gallup International poll found that 12% of global respondents identify as “convinced atheists.” In China, the figure is 47%, followed by Japan at 31% and France at 29%. In the United States, self-identified atheists have risen from 1% in 2005 to 5% in 2012. While this is still a very small figure, atheism predominates in certain metropolitan areas and career fields. A friend of mine living in Seattle recently expressed her frustration over the intolerance of the secular Left: “Up there, people think you’re an idiot if you believe in God.”

Make no mistake, even the historically religious United States is becoming increasingly atheistic. Since 2005, America has seen best-sellers on atheism by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and others. Religion is routinely mocked on social media and television, while atheism is portrayed as mature, rational, and tolerant.

America’s religious divide is also generational. Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are the least religious demographic in America, and they are bucking past trends by becoming less religious as they age. Even writing from the Bible Belt, I have observed signs of a rising atheism amongst my high school students. A couple years ago, I was surprised when nine or ten students in a single class decided, unprovoked, to proclaim their atheism (I would never question students about their personal religious beliefs; we happened to be discussing the role of religion in early societies). Their line of reasoning went something like this: “Religion is great for people who find comfort in all that ‘God’ stuff, but as an educated person, I know better.”

Which leads to my question for atheists: where do you get your faith?

I understand people who believe in God, but have been turned off by organized religion. Periodic scandals, perceptions of moral hypocrisy, and revulsion over past misdeeds may be enough to discourage potential followers. On the other hand, a culture steeped in secularism or just general apathy might prevent someone from going to church, though they still believe in God and even pray on occasion. These are the unaffiliated believers, and their position (though not one I would endorse) makes a certain sense. It offers a starting point, at least, from which to move towards a deeper encounter with God.

I also understand people who feel that we humans simply cannot reach definitive conclusions regarding the divine, including some agnostics. Catholicism teaches that the exact nature of God is a mystery beyond humanity’s power to fully comprehend. The Trinity and the Incarnation cannot be rationalized without losing an essential part of their Truth. This makes some people uncomfortable, and they would rather not even attempt to understand something beyond the limits of human reason.

But to look out at creation and proclaim: “I know there is no Creator!” is beyond me. How do you know?

Imagine that I were to place a sealed up cardboard box in front of you and ask you what was inside it. You could shake, smell, and feel the box, but not open it.

If you were to hear clucking and the flutter of feathers, you would rationally suspect that the box contained a chicken. Even if no noises were to come from the box, you would be unable to rule out the possibility that it contained something very light or inanimate.

An atheist is someone who looks at the box and confidently proclaims: “There is nothing inside that box!”

Really? How do you know?

Merriam-Webster defines atheism as “a disbelief in the existence of divinity” or “the doctrine that there is no deity.” Both positions contradict logic and experience, but the latter is just absurd. How can one ever be 100% convinced that God does not exist?

Here’s another popular thought experiment. Imagine the world is made up of little cardboard boxes. You open the first to discover a red ball. You open the second and find another red ball. This goes on for hundreds and even thousands of boxes—all contain red balls. Just as you are about to open the millionth box, I ask you what it contains. “A red ball,” would be your likely answer. But what if the millionth box contains a white ball? You have no way of knowing until you open it.

Atheism is thus unscientific. It presupposes not only that mankind has never discovered support for the existence of a Creator, but that it will never discover evidence of a Higher Power at any point in the future. In fact, much of science already points to the existence of God. The most persuasive of these arguments is the sheer improbability of life in the universe. Scientists used to believe that the only necessary conditions for a planet to support life were size and distance from a star of sufficient warmth. But they have since discovered a multitude of other conditions, the absence of any one of which would render life on Earth impossible. It’s almost as if Earth was designed for life.

Atheists cannot explain the origin of the universe. The Big Bang theory supports the idea of a Creator by positing that all matter originated from a single point. In fact, if one little thing had gone differently at the moment of the Big Bang, none of the elements would have been able to form.

Atheists cannot explain the origin of life. They would rather believe that life originated from an improbably lucky accident or outer space (which, if so, how did it get there?) than entertain the possibility of a creator God.

Ironically, atheism is not without its crowned saint – Charles Darwin. His theory of evolution has long been atheism’s best argument or most cherished dogma, depending on your point of view. Never mind that atheists cannot explain how the universe or life originated; they claim to know that human life evolved from the most basic single-celled organism over millions of years by pure chance.

While persuasive on some level, this argument still has several holes. We can observe natural selection at work, or the process by which a species better adapts to its environment. But, to use the classic example, the fact that more black moths survived to reproduce that white moths in industrial Britain does not in any way refute the existence of God. What we have never observed is a species becoming another species. Currently the best theory as to the mechanism of evolution on a macro scale is random genetic mutation. But this explanation cannot account for the fact that most genetic mutations are harmful and/or can’t be passed on to offspring. The theory of Intelligent Design seems a persuasive alternative to me, but to many atheists this position is no better than Creationism; to be taken seriously, one must deny any role for God at the outset.

So what explains atheism’s appeal, especially among the young, urban, and educated?

My guess is that some people are just confused. They would like to believe in God, but falsely believe God has been disproved by science. Others are apathetic; they just don’t care. But for others, atheism fits nicely into their secular worldview. If there is no God, then I get to be my own god. If I was made not by a Creator, but by a series of lucky mutations, then there is nothing to keep me from remaking myself in the image of my choosing. I get to set my own rules, unconstrained by divine teaching or natural limits. Furthermore, I get the elitist’s satisfaction of believing myself superior to the ignorant masses, along with the occasional chuckle at their expense.

Atheists like to point to all the wars that have been fought over religion, but they ignore the far greater number that have been fought over just this sort of hubris, including the worst tragedies of the 20th century. The Nazis and the Soviets both rejected God, whether explicitly or implicitly, and decided to take human evolution into their own hands. They sought to remake not just society but mankind himself, with disastrous consequences. In the case of the Nazis, they even quoted Darwin in the process.

This is not to say that atheists are bad people—far from it. There can be and have been many good atheists or agnostics, just as there have been religious people who nevertheless committed heinous crimes. To worship is natural, and so is to doubt. But to categorically deny the existence of a Creator is unscientific, and atheism requires far greater faith than Christianity. My question once again for atheists is: where do you get your faith?