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.

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Interpreting Obama’s History Lesson on the Crusades

President Obama recently made headlines with some off-the-cuff historical commentary at the National Prayer Breakfast. In discussing the challenge posed by terrorist groups like ISIS, Obama cautioned: “Lest we get on our high horse and think (violence in the name of faith) is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

The responses to this statement from both the Left and the Right were predictably divergent. Liberals considered the statement unremarkable. (Religion has often led to violence and extremism no matter which group wields it; who could object to such an obvious truth?) Conservatives, however (especially Christian ones) took offense to the comparison as both historically inaccurate and irrelevant to the present conflict: what could be gained by the President of the United States appearing to draw a moral equivalency between the obvious present evil of ISIS and the possible sins of a handful of Christians committed almost a thousand years ago?

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Of course, it is always useful to recognize that no one person or group of people has a monopoly on morality; I have never met a Christian who would argue otherwise. We know Jesus’ message of humility and forgiveness was more often directed at hypocrites like the Pharisees who went about proclaiming their good deeds, unlike the prostitutes and tax collectors who made no such pretensions. There is plenty of biblical and historical evidence that good and bad individuals (or if you prefer, behaviors) exist in all groups.

However, if this was Obama’s intended point, it failed for several reasons.

First, the Crusades were morally ambiguous. They provide neither a clear-cut case of Christian vice and Muslim virtue, or the reverse. The Crusades were also not a single event, but rather a series of rather disorganized and disparate military campaigns that occurred over a period of centuries. This makes them especially difficult to teach, and even more difficult to employ as straight-forward lessons in morality.

Contemporary historians have often failed to understand what motivated individual Crusaders. Many western Christians sacrificed their fortunes to go and do battle against the enemies of Christendom, believing wholeheartedly in the rightness of their cause and the promise of receiving indulgences for their sins. Though some have imagined them to be harbingers of 19th century European imperialism, the Crusades were not motivated primarily by economic and political greed dressed up in religious justifications.

Some Crusaders did commit atrocities, most notably the slaughter of Jews in the Rhineland Massacres. But according to Wikipedia:

The massacre of the Rhineland Jews by the People’s Crusade, and other associated persecutions, were condemned by the leaders and officials of the Catholic Church. The bishops of Mainz, Speyer, and Worms had attempted to protect the Jews of those towns within the walls of their own palaces, but the People’s Crusade broke in to slaughter them. Fifty years later when St. Bernard of Clairvaux was urging recruitment for the Second Crusade, he specifically criticized the attacks on Jews which occurred in the First Crusade.

The Fourth Crusade was the most infamous failure, as Latin Christians sacked, pillaged, and plundered the already-Christian Constantinople. The full story is a lot more complicated than that, but it is important to realize that there was no single leader, not even the pope, directing the actions of the Crusaders. In fact, they were so disorganized it is almost a miracle that they even arrived at their destination, much less established short-lived Christian kingdoms.

Adam Gopnik writes a thought-provoking article in the New Yorker about the nature of history, though I disagree with some of his conclusions. History simplifies, he observes, but “restoring complexity doesn’t always make things clearer.” Gopnik writes: “the forces in history are always multiple, complex, and contingent, much more so than the fables make it seem. The forces in any particular historical event are always almost infinitely divisible into smaller and often contradictory parts, with a lot of fuzzy cases and leg room.” The Crusades are a perfect example of this.

Second, historical context is especially important here. If one is determined to use the Crusades to illustrate some contemporary political point, one must first understand where they fit into the larger pattern of interaction between Christians and Muslims that has been unfolding for the past fourteen hundred years.

For over four centuries prior to Pope Urban II’s call, Christians had been fighting a series of defensive battles against Muslim expansion, and losing more often than not. Charles Martel did lead the French to victory at the Battle of Tours in 732, halting the Muslim advance into Europe, but only after all of Spain had been lost (Over 700 years would pass before it was reclaimed.). When the recently converted Seljuk Turks (and not the original Arab carriers of Islam, who had controlled the Holy Land for centuries) began threatening the safety of Middle Eastern Christians and the survival of what was left of the Byzantine Empire, this prompted Pope Urban II to call for Roman Christians to assist their brothers in the East, reclaim the Holy Land, and make the birthplace of the Christian faith safe once again for Christians. They failed on nearly all accounts.

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It is hard to see why a failed Christian campaign to retake their faith’s holiest sites could continue to anger present-day Muslims, as most Christians that I know have forgiven Muslim victories in the Middle East, Spain, the Balkans, and Anatolia, to the extent that they were even aware of them.

While Christians and Muslims have coexisted peacefully at several times in history (usually under Muslim rule, with Christians paying for the privilege), Islam has more often than not acted as the aggressor. Even after the threat of the Seljuk Turks abated (the ones who provoked the Crusades), the Ottoman Turks continued to threaten and enslave European Christians for centuries until a couple key defensive victories halted their advance, most notably at Vienna and Lepanto.

It is beyond the scope of this post to adequately expand on this point, but Islam and Christianity have very different beliefs and histories. Jesus never led men into battle or governed an empire, while Mohammad did both. Jesus famously instructed his followers to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” while Mohammad established a caliphate with no distinction between religious and political authority. Early Christians were severely persecuted for their beliefs with many dying as martyrs for their faith, while Islam from its inception spread by the sword and attracted converts seeking political, social, and economic advancement. While Christianity developed within the cultural context of Judaism and the Roman Empire, Islam incorporated many of the pre-existing traditions of the Arab people. All this context matters if we are to really learn from the past. We can’t just cherry-pick isolated events, neglecting the bigger picture.

Third, when attempting to draw lessons from history, it is important to ask whether this is the right time to bring that back up. Is Past Event A really the right parallel for Current Situation B?

Imagine a married couple having a fight. A wife has just discovered that her husband is having an affair. He counters that yes, he has been cheating on her for years, but remember that time a decade ago when she forgot his birthday? The wife’s oversight might be true in the historical sense, but clearly not helpful at the present moment and no excuse for his greater misdeeds.

So is Obama the right person, the Prayer Breakfast the right place, and our current conflict with radical Islam the right occasion to bring up the sins of a relatively small number of Christians operating largely independently of any central control over 800 years ago? I would have to answer no on all accounts. In fact, that Obama did so shows a great lack of understanding of our present crisis.

Do we think ISIS cares about all the times in history that Muslims have murdered Christians and Jews, or even other Muslims? Of course not; they are too busy beheading all enemies of their radical totalitarian ideology.

Can we imagine FDR bringing up America’s past sins of slavery and broken treaties with Native Americans, just as he was trying to inspire Americans to fight the Japanese and Germans? Didn’t think so.

President Obama is the wrong messenger to get Christianity off its supposed “high horse,” just as Mitt Romney proved an ineffective messenger in championing the middle class. Here are just a few other statements from the president that provide the context by which Christians now judge his remarks.

Obama on Islam:

“The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam.”

“Islam has always been part of America.”

“As a student of history, I know civilization’s debt to Islam.”

“Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance.”

Obama on Christianity:

“Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation.”

“We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation.”

The list goes on. After so many statements downplaying or criticizing Christianity, with so many others appearing to celebrate and excuse Islam, many Christians aren’t cutting him any more slack.

My fourth and final point about the failure of Obama’s Crusades comparison is this: bad historical analysis runs the risk of obscuring truth by promoting cynicism and moral relativism.

Gopnik claims:

We welcome complexity because it makes the moral points stand out more clearly against their background… The President’s point turned out to be not just exactly right but profoundly right: no group holds the historical moral high ground, and no one ever will. But this is not because a moral high ground doesn’t exist. It’s because we’re all still climbing.

Again, I would counter that while no group has an absolute monopoly on morality, there is such a thing as a historical moral high ground. No one is perfect, but this does not mean we are all the same.

During World War II, the United States was not perfect. We dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, killing tens of thousands of civilians, and humiliatingly interned in camps thousands of Japanese-Americans thought to be untrustworthy simply because of their race. Even as we fought dictatorship abroad, we denied African-Americans and women equal rights at home.

Did we still occupy the moral high ground? Absolutely. We were fighting an enemy in Japan that carried out the infamous Rape of Nanking and had imperial designs on all of Asia. In Nazi Germany, we fought an enemy that systematically killed eleven million innocent people, including six million Jews. After the war, instead of exacting revenge, we invested millions of dollars in rebuilding both countries to help the Japanese and German people whose soldiers had just claimed thousands of our own.

Despite all our mistakes during the Cold War, we most certainly occupied the moral high ground in our fight against the Soviet Union and its dehumanizing communist ideology. Only one side of this fight had to build walls to keep their people in.

Despite all our mistakes in the Middle East, we most certainly occupy the moral high ground in the current struggle against ISIS, which isn’t saying much, as they seem determined to discover ever deeper lows.

Yes, we are all “still climbing,” but some of us have come further than others, and it is important to recognize this. Societies that still condone female genital mutilation, pedophilia, torture, and draconian limitations on individual freedom have much further to go. We should assist them so far as we can, while resisting any and all attempts to erode the liberties we have fought so hard to secure.

Occasionally, calling to mind the sins of our ancestors provides a valuable inoculation against self-righteousness, as well as hope for those who would like to make similar social and political progress. But sometimes it does nothing more than provide our enemies with ammunition to use against us. It creates ambiguity and doubt, when what we really need are moral clarity and resolve.

Finally, some parting thoughts on recent events:

Even as I wrote this post, two things have happened that tragically serve to illustrate some of my points. First, ISIS beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians. In the official Obama administration statement, these brave martyrs were identified merely as “citizens.” The fact that they were Christians who died for their faith was not mentioned.

Second, more information has come out about the man who killed three Muslim young people in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. While many in the media were eager for a story featuring a Christian extremist as the bad guy and clamoring for a hate crime investigation, the killer has been identified as a militant liberal atheist. This counters the pervasive fallacy that religion is the primary cause of violence both past and present, one that will require a separate blog post to refute.

How Much Can We Really Learn from History?

“Why do we bother to study the past?”

Like many other teachers, I sometimes begin the new school year by putting this question to my eager young pupils. It could be considered The Great Challenge of All History Teachers Everywhere—getting kids to see the relevance of something that happened a thousand years ago, when they (like most of us) are much more focused on what happened fifteen minutes ago. To make things more difficult, fifteen years is all most of them have in the way of life experience. It’s a small window of context.

Most students dutifully respond with some version of the old cliché that “We study the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them again in the future.”

For me, this answer does nothing to elicit the little bubbles of history teacher joy that some might expect. On the contrary, it often shows just how far we have to go.

This is not because I necessarily share Hegel’s pessimistic counter that the only thing “we learn from history (is) that we do not learn from history.” The problem is, different people draw different lessons from the past. The Great Depression is often cited as proof both that government intervention in the economy works, and that it doesn’t. In more recent history, some claim Obama’s economic policies helped to avert a second Great Depression, while others counter that they needlessly prolonged the Great Recession and continue to hinder robust economic growth. Who knows which view historians will ultimately choose.

Even when we attempt to avoid the mistakes of the past, we often focus on the last mistake and not the ones that precipitated it. The satirical magazine The Onion succeeds brilliantly in illustrating just how short-term our memories are in this hilarious article, entitled: “Obama Assures Americans that This Will Not Be Another 1456 Siege of Belgrade.” Enjoy the following delicious morsels:

“I can promise you this: My administration and I will not repeat the mistakes of Sultan Mehmed II,” Obama continued. “Believe me, we have all learned the lessons from the campaign to subjugate the Kingdom of Hungary following the fall of Constantinople.”

“When I heard we were getting involved in Syria, right away I thought, ‘Well, here we go, it’s 1456 Belgrade all over again,’” said Seattle resident Matt Haggerty, 42, who, like millions of Americans, says he “in no way supports the idea” of getting entangled in any military campaign even remotely similar to the Ottoman invasion of the Catholic Balkans. “Look, we all know what happened in Belgrade: Mehmed II thought he had everything under control, but Hungarian nobleman John Hunyadi organized a peasant army of roughly 50,000 soldiers and relied on the strength of the city’s castle to breach the Ottoman’s formidable naval blockade, which prevented any further imperial advances into Europe for roughly 70 years. And frankly, like most of my friends and neighbors, I see very little separating what we’re about to do in Syria and what the Anatolian corps did during their all-out assault on the Belgrade fortress from the Danube River. ”

For more serious evidence of the limits of learning from history, look no further than the World Wars. Hitler “studied” the causes of German failure in World War I and arrived at conclusions so disastrously flawed that they resulted in an even more destructive war. World War I provides a cautionary tale against rushing into war; World War II against appeasing aggressors. If we really learned from the lessons of the past, World War I would have remained “The War to End All Wars,” instead of just the first act in a blood-drenched century featuring total warfare and genocide.

A basic understanding of human nature assures us that greed, mistrust, and pride are not going extinct anytime soon; thus, neither is war or the immeasurable human suffering it causes. Those who predict that a better understanding of history will lead to its end are fooling themselves.

I think a better answer to the question of “Why study history?” is that the past is capable of providing a broader context in which to better understand our own lives. Most of us will walk the earth for at most a hundred years, while mankind has been around for perhaps 100,000. Many of the challenges of our times are not unique, but paralleled at various points in history. While we may not succeed in avoiding the same mistakes as our ancestors, we can still learn from them, but only if we are very careful.

Whenever history is called upon to settle present debates, it is important to remember that the people of the past were real people just like us, with all their desires and fears, shortcomings and virtues. We too often resurrect their ghosts just to be used as mouthpieces for the advancement of our own agendas.

Mark Twain insightfully observed that there are only three types of lies: “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” This quote illustrates that sometimes stating a supposed “fact” can often obscure a larger truth. It is just this sort of danger in which amateur historians (which includes most politicians and commentators) can find themselves.

We need real historians to correct our narrow misconceptions and short-sightedness. Even then, we can never fully escape the limits of our own time and perspective, not that this invalidates the effort. If I didn’t believe in the many benefits of a responsible study of the past, I would have chosen a different line of work.

In my next post on the topic of the usefulness of history, I will discuss what this means in light of President Obama’s recent comments about the Crusades at the National Prayer Breakfast.

We Need More than a Strategy for ISIS

By Lauren Gillespie

In what may come to be regarded as a low point in his presidency, Obama admitted at a press conference last week that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with ISIS. It’s bad enough to witness the leader of the free world golfing and fundraising while barbarians are beheading American journalists, persecuting Christians, and clearly signaling their intent to strike the homeland. The thought that he would do so in the absence of a clear strategy to defeat (degrade? contain?) them is beyond comprehension.

Much could and has been written about the shocking level of incompetence necessary to produce such words. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that our problem with Islamic supremacism in general and ISIS in particular goes beyond having a clear strategy to defeat them (though this is certainly important) and cuts to the very core of our identity. It’s not enough to oppose the mission of ISIS; we need to have a greater one of our own.

This starts with recognizing what it is that makes radical jihad appealing, even to certain segments of our own population. This is necessary not to excuse or emulate their ideology, but rather to understand it. Something attracts young men in particular to their cause, or else 100 Americans (that we know of) and 1,500 Britons would not be fighting alongside an enemy that has sworn our destruction. It’s not wealth. It’s not the promise of a long, comfortable life. So what is it?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a George Orwell review of Mein Kampf from 1940. In it, he rightly condemns Hitler as a lunatic, but also notes the underlying appeal of Nazism. Orwell observes that Hitler “has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude” and the progressivist view that “human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security, and avoidance of pain.”

Like Nazism, Islamic extremism offers neither comfort nor security — the ostensible goals of the welfare state — but rather sacrifice in the name of a sacred mission. In the end, the differences between Aryan supremacism and Islamic supremacism are minor. Both are fascist, as they meld religion and government into one and the same thing. Both call their members to fight for a glorious cause, to be part of something greater. Both view themselves as liberators from an enemy that is both decadent and despicable, grown weak and soft in nature and yet wielding a power disproportionate to its merits. In other words, the jihadists view us the way the Nazis viewed the Jews.

ISIS is a militant ideology. To defeat them, we need both a better military (check) and a better ideology. What do we stand for? What are we willing to die for?

These questions are perhaps not as easy to answer as they once were. We seem to lack even the language necessary to frame such a cause, so afraid are we to give offense. Diversity and tolerance are good to a certain degree, but who would lay down their lives in the name of multiculturalism, or even libertarianism? No soldier ever charged into battle crying: “I risk my life for the right of everyone to do whatever they want, no matter how perverse, so long as they don’t directly harm anyone else!”

This is not to say that our culture need be monolithic. The Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War and the brave men who stormed the beaches of Normandy had ancestors who hailed from Ireland, Germany, Italy, and West Africa. But while their backgrounds and origins were diverse, the vast majority accepted Judeo-Christian principles of freedom, inclusiveness, and the intrinsic value of human life. Like our Founding Fathers, they acknowledged the existence of good and evil, as well as the human temptation to choose the latter. You don’t have to be a Jew or a Christian to share these values, but it helps to recognize that they arose in a specifically Judeo-Christian context.

In Turkey, Obama famously declared: “We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation.” A few days ago, Alveda King called him out on this, asking that he bring us back to God and supply some righteous indignation. This goes beyond politics. When it comes to rallying a population in the face of an existential threat, even the dollars and cents capitalism favored by so many fiscal conservatives falls short. If we are all just here by accident, if our goals in life are merely material and temporal, then what does it matter if a community thousands of miles away is tortured, displaced, and persecuted?

Like Orwell observed, people desire more than material comfort. On a fundamental level, we yearn for a higher purpose– for truth and justice. But in the place of our traditional values, new beliefs have seeped into our culture that divide Americans by class, gender, and race, eschewing the very notion of a common purpose. In order to ignore the gross injustices that abound in the world and our own society, we seize upon the slightest perceived offense. We waste ink and breath debating the name of the Washington Redskins and the existence of a “war on women” while studiously ignoring the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East and the unborn in our own communities. Western feminists do nothing to address the atrocities committed against women in Africa and Asia, including genital mutilation, acid attacks, and rape, while devoting themselves to the causes of free birth control and unlimited access to abortion. It’s embarrassing.

Many Americans today, especially in my own generation, would rather adopt an attitude of “don’t judge me and I won’t judge you” than expose themselves to increased scrutiny and charges of hypocrisy. But multiculturalism, consumerism, and moral relativism will not be enough to defend ourselves against Islamic supremacism and other fascist incarnations. Neither will adopting our own “convert or die” extremist mentality. We defeated Nazism and Soviet communism in large part because we believed our values of freedom and democracy were worth fighting for. We need to figure out how to fight ISIS. But we also need to remember why.

Why You Need to See Dinesh D’Souza’s “America”

Go see Dinesh D’Souza’s movie “America: Imagine the World without Her.”

See it as soon as you can. Take your kids. Take your parents. Take your conservative and religious friends who likely already believe its message. Take your liberal and secular friends who may need more convincing. It is truly a film everyone should experience.

At the end of the two hours, if you feel you would have been better served enduring endless fart jokes next door in “Tammy,” I will personally reimburse your eleven dollars and buy you a new bag of popcorn.

Scratch that last. I’m a teacher trying to get through the lean months of summer, and do not have the funds to make this guarantee. But you get the idea.

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People who know me might assume that I have always been a church-going, dyed-in-the-wool Republican, but this could not be further from the truth. When I was sixteen I read Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian and the equally anti-Christian Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, swallowing them hook, line, and sinker. When I was eighteen, my dad told me he would cut me off financially if I paid to see Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. I went anyway.

I have always thought that if you are going to believe something, you should not be afraid to hear the other side’s best arguments. If your deeply-held convictions fall apart at the slightest challenge, then they could not have been that solid to begin with. Sometimes in order to believe, we must first doubt.

We don’t gain anything from echo chambers. We need to engage head-on with the other side, which is why I have so much admiration for Dinesh D’Souza. I even feel a sort of begrudging respect for Bill Ayers for at least engaging D’Souza in open debates, most recently on Fox News with Megyn Kelly. At least liberal professors are not afraid to say what they really mean and what they intend to do, unlike liberal politicians.

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There is an old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. An immigrant himself, D’Souza is the perfect person to answer America’s critics. He does not have to imagine a world without America; he has lived in one.

D’Souza begins with a hypothetical scenario almost too possible to contemplate: What if George Washington had been hit by a sniper’s bullet and the Revolution had died with him? Would the world be a better or worse place for America’s absence?

Through interviews with activists and scholars on the Left, D’Souza presents the five main indictments against America being told every day in high schools and colleges around the nation. They are:

  1. We stole the land from the Native Americans.
  2. We stole half of Mexico in the Mexican-American War.
  3. We stole the labor of the Africans through slavery.
  4. We steal the resources of foreign nations through our imperialistic misadventures.
  5. We steal from our own people through the greed of our capitalist economy.

Basically, America is a country built on theft. As Michelle Obama said, we are “downright mean.” We are not one nation of free men and women, but rather a system of victims and victimizers, oppressors and oppressed. These stories are told by people like Howard Zinn to make us feel shame for our country’s sins, not pride in her virtues. This shame has a purpose—to win our consent in the progressive’s dream to re-make America (to “fundamentally transform America,” as Obama has said), instead of trying to restore her core values of faith and industriousness.

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I will leave it to the film to articulate these ideas, and to D’Souza to convince you that they are oversimplified and misleading. Of course America has made mistakes. We are just as prone to greed and folly as anyone. The difference is our commitment to the idea that in America, “you write the script to your own life.” As Bono notes, we are the only nation that is also an idea. This freedom to chart your own course is the essence of the American Dream and the reason we remain the hope for the world.

Critics may accuse D’Souza of whitewashing the darker chapters in American history, but this is not the case. He simply puts them in their proper historical context. Throughout world history, most states and empires have gained their wealth though conquest and plunder. Look at the Vikings, the Mongols, and the Islamic caliphates. Slavery is, unfortunately, as old as civilization itself, and greed as old as humanity.

The Native Americans took each other’s land through territorial conflicts for centuries before we arrived, killing and enslaving as they went. 3,500 free blacks in the South owned over 10,000 slaves. While many other countries had slaves, we were the only one to fight a war to end it. Instead of plundering their resources, we lost thousands of lives and billions of dollars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan to give others a chance at freedom (as well as try to advance what we thought were our self-interests). Our capitalist system has enriched the lives of not just our own citizens, but lifted millions out of poverty in India and China.

None of this is said to excuse or minimize the atrocities in our past. America is not perfect. Like every other nation, we have our faults and we have made our fair share of mistakes. The difference is that our Founding Fathers created a framework in the Declaration of Independence that could be used over time to remedy these faults, bringing our actions ever more in line with our ideals.

Despite our imperfections, millions continue to come to our country each year, crossing oceans and risking everything to seek their chance at the American Dream. In what other nation could Frederick Douglass, born a slave, meet with the President of the United States? In what other nation could Madame C.J. Walker, the child of former slaves, become the first self-made female millionaire?

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Every year when I teach nationalism, I start by asking how many of my students (10th graders) are proud to be American. Usually about half raise their hands. Many have already accepted the lie that America is no more exceptional than any other nation, and that the United States is synonymous with stupidity and greed. This revisionist history cannot continue to be pushed without severe political and cultural consequences.

See this movie to celebrate America’s greatness, but more importantly to remember what is at stake. You won’t be sorry you did.

Last night, my husband and I saw it with about thirty others. When the credits began to roll, no one got up from their seats. It was almost as if we were afraid of the enormous responsibility awaiting us once we left the theatre, and not yet done being inspired. D’Souza quotes Ronald Reagan’s observation that ours is the only national anthem that ends in a question:

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

How we answer this question will depend in part on how well we understand the truth about our own history, and how effectively we communicate this truth to our children. Reagan also said:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

SOTU Address Exercise Game

It’s the “State of the Union” tonight, and everyone is excited to hear what Obama has to say this time. Just kidding. We all know exactly what he’s going to say. In fact, many of us (maybe projecting here) would rather listen to nails on a chalkboard for 90 minutes than have to sit through another um, er- “I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again-” lecture. But if you find yourself in the position of having to endure the SOTU address… perhaps you are a history teacher, or politics junkie, or Guantanamo Bay inmate with a particularly cruel warden… I have devised for your benefit a way to watch the SOTU and get in shape at the same time! If you are not concerned with getting a good workout, feel free to subsitute all exercises with a sip of the beverage of your choice. Let me be clear: just follow these simple rules.

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Every time Obama:

1. Issues a “call for action” … Do 10 crunches.

2. Blames the Republicans/ “Congress” for failing to act… Do 20 mountain climbers.

3. Hints that he will overstep his Constitutional authority and bypass Congress to get things done (ex: “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone”)… Do 10 push-ups.

4. Uses one of his new, focus-group tested euphemisms for income inequality (ex: “ladders of opportunity”)… Do 10 leg lifts.

5. Divides America by race, class, or gender… Do 15 squats.

6. Presents a false dichotomy and/or “straw man” argument… 20 mountain climbers.

7. Refers to an honored guest in the crowd as evidence that his policies are working… 10 sit-ups.

8. Claims that after 5 years the economy is showing signs of improvement… 10 push-ups.

9. Details how the middle class is struggling in the present economy… 25 jumping jacks.

10. Proposes an idea that has been proven not to help the middle class (ex: universal pre-K, raise minimum wage, amnesty)… 20 leg lifts.

11. Acknowledges the “bumps in the road” or “glitches” in the Obamacare rollout but vows to press on… 50 crunches.

12. Causes Joe Biden and/or John Boehner to fall asleep… 10 push-ups.

13. Apologizes to the American people for his role in the IRS, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, or NSA scandals… Run half marathon.

Should be a good workout! And remember, we only get two more of these.

It’s Time to Get Angry about Obamacare

Pissed off about Obamacare?

You should be. If you are not yet steaming mad over the ironically-named “Affordable Care Act,” then you must fall into one of three categories: the tiny fraction that will actually benefit from the new law (temporarily, and at other’s expense), those Americans still largely ignorant of its ill effects, or the docile herd of obedient citizens (“sheep-le”) who have been so thoroughly well-indoctrinated by the paternalistic hand of the federal government that one more obtrusive mandate is met with but the mildest irritation before marching dutifully along to the slaughter.

This post is directed especially at my fellow young Americans, the so-called “Millenials” or “Gen X-ers.” Many of us comprised the adoring crowds of Obama enthusiasts who bought right into the vague sentiments of hope and change that carried the most liberal and inexperienced man ever into the Oval Office. We will suffer disproportionately under the burdensome weight of Obama’s policies, not the least of which is the over six trillion dollars in new debt that has been racked up. And we’ve got over three long years left to go.

We will be paying off that expense long after the men and women who authorized it and benefited from it and won elections because of it are dead. It will remain our problem. And when our children are forced to attend underfunded schools and our bridges and roads fall into disrepair and our military lacks the strength to properly defend us against our enemies, our tax dollars will go to pay down the interest of bills racked up by previous generations. Talk about a “head start!”

So not only will Obamacare add billions of new debt to our already out-of-control federal government balance sheet, it will also cause young people to pay more for a good we are statistically the least likely to use—healthcare.

In the contest of generations, healthcare used to be the one advantage young people had over the middle aged and elderly. Older people have had time to establish themselves in careers, to invest in their homes and savings, and to benefit from generous pension plans and Social Security. I’m sure I don’t have to remind my fellow twenty-somethings and even thirty-somethings that starting a life for oneself is hard. Getting that first mortgage is hard, especially if you’re still paying off student loans from college. Trying to pay for diapers and formula and daycare for young children is expensive. As a public school teacher, I have to do all these things on a salary that is 2/3 of what the same teacher in his fifties is making, as just about the only way to get a raise as a teacher is to climb the “years of experience” ladder.

But we have—or I should say, we had—one great advantage over our parents and grandparents: our relative health. Most young people I know rarely ever go to the doctor. One day we may have to deal with cancer or heart disease or type-II diabetes or arthritis, but for many of us, these maladies lie decades into the future. I don’t mean to paint with too broad a brush, as I realize that several of my peers have already battled cancer and other serious health issues. But statistically on a whole, young people use healthcare less and at a much lower expense.

In one study, the Department of Health and Human Services found that “half of the population spends little or nothing on health care, while 5 percent of the population spends almost half of the total amount.” In 2002, the top 5% accounted for 49 percent of overall health spending, or roughly $11,487 per person, while the bottom 50% accounted for only 3% of total spending at a cost of $664 per person. The same study finds that “the elderly (age 65 and older) make up around 13% of the U.S. population, but they consumed 36% of total… expenses.”

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The entire premise of Obamacare is that the young and the healthy will be made to pay more so the old and the sick may pay less. This will be achieved in two ways.

First, health insurance companies are limited in how much they may discriminate on premiums between the sick and the healthy and the old and the young, although I’ve already demonstrated that the old and the sick account for most healthcare spending. Insurance companies must now accept patients with pre-existing conditions. How are they expected to cover the cost of the sick but by charging more for the healthy? Insurers are also prohibited from charging older people more than three times the rates of healthy young people. Again: the young pay more so the old may pay less.

At this point, it may even seem fair to say that “Yes, the young and healthy will pay more, but it’s only fair to spread the costs around.” Perhaps, unless you consider the enormous advantage that older Americans still possess in every other economic area—salary, property, retirement benefits, not coming of age in the Obama economy.

But the main way Obamacare hurts the young is by eliminating low-cost policies that don’t provide the sort of comprehensive coverage mandated by the new law. In the past, a twenty-five year old man might have preferred a cheaper policy with a high deductible that doesn’t include all the bells and whistles. Now the ten essential services all plans must cover include maternity and newborn care, mental health services and addiction treatment, and rehabilitation services and devices. And of course, birth control must be provided at no additional cost.

It all sounds good at first… who doesn’t want more coverage?! Until you ask yourself, what about the guy or gal who just wants health insurance in case of emergencies (the original purpose of insurance) and has no need for birth control, maternity care, or addiction treatment? What about people who are celibate, or are physically incapable of having children? What use do they have of maternity care? What about people who live sufficiently healthy lifestyles to not require addiction treatment or mental health counseling? More coverage comes at a higher cost.

Too bad. The government has made the decision of what healthcare coverage you need for you.

The liberal talking heads have countered that “Yes, young people will pay more, but they will also have better coverage!” As if it is up to them to decide. What if I want to eat Hamburger Helper at a cost of $5? Will the government now insist that I purchase $40 filet mignon? After all, it’s better food!

Deductibles in some plans are still $5,000 and $6,000, and bronze plans only cover 60% of costs even after reaching that threshold. With these new realities, it is entirely possible that a young person or family might decide that health insurance does not make economic sense for them any longer. Why pay as much as $1,000 in premiums per month for something that doesn’t even kick in until you’ve already coughed up $5,000? Where is that $5,000 deductible going to come from? May as well save up the money for when it is needed and pay the penalty for not having coverage.

Of course, there are the subsidies, government contributions to make premiums more affordable for low-income people. But even with the subsidies, most young people will still pay more. Also, people who have never had to rely on government largesse in the past will now find themselves dependent on Washington.

But couldn’t that be the very point of it all? Less self-sufficiency, more government dependence. Young people who grew up wanting a good-paying job or to maybe start a business will settle for staying on their parents’ plans until age 26, and after that go on the exchanges and get a first-hand lesson in how to rely on the government for your very well-being.

This brings me back to the three categories I mentioned earlier. Some people, namely the sick and low-income, will benefit initially from government subsidies. But these subsidies will not just appear out of thin air. Government can not give you anything it does not first take from someone else. What happens when that someone else is yourself? We are paying for these subsidies in the form of increased debt and burdensome taxes that have hampered job creation and limited economic growth. What one hand giveth the other taketh away.

Some may still be ignorant of the bad Obamacare news, but my guess is not for long. It’s hard not to notice when something suddenly ends up costing you double what you used to pay.

It is the third category that I worry about. How many young people will just suck it up and pay more, or pay the tax penalty, and go about their business? Just change the channel and try to think about something less maddening and more pleasant. Is this where we are now in this country that once took on the might of the British Empire over essentially a sales tax that seems modest by today’s standards? Perhaps we should change our national anthem from the “land of the free and home of the brave” to represent something more accurate… “the land of the taken care of and the home of the government dependent?” What use are freedom and bravery in these times? Both come with risks that are just too great. Better to just take a number and get in line, DMV style. Because that’s what our healthcare system is about to become.

I pray that we will rediscover the vigor and independence—the audacity, to use Obama’s one-time favorite word—of our founding generations. Maybe Obamacare is just the shot in the arm we need to realize how empty are the promises of big government liberalism and how necessary the call to action.

Ronald Reagan famously said:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was like in the United States where men were free.”

I fear I that my children will have to hear these stories at an Obamacare nursing home from my parents and not myself. Unless the government decides—as they almost inevitably do—that the elderly and sick are in fact too costly to keep alive. Then we will have indeed come full circle, as both the young and the old will suffer under the increasing equality of socialist misery.