The thirst for power.
Laura Ingalls Wilder has finally won her rightful place alongside Mark Twain and Harper Lee as the Association for Library Services to Children moves to strip her name from an award given to children’s authors.
The complaint is the familiar one: A writer rooted in the 19th Century (b. 1867) failed to anticipate the courtly etiquette of the 21st Century, in which American intellectuals and their institutions (ALSC is a division of the American Library Association) demand groveling and total conformity in thought and expression. Wilder’s violations involve “expressions of stereotypical attitudes,” in her Little House on the Prairie series, particularly in passages involving African Americans and Indians, which are “inconsistent with ALSC’s core values,” those being gutlessness and stupidity.
The same arguments have been put forward over the years in the case for the partial suppression of many of the great American works of literature. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird are the most popular targets, though authors ranging from Toni Morrison to J. D. Salinger to Joseph Heller all have had a turn in the barrel. The champions of illiteracy, which the American Library Association must now count itself among, demand that those books be removed from library shelves and stricken from school curricula. That’s not quite as dramatic as burning them at a public rally while singing hymns to the greatness and purity of the Party, but the effect is roughly the same.
It is useful to consider the intellectual character of the people calling for the suppression of books or the memory-holing of their authors. In Virginia, the charge against To Kill a Mockingbird was led by a parent named Marie Rothstein-Williams, who made this complaint: “There is so much racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can’t get past that.” The person who spoke that sentence does not have any business directing anyone else’s education in literature. If democracy demands that we defer to their judgment, then to Hell with it.
Mrs. Rothstein-Williams complained that To Kill a Mockingbird disturbed her teenaged son, who is biracial. A decently educated and halfway responsible school board member would have replied: “Good. It’s a disturbing book. It’s meant to be. You’re welcome.” The literal meaning of the word “education” is “to lead out” (from the Latin e ducere), but to lead out of what and into what? Our educators have forgotten that–if they ever knew. And so we are left with the blind leading the blind.
This is another of those paradoxes of progressivism that are mystifying until you develop cynicism sufficient to understand what they really are about: the opportunistic pursuit of power in matters momentous or petty.
On the one hand, progressives at the commanding heights of our artistic and cultural institutions insist that great art should be “transgressive,” e.g., this mess of words from Artspace: “Vagina Painting stands as an iconic Fluxus performance and has been interpreted as a key moment in feminist art . . . Underneath a ramped floor built in New York’s Sonnabend Gallery, Vito Acconci (b.1940) spent eight hours a day over three weeks crawling around and masturbating in an attempt to scatter as much of his semen as possible . . . At the conclusion of the work, Schneemann dropped her apron and pulled a thin scroll from her body that had been wound up and hidden in her vagina.”
These works, Artspace informs us, “are some of the most famous examples of contemporary artists transgressing the agreed-upon limits of safety, sanity, and decency.” The friends of the National Endowment for the Arts have argued that part of the value in the works of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano (of “Piss Christ” fame) is that they are “transgressive.” When members of Congress protested the use of federal funds to subsidize a showing of Mapplethorpe’s photographs (a self-portrait of the photographer sodomizing himself with a bullwhip particularly seized their attention), Time magazine described him as a “persecuted artist.” An article about Gloria Watkins (better known as bell hooks) in the NEA Higher Education Journal assures readers that transgression is a necessary part of education.
At the same time they are celebrating transgression, the leaders of our artistic and cultural institutions insist that every piece of art—and every artist—should live up to the ever-more-refined sensibilities of their own particular tribe, which is to say, approximately, the tastes of high-income, college-educated white people who voted for Bernie Sanders. It’s a familiar bait-and-switch: Transgression is good and necessary when it serves the Left’s ends, and the social abolition of transgression (which is what “sensitivity” means) is good when it serves the Left’s ends.
Hence, the jihad against Laura Ingalls Wilder, which far predates this episode.
Partly, it is a jihad against the Little House on the Prairie books themselves, which are popularly understood as paeans to old-fashioned Protestant virtues and the westward expansion of the United States, two things that give progressives the screeching heebie-jeebies. Partly, it is a jihad against Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, a well-known writer in her day whose silent role in the Little House books was something between editor and author. Lane, who still enjoys a following among libertarians with literary interests, was a trenchant (and cranky) critic of the New Deal who protested Social Security and war rationing, denounced Franklin Roosevelt as a dictator, and wrote as a fierce anti-Communist, having seen the ghastly results of that philosophy up close when reporting from the Soviet Union.
And so the Little House books are, in the progressive view, politically suspect. Sarah Palin was said to have adored them as a child. (Ronald Reagan, they say, preferred the television adaptation.) Judith Thurman wrote in The New Yorker in 2009:
Last June, Anita Clair Fellman, a professor emerita of history at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Virginia, published “Little House, Long Shadow,” a survey of the Wilders’ “core” beliefs, and of their influence on American political culture. Two streams of conservatism, she argues—not in themselves inherently compatible—converge in the series. One is Lane’s libertarianism, and the other is Wilder’s image of a poster family for Republican “value voters”: a devoted couple of Christian patriots and their unspoiled children; the father a heroic provider and benign disciplinarian, the mother a pious homemaker and an example of feminine self-sacrifice. (In that respect, Rose considered herself an abject failure. “My life has been arid and sterile,” she wrote, “because I have been a human being instead of a woman.”)
Fellman concludes, “The popularity of the Little House books . . . helped create a constituency for politicians like Reagan who sought to unsettle the so-called liberal consensus established by New Deal politics.” Considering the outcome of the November election, and the present debacle of laissez-faire capitalism, that popularity may have peaked. On the other hand, it may not have. Hard times whet the appetite for survival stories
(Alert readers will note the familiar question-begging in “not in themselves inherently compatible.”)
It is difficult to say how much of Lane’s libertarian politics the typical Little House reader is likely to absorb from those books. Her own accounts of the same material in Free Land and Let the Hurricane Roar offer a bleaker picture of settlers nearly destroyed by “free” land that, like most “free” things, turned out to be crushingly costly. But the stink of right-wingery is on the Little House books, and that probably is enough for the American Library Association and the other idiot children of American letters, suffocating as they are beneath the weight of their own ridiculous and infantile self-centeredness. Too egotistical to read a novel: You couldn’t even say that about poor daft old Ayn Rand.
The librarians long ago joined the brigades of little suppressors, along with the teachers and professors, the museum directors, the deans of students, and the enforcers of uniformity who, in the Orwellian style, describe their portfolios as “diversity.”
Funny word, “diversity.”
A few years ago, I was teaching at The King’s College in New York City, a Christian school that attracts a considerable number of students with rather severe religious upbringings. There was a dress code, inevitably, which was roughly “business casual.” One posted memo advised young ladies that they shouldn’t come to school dressed for a night out on the town in Manhattan, but neither should they show up dressed “like a character from Little House on the Prairie,” that look being à la mode in certain evangelical circles.
There’s transgression, and then there’s transgression, and Little House on the Prairie does not offer the fashionable kind.
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Transgression à la Mode
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The news that Hungary’s prime minister will visit Israel next week has sparked outrage from liberal Jews both in Israel and abroad. Opponents raise two main objections. One would be serious if true, but it doesn’t seem to be. The other is sheer hypocrisy–and it’s an excellent example of the way liberal Jews routinely hold Israel to standards they apply to no other country on earth.
The hypocritical objection is that Viktor Orban is an authoritarian. “Sad company to keep,” tweeted Brookings Institute fellow Tamara Cofman Wittes after hearing that Orban was definitely coming and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (who is admittedly more problematic) might be. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro also questioned the wisdom of welcoming Orban and other authoritarians. “While Israel’s unique security and other requirements understandably impel it to develop as wide a network of relationships as it can,” he said, “I think it will want to avoid finding its own democratic identity tarnished by, of its own choosing, aligning less with the club of democracies and more with this very different coalition.”
This is simply ridiculous. Aside from the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also regularly hosted liberal leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel (several times) and Barack Obama, with French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly planning to visit later this year, the reality is that most countries in the world today are authoritarian, and even a growing number of Western democracies have authoritarian leaders. Thus, any country which wants to maintain relationships with more than a handful of other countries will end up hosting a lot of authoritarian leaders, which is why every other Western democracy also does so.
In fact, other Western democracies often host leaders considerably more objectionable than Orban, and with less justification. I can understand hosting Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping despite their aggressive foreign policies; Russia and China are too important to be ignored. But just this month, Switzerland and Austria welcomed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, as did France and Italy in 2016, even though Rouhani’s government is actively abetting the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and Yemen and brutally crushing dissent at home. That’s far worse than hosting Orban, whose government isn’t killing anyone.
Moreover, Hungary is genuinely important to Israel’s core foreign policy interests, since it has repeatedly helped quash anti-Israel decisions by Israel’s largest trading partner, the European Union. What vital contributions does Iran make to Europe’s core interests that justify overlooking its complicity in mass murder?
In short, liberal Jews are criticizing Israel for doing exactly what every other Western democracy does—except that other Western countries are even more egregious, and with fewer excuses.
Now let’s consider the serious objection, which is that Orban foments anti-Semitism in Hungary. Most Israelis would agree that their government shouldn’t whitewash anti-Semitism; that’s why Netanyahu’s recent statement downplaying Poland’s role in the Holocaust sparked outrage far beyond the ranks of his usual opponents. If true, this charge would be a valid reason to oppose Orban’s visit.
The problem is that the evidence doesn’t support it. That isn’t because Hungary has no anti-Semitism problem; indeed, a major study published last month showed that almost two-thirds of Hungarian Jews think it does. Moreover, Orban has undeniably made some problematic statements.
Nevertheless, the study found an objective and significant improvement over the past 18 years, almost half of which were under Orban’s rule. For instance, the number of Jews who reported hearing anti-Semitic remarks in the street dropped from an astronomical 75 percent in 1999 to 48 percent (still outrageously high) last year, while the number who reported experiencing three or more anti-Semitic incidents fell from 16 to 6 percent.
This jibes with JTA’s in-depth report on Hungarian anti-Semitism earlier last month. In light of the data cited above, the fact that the Hungarian Jewish community’s anti-Semitism watchdog, TEV, recorded just 37 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 (down from 48 in 2016) only shows that anti-Semitic comments are massively underreported. What was noteworthy, however, is that not a single reported incident involved violence.
By comparison, reporter Cnaan Liphshiz noted, the United Kingdom, with a Jewish population only about 2.5 times that of Hungary, recorded 145 physical assaults in its total of 1,382 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017. Austria, with a Jewish population less than a tenth of Hungary’s, recorded five cases of physical violence among its 503 anti-Semitic incidents last year—and, incidentally, that was under a left-wing government led by the Social Democrats. Conservative Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz took power only in December 2017.
Thus, Jews in Britain or Austria were far more likely to suffer anti-Semitic violence than their Hungarian brethren. Indeed, unlike their counterparts in, say, France or Belgium, Jews with beards and kippahs told Liphshiz they feel safe walking Hungary’s streets.
Hungarian Jewish community leaders also said a 2014 revision of the legal code enacted by Orban’s government significantly increased prosecution and punishment of anti-Semitic offenses. “It was a big step forward,” said TEV’s secretary-general, Kalman Szalai. Nor, incidentally, did the Jewish leaders Liphshiz interviewed think Orban’s attacks on George Soros—Exhibit A in most liberal Jewish indictments of Orban—were anti-Semitic (a point I made last year).
In other words, as Szalai said, “It’s not that Hungary doesn’t have anti-Semitism . . . But it also has little to no anti-Semitic violence, and responsive authorities in the judiciary, the police force and also in government.” All of which makes it hard to argue that Orban should be shunned as a dangerous anti-Semite. That is, unless you think, as liberal Jews increasingly seem to do, that right-wing authoritarians are by definition dangerous anti-Semites.
And once you remove the straw man of anti-Semitism, you’re left with the double standard in all its glory: Israel alone has no right to host authoritarian leaders important to its interests, even as other Western democracies routinely host worse leaders with less justification. By insisting that Israel shouldn’t host Orban, liberal Jews are effectively saying that Israel, alone of all the countries of the world, has no right to conduct a normal foreign policy.
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The Iran deal haunts its sponsors.
In a rare lucid moment in January 2016, then-Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that the Tehran regime would use some of the funds from the Iranian nuclear deal to fund terrorism.
“I think that some of [the money] will end up in the hands of the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] or other entities, some of which are labeled terrorists,” he said in the interview with CNBC in Davos. “You know, to some degree, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that every component of that can be prevented.” It’s worth watching footage of the interview to observe Kerry’s nonchalance as if the possibility of transferring money to some of the world’s most lethal terrorist groups bothered him not in the least.
Flash forward more than two years later, and Reuters reports:
Germany’s federal prosecutor on Wednesday remanded in custody an Iranian diplomat suspected of having been involved in a plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in France but said the suspect could still be extradited to Belgium.
Belgium is already investigating two Belgians of Iranian origin arrested earlier this month for plotting an explosive attack on the annual “Great Assembly” of Iranian opposition exiles last month on the outskirts of Paris.
In a statement, the German federal prosecutor said the Austria-based Iranian diplomat is suspected of commissioning a couple living in Antwerp to carry out the attack and providing them with a detonation device and homemade explosive TATP.
Mercifully, European security forces unraveled the plot before the attack took place. But imagine if they had failed. Imagine the blood spilled and body parts scattered outside a rubbled convention center in Paris; the smoke rising high above the densely populated urban core of the French capital. Now think back to Kerry’s arrogance and indifference to what it would mean for the U.S. and its allies to grease the wheels of Iran’s terror machine.
Say what you will about President Trump’s penchant for hyperbole, but his characterization of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action–“the worst deal ever”–was spot on.
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Hypocrisy is no obstacle.
In the early days of “The Resistance,” back when the movement was purportedly focused on forming broad coalitions that spanned ideological divides, it was common to hear its members lament Donald Trump’s assault on treasured American norms and conventions. The patina of legitimacy this organizing principle lent to the anti-Trump left’s more unsavory members and tactics is no longer operative. For the power-starved left, it seems that those norms and conventions are part of the problem.
Among the norms not codified in law that nevertheless buttress the power-sharing relationships that have preserved the republic’s stability for decades is the Supreme Court’s balanced number of justices, which has stood at nine for nearly 150 years. The panic that tore through liberal ranks following Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement led the left to exhume one of the Democratic Party’s worst ideas: court packing.
It’s not entirely clear what kind of strategy liberals have devised to ensure that Democrats and only Democrats would get to dilute the conservative majority’s influence, but they sure are passionate about it. And this is not a fringe movement. From far-left websites like The Outline, Paste, and Jacobin to mainstream liberal venues like the Huffington Post and the Washington Post opinion page, resurrecting the idea that contributed to the GOP’s astounding victories in the 1938 midterm elections is just what the doctor ordered.
The Court is one of three branches now dedicated to advancing the “ideology and agenda of international fascism,” Huffington Post political reporter Zach Carter insisted. Roosevelt University political science professor David Faris penned an elaborate fantasy in which Democrats regain the presidency and Congress, the “illegitimate” Justice Neil Gorsuch resigns, and both parties agree to support a constitutional amendment to end lifetime appointments to the bench. To claim that boosting the number of justices on the nation’s high court was not a controversial proposal, Vox.com’s Dylan Matthews cited precedent established in Mussolini’s Italy. Seriously. “Court-packing is a tool,” he wrote, “it can be used for authoritarian ends, or for democratic ones.” Presumably, you are supposed to trust that the people advocating court packing to achieve that which they cannot through the political process are not the authoritarians here.
It isn’t just the Supreme Court’s organization but the U.S. Constitution itself that becomes a source of liberal consternation whenever Democrats are out of power. Specifically, the U.S. Senate, which is resistant to proportionality by the Founders’ design, has also supposedly become a tool of despotism.
“I want to repeat a statistic I use in every talk,” American Enterprise Institute scholar and Atlantic editor Norm Ornstein began. “[B]y 2040 or so, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states. Meaning 30 percent will choose 70 senators. And the 30 [percent] will be older, whiter, more rural, more male than the 70 percent.” He concluded that this was, “unsettling, to say the least,” though it is telling that he felt comfortable describing the collective habits of a group that is defined by a common gender and race in negative terms without any fear of blowback. As for Ornstein’s condemnation of the Senate’s lack of proportionality, the AEI scholar is practically coy in comparison to those on the left.
Take, for example, Ian Millhiser, who recently penned a hysterical screed on the subject. Originally headlined “In U.S. Senate elections, people of color count as 3/4s of a person,” the Center for American Progress’s blog wisely ditched the racial agitation and settled on claiming that the upper chamber of Congress is “facing a legitimacy crisis.” Why? Because of the way it has been structured since the Constitution was ratified. Indeed, without making the Senate unresponsive to population shifts, it’s unlikely that the Constitution would have been ratified in the first place. The compromise that produced the nation’s bicameral legislature was a stroke of American brilliance that yielded not only the nation’s founding charter but the Bill of Rights, the subsequent amendments, and the flourishing of human rights they enabled. To Millhiser, though, the Senate is racist because minorities tend to sort into shared communities and, therefore, receive less representation in the upper chamber.
Reforming or abolishing the Senate altogether isn’t a new idea for the left, but it tends only to rise to the fore when Democrats are in the minority. They do not dwell on Article V of the Constitution, which declares “that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” Since no state is likely to consent to its disenfranchisement, this isn’t going to happen anytime soon. But of course, not all of the left’s coup fantasies are unfeasible or even unpopular.
The move to abolish the Electoral College received new momentum following Donald Trump’s unlikely presidential victory, but the campaign to transform the presidency into the product of pure democracy is an old one. As of May, 11 states and the District of Columbia have signed onto the nonbinding National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which would effectively eliminate the Electoral College by compelling a state to apportion its votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote. It’s no coincidence that the only states that have adopted this anti-republican measure vote reliably Democratic on the presidential level. This legally dubious campaign has the support of liberals ranging from Robert Reich to Al Gore to the New York Times editorial board (you guessed it: the Electoral College is racist). Even Hillary Clinton has managed to overcome the shame associated with advocating the abolition of the institution that cost her the presidency in order to support this proposal.
Any fair-minded observer must conclude that the left’s appeal to the sacred inviolability of America’s cherished norms was only another convenient avenue for regaining power. There is no convention or settled principle so sacred that it cannot be attacked in the name of “progress.”
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Podcast: The pro-and anti-Trump conservative debate.
Brit Hume argues on Twitter: “I suppose you can also be pro-tax cuts, pro-deregulation, pro-defense increases, pro-gun rights, pro-life and anti-Trump. But at some point, it begins to seem ridiculous.” John McCormack of the Weekly Standard ripostes: “I suppose you can oppose sexual assault, conspiracy theories, lying, adultery, mocking American POWs, sanitizing dictators & white supremacists, and still be pro-Trump. But at some point, it begins to seem ridiculous.” This perfect distillation of the fight on the Right is the subject of maybe the best podcast we’ve ever done. Give a listen.
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