UC Berkeley History Professor’s Open Letter Against BLM, Police Brutality, and Cultural Orthodoxy

Dear profs X, Y, Z

I am one of your colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley. I have met you both personally but do not know you closely, and am contacting you anonymously, with apologies. I am worried that writing this email publicly might lead to me losing my job, and likely all future jobs in my field.

In your recent departmental emails you mentioned our pledge to diversity, but I am increasingly alarmed by the absence of diversity of opinion on the topic of the recent protests and our community response to them.

In the extended links and resources you provided, I could not find a single instance of substantial counter-argument or alternative narrative to explain the under-representation of black individuals in academia or their over- representation in the criminal justice system. The explanation provided in your documentation, to the near exclusion of all others, is univariate: the problems of the black community are caused by whites, or, when whites are not physically present, by the infiltration of white supremacy and white systemic racism into American brains, souls, and institutions.

Many cogent objections to this thesis have been raised by sober voices, including from within the black community itself, such as Thomas Sowell and Wilfred Reilly. These people are not racists or ‘Uncle Toms’. They are intelligent scholars who reject a narrative that strips black people of agency and systematically externalizes the problems of the black community onto outsiders. Their view is entirely absent from the departmental and UCB-wide communiques.

The claim that the difficulties that the black community faces are entirely causally explained by exogenous factors in the form of white systemic racism, white supremacy, and other forms of white discrimination remains a problematic hypothesis that should be vigorously challenged by historians. Instead, it is being treated as an axiomatic and actionable truth without serious consideration of its profound flaws, or its worrying implication of total black impotence. This hypothesis is transforming our institution and our culture, without any space for dissent outside of a tightly policed, narrow discourse.

A counternarrative exists. If you have time, please consider examining some of the documents I attach at the end of this email. Overwhelmingly, the reasoning provided by BLM and allies is either primarily anecdotal (as in the case with the bulk of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ undeniably moving article) or it is transparently motivated. As an example of the latter problem, consider the proportion of black incarcerated Americans. This proportion is often used to characterize the criminal justice system as anti-black. However, if we use the precise same methodology, we would have to conclude that the criminal justice system is even more anti-male than it is anti-black.

Would we characterize criminal justice as a systemically misandrist conspiracy against innocent American men? I hope you see that this type of reasoning is flawed, and requires a significant suspension of our rational faculties. Black people are not incarcerated at higher rates than their involvement in violent crime would predict. This fact has been demonstrated multiple times across multiple jurisdictions in multiple countries.

And yet, I see my department uncritically reproducing a narrative that diminishes black agency in favor of a white-centric explanation that appeals to the department’s apparent desire to shoulder the ‘white man’s burden’ and to promote a narrative of white guilt.

If we claim that the criminal justice system is white-supremacist, why is it that Asian Americans, Indian Americans, and Nigerian Americans are incarcerated at vastly lower rates than white Americans? This is a funny sort of white supremacy. Even Jewish Americans are incarcerated less than gentile whites. I think it’s fair to say that your average white supremacist disapproves of Jews. And yet, these alleged white supremacists incarcerate gentiles at vastly higher rates than Jews. None of this is addressed in your literature. None of this is explained, beyond hand-waving and ad hominems. “Those are racist dogwhistles”. “The model minority myth is white supremacist”. “Only fascists talk about black-on-black crime”, ad nauseam.

These types of statements do not amount to counterarguments: they are simply arbitrary offensive classifications, intended to silence and oppress discourse. Any serious historian will recognize these for the silencing orthodoxy tactics they are, common to suppressive regimes, doctrines, and religions throughout time and space. They are intended to crush real diversity and permanently exile the culture of robust criticism from our department.

Increasingly, we are being called upon to comply and subscribe to BLM’s problematic view of history, and the department is being presented as unified on the matter. In particular, ethnic minorities are being aggressively marshaled into a single position. Any apparent unity is surely a function of the fact that dissent could almost certainly lead to expulsion or cancellation for those of us in a precarious position, which is no small number.

I personally don’t dare speak out against the BLM narrative, and with this barrage of alleged unity being mass-produced by the administration, tenured professoriat, the UC administration, corporate America, and the media, the punishment for dissent is a clear danger at a time of widespread economic vulnerability. I am certain that if my name were attached to this email, I would lose my job and all future jobs, even though I believe in and can justify every word I type.

The vast majority of violence visited on the black community is committed by black people. There are virtually no marches for these invisible victims, no public silences, no heartfelt letters from the UC regents, deans, and departmental heads. The message is clear: Black lives only matter when whites take them. Black violence is expected and insoluble, while white violence requires explanation and demands solution. Please look into your hearts and see how monstrously bigoted this formulation truly is.

No discussion is permitted for nonblack victims of black violence, who proportionally outnumber black victims of nonblack violence. This is especially bitter in the Bay Area, where Asian victimization by black assailants has reached epidemic proportions, to the point that the SF police chief has advised Asians to stop hanging good-luck charms on their doors, as this attracts the attention of (overwhelmingly black) home invaders. Home invaders like George Floyd. For this actual, lived, physically experienced reality of violence in the USA, there are no marches, no tearful emails from departmental heads, no support from McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. For the History department, our silence is not a mere abrogation of our duty to shed light on the truth: it is a rejection of it.

The claim that black intraracial violence is the product of redlining, slavery, and other injustices is a largely historical claim. It is for historians, therefore, to explain why Japanese internment or the massacre of European Jewry hasn’t led to equivalent rates of dysfunction and low SES performance among Japanese and Jewish Americans respectively. Arab Americans have been viciously demonized since 9/11, as have Chinese Americans more recently. However, both groups outperform white Americans on nearly all SES indices – as do Nigerian Americans, who incidentally have black skin. It is for historians to point out and discuss these anomalies. However, no real discussion is possible in the current climate at our department. The explanation is provided to us, disagreement with it is racist, and the job of historians is to further explore additional ways in which the explanation is additionally correct. This is a mockery of the historical profession.

Most troublingly, our department appears to have been entirely captured by the interests of the Democratic National Convention, and the Democratic Party more broadly. To explain what I mean, consider what happens if you choose to donate to Black Lives Matter, an organization UCB History has explicitly promoted in its recent mailers. All donations to the official BLM website are immediately redirected to ActBlue Charities, an organization primarily concerned with bankrolling election campaigns for Democrat candidates. Donating to BLM today is to indirectly donate to Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign. This is grotesque given the fact that the American cities with the worst rates of black-on-black violence and police-on-black violence are overwhelmingly Democrat-run. Minneapolis itself has been entirely in the hands of Democrats for over five decades; the ‘systemic racism’ there was built by successive Democrat administrations.

The patronizing and condescending attitudes of Democrat leaders towards the black community, exemplified by nearly every Biden statement on the black race, all but guarantee a perpetual state of misery, resentment, poverty, and the attendant grievance politics which are simultaneously annihilating American political discourse and black lives. And yet, donating to BLM is bankrolling the election campaigns of men like Mayor Frey, who saw their cities devolve into violence. This is a grotesque capture of a good- faith movement for necessary police reform, and of our department, by a political party. Even worse, there are virtually no avenues for dissent in academic circles. I refuse to serve the Party, and so should you.

The total alliance of major corporations involved in human exploitation with BLM should be a warning flag to us, and yet this damning evidence goes unnoticed, purposefully ignored, or perversely celebrated. We are the useful idiots of the wealthiest classes, carrying water for Jeff Bezos and other actual, real, modern-day slavers. Starbucks, an organisation using literal black slaves in its coffee plantation suppliers, is in favor of BLM. Sony, an organisation using cobalt mined by yet more literal black slaves, many of whom are children, is in favor of BLM. And so, apparently, are we. The absence of counter-narrative enables this obscenity. Fiat lux, indeed.

There also exists a large constituency of what can only be called ‘race hustlers’: hucksters of all colors who benefit from stoking the fires of racial conflict to secure administrative jobs, charity management positions, academic jobs and advancement, or personal political entrepreneurship.

Given the direction our history department appears to be taking far from any commitment to truth, we can regard ourselves as a formative training institution for this brand of snake-oil salespeople. Their activities are corrosive, demolishing any hope at harmonious racial coexistence in our nation and colonizing our political and institutional life. Many of their voices are unironically segregationist.

MLK would likely be called an Uncle Tom if he spoke on our campus today. We are training leaders who intend, explicitly, to destroy one of the only truly successful ethnically diverse societies in modern history. As the PRC, an ethnonationalist and aggressively racially chauvinist national polity with null immigration and no concept of jus solis increasingly presents itself as the global political alternative to the US, I ask you: Is this wise? Are we really doing the right thing?

As a final point, our university and department has made multiple statements celebrating and eulogizing George Floyd. Floyd was a multiple felon who once held a pregnant black woman at gunpoint. He broke into her home with a gang of men and pointed a gun at her pregnant stomach. He terrorized the women in his community. He sired and abandoned multiple children, playing no part in their support or upbringing, failing one of the most basic tests of decency for a human being. He was a drug-addict and sometime drug-dealer, a swindler who preyed upon his honest and hard-working neighbors.

And yet, the regents of UC and the historians of the UCB History department are celebrating this violent criminal, elevating his name to virtual sainthood. A man who hurt women. A man who hurt black women. With the full collaboration of the UCB history department, corporate America, most mainstream media outlets, and some of the wealthiest and most privileged opinion-shaping elites of the USA, he has become a culture hero, buried in a golden casket, his (recognized) family showered with gifts and praise. Americans are being socially pressured into kneeling for this violent, abusive misogynist. A generation of black men are being coerced into identifying with George Floyd, the absolute worst specimen of our race and species.

I’m ashamed of my department. I would say that I’m ashamed of both of you, but perhaps you agree with me, and are simply afraid, as I am, of the backlash of speaking the truth. It’s hard to know what kneeling means, when you have to kneel to keep your job.

It shouldn’t affect the strength of my argument above, but for the record, I write as a person of color. My family have been personally victimized by men like Floyd. We are aware of the condescending depredations of the Democrat party against our race. The humiliating assumption that we are too stupid to do STEM, that we need special help and lower requirements to get ahead in life, is richly familiar to us. I sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to deal with open fascists, who at least would be straightforward in calling me a subhuman, and who are unlikely to share my race.

The ever-present soft bigotry of low expectations and the permanent claim that the solutions to the plight of my people rest exclusively on the goodwill of whites rather than on our own hard work is psychologically devastating. No other group in America is systematically demoralized in this way by its alleged allies. A whole generation of black children are being taught that only by begging and weeping and screaming will they get handouts from guilt-ridden whites.

No message will more surely devastate their futures, especially if whites run out of guilt, or indeed if America runs out of whites. If this had been done to Japanese Americans, or Jewish Americans, or Chinese Americans, then Chinatown and Japantown would surely be no different to the roughest parts of Baltimore and East St. Louis today. The History department of UCB is now an integral institutional promulgator of a destructive and denigrating fallacy about the black race.

I hope you appreciate the frustration behind this message. I do not support BLM. I do not support the Democrat grievance agenda and the Party’s uncontested capture of our department. I do not support the Party co-opting my race, as Biden recently did in his disturbing interview, claiming that voting Democrat and being black are isomorphic. I condemn the manner of George Floyd’s death and join you in calling for greater police accountability and police reform. However, I will not pretend that George Floyd was anything other than a violent misogynist, a brutal man who met a predictably brutal end.

I also want to protect the practice of history. Cleo is no grovelling handmaiden to politicians and corporations. Like us, she is free.

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The Moral Asymmetry of Progressivism

From VDH:

Hillary Clinton in recent months has done the following:

She charged UCLA somewhere around $300,000 for reciting some platitudes. That works out to over $165 a second for her 30 minutes on stage — meaning that she made more in one minute than a student barista does in a year.

Ms. Clinton acknowledges that, while secretary of state, she solicited donations from wealthy foreign nationals for her family foundation, whose funds she and her husband have frequently tapped for exclusive travel and other expenses.

Everything Ms. Clinton has said recently seems to be demonstrably untrue: Only one of her grandparents, not all four, was an immigrant. One does not need to have two smartphones to have two e-mail accounts. She did not regularly e-mail her husband. One does not secure a server by having a guard on the premises. A cabinet officer does not communicate exclusively on a private e-mail account via a private unsecured server. High government officials do not themselves adjudicate which e-mails are private and which public — and then wipe clean their accounts to avoid an audit of such decision-making.

The multimillionaire Ms. Clinton, fresh from jabs against hedge funds and inordinate CEO pay, also just bought lunch at a fast-food restaurant and left no tip in the jar, before parking her car in a handicapped zone at another stop. How is all this connected?

Ms. Clinton’s private ethics are, as usual, a mess, both in the sense of failing to follow legal protocols and tell the truth, and in the less formal sense of price-gouging cash-strapped universities, failing to show some tiny generosity to the working classes, and abusing accommodations intended to help the disabled.

But Ms. Clinton’s public ethics are loud and clear: She damns the effects of private money in polluting politics; she is furious about Wall Street profit-making; she is worried about the compensation of the struggling middle class. Indeed, so concerned is Hillary Clinton about the pernicious role of big money and the easy ability of our elites to make huge profits without traditional sweat and toil that she might well have to lecture her own son-in-law, who manages a multimillion-dollar hedge fund. Or better yet, Ms. Clinton’s advisers might warn her that in order to stop the pernicious role of big money in politics, she may be forced to top Barack Obama’s record fund-raising and rake in an anticipated $2.5 billion for the 2016 election.

Is there a pattern here? The more Hillary Clinton sounds cosmically egalitarian and caring, the more she acts privately like a stingy 1 percenter who does not consider that the laws and protocols that apply to other people must apply to herself. This is probably no accident, given that the quest for cosmic justice usually empowers private injustice.

The provost of Stanford University recently wrote a letter to campus faculty and staff to address a perceived epidemic of student cheating. One report had suggested that 20 percent of the students in a large introductory course were suspected of exam misconduct. At about the same time as this new alarm, Stanford students had one of their customarily raucous meetings, in which student-body officials voted to urge the university to divest from many companies doing business with Israel. Does democratic Israel pose a greater moral challenge to Stanford students than their own propensity to lie and cheat in order to promote their careers? Are there more courses taught at Stanford on Aristotle’s Ethics or on race/class/gender -isms and -ologies?

I just received another of the periodic reminders from the university that all faculty and staff who have assistants must complete sexual-harassment training. Indeed, walk across the Stanford plaza or peruse the catalogue of courses, and it is clear that Stanford students are inundated with therapeutic instruction on how to think properly about race, class, gender, and global warming — on how to think correctly about everything in the abstract, but not on how to think about how to take a test honestly. How can such sophisticated moralists be prone to such unsophisticated sins as cheating? In such a postmodern landscape, how can there be vestiges of pre-modern wrongdoing? Anyone who regularly parks a bicycle on the Stanford campus — renowned for its efforts to encourage green energy — with a modest bike cable, rather a heavy steel security system, in due time will have it stolen. Is that called postmodern theft?

As a professor in the California State University system for 21 years, I noted two developments. Therapeutic-studies courses increased at a rapid clip, but even more so did cheating — especially with the advent of new technology. Nothing is more surreal than reading a student’s boilerplate critiques of traditional American culture — and with a brief Google search finding his sentences lifted word for word from the Internet.

I am not suggesting that there is a direct connection between the new political correctness and an epidemic of personal dishonesty — only that at best the former has done nothing to discourage the latter, and at worst PC seems to delude students into thinking that if they are morally correct on universal issues, then they deserve some pass on what they consider minor fudging in their own particular lives. How can one effectively fight racism or global warming if one does not use the tools at one’s disposal to get an influential job upon graduation?

Of course, everyone can be hypocritical at times. But this new epidemic of progressive personal asymmetry is a bit different from what we were accustomed to not so long ago. Bill Clinton can hang with a man convicted of soliciting an underage girl for prostitution, and fly on his private plane, which is customarily stocked with bought pleasure girls — but only if he reassures us that he is a committed feminist. Harvard faculty can lecture us on our ethical shortcomings, while they outsource classes to grad students and adjuncts who are making a fraction of their own compensation per course. They are loud supporters of unionization everywhere but among graduate students and part-timers at Harvard.

Frequent White House guest Al Sharpton is a tax cheat, a homophobe, and an inciter of riot and mayhem, with a long history of racial disparagement. But he knows that all that private sin is contextualized by his loud sermonizing on the supposed racism of white America. Eric Holder can fly his daughters and their boyfriends to the Belmont Stakes on a government jet — but only because he is Eric Holder, who periodically blasts America’s supposed ethical reactionaries. Is progressivism among our elites now mostly a careerist con game? Ask departed cabinet officers like Lisa Jackson or Hilda Solis whether their own ethical lapses were overshadowed by their politically correct politics.

According to the laws of feminism, women should not latch onto ambitious alpha males to enhance their own professional trajectories; certainly they do not put up with chronically two-timing husbands either for the continuance of financial security or because of worries about the viability of their own careers. Yet Hillary seems to think that her loud feminist credentials are a sort of insurance policy, preventing anyone from daring to accuse her of accepting the gender roles of the 1950s.

The danger of the new hard-left progressivism is that the old sins of greed, connivance, and malfeasance are now offset by assertions of cosmic morality. The ostentatiously green Solyndra could hardly be thought of as shaking down operators in the Obama administration to provide a sweetheart loan for the crony-capitalist architects of a money-losing mess. Al Gore is so worried about how corporate culture promotes damage to the planet that he was forced to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars for his own green corporations to warn us about other such cynics. He is so shocked about CO2 emissions and the global petroleum culture that he unloaded his underperforming and overpriced cable channel to a carbon-exporting, anti-Jewish autocratic sheikhdom that paid him handsomely with its petrodollars.

Michelle and Barack Obama are so concerned about global warming that not long ago they left two huge carbon footprints, when simultaneously they took separate government jumbo jets to fly out to Los Angeles to appear on separate talk shows. This was worthy of Leonardo DiCaprio, who on his private jet flew to conferences on the carbon excesses of hoi polloi. Elizabeth Warren is so committed to a fair and just society where egalitarianism is the shared goal, and where we assume that no one creates anything without the government, that she and her husband often augmented the generous incomes from their Harvard law professorships with lucrative corporate consulting to achieve 1 percenter status, with nearly $1 million in annual income.

The avatars of modern progressivism are not distinguishable in the lives that they live from the targets of their attack. Those on campus who talk the most loudly of the bane of white privilege at Harvard or Stanford do not live like poor whites in Tulare or El Paso, who have no privilege, racial or financial. The pajama-boy progressives of Cambridge or Menlo Park can enjoy their white privilege freely — but only by damning it in others. (Do such young campus auditors ever drive down to a Bakersfield brake shop to explain to its grease-smeared mechanics in the pit that, being white, they enjoy too much racial advantage?) The Obamas and the progressive black elite have to decry stereotyping, profiling, and the prejudices of low expectations; only by such preemptive doublespeak can they jet to horse races with impunity or put their children in Sidwell Friends rather than in the Washington, D.C., public schools.

The Left created a culture of pajama-boy elites, one that sought cosmic absolution for its own privilege by attacking the less privileged — and then they called this ethical desert progressivism.

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Moral Manipulation

From Jason Riley:

Ferguson, Mo., in 2015 is not Selma, Ala., in 1965. Black people in America today are much more likely to experience racial preferences than racial slights. The violent crime that is driving the black incarceration rate spiked after the civil-rights victories of the 1960s, not before. And if voter-ID laws threaten the black franchise, no one seems to have told the black electorate. According to the Census Bureau, the black voter-turnout rate in 2012 exceeded the white turnout rate, even in states with the strictest voter-ID requirements.

The socioeconomic problems that blacks face today have nothing to do with civil-rights barriers and nearly everything to do with a black subculture that rejects certain attitudes and behaviors that are conducive to upward mobility. Yet Mr. Obama has a political interest—and the civil-rights industry has a vested interest—in pretending that the opposite is true.

“Liberalism in the twenty-first century is, for the most part, a moral manipulation that exaggerates inequity and unfairness in American life in order to justify overreaching public policies and programs,” writes the Hoover Institution’s Shelby Steele in “Shame,” his timely new book on political polarization and race relations in the U.S. This liberalism, he adds, is “not much interested in addressing discrimination case by case; rather, it assumes that all minorities and women are systematically discriminated against so that only government-enforced preferential policies for these groups—across the entire society—can bring us close to equity.”

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The Madness of 2008

“Perhaps [Barack Obama’s] greatest achievement has been running as a candidate with an image wholly incompatible with what he has actually been doing for decades. This man, who is now supposedly going to “unite” us, has for years worked hand in glove, and contributed both his own money and the taxpayers’ money, to people who have sought to divide us in the most crude, demagogic ways.”
— Thomas Sowell, 2008

America, we told you so:

America is suddenly angry at the laxity, incompetence, and polarizing politics of the Obama administration, the bad optics of the president putting about in his bright golf clothes while the world burns. Certainly, no recent president has failed on so many fronts — honesty, transparency, truthfulness, the economy, foreign policy, the duties of the commander-in-chief, executive responsibilities, and spiritual leadership.

For those who are “shocked” at the present meltdown, of a magnitude not seen since the annus horribilis of 1979, in their defense: Obama certainly did not campaign on a new health-care plan that would force Americans to give up the doctors they liked and their existing coverage, while raising premiums and deductibles, while giving exemptions for insiders and cronies, and while raising the deficit.

Nor did we hear on the campaign trail that Obama would push gay marriage, open borders, near-permanent zero interest rates, six consecutive $1 trillion deficits, and record food-stamp and Social Security disability payouts. He criticized Bush for relatively minor executive orders, suggesting that he would never rule by fiat — as he since has done in matters of Obamacare, immigration law, and environmental regulations. Remember the promise of ending the revolving door and stopping aides from cashing in — and then follow the post-administration careers of Obama’s closest advisers.

Obama promised to halve the deficit — not run up more red ink than almost all prior presidents combined. Indeed, he once as a senator voted against raising the debt limit and blasted Bush for borrowing from China. He once sermonized to us that the presidency is serious stuff, that it entails inordinate personal sacrifice and even a virtual absence of downtime and vacation — and then he became just the sort of president he was critiquing. But those deceptions were simply politics as usual, and it was logical for the hard leftist Barack Obama to try to appear to be a moderate, given that no Northern liberal had won the presidency in the half-century since John F. Kennedy.

The antidote to the great madness of 2008 would have been, instead of focusing on what Obama claimed or hedged, simply to recall what he had done before he ran for president and to notice what he did during the campaign. Had America done that, there would never have been a President Obama to surprise us now.

The racial animosity characterized by Obama’s editorializing about Skip Gates, Trayvon Martin, and, now, the Ferguson, Mo., hysteria, or his call to Latinos to “punish our enemies,” or the tenure of Eric Holder is simply a continuation of 2008’s “typical white person,” the clingers speech, Michelle Obama’s America as “just downright mean,” “They raise the bar,” and “For the first time . . . I’m really proud of my country” commentaries, and of Obama’s earlier boast that he never missed services at the Trinity Church of the hate-mongering and anti-Semitic Reverend Jeremiah Wright. If Obama had not proved to be a racial divider, we should have been surprised — given what we learned of his past in 2008. After all, it’s from Jeremiah Wright that Barack Obama got the title for his campaign brief, “The Audacity of Hope.”

We are now shocked at the current spate of alphabetic scandals — IRS, AP, NSA, VA. But why are we surprised, given that Obama never told the truth about his relationships with the old terrorist Bill Ayers and former PLO ad hoc spokesman Rashid Khalidi, or about the creepy land deal with the crook Tony Rezko? If the Obama White House demonized the Tea Party as tea-baggers, or compared the Republican House opposition to terrorists and arsonists, why should we be astonished, given how he was elected to the U.S. Senate? Quite mysteriously, his primary opponent, Blair Hull, and his general-election opponent, Jack Ryan, both of whom were favored to win, had their confidential divorce records leaked. Their campaigns subsequently imploded.

Obama has played fast and loose with ethical rules, from promoting crony capitalists to attending near-constant fundraisers among the pay-to-play 0.0001 percent. Again, why should we be surprised, given that he was the first presidential candidate who refused in a general election to accept federal campaign financing, with its accompanying rules curbing mega-fundraising? Obama was the largest recipient of Goldman Sachs donations in the company’s history, and raised more cash in 2008 and 2012 than any other presidential candidate in history.

We are terrified of the chaos that is spreading across the world: Egypt, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Putin’s Russia, and the Chinese–Japanese tensions. But was there any evidence in 2008 that rookie senator Obama had any foreign-policy experience or even knowledge of the world beyond Chicago, other than as a boy in Indonesia or a teen on a jaunt with buddies to Pakistan? We knew in 2008 that his opportunistic trashing of Guantánamo, renditions, tribunals, drones, and preventive detention was permitted only by the fact that the Bush–Cheney protocols he was criticizing had prevented another 9/11-like attack — and thus gave him the leeway of easy second-guessing. If we are now worried about Obama’s equivocation, there was plenty of evidence, as Hillary Clinton pointed out in 2008, that Obama as a state legislator had voted “Present” as a matter of habit.

Polarization? Partisanship? The National Journal warned us in 2008 that Obama was the most partisan of the 100 U.S. senators. Did we assume that he would revert to something that he never had been?

Critics are angry that Obama seems disengaged, or that as a man of the people he is inordinately obsessed with golf, a sport that the Left used to despise as a fixation of the rich in their lime-green pants and bright pink polo shirts. But again, can we point to any landmark legislation that Obama accomplished as a state legislator or U.S. senator? Was not Obama golfing during the 2008 campaign?

Then there is the matter of the presidential untruths. The problem is not just that Barack Obama says things that are untrue but that he lies about what Barack Obama has said. He brags that he set red lines, but then he says it was the U.N. had set red lines. He boasts of pulling out every U.S. soldier from Iraq but then alleges that President Bush, the Iraqis, or Maliki did that. He claims that ISIS are Jayvees but then claims they are serious. But his prevarication too is habitual and was known in 2008 when it was discovered that he had simply misled the nation about his relationships with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers. He had no desire, in the transparent manner of John Kerry, Al Gore, John McCain, or George W. Bush, to release his medical records or college transcripts. If Americans find their president ill-informed, there was no record that he was informed in 2008. His gaffes were far more frequent than those of Sarah Palin, who knew there were 50 states.

Historians will look back at 2008 as a time when the country became more or less collectively unhinged. There was an accompanying perfect storm of sorts: He was the first serious African-American candidate, whom condescending liberals like Harry Reid and Joe Biden heralded for being clean, light-skinned, and without a black patois; he was running in an orphaned election without an incumbent vice president or president on the other side’s ticket, a situation not seen since 1952; we had an unpopular lame-duck president and the Iraq war; the sudden financial meltdown in September 2008 caused a then-behind Obama to immediately surge ahead; the McCain campaign was lackluster; and the media became an advocate of the Obama effort.

Pundits vied for superlatives. On little evidence, Christopher Buckley assured us that Obama possessed “a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect.” For some, proof of Obama’s godhead became almost physical — a “perfectly creased pant” for David Brooks, a tingling leg for Chris Matthews. For Evan Thomas he was a “sort of God”; for one blue-chip historian he was the smartest man with the highest IQ ever running for the presidency. And on and on, as huge crowds acted as if they were watching Paul McCartney on tour in 1966. After the election, there was real apprehension that the country might not make it for the two and a half months until an elected Obama could take power.

Given that there was no evidence from Obama’s legislative career to justify such superlatives, we can only assume that our intellectual elites got caught up in the faux Greek columns, the Obama tutorials for fainting crowds about proper first aid, the teleprompted emphatics of “Let me be perfectly clear” and “Make no mistake about it,” the Latinate motto “Vero possumus” on the faux presidential seal on his campaign podiums, the boast that Obama & Co. were “the ones we’ve been waiting for,” the messianic promise to cool the planet and lower the seas, the Lincoln self-comparisons, and the other embarrassing childish banalities.

Obama, it is true, ran a brilliant campaign in 2008, hinting to the Other that as a non-white he shared both their racial bona fides and their frustrations, hinting to white elites that his own unique heritage would end racial hostilities and thus allow them to square the circle of living largely separate elite lives and not having to feel guilty about it. He dropped his g’s and went into Southern cadences among African Americans, and then back again into wonkish academese to mainstream whites. It was well known that in impromptu talks he stuttered and stumbled with uh’s in deer-in-the-headlights fashion, and used the pronouns I, me, my, and mine ad nauseam, but such unease was ignored given his teleprompted eloquence and the considerable elite investment in his symbolism.

In sum, in 2008 Obama gave America more than enough evidence to doubt that he was ready for the presidency, but when a nation becomes unhinged by trivialities like “hope and change,” there is not much one can do — until the patient wakes up from his trance and in embarrassment asks, “What exactly was all that nuttiness in 2008 about?”

We will be fathoming that strange madness of 2008 for decades to come.

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A Terminal Case of Frivolity

From Thomas Sowell:

People are arguing about what the United States got out of the deal that swapped five top level terrorist leaders for one American soldier who was, at best, absent from his post in a war zone. Soldiers who served in the same unit with him call him a deserter. The key to this deal, however, is less likely to be what the United States got out of the deal than it is about what Barack Obama got out of the deal. If nothing else, it instantly got the veterans’ hospitals scandals off the front pages of newspapers and pushed these scandals aside on television news programs.

It was a clear winner for Barack Obama. And that may be all that matters to Barack Obama.

People who are questioning the president’s competence seem not to want to believe that any President of the United States would knowingly damage this country’s interests.

One of the problems of many fundamentally decent people is that they find it hard to understand people who are not fundamentally decent, or whose moral compass points in a different direction from theirs.

Many people who are painfully disappointed with President Obama have no real reason to be. The man’s whole previous history, from childhood on, was shaped by a whole series of people, beginning with his mother, whose vision of America was very much like that of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whose church Barack Obama belonged to for 20 long years.

Obama is not a stupid man. There is no way that he could have sat in that church all that time without knowing how Jeremiah Wright hated America, and how his vision of the world was one in which “white folks’ greed runs a world in need.”

Even if the Reverend Wright had been the only such person in Barack Obama’s life — and he was not — it should have been enough to keep him out of the White House.

“Innocent until proven guilty” is a good rule in a court of law, which has the power to deprive a defendant of liberty or life. But it is mindless and dangerous nonsense to apply that standard outside that context — especially when choosing a President of the United States, who holds in his hands the liberty and lives of millions of Americans.

People who are disappointed with Barack Obama have no right to be. It is they whom others have a right to be disappointed with. Instead of taking their role as citizens seriously, they chose to vote on the basis of racial symbolism, glib rhetoric and wishful thinking.

Moreover, many are already talking about choosing the next President of the United States on the basis of demographic symbolism — to have “the first woman president.” And if she is elected on that basis, will any criticism of what she does in the White House be denounced as based on anti-woman bias, as criticisms of President Obama have been repeatedly denounced as racism?

And what if we have the first Hispanic president or the first Jewish president? Will any criticism of their actions in the White House be silenced by accusations of prejudice?

We may yet become the first nation to die from a terminal case of frivolity. Other great nations in history have been threatened by barbarians at the gates. We may be the first to be threatened by self-indulgent silliness inside the gates.

As for Barack Obama, you cannot judge any President’s competence by the results of his policies, without first knowing what he was trying to achieve.

Many wise and decent people assume automatically that President Obama was trying to serve the interests of America. From that standpoint, he has failed abysmally, both at home and abroad. And that should legitimately call his competence into question.

But what if his vision of the world is one in which the wealth and power of those at the top, whether at home or internationally, are deeply resented, and have been throughout his life, under the tutelage of a whole series of resenters? And what if his goal is to redress that imbalance?

Who can say that he has failed, when the fundamental institutions of this country have been successfully and perhaps irretrievably undermined, and when the positions of America and its allies on the world stage have been similarly, and even more dangerously, undermined around the world?

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A Vital Distinction

As Jonah Goldberg explains, the distinction between public and private is vitally important:

I hold no brief for Donald Sterling. My storehouse of sympathy runs bare long before I get to billionaire bigots and loudmouths. But it’s worth pondering the fact that Sterling’s loudmouthery was in a private conversation (unlike, say, Jesse Jackson’s “hymietown” remark which was made to a black reporter he just assumed he could speak freely to without being exposed). Mel Gibson’s damning remarks were made during a drunken rant. The Reverend Billy Graham, pretty much a moral hero and a great champion of religious tolerance in public life, said some awful things about Jews in a recorded conversation with Richard Nixon. Anthony Weiner, neither a hero nor a champion of much other than his own interests, never said anything bigoted, but he sent lewd pictures of himself to young women who were not his wife. Tiger Woods . . . well, you remember all that.

I’m reminded of a wonderful op-ed the (wonderful) late Leonard Garment wrote in 1999 as then-new transcripts of Richard Nixon’s taped conversations were being released. Garment recounted how Nixon appointed numerous Jews in his administration and then concluded:

Thus we must face the Nixon Paradox. His anti-Semitic outbursts in the private conversations found virtually no correspondence in his speech or actions outside those explosions.

At this point in our politics we should find this juxtaposition less implausible than we once might have. President Clinton was impeached, partly for reasons having to do with the administration of justice, but largely because of his private actions. Yet the country, with unmistakable clarity, declared that his private failings were not to determine our judgment of his public character.

Those who consider this verdict reasonable should consider how much more forcefully its logic applies to the private conversations of public persons. The best expression I have found of this logic comes from Milan Kundera, the Czech novelist whose country under Communism learned some lessons about the consequences of trampling the distinction between public and private.

”In private,” Mr. Kundera wrote in an essay, ”a person says all sorts of things, slurs friends, uses coarse language . . . makes a companion laugh by shocking him with outrageous talk, floats heretical ideas he’d never admit in public.”

Mr. Kundera argues that this difference is not a mere curiosity but a fundamental fact: ”That we act different in private than in public is everyone’s most conspicuous experience, it is the very ground of the life of the individual. Yet curiously this obvious fact remains unconscious, unacknowledged . . . ”

Mr. Kundera worries about this obliviousness, as we should, because an understanding of the distinction between public and private speech is indispensable to a decent politics — one built upon respect for individual privacy, a fundamental ingredient of freedom. What is on the Nixon tapes is undeniably ugly. It is for us to decide, however, what effect this private talk should have on our evaluation of Nixon’s public life.

It says something about Sterling that you cannot offer the same defense of him. There is far more congruity between the public and private Sterlings than the public and private Nixons. Similarly, it’s interesting and even significant to note that Lyndon Johnson said some terrible things about blacks, but they hardly have any weight on the scales when put alongside his efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act.

One last point. A common expression goes something like “character is what you do when no one is watching,” though I always preferred “character is what you do when only God is watching.” Neither aphorism is entirely fitting since all of these instances involved at least one other person. But it’s worth noting and pondering the fact that in an era of ubiquitous cell-phone cameras, recording devices, big data trawling, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter etc. the realm of what is truly private is shrinking by the hour and will likely continue to shrink in one way or another for the rest of our lives. Character may remain what we do when we think no one is watching — or listening or taking notes — but the likelihood no one is watching is increasingly remote. What that means for decent politics is anyone’s guess.

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The Corruption and Irrelevance of Today’s Civil-Rights Leadership

From Shelby Steele:

The verdict that declared George Zimmerman not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin was a traumatic event for America’s civil-rights establishment, and for many black elites across the media, government and academia. When you have grown used to American institutions being so intimidated by the prospect of black wrath that they invent mushy ideas like “diversity” and “inclusiveness” simply to escape that wrath, then the crisp reading of the law that the Zimmerman jury displayed comes as a shock.

On television in recent weeks you could see black leaders from every background congealing into a chorus of umbrage and complaint. But they weren’t so much outraged at a horrible injustice as they were affronted by the disregard of their own authority. The jury effectively said to them, “You won’t call the tune here. We will work within the law.”

Today’s black leadership pretty much lives off the fumes of moral authority that linger from its glory days in the 1950s and ’60s. The Zimmerman verdict lets us see this and feel a little embarrassed for them. Consider the pathos of a leadership that once transformed the nation now lusting for the conviction of the contrite and mortified George Zimmerman, as if a stint in prison for him would somehow assure more peace and security for black teenagers everywhere. This, despite the fact that nearly one black teenager a day is shot dead on the South Side of Chicago—to name only one city—by another black teenager.

This would not be the first time that a movement begun in profound moral clarity, and that achieved greatness, waned away into a parody of itself—not because it was wrong but because it was successful. Today’s civil-rights leaders have missed the obvious: The success of their forbearers in achieving social transformation denied to them the heroism that was inescapable for a Martin Luther King Jr. or a James Farmer or a Nelson Mandela. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton cannot write a timeless letter to us from a Birmingham jail or walk, as John Lewis did in 1965, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., into a maelstrom of police dogs and billy clubs. That America is no longer here (which is not to say that every trace of it is gone).

The Revs. Jackson and Sharpton have been consigned to a hard fate: They can never be more than redundancies, echoes of the great men they emulate because America has changed. Hard to be a King or Mandela today when your monstrous enemy is no more than the cherubic George Zimmerman.

Why did the civil-rights leadership use its greatly depleted moral authority to support Trayvon Martin? This young man was, after all, no Rosa Parks—a figure of indisputable human dignity set upon by the rank evil of white supremacy. Trayvon threw the first punch and then continued pummeling the much smaller Zimmerman. Yes, Trayvon was a kid, but he was also something of a menace. The larger tragedy is that his death will come to very little. There was no important principle or coherent protest implied in that first nose-breaking punch. It was just dumb bravado, a tough-guy punch.

The civil-rights leadership rallied to Trayvon’s cause (and not to the cause of those hundreds of black kids slain in America’s inner cities this very year) to keep alive a certain cultural “truth” that is the sole source of the leadership’s dwindling power. Put bluntly, this leadership rather easily tolerates black kids killing other black kids. But it cannot abide a white person (and Mr. Zimmerman, with his Hispanic background, was pushed into a white identity by the media over his objections) getting away with killing a black person without undermining the leadership’s very reason for being.

The purpose of today’s civil-rights establishment is not to seek justice, but to seek power for blacks in American life based on the presumption that they are still, in a thousand subtle ways, victimized by white racism. This idea of victimization is an example of what I call a “poetic truth.” Like poetic license, it bends the actual truth in order to put forward a larger and more essential truth—one that, of course, serves one’s cause. Poetic truths succeed by casting themselves as perfectly obvious: “America is a racist nation”; “the immigration debate is driven by racism”; “Zimmerman racially stereotyped Trayvon.” And we say, “Yes, of course,” lest we seem to be racist. Poetic truths work by moral intimidation, not reason.

In the Zimmerman/Martin case the civil-rights establishment is fighting for the poetic truth that white animus toward blacks is still such that a black teenager—Skittles and ice tea in hand—can be shot dead simply for walking home. But actually this establishment is fighting to maintain its authority to wield poetic truth—the authority to tell the larger society how it must think about blacks, how it must respond to them, what it owes them and, then, to brook no argument.

The Zimmerman/Martin tragedy has been explosive because it triggered a fight over authority. Who gets to say what things mean—the supporters of George Zimmerman, who say he acted in self-defense, or the civil-rights establishment that says he profiled and murdered a black child? Here we are. And where is the authority to resolve this? The six-person Florida jury, looking carefully at the evidence, decided that Mr. Zimmerman pulled the trigger in self-defense and not in a fury of racial hatred.

And here, precisely at the point of this verdict, is where all of America begins to see this hollowed-out civil-rights establishment slip into pathos. Almost everyone saw this verdict coming. It is impossible to see how this jury could have applied the actual law to this body of evidence and come up with a different conclusion. The civil-rights establishment’s mistake was to get ahead of itself, to be seduced by its own poetic truth even when there was no evidence to support it. And even now its leaders call for a Justice Department investigation, and they long for civil lawsuits to be filed—hoping against hope that some leaf of actual racial victimization will be turned over for all to see. This is how a once-great social movement looks when it becomes infested with obsolescence.

One wants to scream at all those outraged at the Zimmerman verdict: Where is your outrage over the collapse of the black family? Today’s civil-rights leaders swat at mosquitoes like Zimmerman when they have gorillas on their back. Seventy-three percent of all black children are born without fathers married to their mothers. And you want to bring the nation to a standstill over George Zimmerman?

There are vast career opportunities, money and political power to be gleaned from the specter of Mr. Zimmerman as a racial profiler/murderer; but there is only hard and selfless work to be done in tackling an illegitimacy rate that threatens to consign blacks to something like permanent inferiority. If there is anything good to be drawn from the Zimmerman/Martin tragedy, it is only the further revelation of the corruption and irrelevance of today’s civil-rights leadership.

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