My typical bent is toward the political. It’s what I teach and study, and I enjoy it, so the topic frequently takes center stage in my columns. It can be very frustrating, then, to take an entire summer off from writing, because politics does not take a break, and so much of political interest happened over the summer. So, I thought I would start the semester by sharing what struck me as the most interesting developments over the break.
Let’s start with the Democratic Party nomination contest. Here we are faced with a spectacle in which the presumptive nominee has morally disqualified herself for office. Unfortunately for her party, breathing down Hillary Clinton’s neck is self-described socialist Bernie Sanders. I realize, of course, that employing the “S” word in academic circles is hardly pejorative. But I would remind my farther-left-of-center colleagues that the best socialists have ever done in presidential elections is the 6 percent won by Eugene Debs in 1912. Candidate Sanders would no doubt break that record, but I suspect at the cost of victory.
Things are hardly better in the Republican Party nomination contest. It’s nice to see so many options, but I sometimes wonder what possessed some of these folks to wake up in the morning, look at themselves in the mirror, and think: I should run for president! And at a time when victory is a genuine possibility, the poll-sampled electorate seems willing to suspend all rational thinking and follow a man who refers to his political opponents as “losers,” resorts to whining when he’s criticized and insults the very political class he’ll have to work with should he ever get elected.
I get it: people are angry. But anger is never a reliable mechanism for making long-term decisions of consequence, and Donald Trump comes too close to reminding me of a bad Third World despot than an exemplar of the standard set by George Washington, who must be rolling over in his grave.
We saw similar insanity in the area of public policy. On one side of the political divide we witnessed a fracas over the Confederate flag. It has always been a bit of a mystery to me why the flag of another political regime should EVER fly over public property in the United States. Yes, I understand that some of this is regional pride ““ courage and heroism, military skill, stuff like that.
But we’re talking here about flying the flag of the CSA over the USA. And despite a lot of bad history out there, the Civil War was a conflict that would not have occurred had it not been for the institution of slavery. Read South Carolina’s secession declaration, or soon-to-be CSA vice president Alexander Stephens’ Cornerstone Speech, and then tell me what this was really all about.
Having said that, I find the white-washing of history, whether through moving statues or rebranding the Jefferson-Jackson Day celebrations of the Democratic Party, more akin to Stalinist purges than genuine self-reflection. The notion that a Soviet flag or bust of Lenin would be more acceptable for polite society than a statue of Robert E. Lee is patently absurd.
On the other side of the ideological spectrum we learned over the summer that Planned Parenthood adjusts “medical” procedures for financial purposes as it traffics in human body parts. We saw how casually officials discuss the “crunchy” nature of the destruction of human life. And just in case anyone missed the obvious, these same individuals recognized the truth when they perused the scattered remains of one eviscerated fetus and exclaimed ““ in a bizarre perversion of what new parents might say ““ “It’s another boy!” On the pro-life side there is at least an interesting debate over whether using undercover cameras is a legitimate tactic, since it involves deception. For the abortion industry, there appears to be no such concern. Life is not an inalienable right.
Finally, I must confess to being surprised at how quickly my forecasting came true after the Supreme Court delivered its decision legalizing gay marriage. I have several times over the past few years highlighted the collision between religious liberty and sexual liberty, especially as these two values intersect in politics and society. We’ve already seen the full coercive power of the state come down on the heads of bakers and florists and photographers who retain a traditional conjugal definition of marriage. Now we see it with county clerks and judges. Others will follow.
But perhaps it should not have surprised me. When the Supreme Court bypasses the democratic process and imposes its will on the nation it succeeds more in agitating issues than settling them.
Space constraints prevent me from pondering why the Senate abdicated its treaty-ratification power in the Iran nuclear deal, and why, in the wake of the public execution of a police officer, declaring that ALL lives matter is somehow akin to a racist taunt. So much for the lazy days of summer!
David Crockett is a professor of political science.