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Thou Art the Man! – King David and Judge Kavanaugh

The Shining City on a Hill: Commentary on Reagan by Bryan Caplan

The American Civil Religion posits that we are a city on a hill. At this point both political parties have abandoned that idea. The longtime staple of presidential politics and the America culture has been banished from public discourse. It died with the death of John McCain. We no longer aspire to a leadership role in human history.

But besides the city on a hill vision, there is a second line: the eyes of the world are upon us. Even though we choose not to lead, because of our size and might we still serve as an example to the world. Sometimes this influence is referred to as soft power. It means besides Coke and McDonalds, American cultural values and practices also ae known, in one form or another, around the world. So even as we forsake a political leadership role, the eyes of the world are still upon us.

Recently and still ongoing we have had two such examples of this phenomenon: the appearance of the President of the United States at the United Nations and the confirmation hearings of Judge Kavanaugh.

UNITED NATIONS

At the United Nations, the President of the United States spoke as if he were on Fox News. He spoke as if he were at one of his professional wrestling arena rallies. He spoke as if he were still in Trumpietown. But he had ventured outside of his comfort zone. He was speaking to an audience he has routinely insulted. He has insulted people based on their race. He has insulted people based on their religion. He has insulted people based on their cosmopolitanism. And he has launched economic war against many of them while withdrawing from providing American leadership.

Their reaction to his speech was exactly what you should expect: they laughed. They did not laugh with him, they laughed at him. In his surprised response that he was not expecting that reaction, he then did what he rarely does in his life – he told the truth. He really was surprised. He soon recovered and said they were laughing with him and they were just having fun with each other. Perhaps this “interpretation” was what inspired Kavanaugh to give his interpretation of being a member of the Renate” alumni.

Senate Judiciary Committee: Do You Have the Right Stuff to go into the Arena?

The story of David and Nathan is one of the most dramatic in the Hebrew Bible. Even as one reads the words, one can see the figures in one’s mind. There is no mention of Nathan extending his arm in the direction of David, yet we see it. There is no mention of Nathan pointing a finger at David, yet we see it. There is no mention of David’s physical reaction to the words and gestures of Nathan, yet we see it. Only when Nathan is telling his parable, does the storyteller mention an emotion, the anger of David. The story teller leaves it to our imagination to visualize David’s appearance after Nathan’s exclamation.

This story exemplifies the oral nature of biblical storytelling. It cries out for a physical performance. Undoubtedly, that was how most Israelites originally experienced the story – not read silently alone but as a public display. The op-ed pieces of yesteryear were performed in ancient Israel long before Saturday Night Live existed.

One key ingredient in the story is frequently overlooked. It is not the historicity of the story but its believability. There is no sense in the story that it lacks validity. The story is not one of science fiction, fantasy, or even dreams. It is a presented as a real world event that the audience easily could believe as true. There is no surprise in the display of truth to power. There is no sense that it defies all credulity that someone could call the king to task. There is no astonishment about the actions of Nathan. The only uncertainty is in the reaction of the accused.

That credibility extends beyond the prophet denouncing the action of the king to his face. Just as Nathan’s declaration garners no surprise, neither does David’s reaction. The king’s repentance is presented in just as routine a manner as Nathan’s charge. As far as the audience is concerned, it is expected that a prophet would call a king to task. It is equally expected that the king would respond positively when he heard the words of the prophet and repent his wrongdoings.

The contrast between yesterday and today is remarkable. In Nathan’s words, we see the uniqueness of his actions in the ancient Near East.  No one can imagine anyone delivering truth to power in ancient Assyria. No one can imagine anyone delivering truth to power in ancient Babylon. No one can imagine anyone delivering truth to power in ancient Egypt. Actually we can in Egypt. It was delivered by Moses and commemorated in a holiday still celebrated to this very day.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings are an American phenomenon. The televising of these hearings to the world is part of the soft power of this country. The eyes of the world are upon us as we publicly debate whether or not to confirm an individual to the highest court in the land. Should the court be an independent judiciary? What is the answer in China? What is the answer in Russia? What is the answer in Turkey? What is the answer in Iran? What is the answer in Venezuela? What is the answer is so many countries throughout the world?

In David’s response we see the not only the uniqueness of Israel in the ancient Near East but to today. In the followup of the accusation levied at the Senate Judiciary Committee against Judge Kavanaugh, no one expects any change to occur in the behavior of the one charged. No one expects Kavanaugh to conduct an investigation into his own life, to ask his friends and classmates if he rely drank so much, if he really blacked out so often, if he really could have done what he is charged with doing. Unlike with David, there will be no change in behavior. He will not rise to the occasion. He will not be a profile in courage. He will not face the truth of his adolescent life that he thought he had left behind. Certainly a President who still is an adolescent himself will not encourage him to do so.

In the previous post, I referred to the possibility of the situation spiraling out of control. The Republicans have attempted to prevent such a collapse by limiting the scope and time of the investigation. But the challenge to do so is magnified by the number of venues available to people to speak out now. While some of the voices defy credulity and seem like a con job, too many others seem true. Those expressions will not be contained by the artificial constraints imposed on the investigation. The Republicans are in a superb position to alienate a huge swath of the American voting population for years to come. Of course, having a fifth Republican legislator on the Supreme Court may make jeopardizing the Republican position in the other two arms of the government worth the price.

Whatever happens, it will be seen around the world because the eyes of the world are still upon us.

Ronald Reagan versus Vladimir Putin: Presidential Campaigns and the 2018 Elections

Reagan-Anderson Presidential Debate September 21, 1980 (https://quotefancy.com)

The countdown to the midterms is under 100 days. It still proceeds on a day-to-day basis but mentally a threshold has been crossed. A bigger one to come on Labor Day is only a few weeks away. The primaries are drawing to a close. The intensity of the showdown for control of Congress and various states will ratchet up.

The current president has vowed to campaign as much as necessary in targeted areas throughout the country. Indeed, he feeds on the energy of the professional wrestling arena just as we feed on food. But what message will he be delivering as he crisscrosses the country in his determination to stave off the dreaded blue wave and avoid being impeached?

In this situation it is appropriate to examine the campaign of another president. In 1984, Ronald Reagan, the incumbent president, campaigned throughout the land. At that time, Republicans could win at the state level even in California and the color on the TV maps for Republicans was blue. Times have changed.

Although the campaigns in 1984 and 2018 are not exact parallels, it remains instructive to examine the message Reagan delivered and compare it to where we are today. A lot of my information comes from the book The Boys of Pointe du Hoc: Ronald Reagan, D-Day, and the U.S. Army Second Ranger Brigade by Douglas Brinkley as excerpted in U.S. News & World Report in the June 6, 2005 issue, a year after Reagan’s death on June 5, 2004. Reagan’s speech on June 6, 1984 at Normandy was on the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.

According to Brinkley, the idea in the visit to England and France included showcasing Anglo-American unity between Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Needless-to-say, the contrast between the present president mocking the present prime minister of England or Great Britain or the United Kingdom or wherever, could not be greater. And our current president of course, then denied that he had done so as fake news, another example of the trouble he would be in if he ever testified under oath.

Turning back to 1984, one theme of Reagan’s talk was how the postwar coalition had kept the peace for the longest period in modern European history. One might add, that for Franklin Roosevelt who had grown up in a world where war against Germany was the norm (Franco-Prussian, WWI, WWII), the idea of decades of peace among the same nations was wishful thinking and inconceivable. Roosevelt understood the need for allies and why defending Montenegro was important.

Brinkley then turned to Peggy Noonan, Reagan’s speechwriter. She would become most famous for her “thousand points of light,” a vision our current president mocks. Brinkley reported that Reagan was at his best when he told heartfelt stories about real people. He was blessed with a genuine showbiz gift for a lively narrative and fabulist history. These last words of Brinkley strike us differently today now that we have a president who resides in the artificial reality of Trumpietown.

But Noonan suspected that during the speech Reagan would choke up. He would be overcome by the experience – its setting, the audience, and his words. I suspect Reagan did not feel your pain to exploit it but more drawing on his actor background, he internalized it. The emotion of his audience became his genuine emotion as well. In other words, his own ability to bring out the emotion in others created a feedback loop to himself. He was a person of empathy who helped create the very emotions he was to feel.

D-Day then became a metaphor for the campaign message of 1984. The Americans in the audience had helped reclaim the European continent. Americans had fought for freedom against the Nazis in the past; Americans had an obligation to fight for freedom against communism and the Soviet Union in the present. Others would express the sentiment that “some people are communists, some people are capitalists, why can’t we all live together”, the Soviet Union will endure forever. Reagan felt differently. The Evil Empire must be defeated if we are to be free. As it turned out, the clueless elites had no idea the Iron Curtain would fall, Putin’s worst day in history, one he wishes to reverse today.

Shortly after Reagan’s death in 2004, staff writer Roger Simon for U.S. News &World Report, wrote “Sunny Side Up, Always” (June 21, 2004). He wrote of Reagan knowing that movies were fantasy and that Americans loved fantasy. Fantasy was a world in which Reagan like to dwell. According to Pat Buchanan, “For Ronald Reagan, the world of legends and myth is a real world. He visits it regularly.” It was a can-do world of optimism, smiles, and a can-do attitude.

Reagan expected everything to work out because it always had for America. What Americans needed was a leader who could give them a sense of confidence, inspiration, and hope.

“’LET’S MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!’ HE SAID.”

Simon reported that Reagan’s “morning in America” and “city on a hill” were designed to stand in marked contrast to the gloom and doom of President Jimmy Carter’s malaise.

Simon closed his article with two quotations, one from 1994 when Reagan announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I am combining them here.

And whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will recall that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts.

When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for the future. I know begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright light ahead.

In the same issue, David Gergen, advisor to multiple presidents and regular talking head today, wrote:

Last week, as we heard so often, Regan repeatedly told audiences that America’s role was to be “a shining city up on hill.” He spoke lovingly of that vision in his farewell address, as he prepared to leave the White House. What should not be forgotten is the farewell address to Massachusetts that a fellow member of his generation, John F. Kennedy, gave as he was preparing to move into the White House. “I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella 331 years ago, as they too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier. “We must always consider,” he said, “that we shall be as a city upon a hill-the eyes of the world are upon us.”

Gergen closed with a sigh that “We mourned last week not only for Ronald Wilson Reagan but for the spirit we miss so much now.” How much more must he miss that spirit today?

One last “city on a hill” citation by an American before turning to a Russian. In his eulogy, former Senator John Danforth said:

Winthrop believed that the eyes of the world would be on America because God had given us a special commission, so it was our duty to shine forth. The Winthrop message became the Reagan message. It rang of optimism, and we longed to hear it….

If you have had your fill of this sunny optimism and the vision of America as a city on a hill that the eyes of the world are upon, then now let’s turn an alternate version. This dismissal comes from someone familiar with the concept of American exceptionalism and who strongly opposes it. It was written shortly after then President Obama had delivered an address to the American people in the tradition of American presidents up until our current one touting America’s place in the world and in human history.

Here is what Vladimir Putin said in an op-ed piece printed in the New York Times on September 12, 2013 following Obama’s address:

I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation….We are all different, but when we ask for Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

“Amen,” says American President Donald Trump. When Putin and Russia are accused of evil deeds, Trump is the first to say we have done bad things, too. He never exclaims on American exceptionalism or its role in history except to denigrate it.

Donald Trump does not share with Barack Obama a belief in American exceptionalism.

Donald Trump does not share with Ronald Reagan a belief that we are a city on a hill that the eyes of the world are upon.

Donald Trump does not share with Abraham Lincoln a belief that we are the last best hope of humanity.

Donald Trump does not believe in the American Dream.

When Donald Trump campaigns in the 2018 midterm elections, he will espouse the vision of Vladimir Putin and not that of Ronald Reagan. And he will do so to cheering Republicans. Who would have predicted a generation after the Iron Curtain fell, that Republicans would have abandoned the sunny optimism of Reagan for the dismal deception of Putin’s Trump?

The City on the Hill versus the Middle Kingdom: Who Will Win World War IV?

https://alchetron.com/Morning-in-America

At any given moment there can only be one cosmic center. In the world in which we are aware, only one place can be the center of the universe. Think of what would happened if we had to deal with the discovery that earth is not that sacred location and you get some idea of what happens when peoples are obligated to abdicate their position as the center of the universe.

In ancient times when civilization first emerged in Mesopotamia, the center of the universe was Uruk. If you have heard of Gilgamesh then you also may know that Uruk was the city where he was king. In Mesopotamia, the mantra for mighty kings was to rule the four quarters of the universe somewhat similar to our four corners of the world. And there at the king’s capital would be his ziggurat, his mighty tower at the sacred center that connected the earth he ruled to the heavens where his god was king.

There later came a time when Ur, the city biblical Abraham left, had its moment of glory as the center of the world. It too had a ziggurat or high place. The biblical account delivers the message that the torch had been passed to a new location, the center of the universe was to be relocated from Mesopotamia. The new center was David’s Jerusalem and the new high place linking the heavens and the earth was Solomon’s Temple. Although politically that perception is no longer valid, it still resonates as a religious idea.

Egypt, of course, had other ideas. Obviously the garden paradise of the ancient Near East thought of itself as the center of the world. And indeed it was for the world dominated by the Nile. Both Egypt and Mesopotamia were able to each regard themselves as the cosmic center because they were too far apart to affect the other politically or militarily. Each could maintain its view to its own satisfaction since the other claimant didn’t really matter. All that changed when Assyria, the same country that destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel, invaded and sacked Egypt. Never again would Egypt dominate as it once had. The physical expressions of its stature had become tourist destinations even in ancient times and there is graffiti to show it.

In time Rome emerged as the new colossus. As people became aware of an ever larger world, so to an empire had to increase in size if the people were to claim to be the center of the universe. Rome succeeded for centuries. Eventually the physical expressions of its stature also became tourist destinations. However thanks to a new religion while politically the perception of Rome at the center of the universe is no longer valid, it still resonates as a religious idea.

But just as Egypt and Mesopotamia found out they were not alone, Rome found out it was not alone either. In a land far far way there was another claimant to the title of center of the universe. The Middle Kingdom also perceived itself to be the cosmic center. Rome and China were too far apart for either to assert its dominance over the other so each was able maintain its belief in itself. Whereas there came a time when Mesopotamia eventually prevailed over Egypt (as would Persia, Greece, and Rome in ancient times and others since then), the distances between Rome and China remained too vast and the technological powers too similar for either to achieve superiority over the other. That situation changed in the 19th century when the Middle Kingdom was humbled by European powers.

The City on a Hill was a latecomer to these considerations. In 1630 as he set sail for America, John Winthrop pronounced the words that would become a defining mantra for his new land. America not only was to be a City on a Hill, but it was to be an example for the world as the eyes of the world were upon us. His vision was not expressed in typical political terms but then he was not a king. Instead the power of this City on a Hill was to be in the life it created such that everyone else would want to copy it.

When Winthrop uttered these words there was no United States of America. There were no 13 colonies either. Winthrop was referring to the world he and his godly saints would create in Boston, in Massachusetts. His vision was a Puritan one. There is a story to be told about how his vision of a City on a Hill expanded from its Boston origins to the national expression of President of the United States Ronald Reagan. That story will not be told here but there are some key points worth observing.

During the colonial era, there was some jockeying for power among the leading cities to be center of the new polity. Certainly Boston, Philadelphia, and New York figured prominently in that competition. The fierce sports rivalries among the teams today from these cities draw on centuries old emotions. And one should not overlook Charlestown to the south either considering what was to happen decades after the birth of the country. In America, the passing of the torch happened in 1823. The departure by Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson Art school, the nation’s first homegrown art school, from Philadelphia to New York two years before the Erie Canal was completed and New York became the Empire State, marked the moment. The transference of the nation’s center to New York had occurred, a position it continues to hold until this very day.

New York’s rise to world capital was recognized at the end of World War II with the establishment of the United Nations. New York now was the center of the world and even if you want to lop of the UN’s top ten floors, how would you feel if it relocated to Bejing? New York became the place where aliens from outer space landed. New York became the place which the President of the United States sacrificed in Failsafe when Moscow was destroyed. New York was the city with the high place King Kong climbed in the Americanized retelling of the old Mesopotamian myths. And New York was the place with the high towers targeted by Osama Bin-Laden when he sought to demonstrate his new world order. As a result of those actions now there is a new sacred day and sacred place to which the world flocks the cosmic center at Ground Zero on 9/11.

When America won World War III and the Soviet Union was no longer the wave of the future who would bury us, history did not come to end. The Middle Kingdom is back. The Middle Kingdom is seeking to restore the glories of its past when it dominated the world it knew. It has a plan and it is executing it. On one level it is asserting itself geographically to create a united one world through infrastructure and trade in its One Belt One Road Initiative. The lesser countries and peoples of the planet will feed the cosmic center the resources it needs to sustain its economic engine and dominance. The rest of the world also will supply exotic tourist destinations to visit like the very same Niagara Falls that drew painters in the 19th century. On a second level, the Middle Kingdom will undertake a great leap forward with Made in China 2025 to become the dominant country in the new technologies that are changing this planet. The Middle Kingdom knows what it wants and has dedicated itself to achieving it.

What’s missing is a vision. There is no vast line of immigrants seeking to live the Chinese Dream. The eyes of the world are not upon the Middle Kingdom for the values by which to live. It is not an example for the world as Winthrop proclaimed his new world would be. The #MeToo movement reverberates throughout the world. What Chinese value does? Anyone can be an American, only the Chinese can be Chinese. The American DNA dating back to Winthrop’s message of a City on Hill that the eyes of the world are upon provides us with a powerful means of first becoming and now remaining the center of the world…but only if we want to be and even then there is no guarantee of success.

So how is the City on a Hill doing in the world war against the Middle Kingdom? It does appear as if finally we are aware that we are in a war. Recent developments suggest that at long last we, meaning the American government, recognizes that the completion exists and that we need to safeguard our economy and technological prowess from our foe.  Our country has already paid a huge price economically in support of the Middle Kingdom’s quest for dominance. Perhaps that time of deference and ignorance of the Middle Kingdom’s goals has now ended.

Unfortunately the completion isn’t only a transactional one. The simple-minded approach that the conflict is solely between the United States and China is childish. It is a global struggle requiring a global vision if We the People are to prevail. There is no constructive purpose in antagonizing those who want to help us, those who are our friends, those who are our allies. There is no constructive purpose in withdrawing from the world if we seek to continue as the leader of it. We have every right to abdicate our position of leadership and provide a vacuum for others to fill. If we treat everything as transactional then we are condemned to be losers in the global arena. We need to redefine the State Department for the realities of the 21st century, not decimate it.

Anyone can be an American, only the Chinese can be Chinese. Today, we never hear about the vision of America. Today, we never hear about America being an example for the world. Today, we never hear about the eyes of the world being upon us. Today, we never hear about America as a City on a Hill.  Today, we never hear about America’s role in human history.  Today, we never hear that it is morning in America. Is that what We the People want?