Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Donald Trump's Big Idea

When Ronald Reagan became president, people did not know what to expect.  Yes, he was a conservative, but how would he govern?  Was he smart enough for the job?  Did he understand the challenges he would confront?  There was no way to tell in advance.
As it turned out, the world was in store for a surprise.  Reagan was a conservative and therefore he did try to contain the growth of the federal government.  But packed in his portmanteau was another Big Idea.  It was one few suspected.
The Gipper intended to defy the Soviets.  He wanted to build up our military so that he could bring communism to its knees.  At the time, this was regarded as madness.  Everyone knew the Kremlin was invulnerable.  Its armed forces were robust and its political will was intact.
Yet the conventional wisdom was wrong.  Despite all of the invectives hurled at Reagan, he had assessed the situation correctly.  He was not a stupid actor or an out-of–control cowboy.  The Russian Empire was ripe for collapse.  Its economy was a shambles and its subject peoples restive.
By beefing up our military, Reagan would push the Soviet Union to the brink.  The Red Bear it did not have the resources to compete.  Nor, if the United States created a shield against Russian rockets, would it have the means to threaten us.  Reagan’s critics scoffed at Star Wars, but the commissars were not laughing.
Today we know how this confrontation ended.  Those who insisted that the best we could manage was detente were proved wrong.  The Soviet Union fell and the Cold War receded into history.  Mind you, Reagan’s detractors were not prepared to give him credit for this achievement.  But that had more to do with their shortcomings than his.
Enter Donald Trump.  He is even more reviled than his predecessor.  Also considered stupid and temperamentally unsuited for the job, his grasp of world affairs is likewise questioned.  His America First policy, in particular, is regarded as nothing lass than the ravings of a nitwit.
Although people were not initially sure, Trump soon established his conservative credentials.  By rolling back federal regulations and lowering taxes, he demonstrated a commitment to smaller government.  This has long been mainstream Republicanism, into which he breathed life.
Nonetheless, it was in foreign policy where Trump revealed his uniqueness.  The Republican establishment was more internationalist than the Democrats, whereas the new president railed against interventionism.  He did not want to get the nation entangled in overseas wars.
Many assumed this meant Trump was an isolationist.  He would turn his back on the rest of the globe, thereby increasing our vulnerability.  This interpretation, however, turned out to be deeply flawed.  It discounted Trump’s Big Idea, because it did not recognize it.
In the wake of World War II, the United States was the only major power left unscathed.  Aside from Pearl Harbor, we had not been bombed.  Our citizens had not been converted into refugees, nor had our infrastructure been devastated.  The economy, if anything, had grown stronger.
Europe, on the other hand, was ravaged.  Cities had been blasted into rubble and millions killed.  It was even doubtful whether Western Europe possessed the wherewithal to hold off the Soviet menace.  Happily, we stepped into the breach.  With the Marshal Plan and NATO, we stabilized the situation.
Trump’s big insight is that this is no longer necessary.  The rest of the world has recovered from the horrors of Nazism.  Nations that could not have survived without our assistance are today capable to taking care of themselves.  We therefore no longer have to regard them was feeble victims.
The way Trump sees it; this means they don’t have to be treated like dependent children.  We can demand that they pull their own weight.  Economically,
we can eschew treaties that provide them an advantage.  Militarily we can require them to pay for their own defense.
Although we are still the world’s greatest super-power, we cannot maintain our greatness if we are forever deferring to the requirements of others.  It is thus time that we attended to our own needs.  Unless we do, we might fall so far behind, we can never catch up.
Maybe that’s not such a dumb idea.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

Dodge Ball and Me

Once dodge ball was ubiquitous.  Almost every middle school in the nation expected students to play this game.  In gym classes, two teams would be organized to throw soccer balls at one another, with the last student who remained untouched declared the winner.
This diversion was regarded as great exercise and an excellent way to encourage competition.  But, with the rise of liberalism, this activity came to be regarded as barbaric.  Instead of promoting cooperation, it urged teenagers to inflict symbolic injuries.  This would not do.
I, however, loved dodge ball.  One reason was that I was good at it.  Because I was neither very big nor strong, I wasn’t going to be a star in football or basketball.  I was nonetheless quick and agile, and hence well equipped to get out of the way of a ball aimed at me.
Still, it was another ability that ensured I was generally one of the last players standing.  It was my strategy.  I did not play the game the way most of my peers did.  Almost all of them gathered together in a defensive cluster.  Their idea was to protect themselves behind a wall of others.
As for me, I stood alone.  My aim was to be as far away as I could.  This was judged foolish in that it apparently defied the other side to take me out.   After all, I was a well-defined target.  Why not show me I was vulnerable?
But that is not usually how it worked out.  The opposition habitually aimed at the target rich scrum.  They calculated that if they missed one person, there was a good chance of hitting another.  In this, they were correct.
Moreover, the crowd made it more difficult for individual players to recognize when they were targeted.  Because others obscured their view, they might not see the ball coming.  This made it difficult to react appropriately.
With me, it was different.  Because I stood alone, it was absolutely clear when someone aimed at me.  Furthermore, I had the room to get away.  With no one standing next to me, there was no one hindering my lateral movement.  This permitted me to take advantage of my agility.
Why do I bring this up?  My teenage days are far behind me.  Besides, no one has directed a dodge ball at me in decades.  Nor do I expect kudos for modest achievements that occurred ages ago.  So what is the point?
As I ponder the changes that have come upon our society, like others I have contemplated what the future holds.  My conclusion is that liberalism is about to expire and will be replaced by “social individualism.”  Since our society is becoming more complex, it will be necessary for more people to be self-motivated experts.
Yet those who are self-directed need the courage to make independent decisions.  If they are to make full use of their skills, they must be willing to take risks.  Although their autonomous choices could be wrong, they cannot otherwise bring their abilities to bear.
If so, more people need to be capable of operating as individuals.  They will require the personal fortitude to stand alone, even though they might be blamed for their mistakes.  Just like me, when I played dodge ball, they will often have to separate themselves from the crowd.
Rugged individualism was once a hallmark of what it meant to be an American.  The pioneers of yore took amazing chances to bring our nation’s potential to fruition.  But the same is true of us.  If our country is not to fall into decline, we must be the one’s to save it.
Nonetheless, many people find individualism frightening.  They are afraid that if they stand out, they will become a target.  In fact, they may.  But this need not make them defenseless.  If they remain alert, and know what they are doing, they too can get out of the way.
As for myself, I enjoy the idea of being a sturdy individual.  I want some of my triumphs to be my own.  That, however, does not mean I am unwilling to work with others.  To the contrary, I am pleased to contribute to common causes.  Why, indeed, can’t our nation be a tapestry of hardy individuals dedicated to their own and each other’s welfare?
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Throwing Over the Table

Trial lawyers say that when you are in the courtroom; if the facts are on your side, argue the facts.  But if the facts are against you, argue the law.  If, however, the law is also against you, throw over the table.  The facts and law are patently against the Democrats in the Hillary affair and so they are now throwing over the table.
Let me explain.  Few people currently contend that Hillary Clinton did not have classified materials on her private server.  These have been found.  This is a fact.  It is also a fact that classified emails were discovered on Huma Abedin and her estranged husband Anthony Weiner’s computers.
So if the facts are unfavorable, move on to the law.  Thus, James Comey maintained that Hillary did not intend to break the law and therefore was not guilty.  The same has been said about Abedin in that she was unaware that transferring classified documents to personal laptops was illegal.
Unfortunately the law does not make this distinction.  The language of the relevant statutes is plain.  The mental state of the person mishandling classified papers is irrelevant.  As long as the deed is done, an unlawful act has been committed.
Officials at the FBI consequently sought to obscure the meaning of the law by stating that Hillary—and by extension Abedin—had been “extremely careless.”  Despite originally using the actual language of the law in their memos, which is, “gross negligence,” they altered the formulation to make it sound less serious.
This, however, did not do the job because extreme carelessness and gross negligence mean the same thing.  The law, in short, is obviously against Hillary.  On these grounds, she has perpetrated a crime for which many others are presently serving prison terms.
Here’s where throwing over the table comes in.  The former first lady’s defenders dredge up any diversion they can so that the public will not realize the seriousness of her infractions.  An appreciation of the gravity of exposing government secrets to enemy powers must be assiduously avoided.
So what do her Democratic apologists claim?  They say that the accusations are old news; that they were previously litigated.  Still, if our former secretary of state had committed murder ten years ago, would that be old news?  If it were a crime then, wouldn’t it be a crime today?
As to having been litigated, her misdeeds were not.  Comey and his cronies saw to that.  They took the law into their own hands and quashed an investigation the potential outcome of which they found unacceptable.  Their attitude was: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil—except against Donald Trump.
Yet pointing out this cover-up is decried as an attack on the FBI.  Left-wing spokespersons hurry to vindicate this sacred institution.  Nonetheless, no one is attacking rank and file agents.  It is a corrupt and politicized leadership that is questioned.
But should this tactic collapse, the next line of defense is to hide behind the Mueller investigation.  Some matters cannot be discussed, because this would interfere with unearthing Trump’s collaboration with the Russians.  Pertinent evidence cannot even be shared with congress.
Next, if this verbal barricade fails, we are cautioned against instigating a constitutional crisis.  At minimum, we ought not criminalize a political dispute.  This is amusing in that the same partisans had no qualms about criminalizing Richard Nixon during Watergate.
Besides, they continue, the election is over.  Hillary lost; so let her fade into history.  Except that whether she committed a crime is separate from the consequences of the voting.  Again, if she had murdered someone, would we care about the result of the presidential race?
Finally, if none of these approaches succeeds, it is time to start over.  These maneuvers can be repeated in an endless loop that becomes so convoluted few observers are able to keep track.  The public, in particular, can be kept off balance; especially when the mainstream media are in on the game.
The Hillary fiasco is a mess.  Her behavior—including with regard to the Clinton Foundation—has grievously compromised our national integrity.  That is why it must be pursued.  If we sweep her illegalities under the rug, we are merely paving the way for their repetition.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University

Drug Abuse is a Form of Cowardice

We are in the midst of a drug epidemic.  Thousands of people die annually from their abuse.  Nonetheless, California is currently legalizing marihuana for recreational use.  There seems to be no recognition of the connection between these events.
Too often, mind-altering chemicals are romanticized.  They are depicted as opening up new realms of consciousness.  Their devotees are to be regarded as creative souls.  They are, in short, cool.  Plainly on the cutting edge of a revolution, they are expanding our personal freedoms.
As for me, I don’t think so.  Having worked, many years ago, as a counselor in a methadone clinic, I saw too much death and destruction to believe that these substances are sophisticated.  They are poisons.  They not only kill people; they destroy the society that tolerates them.
When I first began advising heroin addicts, I assumed that I had a duty to inform them of the lethality of these drugs.  They had a right to know they might kill them.  In fact, they already knew—and didn’t care.  Many even welcomed the prospect of death.
The reason was that many of my clients were in such pain that their priority was obliterating this affect.  They did not want to experience it because they were convinced they could not deal with it.  They had neither the strength nor the cleverness to confront their personal demons.
And so they ran away behind a chemical screen.  Substances that could temporarily make them feel whole were preferable to living in fear and desperation.  These folks were terrified.  They did not have the courage to do battle with the many losses they had experienced.
To put the matter bluntly, they were cowards!  They could not muster the resolution to protect themselves.  Instead they secreted themselves away from a grim reality.  They were doing the equivalent of cowering under the bed when the bogeyman stalked their room.
It will, no doubt, be said that many contemporary drug addicts got that way because dangerous medications have been over-prescribed.  That is true.  Many of these folks can be excused for becoming addicted—but not from doing what they must to get clean.
But think of those marihuana users—those unapologetic, proselytizing potheads.  All they want to do is be mellow.  Their goal is to become so relaxed that they are oblivious to the pressures swirling about them.  They are clearly weaklings who do not want to cope with the demands of everyday life.
Some folks will respond to this charge by asserting that courage is over-rated.  They will argue that a rash desire to take chances is foolish.  Why not retreat into a chemical haze?  Why is exposing oneself to injury in the heat of battle superior to being a threat to no one?  Isn’t feeling good itself a good?
The answer is that if we do not take chances, we cannot, as a community, survive.  If we do not collectively overcome the threats to our existence, we will be soundly defeated.  The wolf will not only be at our door; it will be devouring our entrails.
Nor will we prosper as individuals.  If we are unwilling to defend ourselves, we can never live up to our potential.  Moreover, if we avoid doing that, we will know about it.  We will be aware of copping out and this reality will gnaw at our viscera.  No amount of chemical camouflage can disguise it.
A glass of wine with dinner will not compromise our integrity.  Neither will a bottle of beer with friends or a joint now and then.  But the regular use of these intoxicants is a disaster.  It steals the pleasures available from winning life’s many skirmishes.
It is for this reason that celebrating the virtues of drug indulgence is a calamity.  Treating addiction as if it were a righteous act is an invitation to despair.  Fairytales about how this would make us nicer people and our society more civilized are absurd.
Addicts are fatuous human beings, while drug addled societies are vulnerable to predation.  Like China, when opium addiction went unchecked, they embrace exploitation.  Courage is thus not an option.  It is essential for our safety and personal satisfaction.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University