Monday, May 7, 2018

Transparency: Obama vs. Trump

When Barack Obama first ran for president, he promised that his administration would be the most transparent in history.  Unlike George W. Bush who supposedly lied us into the Iraq war, this would never happen on his watch.  He would be patently honest.
In fact, from the very beginning Obama was the opposite of transparent.  After all, who knew what “hope and change” signified.  These words were inspirational, not illuminating.  They implied that Barack would make things better without indicating how.
Shortly after he was elected, the columnists Charles Krauthammer and George Will invited Obama to dinner.  They did not know whether the new president would govern as a moderate or a liberal. According to Krauthammer, he still did not know after the meal was done.  Moreover, he didn’t find out until Barack gave his state of the union address.
Exactly how opaque Obama would be became evident shortly thereafter. With the economy in steep decline, something had to be done.  A stimulus package was promised and needed to be installed.  But what would it be?  Our new chief executive hadn’t a clue.
So what did he do?  He subcontracted the task to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.  They proceeded to cobble together a massive spending program that rewarded their friends.  This was done strictly in secret.  Not even Obama was admitted to their inner sanctum.
In any event, once the broad outlines of this legislation were made public, a question arose as to whether it would have an immediate impact.  Obama assured the American people that it would because its projects were “shovel ready.”  These, however, were mere words; words designed to disguise.
A couple of years later, when Barack admitted the shovel ready was not shovel ready, he did so with a smile and a wink.  He knew that his previous explanation was a façade, but it worked; so what was the problem?
The same approach was on display with ObamaCare.  Here the president promised that the American people would be allowed into the room while negotiations took place.  Once again, however, these were behind closed doors. The actual horse-trading would have been too embarrassing to expose to view.
Then, of course, Obama advised his listeners that they could keep their doctors and healthcare plans.  He knew this was untrue.  Ezekiel Emanuel told him so.  But that did not matter.  The goal was to sell the program, not explain it.  Not transparency, but obfuscation was the order of the day.
Barack Obama is an eloquent man.  He was plainly one of our most articulate presidents.  Whenever he got into a mess—such as the IRS scandal—he would find the language, e.g., there was not a “smidgeon of corruption,” to get him off the hook.  It did not hurt that he sounded sincere.
Nor was it irrelevant that the mainstream media loved his performances. Reporters are wordsmiths.  They appreciate a leader who is facile with a turn of phrase.  That the president’s deeds did not match his explanations was beside the point.
Enter Donald Trump.  He is far from eloquent.  Given to repetitive hyperbole and crude invective, he has been dismissed as a bumbler and a tyrant.  What is more, his tweets are excoriated as dishonest and provocative.  As a consequence, critics from both sides of the aisle recommend that he desist.
And yet, it is also clear that Trump says what he means.  Seldom does he pull punches.  Seldom does he resort to window-dressing.  This is a man who was accustomed to relating to construction workers in language they could understand.  He, unlike Obama, learned to tell it like it is.
So let me be direct: Donald Trump is transparent.  He may be the most transparent president we have ever had. For years people have demanded openness and honesty in the White House, yet when they got some, they screamed out in disgust.
How ironic is this?  How strange is it that a man who is comparatively honest is lambasted as dishonest, while one who was habitually dishonest is praised for his candor?  Apparently style counts for more than authenticity.
Why is this so?  To paraphrase a famous movie, the American people evidently can’t handle the truth. They crave elegance, not bluntness. They don’t want transparency; they want lies they can believe.  
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University

Advice on Dealing with Liberal Bullies

I am not a large person.  Indeed, I learned this is grammar school.  When we were asked to line up in size places, I was always the second or third shortest boy.  This lack of physical stature attracted bullies.  These tough guys assumed that I would be easy pickings.  They expected little resistance.
Meanwhile my father encouraged me to fight back.  He told me that this was the only way to get them to back off.  I, however, was doubtful.  My fear was that if I hit them, they would strike me harder.  Why then would I invite a more painful beating?
Of course, my Dad was right.  Bullies must be given a dose of their own medicine.  It isn’t necessary to beat them.  They must merely be given to understand that there will be no free ride. As cowards, they hurriedly look elsewhere for compliant victims.
Nowadays schoolchildren are often advised that if they are picked on, they should go to a teacher for protection.  This is absurd.  No one likes a stool pigeon.  Tattling on bullies draws the ire of nearly everyone and virtually ensures social isolation.
So what are we to do about adult bullies?  This not an academic question.  With the ascendency of liberalism, potential tormenters surround us.  Let me make myself clear; liberals are notorious bullies.  They specialize in intimidating those who oppose them.
Ask Kanye West.  He said some kind words about president Trump and the Twitter universe came down on his head. For that matter, ask Donald Trump. He has had the temerity to be politically incorrect; hence virtually everyday he is exposed to insults and threats.
You might also ask Black conservatives.  They are ostracized as traitors to their race.  Meanwhile, whites, who have the gall to express unpopular opinions, are derided as racists.  Civilized discussion about what they meant is out of the question.
Anyway, how are non-liberals to cope with protests that are actually efforts to shut them up?  How are they to exercise the freedom of speech that is theoretically protected by our constitution?  They cannot always go to the police.  They certainly can’t depend on the FBI.  So where can they turn?
The answer is that they must depend on themselves.  If they allow self-righteous progressives to call the tune, they will soon be singing disagreeable lyrics.  Only standing up against intimidation can put an end to it.
Once, a half a century ago, tail gunner Joe McCarthy sought to bully liberals into submission.  They fought back.  With the aid of honorable conservatives, they ruined his reputation and undercut his power. The same tactic is available today.
When the mainstream media, or college professors, or Hollywood stars, or unscrupulous politicians make unfounded accusations, they should be called out and humiliated.  When they refuse to publish opinions with which they disagree, a free people should create alternative channels.
Being silent in the face of coercion only encourages further coercion.  When bullies are led to believe they can get away with extortion, they go from calling names to destroying careers. Liberal bullies claim that they are super-nice.  They are anything but.
To repeat an oft-expressed verity: The only thing needed for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.  Edmund Burke was not talking about bullies per se, but he might as well have been.  He saw the French reign of terror coming and knew that aggressors don’t stop until they are stopped.
So here we are with Democrats and their liberal henchmen engaged in full-blown obstructionism.  In Congress, they prevent action from being taken by throwing sand into the legislative gears.  They will not even approve the president’s cabinet nominees without despoiling the reputations of their targets.
Likewise, in the media, rumors and slander substitute for diligent journalism and honest commentary.  Day after day, pompous progressives pump themselves up to look like dangerous adversaries.  Their bubbles must be burst.  Their self-importance must be exposed as anti-democratic posturing.
The liberal initiated struggles in which we are currently enmeshed cannot be allowed to remain business as usual.  It is essential that decent people find the courage to defy leftist calumnies and cruelty.  Fear must not prevent us from defending our liberties and heritage.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University

Monday, April 30, 2018

Do We Need Loyalty?

Jim Comey has castigated Donald Trump for demanding loyalty.  He initially reported that when the president asked for this, he replied that he would give honesty.  We now know from Comey’s memoranda that he agreed to provide “honest loyalty.”
My question is why was it ever impermissible for Trump to ask a subordinate for loyalty.  Shouldn’t underlings be trustworthy?  Shouldn’t they carry out their assigned roles?  In most cases, shouldn’t they do what their bosses ask, without seeking to sabotage them?
No doubt, blind loyalty is a problem.  We don’t want people to be good Nazis who follow every order they are given. If some mandates are illegal—or immoral—the proper course may be to disobey.  In some instances, it may even be to resign.
But was this the case with Trump and Comey?  Did the president ask the Director of the FBI to violate his oath of office?  Did he, for instance, direct him to obstruct justice.  Such evidence as we have suggests that he did not.
So why did Comey bridle at the request?  We have learned that he was loyal to Attorney General Lynch.  At her request, he refrained from saying that Hillary Clinton was being investigated.  He instead referred to this as “a matter.”  Although he later claimed this made him queasy, he loyally complied.
The same can be said about Comey’s conduct with regard to president Obama. Plainly Obama did not want to see Hillary indicted.  His FBI chief got this message and faithfully oversaw a bogus investigation.  The normal procedures were not observed to ensure that the next president would not be embarrassed.
In view of this conduct, the only thing that makes sense is that Comey did not want to be loyal to Trump per se.  Indeed, he may well have participated in a cabal to oppose his election.  In other words, Comey distrusted Trump’s politics and temperament.  He believed him unworthy of loyalty—irrespective of any presidential action.
From Trump’s perspective, it made sense to worry about whether holdovers from the previous administration would carry out his policies.  No government can operate if too many subordinates disobey instructions.  He needed people who would be on his team.
As it happened, Trump was right to be concerned.  Folks like Comey had loyalties that collided with their new boss’s policies.  They were prepared to resist a change in administrative directions.
Loyalty may not be absolute.  For example, it seldom makes sense for an underling to be loyal to a superior who is not loyal to him.  But this was not the case with Comey and Trump.  The rupture in trust was initiated by Comey.  It was his negative attitude that started the downward spiral.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of this fiasco has been to disparage loyalty—and even imply that asking for it is an impeachable offence.  No large organization can operate without loyalty; no society can remain intact in its absence.
I think in terms of the family.  How can a marriage remain stable if husbands and wives are not loyal to one another?  How can parents and children be mutually supportive if there is no loyalty between them? Could they trust each other well enough to work in harmony?
In many ways, this has become a society wide problem.  It may be one of the reasons for the upsurge in divorce. It may also account for the epidemic in unwed parenthood.  If people cannot commit to one another, that is, to be loyal to one another, how that they be confident of mutual assistance?
Disloyal husbands cheat on their wives.  Disloyal parents belittle their children for non-existent infractions. So why wouldn’t disloyal FBI Directors tell lies or leak secrets?  Without a predisposition to loyalty, people don’t have the internal controls to avoid betraying those who deserve cooperation.
At the moment, Democrats are in a full-on obstructionist mode.  They even question whether they should approve a Secretary of State who might do a hated president’s bidding.  Not the interests of the nation, not loyalty to its traditions, but self-interested partisanship guides their decisions.
This is a potential disaster in the making.  If this trend continues, our national fragmentation will be irreversible.  We will become a nation of selfish monads who are loyal only to ourselves.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University

The Perils of Manichean Thinking

Manichean thinking is very seductive.  Imagining that the world is made up of only good and bad guys simplifies the process of choosing sides.  No doubt, we will join the good guys and drive the bad ones into the ground. They are evil and therefore deserve whatever fate they meet.
Part of this scenario is that every smidgeon of wickedness in the world is attributable to the bad guys.  They are in league with the devil.  Ergo, once we get rid of them, all will be well.  With no one left to perpetrate vice, only goodness will remain.
Some religious people think this way.  They divide the universe into heaven and hell.  The trouble is that they often regard heaven as an absence of hell. It is a place where there is no disease, no starvation, no conflict.  How it will be laid out, however, is hazy.  It cannot consist solely of singing God’s praises.  (Too boring)
The Marxists are even more Manichean.  They divide the world into evil businesspersons and blameless proletarians.  Given that capitalist selfishness is responsible for mean-spirited exploitation, once they are shoved aside everyone will live in comfort.
In the Marxist playbook, after the revolution, first socialism, but later communism, will take over.  Property will be held in common and everyone will be nice to everyone else. Exactly how this will work, they do not say; mostly because they do not know.
The Marxist’s attention is directed almost exclusively toward the bad guys.  Their concern is with defeating these rich fiends.  Obviously, after they are consigned to the ash heap of history, altruistic workers will automatically do what is right.  It is thus unnecessary to foresee how they will accomplish this.
Historically, revolutionaries have sought to eliminate evil elites.  Whether they were French aristocrats, Russian boyars, or American robber barons, these villains were to be killed or impoverished.  So would any counter-revolutionaries foolish enough to enlist in their ranks.
As the kissing cousins of Marxists, contemporary liberals adhere to a similar narrative.  The one-percenters and their Republican allies are currently in their cross hairs. They are certain that once these political troglodytes are reduced to impotence, we will have heaven on earth.
As a result, liberals seldom think things through.  Because they assume their niceness will automatically beget niceness, they do not scrutinize impediments to their plans.  If the sole obstacle to a loving universe is the bad guys, with them gone there will be nothing to worry about.
The upshot is that we get shovel ready projects that are not shovel ready, ObamaCare that was predestined for a death spiral, and educational reforms that reduce what children learn.  Is it a surprise that ideologues who do not look ahead routinely encounter unforeseen complications?
A sterling example of this mentality was the Obama administration attempt to reduce racism by eliminating discipline in public schools.  On the assumption that racists were responsible for more disciplinary action being taken against black students than whites, they forbade punitive controls.
It never occurred to these liberals that some students might be more obstreperous than others.  It certainly did not occur to them that some differences might be correlated with social class—as opposed to racism.  From their Manichean perspective, punishments arose from evil educators who had to be restrained.
This lack of ability to decipher complicated problems or devise appropriate responses is one of the reasons education is in trouble.  Simplistic answers based on either/or reasoning have a way of imploding.  This also applies to the economy, criminal justice, the family, foreign relations, and gender relations.
At the moment, the biggest villain on the liberal horizon is Donald Trump. In many quarters, he is demonized as Beelzebub himself.  Whatever goes wrong—and I mean whatever—he is the evil genius operating behind the scenes. As a consequence, if we impeach him, peace and love will break out everywhere.
Although backward-looking conservatives can also be Manichean, nowadays liberals have made this their specialty.  They may brag about their sophisticated intellectual theories, but this is a false front.  They likewise boast of their unparalleled compassion, yet their relentlessly crude moralizing refutes this.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University

Monday, April 23, 2018

Environmentalism as Religion

Years ago, when programs about ecology invaded public television, I knew something was wrong.  No matter which species was highlighted, the moral was always the same.  We were told that if we modified any element in the environment, a cascade effect would destroy the delicate balance upon which we depended.
Thus, were we to upset the forests in which the Lynx thrived, we would shortly discover that we humans were also endangered.  Our only hope was to make sure we did nothing to modify the natural order.  As part of this biological tapestry, we were equally vulnerable.
What bothered me was the drumbeat of advice, which suggested that once an ecological equilibrium was lost, the path to doom was inevitable. It seemed to me that if an equilibrium were disrupted, a new one would emerge.  Without wolves to cull the deer, soon a lack of appropriate vegetation would thin the deer numbers.
Nonetheless, I was told that science was against me.  The ecology was fragile.  Plants and animals that had evolved in tandem were interdependent.  Pull one piece from the wall in which they were embedded and the whole edifice would come tumbling down.
To me, this had the whiff a religious doctrine.  While it was true that evolution was complex, it also moved. Freezing it at a point in time struck me as a secular commandment.  This was not about understanding nature, but prescribing how to deal with it.
A recent book confirmed my suspicions.  Charles Mann’s the Wizard and the Prophet (2018) traces the environmental movement back to its roots. It also compares it with the simultaneous growth of bioengineering.  As a reporter, Mann is meticulous about the details and provides a sweeping overview.
The wizard of his title is Norman Borluag.  He was the Nobel Prize winning originator of the Green Revolution. His work in developing more productive forms of wheat and rice probably saved billions—that’s right billions—from starvation.
Meanwhile the Prophet was William Vogt.  His book The Road to Survivalwas an early ecological manifesto.  Enormously influential, it predicted that we were on the road to ruin if we did not adapt to environmental verities.  Since we did not shape nature, it would have its revenge if we were arrogant.
While it must be said that we must be careful about how we pollute our planet, a return of pre-industrial poverty is not necessary.  Vogt, for instance, hated Borlaug’s innovations. He feared that more food would increase population pressures and therefore many people should be allowed to starve.
Vogt, of course, did not put it this way.  His emphasis was on the glories of unsullied nature.  According to him, we must not destroy the birds and the forests. We ought never assume God-like attributes.  Rather, we needed to fit in, rather than dominate.
To my ears this sounded romantic—and it was.  Vogt was not a scientist.  He was an activist.  Although toward the end of his career he used the title Dr., this was from an honorary degree.  His scientific training was almost non-existent.  Like so many leaders of the environmental movement, he was an enthusiastic dilettante.
My point is that environmentalism is not science.  It may dress itself up as science.  It may recruit scientists, as it does with the climate change movement.  It may even scorn its opponents by accusing them of not being scientific. Nonetheless, it is more about poetry than hard facts.
Now don’t get me wrong.  Scientists also go overboard.  They too can be arrogant.  For the moment, however, agrarian experts like Borlaug have thankfully kept famine at bay.  Even so, there may come a time when food production cannot keep up with population growth.
But do we really want to stop improving our agricultural technology? Do the environmental romantics who hope to limit our numbers to a billion intend to choose which of us are expendable? I am confident they will not select themselves.
Hence, if I have to choose between birds and people, I choose people. Likewise, if I must decide between more automobiles and forcing poor people into riding buses, I come down on the side of automobiles.  Yes, we must work to limit environmental contamination.  But this must not be at the expense of technological innovations or economic prosperity.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University

Looking for a Way to Speak Out

I began writing columns for the Cherokee Tribune about two years. For almost a decade before this I produced weekly pieces for the Marietta Daily Journal.  These ventures started almost by accident, but have been a wonderful outlet for an opinionated person such as myself.
My Tribune pieces ought actually be attributed to my wife Linda. She was the one who suggested that I do them.  Since people in Cobb County (where we work) had begun noticing me on the street, she wondered why our neighbors in Cherokee county should not do the same.
As for me, I questioned whether I could compose two columns per week.  I remembered Charles Krauthammer writing that when he began his column he insisted it be once a week lest he run out of things to say.  I also recalled a KSU colleague who marveled that I had enough material for as many essays as I already did.
Well, by now the count is well over five hundred—and I keep chugging along.  Every week I begin by speculating about the source of my next columns and every week I sit down in front of my computer and the words flow.  Here’s hoping they continue to do so.
This last week I told my MDJ readers about my adventures publishing a paperback on  Today, I am doing the same for Tribune readers.  Perhaps this is narcissistic, but that goes with the territory of being a writer.
In any event, my new book (my seventeenth) Forward-Looking Conservatism: A Renegade Sociologist Speaks Outwas published a month ago as an e-book.  Converting this into a paperback was time consuming and entailed exasperating formatting problems.
The work is a compendium of my columns from both the MDJ and the Tribune. It attempts to forge a coherent whole out of what had been independent pieces.  The goal is to demonstrate that there is a viable conservative alternative to Neo-Marxist liberalism.
My subtitle reflects the fact that I use my sociological background in an unorthodox way.  Almost all of my colleagues are liberal; hence they regard me as an apostate. They disapprove of using our disciple to support opinions they consider vile.
And so I am a renegade in quest of a platform.  Today, as during every period in history, only a few ideologies command our attention.  These embody the conventional wisdom.  They are the viewpoints with which we grew up.  As such, they appear to be the only ways to understand our universe.
So what happens when a person has a different way of looking at things?  What if it is unlike liberalism or traditional conservatism?  Is it possible to be heard?  Will people listen to an unfamiliar perspective?
As a student of social change, I am acutely aware that new ideas take time to take root.  I think of Oliver Cromwell beseeching parliamentarians to be tolerant of one another. His appeals were in vain.  Only after another hundred years of bloodshed were people willing to listen.
I know this must sound arrogant.  After all, who am I to imply that I am in the same league as Cromwell? But then again, doesn’t everyone with novel ideas assume they are correct?  Don’t we all have big dreams about influencing the world?
The trouble is that it is hard to tell the difference between idiosyncratic musings and beneficial novelties.  Our limited outlooks always distort our personal perspectives.  Nonetheless, if people don’t promote their contributions, the good would get just as lost as the bad.
In the end, we winnow the truth from falsehood by testing it in the court of public opinion.  This cannot happen, however, if ideas never make it into the social arena.  If they are not heard, they cannot stoke anyone’s imagination or stimulate counter ideas.
So this is where I am.  Whether or not I am right, I believe I have insights that are worthy of examination. Over two centuries ago, the philosopher David Hume wrote that publishing a book was like dropping it down a well. He initially bemoaned the fact that his major tome fell stillborn from the press.  Eventually, however, it became a classic.
What will happen to my books?  This is in the lap of the Gods.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University

Monday, April 16, 2018

Confronting the Dominoes of Denial

For some time now, I have been struggling to understand why so many good people tolerate rank dishonesty.  Why do liberals, in particular, spout obvious mendacities?  Worse still, why do they applaud fabrications from others? Shouldn’t they reject politicians who make a habit of propagating falsehoods?
Although I am sure that liberals make the identical complaint about conservatives, for the moment let us assume that there were lies about ObamaCare, the IRS, and the Trump dossier.  Why have these not elicited the same sort of clamor, as occurred with Watergate?
When I was a clinician helping clients deal with their personal demons, a routine obstacle we faced was their denials.  Despite themselves, these troubled souls refused to see what was there to be seen.  The traumatic events they had experienced were so painful; they could not bear to relive them.
As I watch liberals refuse to acknowledge the failures of their political agenda, it is obvious that they too are in denial.  They genuinely do not see what they could if they were able to tolerate the agony of recognizing that their dreams have turned to ashes.
In fact, we are witnessing the dominoes of denial.  The repudiation of one painful truth requires the repudiation of another painful truth that were it admitted would tear away the façade of the first.  And so denial begets denial, which begets denial, and so forth.  Eventually a tissue of lies produces a Potemkin village of untruths.
This habit of progressive deceit goes way back.  It has its roots centuries ago.  But let us start with Barack Obama.  (I am tempted to begin with Bill Clinton, but let this pass.) Obama was a master of misdirection. He boasted about being transparent, but was the least transparent chief executive in living memory.
Donald Trump is currently lambasted for his alleged duplicity. Nothing he does is exempt from liberal criticism.  Whether it is his tax cut, or dealings with North Korea, or immigration policy, he is depicted as a felon and a fraud.  In short, he is regarded as a monster.
Obama, in contrast, could do nothing wrong.  Did he lie about Benghazi?  Well, not really.  Did race relations go sour on his watch?  Well, that was because of white privilege.  Did ObamaCare fail to live up to its advance billing?  This was clearly the fault of the Republicans.   Did the economy stagnate?  Obviously, no one could have done better.
In other words, the amount of denial regarding Obama’s shortcomings is massive.  Because he was perceived as our first black president, liberals could not allow him to fail.  This might cast aspersions on an entire race—which was completely unacceptable.
Yet this cover-up begat additional cover-ups.  Were Trump to be appreciated as undoing much of Obama’s mischief, it would be necessary to admit that Barack was not perfect.  It might be necessary, for instance, to acknowledge that the economy could have done better with fewer regulations.
Obama is still bragging about how corruption free his administration was, whereas we are learning about how he, and is cronies, weaponized the FBI, the Justice Department, and the CIA.  In order to obscure these embarrassing facts, Trump and his allies must be depicted as more corrupt.
This practice of disguising failures by inventing rival failures does not end.  Were Russian collusion confessed to be a fabrication, Obama’s complicity in creating it might come to light.  That cannot be allowed to happen.  It might unravel decades of liberal exaggerations.
The scales will not fall from liberal eyes because they would have to accept their limitations.  They could not continue to fool themselves into believing that they are more intelligent and compassionate than their foes.  How then would they congratulate themselves for being special?
Denial is a commonplace defense mechanism.  We all use it.  It has become standard operating procedure for liberals because they have so many failings to conceal.  Not the least of these is the dishonesty that their deteriorating fairytales forced them to employ.
With my clinical clients, the objective was to help them become sturdy enough to confront excruciating realities.  What sort of therapy must we now perform with liberals?  My guess is that this will have to be strong medicine.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University