The Left Will Not Achieve Gun Reform By Using Divisive Culture War Tactics

Gun violence protests - NRA blood on your hands

Going on a moralistic crusade against the NRA and gun rights supporters may be cathartic for the Left, but folding the gun control debate into the ongoing toxic culture war only guarantees bitter polarisation and more deadly inaction

A worrying (but perhaps predictable) new development following the horrific Parkland school shooting has been a concerted effort by many on the anti-gun Left to fold the issue of gun rights and restrictions into the broader, toxic ongoing culture war, in which Americans hunker down within their respective ideological bunkers and instinctively assume the worst of those who disagree.

This trend reached depressing new heights last night during CNN’s town hall on gun control, held in Broward County, Florida, where the shooting took place. This was less a serious debate conducted in the spirit of seeking compromise than it was an inquisition, designed not to foster understanding or brainstorm solutions but rather to provide a cathartic opportunity for gun-control advocates to scream at gun rights supporters and accuse them of complicity in the mass murder of innocent schoolchildren.

Even if there were a shred of truth in these monstrous accusations – and there isn’t – it would remain absolutely terrible politics. Constantly fuming that the other side is selfish and evil only encourages alienation and division, a fact which was true when some Republicans implied that President Obama didn’t “love America” and which applies equally now when some Democrats imply that conservatives don’t care about murdered kids. And it really should be a cause of deep shame for CNN that President Trump of all people was able to moderate a calmer, more respectful and productive listening session on gun control at the White House than Jake Tapper, with all his experience, managed on live television.

(Of course, the US media being the uncritically self-regarding entity that it is, Tapper is receiving praise from all corners for permitting what was effectively open season on Republican senator Marco Rubio and NRA representative Dana Loesch while letting the political activist local sheriff whose department failed to take action against the killer before he struck completely off the hook).

The irony to all of this is that there have actually been some genuinely hopeful signs of movement from gun rights proponents after this latest shooting. Whether it is increased fatigue from even hardened gun-rights activists at witnessing the funerals of more young children or (perhaps more likely) the loud and insistent activism of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students themselves, concessions are now being mooted and offered on areas from bump stocks (though no such device was used in this particular shooting) to increased criminal background and mental health checks.

This much, however, was foreseeable. What seems to be new this time is that efforts are now underway to make gun rights supporters pariahs in the wider American culture and society. We see this most notably with swarms of activists on social media browbeating corporations into disassociating themselves with the National Rifle Association – and gunowners in general, by extension:

 

This, of course, is precisely the same tactic used by the illiberal leftist British organisation Stop Funding Hate, which channels the efforts of a few thousand shrill voices on Twitter to intimidate companies into pulling their advertisements from certain publications or certain publications from their places of business.

Stop Funding Hate has had great success in surgically removing the spines of various corporations in Britain and then bending them to conform to whatever happens to be their moral outrage of the week, nearly always involving the Daily Mail. One does not have to approve of the Daily Mail’s editorial positions or reporting standards to be concerned that leftist efforts to make the personal political are creating dozens of new wedge issues to divide British people from one another rather than uniting us around common values, and co-opting big business in their efforts to do so.

In America, it seems to corporate capitulations are going to be every bit as swift as they have been here in the United Kingdom, with car hire giant Enterprise Rent-A-Car swiftly terminating a deal with the NRA in which offered rental discounts to their members:

 

Note the specific language used here, too. The business relationship was between Enterprise and the NRA, so the spineless amoebas who run the company’s social media accounts could simply have said that they terminated their relationship with the NRA. But they went one step further and specifically pointed out that they were withdrawing their discount for “NRA members”, as though innocent NRA members (none of whom have ever committed one of these mass shootings) are themselves deserving of opprobrium and social sanction.

An intersectional social justice warrior might say that this has the effect of “othering” the large minority of Americans who own guns, but of course such terms are only conferred on designated victim groups, a label which conservative gun-owners will never attract. Those of us who do not wallow 24/7 in victimhood culture might simply point out that appearing to repudiate law-abiding NRA members

Are firms like Enterprise free to advertise or offer affinity partnerships with whatever organisations they please? Of course. Is it necessarily good business to allow a handful of Twitter activists to effectively dictate corporate strategy? It’s arguable, but I have very strong doubts. But is it good for the country for corporations to so clearly take sides on divisive social issues, coming perilously close to suggesting that those who hold more conservative views are effectively personae non gratae? I think it is unambiguously bad and counterproductive to do so.

We have already been through this dismal dance with the media. The mainstream, prestige media’s often soft but near-universal leftward bias on all issues did not have the desired effect of “reprogramming” conservatives into adopting progressive positions; rather, it simply forced conservative news consumers into the arms of right wing talk radio, Fox News and a slew of independent right-wing websites whose journalistic standards and commitment to objectivity are often questionable at best. And freed from the need to cater to that side of the market, the remaining prestige media has had every social and commercial incentive to pander to progressive dogma and groupthink to the extent that many journalists genuinely believe themselves to be objective while displaying degrees of selection bias and epistemic closure which beggar belief.

Has this division been good for American society? Who can argue that it has been anything other than a monumental failure? More than anything, this is what gave the country President Trump. When the legacy news outlets which generally still come closest to reporting objective truth make it plainly clearly that conservative ideas are unwelcome and will be treated with more scepticism than progressive ideas, the very idea of objectivity is poisoned.

Do we really want to replicate this polarisation across all aspects of American life? Do we want to live in a society where the car rental company you use, the airline you fly, the grocery store you shop at or the high-tech goods you buy become an expression of your stance on every hot-button social issue, a flag planted to declare your allegiance in the culture wars?

Nothing good can come of this. Nothing. Have conservatives historically shown far too little sense of urgency in proposing and implementing policy changes in an attempt to reduce the frequency and deadliness of mass shootings, or at least been content to see efforts stall so long as their rights were not threatened? Absolutely. But now they are actually coming to the table, the Left’s response cannot be to paint every gun-owning American as a pariah and refuse to frequent the same places of business.

The Left have a history of achieving social changes – often welcome, sometimes less so – and responding to these victories not with magnanimity toward the conservatives they routed but rather with an unbecoming, snarling vengefulness. It would be a real catastrophe if they now repeat this destructive behaviour as they fight for greater gun control.

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After The Parkland School Shooting We Need To Rethink The Trade-off Between Liberty And Public Safety

Mass Shooting - Marjory Stoneman Douglas High - Parkland Florida - Gun Control

Conservatives and gun rights activists don’t like to talk about it, but at the heart of their opposition to increased gun control is an unspoken trade-off between defending against possible future tyranny and trying to reduce or prevent otherwise inevitable future deadly mass shootings. In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, we need to drag this debate out into the open and re-examine the trade-offs which we are willing to tolerate

At what point is the promise of the Second Amendment and the assurance it offers Americans as the final firewall against government tyranny outweighed by the monthly carnage in American schools? Or is it wrong to even conceptualise such a tipping point, gut-wrenchingly tragic and outrageous though these endless mass shootings may be?

Are we right to focus on high profile mass shootings when so many more murders take place, in no way less tragic, during shootings involving only one victim? Is it appropriate to even contemplate reviewing something so fundamental to the American culture and precepts of government as the Second Amendment based purely on high profile massacres, when they form such a small percentage of the total yearly gun homicides?

Even if it were possible to outlaw the kind of weapons often used in high profile mass shootings, would it ever be politically or logistically possible to enforce a ban and/or seek to recall these weapons from lawful owners while providing appropriate monetary compensation, or would this simply leave the citizenry more at the mercy of criminals, or even provoke armed insurrection by those unwilling to comply?

All of these thoughts and more have been going through my mind as I learned of the latest deadly school shooting, this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where seventeen young people are known to have been killed.

I have long supported gun ownership rights, albeit with some caveats. Part of this is a function of growing up in the United Kingdom, where not only are most of the police unarmed, but where the law often ends up penalising those who try to engage in legitimate self-defence. If the government will not quickly and reliably come to one’s aid in a life-threatening situation, particularly given the rising Islamist terror threat, then what right has the government to demand that citizens forego even non-lethal methods of personal self-defence such as tasers or pepper spray?

I am not yet constitutional scholar enough to be able to adequately dissect the Second Amendment and the myriad existing gun control laws, but clearly there are existing limits on the right to bear arms, set both by the definition of the word “arms” and by state and federal law. One cannot construct a homemade nuclear weapon or dirty bomb in one’s garage or laboratory as an insurance policy against government tyranny, for example, and even the most conservative Republicans and the NRA don’t seem to register any objection to that.

As with free speech and the First Amendment, a line has been drawn. In the case of free speech, the line has rightly been set at the point of incitement or “fighting words”, the credible threat of harm to another individual. In the case of gun ownership and the Second Amendment, the line is both blurrier and more jagged, with various carve-outs and inconsistent application among the various states. But over the passage of time it was decided that certain semi-automatic weapons should be legal while others designated “assault weapons” are not, and yet nowhere is this spelled out in the Constitution.

Since there is then precedent for wide-ranging interpretation, it does not seem unreasonable to demand one of two things – either that the Second Amendment is revisited and its language tightened up to elucidate precisely what constitutes “arms” and precisely what infringements upon the right to bear such arms are now tolerable, or that the line in the sand (whose presence we all tacitly tolerate anyway) is redrawn in a way that restricts the type of weapon repeatedly used in these mass shooting incidents.

I believe that principles are important. In the Brexit debate here in Britain, I maintain that the principles of democracy and self-determination are sacrosanct and in themselves worth voting to leave the European Union, which is a deeply antidemocratic supranational government in gestation. I hold this view despite the fact that Remainers can point to many potential short and medium-term costs (albeit some of them invented or far-fetched) because democracy, though not quantifiable, is priceless.

And so it is with liberty and the right to fend off a tyrannical government, I suppose. America’s history is rooted in having to fend off a colonial power and fight to remain independent. American government is further predicated on the noble idea that the government and institutions of the day exist at the sufferance of the people, from whom they are temporarily given certain powers of governance, unlike most other countries where rights flow from the government to the individual. Given that the arc of history does not inevitably bend towards progress, and that tyranny can re-emerge unexpectedly at any time, a plausible and coherent (if distasteful) argument can be made that no matter how grim the death tolls and murder rates, the fundamental, universal liberty which the Second Amendment protects is yet more precious even than the lives taken every day by the bullet.

And yet. And yet we do not live in a world of pure political theory. We live in the real world, a fallen world where at some point the body count, the sheer mass of lost human potential will eventually outweigh (if it hasn’t done so already) any benefit that the Second Amendment offers in its current form.

For the past decade I have been a project and program manager by trade, and one of the key things we do in my job is assess and mitigate risk. In order to do so, one needs to determine both the likelihood of an adverse event happening and the severity of the consequences if it does so. Assigning a numeric value to each, one can then multiply the two variables to arrive at a unique risk rating for any eventuality, and use that rating to determine whether the risk can be mitigated and whether it is worth the cost of doing so based on the probability and severity of any potential fallout.

The Second Amendment is essentially a risk mitigation strategy against the re-emergence of tyrannical government. The result of true tyranny (though such things always exist on a sliding scale) can inevitably be measured in countless human lives, as borne out by every dictatorship which has ever existed. The probability of tyranny re-emerging, however, fluctuates all the time according to societal trends and political developments – at this time, some might say that the probability has spiked somewhat, while others would say that such an assessment is overblown.

We then need to compare the price of our current risk mitigation strategy against government tyranny – the Second Amendment in its current form – against the price of such a tyranny re-emerging in the event that we either cease to mitigate the risk (by abolishing the Second Amendment and attempting a recall or seizure of guns in legal circulation) or reduce our mitigation efforts (by imposing additional limits and restrictions on Second Amendment rights).

I’m sure that some person far cleverer (and more clinically, dispassionately calculating) than I could input thousands of societal and political variables into a huge Excel spreadsheet, work some pivot table magic and come up with a theoretical crossover point in terms of lives currently being lost versus lives potentially saved by fending off government tyranny (to the extent that current levels of gun ownership are any true defence against such tyranny). However, I am not that person. All I can do is go by my gut feeling and confess that much as I believe in gun ownership and support the Second Amendment in principle, it seems evident to me that we are way past the tipping point and that something needs to change.

A reasonable trade-off at this point, I believe, would be the banning of the sale of semi-automatic, gas-operated weapons and potentially compulsory buy-backs and amnesties to remove as many as possible currently in private ownership, given the capacity of such weapons to rapidly inflict mass casualties and their current popularity with mentally disturbed or evil people for whom such firearms are their weapon of choice.

I arrive at this position based on an honest and realistic assessment of both the risk of government tyranny (the ultimate reason that supporters of such weapons invoke in their defence) and the ability of such weapons in the public domain to deter against tyranny. I would not go further and propose the banning of non auto-loading firearms because there is a legitimate self-defence and recreational interest in keeping them, while they also provide a continued (if reduced) protection against the emergence of government tyranny, with the reduction in deterrence more equal to the potential lives saved through a successfully-enforced ban of semi-automatic weapons.

As Salon (hardly an unbiased source, but instructive in this instance) wrote in the aftermath of last year’s Las Vegas shootings:

The problem with gas operated weapons is that they are very, very dangerous. They are inherently dangerous, of course, because they are capable of killing people. But they are also dangerous because of the design of their rapid fire mechanisms and because of the nature of the humans who use them. In order for one of these weapons to be safe when it is loaded with a magazine full of bullets, two things must happen: the safety must be on, and it must not have a live cartridge in the chamber. But even if these safety precautions are taken, it’s still dangerous because dropping the weapon might chamber a round and knock the safety off, causing it to fire. The United States Military considers the gas operated weapons it issues to soldiers to be so dangerous that loaded firearms are not permitted on military bases here in this country, or even on bases in combat zones abroad. When I was in Iraq and Afghanistan, every time we entered an Army basecamp, our convoys had to pull over to the side of the road short of the camp entrance, soldiers had to dismount and walk over to barrels full of sand, and pointing the barrels of their M-16’s or M-4’s into the barrels, they had to remove loaded magazines from their rifles and clear the chamber of live rounds. Only when their weapons were completely unloaded and the bullets were put away were they safe.

[..] That’s all the Congress needs to know in order to write legislation that will make it far more difficult for mass killings to be carried out in the future. Ban the sale of gas operated weapons. Ban the importation and manufacture in the United States of new gas operated weapons except those for military or police use, and ban the sale or resale of currently existing gas operated weapons. The Las Vegas shooter apparently bought all of his weapons in contemplation of using them to shoot up the concert on Sunday night. If he had been unable to legally purchase his arsenal of gas-operated rifles, he would have been unable to kill 59 and wound over 500. Nor would the shooters in Orlando, or Newtown, or Virginia Tech, or Aurora Colorado have been able to so easily carry out their mass murders. If each of those shooters had to cock his weapon every time he fired it, far fewer people would have died.

Could such a ban be enforced by a mere Act of Congress? Again, I am not yet lawyer enough to proffer a deeply informed opinion. It may well be that such a ban could only be achieved through a Constitutional amendment – and given the current lack of clarity in the Second Amendment, the latter course of action would probably be preferable. Far better to have a clear and unambiguous limit on the power of the government to infringe on the private right to bear arms than the current situation where we have a very maximalist clause in the Constitution which is interpreted and curtailed in all manner of ways and thus made a mockery of in real life. And since so many decent and law-abiding citizens view their right to own such weapons as rooted in the Constitution, only a Constitutional amendment would give any future ban real weight and legitimacy.

But would such a measure do anything to significantly reduce the carnage which has long been a part of daily life in America? Much would depend on the method and timescale of any recall effort after an applicable law or Constitutional amendment was passed, and one can look to the Australian gun amnesties and buy-back schemes for guidance, but it should be acknowledged that any effect would be marginal at best in the short term.

Many weapons would inevitably not be handed in and would continue to be stored insecurely or accessible to those who should not have them, while psychopaths could continue to inflict mass casualties using smaller weapons. And while in time there would almost certainly be a decrease in the deadliness of mass shooting incidents (if not in the number of incidents themselves) as more guns were handed in and the inevitable smuggling routes disrupted, opponents of the ban could always disingenuously point to any mass shooting involving a semi-automatic weapon which slipped through the net as “proof” that the whole exercise was a futile exchange of liberty for no additional safety. The benefits would be marginal, and one cannot disprove a counterfactual.

And yet clearly something must be done. America stands alone among prosperous, developed countries in terms of gun violence and mass shootings in particular, and freedom enjoyed is not so vastly greater in the United States than it is in other peer countries such as Britain to justify the carnage (though again, America’s “insurance policy” against tyranny is somewhat greater than other countries).

If not this moderate additional restriction on gas-operated semi-automatic weapons, what is the alternative? Many Second Amendment defenders rightly point to a litany of other factors which contribute toward mass shootings, from the degenerate culture and lack of accessible mental healthcare services to the ubiquity of antidepressants and other prescription medications, and more. And they are right to highlight these issues – after all, guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

But we are now faced with a choice between trying to change society and human nature, which is incredibly difficult, time consuming and unpredictable in its results, or taking steps which accept the world and human nature as they are (surely the correct conservative approach) and enact physical constraints on the ability to purchase or acquire semi-automatic or gas operated weapons, or doing both.

At this point, we need to embrace an “all of the above” solution. We should absolutely do what we can to identify instances where the lack of mental healthcare or the prescription or illegal acquisition of certain pharmaceutical drugs can impact someone’s mental equanimity to the point where they become a potential mass murderer, and thenmake sensible reforms in this sphere. We should examine our culture of violence and any role that this plays in mass shootings, and also continue to take steps to change the way that the media reports such incidents (such as by focusing less on the killer, depriving them of the posthumous fame they crave and so acting as a deterrent to potential future killersthough others disagree that this makes any difference).

But this alone is not enough. We need to take practical measures too, steps rooted in the physical world to make it harder to acquire particularly lethal weapons. And for Second Amendment advocates (of whom I still consider myself one, albeit a reformist) it might be suggested that a small tactical retreat on this issue, if exchanged for cast-iron guarantees that no further infringement will take place, is infinitely preferable to inaction and the slow build-up of public outrage which might one day boil over and result in far more draconian gun control laws.

It may sound heartless so soon after another unspeakable tragedy to consider the issue of gun control in the clinical terms of risk mitigation. But at its heart, this is the purpose of the Second Amendment – to provide an insurance policy against encroaching government tyranny. And it does no good arguing the issue from a purely emotional angle or even from the self-defence angle, when both of these approaches skirt the real Constitutional issue at stake.

At its heart, the Constitutionally-rooted argument for the right to bear arms is not about hunting, recreation or self-defence; it is about the preservation of liberty and the right of the people to protect themselves from a government which no longer serves their interests. One can argue that this is an anachronism made hopelessly out of date by advancing weapons and surveillance technology, but American founding history vindicates the right to bear arms, and the wider arc of history warns us repeatedly against allowing ourselves to believe that Western democracies have entered some permanently benign state where the interests of the people and those in power will never again be irreconcilably opposed.

This is the battleground on which the issue must be fought if we are to have any resolution to the gun control debate, because this is the only line of argument seen as valid by gun ownership advocates, and because the Constitution demands that it be so. What, in 2018, would be a more acceptable, legal and politically/logistically feasible balance between safeguarding against the low probability of encroaching government tyranny versusprotecting the presently-imperilled public interest?

That is the question we must answer.

 

Note: I am no constitutional scholar or expert in how existing gun control measures have been reconciled with the Second Amendment. If anybody has any corrections, additions or counter-arguments to what I have written, I would be grateful to hear them in the Comments.

 

Shooting At High School In Parkland, Florida Injures Multiple People

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Falcon Heavy Takes Flight, Rebooting Human Ambition

At a time when distracted Western governments and decaying institutions are incapable of providing visionary leadership, with society increasingly split along partisan lines, it took the vision of a private citizen to remind us what real ambition looks like

“Ad astra per aspera”, reads one of several memorial plaques to the crew of Apollo 1, three brave NASA astronauts who died in January 1967 when the oxygen in their capsule ignited during a routine launchpad test midway through America’s audacious bid to put a man on the moon. A rough road leads to the stars.

But since 19 December 1972, there has been no road to the stars of any kind, no road anywhere beyond Low Earth Orbit. The final Apollo missions were scrubbed due to their enormous cost, public apathy and perceived lack of return on investment, and while the Space Shuttle and International Space Station served as holding accomplishments of a kind, one cannot escape the conclusion that we have gone backwards, and not only as it relates to space travel, in terms of our willingness to embrace big challenges or dare mighty things.

Various politicians in recent years have proposed vague and (to varying degrees) fanciful plans for a return to manned spaceflight beyond Low Earth Orbit – George W. Bush had his own plan to send people to Mars, never likely to happen while he was busy bungling the War on Terror, while Newt Gingrich promised a moon colony by 2020. But this was always fanciful thinking – the fact that NASA has not had a permanent director in over a year reveals the truth about exactly how much the US government currently prioritises space exploration.

Thus in recent years it has fallen to private companies (as well as the Russians and Chinese) to keep the hope of future manned spaceflight alive. We are able to fill the sky with myriad commercial and military satellites, but the normally insatiable human appetite for exploration seemed in recent years to have dimmed.

Matthew Continetti makes this point in a piece for the National Review:

It was precisely this dream that seemed jeopardized by President Obama’s 2010 decision to cancel our return to the moon. Not only did America cede the final frontier to Russia and China. The policy lowered our sights. It tempered our dreams. Certain possibilities, such as Americans on the red planet, appeared to be closed off.

NASA’s robot explorers, who have traveled to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the asteroid belt, are scrappy and intrepid. They have told us much about the solar system. But they are not very exciting. They make for good copy in Discover and Scientific American, but they do not quicken the pulse or exhilarate the imagination. Only a vision of the human future in space can do that.

This sense of decline finally started to change with the launch of the SpaceX rocket Falcon Heavy on Tuesday 6 February, a machine half the size and power of the Saturn V rockets used in the Apollo missions but far more efficient and able to carry significant payloads into orbit, and beyond. Meanwhile, NASA’s own next-generation Space Launch System is lagging behind and not due to carry its first manned mission until the highly optimistic date of December 2019.

I found the video of the Falcon Heavy launch – much like the footage of the Apollo missions – profoundly moving. I’m a child of the 1980s, and became an adult in the 2000s. And I can name no human accomplishment which has taken place in my lifetime remotely comparable to the moon landings. Nothing even close. Since the Apollo missions we have betrayed that legacy, hugging our own planet and never venturing beyond low-Earth orbit within the lifetimes of most people on this planet. Some even question whether the accomplishment was real, or if it wasn’t all just deception concocted in a TV studio.

The America of 1969 was not without its challenges and issues. The preceding year had been particularly difficult, with the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy and the Vietnam War protests. Yet despite these trials and difficulties, still the United States accomplished great things, launching (and safely recovering) the first men to ever set foot on another world. We, by contrast, seem overwhelmed by challenges which are no more insurmountable than those we faced in the 1960s.

Humans need vision and purpose. The prevailing political debate in the West implies that we must be concerned with “equality” (of outcome) above all else, that the guiding star of humanity should simply be ensuring that everyone has equal slices of a pie. But equality of outcome is a state of being (and an undesirable one at that), not a destination. As a society, we need to be part of something, to belong to a collective endeavour. Religion has long served that purpose, but is now a diminishing influence for many, while intersectional identity politics threatens atomisation rather than building unity.

President Kennedy once said “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”. He was addressing a country and a people who wanted more than simply to protect their own perks & privileges – people who asked what they could do for their country, not what the government could do for them.

Our leaders don’t speak like that any more, because there is no longer any political reward to be gained from calling us to a higher, shared purpose. Atomised and highly individualistic, we couldn’t care less about discovery or common endeavour, or anything that doesn’t directly help us to pay a deposit on our London flat or New York apartment.

It’s easy to blame politicians for our societal and cultural drift, but in truth we get the leaders we deserve. And the reason we are lead by identikit drones who waffle on about “Our NHS” and act like making the trains run on time is God’s highest purpose, or ignorant blowhards who spew empty promises to “Make America Great Again”  is because we reward the people who do so. We are overly self-absorbed.

There is no ambition in our politics anymore, only petulant demands from voters and cowardly pandering by politicians. Young people in particular are (rightly) idealistic – but what, aside from the utterly misguided forced equality advocated by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders, is remotely idealistic or ambitious about our politics today? Almost nothing. In Britain, the Conservative government wouldn’t know ambition if it slapped them in the face, while in the United States the “elites” and the “deplorables” are too busy trying to paint one another as Hitler to stop and try to achieve anything remotely tangible.

In 2018, Britain has voted to leave the European Union, and we stand at a unique moment in history. But rather than seizing this opportunity to earnestly debate the meaning of democracy and self-determination at a time when the world is more knitted together than ever before, instead we obsess about personalities and repeat worn-out half-truths and talking points from the referendum campaign.

Rather than starting a serious discussion about the future of the nation state, the challenges it faces and how to preserving meaningful democracy as we move toward whatever comes next, instead we obsess over whether or not the new settlement will put money in our pockets or make us poorer in the short term. The short-term Politics of Me Me Me pervades everything, to the extent that we laugh at and dismiss people who dare to talk about higher ideals.

But this is about so much more than just Brexit; you can agree or disagree with the wisdom of leaving the European Union. This is about the energy, ambition and vitality being sucked out of our politics and gradually replaced over the years with a greedy, grasping self regard. It’s about having no higher purpose (or common purpose) than the fleeting pursuit of pleasure.

That’s why the Falcon Heavy launch, the work of SpaceX and the ambition of Elon Musk struck such a chord this week. The launch of this rocket creates a link to past accomplishments in human spaceflight and reminds us of a time when we set our sights on higher things, when we sought out rather than shunned the difficult challenges, despite the technological deficits we faced. And having witnessed nothing but retrenchment and lowered expectations from government in the intervening years, it fell to a private company and its own commercial ambitions to provide us with that sense of wonder and possibility that we no longer seem able to channel through government or civil society.

 

I look at the historic footage of the Apollo landings, magnificent accomplishments which took place decades before I was born, and ache to live in a time when we as a society cared about something more than our bank balances and social status; when we aspired to goals greater and more noble than mere “tolerance” and “equality” among atomised, self-interested individuals.

Each one of us has in our pocket a computing device more powerful than that which sent Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, those brave pioneers, to the moon. What are we doing with the near-limitless intellectual resources at our disposal? With the kind of wealth and purchasing power that only aristocrats and industrialists enjoyed a century ago? And yet with all these advantages at our disposal, for what accomplishments will we be remembered fifty years hence?

We are better than the current depleted state of our national ambition suggests. I don’t know how we rediscover or rekindle the spark, but we urgently need to do so. Western society is drifting, as evidenced by the furious obsession with social justice and identity politics in an age of unrivalled riches and opportunity, by our failure to stand up for small-L liberal Western or Enlightenment values at a time when they are under attack on all fronts, and by the shrinking of our political debate into a question of what the government ought to do for us rather than what we can do for our countries, and for the world.

On January 27 1967, three brave American astronauts died during a routine test of their space capsule. They gave their lives for a higher ideal and paved the way for us to later set foot on the moon. As a society, as a species, we need to once again be worthy of their sacrifice, and the bravery of those who followed in their footsteps. Otherwise what the hell are we all doing?

 

Falcon Heavy maiden flight

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Patriotism Done Right – A Lesson For Britain, From Kentucky

The slavish worship of diversity is not enough to keep our fraying social fabric from coming apart in these difficult times; we need symbols and rituals that unite us, and we must defend these symbols from those who wrongly portray them as divisive or exclusionary

Take three minutes to watch this beautiful video of the Kentucky All-State Choir giving a moving and pitch-perfect rendition of the US national anthem from the balconies of the Hyatt hotel in Louisville, where they are currently staying while participating in a conference and competition.

Now try to picture this scene, or anything like it, taking place in Britain. Laughably impossible, isn’t it? Overt displays of gentle patriotism, and by schoolchildren? If such a scene did occur at an inter-school competition anywhere in the UK, it would more likely make the news because a group of parents complained that their children were forced to take part in some terrible, jingoistic ceremony, the first step toward the formation of a new Hitler Youth.

There would be earnest think-pieces in the Guardian about how teaching or singing the national anthem at public school events was oppressive to those who live here while wanting nothing to do with our shared culture, or who harbour a seething dislike of the various symbols and rituals which represent the country that gives them life and liberty. The matter would be hotly debated on BBC Question Time. Change.org petitions would be started, Twitter memes created and MPs would take sides.

One can just imagine Cathy Newman then hauling the poor choir director in to the television studio for one of her famously objective and well-researched interviews on Channel 4 news:

Cathy: So what made you decide to force these impressionable young children, many of whom might not even be comfortable identifying as British, to sing an anthem which they dislike and show respect to a country about which they might feel ambivalent at best?

Choir director: Well, there is far more that unites us than divides us, and our thinking was what better way to show that all of our students are united by something deeper, something which transcends the differences in their race, national origin or religion than by performing —

Cathy: So what you’re saying is that you wanted to brainwash these children into mindlessly supporting UK foreign policy and worshipping the government, just like North Korea?

Choir director: No, I —

Cathy: Aren’t you just normalising the ugly wave of nationalism and bigotry which has swept over the country since the EU referendum?

Lord knows that overt displays of patriotism do not come naturally to most British people. Many on the Left in particular seemed to discover their inner patriot for the first time when they watched the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and only then because director Danny Boyle turned half the show into an all-singing, all-dancing Mass in worship of the NHS and centralised, government-provided healthcare.

But this needs to change. Cold, hard circumstances mean that the quintessentially British “softly softly” approach to patriotism is now inadequate when it comes to forging and maintaining a unified, vaguely harmonious society.

Even if Brexit hadn’t come along and revealed (not caused) a split right down the middle of the country in terms of outlook and values, high levels of immigration combined with a laissez-fair “integrate if you want to or stay in your own enclaves and ghettoes, whatever works best for you” attitude from the government mean that the United Kingdom is nowhere near as united as it should be. Throw in the recent Scottish independence referendum, the rise of Islamist extremism and the West’s failure to celebrate, defend and transmit our small-L liberal enlightenment values, and the net result is that our national body is very badly frayed indeed.

At times like this, unifying symbols matter hugely. Just ask the European Union, which has spent countless taxpayer pounds and launched dozens of initiatives in a desperate (and largely futile) attempt to inculcate a sense of European-ness strong enough to justify the vast institutions and creeping supranational government being built in Brussels. The EU has a flag and an anthem for a reason, and it has nothing to do with friendly trade and co-operation between autonomous nation states.

The United States, so long a successful melting pot for immigrants from all over the world, succeeds because it unapologetically promotes and celebrates its values and culture in a way that make new arrivals want to embrace the traditions of their new home, even while often carefully maintaining and cherishing their historical traditions too.

My wife grew up in a border town in south Texas, only miles from Mexico, where a huge percentage of the population are first and second generation immigrants, both legal and also some without legal rights of residency. Yet nobody in that town thinks twice about honouring the symbols of America, and nearly everybody considers themselves to be American and takes pride in being so. Everyone stands for the national anthem at sports games. All of the children recite the pledge of allegiance at school in the morning, and those first or second generation immigrant children do so without feeling that honouring America in any way diminishes their attachment to their other respective cultures.

In Britain, however, even displaying the Union flag causes some post-patriotic progressives to break out in hives or worry that they are about to get caught up in a BNP rally. And decades of constitutional vandalism by successive governments have resulted in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland rightly being given more devolved powers and space for home-nation patriotic self-expression while England has remained constrained in this regard, the result of which is that many British people outside of England no longer view the UK national anthem as “their” anthem.

Meanwhile, the Times Educational Supplement frets:

For schools, the problem remains of how to ensure that populist political initiatives to create shared citizenship are not be at the expense of embracing diversity.

In the US, courts notwithstanding, for years many children have had to salute the flag and recite the oath of allegiance every morning. The aim, supposedly, is to unify, yet it is inevitable that such exercises also exclude and exacerbate divisions. In France, for example, millions of children have family links to other countries including, of course, the UK. Are they supposed to renounce these links – or feel less “French” because of a failure to do so? Academics speak of governments imposing “societal cultures” and devaluing what they call, rather grandly, “differentiated citizenship”. They contrast the simplistic appeal of unity with celebrations of cultural diversity and philosophical values, such as equality of opportunity, that transcend nationalities.

What corrosive nonsense. The progressive blob would have us do away with E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one – and replace it with “out of many, even more”. They would have diversity be the only value worth celebrating, and practically discourage us from creating and celebrating deeper, transcendent connections between people of different backgrounds. And such is their faith in the god of diversity that they believe that liberal democracy can survive such a Utopian experiment.

The wonderful thing about these Kentucky school children singing the national anthem together is that they are E Pluribus Unum in action. Many may be native born, but some are doubtless immigrants or the children of immigrants. Many are likely Christian but others are of different faiths or none. Some are conservatives and even Donald Trump supporters while others are liberals who perhaps shed tears when Hillary Clinton delivered her concession speech in November 2016. They are rich, poor, black, white, male, female, Caucasian, Hispanic, gay or heterosexual. And yet however important those identities may rightly be to them, still they are able to come together in harmony to deliver a beautiful performance of the Star Spangled Banner. All of them are American.

This is a lesson that we in Britain urgently need to learn. We do not need to copy the United States in every respect, nor should we. But we should recognise that unifying symbols matter deeply if we want to maintain a cohesive society built on the liberal values for which Britain has long stood. And if not the national anthem, we need to identify and promote other unifying symbols, and withstand the manufactured outrage of those who would have us frantically celebrate our diversity until our increasingly atomised society crumbles completely beneath our feet.

We must stand up to the post-patriotic progressives and their destructive motto Diversitas, Heri, Hodi, Semper and instead re-embrace E Pluribus Unum.

 

Note: The high school choir members who take part in the KMEA All State Choir Conference in Kentucky do this every year, a wonderful annual tradition. Here is last year’s performance at the same venue.

 

Pledge of Allegiance - Stars and stripes

Pledge of Allegiance

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Nancy Pelosi’s DACA ‘Filibuster’ And The Dishonest, Manipulative Illegal Immigration Debate

Nancy Pelosi illegal immigration filibuster - DACA - Dreamers - House of Representatives

When lawbreaking is openly celebrated and any efforts at immigration enforcement painted as racist by the Left, Democrats are stoking social division and political gridlock nearly as much as Donald Trump

From both Democrats and Trumpian Republicans, all we get is a stream of dishonesty on the subject of immigration.

Conservative anti-amnesty extremists live in a fantasy world where millions of people without legal status can be summarily removed from the United States without a seriously disruptive effect on both society and the economy, and where building an expensive and functionally questionable fortified border wall will prevent future illegal immigration when they know full well that even a hundred foot wall would do nothing to prevent visa overstays and other methods of subverting immigration law.

Meanwhile in the space of a decade, the bulk of the Democratic Party, cheered on by its most ideological activists, seems to have moved toward a de facto Open Borders position, refusing to countenance any additional immigration enforcement measures and regarding those already in existence as openly racist. Using Donald Trump’s often ignorant and xenophobic rhetoric as a cover, Democratic Party leaders have preposterously suggested that any effort to implement a skills-based immigration policy is by its very nature part of an immoral plan to “Make America White Again” (ironically failing to realise that their assumption that non-white people lack marketable skills is itself racist).

This is not the kind of political posturing from either side which is conducive to the kind of comprehensive deal on immigration reform which everybody knows is not only needed, but by far the most sensitive way to address an intractable situation in a way that allows both Left and Right to gain something that they desperately want.

But while much is made in the media of Donald Trump’s xenophobic boorishness and the lack of nuance to his border wall policy, virtually no scrutiny has been given to the Democrats’ new maximalist position – and certainly no Democratic politicians have been put on the spot by the media as to their actual stance on immigration enforcement (assuming they still believe in any such laws). Republicans are frequently put on the spot and made to squirm over their support (or lack of denunciation) of Donald Trump’s “leadership” on the issue, and rightly so. Meanwhile, senior Democratic politicians who for all intents and purposes have repudiated the need for any kind of immigration control are seemingly immune from the slightest scrutiny. The fact that the media take such a position without any self-awareness is itself evidence of their soft but deeply ingrained bias on the issue.

The latest example of left-wing intractability on the issue came yesterday evening when Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi staged an eight-hour filibuster-style speech in favour of unilaterally granting legal status to DACA recipients. From the New York Times’ misty-eyed account:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi staged a record-breaking, eight-hour speech in hopes of pressuring Republicans to allow a vote on protecting “Dreamer” immigrants — and to demonstrate to increasingly angry progressives and Democratic activists that she has done all she could.

Wearing four-inch heels and forgoing any breaks, Pelosi, 77, spent much of the rare talkathon Wednesday reading personal letters from the young immigrants whose temporary protection from deportation is set to expire next month. The California Democrat quoted from the Bible and Pope Francis, as Democrats took turns sitting behind her in support. The Office of the House Historian said it was the longest continuous speech in the chamber on record.

Of course, this was immediately (and falsely) reported by much of the mainstream media as a stirring speech in defence of immigrants in general, as though there were some unprecedented new dystopian war being waged against people who correctly followed US immigration law. But so successful have leftist efforts to conflate all types of immigration (legal and illegal) as indistinguishable from one another that few people now raise an eyebrow at this continual, deliberate manipulation of language.

One surefire way to prevent bipartisan agreement on immigration reform is to inject more emotion into the fraught debate than already exists. And again, both parties are guilty of cynically and immorally attempting to manipulate the overly sentimental or credulous by personalising the debate rather than making it one about principles and processes. We saw this at work most shamefully during Donald Trump’s recent State of the Union speech, when Democrats saw fit to bring unlawful immigrants into the spectator gallery of the House chamber, rubbing the lawbreaking aspect in the face of conservatives, while Donald Trump invited bereaved family members of innocent people killed by illegal immigrants, as though to suggest that all such people represent a violent menace to society.

All that this blatant emotional manipulation can do is harden the positions of each respective activist base, eradicating any nuance and unnecessarily demonising the other side. Such behaviour is equally irresponsible coming from Republican or Democrat; both should know better. And it’s worth noting that the Democrats have form when it comes to this kind of manipulative behaviour, with “undocumented” immigrants having been featured prominently and cheered to the rafters at Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Party nominating convention in 2016.

But in yesterday’s speech Nancy Pelosi actually went further, not only making an emotional case for those Dreamers brought illegally to the United States as children – a plight with which many moderate, reasonable people can sympathise – but going further and praising the parents who brought their children to America and in doing so put them at risk of future deportation (or at best a childhood and adolescence spent in the shadows).

This crosses the line into open contempt for the rule of law. Many of these parents may have had the best of intentions in doing what they did, and nobody can deny that many American citizens and legal residents, finding themselves in similar circumstances, would likely do the same thing. But ultimately if the parents decide to take up residency in a country to which they have no legal right to remain, they can not be absolved of all blame if immigration law later catches up with their family. Yes, we should absolutely look to provide amnesty to those who have built productive, law-abiding lives in the United States, particularly those brought through no fault of their own as children, but we should also be able to acknowledge that the parents took a calculated and questionable risk in exposing their children to the very real possibility of traumatic future detention or deportation.

And yet Nancy Pelosi will not even make this slight rhetorical concession. Pressured by uncompromising “immigration” activists and her increasingly extremist base to hold the parents of Dreamers in the same high regard as the Dreamers themselves (or “the original Dreamers”, as Democratic leaders have taken to calling these parents) Pelosi instead offers nothing but fawning praise and endorsement of those who knowingly violated US immigration law. From her speech in the House:

“I say to their parents: Thank you for bringing these Dreamers to America. We’re in your debt for the courage it took, for you to take the risk, physically, politically, in every way, to do so.”

Pelosi made a similar point in a recent CNN televised town hall:

“Our Dreamers, they make America dream again, they’re so lovely and we frankly owe a debt to your parents for bringing you here to be such a brilliant part of our future”.

Astonishingly, there is absolutely no nuance to this praise from Nancy Pelosi. Yes, some or even many such parents may have legitimately qualified for refugee status and faced genuine danger and persecution in their home countries. But others simply moved for economic advantage and the promise of a better life – and normalising the flouting of immigration law in case of the latter is effectively an argument for open borders, a declaration that anyone able to set foot on American soil should have the right to permanently remain and ultimately enjoy the full blessings of citizenship.

This is not to attribute the current impasse exclusively to Democrats, who deserve only half of the blame for the present polarisation. But it is worth focusing on Democrat failings, as so much of the media seems determined to give the Left an entirely free pass on the issue, unquestioningly accepting the premise that unilateral amnesty should be offered with nothing demanded in return, and failing to interrogate left-wing politicians on what (if any) immigration enforcement measures they actually still support.

Neither is the Democratic Party’s commitment to the Dreamers proven beyond all doubt. Already they have rejected a deal which would have granted legal status to nearly two million DACA recipients (at significant political cost to the Republicans) because the deal also included measures to tighten future immigration enforcement. If the welfare of the Dreamers really is the top priority for Democratic leaders, why did they spurn an opportunity to secure their status?

Of course there can only be one answer to this question – because it is no longer enough for the Democrats to legalise everybody currently illegally present in the United States. They want to secure this prize while also doing nothing to make it harder for more people to illegally gain entry into the United States in the future, so that they can wheel out these same emotionally manipulative arguments in two decades’ time and cynically repeat the entire process. Having already mentally “banked” the legalisation of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, the Democrats seemingly want to ensure an endless, uninterrupted stream of future arrivals. Certainly no prominent Democrat has spoken convincingly about the need for more robust border protection since the 2016 presidential election.

At a time when much of the focus is (rightly) on the often xenophobic and discomforting language emanating from the Oval Office, it is also worth reminding ourselves of just how far Democrats have shifted to the Left on the subject of illegal immigration in a very short space of time.

Twelve years ago, this is what then-Senator Barack Obama had to say on the subject:

“When I see Mexican flags waved at pro-immigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.”

Yes, Obama went on in his book The Audacity of Hope to emphasise that Americans should not act negatively on such feelings, but rather look positively on illegal immigrants seeking to become American. But to even make such a statement today would see any Democrat hounded out of the party and summarily labelled a racist or (at best) an unwitting tool of white supremacy.

In his 2017 essay in the Atlantic, “How The Democrats Lost Their Way On Immigration“, Peter Beinart hammered home the same point about this radical shift:

In 2005, a left-leaning blogger wrote, “Illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally; makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone.” In 2006, a liberal columnist wrote that “immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants” and that “the fiscal burden of low-wage immigrants is also pretty clear.” His conclusion: “We’ll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants.” That same year, a Democratic senator wrote, “When I see Mexican flags waved at proimmigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.”

The blogger was Glenn Greenwald. The columnist was Paul Krugman. The senator was Barack Obama.

That is an extraordinary shift in the space of a decade, yet the Democrats are going into immigration negotiations with the Republican leadership as though the country is in lockstep with them in their leftward lurch toward de facto open borders when there is absolutely no evidence that this is the case. And while the Republicans (thanks to Donald Trump) doubtless win the prize for ugliest turn in rhetoric on the subject of immigration, the Democrats by far and away win the award for most radical policy shift in a short space of time. This is an incredibly significant fact which still attracts far too little media scrutiny.

Ultimately, this debate is characterised by exaggeration, character smears and base emotional manipulation of the worst kind – and the excesses of one side only encourage the other to behave even more outrageously and irresponsibly in pursuit of their own goals.

For many years there was an eminently practical and workable compromise almost within reach, based on compassion for those illegal immigrants who have built model lives in America but tempered with a resolve to improve border security, immigration enforcement and to reduce both the push and pull factors which drive future unlawful immigration. But thanks to extremists on both sides – frankly childish activists who demand nothing less than 100 percent of their wishlist from a deeply divided country – and spineless political leaders of both parties too afraid to stand up to those voices of unreason, instead we find ourselves in this dismal position.

It is easy to pin all of the blame on President Trump; he certainly makes a large and inviting target. But when it comes to immigration, Donald Trump does not have a monopoly on irrational, uncompromising behaviour. And a more honest media would do a better job of reporting as much.

 

immigration-the-land-is-for-everyone-no-borders

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