Happy Thanksgiving – Here’s Why We Urgently Need A Similar Holiday Of Our Own In Britain

The first Thanksgiving

Most Brits probably do not know or care that Thursday 23rd November is the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States of America. Yet many of us are getting ready to hunt for bargains and pre-Christmas deals on Black Friday.

Take a trip to your local big box superstore – or virtually anywhere online – in the next day or so and you will be treated to wall-to-wall promotions about the upcoming Black Friday sales. “Get ready for Black Friday!” scream the advertisements, as one company after another tempts you with sweet promises of unbelievable savings. Yes, Black Friday is coming to Britain – again.

And so it has been for the past few years now. We in Britain have successfully imported the commercially lucrative, post-coital rump of a cherished American national holiday – Thanksgiving – while neatly skipping over all the pesky fundamentals that give it real meaning: you know, those pesky things like love, family, gratitude and patriotism, tiresome distractions that don’t give us an excuse to shop and which will never generate a good Return On Investment.

This is as strong a contender for Tasteless Corporate Act of the Year (Large Retailer category) as we are likely to witness this side of Christmas. And we Brits have certainly thrown ourselves into the spirit, crushing one another in the stampede for discounted TVs and getting into fights which have to be broken up by the police.

But apparently – and rather gratifyingly – a number of Brits have started to recognise Thanksgiving too, in our own semi-comprehending way (I’ve seen Yorkshire pudding and roast beef being served at some British Thanksgiving dinners, which is definitely cultural appropriation gone wrong), with retailers now stocking up with pumpkin pie and other traditional Thanksgiving fare in time for the holiday.

Full disclosure: I’m married to a Texan girl, so our household observes both British and American holidays – which means that Jenny gains Boxing Day while I gain Thanksgiving. And for the past five years we have held a Thanksgiving dinner the weekend closest to the day itself, and invited as many friends as we’ve been able to squeeze into our succession of tiny shoebox apartments. I’m responsible for the turkey, Jenny takes charge of the stuffing and the sweet potato casserole (you mock the idea of marshmallows on top of sugared, spiced sweet potato until you’ve tried it) and we split everything else between us with our flatmate.

And if I may say so myself, this annual event has become roaringly popular, to the extent that who gets invited and who doesn’t quite make the cut has become a rather delicate political dance. This year there will be fourteen of us squeezed into an improbably small space, and all fourteen places were snapped up as soon as my wife sent the Facebook invite back in April.

But not everybody is happy that Thanksgiving is gaining a foothold in Britain, including Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn who argues that just like American GIs after the Second World War, Thanksgiving has outstayed its welcome on our shores:

Yet until about five minutes ago, none of this madness existed. Like Halloween, another tacky American import which has hijacked Guy Fawkes Night, and about which I wrote recently, both Thanksgiving and Black Friday are now fixtures in our calendars.

Supermarkets tempt us with ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving treats. Colour supplements carry recipes for Thanksgiving dinners. The Sunday Times Magazine this weekend devoted several pages to telling readers how to prepare mouth-watering delights such as pumpkin pie, candied sweet potatoes and green chilli cornbread.

Why? Do the editors imagine that out there in Middle England, people are thinking to themselves: ‘I could murder a slice of green chilli cornbread’?

He goes on to rant:

We don’t celebrate France’s Bastille Day, or Canada Day, or Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). So why the hell should we adopt U.S. holidays?

Apparently it does not occur to Littlejohn that the British may be increasingly curious about Thanksgiving because the very idea of a unifying, non-commercialised national holiday which binds us together as a United Kingdom and calls on us to be thankful rather than petulantly self-entitled is so curiously alien to this country – especially the contemporary Britain of 2017.

A couple of years ago I took part in a TV debate on London Live, arguing that we should absolutely not make the festivals of Eid and Diwali UK public holidays, for fear of muddying the cloudy waters between religion and state yet further:

 

I was outnumbered, but I made the case as strongly as I could that what Britain desperately needs is a unifying, secular public holiday that can bring us all together as one people – not another cynical, politically correct and divisive nod to multiculturalism.

The intervening years have only proved my point, with ISIS flags flying from London housing estates, disaffected young Muslim teens stealing away from the country which gave them life and liberty to join the Islamic State and deadly terror attacks in London and Manchester. On the domestic front things are little better, with a painfully wide chasm emerging between those of us who voted to leave the European Union and those who wanted us to Remain, those who think that Jeremy Corbyn is a living saint while the Tories are evil on the one hand and people who think the exact opposite on the other.

Meanwhile, increasingly everything is being politicised and dragged into the gravity of our culture war. Only this week greeting card firm Paperchase was in the news after they were bullied by left-wing activists into a grovelling public apology for having dared to advertise in the Daily Mail, thereby prompting an equal (and deserved) reaction against the company from people who are not leftist ideologues.

In short, we in Britain are in desperate need of a reminder that we still have an awful lot in common with our neighbours, even if we vote or worship differently. But the ties that bind us together – frayed for so long by successive referenda, general elections, the culture wars and the toxic swamp that is political social media – need to be continually renewed, even if some of us do find patriotism “problematic“. And what better way to do so than with a national holiday which celebrates something in our rich, shared history of which we can all be proud?

There is no shortage of possibilities. While some seem to enjoy talking down Britain and our substantial contributions to world commerce, art, science and culture, I’m sure that if we put our heads together we might find something in the last few centuries of our national story worth elevating as an occasion of which all Britons can be proud (but please, just not the Fifth of July).

Magna Carta Day (15th June), Trafalgar Day (21st October), VE Day (8th May) or Commonwealth Day (second Monday in March) are just a few possible candidates which are existing days that could be “upgraded” to a UK-wide celebration of quiet patriotism, community service and thanksgiving, and which already have some historic resonance.

Such resonance is important. In the United States, President’s DayIndependence Day and Thanksgiving have meaning for all Americans because they are rooted in shared history and not political views, ancestry or sadly-waning Christian faith. The newly arrived immigrant can take up these celebrations immediately upon arrival at no cost to their existing traditions and without any potential religious conflict. And that is exactly what Britain needs right now.

So before you scoff at the idea of our American cousins eating themselves into a stupor for seemingly no good reason, I would ask you to do two things — firstly, spare a thought for me as I try to avoid burning a massive turkey that barely fits inside our oven while also cooking it sufficiently well that I don’t send fourteen angry people to the hospital with food poisoning. But secondly and more importantly, take some time to reflect on the reasons that you – and that we all – have for being thankful this year, and on the many traits and aspirations which we still have in common, even amidst Brexit, the culture war and the politicisation of everything.

As Abraham Lincoln – the president who in 1863 fixed the observance of Thanksgiving to be the fourth Thursday in November – implored in his first inaugural address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.

After another year in which the idea of what it means to be British has become increasingly muddled and uncertain, let’s humble ourselves and dare to take a lesson from our former American colonies. Let us find inspiration in our storied history, our rich culture and also from within our own hearts. Let us find that elusive common thread of Britishness that should unite us all, transcending race and religion and politics.

I would argue that maybe some of the reason that more British people are starting to notice and observe Thanksgiving as well as the Black Friday sales we have imported from America is that deep down we subconsciously yearn for the sense of gratitude, social solidarity and civic-mindedness which Thanksgiving brings, and acutely feel the lack anything similar in our own national life.

So let’s change that.

Thanksgiving Proclamation - President Abraham Lincoln - 1863

Happy Thanksgiving

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So You (Allegedly) Molested A Child

If ‘evil’ oil companies and banks can use Crisis PR firms to launder their sullied reputations, Hollywood celebrities need to start demanding the same 5-star service

I am sure that if it has not already happened, there will soon be a lucrative new niche field of crisis PR management opening up to handle (in exchange for extortionate sums of cash) the cases of terrified and often guilty Hollywood celebrities and power-players accused of inappropriate or illegal historic sexual activity with unwilling partners. Lord knows that whoever first enters the market stands to make an absolute fortune, because the response of those individuals currently being tried in the social media star chamber post Harvey Weinstein has been crying out for professional finesse.

One can imagine it now. The sweaty, shaking fingers slipping over the keypad as some panicked A-lister who only months ago was picking up gold statuettes and industry acclaim by the sackload now frantically dials his manager, begging him to kill a career-threatening story about past indiscretions. And who does the dutiful manager turn to? After looking in his desk and retrieving the handy “So You Raped A Child And Paid Them Hush Money / Forgot All About It” public information leaflet, they call the new service.

The polished executives who come to the A-lister’s house make a couple of things clear right off the bat. First, for the love of God, stop apologising for whatever it is you were accused of, and deny it instead. And certainly don’t concede that it might have happened, but you can’t be sure because you were dead drunk and who can remember all the fourteen-year-olds they clambered on top of at a party three decades ago. Not the way to go. That’s Step One.

A forceful denial comes first, and then you need to find something, anything else to dominate the news cycle – that’s Step Two. If you can arrange for senior campaign figures from last year’s presidential election to be indicted on charges of conspiracy against the United States, that should do the trick. Failing that, engineering some other event of geopolitical importance will take the heat off and buy you a moment’s pause to plan Step Three.

Step Three consists of the distraction. You have to understand the climate and culture in which you operate, and that is one totally dominated by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics. In this world, accountability (and associated punishments for wrongdoing) are measured in inverse proportion to your position in the Hierarchy of Victimhood. At all costs, you must be able to refute the charge of being white, male and heterosexual – those three strikes will damn you immediately. Trying to pass yourself off as 8 percent Cherokee has yielded only mixed results in the past, so at the very minimum you should shoot for being gay or bisexual. If you’re looking at potential criminal charges rather than just the end of your career, it is worth considering the merits of transgenderism too. If you actually happen to legitimately fit into of these categories then so much the better, it will help with authenticity.

Once you have settled upon your distraction, integrate it tightly into your public response to the accusation, a response which – to repeat Step One – should not include an apology. The goal is to shut things down as quickly as possible by calling the accuser a liar and then winning sympathy by picking up as many identity politics bonus points as possible in your statement. Now you have successfully dealt with Day 1 of the fallout.

Day Two will require another domination of the news cycle. Assuming that there are no more well-connected politicos to indict on conspiracy charges, this is when you want to wheel out your Unimpeachable Character Witness. Use any downtime on Day 1 to identify this person, get them briefed, media trained and ready to spin a wonderful tale about how appropriate you have been at all times to all people, and how despite having been presented with at least ten gold-plated opportunities to rape a child over the past thirty years, not once did you cave to the temptation. That’s Step Four.

Now, the public may be sceptical of such stage-managed events, so the more people you can persuade to sing from the same hymn sheet the better. You want peers, pastors and anyone else to be singing four-part fugues about how awesome you are, and how you live a life of virtual celibacy outside specified age-appropriate relationships where consent forms are signed and notorised before each individual romantic encounter.

The final immediate action in terms of immediate crisis management, Step 5, is celebrity outreach. At this critical juncture, when you have been accused by a single source, you stand on the cusp of becoming toxic in celebrityworld. One more accusation and you are Hollywood kryptonite. At this point, people you once considered good friends will stop calling, and business acquaintances will suddenly be too busy to meet. Some will outright denounce you on social media.

As a savvy person, you know that at all costs you must avoid – what was that phrase? – ah yes, being cleaved from the herd and left to die in the wilderness. Hug your celebrity besties tightly. Do what you have to do to get invited on a sympathetic talk show where you can come across as shocked by the accusation, flaunt your good deeds and somehow paint yourself as the victim. This is a zero sum game, with space for exactly one brave hero and one villain.

This is the service that any go-getting, ambitious soul should be touting around Hollywood right now, as well as the London West End, Washington D.C., Westminster and a bunch of other places where large concentrations of powerful people with dodgy pasts are suddenly terrified for their futures.

And the best thing about this new market niche is that it will never dry up. Protecting terrified, middle-aged celebrities from accusations of inappropriate, abusive or downright illegal behaviour will not fall victim to outsourcing, automation or technical obsolescence. The entertainment industry will always exist, and so will those aspects of human nature which prompt some guilty people to abuse their positions of power to obtain sexual gratification from unwilling parties, and others to misremember or even falsely accuse innocent public figures of similar misdeeds.

In fact, the only way that this Celebrity Crisis PR business model would ever stop making money is if the denizens of Hollywood stopped being such moralising, hypocritical sleazebags. And there is no danger of that happening whatsoever.

 

Harvey Weinstein - sexual harassment

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Harvey Weinstein Hypocrisy And The Westminster Cesspit

Westminster Big Ben Telephone Box

British journalists have reported and commented extensively on the Harvey Weinstein scandal, yet seem curiously unwilling to lift the lid on the seediness and sexual harassment which routinely takes place within their own industry

In the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal (were you as stunned as I was?!) we have seen a range of responses from genuinely shocking and awful first-hand accounts of serious harassment and abuse to the now-obligatory collective guilt lectures delivered condescendingly to All Men.

But I am particularly interested in the response of journalists and commentators in Britain who took the time to report on a sexual harassment scandal unfolding in Hollywood while remaining curiously silent about a similar culture at work in their own industry.

I make no pretence of being a Westminster insider, but in my life on the far, far outer periphery I have attended a number of political functions, meetings, party conferences, boozy book launches and parties where very high profile journalists and moderately high profile politicians were present, and I have seen behaviour with my own eyes which would shame some of those who lent their voices to the chorus of condemnation of Harvey Weinstein and other serial alleged harassers. I have also heard disturbing personal accounts of inappropriate and unwanted advances by married men in the media, though having been relayed to me in confidence, these are not my stories to tell.

The seediness of Westminster politics is reasonably well known, but while political journalists are generally now willing to report on politicians when they come a cropper, most are understandably much less eager to lift the lid on their own sub-clique. Yet ultimately, journalism is no different from many other professions where people work, travel, eat, rest and play with the same group of colleagues in a high-pressure environment. Throw in the fact that politics and political journalism falls squarely into the “showbusiness for ugly people” category and is dominated by big beasts who grew up in a very different Fleet Street era and young people desperate to get a break, and a pulsating atmosphere of illicit romances, scandals and unwanted advances is all but guaranteed.

I have been to events where wine-sodden journalists said eyebrow-raisingly inappropriate things which made others feel uncomfortable, or in some cases made fumbling physical advances which had to be repeatedly warded off by the unfortunate recipient. Most of these incidents amounted to little more than general slovenliness and lechery, the kind of thing which reflect badly on a person but should not necessarily end a career or put somebody in court. But other times the behaviour I witnessed and heard about fell distinctly into the dodgy end of the grey zone.

And yet so far the only people from the political media world to have faced any kind of scrutiny in Britain are the writers Rupert Myers and Sam Kriss – both of whose cases were summarily tried in the fiery crucible of the Twitter and Facebook Star Chamber with no due process. As happened for so long in Hollywood pre-Weinstein, a couple of relatively minor fish in British political journalism are being made scapegoats so that the Big Fish can swim on unsated, undaunted and unchecked.

Much is being written about the bravery (or lack thereof) exhibited by certain individuals in Hollywood in their dealings with Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men accused of sexual harassment. And many of us probably feel rightful admiration for the brave few who first came forward at considerable personal risk, and shake our heads at the powerful A-listers who didn’t once think to risk anything to warn or protect others.

But I am curious about the household name journalists who behave nearly as badly at SW1 events or party conference hotel ballrooms yet go unreported and unpunished year after year. And I am particularly interested in their media peers, who know exactly what is going on and whether or not it fits a pattern of behaviour, and find all the time in the world to excoriate Harvey Weinstein while saying nothing about the atrocious behaviour that occurs right under their noses.

Tom Bradby, former ITV News political editor and current anchor of News at Ten wrote quite a stirring call-to-arms about an unpleasant “lads culture” at his old rugby club and various stag parties he later attended. Yet after all his years at the top of British political journalism he couldn’t think of any relevant anecdotes about his own peers and colleagues of sufficient concern to make it into the article? Perhaps not; Bradby may very well have purposefully avoided many of the booze-fuelled, bacchanalian evening events which make up the Westminster social calendar, and saw nothing. But I suspect that many others of equal seniority and profile to Bradby know exactly what goes on but give their own industry a Get Out Of Jail Free card.

As anyone who works in politics and answers truthfully will attest, Westminster can be a very seedy place. I understand that the ascension of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 saw some dispossessed Labour centrists indulge in behaviour which would have been considered scandalous at King Belshazzar’s feast. It seems likely that Theresa May’s bungled campaign and the trauma of election night this summer saw some similar desperation-fuelled behavioural lapses on the Right.

The two mini scandals du jour – Labour’s Clive Lewis getting a bit verbally carried away at a Momentum event in Brighton or Jared O’Mara having posted unsavoury comments on the internet fifteen years ago as a young man  – barely scratch the surface of what goes on. Indeed, these cases are almost decoys, relatively minor transgressions being seized upon so that the accused can be made scapegoats for the graver sins of a much larger group. One almost wonders whether the enthusiasm with which the UK political blogosphere, print and television media picked up these stories was a way of over-compensating for the profound silence about what takes place within their own camp.

But this seediness and sexual harassment within British politics and journalism will not be eradicated by offering up some scrawny, barely-known writer from Vice or a slightly bigger deal from GQ Magazine as a sacrifice to the Twitter gods. It will take a big fish to land a big fish – a heavyweight figure from a major publication or broadcaster must put their credibility on the line. The world of politics and journalism, like Hollywood, is a very hard industry to crack and those struggling to gain admittance from the outside risk everything by speaking out, even as they are the ones predominantly being preyed upon by grotesque, self-satisfied insiders.

One day – perhaps quite soon, given the rapidity with which Harvey Weinstein fell from grace – one of the big beasts of UK political journalism will be revealed for what they are. Somebody who everybody in the Westminster political/media world has been paying obsequious homage to for years will receive first one allegation of improper conduct, then another, and then a steady drip-drip of accusations until the sudden resignation, admission of “errors of judgment” and flight to celebrity rehab inevitably follow.

And when that happens, we will all be sitting here wondering how it was that so many people whose sole job it is to unearth and report stories of public interest – so many respected, well remunerated household names – somehow neglected to mention what was going on in their own back yard.

And what little scrap of credibility the Westminster media retains will be gone for good.

 

Harvey Weinstein - Meryl Streep

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Will All Those In Favour Of Open Borders Please Stand Up?

No Borders No Nations Stop Deportations protest banner

Will the Left’s unspoken, newly-extremist position on immigration and open borders be their political undoing?

Using Brexit and Trump as a smokescreen, many leftists have quietly moved towards a de facto “open borders” position on immigration without ever actually uttering the words or having the courage to declare their intentions in public.

Whether it is members of the anti-Trump “resistance” in America or bitter defenders of the European Union in Britain, opposition to what they see as an ongoing regressive right-wing coup is prompting many on the Left to adopt an uncompromising, extremely permissive stance on immigration which previously existed only on the libertarian fringes and which many leftists themselves once opposed.

This extremist new position is red meat for many left-wing activists, particularly certain elements of the Hispanic voting bloc whom Democrats need to fire up and turn out on election days (as well as for self-proclaimed “citizens of the world” living in newly-fascist Britain). But is the Left’s closed information loop of outrage causing them to diverge from popular opinion at a time when conservatism is otherwise discredited and electoral gains are there for the taking? By tying themselves so closely and unapologetically to people who came to and live in the country illegally, have left-wing parties put themselves on a collision course with the electorate?

Vox’s Dara Lind chronicles the strange journey on which the Democrats have embarked:

The thing is, about 10 years ago, many Democrats — including, notably, Schumer — would have championed many of the Trump administration’s enforcement proposals, from increased local cooperation with immigration enforcement to a physical barrier on the US/Mexico border, even if they weren’t part of a deal to legalize unauthorized immigrants. And they’d certainly accept them, happily, alongside legalization.

Absolutely. Applying the Left’s contemporary standards, only a decade ago the likes of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi were supporters of an oppressive, white nationalist agenda – as, in fact, was Hillary Clinton, who once voted to strengthen and expand border fencing between the US and Mexico. This is how far the Left has come on the subject of immigration, in a very short space of time.

More:

But it’s certainly true that Democrats in 2017, in general, tend to criticize the use of immigration enforcement, and tend to side with those accused of violating immigration law, as a broad matter of principle beyond opposing the particular actions of the administration.

This goes beyond simply representing members of their own communities (and potential electoral constituencies). The activist defense of immigrants caught crossing the border, especially the Central American children and families that now make up a large share of people entering the US without papers, has led Democrats to take a much firmer stance in defending them as humanitarian victims who deserve the chance to seek and receive asylum in the US.

In fact, you would be hard pressed to get a Democratic politician to name a single category of illegal immigrant whom they do not consider worthy of amnesty and eventual citizenship. Accusations of racism and oppression come easily to them, yet they are suddenly struck dumb when asked what kind of border security or immigration enforcement measures they would actually support.

And sometimes this leads the Democrats to new heights of extremism:

More broadly, Democrats are no longer as willing to attack “illegal immigration” as a fundamental problem anymore.

That rhetoric, too, came in part from DREAMers, who didn’t like being talked about as victims of their parents’ crimes who came to the US “through no fault of their own.” Instead they’ve portrayed their parents as “the original DREAMers” — a line that Nancy Pelosi followed in September when she said that DACA recipients’ parents “did a great thing” in bringing their children to the US.

Violating US immigration law is now “a great thing”, in the words of the Democratic Party Minority Leader. It is one thing to turn a blind eye to the abuse of the rule of law, as many on the Left have done for some time regarding immigration. But it is quite another thing altogether to praise that lawbreaking and hold it up as a paragon of civic virtue. This position totally undermines any remaining protestations that the Left are interested in any kind of immigration enforcement, and shows that their idea of “immigration reform” basically means unconditional amnesty with not even a token gesture for conservatives.

Lind’s article is worth reading in full, since she delves into some of the structural reasons why immigration activist voices now carry so much more weight within the Democratic Party, particularly the trade union shift from opposing illegal immigration to protect their dwindling memberships to supporting illegal immigration to boost their enrolment. But whatever the cause, the degree to which Democrats have lurched to the Left on immigration is alarming, and of concern to anybody who would like to see comprehensive reform in which amnesty is given only in exchange for a serious boost to future enforcement.

Andrew Sullivan thinks that the Left are marching off a cliff with their newfound extremism on immigration, and says as much in his weekly column for New York Magazine:

This is, to be blunt, political suicide. The Democrats’ current position seems to be that the Dreamer parents who broke the law are near heroes, indistinguishable from the children they brought with them; and their rhetoric is very hard to distinguish, certainly for most swing voters, from a belief in open borders. In fact, the Democrats increasingly seem to suggest that any kind of distinction between citizens and noncitizens is somehow racist. You could see this at the last convention, when an entire evening was dedicated to Latinos, illegal and legal, as if the rule of law were largely irrelevant. Hence the euphemism “undocumented” rather than “illegal.” So the stage was built, lit, and set for Trump.

He still tragically owns that stage. What Merkel did for the AfD, the Democrats are in danger of doing for the Trump wing of the GOP. The most powerful thing Trump said in the campaign, I’d argue, was: “If you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country.” And the Democrats had no answer, something that millions of Americans immediately saw. They still formally favor enforcement of immigration laws, but rhetorically, they keep signaling the opposite.

I was also astounded when the Democrats chose to devote a large section of their 2016 party convention to sharing their stage with confessed and unrepentant illegal immigrants. Though I cannot claim to have predicted Donald Trump’s election victory, in hindsight it is clear that moments like this just killed whatever enthusiasm existed for Hillary Clinton in the key swing states which she went on to narrowly lose.

When you refuse to condemn any form of illegal immigration, make the concerns of illegal immigrants one of your main priorities (often over and above born and naturalised citizens) and actively praise their lawbreaking, you have adopted an open borders position. You just don’t possess the courage to come out and say so, for fear of the political consequences. Apparently the Democrats are quite happy to ignore the concerns of Middle America, but are not yet quite ready to publicly give them the middle finger.

It is not unreasonable for people to ask politicians and political parties who embrace illegal immigration exactly what (if any) immigration controls they would actually accept. In fact, the only reason that Democrats are not routinely put on the spot and shamed into answering this question is because a spineless, complicit Washington DC media tacitly agrees with the new extremist position (or at least is too scared of being called “racist” by social justice activists to do their job).

To be clear: the idea of deporting all (or even most) people currently living illegally in the United States is unworkable as it is cruel – many people in this position did what anyone else would have done, given their situations and the immense pull factors of demand for labour and sporadic enforcement. Moreover, many illegal immigrants have lived most of their lives in America and are effectively Americans in pectore. Many are probably model citizens. Some would likely become the best of America.

But if the rule of law means anything at all, violating US immigration law while others endured stress, incurred expense and lost time following the legal process cannot be rewarded unconditionally. Illegal immigrants should be lifted out of the shadows and freed from a fearful half-life which does nobody any good, but only after following a similar process to legal immigrants. And there must be proper border enforcement in return, so we do not end up back in the same situation in two decade’s time. Immediately upon amnesty being granted to otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants, the Left must give up their defence of sanctuary cities which make a mockery of the law. Donald Trump’s wall is overly expensive, impractical and largely pointless, but existing fencing should be fortified and new technologies deployed to stop illegal crossings. In other words, there must be a meaningful quid pro quo.

Neither side in American politics has acquitted itself very honourably when it comes to immigration reform, but at present it is the Left who are rapidly lurching toward a more extremist position, led by their activists on a collision course with a more sceptical public.

And going into the next electoral cycle, all the shrieking about Trump’s “racist” wall will not disguise the fact that the Left have something far more radical in mind.

 

Immigration Reform

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The Best One Percent

In his brief remarks to the media, General John Kelly, chief of staff to President Donald Trump, momentarily made everybody else in Washington D.C. look small

Good speeches do not always have to be painstakingly crafted well in advance and written down or beamed onto a teleprompter. Neither do good speeches always require a grand event as their backdrop. Sometimes the most stirring speeches can be extemporaneous, or at least appear relatively spontaneous when delivered.

And into this latter category fall the remarks made yesterday by former Marine Corps general John Kelly, chief of staff to President Donald Trump. Kelly was seeking to defend his boss from accusations that the president had been dismissive bordering on callous when making a telephone call of commiserations to the wife of a fallen US soldier killed in an ambush in Niger, a call which was overheard by a Democratic congresswoman and reported to the media.

I make no comment about the individual circumstances of the case here, though many other media organisations have seen fit to voyeuristically pick over what should be an intensely private moment in order to extract political advantage from it. For those interested, the two opposing sides are effectively summarised here and here.

Far more inspirational than this tawdry back-and-forth, however, were the words of Chief of Staff John Kelly, who sought to end the unseemly debate by describing to the press corps in detail the process which takes place when a US service member is killed in action overseas. These remarks range from the very detailed and practical (describing exactly what happens to the body and where it is taken) to the profound, and are worth quoting at length.

Kelly begins:

Most Americans don’t know what happens when we lose one of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, our Coast Guardsmen in combat. So let me tell you what happens:

Their buddies wrap them up in whatever passes as a shroud, puts them on a helicopter as a routine, and sends them home. Their first stop along the way is when they’re packed in ice, typically at the airhead. And then they’re flown to, usually, Europe where they’re then packed in ice again and flown to Dover Air Force Base, where Dover takes care of the remains, embalms them, meticulously dresses them in their uniform with the medals that they’ve earned, the emblems of their service, and then puts them on another airplane linked up with a casualty officer escort that takes them home.

A very, very good movie to watch, if you haven’t ever seen it, is “Taking Chance,” where this is done in a movie — HBO setting. Chance Phelps was killed under my command right next to me, and it’s worth seeing that if you’ve never seen it.

So that’s the process. While that’s happening, a casualty officer typically goes to the home very early in the morning and waits for the first lights to come on. And then he knocks on the door; typically a mom and dad will answer, a wife. And if there is a wife, this is happening in two different places; if the parents are divorced, three different places. And the casualty officer proceeds to break the heart of a family member and stays with that family until — well, for a long, long time, even after the internment. So that’s what happens.

This is made all the more poignant by the fact that John Kelly suffered the loss of his son – First Lieutenant Robert Kelly – in Afghanistan, and presumably experienced this same heart wrenching process, something invisible to most civilians in the age of an all-volunteer professional army.

The brief core of Kelly’s remarks then focus on the fine qualities of the men and women who serve in the US military, before defending the actions of his boss. First, the praise:

Who are these young men and women? They are the best 1 percent this country produces. Most of you, as Americans, don’t know them. Many of you don’t know anyone who knows any one of them. But they are the very best this country produces, and they volunteer to protect our country when there’s nothing in our country anymore that seems to suggest that selfless service to the nation is not only appropriate, but required. But that’s all right.

Goodness me, that’s powerful. Remember, this is a former Marine Corps general and the serving chief of staff to President Trump, and he is saying that the state of the country is such that America is no longer worthy of the sacrifice made by its men and women in uniform. Think on that for a moment.

And then comes the necessary defence of President Trump, in which Kelly references his own painful loss:

So he called four people the other day and expressed his condolences in the best way that he could. And he said to me, what do I say? I said to him, sir, there’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families.

Well, let me tell you what I told him. Let me tell you what my best friend, Joe Dunford, told me — because he was my casualty officer. He said, Kel, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we’re at war. And when he died, in the four cases we’re talking about, Niger, and my son’s case in Afghanistan — when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this Earth: his friends.

That’s what the President tried to say to four families the other day. I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning, and broken-hearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing. A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the President of the United States to a young wife, and in his way tried to express that opinion — that he’s a brave man, a fallen hero, he knew what he was getting himself into because he enlisted. There’s no reason to enlist; he enlisted. And he was where he wanted to be, exactly where he wanted to be, with exactly the people he wanted to be with when his life was taken.

That was the message. That was the message that was transmitted.

This next section (which reminds one of Cicero’s exclamation O Tempora, O Mores!) is good too, because it is so obviously heartfelt coming from somebody from an older generation raised in a dignity culture:

It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred. You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life — the dignity of life — is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well.

Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer. But I just thought — the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that that might be sacred.

Kelly ends with this scathing criticism of politicians such as the congresswoman who saw fit to leak details of President Trump’s telephone call to one of the families:

I’ll end with this: In October — April, rather, of 2015, I was still on active duty, and I went to the dedication of the new FBI field office in Miami. And it was dedicated to two men who were killed in a firefight in Miami against drug traffickers in 1986 — a guy by the name of Grogan and Duke. Grogan almost retired, 53 years old; Duke, I think less than a year on the job. Anyways, they got in a gunfight and they were killed. Three other FBI agents were there, were wounded, and now retired. So we go down — Jim Comey gave an absolutely brilliant memorial speech to those fallen men and to all of the men and women of the FBI who serve our country so well, and law enforcement so well.

There were family members there. Some of the children that were there were three or four years old when their dads were killed on that street in Miami-Dade. Three of the men that survived the fight were there, and gave a rendition of how brave those men were and how they gave their lives.

And a congresswoman stood up, and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there and all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call he gave the money — the $20 million — to build the building. And she sat down, and we were stunned. Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.

But, you know, none of us went to the press and criticized. None of us stood up and were appalled. We just said, okay, fine.

So I still hope, as you write your stories, and I appeal to America, that let’s not let this maybe last thing that’s held sacred in our society — a young man, young woman going out and giving his or her life for our country — let’s try to somehow keep that sacred. But it eroded a great deal yesterday by the selfish behavior of a member of Congress.

As a speech, this has pretty much everything. It might not have been the most stirring or poetic, but John Kelly is a blunt, military man and to have spoken in the cadence of John F Kennedy or Barack Obama would have been totally false and out of character. The authenticity of Kelly’s remarks derive from the seriousness of the subject, the dignified way in which a story of personal loss was mentioned (compared to the overt emotionalism of many contemporary speakers) and the workmanlike delivery.

What John Kelly did more than anything else was shame the people who had sought to cynically use a story based on the death of American soldiers for their own purposes – be it Democratic politicians looking for more character flaws in Trump, Republican politicians who sought to defend Trump or the media who saw a potentially juicy mini-scandal which would generate pageviews and ad revenue.

He shamed a group of neophytes and cynics, people who by and large did not serve in uniform themselves, but saw fit to pontificate on the protocol governing military rituals as though they were discussing any old arcane political dispute. Kelly effectively contrasts the quiet, selfless duty of American soldiers with the self-aggrandising behaviour of American politicians. And there can be few among the Washington DC political class, who measure their popularity by the number of their Twitter followers and see themselves as the centre of the universe, who did not come out of that press conference feeling at least slightly chastened.

This can also only be good for the career and reputation of John Kelly himself, who has faced scepticism that he would be able to rein in the excesses of the Trump administration and criticism for those occasions when that superhuman feat eluded him. By briefly lamenting that women are no longer honoured in today’s America (putting aside the fact that such 1950s-style honour was a double-edged sword), Kelly not-so-subtly denounced his own boss, whose record of behaviour towards women is not good. Criticising the politicisation of gold star families during the Democratic National Convention served the same purpose. Thus, Kelly successfully burnished his image as a man serving out of duty to his country and respect for the office of president rather than admiration for the individual who currently holds that office.

I struggle to think of a contemporary British political speech of similar power and worth. Does anybody recall any of the speeches given this party conference season, besides the slow-motion self-destruction of Theresa May? Has there been a British political speech in the last decade which made the heart beat a little faster or brought a lump to the throat?This is made even more depressing when one remembers that John Kelly is not even a politician – he is a retired general pressed into service to steady a wobbling first-year Trump administration.

Kelly’s remarks are a fine example of an effective speech, composed and well delivered under difficult circumstances, with a hostile media audience ready to throw hard-to-defend accusations against his equally hard-to-defend boss. Yet by the time he was done, John Kelly walked out of that briefing room ten feet taller while everyone else visibly shrank in moral stature.

That’s impressive. I would like to import just a fraction of that ability to Westminster.

 

UPDATE: 21 October

This report from the Washington Post suggests that John Kelly’s account of Representative Frederica Wilson’s speech at the newly-opened FBI building was not accurate. This in no way detracts from the power of the speech or even necessarily mean that Gen. Kelly’s righteous indignation was altogether misplaced, but the record should be corrected.

 

UPDATE: 22 October

Having sat back rather pleased with myself, thinking I might have written something vaguely original, I discovered today that Jonah Goldberg was simultaneously coming to the same conclusion in his G-file newsletter.

Goldberg sees in Kelly’s speech the same thing that I see – a dignified admonishment to President Trump as much as to the media or the Left:

The trends Kelly alludes to are real and lamentable, and they predate Donald Trump’s arrival on the national political scene. But it strikes me as indisputable that Trump personifies these trends, and if Kelly were not trying to do his job, he would acknowledge that.

Perhaps Kelly was criticizing the Gold Star Khan family in his remarks about the convention. But he could just as plausibly have had the president in mind. We need not rehearse all of the ways in which Donald Trump — who has bragged of his adultery and sexual assaults and who has insulted women’s looks — has less than an exemplary record of honoring the sanctity of women.

I understand that many Christian groups have convinced themselves that Trump is an instrument of God, but let us not delude ourselves that he is also a man of God.

It is also worth pointing out the media’s evident latent, automatic animosity toward any member of the Trump administration, merited or not. When it was shown that John Kelly misreported the content of Rep. Wilson’s speech at the opening of the FBI Academy, nearly all the media ran with a headline about Kelly being wrong, or even lying. They neglected to point out that the video evidence actually also underlined the truth of what Kelly was trying to say – that on the occasion of the dedication of a building to the memory of slain law enforcement officers, the politician present chose to make the occasion about herself.

 

John Kelly - White House chief of staff - press briefing - Donald Trump call to military families

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