Lessons On Populism, From Bono

Fareed Zakaria - U2 Bono - populism Europe - Kiev

 

How to solve the “scourge” of European populism? CNN’s Fareed Zakaria makes a pilgrimage to Kiev, to consult with the geopolitical oracle known as Bono

Every now and then you read an article so astonishingly un-self aware, so counterproductive, so open to attack and ridicule on multiple fronts that it is difficult to know where to begin. The latest writer to evoke this strong reaction is Fareed Zakaria, CNN’s in-house intellectual and self-touted expert on international issues and foreign affairs.

The headline of Zakaria’s latest asinine column in the Washington Post? “I wanted to understand Europe’s populism. So I talked to Bono.”

Zakaria has apparently turned his formidable mind towards the rising backlash against years of technocratic supranational rule which favored delivering a stream of perks and opportunities to urban cognitive elites while leaving the rest of their citizens to face the vagaries of globalization, automation, outsourcing and supranationalism unsupervised, unrepresented and unprotected. Of course, Zakaria does not view the problem in these terms – he would doubtless describe it as a mass turning away from reason and rationality, and a refusal on the part of ordinary people to gratefully follow the course carefully laid out for them by their intellectual and moral betters.

And so when faced with a rise in “populism” around the world, Zakaria doesn’t engage in any personal introspection as to how he and his circle might have brought us to this moment. He certainly doesn’t reach out to any of the discredited technocrats and ask searching questions of leaders like Hillary Clinton, David Cameron or Tony Blair. No; Fareed Zakaria hopped on a plane to Kiev, where he hunkered down with U2 singer and Woman of the Year Bono, who – as we all know – is the premier global expert on the subject of populism, its causes and its cures.

Again, this is one of those articles where one can scarcely make it to the end of each paragraph without wanting to fly to Fareed Zakaria’s New York home for a personal one-on-one summit with the guy. I read the thing and just sat staring at the screen for a good five minutes, incredulous that anybody could show such supreme ignorance – and worse, lack of curiosity – about the other perspectives he pretends on his television show to care about.

From the top:

When confronting a challenging problem, it’s sometimes useful to listen to someone who looks at it from an entirely different angle. That’s why I found it fascinating to talk about the rise of populism and nativism with Bono last weekend at a summit in Kiev.

Naturally. I hop on a plane to see Bono at least once a month, whenever I am faced with a personal or geopolitical quandary, and I am sure that you do the same. The man is just a font of wisdom. And “different angle”? Bono believes in and champions exactly the same supranational, technocratic and remote system as Zakaria. The man waves an EU flag around on stage in his concerts, for heaven’s sake. Yet Zakaria has the nerve to portray traveling thousands of miles to hear his own opinions reflected back at him from an aging rock-star as a fearless search for alternative points of view.

The Irish singer-activist-philanthropist sees the same forces that we all do, particularly in Europe, but he zeroes in on something intangible yet essential. The only way to counter the dark, pessimistic vision being peddled by nationalists and extremists, Bono says, is to have an uplifting, positive vision. Homing in on the trouble in his part of the world, he told me, “Europe needs to go from being seen as a bore, a bureaucracy, a technical project, to being what it is: a grand, inspiring idea.”

And immediately the bias betrays itself. At a time when the European Union’s failures and the hubris of EU leaders are dooming entire generations of youth to chronic unemployment, when their incompetence at defending the union’s frontiers has led to an inward wave of illegal migration which no voters sanctioned and at a time when the entire European project stands either discredited or seriously questioned in a whole swathe of member states, Fareed Zakaria’s first thought isn’t whether some of the EU’s critics might have a point worth hearing. His first thought is how European elites can best double down on their vision and make their recalcitrant citizens realize the error of their ways and drop their inconvenient resistance to further political integration.

More:

To that end, Bono’s band, U2, has been choosing a moment during its concerts to unfurl — wait for it — the flag of the European Union.

How dreadfully original. He should do a duet with EU supergirl.

“Europe is a thought that needs to become a feeling,” Bono wrote in a recent op-ed in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine. He is trying to give that feeling meaning. To him, Europe is about the ability of countries that were once warring to live in peace, for people of many different lands and languages to come together. “That idea of Europe deserves songs written about it, and big bright blue flags to be waved about,” he wrote.

This same tedious and over-simplistic point has been made by a thousand teenage left-wingers with the EU flag painted on their faces, not to mention legions of C-list cable news talking heads, yet when Bono says the same thing it becomes profound and original insight worthy of inclusion in a Washington Post feature article. Remarkable.

But here’s the bit where Zakaria’s powers of analysis really desert him:

Bono admits that Europe is a “hard sell” today. The continent is ablaze with populism. These forces have taken control in Hungary, Poland and Italy and are steadily gaining ground elsewhere, including Germany and Sweden. It seems that everywhere the fuel is the same: hostility toward strangers, foreigners, anyone who is different.

There is absolutely zero attempt here to distinguish between actual xenophobia and racism on the one hand, and legitimate concerns about a lack of democratic control over immigration or enforcement of the rule of law against illegal immigrants on the other. But of course in Zakaria’s mind there is no distinction to make. Merely objecting to massive expansions of inward immigration ushered in by governments without seeking popular consent is every bit as racist and worthy of condemnation as donning a white robe and lighting crosses on fire. Simply asking questions about the impact of high levels of migration on societal cohesiveness and public service provision is taken to be the sufficient mens rea to establish guilt.

And so Fareed Zakaria, ventriloquizing Bono the Philosopher King, doesn’t seek to dig into a hugely complex issue featuring a cast of thousands of actors and hundreds of policies and sub-policies. He doesn’t attempt to separate actual racism, prejudice and discrimination against people based on their national or ethnic background, from legitimate concerns about how the EU’s leaders and national leaders have stubbornly implemented their own view of the open, multicultural society without consulting let alone seeking the approval of those they nominally serve. They are all lumped together as “hostility toward strangers, foreigners, anyone who is different”, a blanket condemnation which allows people like Fareed Zakaria and the political masters for whom he covers to press ahead with their existing policies without feeling the need to justify themselves or win public approval. After all, one doesn’t need to make accommodation with racists.

Zakaria then goes on to paraphrase Francis Fukuyama:

The founders of the E.U., he argues, spent too much time building the technical aspects of the project — laws, rules, tariffs. They neglected to nurture an actual European identity, something people could believe in not for rational reasons but for emotional and idealistic ones.

This is one of only two perceptive points made in the entire article, and it comes courtesy of a third party. This is absolutely correct – the EU’s founders and subsequent leaders adopted an unapologetically antidemocratic “if we build it, they will come” approach to constructing their new European superstate. They figured that if only they could get all of the institutions set up and orchestrate enough power grabs from member states to Brussels, the entire project would be a fait accompli and ordinary people would simply have to make their peace with taking orders from elsewhere, and being represented by institutions to which they felt no allegiance and often barely recognized.

But Fareed Zakaria doesn’t pause to marvel at this slow-motion, silent coup or acknowledge that its opponents may have a point in at least raising concerns about it. He and Bono simply look forward to the time when the various peoples of Europe have been successfully re-educated and taught to love their new overlords:

According to the latest European Commission surveys, 71 percent of Poles say they feel attached to the E.U., more so than Germans or Spaniards, while 61 percent of Hungarians feel attached, outstripping the French, Swedes and Belgians. The problem is, it isn’t a deep, emotional bond — they are three to four times more likely to feel very attached to their own nation than to the E.U.

Apparently it is a problem that we do not feel attached to these institutions built largely without our consent, input or oversight. It is problematic, according to Bono and his acolyte Zakaria, that people object to vast new and powerful layers of government constructed at a geographic and political level that we naturally do not feel strong allegiance to because of entirely normal cultural and historic differences. It is something, goes this argument, that must be overcome or suppressed for the Greater Good.

Ordinarily I would enjoy sitting back and watching Fareed Zakaria’s smugness, moral certainty and profound lack of curiousness about people from outside his hermetically sealed intellectual bubble come back to bite him. But I cannot do so, because Zakaria’s loss and humiliation will be all of ours, too. None of us stand to benefit if the worst and harshest elements of the populist revolution take over our politics and trample over our imperfect but essential institutions. A proliferation of Viktor Orbans throughout Europe is not a price worth paying to see the smug self-satisfied smile wiped off Zakaria’s face.

And this is the frustrating thing. In the fight against racism, xenophobia and authoritarianism, we should be allies. But Zakaria will not engage in good faith with the opponents of technocratic, managerialist, supranationalism. He is unable or unwilling to distinguish between discomfort and disagreement with the direction and destination of European political union and “hostility toward strangers, foreigners, anyone who is different”. Because Fareed Zakaria and a hundred prominent journalists and politicians like him are incapable of distinguishing between legitimate criticism of the status quo and support for the worst elements of the populist revolution, they are able neither to call their own side to account for their failings, nor chart the kind of compromise we ultimately need to preserve the benefits of globalization and internationalism with the rightful demand of ordinary citizens for democratic control over their destinies.

This is the real conversation – and I have been saying this for years now – that we urgently need to be having. We need our smartest minds and those with social capital to come together to develop answers to these big questions. But instead, almost to a person, they would rather zip around the globe from Davos to Aspen to Kiev, commiserating with themselves, hobnobbing with aging rock stars, stroking their metaphorical beards and wondering why the rest of their fellow citizens stubbornly refuse to fall into line and get with the program.

Fareed Zakaria will no more learn about the origins of and solutions to populism from Bono than he will learn about bioethics from Justin Bieber. That he felt no sense of shame putting his name to this execrable article in the Washington Post leaves me with a feeling of profound frustration and despair.

But Zakaria is not alone – indeed, his article is emblematic of the cognitive bias which runs through the upper echelons of the corporate, cultural, educational, governmental and journalistic institutions which together set society’s direction of travel (and in the latter’s case, report back on the situation with a laughably false veneer of objectivity).  The only difference between Fareed Zakaria and the rest of them is that he was stupid enough to print what the rest of them think in private on the pages of the Washington Post.

Two years after Brexit, nearly two years after Trump and still the Smartest Guys In The Room™ exhibit no self-awareness, no introspection, no respect for opposing viewpoints and no new ideas beyond “more Europe, more technocracy, more unaccountable supranationalism, and if you don’t like it then there must be something wrong with you”.

Zakaria can commune with Bono all he wants, but it will not save them or us from the slow-motion collision with reality that the West is now experiencing. Yet he prattles on in the Washington Post oblivious to the danger because in Fareed Zakaria’s mind, he and the people he interviews cannot be wrong about anything, and theirs is the only valid perspective.

In the words of Evelyn Waugh, “They were too old and they didn’t know and they wouldn’t learn. That’s the truth.”

 

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Dan Rather, Solving The Migration Crisis Through Poetry

Dan Rather - MSNBC

The migration crisis cannot be solved by feelings alone

Dan Rather – elder statesman of American television journalism, disgraced during the George W. Bush administration but lately rehabilitated before a new social media audience in the Age of Trump – thinks that the best way to tackle the intractable, thorny issue of mass immigration and the global migration crisis is to read a rather jejune, unsubtle poem about the subject, and let our feelings be our guide.

From the veteran newsman’s permanently outraged Facebook page:

Immigration is always going to be a difficult subject but we cannot allow that to rob our nation of its decency, humanity and empathy.

It is true that we do not have the capacity to welcome everyone who wishes to come here. But at the same time, we cannot forget that our country has been shaped by immigration. And can we not see the echoes of our own history in the faces of the men, women, and especially children, now coming to our borders and shores?

It is a tragic irony that many who now wish to slam the doors shut to the newcomers without a shred of empathy have their own ancestors who must have felt the same swirling emotions as our newest arrivals. Their dreams, the bravery of their journeys, and their fears are undoubtedly similar to the basic human experiences of those who yearned to be Americans in decades and centuries past.

[..] I recently came across the poem “Home” by the young British poet Warsan Shire. It is a powerful and thought provoking work of art. I think it is something everyone should have to read before participating in the immigration debate or formulating policy.

Dan Rather then links to a poem by young British poet Warsan Shire, entitled “Home”. In this poem, apparently, we can find the Arkenstone of wisdom which will allow us to effortlessly solve a global migration crisis brought about by persistent dysfunction and turmoil in some countries, and a growing unwillingness to enforce or acknowledge national borders in the richer, stabler countries to which millions of people now flock.

A choice excerpt:

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

And then this articulate reflection on the reaction to illegal immigration (cast deceptively in the poem, as elsewhere, as opposition to immigration and asylum in all their forms) in the recipient countries:

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

This is, in fact, not a very good poem. It is certainly not remotely original, in language, imagery or message. One might more accurately describe it as standard boilerplate leftist open borders talking points, fractured and separated into verses to lend the words a vague air of profundity.

It also happens to be factually incorrect. Many people leave home when they are far from imminent danger, but rather for economic advantage. The poem attempts to describe the plight and emotions of refugees, but does not account for people who pass through multiple other safe countries en route to the United States, or who move illegally simply because financial prospects are better on the other side of a national border. Unfortunately, this is the standard modus operadi of the Open Borders Left, cheerfully conflating economic migrants and refugees, legal and illegal immigrants under the same banner and presumptuously declaring that opposition to or equivocation about one form equals opposition to all.

Only recently I moved from my native Britain to America, not because the United Kingdom is ravaged by armed conflict and strife but because I am attending law school as part of a career change. I immigrated legally, willingly subjecting myself to an intrusive, expensive and stressful process in order to comply fully with the laws of the United States. And I was glad and grateful to do so.

People move countries for a multitude of reasons, but Dan Rather wants to you read this mediocre poem before you engage in the immigration debate because he (and many others like him) do not want you to think about people moving for economic reasons when you ponder immigration controls and enforcement. He wants to trick you into thinking that all illegal migrants are refugees fleeing immediate peril, and then tug on your heartstrings to push you toward the de facto open borders position he clearly holds but lacks the courage to embrace outright.

So we have read the poem – now what? What exactly does Dan Rather think we should do with this “information”? How should we let it inform our policymaking, both our long-term strategy and day-to-day tactical decisions in response to changing situations at the border? Rather neglects to spell it out in his Facebook post, but you can place a pretty safe bet that his unspoken hint could be summed up as “let everybody in, all the time, no questions asked”.

Dan Rather would rather emote and share sentimentalist poetry on Facebook than propose an alternative immigration scheme for the US, or spell out the compassionate but forever-ethereal approach that he would adopt. He says that not everyone can be welcomed but then has nothing but criticism for anyone who attempts to draw or enforce any line against illegal immigration or selective asylum seeking (attempting to reach a preferred country rather than the first safe one) as cruel, unfeeling and inhumane.

We see this time and again from many on the Left who are all too happy to bank the political and social capital which comes with being seen as compassionate and pro-immigration while remaining infuriatingly evasive about where exactly they draw the line on enforcing the rule of law. If Donald Trump’s present policy of separating parents and children apprehended while making illegal crossings rather than presenting at official points of entry is morally reprehensible – and it is – then the self-satisfied preening of many on the Left, effectively endorsing open borders without having the courage to say so, is political deception and moral abdication of a different sort.

Dan Rather believes that everybody should have to read a poem which addresses only one category of overall migration and one type of migrant experience in order to manipulate our mindset before participating in the immigration debate. Yet he and others of his persuasion are the same people who accuse the other side of being reactionaries motivated by base emotion while they are the enlightened, compassionate disciples of reason. How hollow, how fatuous, how utterly hypocritical does this claim sound in light of Dan Rather’s call for everyone to read a poem and legislate based on their immediate feelings?

The global migration crisis is a complex, intractable problem involving millions of people in many countries and regions. You cannot formulate good policy of a systemic nature by responding to emotional manipulation, or by relying exclusively on feelings rather than qualitative and quantitative facts. Individual stories of hardship and injustice are certainly a key component when it comes to informing political decision-making, but what is best for the heart-rending case before us today is not necessarily what is best for people tomorrow, or for society overall.

Many on the Left continually fail to recognise this basic truth, doing (or advocating for) what makes them feel good and compassionate in the short term, even if it leads to greater problems or evils in the longer run. How many hand-wringing speeches and editorials have we witnessed in Europe and Australia decrying the idea of turning back illegal migrant boats, even though their preferred policy of allowing or even encouraging illegal sea crossings leads to more failed attempts and more drownings in the longer term? Yet this seemingly does not matter to the Open Borders Left – by this point they have already burnished their reputations as progressive, compassionate people by advocating for the previous boat, even as the next overcrowded raft capsizes and slips beneath the Mediterranean.

That’s what happens when you act purely on feelings rather than evidence. People who forever accuse Trump and Brexit voters of being motivated by reactionary feeling and superstition over facts and reason should appreciate this, yet on the subject of illegal immigration and the migrant crisis they tend to be the ones most likely to cast any strategic long-term thinking out the window in pursuit of whatever salves their conscience in the given moment.

Poetry at its best is arresting, sublime, transfiguring, a wonderful way of evoking or capturing the essence of its subject in a way that prose alone can not. But no intractable problem in human history that I am aware of has been solved primarily through poetry. It took the Apollo Program and a Saturn V rocket, not the words of Carl Sandburg or Maya Angelou, to put a man on the moon. The great Homerian epics evoked mighty and fantastical deeds from the past; they were not a contemporary call to action.

Dan Rather’s suggestion that we all need to read a rather insipid, pedestrian poem about the plight of refugees in order to be more well-rounded participants in the wider immigration debate suggests a prevailing lack of sympathy which is largely nonexistent among policymakers of all stripes. Most of us feel viscerally for the plight of people driven to leave their homes in search of safety or greater prosperity, and would likely do the same placed in their situation. Unfortunately the rule of law, national security and the viability of the nation state do not lend themselves so easily to florid literary depiction, but this does not make them any less important.

Emotional manipulation, whether it originates on the Right or the Left, is always unhelpful and never conducive to the kind of political compromise which we all know is ultimately required in order to address immigration, namely compassion for those already here illegally in exchange for serious future border control and enforcement.

Dan Rather in his prime would probably have readily acknowledged this fact. Sadly, the dried out husk that is Dan Rather today would rather emote with his social media audience than help lead his country to that necessary compromise.

 

Dan Rather

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 57 – Transphobia Inquisitions And A Kafkaesque Nightmare At Wilfrid Laurier University

Lindsay Shepherd - Wilfrid Laurier University Ontario Canada - Academic Freedom - Social Justice - Transgender Pronouns - Jordan Peterson

University professors and diversity officers now haul students to appear before campus Social Justice Star Chambers, imposing disciplinary measures without ever explaining the nature or context of the charges against them

One of the interesting developments in the continued takeover of academia by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is the way that enforcement of the strict new leftist orthodoxies has swung from college students pressuring their professors and university administrators to university professors and newly hired diversity officers now pressuring and bullying the students.

It is as though university faculties and leadership teams were so scared by the wave of occupations, campus protests and media spectacles (not to mention high-profile forced resignations) over the past several years that they became determined to get out ahead of the curve and be part of the identity politics vanguard, becoming the hunters rather than the hunted.

We saw this a few months ago at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where more than one professor saw fit to encircle a conservative student recruiting for her campus political organisation and hurl insults and taunts in her direction. So desperate were these middle-aged professors to be seen as sufficiently “woke” “allies” of various designated victim groups that they ended up behaving in a far more raucous, juvenile way than the poor girl they were tormenting.

But now an even more disturbing case has emerged, this time at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada. Graduate student and teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd recently found herself hauled in front of a Star Chamber consisting of two professors and a campus diversity officer after an anonymous complaint was made against her for showing a video – fully within the context of the class she was teaching – of somebody expressing a point of view which did not accept or validate current transgenderism doctrine, specifically the use of alternative pronouns.

From The Star:

Lindsay Shepherd, a graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University, said she ran afoul of school authorities after she aired a clip in two tutorials of a debate on gender-neutral pronouns featuring polarizing University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson.

The excerpt from TVO’s current affairs program The Agendashows Peterson, who has famously refused to use gender pronouns other than “he” or “she,” defending his position against a professor who argued it was necessary to use the pronouns that a person prefers to be called.

Shepherd said she was chastised by her superiors for failing to condemn Peterson’s remarks outright and told her neutral approach to the clip was tantamount to remaining neutral on other objectionable views such as those of Adolf Hitler.

While Global News reports:

She was called into a meeting in which Laurier faculty and administration told her that playing the clip without condemnation legitimizes the viewpoint, which they don’t support.

[..] The meeting, which Shepherd secretly recorded, left her in tears after staff said playing the clip created a toxic environment for transgender students and called her transphobic.

Note: Lindsay Shepherd considers herself a leftist and did not actually agree with the perspective which Professor Jordan Peterson expressed in the now-controversial video. She was hauled before a disciplinary body merely for presenting a different argument in an academic context.

Summaries really do not do the exchange justice, so I strongly encourage you to spend 9 minutes listening to the secret recording of the meeting made by Lindsay Shepherd, or at least to read my transcript below. The purpose of this is not to generate more superficial outrage about “crazy campus SJWs” but to emphasise the degree to which universities are running at full speed away from any commitment to academic freedom and towards uncritically promoting one very particular (and flawed) worldview to the exclusion of all others.

Full transcript below:

PROFESSOR 1: …why that might have been seen as problematic by some of the students, maybe even threatening?

SHEPHERD: Um, I don’t see how someone would rationally think it was threatening. I can see how it might challenge their existing ideas but for me that’s the spirit of the university is challenging ideas that you already have. And I don’t know who this came from, I would be interested to see the original complaint or complaints, because like I don’t really have any context as to what exactly their problem was.

PROFESSOR 1: Sorry, can I, um…

SHEPHERD: The thing is, can you shield people from those ideas? Am I supposed to comfort them and make sure that they are insulated away from this, is that what the point of this is? Cause to me that is so against what a university is about. So against it. I was not taking sides, I was presenting both arguments.

PROFESSOR 1: So the thing is about this is, if you’re presenting something like this, you have to think about the kind of teaching climate that you’re creating, and, um, this is actually, these arguments are counter to Canadian human rights code, ever since – and I know that you talked about, um, C-16, ever since this passed it is discriminatory to be targeting someone due to their gender identity or gender expression. So bringing something like that up in class, not critically, I understand that you’re trying to, like –

SHEPHERD: It was critical. I introduced it critically.

PROFESSOR 1: How so? Like, as in?

SHEPHERD: Like I said, it was in the spirit of debate.

PROFESSOR 1: Okay. In the spirit of the debate is slightly different to being, like, “this is a problematic idea that we maybe wanna unpack”

SHEPHERD: But that’s taking sides.

PROFESSOR 1: Yes.

SHEPHERD: That’s me being like “oh look at this guy, everything that comes out of his mouth is BS but we’re gonna watch anyway”.

PROFESSOR 1: Okay. So I understand the position that you’re coming from and your positionality, but the reality is that it has created a toxic climate for some of the students. Y’know, it’s great that —

SHEPHERD: Who? How many? One?

PROFESSOR 1: Okay. May I speak? It’s —

SHEPHERD: I have no concept of, like, how many people complained, what their complaint was, you haven’t shown me the complaint.

PROFESSOR 1: Yes, I understand that this is upsetting, but there’s also confidentiality matters.

SHEPHERD: The number of people is confidential?

PROFESSOR 1: Yes. It’s one or multiple students who have come forward saying that this is something they were concerned about, and that it made them uncomfortable. You’re perfectly welcome to your own opinions, but when you’re bringing it into the context of the classroom that can become problematic. And that can become something that is – that creates an unsafe learning environment for students.

SHEPHERD: But when they leave the university they’re gonna be exposed to these ideas, so I don’t see how I’m doing a disservice to the class by exposing them to ideas that are really out there. And I’m sorry I’m crying, I’m stressed out because this, to me, is so wrong. So wrong.

DIVERSITY OFFICER: Can I mention the gender violence – the gender and sexual violence policy?

PROFESSOR 1: Yeah, please.

DIVERSITY OFFICER: So under that, um, gender violence does include sexual violence but it also includes, um targeting folks based on gender, um, so that includes transphobia, biphobia, homophobia, all those sorts of things are protected under the policy, and so those are things that Laurier has upheld as values as well as the Ontario human rights code. Um, and so those are things that we’re responsible for, uh, not impacting our students in that way, and not, um, not spreading transphobia in that way.

SHEPHERD: Okay, so what I have a problem with is I didn’t target anybody. Who did I target?

DIVERSITY OFFICER: Trans folks.

SHEPHERD: How? By telling them ideas that are really out there? By telling them that? By telling them? Really?

PROFESSOR 1: It’s not just telling them. In legitimising this as a valid perspective, as this is another valid perspective —

SHEPHERD: In a university all perspectives are valid!

PROFESSOR 1: That’s not necessarily true, and —

SHEPHERD: Well, this is something that’s being intimated in current society and I don’t feel the need to shield people from what’s going on in society. Like, to imagine that this is happening in a university, it’s just…bad.

PROFESSOR 1: Okay, so just to give you a context. Also within all of this that is happening, um, Laurier’s being blanketed with white supremacist posters currently. There’s another debate in society which is whether or not North America should be a set of white nationalist states and that it should be ethnically cleansed of other people. That is also a current debate in society. Would you show something in your tutorial that had, y’know, white supremacist and non white supremacists debating whether or not other people should live in North America? Is that something that you would show?

SHEPHERD: If that was related to the content of the week and we were talking about right wing speakers then maybe. It depends on the content, like, I mean if there’s really ideas that are existing out there like that then, I mean… Look, the thing is I don’t see what’s transphobic about showing a video of Jordan Peterson. He’s a real person. He is out there.

PROFESSOR 1: He is a real person, but he is a real person who has engaged in targeted behaviour or targeting of trans students, um, in the particular, like — basically doxxing them, if you know the term, like giving out their personal information so that they will be attacked, harassed, so that death threats will find them. This is something that he has done to his own students, he has done to other students, um, and this is also something that the students are aware of. So this is, this is basically like playing – not to kind of do the thing where everything is kind of compared to Hitler – but this is like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler or Milo Yiannopoulos from GamerGate. This is the kind of thing that, departmentally, in terms of critical communication studies and in terms of the course, of what we’re trying to do, is diametrically opposed to everything that we have been talking about in the lectures. Was this one of the reasons that you wanted to do this, because it was like, a reaction to the lecture content and, uh…?

SHEPHERD: No, we were talking about gendered language, and I was asking them to structure sentences using “they” or using “his” and “her”. And then we talked about the societal context of it. So I don’t get why I’m being seen as transphobic by virtue, by proxy of me just saying, just stating, just exposing people to an idea. I don’t get how that label is attached to me, I really don’t.

PROFESSOR 1: It’s more about the effect rather than the intention, like obviously that wasn’t your intention, but nevertheless it disturbed and upset students enough —

SHEPHERD: So everything’s about those students who are disturbed? Everything is catered to them?

PROFESSOR 1: [Sighs]

PROFESSOR 2: Can I just offer a different perspective? Um, were you, was this, um, tutorial based on looking at grammar?

SHEPHERD: Uh-huh.

PROFESSOR 2: And it was focused on the use of pronouns and the use of grammar?

SHEPHERD: Uh-huh.

PROFESSOR 2: Um, is grammar not something that’s not really subject to debate?

SHEPHERD: The “they” and the “his” or “her”? It’s a huge debate right now. Can we use “they” in the singular?

PROFESSOR 2: Yeah, but you do know that “they” has actually been used in the singular and —

SHEPHERD: Yeah, and that was in the video I showed to the class, and that was a point I made. The thing is, that’s kind of funny, is I disagree with Jordan Peterson. I disagree. But, um, you guys seem to think that I’m like pro-Jordan Peterson or something. It’s very funny.

PROFESSOR 2: Well, um, do you understand how what happened was contrary to – sorry, what was the policy, the —

DIVERSITY OFFICER: Gender and sexual violence.

PROFESSOR 2: — Gender and sexual violence policy? Like, do you understand how…

SHEPHERD: Sorry, what did I violate in that policy?

DIVERSITY OFFICER: Um, so gender-based violence, transphobia in that policy, causing harm to trans students by, uh, bringing their identity as invalid or their, uh, pronouns as invalid.

PROFESSOR 2: Or something like that.

DIVERSITY OFFICER: Potentially invalid.

SHEPHERD: So I caused harm and violence?

DIVERSITY OFFICER: Which is under the Ontario human rights code and a protected thing, and also something that Laurier holds as a value.

SHEPHERD: Okay. So by proxy, me showing a YouTube video, I’m transphobic and I caused harm and violence? So be it. I can’t do anything to control that.

PROFESSOR 2: Okay, so that’s not something that you have an issue with, the fact that that happened? Like, are you sorry that it happened?

SHEPHERD: Like, I mean, I know in my heart and I know I expressed to the class that I’m not transphobic, and if any of them — I don’t know, again, I don’t know what they said — but I made my — I don’t think I gave away any kind of political position of mine. I remained very neutral. And, um —

PROFESSOR 2: And that’s kindof the problem…

[AUDIO ENDS].

Note how the professors are totally unable to distinguish between the idea of raising an idea for critical discussion and targeting a student and inciting hatred or violence against them based on that idea. Time and again, the professors imply (and sometimes outright state) that any idea or argument which deviates from the prevailing transgender orthodoxy can only be discussed if it is first denounced as wrong or even “evil”. Students are not to be exposed to ideas and left to evaluate them in a neutral environment; rather, they will be informed of the “correct” response to such ideas upfront, presumably to avoid “harmful” misunderstandings.

One also wonders how far the professor/inquisitor had to dial down his definition of white supremacy when he made his remarks that the campus is being “blanketed in white supremacist posters”. One imagines that any literature advocating any kind of immigration enforcement at all would now fall into this category, together with any poster bearing the image or advertising the appearance of a prominent mainstream conservative. And when some future Wilfrid Laurier student is hauled before the same Social Justice Star Chamber for illicitly watching a Ben Shapiro or Tomi Lahren video under the covers at night in the privacy of their dorm room, the definition of racism and white supremacy will be just as expansive and unquestionable as transgender doctrine was at Lindsay Shepherd’s trial.

After all, the professor seriously posits the idea that there is a mainstream debate going on in society over whether North America should be ethnically cleansed of non-white people. These academics are so unhinged, so utterly untethered from reality, that they interpret a far-right argument on the very fringes of society – one which is actually diminishing, not gaining traction over time – and elevate its importance to that of some widespread national movement. This is a childlike catastrophisation of the current situation at best, and brazen intellectual deception at worst.

Listening to the recording, what is really surprising (besides the content) is the fact that at all times it is Lindsay Shepherd, the grad student, who sounds not only more reasonable and measured but more intellectually astute than her inquisitors. Shepherd was apparently being grilled by two professors and a Wilfrid Laurier University diversity officer, and despite being placed in a hugely stressful situation and occasionally fighting back tears as a consequence she sounds poised and articulate while her academic tormentors reach for every worn-out phrase or comparison in the book, frequently having to “tag” one another in and out of the discussion as they are repeatedly stumped and confounded by Shepherd’s logical responses.

Is this what the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics does to academic minds? Did the capacity for reasoning and critical thinking faculties of these professors gradually rot away after they drank too deep from the well of identity politics? Did they jettison independent thought and learn to mindlessly repeat approved orthodoxy so long ago that they now find themselves bested in debate by a scared grad student despite enjoying a 3 to 1 numerical advantage?

These really are third rate academic minds. Who says “positionality” in a sentence? Be under no illusion – this is a thoughtcrime investigation panel, and the judges are so inarticulate that they can only keep restating their blunt, unwavering dictum in occasionally varying language rather than engaging with and rebutting Shepherd’s arguments – hence their heavy overuse of the word “problematic” without any kind of granular explanation as to what was problematic or why it was so. These professors cannot even make a rudimentary case for their own intersectional ideology; all they can do is state and restate its core commandments.

These inquisitors do not deserve the title of “professor” when their snivelling, cowardly attempt to enforce their credo was so comprehensively deconstructed and debunked by a nervous but principled and steadfast grad student. Neither do they deserve to be employed by any academic institution which calls itself a university.

And unless Wilfrid Laurier University rapidly takes steps to publicly sanction those professors and apologise to Lindsay Shepherd, they should no longer be taken seriously as a place of higher education.

 

UPDATE – 20 November

Rod Dreher makes a good point in his own reaction to the Lindsay Shepherd story:

It’s worth listening to the clip to hear how nicey-nice and bland the inquisitors are. These people are destroying academic freedom and the purpose of a university, and they’re doing so in anaesthetic tones that conceal the act of real violence to the core values of a university.

The tone adopted by the two professors and the diversity officer is indeed striking. The language they use is incredibly passive and their voices never become harsh or accusatory. Instead they appear to be trying to undermine Shepherd with bland niceness, to keep hammering home the same illogical message with soft insistence in the hope that she will ultimately break down and state that 2+2=5.

It is worth remembering that the gravest threats to free speech and academic freedom in the West come not from angry student protesters but from the impeccably credentialed, dulcet-toned bureaucrats and functionaries who share their worldview.

 

UPDATE – 23 November

Professor Nathan Rambukkana, Lindsay Shepherd’s inquisitor-in-chief, has apologised to the student in a fairly gracious open letter. Money quote:

Second, this entire occasion, and hearing from so many with passionate views on this issue from across the political spectrum, has made me seriously rethink some of the positions I took in the meeting. I made the argument that first-year students, not studying this topic specifically, might not have the tool kit to unpack or process a controversial view such as Dr. Peterson’s, saying that such material might be better reserved for upper-year or grad courses. While I still think that such material needs to be handled carefully, especially so as to not infringe on the rights of any of our students or make them feel unwelcome in the learning environment, I believe you are right that making a space for controversial or oppositional views is important, and even essential to a university. The trick is how to properly contextualize such material. One way might be through having readings, or a lecture on the subject before discussion, but you are correct that first-years should be eligible to engage with societal debates in this way.

Is the letter perfect? By no means. It still adopts the whole “I’m sorry if you were offended” self-exculpatory language in places, and Rambukkana certainly does not forsake his main positions or his belief in identity politics. But still, better this than nothing at all. And at least there was an apology for the awful Hitler comparison.

Wilfrid Laurier Vice-Chancellor Deborah MacLatchy also took the opportunity to “apologise” via open letter, writing:

After listening to this recording, an apology is in order. The conversation I heard does not reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires. I am sorry it occurred in the way that it did and I regret the impact it had on Lindsay Shepherd. I will convey my apology to her directly. Professor Rambukkana has also chosen to apologize to Lindsay Shepherd about the way the meeting was conducted.

I remain troubled by the way faculty, staff and students involved in this situation have been targeted with extreme vitriol. Supports are in place at the university to support them through this situation.

Waah waah waah. Way to make it all about yourself. More:

Let me be clear by stating that Laurier is committed to the abiding principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Giving life to these principles while respecting fundamentally important human rights and our institutional values of diversity and inclusion, is not a simple matter. The intense media interest points to a highly polarizing and very complicated set of issues that is affecting universities across the democratic world. The polarizing nature of the current debate does not do justice to the complexity of issues.

Laurier is prepared to engage with these important discussions in a thoughtful and determined way. I have announced a task force to delve into these issues. Further details will be announced in the days ahead. I look forward to the process and I am confident that the outcome will contribute to a better understating of these issues for Laurier and the broader community.

This is a total deflection. Giving life to the principles of free speech and academic freedom is indeed “a simple matter” – it just requires a backbone and a baseline commitment to the basic principles of a university. If MacLatchy feels constrained by the incredibly stultifying Canadian human rights laws then as a university vice-chancellor she should have been vociferously opposing damaging, censorious developments like C-16, not cheering them on from the rafters. MacLatchy needs to go.

 

Lindsay Shepherd - Wilfrid Laurier University Ontario Canada - Academic Freedom - Social Justice - Transgender Pronouns - Jordan Peterson

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Catalonia Independence And Brexit – Not The Same Thing

Catalan Catalunya president Carles Puigdemont speech - declaration of independence

The Catalan declaration of independence does not prove your point, whether you are for or against Brexit

There has been an inevitable tendency among many people to co-opt the events surrounding the recent Catalan independence referendum and resulting declaration of independence from Spain for their own distinct purposes. This is unhelpful. Recent events in Spain illuminate Brexit little more than the election of Donald Trump explains Brexit – in other words, a few headline similarities obscure a wealth of differences.

First, we can all acknowledge that Spain hugely mishandled the entire affair. Whether this is partly due to weaker institutions and the less embedded traditions of democracy in Spain or just sheer incompetence on the part of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government is not fully clear to me, but the actions of the Spanish government clearly fuelled rather than defused the situation.

Rajoy should have learned from the UK’s experience with the Scottish independence referendum of 2014. Faced with Scottish separatists with similar delusions of statehood, David Cameron called the bluff of the Scottish National Party. The referendum was held on fair terms and the nationalists lost – despite an awfully dreary and uninspiring “No” campaign which pushed an entirely negative message and had little positive to say about the value of the United Kingdom. And though this led to the rise of Nicola Sturgeon and the arrival of the Tartan Tea Party of SNP MPs in Westminster after the 2015 general election, the nationalist tide has since receded.

Madrid took a different approach, opposing the referendum at every turn. I can’t speak to the legality of the constitutional court’s decision to ban the referendum, but the violent way in which it was put down by the police and Guardia Civil handed the separatists a huge and unnecessary propaganda victory. I can fully believe that the Catalan regional government has behaved reprehensibly and childishly throughout, but a mature national government in Madrid would have handled this in a way which took the sting out of the Catalan independence movement, putting it to bed for a generation. Mariano Rajoy achieved the exact opposite.

The decision of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont to proceed with a declaration of independence, as ratified by the Catalan parliament, was opportunistic, antidemocratic and immature. Yes, the referendum was violently put down by the Spanish authorities. But the referendum was also deemed illegal  in the first place by the proper Spanish courts, and many of those who would have voted against independence did not go to the polls. To take this botched referendum as a mandate for independence is a huge overstepping of Puigdemont’s authority, and is fundamentally antidemocratic.

Simultaneously, Spain has been far too laid back in dealing with this threat. It was shocking enough that it took until the days before the Scottish independence referendum for anti-independence campaigners to hold a mass rally in London in support of the United Kingdom – but at least it happened. Spain waited until days after the unilateral declaration of Catalonian independence to hold a similar rally in Barcelona. Where was this public outrage and shows of loyalty to Madrid when Carles Puigdemont was prancing around acting like the living embodiment of all Catalan public opinion? It is hard to attribute this to anything but laziness on the part of the citizenry. As he left the US constitutional convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin told an enquirer that he had bequeathed the American people “a Republic, if you can keep it“. At times, the Spanish seemed too lazy to make much of an effort to keep theirs.

How does all of this tangentially relate to Brexit? In one sense, Brexiteers can draw some basic parallels to Catalan independence. Both are primarily cultural movements consisting of people who do not accept the legitimacy of the larger political entity which they seek to leave. But the British EU referendum was conducted under the rule of law and its outcome was legitimate. One can raise valid points about the precise mode of Brexit being unstated and the lack of a plan on the part of the official Leave campaign – all true. But the instruction from voters to the UK government to commence secession from the political entity known as European Union was clear. In the case of Catalonian independence, not so. In many cases, the Catalan government behaved provocatively and with great immaturity. These are not smart, measured people whom anybody should seek to drape their arms around.

But there is also a contradiction at the heart of the Catalonian separatist movement. Both in Catalonia and Scotland, advocates for independence seek to leave the political purview of Madrid and Westminster respectively, but remain very much part of the European Union. In doing so they engage in a feat of denial and political fancy which exceeds that of the most ignorant of Hard Brexiteers. Leaving Spain means Catalonia leaving the EU, just as leaving the United Kingdom inevitably meant Scotland leaving the EU when Scotland voted back in 2014. In both cases, separatists sought to downplay or even deny this truth. Carles Puigdemont and his followers need to accept this difficult fact if they are to be remotely taken seriously. But they do not accept reality, just as the SNP refused to accept reality.

It is also curious that the separatists are so desperate to escape the clutches of Madrid (one protester today said that Catalonians were currently “oppressed” by Spain) but are entirely comfortably – even eager – to remain under the authority of Brussels, and inevitably as a much smaller and less influential member state were they to be readmitted. I would very much like to read an argument explaining how modern Spain suppresses Catalonian culture and freedom in a way that the EU would not. As an independent country and small EU member state, Catalonia would be much less able to influence EU policymaking than Spain is currently able to do. They would be in an infinitely weaker position to defend and advance Catalonian national interest.

And yet if this is still the choice of the Catalonian people they should be free to make it – through a lawful, democratic and legitimate referendum. If they do so, it will be a clearly cultural and constitutional decision, just as Brexit was. This doesn’t automatically mean that it is the “wrong” decision – it would simply mean that as with Brexit, some things matter more than short term political and economic stability. This is an argument which I have strongly made about Brexit, and which could hold true for Catalonian independence too. If the people of Catalonia genuinely feel that Madrid is hostile to their own interests then they should have the right to secede from Spain and take the consequences and potential benefits upon themselves. I supported Brexit because I do not feel that our cultural affinity to Europe – our sense of ourselves as part of a cohesive European demos – warrants as powerful and extensive a government as we currently have in Brussels. If Catalonians feel the same about Spain then so be it.

But if nothing else good comes from this turmoil in Spain, hopefully it will disabuse separatists throughout Europe of the childlike, naive notion that Brussels is their friend, and that the European Union in any way cares about their freedom or right to self-determination. It most assuredly does not. The European Union has its own journey – toward greater political integration and centralisation – to pursue. Brexit is enough of a bump in the road for EU leaders; they have no desire to see Europe fragmenting further at a time when they are trying to busily absorb everyone into the grand project, even as their undermining of established member states fuels these separatist movements.

Besides that, this is an internal matter for Spain to deal with. One might plausibly consider taking sides from a personal perspective had the referendum been conducted legally under terms agreed by both sides, or if the Catalan government could make an irrefutable case that no further dialogue with Spain was possible for the redress of their grievances. But in the absence of these mitigating factors we ought to refrain from jumping into a foreign debate purely to score cheap political points about matters in our own country.

The Catalan independence movement is not like Brexit, as anybody who supported the continuation of the United Kingdom in 2014 and Brexit in 2017 should have the humility to accept. No matter how low your opinion of Nigel Farage, Aaron Banks and Dominic Cummings may be, they did not press ahead with an unlawful referendum and claim (quite) such an implausible mandate from it. And whatever constitutional vandalism the UK government is currently engaged in as it seeks to implement Brexit is nothing to the constitutional vandalism currently being perpetrated in Spain.

At its core, Brexit is about securing the continued relevance and autonomy of the nation state (at least until such time as public opinion shifts more definitively in favour of the kind of supranational government offered by the European Union). And that means keeping our personal opinions about Catalan opinions quite distinct from any other political agenda.

 

Catalonia is not Spain - declaration of independence flag

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Public Service In The Age Of Trump

Donald Trump Ronald Reagan comparison photo

Achieving good outcomes is rightly the key barometer of success in government, but it is not everything – selflessly serving the public with honour and dedication matters too

Today I had the pleasure of attending a London Film Festival screening of “The Final Year”, a documentary by Greg Barker focusing on the last year of President Obama’s administration with a specific focus on foreign policy.

Regular readers will know that foreign policy is not my area of expertise, and rarely discussed on this blog. I only know enough to recognise that I am not qualified to pass blanket judgment on diplomatic and foreign policy issues which are fiendishly complex, rely on tremendously detailed knowledge of foreign cultures and regimes, and often require unbearably difficult decisions to be made in fraught circumstances with competing political demands, imperfect information and no crystal ball to see the future.

But it was difficult to watch the documentary and fail to conclude that the main protagonists – former Secretary of State John Kerry, United States ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes – discharged their duties diligently and with honour. One may not have agreed with all that these individuals did or the political outlook which guided their actions while serving in the Obama administration, but if so these were mere policy differences, not alleged deficiencies of character or behaviour.

It was also difficult to view the documentary and not feel a pang of shame at the composition and antics of the present administration, which even at its dubious best never seemed as functional as its predecessor, and which will certainly now struggle to attract talented, conscientious public servants given the scandals and negative publicity constantly roiling the White House.

Human beings have a tendency to impugn motives and presume character defects in people in public life based on our political differences with them. If we disagreed with the policies of Barack Obama then he also conveniently happened to be a dangerous socialist interloper who simply doesn’t love America the way that you or I love America. And if we disagreed with Mitt Romney or John McCain it was because they were heartless, selfish individuals devoid of charity or empathy, not due to the fact that these conservatives simply saw a different pathway to achieving a just and prosperous society.

This is not a new phenomenon. Republicans questioned the motives and character of Democrats in the Clinton administration; Democrats questioned the motives and character of Republicans in the Bush administration; Republicans had a very lucrative turn questioning the motives and character of Democrats in the Obama administration, and now everybody but the most partisan loyalists can be found expressing grave doubts about the motives character of many of those serving in the Trump administration.

And historically speaking, many of these negative judgments have been unfair. Most staffers in any administration serve out of a sense of public duty with real respect for the offices which they hold, and to impugn their motives at a time in their lives when they are trying to do good is churlish, particularly when there is no evidence of malfeasance.

But this time it feels different. Be it known or suspected acts of misconduct in office or the very public and unatoned-for personal failings of senior officials, the things we already know about less than nine months into the Trump administration should give us grave concern about the calibre of leadership in Washington, regardless of whether or not we agree with the general thrust of policy.

A few weeks ago, the masterful Peggy Noonan (speechwriter to President Ronald Reagan and a personal hero of mine) wrote a particularly moving column for the Wall Street Journal. In it, she conjured a moment of pure escapist fantasy, an alternate reality where all of the dreadful things we know to be true about people in the Trump administration – from the president on downwards – turned out to be nothing more than silly misunderstandings.

Noonan wrote:

I saw this: The exhausted woman on the shelter cot was surrounded by stressed children when Melania came over, bent down and asked, “How are you doing?” The woman said “Well—hurricane.” She realized who she was talking to and got flustered. “Those are nice shoes,” she said. They were flat ankle-boots, the kind you wear on the street or the park, only of the finest leather. “Thank you,” said Melania. She saw the woman’s soggy sneakers. “What size do you wear?” she asked, “Oh, 9,” said the woman. “They got bigger with the kids.”

Melania took off her boots and put them on the woman’s feet. She did this in a way that was turned away from the press, so they wouldn’t see. The woman’s daughter said, “Mommy, they’re nice.” Melania took from her bag a pair of white sneakers, put them on, and said, “Oh good, these are so comfortable.” They talked some more and Melania left and the mother looked to her kids and said, softly, “These are the first lady’s shoes.”

[..] This happened just before the Mnuchin story got cleared up. The Treasury secretary had not asked for a government plane to take him on his honeymoon. His request got all bollixed up in transmission, but there was a paper trail. It turned out he was waiting at the airport with his new wife when he saw a guy in Army fatigues comforting a young woman in a white and yellow dress. She was crying. Mr. Mnuchin sent over an aide to find out what’s wrong.

The guy in fatigues had literally just flown in from Kabul. He and the woman had just married, in a chapel down the street. They’d been bumped from their honeymoon flight to Bermuda. Mr. Mnuchin said: “Give them my plane. Louise—we’re flying commercial.” They booked seats on the next flight to France and went to duty free, where they bought the best champagne and placed it in her Hermès bag. They wrote a note: “Every soldier on leave deserves a honeymoon, every bride deserves champagne.” The couple discovered the bag on the plush leather seat just as the pilot was saying: “Please be seated and buckle up, we’ve got special clearance.”

The column continued in the same hopeful vein – Trump was shown to be unexpectedly humble and empathetic beneath his braggadocious facade, and at one point Hillary Clinton’s post-election book “What Happened” turned out not to be a self-indulgent, self-exculpatory exercise in blame-shifting but rather a sincere and thoughtful atonement for the collective sins of the American political establishment.

But of course, none of these positive, hopeful things actually happened. In all cases, the facts as first reported by the media turned out to be the depressing truth. Noonan said of her reverie:

It made me feel proud, like there’s hope for our political class.

That is what I saw this week.

I should note—this part is true—that I saw much of it while anesthetized for a minor surgical procedure. For an hour afterward, even knowing it was either a fantasy or a dream, I felt so . . . hopeful. Cheerful. Proud. I give it to you.

It is impossible to read Peggy Noonan’s column without aching for a time when public service was a calling reserved for people of character and principle, even if that time exists only in our imaginations, false memories or old episodes of The West Wing.

This is not to say that the Obama administration represented some high watermark of moral behaviour in office. Former Attorney General Eric Holder was less than truthful more than once in his testimony to Congress, while the IRS under senior executive Lois Lerner was found to be singling out conservative organisations for additional tax scrutiny and harassment. But even adjusting for anti-conservative bias in the media, the Obama administration comported itself with considerably more dignity than has thus far been shown by the constantly rotating cast of Trump officials. And it would take a significant change of trajectory, bordering on the miraculous, for this assessment to change.

Is it really possible that in four or eight years’ time we will look back on the people who serve in the present administration, who now represent the federal government to its citizens and the United States of America to the world, and think of them as sincere, hardworking and well-intentioned (if sometimes flawed and mistaken) public servants?

Is Rex Tillerson – a man who showed little interest in foreign policy beyond its applicability to the oil industry prior to his nomination as Secretary of State – presently losing sleep at night trying to implement a foreign policy vision that he sincerely believes will make America and the world safer and more prosperous, as John Kerry did? Are Trump’s other cabinet secretaries maintaining the dignity of their offices and the commitment to fiscal rectitude which is supposed to be a fundamental Republican selling point, or are they all behaving like former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and current Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, abusing their offices and the public trust by showering themselves with unnecessary perks on the public dime?

And even if Trump apologists, knowing the administration to be deficient in these areas, are willing to sacrifice these qualities for the greater good of bringing down an establishment which ironically seems to be strangely ascendant within the current White House, are the benefits of this governmental shock therapy really worth the side-effects of employing such a motley group of charlatans and opportunists to follow in the footsteps of better men and women?

Watching “The Final Year” at the Odeon Leicester Square today, I could certainly understand how people might feel sceptical or even angry about some of John Kerry’s priorities as Secretary of State and those of his former boss, or be rubbed up the wrong way by the opinionated Ben Rhodes and Samantha Power. Theirs is a specific worldview with which not everybody agrees. But it is also evident that they are patriots one and all, serving the country that they love to the best of their abilities and in line with the values which they believe were twice vindicated by the election of Barack Obama as president. Based on what we know, it would certainly be very difficult to accuse any of these Obama administration alumni of being self-serving, superficial or corrupt in their duties.

I hope that when the time comes to look back on the current presidency, we will be able to say the same of all those who presently serve in the Trump administration.

I sincerely hope so, but I am not optimistic.

 

The Final Year will be released in cinemas in the US & UK in January 2018.

       

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