The Distortion and Profusion of Human Rights
Margaret Thatcher explained the stark difference between American and European political traditions with elegant economy. The Iron Lady said that European nations were made by history but the United States was made by philosophy.
Last month, the State Department issued a thoughtful and carefully reasoned report on that quintessentially American philosophy, and the unique nation that came into existence to conserve and champion it. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had tasked a commission with exploring the role of “unalienable rights” in U.S. foreign policy. To do so entailed an ideological assault against not only the foreign despotisms that willfully deprive their subjects of those rights. The doctrine of natural rights also agitates against the growing inclination of the political left to make all of politics a matter of rights. Continue reading
Few people today remember the story behind the sobriquet “Grand Old Party”—the handy “GOP” nickname for the Republican party, which at first blush seems miscast for a political faction that is considerably younger than its rival in a two-party system. The title was adopted after the Civil War on the heels of a speech delivered in 1875 by John “Jack Black” Logan, who had served in the Army as one of Grant’s favorite generals and was then a U.S. senator from Illinois.
Speaking in the dark days of political radicalism and civil strife that followed the Union victory, Logan inveighed against the restoration of white supremacy in the former Confederacy that was reducing the Republican party to a rump. (The Republicans had flared into existence in the middle of the 19th century pledged to fight “the twin relics of barbarism”: slavery and polygamy.) He opened by citing a report from Louisiana of thirty-five hundred people killed in the state since the end of the war for attempting to exercise their political rights. These victims, most of whom were black, were also Republicans. “Is it true that this gallant old party, that this gallant old ship that has sailed through troubled seas before, is going to be stranded now . . . ?” Logan’s phrase was soon revised from “gallant old party” to “grand old party”—perhaps in homage to the Grand Army of the Republic in which so many Republican hearts of the age were touched with fire. And the name stuck.
This largely forgotten story is told in Trumpocalypse, David Frum’s new book that predicts the imminent (though belated) end of the Trump era and sketches the contours of a decent Republican future on the ruins of the indecent present. Continue reading
The danger of an imperial presidency has usually been exaggerated; the peril lies not in its power but in the character of its person
In the modern era, the specter of the imperial presidency has stirred the most excitable—what Hamilton called, in Federalist No. 1, “over-scrupulous”—anxiety at various points along the political spectrum. Beginning with the Vietnam war and gathering special force in the post-9/11 era, the public has been encouraged by the national elite to fear nearly every exercise of executive power taken in defense of the nation’s interests or against the enemies of civilization. Continue reading
The partisan nature of impeachment is a scandal (for Republicans)
The impeachment trial of the president will soon be over, almost certainly with the Senate acquitting Mr. Trump on charges that he abused the powers of his office. But the effects of this doomed impeachment will linger long after the votes have been tallied in the world’s most deliberative body—a distinction, it must be said, to which the degenerate Senate has not remotely lived up. It is already apparent that this scandal, and the unprecedented arguments employed to inure the country to the president’s squalid misconduct, will disfigure America’s constitutional order, and the cause of republican government, for years to come.
The presidency is occupied by an unprincipled rogue who defiles the office and diminishes its authority
Historians will marvel at the wreckage to the conservative cause piled up high in our time by an administration claiming, without serious challenge, the banner of the Republican party. What most catches the eye is not ostensible conservatives’ abandonment of free trade principle or their newfound contempt for international alliances, lamentable as these tergiversations have been. The truest betrayal on the right in this time has rather been at once more grave and more elemental: the jettisoning of the understanding of—or at any rate the concern for—the role of character in a republic.
It wasn’t so long ago that a typical Republican might have been expected to snort with derision at any suggestion that character does not matter in high public office. This profoundly republican position now sits awkwardly in a party that struggles to say a disobliging word about Donald Trump. Continue reading
Today, Donald Trump is expected to join a small, ignominious fraternity, becoming the third U.S. president to be impeached. This historic rebuke is richly deserved. It may also prove deeply imprudent. Continue reading
The hysterical argument against impeachment reveals a poor understanding of, or brazen contempt for, constitutional principle
During the last fortnight’s impeachment hearings in Washington D.C., Republicans loyal to Trump asserted that the opposition party was embarked on nothing less than a political coup against a duly elected president. This, needless to say, was a large—and, if true, damning—claim against the national Democratic party. According to the president’s defenders, the impeachment proceedings arose from quotidian policy differences rather than grave presidential misconduct.
In reality, this entire line of argument was deranged. Continue reading
Impeachment may be imprudent. But this lamentable fact does not acquit Republicans who, in l’affaire Ukraine, have made it so.
A new book celebrates The Old Guard at Arlington
In April, Israel brought home the remains of Sgt. Zachary Baumel, a soldier who perished in Lebanon in 1982. After 37 years tracking Baumel’s remains to Syria and negotiating their recovery through Russia, the Israeli government laid him to rest at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem.
For Senator Tom Cotton, the extraordinary measures taken on behalf of soldiers who rallied to the flag and did not return from the breach is not simply a de rigueur tradition. In Sacred Duty: A Soldier’s Tour at Arlington National Cemetery, the junior senator from Arkansas has written an encomium to the martial virtues as embodied by his his former unit, the storied 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment—The Old Guard. In the process, Cotton echoes Plato’s view that the ancient ritual of honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice has as much to do with advising the living as it does with praising the dead. Continue reading
The facts from Charlottesville are plain in their ugliness. White nationalists from around the country descended on the campus of the University of Virginia ostensibly to protest its plan to remove a statue memorializing Robert E. Lee. But even before the spectacle of a torchlight demonstration featuring a toxic blend of Confederate nostaliga and Nazi propaganda, it was clear that its true purpose was a rendezvous for the nation’s leading bigots and anti-social hooligans to make their presence known in the social sphere.