Monday, May 22, 2017
By William Voegeli
Monday, May 22, 2017
Note: This essay was adapted from the Spring issue of the Claremont Review of Books.
“Are you now, or have you ever been, a supporter of Donald J. Trump?” It would be ominous if witnesses in congressional hearings had to endure this type of McCarthyite interrogation. But what do you call it when sportswriters demand that a professional athlete answer the same question?
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, for example, calls himself a “good friend” of the new president. Consequently, the football star faced journalists’ demands to “publicly disavow Trump’s actions,” as one USA Today columnist wrote. Brady, not wanting to detract from his team’s Super Bowl preparations, responded by claiming his “right to stay out of it.” But several commenters made clear that the court of public opinion honors neither the right to privacy nor one against self-incrimination. Not in the Age of Trump.
As in sports, so also in show business. Actress Nicole Kidman found it necessary to apologize for her anodyne post-election statement that “we as a country need to support whoever is president.” After he asked Trump the kind of superficial questions guests have faced for 62 years on NBC’s “Tonight Show,” critics denounced host Jimmy Fallon for aiding and abetting Trump’s election. “Now,” Slate warned, “even if celebrities [want] to opt out of the current moment, they can’t…. Doing nothing is doing something. Silence either signifies ‘I’m for Trump’ or ‘I’m for myself.’”
Say It Together: This Is How We Got Trump
A major theme of Trump’s campaign was opposition to political correctness. That stance appealed to many, who feared a campus affliction was becoming a national one, foretelling a future where Anytown, USA, might as well be Berkeley, California. When quarterbacks and comedians are sternly admonished that you’re for Trump unless you make it unmistakably clear that you’re against him, the central Trumpist axiom about the danger of political correctness is affirmed, not refuted.
Once it became clear on the morning of November 9, 2016, that Trump had won his unthinkable victory, the anchor of “The Young Turks” web broadcast declared, “We’re going to fight back. The era of politeness, for progressives, is over.” The self-styled “Resistance,” chanting “Not my president” since Election Day, justifies its words and actions by citing Trump’s transgressions and defects. His sins easily become his supporters’.
When New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof urges his liberal readers to avoid harsh generalizations about Trump voters, they respond by telling him how committed they are to those negative judgments. They “hate” and “despise” all Trump supporters, the “worst of humanity,” every last “stupid and selfish” one a racist.
For every demonstration, campus riot, and awards-show sermon visited upon the republic because Trump won, another 10,000 members of the Resisted attain greater clarity about why. Even Americans with misgivings about Trump and his policies can agree with the European scholar who recently wrote, “There is a deeply anti-democratic undercurrent to much of the criticism of the new president, borne aloft by an assumption that democracy is too important to be left to the voters.”
This Isn’t Likely to End Well
It’s hard to see how all this ends, and really hard to see how it ends well. Everyone loves the poetry at the conclusion of Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural: how “we are not enemies, but friends” who will be held together by “the mystic chords of memory” and “better angels of our nature.” It’s less consoling to remember that Lincoln’s address was a rhetorical triumph but political failure. None of the seven Southern states that seceded from the Union between Lincoln’s election and inauguration reversed course after his speech, and four additional states joined the Confederacy in the following weeks.
The first and current Republican presidents are, safe to say, dissimilar in certain respects. Their electoral victories, however, caused each man’s most vehement opponents to conclude that such an outcome rendered doubtful the worth of preserving American unity and respecting democratic processes. Southerners embraced the logic, though not the slogan, of “Not My President” when Lincoln’s election showed that the North had the votes and, increasingly, the inclination to settle the slavery question on terms other than the South’s maximum demands.
Lincoln began his presidency by imploring all his countrymen to “think calmly and well.” That’s good advice in general but is, unfortunately, advice most likely to be delivered in situations where it’s least likely to be heeded. We’ll learn things about the people we are and the times we live in over the next four years. Whether we’ll like what we learn is a different question.
By Mark Moyar
Monday, May 22, 2017
Note: The following is an excerpt from Mark Moyar’s Oppose Any Foe: The Rise of America’s Special Operations Forces.
The first month of 2012 was, indeed, a highly auspicious time to wave the banner of special-operations forces in support of a new national-security strategy.
Through the Osama bin Laden raid and other recent victories, special operators had amassed unprecedented prestige both within Washington and in the country more generally.
Special-operations forces seemed not only more exciting, but also more efficient and decisive than the conventional military forces that had been employed in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. Hollywood was releasing movie after movie extolling the virtues of the special units, including a film called Act of Valor that starred active-duty SEALs. On the Internet, dating sites were hit by epidemics of men pretending to be special operators in order to win the hearts of unsuspecting women.
Although President Obama relied mainly on subordinates to sell his new strategy to the public, he did cite the special operators while explaining the strategy during an interview with journalist Mark Bowden, who was writing a book on the bin Laden operation. “Special Forces are well designed to deal with the very specific targets in difficult terrain and often-times prevent us from making the bigger strategic mistakes of sending forces in, with big footprints and so forth,” he explained. “So when you’re talking about dealing with terrorist networks, in failed states, or states that don’t have capacity, you can see that as actually being less intrusive, less dangerous, less problematic for the country involved.”
What Obama had called “Special Forces” were in actuality the special-operations forces (SOF) — the official term for all the units dedicated to the conduct of special operations. Special-operations forces include not only the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, but also the Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Air Force Night Stalkers, and Special Operations Marines, among others. Mixing up Special Forces with special-operations forces was a common enough mistake, and one that might have been unworthy of mention had the president merely been dispensing praise to an obscure federal bureaucracy, on the order of the Japan–U.S. Friendship Commission or the American Battle Monuments Commission. But SOF had become the centerpiece of Obama’s national-security strategy, and hence the misstep encouraged doubts about the amount of thought that had gone into the strategic redesign. Later events were to confirm that administration strategists had not given adequate consideration to the strengths and limitations of special-operations forces before hoisting them to the apex of the world’s most powerful military.
It was not the first time that presidential ambitions for special-operations forces had outstripped presidential familiarity with those forces. Indeed, no president, Republican or Democrat, has ever demonstrated a commanding grasp of special-operations forces and their capabilities, although John F. Kennedy at times came close. Presidential unfamiliarity acquired a new significance under Obama, however, because U.S. special-operations forces were larger and more prominent than ever before, and because their ascent in Obama’s first term contributed to a terrific crash during his second term. Egged on by the White House, the Special Operations Command would attempt to acquire new powers at the expense of the rest of the U.S. military and government. Its leadership would flout the rules of the Defense Department and Congress, on the presumption that no one would dare challenge the men who killed Osama bin Laden. Congress eventually used its power of the purse to rein in Special Operations Command, killing the budgets for ambitious plans to extend the reach of special-operations forces.
Most of the factors that precipitated this calamity could have been anticipated, and at least some avoided, had the principal players been attuned to the history of American special-operations forces. That history began during the first months of U.S. participation in World War II, when in the crucible of total war the United States formed its first units dedicated to special operations. From 1942 to 1945, the Army Rangers, the Marine Corps Raiders, the Navy Frogmen, and the special operators of the civilian-led Office of Strategic Services (OSS) executed difficult and dangerous operations that not only made them the role models for future operators, but also brought into daylight the main challenges that were to confront special-operations forces ever afterward.
The 75-year rise of special operations forces from humble origins in World War II to the present day is, at bottom, a coming-of-age story. Special-operations forces began as unwanted stepchildren, and they languished in that status for more than four decades. From time to time, they found supportive stepfathers in Washington, but for the most part they were left at the mercy of jealous stepbrothers. In 1986, the creation of the Special Operations Command in Tampa and its accompanying bank account set SOF loose like an 18-year-old who just moved out of the house prone to naïve ambitions and unwise choices. In the first decade of the 21st century, special-operations forces came into their own, growing into a force of 70,000 troops with help from a president and Congress desperate for weapons to wield against Islamic extremists. Champions of special operations called for the transformation of SOF from a secondary weapon that supported conventional forces to a primary weapon that could take the place of their conventional counterparts. But then the success went to the heads of the special-operations leaders and caused them to reach too far, leaving the Department of Defense strewn with wreckage whose pieces are still being picked up today.
Like any good coming-of-age story, the story of special-operations forces is interwoven with a colorful cast of characters. Most special operators volunteered for what they knew would be unusually difficult and dangerous duty, and thus the pantheon of special-operations forces brims with men of exceptional talent, courage, dedication, and selflessness. These same special operators, being mortals, have at times succumbed to folly, narcissism, or fear. For some, the acquisition of elite status helped turn confidence into hubris, with all the attendant troubles one might expect. Brilliance has been mixed with bad judgment, in no small part because of the need to make decisions quickly, under stress, and without sleep. The story includes first crushes, rites of passage, harrowing action scenes, falls from grace, and redemption. As a story of war, it has more than its share of suffering, glory, and death.
By Andrea Allen
Monday, May 22, 2017
Hollywood director Joss Whedon recently said he made a support video for abortion giant Planned Parenthood because “Women’s health care is so much just about women’s humanity.” The video shows three different women for whom access to Planned Parenthood meant hope, a chance for an education, and even the woman’s own life. It’s a savvy marketing approach, meant to convince the public how essential Planned Parenthood clinics are for women.
“It is about whether they have control over their bodies and whether they have control over their minds and their education and their decisions,” Whedon told BuzzFeed, concerning the video and the current discussion regarding Planned Parenthood. “It’s all wrapped up.”
Yet I’ve found that some of the “freedoms” Whedon and Planned Parenthood consider necessary actually are “wrapped up” in women’s oppression. Since 1990, I’ve worked with many women who have suffered from various forms of oppression, first as a volunteer for a hotline for battered women, then in my first job as a social worker at a feminist agency serving abused women and women dealing with substance abuse. I’ve also worked in a hospital, group homes for teen girls and young single moms, in pregnancy help centers, and in other domestic violence agencies.
I Didn’t Expect to Hear about Coerced Abortions
When I started a career in social work, I expected to hear about physical and sexual abuse, bad neighborhoods, nasty landlords, difficulties with welfare and food stamps, and the like. What I never expected to hear were the stories women told me about coerced abortion.
When discussing their experiences of abuse, woman after woman told me how they hadn’t wanted to abort their babies, but their husbands or boyfriends had forced them to do so. They shared their experiences of heartbreak, with symptoms of trauma such as nightmares about the abortions, and their regrets. This experience has been repeated many times when I’ve counseled an abused woman or teenager over the last 20-plus years. Over time, I have become less surprised by what I hear, but never less saddened by hearing my clients’ stories.
Some may say the above are extreme cases and don’t represent the average woman who seeks an abortion of her own volition. I’ve found that even women who haven’t been coerced into abortion by a partner, who have seemingly freely chosen abortion, bring up regrets and symptoms of trauma spontaneously when discussing their life histories. It seems that even women who make a choice to abort often feel like they have no choice but to abort.
Is It Really a Choice If Women Don’t Feel They Have One?
The observation that women choose abortion in response to some crisis is supported by empirical research. According to a Guttmacher Institute Fact Sheet from January 2017, the three most common reasons given by 1,200 women seeking abortion were the following: their concern for or responsibility to other individuals, financial issues, and the belief that having a baby would interfere with work, school, or the ability to care for dependents. Nearly three-quarters of the women questioned cited these concerns. Nearly half of the women either stated they had chosen abortion because they would be single mothers or they were having relationship problems.
The problems women face with unintended pregnancy are legitimate and real. Yet is abortion the best “tool” we can come up with for solving the problems women face, considering the trauma women often face post-abortion?
Here’s a short list of some problems abortion-seeking women often face, and alternatives to solve them. All names are pseudonyms for actual women I have counseled who have found other tools — rather than abortion — to find resolution to their crises.
Jane is told to either abort or leave her home. Jane faces homelessness. The solution to her problem is not abortion, but finding a safe place for her to live. That can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Pregnancy help centers frequently help women in such situations find housing.
Felicia doesn’t have health insurance because she is undocumented. In every state I have ever worked, pregnant women can get medical coverage. Those public health centers we keep hearing about serve many women who need prenatal care. I’ve referred many a pregnant woman to them. I should add that even those who are in the country illegally can get help with these costs, as charitable care does exist.
Marina is a senior in high school, about to graduate and go off to college on scholarship. Title IX does not allow a school to discriminate against a woman because of pregnancy or any related conditions, because she has a child, or because of her marital status. A school receiving federal funds cannot make someone sign an agreement not to get pregnant, or punish someone for getting pregnant. Also, groups like Feminists for Life and Students for Life have lots of resources for students who are expecting or parenting, including the “Pregnant on Campus” initiative.
This is not an exhaustive list of the issues that cause women to consider abortion, nor of the resources to assist in their resolution. Admittedly, there also is a need for better access and funding of ressources for pregnant women (e.g., for greater funding for public health centers).
Yet my clients’ experiences show that real oppression for many women is the lack of choice to avoid abortion because of things like poverty, educational barriers, homelessness, and abuse. Real liberation and control over their “minds, education, and decisions” consists of removing obstacles so women know they have better choices than abortion.