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If I forget thee

The UN vote is about more than Jerusalem and about more than an embassy

It’s depressing to have to state the obvious.  But it’s too maddening to remain silent.  So please forgive me if I revisit what many have said but few have heard.

Last week’s United Nations vote – which censured the United States for planning to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem – is a pitch-perfect example of human society’s collective descent into tribalism.  And the heart of the matter has nothing to do with Jerusalem, the Mideast, or American foreign policy.

One could reasonably make the case that moving the embassy is ill-advised.  I have had my own doubts whether or not the benefits of the largely symbolic gesture outweigh the potential for violent Palestinian reaction.

But that was not the stated reason behind the U.N. resolution.

Instead, leaders and pundits the world around claimed that the move will derail the peace process.  And to that, the logical retort is:  what peace process?

In the 53 years since the establishment of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (which preceded the Six Day War and Israel’s so-called “occupation” of the West Bank), the only concession offered up by the Palestinian Authority has been to remove from its charter the call for Israel’s destruction.

Thanks, guys.

The concession to stop publicly advocating the extermination of 6 million Israeli Jews was a good first step, not a final offer.  Negotiation requires compromise, as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak demonstrated back in 2000 when he offered to return 94% of the West Bank – an offer the P.A. refused.  Since then, the only progress has been Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, to which the P.A. responded by launching missiles against Israeli civilians.

So exactly what “process” does the international community think has been derailed?

PSYCHOLOGY AND PATHOLOGY

Even more absurd is denouncing the U.S. embassy move as “illegal.”  The whole world has recognized Israel’s ownership of West Jerusalem since 1947.  So why should any country not be allowed to name its own capital in its own land?  And why should any other country be censured for establishing its embassy in a legal foreign capital?  Finally, why should longtime allies join the chorus of condemnation with absolutely no legal or moral justification?

The first two questions are merely rhetorical.  It is the third question that really needs answering. Are you listening, Europe and Canada?

There are two explanations.  First is the irrational Utopianism that characterizes much of the political left.  Like the delusional naturalists who believe that grizzly bears and mountain lions are really peaceful creatures who will respond to human gestures of affection in kind, radical progressives fantasize that terrorists and the sponsors of terror will eagerly embrace peace once the rest of us confess our sins and beg for absolution.

It hasn’t worked yet.  But the Utopians have faith, even as they remain blind and deaf to the irrefutable evidence that they themselves have become the enablers of terrorism.  For all their good intentions, they have prolonged suffering on all sides by allowing corrupt Palestinian leaders to squander hundreds of millions in international aid on terror tunnels rather than easing the plight of their own people.

The second reason is that western governments are terrified that any sign of support for Israel will spark violent uprisings among their restless Arab minorities.  It’s a disappointing fact of life that the politics of cowardice almost always trump commitment to justice.

THE HEART OF THE MATTER

The more fundamental problem, however, is the unapologetic disregard for truth.

 

Think whatever you want and believe whatever you want – but defend your positions with facts and logic, not disinformation and distortion.  Once reasoned debate and civil discourse become impossible – whether because of ideology or fear – civilization is sure to crumble beneath our feet.

Truth be told, it’s possible that by showing the Palestinian Authority that intransigence will no longer serve their interests, the U.S. has actually moved the peace process a step forward.  If other countries begin to follow America’s example, the PA will be left scrambling to make a deal before they have no more chips left to bargain.

King Solomon says, One who trusts his own heart is a fool, but one who walks in wisdom shall be kept safe.

If we truly hope to bring about peace, we have cast off our rose-colored glasses and confront our fear.  Only then might we achieve the intellectual and moral integrity that will allow us to follow in the ways of wise counsel.

Published by Jewish World Review

The Quagmire of Manipulation

America Donald Trump Election Donald Politician

Love him or hate him, you have to admire Donald Trump’s genius for manipulating the media.  What’s even more impressive is the way he’s been beating them at their own game.

In his recent book, Win Bigly, Scott Adams deconstructs the president’s odyssey of extremist declarations, puerile outbursts, and over-the-top promises.  The renowned cartoonist of Dilbert fame convincingly reframes the Trump campaign and presidency, not as the random escapades of a cartoonish narcissist but as the calculated strategy of a smooth and savvy operator.

According to this thesis, Mr. Trump’s rhetoric calling for building a wall, mass deportations of immigrants, and banning Muslims – together with his warning of ISIS in the Vatican and his torrent of adolescent tweets – have all been pieces of a prearranged puzzle.  One can argue the extent to which he advocated these positions or intended to implement them.  What seems clear is that Mr. Trump anticipated exactly how incendiary they would sound, how violently his detractors would react to them, and how staking out extreme starting positions would give him room to negotiate later on.

How could he not have sucked all the air out of the country by sparking dual conflagrations of nationalist celebration and liberal outrage?

So why exactly did this help Donald Trump?  Because the constant repetition of his ideas gradually drained them of their shock value while systematically embedding them in the country’s collective consciousness.

The more we hear something – anything – the more familiar it becomes and, proportionately, the less frightening.  At the same time, the very outrageousness of his early proposals allowed him to walk them back and thereby appear more reasonable by moderating his positions.

He even colored his hair more blond and tinted his skin less orange.

In short, Mr. Trump played the media like a virtuoso, conscripting their irreflective aid as they blasted his name and image across the country.  With their cooperation, the electorate gradually got used to the idea of an otherwise unthinkable candidate and voted him into office.

But the media should have known better.  Because they have been doing the same thing themselves for decades.

Since the 1970s, the news media and the entertainment industry have been allies in the transformation of American culture.  The family-based values of the post-World War II generation did not suit the progressives who envisioned a country free from traditional conventions and unfettered by social stigma.

And so filmmakers brought us movies like Brokeback Mountain, the gay-cowboy saga that, predictably, garnered a slew of Oscar nominations.  The television studios showed us clever children running circles around their clueless parents in The Simpsons, and brought a gay couple front and center in American homes with Will and Grace.

During those years, Americans grew increasingly accustomed to the withering of traditional roles, as young people were indoctrinated into the new normal and their conservative elders were worn down by the relentless force of cultural inertia.

None of this was accidental.  And whether you think it has been good or bad for the country, it succeeded with ruthless effectiveness.

But what took the media decades to achieve, Donald Trump accomplished in 18 months.

But here’s the real problem.  As power players become more sophisticated at manipulating the public, we slip further and further into an Orwellian future where truth becomes expendable, morality becomes relative, and civility becomes an anachronism.

As a culture, we have never believed in victory at any cost.  That’s why there’s a Geneva Convention for warfare, compliance standards for business, and sportsmanship recognition on the athletic field.  But nowhere is moral conduct more critical than among our leaders.

Be a tail among lions rather than a head among foxes, teaches the Talmud.  Good leaders benefit all who follow them by raising the standard of personal conduct.  But one who attracts followers with fox-like craftiness by appealing to the darker side of human nature will inevitably leave chaos in his wake.

Every community rests on a foundation of civility and ethics, a foundation that needs constant reinforcement to remain steadfast.  But when a society is overtaken by the politics of personal ideology and personal power, the most solid foundation can be eroded in no time at all.

The art of dealing is a given in the jungle of the boardroom.  In the halls of government and the chambers of civic discourse, the diplomacy of character, discipline, and nobility is the only formula for lasting success.

Published in Jewish World Review

Photo Credit:  Max Pixel

The One Best Way to Win

Hindsight is 20/20, and Monday morning quarterbacks are never wrong.  But back when democrats and republicans agreed that Hillary Clinton’s election was a foregone conclusion, the few voices predicting Trumpian triumph were drowned out in a chorus of Clintonian inevitability.

Of course everything looked different on the first Wednesday in November, and it came as no surprise that as soon as the shock wore off pundits began reverse engineering the former first lady’s defeat .

It’s a bit embarrassing how, a year after the election, Mrs. Clinton is still casting about to blame others for her cataclysmic upset. Perhaps she should read, “Shattered,”  in which Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes attribute Mrs. Clinton’s undoing primarily on what was obvious to everyone from beginning to end —

Click here to read the rest.

Honor Thy Fathers

Meritocracy.  Collaboration.  Personal achievement.

These are the ideals upon which was the United States was founded, the ideals that have made and continue to make America great.  They are also the ideals that have traditionally been associated with professional sports.

How ironic, therefore, that the NFL has been overtaken by a sentiment of rejectionism against the symbol of those very values.  How tragic to witness players use the freedom represented by the flag to show contempt and disdain for the country that has afforded them an opportunity for success they might never have otherwise had.

No, our country is not perfect.  But the flag represents that values that allow us to strive together toward a more perfect union.

That being said, it’s not the job of the president to call for the NFL to penalize those players.  It’s his job to demonstrate the responsible use of free speech by conducting himself with principled determination and disciplined self-restraint.

Our Chief Executive is responsible for passing fair and effective legislation while creating a national tone of respect and personal responsibility.  Implicit in that is knowing and showing where the division between the two must be drawn.

 

Let the truth set you free

“James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

@realDonaldTrump 12 May 2017

This was one of President Trump’s tamer tweets, although you wouldn’t know it by the ensuing chorus of condemnation from the media.

“There’s no good motive for saying this except to intimidate James Comey,” said news anchor Greta Van Susteren in an interview with Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who emphatically echoed her indictment.

Unpresidential?  Possibly.  But intimidating?

ALL A-TWITTER

No reasonable person can deny that Donald Trump has made a mockery of himself and his office with his litany of derisive, degrading, and delusional tweets.  There is no excuse for any public figure, much less the President of the United States, to whine that he is the victim of the “single greatest WITCH HUNT in American history,” to assert that a distinguished senator from his own party is an “embarrassment” to his home state, or to spew adolescent invectives regarding the physical appearance or psychological stability of media personalities, no matter how slanted and unprofessional their reporting might be.

There should be a code of ethics — whether implicit or explicit — governing the use of social media, which relentlessly eats away the foundations of civil society.  But the misuse of modern communication in general, and of Twitter in particular, does not make it all bad all the time.

In a world where the media has grown increasingly untrustworthy, unfair, and unbalanced, the power of social media to circumvent inaccurate or misleading reporting should be warmly welcomed.  But that power is so easily abused that it routinely invalidates its own effectiveness as an alternative information source.

Which brings us back to Mr. Trump’s tweet warning that James Comey’s own words might be subject to verification.

Was that intimidation?  Was it coercion?

FOR THE RECORD

Well, let’s see.  Mr. Trump did not say that he had any tapes.  He did not even say that he might have tapes.  He did not threaten Mr. Comey with reprisal or retribution of any kind.  He did not suggest that Mr. Comey should in any way distort or omit the truth.

What he did do was raise the specter that Mr. Comey’s statements might come back to haunt him if found to contradict anything Mr. Comey himself had previously said.

Come to think of it, this might be the most cogent message Donald Trump has tweeted since he launched his campaign to run for president.  By what twisted logic can it now be suggested that confronting public figures with the truth is a form of intimidation?

Has our moral compass spun completely off its axis?

The humorist Charles Marshall wrote, seriously, that, “Integrity is doing the right thing when you don’t have to — when no one else is looking or will ever know — when there will be no congratulations or recognition for having done so.”

That is a universal truth.  But it’s all the more relevant in an age when everyone carries a camera, when anything and everything we do could end up on YouTube or the evening news.  If there is any upside to the ubiquitous presence of recording devices lurking in every shadow, it is that we have to consider the very real possibility that someone is always watching, and that anything we say or do might be used against us.

King Solomon said, Curse not the king even in your thoughts, and curse not the rich in your bedchamber; for a bird of the air shall carry your voice, and that which has wings shall make the matter known.

More than ever, there are flies on the walls, and the walls have ears.  Rather than worrying that we might be overheard, wouldn’t we be better off making sure that nothing leaves our mouths that we wouldn’t want repeated or retweeted?

Published in Jewish World Review.

2 Minute Video: What are Ethics? Part 21

Winning through Civility

No More Flake News

It’s bad enough that we have to endure fake news.  But at least untruths and half-truths can be debunked.

More insidious than fake news is flake news — those trifling stories peeping out from beneath lurid headlines trying desperately to generate buzz without even the most lethargic mosquito’s wings to carry them.

SEE IT: Melania slaps away Trump’s hand in Israel, screams the Daily News, proving once again how the media can overlook the most substantive world events in rabid pursuit of the inconsequential.

The brief episode of finger-play probably meant nothing.  And if the Trumps’ marriage is on the rocks, no doubt we will find out about it in good time.  For the moment, however, let’s table the issue to devote a little more attention to the war on global terror and the quest for world peace.

Shall we?