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Events on the Korean peninsula have been a source of anxiety for a long time. But the precarious game of nuclear brinkmanship turned momentarily farcical last May, when the newly elected government of South Korea condemned North Korea for dashing hopes of peace by conducting its second ballistic missile test in a week.
In other news, expectations for perpetual motion, bi-partisan government, and the end of world hunger were also shattered. The culprit was that relentless and uncompromising bugaboo known as reality.
On October 11, 2002, former President Jimmy Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize, in large part for his role negotiating a treaty in which North Korea agreed to suspend its nuclear weapons program. On October 16, just five days later, the United States announced that North Korea admitted to having a clandestine program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
One can’t help but reflect on the classic scene in Casablanca when Claude Rains declares being “shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on” — as the concierge is handing him his winnings.
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.
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.
In 1932, President Herbert Hoover appointed Benjamin Cardozo to the Supreme Court. The president was a conservative Republican. Justice Cardozo was seen as a liberal Democrat — but he was also recognized as the greatest legal mind in the country.
President Hoover certainly would have preferred a conservative, but he knew the country wouldn’t stand for him to choose a supreme court nominee based on politics. He nominated Benjamin Cardozo, who was approved by the Senate — unanimously .
As recently as 1986, the Senate confirmed Antonin Scalia without a single opposing vote, and in 1993 Ruth Bader Ginsburg sailed through confirmation with only 3 dissensions. It wasn’t so long ago that our politicians’ top priority was to keep the system working.
But times have changed.
Hillary Clinton has been called a lot of things. But branding her the “cancer” of the Democratic Party ratchets the vitriol up to a new level.
More significant is who’s doing the name-calling. When Donna Brazile, Former Democratic National Committee Chair and longtime party stalwart, launches an internecine assault worthy of Donald Trump, it’s hard not to take notice.
Robby Mook certainly noticed. “Her claims are laughable,” the former Clinton campaign manager told Anderson Cooper. But Elizabeth Warren wasn’t laughing. Instead, the Massachusetts Senator invoked Ms. Brazile’s account of Clintonian malfeasance as evidence that the Democratic primary had been “rigged.”
So what are we to believe? Mrs. Clinton has been getting away with moral murder for years. Are the party faithful finally drawing a line? Or is Ms. Brazile merely trying to sell books while Senator Warren postures for the 2020 election?
Time may tell. But in the meantime, the undeniable victim is credibility.
TOO MANY CROOKS
There was a time when hustlers and lawbreakers would abandon their denials once evidence of wrongdoing grew overwhelming and indisputable. But today’s culture of fake news and fake outrage has spawned a limitless capacity for brazenness.
I am not a crook. I did not have sex with that woman. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. I remember landing under sniper fire. The Art of the Deal is the number one selling business book of all time.
Even the investigators of corruption fall under suspicion. Robert Mueller, the special counsel looking into Russian election tampering, has himself been implicated in the scandal he is charged with investigating. Mr. Mueller arrived on the scene with bipartisan plaudits for his character and integrity. Now we aren’t sure if we can believe that, either.
You would think in an age like ours, when every word and deed appears instantaneously as part of the public record, that public figures would be exercise more caution in what they do and say. Instead, they seem to care less than ever.
It’s not hard to understand why. Mainstream news outlets largely ignore stories inconsistent with their political ideologies. News consumers visit only those outlets that provide stories confirming their political biases. And the epidemic of inaccuracy leaves us so jaded that we feel justified believing whatever we want about anyone we choose.
The crisis of confidence in our political system is reason enough for dismay. But there’s an even more profound cause for alarm – the corrosive effect of cynicism on our collective conscience and moral clarity.
LEMMING MENTALITY SYNDROME
There may be no more malignant phrase in the English language than everyone does it. Our parents didn’t tolerate hearing it from us, and as responsible parents we refuse to tolerate it from our children. But anything that is repeated enough plants itself in our consciousness, where it insidiously takes root and refuses to let go.
All the more so when the media bombard us with evidence that we can’t trust our leaders, can’t trust our icons, can’t trust the spokesmen for moral values to uphold the values they espouse. And if the people I’m supposed to look up to act without scruples, why should I worry about how I look in the eyes of others?
The solution, therefore, is relatively straightforward: start looking in a different direction.
In the first verse of his first psalm, King David writes: Fortunate is the one who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, does not stand in the path of misguided people, and does not sit in the company of cynics.
The more we associate with those who reject ethical values, the more automatically we adopt their ways. The more we expose ourselves to the influence of those who embrace moral relativism, the more we disable our own moral compass. The more we keep company with those who view everything and everyone in a negative light, the more we grow convinced that there is no reason to hold ourselves to a higher standard.
But if we remove ourselves from corrupting influences by seeking out company and counsel from people of integrity, and by searching out the good instead of fixating on the bad – then we will find ourselves drawn steadily upward, and we will begin to draw those around us upward as well.
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Where did all these fanatics come from?
History traces the origins of some, but others remain a mystery. My own personal theory is that one of the most fanatical sects of modern times was invented in the early 1980s by Time Magazine.
I’m talking about the group commonly identified as Ultra-Orthodox.
In truth, there is no such label. Nevertheless, ultra is a favorite adjective of the media: it implies radicalization and imposes a stigma of extremism on otherwise respectable individuals and institutions.
Ironically, the same tactic gave rise to the term Orthodox itself. In the early 19th Century, a movement coalesced among the Jews of Germany to bring “reform” to the 3100-year-old practices of Judaism. To augment their own legitimacy, these self-styled reformers branded Jews adhering to traditional practice as “orthodox,” a pejorative intended to marginalize mainstream adherents as out of date and out of touch.
HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN?
Every driver on the road believes that he alone is travelling at the correct speed – anyone going faster is a maniac, and anyone going slower is a plodder. And it’s no different with ideology, whether political or religious.
We all believe ourselves to be balanced in our worldviews. Anyone to this side is a zealot; anyone to the other side is a heretic. And there are always just enough true zealots and true heretics associated with any group so that detractors can point and declare, “See! They’re all like that.”
The sign of true leadership, therefore, is not to denounce opponents on the other side of the aisle or the divide; rather, it is to call out those on one’s own side whose irresponsible speech or behavior threatens to discredit one’s own affiliation.
Former President George W. Bush drew fire from the right last week for doing just that, when he denounced the incendiary rhetoric and tribalism that have become too common within his own party.
Should Mr. Bush have called out those across the aisle as well? Possibly. But perhaps he hoped that leaders on the other side might follow his example and demand proper conduct from their own. And indeed, only days later former President Jimmy Carter chastised the media for its open hostility toward Donald Trump, Colin Kaepernick and his cohorts for their disrespect of the national anthem, and Barak Obama for his “disappointing” presidency.
Meanwhile, two oceans away, a similar story of leadership unfolded.
A VOICE OF ULTRA-MODERATION
For decades, a large contingency among the community of Torah observant Jews in Israel has felt itself under attack by a secular government and secular society. Recent legislation to eliminate army service exemptions for seminary students sent sparks into the tinder, igniting last week into unruly protests that blocked traffic, intimidated bystanders, and cast a pall of chaos over the city of Jerusalem.
In response, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of the Torah community’s most revered leaders, broke his characteristic silence by denouncing the protesters as “empty” and “reckless,” an “inflamed mob,” and “public desecrators.”
Yes, there is justifiable cause for anger and protest. But for those who choose to identify themselves as observant Jews, as children of Torah, and as students of the sages, it is inexcusably perverse to embrace the tactics of the street in order to defend a lifestyle of spiritual and moral refinement.
But the dark display brought forth a beacon of light, as Rabbi Kanievsky imparted the wisdom of true leadership upon the confused and misguided souls whose hearts may have been well-intentioned but whose reason clearly abandoned them. Whether they aspire to be truly Torah observant or Orthodox Jews, their “day of rage” exposed them as deserving of only one label:
May we soon witness leaders on every side and from every corner who demonstrate the courage and conviction to denounce not only opponents but allies whose extremism endangers the essence of civilization and civil society.
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.