The Deeper the Disagreement, the Higher the Stakes, the More Important the Honesty

Man, I thought the culture wars were bad when I was a kid. It’s cliche to say now that people are more divided along political lines than ever, so I’ll spare you. You know it. And that divide is particularly evident when people try to communicate with each other.

There’s the name-calling and expletive-flinging and straw-manning and worst-case-assuming, of course. But there also appear to be two sets of “acceptable” facts/statistics/anecdotes on any given issue. And there is a great deal of distrust between the warring parties (the right and the left) about the validity of those facts. This precludes any progress beyond a discussion of the facts of a case into the actual meat of what to do about something. Police brutality, racism, immigration, abortion, gender, climate change – these are all heavily politicized subjects with heavily politicized media on both sides supporting opposite viewpoints. It becomes hard to believe any facts which seem to be embraced by the other side, so both sides are left with not just different conclusions, but different premises.

This dynamic is worsened with each and every “fake news” story, doctored or selectively edited video, and false accusation promulgated by one side against the other. Targeted half-truths and falsehoods don’t just distort our ability to act – they destroy any of the trust needed for an actual conversation. As we lose and lose more agreements on the base reality of an issue (and we lose confidence that our opponent is trustworthy), talking becomes less and less worthwhile.

It’s ironic. The more passionately opposed we become to each other, the better we feel about “bending the truth” just a little. Yet this bending of the truth is the thing that ultimately defeats any chance of “winning” an argument or coming to a compromise. Telling the truth to your opponents – even when it’s hard – becomes all the more important as disagreement reaches a fever pitch.

You can be rude, loud, trenchant, critical, and the conversation can still happen. Some people even respect a passionate opponent more. But if you are deceitful, you and your “facts” will gain a reputation for deceit. No one will listen to you, and you will be doomed.

People often talk about the responsibility of news readers to reject fake news. This is good. But it is just as much our responsibility to reject lies and corruptions of truth in our own words and lives. We are now the media (if CNN hasn’t made a news story out of one of your tweets, it’s only a matter of time), and we do have some control in what happens next.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content

If the University of Alabama Doesn’t Need Hugh Culverhouse, Jr.’s Money, it Doesn’t Need Yours

Last year, Florida attorney and philanthropist Hugh Culverhouse, Jr. donated $26.5 million to the University of Alabama. The university, grateful for its largest private contribution ever, reciprocated by naming its law school after him. Hugh and UA, sittin’ in a tree …

On June 7, the UA’s board of trustees voted to return his donation (and presumably rename the school). Love-hate relationship, I guess.

Why?  They claim it’s over an argument as to how they spend the money,  but he says they’re lying and the reason he offers is a lot more believable given the timing.

His discussions with the school over the uses his donation are put to are ongoing. But last week, he said something they didn’t like. Specifically, he publicly urged students to boycott the school in protest of Alabama’s new abortion law.

Agree with him or not — on abortion, on the specific law, or on how students should respond to that law — Hugh Culverhouse, Jr. is a private citizen with a right to say anything he pleases.

Agree with the board of trustees or not on what Hugh Culverhouse, Jr. should say, the University of Alabama is a “public” institution that expects taxpayers nationwide to pick up a substantial portion of its operating costs.

The university’s financial report for 2017-18 notes nearly $45 million in federal grants and contracts and another $213 million in student loans funded by the US Department of Education through the Federal Direct Student Loan Program.

Check your voicemail. Any calls from the board of trustees asking whether it’s OK for them to keep taking your money while refusing Hugh Culverhouse, Jr.’s? I didn’t think so.

If you call up the university and start trying to tell them how to spend your money, or put out a press release urging students to cheer for Tennessee at the next Crimson Tide – Volunteers game, do you think they’ll send you a refund check? Feel free to try it and see what happens, but don’t hold your breath.

If the University of Alabama is so flush that it doesn’t need Hugh Culverhouse, Jr.’s money, they’re getting way too much of yours.

A federally funded university which turns down a private donation over the donor’s constitutionally protected speech should have the full amount of that donation subtracted from its federal funding for the following year.

And by the way, remember to cheer for Tennessee at the next Crimson Tide – Volunteers game.

Open This Content

Election 2020: Biden Gets One Thing Right, But it May Cost Him

On June 5, former vice-president Joe Biden’s presidential campaign confirmed to The Hill that Biden still supports the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal taxpayer funds for abortions (with exceptions). His opponents instantly piled on, hoping to erase his commanding lead in the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential primary polls.

Abortion is shaping up as a key election issue to a degree we haven’t seen in decades.  Republican state legislatures are pushing increasingly draconian bans in a play to put Roe v. Wade before what they hope will be a more pro-life Supreme Court bench than in the past. Democratic states are pulling in the other direction, attempting to protect abortion choice over as wide a time frame as possible.

The center isn’t always the best place to be, especially in a party primary cycle. Nor, says my most cynical self, is Joe Biden especially well-known for clinging to principle over party. But in this case that’s exactly what he’s doing … and in this case he’s absolutely right.

“I will continue to abide by the same principle that has guided me throughout my 21 years in the Senate,”  Biden wrote to a constituent in 1994. “[T]hose of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them. As you may know, I have consistently — on no fewer than 50 occasions — voted against federal funding of abortions.”

Whatever you think about abortion as such, that SHOULD be a position most of us can agree on. Even Congress has agreed on it  — 44 times! They passed the Hyde Amendment in 1976 and have renewed it every year since, regardless of whether the House and Senate were controlled by Democrats or by Republicans at any given time.

Who doesn’t agree?

The National Abortion Rights Action League, which defends “access” to abortion but re-defines “access” as meaning “everyone else pays for it.”

Planned Parenthood, which wants its half a billion dollars in annual corporate welfare from Uncle Sugar dispensed without conditions.

Most of the other 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates, who want endorsements from NARAL and Planned Parenthood, and the campaign contributions that they expect such endorsements to encourage.

Above, I mention that the Hyde Amendment includes exceptions. Those exceptions are for rape, incest, or danger to the mother’s life. The only procedures covered by the federal funding ban are purely elective abortions, and not even all of those.

Obviously pro-life Americans have good reasons to support the Hyde Amendment. But so do pro-choice Americans, if they’re really pro-choice.

Whether or not to have an abortion is your choice.

Whether or not the rest of us pick up the check for your choice should be our choice, not Planned Parenthood’s or NARAL’s.

Stick to your guns, Joe.

Open This Content

Does Ideological Dystopia Await Us?

Imagine a world in which the great majority has no respect for facts or for truth of any sort, where ideological convictions rule almost everyone’s understanding of the world, where truth has become an endangered rhetorical species on the brink of extinction.

In such a world, facts would still exist, of course, and true propositions would still stand in stark contradiction of false ones, but hardly anyone would care.

The scientists would have been co-opted to support the prevailing ideological narrative, along with the news media, the schools and universities, and all the organs of respectable opinion. People who dissented from the orthodoxy, especially on such sensitive matters as global warming, abortion rights, and discrimination against various state-defined victim classes, would be convicted of hate crimes or some such thing and packed off to prison.

Too dystopian for your taste? No matter. This future is, I think, one with a substantial likelihood of coming to pass.

Some of us thought that the internet would save us from the lies and self-interested distortions of rulers and their running dogs. But experience has shown us that the internet is a powerful engine for transmitting mistakes, innocent and not-so-innocent, as well as outright lies and genuinely fake news. So cyberspace has become not a forum for sorting out truth and falsehood, but a battleground of ceaseless ideological combat where truth seekers, if any remain, stand little chance of sorting out true reports from false reports and propositions.

Some continue to maintain that truth will ultimately triumph because it conforms to reality, whereas falsehood does not. But I’m not convinced. Masses of people have often plunged over the cliff for the sake of ideological commitments, and they may well do so again, all the advanced technology notwithstanding. Indeed, that technology may be the high-speed train that takes us there.

Open This Content

Judicial Secrecy: Where Justice Goes to Die

The traditional depiction of Lady Justice is a woman wearing a blindfold to demonstrate impartiality. In her right hand she wields a sword (symbolizing swift punishment for the guilty). Her left arm holds aloft a scale to weigh the opposing sides’ cases — publicly, for all to see.

Over time, American judges have become increasingly inclined to demand that the public itself wear the blindfold, and that the opposing parties wear gags.

Headline, New York Times: “Supreme Court Stays Out of Secret Case That May Be Part of Mueller Probe.”

The Court refused “to intercede in a mysterious fight over a sealed grand jury subpoena to a[n unidentified] foreign corporation issued by a federal prosecutor who may or may not be Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating the Trump-Russia affair.”

Headline, Sacramento Bee“California judge will keep Planned Parenthood names sealed.”

The judge says he’ll “punish” anyone who reveals the names of the alleged victims in the prosecution of two anti-abortion activists charged with secretly taping them in conversations regarding procurement of fetal tissue.

Headline, CNN: “‘El Chapo’ Guzman jury will be anonymous, judge rules.”

Before the trial even began, the judge pronounced Guzman guilty of “a pattern of violence” that could cause the jurors to “reasonably fear” for their safety.

Headline, ABC News: “Federal judge warns she may impose gag order on Roger Stone, prosecutors.”

The judge doesn’t want the flamboyant Stone, charged in the Mueller probe, treating his prosecution as a “public relations campaign” or a “book tour.”

Secret proceedings. Secret subpoenas. Secret juries. Secret alleged victims.

Always with excuses, some more or less convincing than others.

And all flagrantly in violation of the First Amendment’s free speech clause and the Sixth Amendment’s public trial clause.

Nowhere in the Constitution is there mentioned any prerogative of government to operate in secret or to forbid public comment by anyone.

From what source do these judges claim to derive the powers they’re exercising? Certainly not from the taxpayers whose expense they operate at. Nor from the public they claim to serve.

To allow such secret judicial proceedings invites corruption and makes a mockery of the conception of justice the courts supposedly exist to uphold.

Paired with secret police operations (how many times have we heard police chiefs refuse to answer simple and germane questions to “protect an investigation?”), such proceedings constitute the necessary elements of a police state as ugly as any in history.

If American freedom is to stand a chance of survival and recovery, judges who engage in this kind of misconduct must be removed from their benches, stripped of their robes, and punished harshly — after the speedy, and very public, trials they’re entitled to, of course.

Open This Content

Parkland and Covington: Two Schools, Two Causes, One Lesson

“You’re not interesting because you went to a high school where kids got shot,” comedian Louis C.K. said at a New York gig in December, addressing Florida high school students who trafficked on their credentials as “school shooting survivors” to shill for the gun control movement. “You didn’t get shot. You pushed some fat kid in the way and now I gotta listen to you talking?”

America’s “left wing” went ballistic. How dare this man mock kids who’d been through something so horrible?

On January 19, a group of students from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School found themselves targeted as bigots after social media (quickly followed by mainstream media) carried video clips that appeared to show them harassing and mocking an American Indian activist participating in the Indigenous People’s March.

The story quickly fell apart as it became apparent that the kids were waiting for buses, not counter-protesting the Indigenous People’s March, that they were themselves the targets of harassment by a racist group (the “Black Hebrews”), and that the conduct of Nathan Phillips, the Indian activist, was either itself confrontational or else easily perceived as such.

America’s “right wing” went ballistic. How dare biased media actors frame these kids?

The two incidents may seem at most tenuously connected, but taken together they constitute teachable moments for young political activists — and for those who rush to decry perceived mistreatment of those activists.

In a statement responding to the controversy, one of the Covington Catholic students, Nick Sandmann, writes:

“I never understood why either of the two groups of protestors were engaging with us, or exactly what they were protesting at the Lincoln Memorial. We were simply there to meet a bus, not become central players in a media spectacle. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever encountered any sort of public protest, let alone this kind of confrontation or demonstration.”

The first part of that statement is naive. The second part is flatly false.

It’s naive to expect a bunch of people, congregating in the vicinity of “left-wing” protests, wearing  US president Donald Trump’s signature accessories  (“Make America Great Again” hats), to be perceived as anything other than “right-wing” counter-protesters.  And when protesters and counter-protesters meet, there WILL be uncomfortable “engagement.”

Sandmann falsely — or, to be charitable, perhaps again naively — characterizes himself as never having encountered public protest before. In fact, at the time of the confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial he had just finished participating in exactly such a public protest — the “March for Life,” an annual anti-abortion demonstration — after having traveled 500 miles for the specific purpose of doing so.

As Finley Peter Dunne wrote, “politics ain’t beanbag.” Those who enter the public square in support of a cause — ANY cause — thereby open themselves up to  mockery, misunderstanding, the whole panoply of unpleasant “engagement.”

Which is not to say that young people shouldn’t engage in political activism. But when they do, they’re acting as adults and implicitly asking to be treated as adults.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Open This Content