The Devastating Consequences of a Bad Assumption: The South’s Moral Justification of Slavery

I am a big fan of the historical novels of James Michener.  A Michener novel takes a location such as Hawaii, South Africa, or Israel and tells the story of this location from pre-history to modern times tracing the lineage of a few families and telling snapshot stories through the different time periods.  Frequently Michener will intermix real

john c calhoun

John C. Calhoun

historical characters with his fictional characters.  These novels tell wonderful stories while educating the reader on how the location evolved into what it is today.

I am currently reading Chesapeake, which focuses on Maryland by the  Chesapeake Bay.  I just finished reading a fictional debate between John C. Calhoun and a fictional Quaker abolitionist family.  John C. Calhoun was a former vice-president and a long-time senator from South Carolina.  Along with Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and Henry Clay of Kentucky, Calhoun was one of a triumvirate of senators who dominated the first half of the nineteenth century.  He is typically ranked as one of the most influential American legislators of all-time.  He is best known as the primary spokesman in support of slavery.

I have long understood why pre-Civil-War southerners believed that slavery was vital to the functioning of their economy.  I also knew that many southerners also believed that their support of slavery was morally righteous, that slavery was good.  I never understood how they could possibly think that, until I read Michener.  While this debate is fictional, I have researched enough to believe that it fairly represents the attitudes of the time and can therefore be enlightening.

In this fictional debate, John C. Calhoun begins with the following statement, “I think we can start best by agreeing that the Negro is an inferior human being, destined to serve the white man in a secondary capacity.”  Calhoun starts his argument with the key assumption that blacks are inferior and are not capable of reasoning.  All of his arguments morally justifying slavery are based upon this assumption.   He thought that  black slaves in the south were much happier than free blacks in the north who worked in factories in horrible conditions.

Calhoun’s entire outlook on the world was built on this assumption.  If evidence pointed to his  assumption as being false, he refused to believe it.  When he was asked how if Negroes were inferior that Frederick Douglas could write so brilliantly, he said that white men must have really written the book.

This horrendous assumption that blacks were subhuman resulted in centuries of enslavement.  The Nazi’s assumption that Jews were subhuman resulted in the holocaust.  Other bad assumptions are less overtly evil, but may be no less devastating.  The alluring appeal of communism where everybody works for the public good instead of for the selfish reasons encouraged by capitalism resulted in Stalin murdering over 20 million people (New York Times), Mao murdering over 45 million people (Washington Post), and countless other people living in poverty and oppression.  Despite all of this, many people today, who may in every other aspect be wonderful people, still believe in the inherent goodness of communism.

In earlier posts I highlighted the top ten bad assumptions:

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 1 – If we disagree, you are either mean or stupid.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 2 – The intended effect is the only effect.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 3 – America should not favor Americans.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 4 – Government helps people. Business exploits people.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 5 – The way to peace is to be so nice that nobody will want to attack us.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 6 – Every problem has a good solution.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 7 – Judge a policy based on its benefits.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 8 –The enemy of your enemy is your friend.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 9 – People making more cause other people to make less.

Top Ten Bad Assumptions: 10 – Welfare is charity.

These bad assumptions are prevalent in current politics and these also cause otherwise good people to promote policies with devastating consequences.  Alternatively, these people would say that my bad assumptions are the problem.  Either way, we must fight to resist our comfort zones and to constantly re-examine the assumptions that form the basis of our beliefs.  We should each endeavor to not be the twenty first century version of John C. Calhoun.

A Thought on the Travel Ban

The Supreme Court by a unanimous vote has let the Trump travel ban stand for everybody who has not had a prior relationship in the United States.  They will take up the case again in October.  Based on this initial ruling, it seems extremely likely that the travel ban will be upheld.

I just wanted to focus on one key argument made by the courts in overturning the travel ban.  They stated while the current ban is not on its face a Muslim ban that President Trump called for a Muslim ban during his campaign, so the current ban is really a disguised Muslim ban.  Whether you are a supporter or opponent of this ban, I think it is important to contemplate the repercussions of this argument if it was withheld.

Basically, what the lower courts are saying is that if at any time a president stated a desire to do something unconstitutional, but after receiving good advice instead make what a constitutional proposal, the new proposal should be deemed unconstitutional because he or she really wanted to do something unconstitutional.  In short, once the president stated something improperly, the president could never change his or her mind and do something properly.

This ridiculous logic could be taken further.  If you ever considered taking an illegal tax deduction, but changed it to make it legal, then you could go to jail because you really wanted to do something illegal.

I would hope that even an opponent of the travel ban can see the absurdity of this position.  Even the four liberal judges appear to have rejected this argument.    It will be very interesting to see the full, final ruling in the next Supreme Court session.

Hate Crimes are Worse.

The recent horrible story of four black Chicago youths torturing a mentally challenged white teenager focused our attention on hate crimes.  First, was this a hate cnonazirime?  Obviously it was.  Second, should we have hate crime laws in the first place?

The logic against hate crime laws is that a crime is a crime. If a person is beat up, the person is not more beat up because of the motive.  The legal system should punish the action, not the intention.  Therefore, we should not have hate crime laws.  This link from Victor Davis Hanson, “Time to Scrap Hate Crime Laws“, reflects this position.

I have two arguments against this.  First, the legal system routinely includes intent in determining the severity of the crime.  First degree, premeditated, murder results in much harder sentences than manslaughter.Second, hate crimes have many more victims than the person directly affected.

For example, one person is beat up because the assailant doesn’t like him.  The victims here are the person assaulted along with friends and family who care about this person. Another assailant beats up a person because he is black or gay or Jewish or part of any other hated group.  Here we have additional victims:  the entire community of the hated group.  The criminal is terrorizing an entire community, sending a message that I attacked this person today and it might be you tomorrow.

Due to this terror, a hate crime is worse even if superficially the damage is the same. Therefore, it is proper for our legal system to have harsher penalties for hate crimes.

Election 2016 – Halftime Notes on the Republicans

The 2016 presidential election is now basically at half-time with only the Wisconsin primary during a four week period.  Here are some basic thoughts on the Republican candidates and the Republican race in general.  I will have another post on the Democrats

Donald Trump

In my last post I wrote on the good and the bad of Donald Trump.  I stated some things I liked and some things I didn’t like.  In summary, I said that whenever I started to think he might be a good choice, he would say something that made me cringe and drove me away.

Up through the March 15 Super Tuesday 2 primaries, one could maktrump goode an argument that his attention-gathering statements were political brilliance.  If he had been ordinary, he would never have been taken seriously.  His blunt, non politically-correct statements drove him to prominence and to be the GOP front-runner.  Mission accomplished.  He was on the path to cruise to the nomination.  He said he could act very presidential.  It was the time to be presidential, the time to work on uniting the party around him and to reduce his negatives with a thought towards the general election.

Instead, he needlessly made abusive, divisive statements and has shown both a lack of thought on key issues and a total lack of self-control.  The post March 15 barrage started with another needless tweet out of the blue attacking Megyn Kelly.  He tweeted an awful picture of Heidi Cruz.  With polls saying 70% of women have a negative impression of him, how could he possibly think that these tweets would help him become the next president?

His statement saying women should be punished for abortions managed to alienate everybody, both pro-choice and pro-life.  It is obvious why the pro-choice would be alienated.  The pro-life movement has consistently stated it is not out to hurt the women.  Trump’s statement will be used against them for years.  Trump acted like someone who was not really pro-life, needed to act pro-life to get the nomination, and was spouting off what he thought was the pro-life position without understanding it.  He then went on to make a series of jumbled and thoughtless positions on foreign policy.

In fairness, many of the attacks on Trump say he is racist and sexist.  He is not racist or sexist.  He has taken controversial stands but there are reasons for his stands.  In his entire career, he has given major opportunities to minorities and women.  In the eighties, he put a woman in charge of constructing Trump Tower.  At that time very few women were prominent in construction.  No he is not racist or sexist.  He is just crude and offensive in general.

In short, in these last few weeks he has made so many cringe-worthy statements that I think he can not recover.

Ted Cruz

ted cruzTed Cruz’s biggest weakness is that he is rigid, uncompromising, refuses to work with others, so his colleagues hate him.  His greatest strength is that he stands staunchly behind his principles and doesn’t cave to pressure so his colleagues hate him.  His biggest strength and his biggest weakness are the same thing.

Perfect is the enemy of better.  In leading the effort to shut down the government to be perfect, he made things worse.  Trying to be perfect isn’t good.   Unless of course, you can achieve it.

I’ve heard people say Cruz is stupid.  Cruz is brilliant.  The well-known liberal Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz told Piers Morgan on CNN in 2013 that Cruz was one of the most intelligent students he ever taught:

One of the sharpest students I had . . . I’ve had 10,000 students over my 50 years at Harvard . . . he has to qualify among the brightest of the students.

Cruz was not my first choice.  I liked Walker.  I liked Fiorina.  I voted for Cruz in the primary.  Right now I think that Cruz, like Obi-wan Kenobi, is our only hope.

 

John Kasich

John Kasich has an outstanding record of accomplishment both in congress and as governor of Ohio.  If experience was the main factor in this campaign, he would easily be the nominee.  Kasich has failed as a candidate for two reasons.  First, he doesn’t inspire the Republican electorate.  Second, he cites many liberal positions,such as blanket amnesty, and he seems to eager to compromise with Democrats at a time when Republicans think we compromise too much.  His statement that he would consider a Democrat as vice president says all that you need to know here.john kasich

Kasich has no chance of winning the nomination and his continued presence in the race takes codes away from Cruz and helps Trump.  Unless Kasich has some secret deal with Trump, there is no reason for Kasich to still be in this race.  If Trump wins the nomination, he might have Kasich to thank.

Marco Rubio

Rubio is out of the race now.  His candidacy collapsed when he decided to make Trump-like comments about Trump.  It reminded me of the old like that you should never mud-wrestle with a pig.  You will just get dirty and the pig will like it.

Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, or anybody else

There has been talk about the Republican establishment hijacking the convention and putting in Romney, Ryan, or another establishment candidate.  If this happened both the Trump and Cruz supporters would be furious.  I think that the Democrats could run Hillary from jail and she would still win.   If the Republican establishment tries to hijack the process, it will be a total disaster.  I really think that, unless Hillary is indicted, that the one Republican hope is to get behind Ted Cruz and help him win the nomination in a fair process.

 

 

 

 

The Good and Bad of Donald Trump

trump good

I think that every liberal friend and relative who knows I am a Republican has asked me what I think of Donald Trump.  The general implication is that any shred of respect they ever had for my opinions will be gone if I say I like him.  Also, several of my conservative Republican friends absolutely abhor Trump and say they would never vote for him, no matter what.  On the other side, a third group of friends think he is the best hope we have to save the country and they fervently support him.

Personally, I am torn by Donald Trump.  To me, he is like the girl in the nursery rhyme with the curl in the middle of her forehead.  When he is good he is very very good and when he is bad he is horrid.  I’d like to discuss the good and the bad of Donald Trump. I will focus on who he is as a person, not his views trump badon individual issues.  Everybody has different views on issues.  My question here is does he have what it takes to be a good president.  Before I do this, however, I would like to share two insights that I think you are essential to understanding Donald Trump.

Insight 1:  The Art of The Deal

The first insight comes from Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal”.  I read this originally almost thirty years ago when it was first released.  I will confess that I do not remember it clearly, but one thing I do remember is that he says that you need to begin with an outrageous, extreme starting position.  As you negotiate, you will negotiate away the outrageous components and you will end up with what you actually want.  If you start with a reasonable position, then as you negotiate you will need to make real concessions and you will end up with far less than you want.

Therefore Donald Trump starts his approach to immigration saying he will deport every illegal alien in America.  The press and other detractors have ridiculed this position saying that it is impossible and/or impractical.  I believe Donald Trump knows that.  This is his outrageous starting position.  If he gets elected president, he will negotiate down and end up with an immigration policy he never could have achieved if he started with a reasonable position.

Insight 2:  The Board Room

The second insight derives from watching Trump for many years on the Apprentice.  In Trump’s boardroom, if you are attacked, you must counter-attack.  If you don’t counter-attack, you get fired, even if you did a great job.  My personal philosophy is that if I am the project leader, everything that goes wrong is somewhat my fault.  My job is to anticipate and prevent other people’s mistake.  I would not have made it out of the first boardroom.  I don’t agree with his philosophy here.  On the other hand, he is a multi-billionaire and I am not.  Maybe he knows something that I don’t.  Whether you think this is good or bad, it is who he is.  You can’t understand Donald Trump without understanding this.

The Good 1:  The CEO

The best thing about Trump is that I think he would be a great Chief Executive of the United States.  The man knows how to run an organization.  Most importantly, I believe he would bring in very talented people to work under him.  Too often, key government positions are political payoffs.  They are rewarded as political prizes, often with little thought given to the ability.  Trump didn’t get to where he is by hiring his buddies.  I am not worried about Trump’s lack of Washington experience.  He can hire people with Washington experience.  Presidents often hire people who will tell them only what they want to hear. You don’t become a billionaire by surrounding yourself with flatterers; you surround yourself with highly competent people that tell you what you need to know.

The Good 2: The Blunt Spokesman

When my son was about five years old, he was randomly selected for a full body pat down at the airport.  While security was busy making sure that Jimmy was not carrying any weapons such as high-caliber squirt guns, multiple people who appeared to be from the Middle East walked through security without being hindered.  Sometimes political correctness is silly.  Sometimes it can get people killed.

I think it is important to have a president who is willing to tackle serious issues and will not be frightened off by political correctness or the fear of offending someone.  Trump is correct when he says he made immigration a major issue.  Before Trump’s initial comments, immigration was a secondary issue and primarily focused on how we should not offend Hispanic voters.  After a few words from Trump, it became the issue in the campaign.  He not only says what needs to be said, but when he says things, people listen.

The Good 3: The Attack Dog

In 2012, the Democrats painted Romney, a person who truly has dedicated his life to helping others, as one of the most horrible people the world has ever known.  Romney, on the other hand, would attack Obama’s policies but he refused to say anything negative about Obama as a person.   Romney lost.  The Republicans cannot make this mistake again.

Many pundits think that Hillary Clinton would mop the floor with Trump.  I have heard predictions she would win forty nine states.  I think that these people have not watched Trump at all.  When Trump attacks, people listen and his attacks work.  His low-energy comments destroyed Bush.  His attacks on Cruz’s citizenship, which I personally think are without merit, have caused Trump to surge in the polls and overtake Cruz in the Iowa polls.  Bill Clinton has been an abuser of women for women for over twenty years and Hillary has helped him do it, but until Trump brought it up, nobody thought anything about it.  After a few words from Trump, Hillary’s poll ratings from women plunged.

Trump is probably the best, most-effective attack dog I have ever seen.  He has the ability to find the attack that sticks and get people to talk about it.  I think he could devastate most opponents.  If his opponent is Hillary Clinton, with so many negatives that most people don’t even begin to know, some of which dwarf the email issues, I think that Trump could be the most effective candidate the Republicans could run against her.

The Bad 1:  The Meanie

I understand Trump’s need to counter-attack his enemies.  I am disturbed how he needlessly says mean and crude things about people who sometimes aren’t even his enemies. Comments on Carly Fiorina’s face or saying McCain wasn’t a hero because he got captured just make me cringe.

I think that Trump’s war on Megyn Kelly is the best illustration of his pettiness.   Megyn Kelly asked Trump a question in the first Fox  debate about his denigration of women. The moderators began the debate by asking each candidate a tough question that would certainly come up at some point if the candidate won the nomination.  In that light, I thought that her question was  totally fair and reasonable.  Since then, Trump has been throwing out a steady stream of attacks on Kelly including a line which I certainly interpreted as being about her menstruation.  It culminated in his boycott of the Iowa debate.    During this time, Kelly has shown nothing but class.  I can certainly understand a candidate attacking the media for being unfair.  It often is.  In this case, though, it is certainly vast overkill.  He comes across as petty, petulant, and just plain mean.  These are not characteristics you want in a president.

The Bad 2:  The Narcissist

I have always thought that President Obama is a narcissist.  In his campaign, he consistently stated how he could make everything right based upon the force of his personality.  The Iranians might hate America under Bush, but Obama would turn them around and make them see the light.  Obama also never admits he is wrong about anything.

I see the same narcissistic characteristics in Trump.  He can make Putin see reason.  He can work with Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats.  He very seldom says how he will do anything, asking us to trust that he will succeed because he is Trump.  While Trump may have more justification than Obama in thinking he can succeed just because of who he is, I still think is is a dangerous personality characteristic.

Trump also refuses to admit he ever makes a mistake.  For example Trump claimed he saw a newscast video of thousands of Muslims celebrating 9-11 in New Jersey.  Nobody has found such a video.  To me it is obvious and innocuous what happened.  He saw videos of thousands of Muslims in the middle east celebrating.  He saw another video of a few Muslims in New Jersey celebrating.  Over time, he mixed them up.  This is a fairly normal type of thing.  I certainly have done it.  Trump, however, will never admit he made a mistake about anything.  I can’t say for sure it is from Narcissism.  I don’t know if he knows he made a mistake but feels if he admits a mistake, it will destroy the Trump magic.  Maybe it would.  I just don’t want a president who can’t ever admit when he has been wrong.  If a policy is bad, it needs to be changed.  Would Trump change it?

The Bad 3: The Waffler

I have my doubts about Ted Cruz, which I will not go into right now, but I certainly admire his integrity and consistency.  In Iowa, Cruz has stated his opposition to Ethanol subsidies.  Iowa lives on Ethanol subsidies.   Every candidate who ever campaigns in Iowa supports these subsidies except Cruz.  To me this clearly shows that Cruz will stand by his principles no matter what.  I can’t say that about Donald Trump.  I don’t really know what his convictions are.

In the last debate, Trump swore he would not personally bring a lawsuit against Cruz on the citizenship issue, then a few days later he said he was considering it.  How can he consider it?  He just promised he wouldn’t.  Likewise, pledging to support the Republican candidate no matter what, he started hinting again that he might run as a third party candidate if he wasn’t “treated fairly”.  It bothers me that he reneges or at least considers reneging on promises that easily.

With this lack of integrity, I find it hard to evaluate Trump’s true views on many issues.  Earlier in life he espoused some fairly liberal positions and supported Democratic  candidates.  He says his views have evolved over time and he supported Democrats because as a businessman, it is what he had to do.  That might be true, but I don’t have enough confidence in his integrity to know that for sure.  While the Cruz citizenship suit threat might be minor in the grand scheme, it tells me that his promise can’t be trusted. I understand that sometimes promises must be broken due to extreme circumstances.  This, however, is not an extreme circumstance.  If he can break his word here, he can break it anywhere.

Conclusion

I am still torn on Donald Trump.   There seems to be a trend where I start to like him and then he says something that makes me cringe and it pushes me back away from him.  I would certainly vote for Trump over Clinton, Sanders, or any Democrat who I can think might run.  I just kind of sort of hope that the Republicans choose somebody else.  Maybe.  I think.  Ask me again tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Website Changes

I took a pause in my blog entries to add a guide page  which categorizes my previous blogs and makes them more accessible.  If you are new to the blog, I would suggest you begin with the introductory and basic philosophy section.  I also changed the look and feel of the site.  I hope you like it.

The Most Memorable Movies of All Times – Part 1

I am taking a momentary break from my top ten bad assumption list, from politics, and from philosophy to talk about what is really important:  movies.  So often we see the Oscar for best picture awarded to a movie that is quickly forgotten, while other movies are ignored by the awards but embed themselves in our culture and become part of who we are.  I would argue that the true best movie of any year is not the movie with the best acting, the best cinematography, or receive the most critical claim.  The best movies are the movies that stand the test of time.

I just got back from a theme park visit to Orlando.  Disney’s Hollywood Studios is home to the Great Movie Ride, which re-creates and puts you inside such memorable movies as the Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, and Alien.  That night our group was having a conversation where my wife said “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”  We all knew what she meant.  At that time I decided I wanted to identify for each year what I thought was the most memorable movie.

I used the following criteria for identifying the most memorable movies:

  • Memorable movies become part of our culture.  They may directly become part of our culture, showcase stars who become part of our culture, or launch a genre that becomes part of our culture.
  • Sequels of memorable movies are not eligible.

This first installment will identify the best movie by year for the 1930s-1940s.  Other installments will look at later decades.  Finally I will identify what I think is the most memorable movies of all time.    I will intersperse these around my other blog entries.  My next blog entry will be the most memorable movies of the thirties and forties.