THE PLAYWRIGHT DAVID MAMET asserts in “The Secret Knowledge” that modern public opinion can be divided into two camps: those who cannot get passed the fact that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and those who for reasons of historical context are ambivalent are moving on.
After yesterday’s gruesome municipal elections, I have some advice for my political friends (you two know who you are). It is to ignore public opinion from that first camp.
A model for this strategy is the Fort Wayne councilman who mailed baseball-style cards of himself at bat with the caption “Beat the Media.” He won against an opponent who outspent him almost four-to-one, and that was after he defied the local newspaper’s repeated commands that he appear for an endorsement interview.
Please understand, I like public opinion; I am a journalist who married a market researcher. The problem is that the Jefferson-owned-slaves sector of the public has become undiscerning and its opinion, perhaps democracy itself, is therefore diminished.
Indeed, some think we have entered a post-discernment age. Nobody is allowed a strong, informed opinion outside the bounds of a late-night bull session in a sophomore dormitory. It is impolite to do so, even illegal, and at the least inappropriate.
The historian Paul Johnson pegged this in 1983 with his great work, “Modern Times,” dating our non-discernment to May 29, 1919. That was when photographs of a solar eclipse taken on the island of Principe off West Africa and at Sobral in Brazil confirmed Einstein’s theory of relativity. This is from Johnson’s introduction:
“All at once, nothing seemed certain in the movements of the spheres. The world was ‘out of joint,’ as Hamlet sadly observed. It was as though the spinning globe had been taken off its axis and cast adrift in a universe which no longer conformed to accustomed standards of measurement. At the beginning of the 1920s the belief began to circulate, for the first time at a popular level, that there were no longer any absolutes: of time and space, of good and evil, of knowledge, above all of value. Mistakenly but perhaps inevitably, relativity became confused with relativism.”
In social science, in politics and above all in journalism, man’s world became relative, nothing could be discerned. Congress and our legislatures introduced multi-issue bills and an inscrutable voting process. The Supreme Court devolved into nothing more than a small legislature. Perhaps such misapprehension was why Einstein later in life famously said that it would have been better had he been a watchmaker.
In politics we are at the point where a presidential challenger, Bernie Sanders, is unable to discern whether the incumbent is a racist, a sexist, a homophobe or a just a bigot, so he assigns to President Donald Trump all of those — an epithetic impossibility.
And in public policy, the example of moment is New York City, where the mayor and council have found themselves unable to discern crime from non-crime. The city’s proposed criminal-justice reform ensures that people arrested on even serious charges can be issued desk appearance tickets and released to the streets.
“The city is contemplating enticing people with baseball tickets or gift cards to show up for their court dates,” writes Seth Barron in the City Journal. “New York appears all too eager to write some new, dark chapters in a war on civility and public order.”
Barron continues, noting that a bill introduced in the Manhattan Assembly would define jumping subway turnstiles as, to quote the assemblyman-author, an “economic decision”:
“He decries the ‘long-term, adverse effects’ that result from involvement with the criminal-justice system (that is, with breaking the law). Lowering the penalty for theft to restitution of the value stolen eliminates any incentive not to steal. If the only penalty for fare evasion is paying the fare — what law-abiding people do with no prompting — then paying becomes voluntary.”
A chant at a recent protest against those subway fares was, “Punch a cop in the face/every nation, every race.”
You get the idea, and it’s coming our way. It is why the Indiana Policy Review Foundation launched its “Foothold Project” to ensure that at least someone on your city council will sound the alarm.
A particular bugbear of mine is Veteran’s Day, designated to mark the end of the horrible trench fighting in World War I. Today it is merely a day set aside to honor anyone who has drawn federal wages in the “armed” forces, the great mass being yeomen, mechanics, analysts and support personnel in the model of Pete Buttigieg.
Now, before you send that letter of indignation, know that observing such a day is a fine thing (and thank you, Mayor Pete, for your service). But shouldn’t we find a day on the calendar for those who actually fought for us — those, say, who landed on an enemy beach to climb over the dead bodies of their compatriots to charge a fortified machine gun? Or more recently, those drafted into the Marine Corps one day and dropped by helicopter into a Southeast Asian jungle the next?
For something so profound, ought there be a difference, an attempt at discernment?
But no, and the examples just roll on and on . . . which screen writer for the television series, “Jack Ryan,” decided that Nicolás Maduro, a left-wing thug in Venezuela, is indiscernible from Augusto Pinochet, a right-wing thug from Chile? Or in advance of the Great Recession of 2007 who thought it would be OK if banks loaning money to scofflaw homeowners were shielded in advance from the predictable losses? And should we be suspicious of applicants for student visas from the Middle East enrolling in takeoff-only flight lessons? Is our southern border different from Mexico’s northern border? Need we dive into the breach of gender identification?
Wrong? Absurd? Disastrous? It doesn’t matter — not in our post-discerning world. We are told by the globalist George Soros and others in the “Open Society” movement that all of this is perfectly logical, natural.
For the Weimar Republic’s “Frankfurt School” explained it all a long time ago: Every social or political or religious system, and especially those at the base of Western Civilization, is equal to any other.
That of course was before it became widely known that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves.