Michael Barone - What identity politics hath wrought

There's a whiff of Weimar in the air. During the years of the Weimar Republic (1919-33), Germany was threatened by Communist revolutionaries and Nazi uprisings. Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau was assassinated, and violent street fighting was commonplace. Then Adolf Hitler took power in 1933.

America is nowhere near that point. But many surely agree with The American Interest's Jason Willick, who wrote Sunday that "this latest round of deadly political violence has" him "more afraid for" the United States than he has "ever been before."

But as he pointed out, this political violence — identity politics violence is a more precise term — began well before Saturday's horrifying events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and before the election of Donald Trump. Examples include the June 2015 murder by a white racist of black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, and the July 2016 murder by a Black Lives Matter sympathizer of five police officers in Dallas.

This year, we've seen a Republican congressional candidate shove a reporter in Montana and a Bernie Sanders booster shooting at a congressional Republican baseball practice and seriously wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise in Alexandria, Virginia.

In Charlottesville, there were multiple bad actors. White nationalists and neo-Nazis uttering vile racism demonstrated against removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. One drove a car into a crowd — killing one young woman and injuring about 20 others — a tactic of Islamic terrorists.

Many so-called antifa (anti-fascist) counter-demonstrators, some disguised with masks, attacked the Lee statue supporters with deadly weapons. "The hard left seemed as hate-filled as alt-right," tweeted New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Charlottesville. "I saw club-wielding 'antifa' beating white nationalists being led out of the park."

As Stolberg noted, the police not only failed to separate the two groups but maneuvered them into direct and predictably violent confrontation. Antifa believe that hateful words are violence and that they're entitled to be violent in response, as they have been on campuses from Berkeley to Middlebury — a view profoundly at odds with the rule of law. "The result," writes Peter Beinart in The Atlantic, "is a level of sustained political street warfare not seen in the U.S. since the 1960s," led by a group that is "fundamentally authoritarian."

President Trump was widely criticized — by many conservatives, as well as liberals — for his Saturday statement condemning "this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides" without specifically denouncing white nationalism. Barack Obama faced much less criticism in July 2016 when he lamented the Dallas police murders but went on to decry "the racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system."

On Monday, Trump, obviously under pressure, said: "Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans."

Then, in a Tuesday Trump Tower press availability, Trump defended his Saturday statement but was hectored by reporters for condemning the "alt-left" demonstrators and allowed himself to be drawn into a needless debate over the merits of Robert E. Lee and whether protesters will soon target George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Gratuitously and apparently without evidence, he said there were "some very fine people" in both groups.

Like Obama in 2016, Trump this week was (mostly) accurate. But both presidents made themselves vulnerable to the charge of sending dog whistles to favored groups — playing identity politics. Both failed, to varying degrees and with varied responses, to deliver undiluted denunciations of criminal violence and bigotry.

What's ironic is that the percentages of Americans who support white nationalism or antifa violence are in the low single digits. "Groups like the KKK," reports political scientist Ashley Jardina on a 2016 survey of white Americans, "are deeply unpopular."

But Americans have grown increasingly accustomed to the view that your politics are determined by your racial, ethnic or gender identity. Politics is seen as a zero-sum battle for government favor. College and corporate leaders join in.

Universities sponsor separate orientations, dormitories and commencements for identity groups. (Are separate drinking fountains next?) A corporate CEO fires an employee who has challenged the dogma that only invidious discrimination can explain gender percentages in job categories different from those of the larger population.

America today is a long way from Weimar. But identity politics threatens to get us a little closer. Possible solution: Unequivocally condemn bigotry and violence and, in the fired Google engineer James Damore's words, "treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group."

(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)

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Alan Vervaeke - Dead soldiers don't keep the Confederacy alive

The North was lucky. We had one lackluster fool after another in charge of the Union Army. Scott. McClellan. Meade. Pope. We finally lucked out with Ulysses Grant, a man considered a hapless drunk and poor officer when the Civil War broke out. We lost a lot of battles. If not for pure luck we’d have lost at Gettysburg. Suing for peace was on the table as was outright defeat. Things might look very different today, but our sheer numbers and overwhelming industrialized base were our saving grace. Gettysburg saved us.

No — we didn’t lose. We have statues to all those Union Generals in Washington, DC., celebrating victory despite ignorance and ineptitude and arrogance. But no one is asking that they be torn down — because they eventually won. Nor should we be tearing down statues of brave men who fought for the South. Even if they lost.

Those men lived and fought. Sometimes they won. Like most military men, they fought for their country. Sure – Robert E. Lee had to choose between Union and Confederacy as Lincoln’s first choice for general of the Union Army ... and he declined. He was a Virginia man through and through in an era when where you were from defined you as much as anything in your life. Then as now, the issues are not and were not defined or predicated by those in the military. Politicians defined them. People like Confederacy President Jefferson Davis, or his vice-president, Alexander H. Stephens. Men like Lee and Jackson wrote letters but never spoke publicly (that I can find) about slavery. The prevailing belief at that time in the South was that slavery was God’s will. And still, in violation of segregation laws, Jackson himself taught Sunday school classes to blacks prior to the war. Lee freed all of his inherited slaves and thought that God would eventually intervene to free them. But Alexander Stephens stated in a speech after secession “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, Stuart — military men all. Some fought in the Mexican-American War. Some never served until the Civil War. Some died in it. By all accounts, they were honorable and cared for their prisoners. Some – like Nathan Bedford Forrest who eventually founded the Ku Klux Klan – were virulently pro-slavery and were vicious with prisoners. Both the Union and the Confederacy had prisoner camps where thousands died of disease and malnourishment. Only one Confederate officer was executed for war crimes — the warden of the Andersonville prison camp. Tear down memorials to those criminals if they exist.

Slavery was ingrained in the South, whether a family owned slaves or not. Only 32 percent of white families owned slaves, but it was considered a social stratum and most families actively worked towards that goal. It was how they grew up, and their laws actively demanded it. Even when the Civil War was 30 years in the past, the Supreme Court still ruled in Plessy vs. Ferguson that blacks were “separate but equal,” which enforced Jim Crow laws for another 60 years.

It’s shortsighted to remove statues of Confederate warriors from any city. It’s their heritage. And though most of these statues weren’t even made until the 20th Century, they represent a significant part — albeit a miniscule 1.66 percent — of our nation’s history. They’re a reminder that what binds us together is greater than that which separates us. That’s not a bad thing. I’d suggest creating a national Civil War monument and museum — not to celebrate but to honor the dead and to educate the living. It’s clear we need that education. Then move the statues there.

The removal of the Confederate flag from state capitals is another thing entirely. The Confederacy was rooted in and based on slavery — not “states' rights.” The “states' rights” myth would have surprised the Confederacy’s founders. In their declaration of secession, South Carolina’s delegates cited “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding states to the institution of slavery.” According to them, the “Northern interference with the return of fugitive slaves was violating their constitutional obligations.” Coupled with those words of Alexander Stephens, we have a clear and concise raison dêtre for the Confederacy — not states' rights. But this is the myth that white supremacists and Confederacy fans hang on to.

When organizers use the removal of statues to justify the gathering in Charlottesville — a gathering of Nazis, white supremacists, and KKK — I cry “BS!” They see those statues as a direct connection to a monochromatic utopia minus melanin. And when I see trucks in the Lakes Region driving with Confederate flags flapping, I support your right to free speech AND loathe your ignorance. Here in the White Bread North of New Hampshire, you’ve never experienced anything remotely like that which you appear to celebrate. Thousands of New Hampshire boys died fighting that flag and what it stood for. You are spitting on their sacrifice.

I rage against racism every day, but we must stop whitewashing our history. Show respect where respect is earned — in the present and the past. The Civil War happened after all when our Founding Fathers didn’t address the issue of slavery because unity was a more pressing need. Should we tear down Monticello and Mount Vernon? Rename Washington, DC? Our refusal to tell the truth about the past is what still haunts us now. And it’s the lies that make us bleed. Dead soldiers don’t keep the Confederacy alive — racism does. And racism and white privilege run far deeper than can be addressed solely by the removal of statues.

(Alan Vervaeke is a veteran and father happily living in Gilford.)

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Michael Barone - Google's 'tolerance' requires repression

Would a fair society have exactly the same percentage of men and women, of whites and blacks and Latinos and Asians, in every line of work and occupational category? If your answer is yes, and that any divergence from these percentages must necessarily result from oppression, then you qualify for a job at Google.

If not, forget about it.

In your own lives you may have observed that few occupational categories — certainly not Google engineers — have such gender and ethnic percentages. You probably guessed that this results in part from people with different characteristics having different interests, talents and goals.

But you're not allowed to say that out loud, as Google engineer James Damore did last month in an internally circulated 10-page memorandum entitled "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber." He cited the conclusions of neuroscientists and psychologists that measurable differences between male and female brain structure result in different behavior and preferences.

"The memo was fair and factually accurate," writes Canadian neuroscientist Debra Soh in the Toronto Globe & Mail. "Scientific studies have confirmed sex differences in the brain that lead to differences in our interests and behavior." If you believe in evolution, it's easy to see how it could make women more nurturing and interested in working with people and men more aggressive and interested in working with things.

Paradoxically, nondiscriminatory societies may see wider differences. "Research has shown that cultures with greater gender equity have larger sex differences when it comes to job preferences," Soh writes, "because in these societies, people are free to choose their occupations based on what they enjoy."

That's apparent in today's medical profession. Fifty percent of medical students are women: equity. But as psychiatrist/blogger Scott Alexander points out, male and female M.D.s tend to choose different specialties: 75 percent of pediatrics residents are women; 72 percent of radiology residents are men. Pediatricians work with people, radiologists with things.

Damore's memorandum became public Aug. 6 when Gizmodo labeled it an "anti-diversity screed." Similarly inaccurate and slanderous characterizations were published by The Washington Post, CNN, Time, The Atlantic, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, ABC News, Fox News, BBC, NBC News, Fast Company and Slate. "I cannot remember the last time so many outlets and observers mischaracterized so many aspects of a text everyone possessed," wrote The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf.

Far from lamenting diversity, Damore called for letting it flower. He criticized Google's diversity programs as counterproductive and suggested alternatives. But he doubted that the trade-offs required to boost Google's engineer employees from the current 20 percent women to 50 percent would be worth the cost to the business.

In other words, he embraced the heresy of disbelieving the dogma that a fair society must have gender equality and proportionate ethnic representation in every occupational group.

The punishment for heresy is, of coursem excommunication. Damore was fired Monday.

"Part of building an open, inclusive environment," said Google's vice president for diversity, integrity and governance, "means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But" — key word — "that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our code of conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws."

Similarly, Google's CEO said Tuesday: "We strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves. However" — key word — "portions of the memo violate our code of conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace."

George Orwell would recognize this doublespeak: We totally support free speech except when we call it heresy. Tolerance requires repression.

Ironically, for a company that makes money by transmitting information, Google's position is intellectually incoherent. What its CEO dismisses as "harmful gender stereotypes" are the conclusions, after years of painstaking research, of serious neuroscientists.

And Google's tacit endorsement of the quasi-religious dogma that a fair society must produce gender balance and proportionate ethnic representation is at war with both experience and logic.

Defenders of that dogma fear that rejecting it would justify gender and ethnic discrimination. But that's wrong. Just follow James Damore's advice: "Treat people as individuals, not just as another member of their group."

The dogma is needed to justify the elaborate apparatus of gender and racial quotas and preferences and the lavish campus and corporate diversity bureaucracies to enforce them and stamp out heresy. As a reliable transmitter of free thought, Google seems headed down the path toward the Spanish Inquisition.

(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)

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Bob Meade - Let's recapture civility

What we read in the “letters” section of this and other newspapers, is a microcosm of how our country is functioning today. Or, more accurately, how our country is dis-functioning today. Hardly a day goes by without our being able to read a letter demeaning another writer. The writers don’t make an argument of substance, but will often take someone to task for expressing their faith, or their differing political viewpoint, or because they’re old and not “hip,” or because they’re overweight, or they have a bumper sticker supporting a different politician, or because they’re old white men, and so on. Recently, a writer was even critical of this writer because the picture heading his column was too old.

It appears that these judgmental assessments are made by some about people they have never met. The writers probably have no idea as to the background and life experience of those they are demeaning. Nor do they have any idea as to the contributions to society made by those they are berating, or their family history, their medical conditions, or their handicaps or other life struggles. One has to wonder if the writers would have the courage, or the audacity, to make such statements face to face to the one they’re faulting. Clearly, some of the name calling is more like school yard bravado than mature discussion. There’s an old Boy Scout phrase worth repeating: You don’t build yourself up by trying to tear someone else down.

As we all have seen since the last election cycle and continuing, the lack of civility and tolerance is not limited to our letters section . . . it is rampant throughout our government. It seems like everyone is trying to outdo the other guy. Our politicians don’t seem willing to cooperate on issues of substance that matter to the people; they are more concerned with destroying their political opponent. Spying, prying, lying, and denying are more likely to happen than are comity and cooperation. Our politicians feel they must embarrassingly defeat the other guy, and then gloat over their accomplishment. What’s missing is not only respect for the views of the other person, and simple civility, it is the absence of a willingness to work cooperatively to meet the needs of the people.

Many of our leaders, and I use that term loosely, are hell bent on destroying our duly-elected president. They, we, have been on a hunt since November 9, 2016, in search of a crime. We still don’t know if there was or is one but our political structure is being undermined with leaks and politicians seem willing to sacrifice the integrity of our government in order to “get him.” How is that different from what is happening in Venezuela? Are we headed for third world status because we’re unwilling to accept and respect the outcome of an election? Or accept and respect the opinion of our neighbor? It was Walt Kelley’s "Pogo" who said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

If we the readers and writers to The Daily Sun are unable to be tolerant of and civil to each other, how can we demand our elected politicians to be so? How well would you make out if there were 16 top flight lawyers, with unlimited investigative resources, checking your every written and spoken word, financial transaction, all your current and past history of personal and working relationships, and so on? I think most of us have said things we wish we hadn’t, or written a nasty letter that we now regret.

Some time ago I coined the phrase "make an argument not an enemy." What that means is that if you simply resort to name calling, and self-serving or demeaning statements, you are on your way to making an enemy. To that point, there are people who write letters that I don’t agree with, but I read them because they are making a reasoned case for their position. There are others who write that, within their first or second sentence, resort to glorified name calling or demeaning or belittling personal attacks . . . and I read no further. If readers don’t agree with another columnist or letter writer’s position, I encourage them to make a reasoned argument for their position. If that is done, the readers can assess two well thought out viewpoints and make their own decision as to whether they agree or disagree with either or both.

We need to demand better from our politicians . . . and ourselves.

(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident. He may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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Susan Estrich - Let's talk about it

The thing about free speech is how often it's just plain wrong — wrongheaded, factually wrong, deceitful, even. That's always been true.

And there have always been two schools of thought about what you do about it. One is that you pronounce yourself, or like-minded others, to be the ruler of the universe, and you only allow people to say, write and broadcast what you agree with. Those who don't are vilified and punished; they lose their jobs and their reputations.

When this happens in other countries, we call it totalitarianism. Dictatorship. Censorship.

Lately, when it happens here, we call it Tuesday. That's how often, how routine it's become — at universities, at private companies, big and small. No need to name names.

With classes starting soon, professors are being warned that our lectures might be recorded and, if we say something "impolitic," released to the world. I remember all those years teaching criminal-law classes: Whenever I first introduced the topic of rape, I would vigorously take the side of the rapist to ensure all sides were presented. What would happen to me today? Would I be punished for not giving trigger warnings before I told my own story? Or for taking the "wrong" side in the debate? How lucky that I'm on leave.

Of course, our Founding Fathers had a different idea. They knew the danger of punishing speech because you disagree with it. They understood that the answer to speech that is wrong, wrongheaded, hateful or unpatriotic (not to mention unscientific) is not less speech but more speech; not censorship but an open market of ideas; not dictatorship but democracy.

I am not talking about speech that incites violence, speech that preaches hatred and killing, speech that poses a clear and present danger. I'm talking about speech that raises questions that we only talk about in private for fear that someone's head will be chopped off.

When Harvard President Lawrence Summers — a great mind, love him or hate him — wondered whether there might be some biological explanation for the underrepresentation of women in math and science, he was, very soon thereafter, no longer president of Harvard. But guess what? The problem did not disappear. Firing Larry Summers did not open up the floodgates for women. It just shut down the debate.

A whole lot of good that did.

Worse than no good. If you want to trigger backlash, if you want to leave people thinking precisely what you don't want them to think, shut down the debate. Tell them they have no right to think that. Meet their argument not with a counter-argument but with a delete key and a pink slip.

As if that will further understanding. As if that will make things better. As if that will encourage open and honest dialogue.

Not that I blame the supervisors who quake when they see such posts. Leave them unanswered and, whoosh, you're vulnerable to accusations that you've tolerated, if not created, a hostile environment for women, or for men, or for someone.

This is not what we spent a lifetime fighting for. It was to encourage debate about equality, not squelch it, in the hopes that open dialogue would lead to action and change. It was to encourage leaders such as Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College, to educate more women to take those high-paying STEM jobs, if that's what they want — or to go off and cure diseases in Africa, if that's what they want. Maybe the reason that there aren't more women in those engineering jobs is because women have more important, if less lucrative, things to do. But we'll never know if we can't even talk about it.

(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)

 

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