Tag Archives: Thomas Jefferson

President McKinley’s Statue And Revisiting The Newlands Fountain Principles

The statue-toppling mania as a part of the Left’s cultural revolution and determination to remake history in its own image—a form of thought-control–hasn’t abated; it’s just been eclipsed in the news cycle. For the record, 28 cities have removed close to a hundred statues of Confederate figures alone. Meanwhile, the statue topplers, flushed with victory, are raiding their sights to include Founders like Washington, Jefferson and Madison, politically-incorrect Presidents like Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt, and others. You can read, if you have lots of time, most of the Ethics Alarms posts on this topic here and here.

It isn’t just statues, of course. It is honors of every kind: university dining halls and dorms, Democratic party annual dinners, and much more. The Boston Red Sox have petitioned the city to retract the honor of a having a street by Fenway Park named after the man who made the team the regional institution is is today, and who was primarily responsible for the team remaining in Boston.

The latest mutation of the culturally-rotting virus has Native Americans demanding that memorials and honors to any figure whose legacy offends them must be eliminated. Five years after President William McKinley was assassinated,  George Zehnder presented the Northern California city of Arcata with an 8.5-foot-tall statue honoring him.  Arcata home to Humboldt State University, placed it in the city’s main square.

McKinley was no Confederate: he was a Union war hero at the Battle of Antietam. He was also a popular and effective President. He was elected in 1896 while the nation was in a serious depression, and was successful enough in getting the economy back on its feet that he was re-elected in 1900, the first Republican to get a second term since Grant.  He, not Teddy Roosevelt, led the U.S. into international significance, winning the Spanish-American War, and acquiring Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. He also gave his life for national service, as have all our Presidents who died in office. Ah, but President McKinley also oversaw federal policies that continued the decline of Native American tribes in the U.S., and reservation lands were reduced by as much as 90 million acres. during his administration. Now the Tribal Council of the Wiyot Tribe in Northern California senses a chance at revenge.  It is demanding that the statue of McKinley be removed.

Almost four years ago, before the din of falling statues became a faint hum, like locusts, across the land, I wrote about a controversy in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where a fountain at the center of Chevy Chase Circle honored Francis Griffith Newlands,  a U.S. Senator who also founded the Chevy Chase Land Co., which in turn created neighborhoods on the Washington and Maryland sides of the circle. Senator Newlands also was a racist, and a proactive one. He was a white supremacist who even attempted to have  the 15th Amendment, which granted voting rights to African American men, repealed.

To assist in the analysis of when and whether any honor to a historical figure should be withdrawn, I offered a series of seven guiding principles: Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History

On The Anti-Gun “Weapons Of War” Talking Point

I’m moving this essay up in the queue, because while walking my dog in the rain—such rote activities like dog-walking, showering and driving often trigger “right brain” activities and inspirations—it all became clear to me for the first time.

One aspect of the argument being offered by anti-gun zealots following this school shooting that is new compared to Sandy Hook is the sudden popularity of the term “weapons of war.”  it was used multiple times at the very start of the CNN “town hall,” for example. Rep. Deutch:

But, beyond that, the best way for us to show that is to take action in Washington, in Tallahassee, to get these weapons of war off of our streets.

and…

…and the answer to the question is, do I support weapons that fire-off 150 rounds in seven or eight minutes, weapons that are weapons of war that serve no purpose other than killing the maximum number of people they can, you bet I am.

…and

And that is making sure that we take action to keep our kids and our schools safe and to get dangerous weapons of war off of our streets. That has to be our priority and we’ve got to do it now.

My interest is not whether it is a wise or good thing to ban semi-automatic weapons. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled last year that Maryland’s ban was constitutional, and the Supreme Court, so far, at least, has not chosen to review it. A national ban, however, would certainly require SCOTUS assent, and my guess is that such a law would fail, and as I will continue to explain, should fail.

“Weapons of war” is nowa pejorative phrase designed to make the most popular rifle in America sound as if owning one is perverse. “Weapons of war” suggests not just self-defense, but active combat, and it certainly doesn’t mean hunting deer and rabbits. Following Sandy Hook, a lot of the anti-gun rhetoric, as from New York Governor Cuomo, involved the deceitful (or ignorant) argument that you don’t need a semi-automatic rifle to shoot a deer. This vigorous false narrative is as old as the Left’s anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment movement itself.

Thus  “weapons of war” is now the phrase of choice to persuade moderate, uncommitted citizens considering the gun controversy that it makes no sense to allow citizens to own such weapons. Hunting weapons, sure (at least until there’s a mass shooting in a school using those). A registered handgun to shoot a burglar, a rapist or a home invader?  Fine. But “common sense gun controls” can’t possibly allow citizens to have “weapons of war.”

The problem is that allowing private ownership of weapons of war is exactly what the Founders intended. The Second Amendment was devised to ensure that citizens would  not be disarmed by a government that needed to be overthrown, or, in the alternative, that some citizens wanted to overthrow, but wrongly.

The Founders were, it should not be necessary to say, revolutionaries. They believed that citizens had the right and even the obligation to bring down abusive  governments. Jefferson stated it directly in the Declaration of Independence:

“Prudence … will dictate that Governments long-established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Jefferson was a brilliant man, and no dreamy-eyed idealist. He could not have assumed, feeling the way he did about governments, government power, and the men who come to possess such power, that governments could always be dissolved peacefully. As a prudent and practical man, he was also saying that it is unwise to seek to change a government every time it fails or disappoints, and that long-standing systems deserve the public’s tolerance, patience and forbearance. Government should be a contract of trust, and that when that trust is irreparably broken by abuses of power, the people must have the right, and must have the ability to activate that right, to demand a new form of government.

This is, of course, exactly what the 13 Colonies did. The Constitution they adopted when they began their experiment in democracy naturally and necessarily included a crucial right without which future generations of Americans would not be able to “throw off” a government whose abuse of power had become odious. That was the right to bear arms, embodied in the Second Amendment. The arms one had the right to bear had to be weapons of war, because fighting—civil war, revolution, wars of resistance—was their explicit purpose. Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Religion and Philosophy, Rights, U.S. Society

Those “Dissent Is Patriotic” Signs

My Alexandria, Virginia neighbors are fond of simple-minded and obnoxious virtue-signalling signs, as I discussed here.

Another one has started popping up, this one proclaiming “Dissent is Patriotic.” As a general proposition, little of value can be stated in three words, especially those with “is” in the middle. “Dissent is Patriotic” is a gross generality, and a sign like this bolsters the delusions of smug absolutists and the historically ignorant.

The ACLU has been pushing this slogan (to sell T-shirts, it seems), and it had a re-birth thanks to the NFL kneelers, who are in truth a perfect example of when dissent isn’t patriotic. Incoherent dissent isn’t patriotic: it makes all dissent look bad. Dissent based on hate, lies, or a desire to divide isn’t patriotic: it’s hateful, dishonest and divisive, which is to say harmful, and thus unethical.

Speaking of dishonesty, many of these signs use the phrasing you see on the left, which is a fake quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Attaching a dubious assertion to a much-admired historical figure is an unethical propaganda tactic employing a dishonest appeal to authority.  (This is a famous example.)

As Ethan Epstein wrote in The Weekly Standard,

Few if any Americans are associated with more apocryphal quotes than Thomas Jefferson, but the false notion that he said, “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” is among the easiest to dispel. Because Jefferson never would have said something so idiotic. Of course dissent can be patriotic, but it isn’t inherently so. What one is dissenting from matters. Were members of the German American Bund, who protested the U.S.’s anti-Nazi policies in the 1930s and ‘40s, enacting the “highest form of patriotism?”

Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Daily Life, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, History, Quotes, Rights, U.S. Society, War and the Military

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/19/2017: Gwyneth’s Mom, Harvard’s Airbrush, Salon’s Favorite Conservatives

Yes, I KNOW it’s Thursday, but I meant to use this song yesterday, but didn’t, because I thought it was Tuesday…

GOOD MORNING!

1 We have several Ethics Train Wrecks barrelling along. The Harvey Weinstein Express is still picking up expected passengers, like Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. The Executive Committee unanimously voted to award Weinstein the 2014 W.E.B Du Bois medal for contributions to African and African-American culture. In the midst of complaints by the African American community that Hollywood was slighting black artists and themes in its films, Weinstein’s Miramax studio had stood out as a notable exception.

The same professors voted Tuesday night to rescind the honor in the wake of the Weinstein’s (long-known but only recently publicly exposed) sexual predator proclivities, announcing in a statement: “We have voted unanimously to rescind the Du Bois Medal awarded to Mr. Weinstein in 2014. We stand with the women who have courageously come forward to fight for themselves and indeed for all of those who have experienced similar abuse.”

Wrong, and cowardly. What does sexual harassment have to do with African American culture? The mania among progressive missions groups to insist that only those who satisfy all broad progressive agenda mandates are worthy of any honor is why the nation’s continued celebration of Jefferson, Washington and other founders is hanging by a thread. Did Weinstein deserve the award in 2014? Yes, I assume. Has anything changed regarding the producer’s contributions to black culture through his movies? No.

I covered this substantially identical situation here, in 2015. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Social Media

Which Presidents Would Have Tweeted Trump-Style If They Had A Twitter Account?

The tweet above from the President as he doubled down on his unusually stupid attack tweets against Joe and Mika got me thinking. He’s not entirely wrong. Trump is the first President to use social media personally and for candid statements and observations, bypassing the news media, and almost all of the previous Presidents had no choice in the matter. Fourth of July weekend always gets me thinking about the Founders, and the Founders get me musing about the Presidents, and I found myself playing this mind game: Which of our Presidents, had they has access to Twitter, would have used it in a Trumpian manner?

I should clarify some issues at the outset. None of the Presidents would have used Twitter in a stupid, juvenile and boorish manner like President Trump, because none of them were that stupid, juvenile and boorish. (On the other hand, none of their critics, being comparatively responsible and sane, would have argued that stupid, juvenile and boorish tweets were justification to remove the previous 44, as Keith Olbermann thinks.) By using Twitter in a Trumpian manner, I mean using it…

..Personally…

…for the purpose of by-passing the news media and White House spokespersons…

…in order to make declarations of intent, emotions or satisfaction, or

…to attack, accuse, denigrate, compliment, rebut, defend, joke, troll, or otherwise

…communicate directly with the public.in an unfiltered manner.

One other caveat: Trump would definitely be establishing new Presidential norms were his tweets less obnoxious and embarrassing. By the time his term(s) are over, he mat have given Presidential tweeting such a bad reputation that no future POTUS will dare use Twitter for fear of being compared to the Mad Tweeter of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

All right, on to the inquiry!

Which of our previous Presidents would have used twitter in one or more of the ways Trump uses it. based on what we know of their character and leadership styles?

Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, History, Leadership, Science & Technology, Social Media

Willful Amnesia And The Great Cat And Dog Massacre

Did you know that animal-loving British families killed an estimated 400,000 household pets—cats and dogs—in the first week after Great Britain declared war on Germany in September, 1939? Neither did I, and now a new book by Hilda Kean, “The Great Dog and Cat Massacre,” sets out to remind us of that ugly episode.

As the New York Times review of the book notes and Kean explains, the mass euthanasia was “publicly lamented at the time,” but has since been erased from memory.  But why has it been erased from memory, and how? This is a disturbing cultural phenomenon that Ethics Alarms has covered before, notably in the post about dance marathons in the U.S. during the Depression. One of the definitions of culture is what we choose to remember and what we choose to forget. Forgetting, however, while often psychically soothing and an easy way to avoid guilt and accountability, is a pre-unethical condition. That which has been forgotten can no longer teach us, and a society that collectively decides to pretend something cruel, horrible or traumatic didn’t happen risks allowing it to happen again.

This, of course, is one more reason why the recent progressive mania for historical airbrushing is dangerous, irresponsible and unethical. Keep that statue of “Joe Pa” on the Penn State campus. Leave  King Andy on the twenty dollar bill.  Don’t take down that bust of Bill Cosby in the TV Hall of Fame. All civilizations have fallen heroes, moments of panic, times when they forget their values and betray their aspirations. Of course it is painful and embarrassing to remember these things, but also essential if human ethics are going to progress instead of stagnating, or even going backwards. We associate the elimination of cultural memories with totalitarian regimes, and for good reason, for they are blatant and shameless about it.

No nation is immune from the process’s appeal, however. When I was going to grade school and studying the Presidents of the United States, Jackson and Woodrow Wilson were routinely hailed by (mostly Democratic) historians as among the greatest of the great. The first Jackson biography I read barely mentioned the Trail of Tears. I read four well-regarded biographies of Wilson that ignored his support for Jim Crow, and the degree to which he deliberated reversed advances in civil rights, being an unapologetic white supremacist. The influenza epidemic that killed millions was excised from my school’s history books. Thomas Jefferson’s concubine, Sally Hemmings? Who? Continue reading

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Filed under Animals, Around the World, Education, History, Race

Down The Slippery Slope: Yale Embraces Historical Airbrushing

john-c-calhounFrom The New York Times:

After a swelling tide of protests, the president of Yale announced on Saturday that the university would change the name of a residential college commemorating John C. Calhoun, the 19th-century white supremacist statesman from South Carolina. The college will be renamed for Grace Murray Hopper, a trailblazing computer scientist and Navy rear admiral who received a master’s degree and a doctorate from Yale.

The decision was a stark reversal of the university’s decision last spring to maintain the name despite broad opposition. Though the president, Peter Salovey, said that he was still “concerned about erasing history,” he said that “these are exceptional circumstances.”

“I made this decision because I think it is the right thing to do on principle,” Mr. Salovey said on a conference call with reporters. “John C. Calhoun’s principles, his legacy as an ardent supporter of slavery as a positive good, are at odds with this university.”

And there we go!

How cowardly and equivocating  Salovey is! If he’s concerned about erasing history, and he should be as an educator, then he should have the principles and fortitude not to engage in it. But “these are exceptional circumstances,” he says. This is right out of the Rationalizations list: The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times” and The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now.”  For good measure, he adds a third rationalization, The Ironic Rationalization, or “It’s The Right Thing To Do.”

Of course it’s not the right thing to do. The right thing to do would be to teach the smug protesting young ignoramuses, who only know that Senator Calhoun was a slavery supporter as if that is the reason he is regarded as one of the great Senators in U.S. history (it’s not), any more than Andrew Jackson is defined solely by “The Trail of Tears,” that history is complex, cultures evolve, leadership is hard and even the most accomplished human beings are flawed gaspachos of greatness and sin. That would be the right thing because Yale is allegedly an institute of higher learning. This is the act of an institute of political correctness, intellectual laziness and stereotyping.

There were other rationalizations embedded in Salovey’s betrayal of history and culture, such as..

1A. Ethics Surrender, or “We can’t stop it.”

Sure you can, if you have any integrity and care about your obligation to educate rather than capitulate.

13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

And what cause would that be, sir? Your sophomoric students are demanding that important historical figures be airbrushed out of existence like Soviet Politburo figures out of favor, and Yale’s cause is supposed to be teaching  young minds to be more tolerant of the complexities of the real world. Now Yale’s cause is “Find the path of least resistance, and maybe they’ll calm down!”

15. The Futility Illusion:  “If I don’t do it, somebody else will.”

This is only true if Yale is unable to articulate why it is important not to banish historical figures from the nation’s past as soon as activists get wind of a weakness they can exploit to bring themselves power. Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Race, U.S. Society