Thursday, March 24, 2016

Brussels and the True Threat to our Values

Gilda and I have flown into the Brussels airport several times. We’ve walked around Brussels. For that matter, we’ve walked Paris and London and Copenhagen, as well as Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Rome, Florence, Venice, Tokyo, Moscow and St. Petersburg. We’ve walked all over Israel. At least three times a week we are in Manhattan. In short, we’ve been to many places terrorists— Islamic jihadists or run-of-the-mill types—would go to sabotage normal life.

I don’t know how to combat fanaticism. But I am certain it is not through repression. Even in totalitarian states individuals willing to forfeit their lives can blow up complacency. Not deliberate complacency. Just everyday vigilance gone soft because no society can maintain 24/7/365 red alert status against the deranged or misguided. 

So we’re left with trepidation mixed with ernest resolve. Fear of flying balanced by an unwillingness to let the terrorists win in their random assault on our liberties to travel as we please, to dine out, to attend concerts or commute to work.

Fear of new attacks is driving more people to consider Donald Trump a rational choice for president. No doubt fear is a powerful motivator. One can only hope that fear doesn’t trump (pun intended) more rational emotions like decency, tolerance, integrity and compassion. Otherwise, the terrorists surely would have succeeded in toppling Western values.

Are you afraid ISIS is an existential threat to America? Don’t be silly. We are in no danger of losing a battle, much less a war, with ISIS or any other extremist organization or country. Our military is the strongest in the world, in the history of the world.

But America could be lost if we allow our values and system of government to be eroded. Look no further than the Republican scheme to undermine the constitutional process of nominating and confirming an appointment to the Supreme Court because, the GOP says, the next justice would have a long term impact on the future of the country and therefore should be chosen by the next president elected by the people, ignoring the reality that the people chose Barack Obama, not once but twice, to serve for full four-year terms. 

There is nothing in the Constitution that requires the Senate to vote on a presidential nomination within a specified number of days. But by suggesting that in the last year of office a president should not nominate a justice Senate Republicans are emasculating the powers of the chief executive. By extension, they might also argue that a president in his last year in office should not conduct foreign policy, should not advocate legislation, should not command our armed forces. All these tasks would affect the future of our country, as would a successful nomination to the Supreme Court. The Senate has a right to reject a nomination but it is constitutional malfeasance to not even meet with, interview or schedule a vote on the president’s choice. 

Would-be presidents Trump and Ted Cruz would like to abrogate our values in other ways pertaining to the ISIS threat. Trump wants to legalize torture and kill families of terrorists. Apparently indifferent to causing civilian casualties, Cruz wants to carpet bomb ISIS strongholds. He also wants to “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods (in the U.S.) before they become radicalized.” 

Cruz seems to be advocating a medieval “ghetto” solution. Perhaps he could ask Muslims to make it easier for police to keep track of them by “voluntarily” wearing yellow crescent armbands. After all, such a private citizen solution to our country’s problems have a long Republican history dating back at least to George H.W. Bush’s “thousand points of light” initiative to bolster the safety net rather than have government provide for the needy, George W. Bush’s call for consumer spending as a response to the September 11 attacks, and Mitt Romney’s belief that illegal aliens would voluntarily repatriate to Mexico.

Confronted with their draconian pronouncements, Trump and Cruz have waffled between doubling down or retracting or modifying their statements, oblivious to the impact such original comments would have throughout the civilized and uncivilized world. Diplomatic-speak is not a language that falls trippingly off their tongues.  

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