How Leo Tolstoy Exposed Donald Trump in War and Peace

War and Peace came out nearly 150 years ago, in 1869, but some of it–one chapter in particular–resonates with current events.

A man without convictions, without habits, without traditions, without a name, and not even a Frenchman, emerges- by what seem the strangest chances- from among all the seething French parties, and without joining any one of them is borne forward to a prominent position.

The ignorance of his colleagues, the weakness and insignificance of his opponents, the frankness of his falsehoods, and the dazzling and self-confident limitations of this man raise him to the head…his opponents’ reluctance to fight, and his own childish audacity and self-confidence secure him military fame. Innumerable so-called chances accompany him everywhere.

UntitledTolstoy wrote these lines, near the end of his great book, about Napoleon, but when I read them last night, I thought of Donald Trump. Only small changes are needed–just replace “French” and “Frenchman” in the excerpts in this post with “Republican,” for example, and you pretty much have cutting-edge commentary for today’s op-ed page.

This ideal of glory and grandeur- which consists not merely in considering nothing wrong that one does but in priding oneself on every crime one commits, ascribing to it an incomprehensible supernatural significance- that ideal, destined to guide this man and his associates, had scope for its development….

He had no plan, he was afraid of everything, but the parties snatched at him and demanded his participation….his insane self-adulation, his boldness in crime and frankness in lying- he alone could justify what had to be done.

*

He pretends to fall into a swoon and says senseless things that should have ruined him. But the once proud and shrewd rulers of France, feeling that their part is played out, are even more bewildered than he, and do not say the words they should have said to destroy him and retain their power….One after another they hasten to display their insignificance before him.

Really, just read the whole chapter. The whole thing is basically about Trump. Not only that, but the failures of the GOP leadership are also laid bare here. Was Tolstoy a prophet? Are we doomed to see another 1812 in the not-too-distant future?

The Simpsons and the San Bernardino Shooting

Dracula

The media and government’s response to things like the San Bernardino shooting reminds me of this scene from the “Treehouse of Horror IV” episode of The Simpsons:

News anchor Kent Brockman: Another local peasant has been found dead, drained of his blood with two teeth marks on his throat. This black cape [clearly marked “Dracula”] was found on the scene. Police are baffled.
Police Chief Wiggum: We think we’re dealing with a supernatural being, most likely a mummy. As a precaution, I’ve ordered the Egyptian wing of the Springfield museum destroyed.

In our case, I suppose it plays out like this:

Mainstream media: Another mass shooting has occurred, in a well-planned and coordinated attack. Pro-ISIS propaganda was found posted online by the suspects, and their house was full of pipe bombs. The motive is unclear.
President Obama: We think we’re dealing with racist conservatives, most likely Christians. As a precaution, I’m going to demonize them and push for even more gun control.

I realize I just compared President Obama to police chief Wiggum. My apologies to police chief Wiggum.

Dear Reporters of the Future: Here’s the Scandalous Dirt on Huston!

So, you’re a reporter and at some point I’ve become a figure of public note. Anything’s possible.

For whatever reason, society has become aware of me, and it’s your job to provide the details that will disgrace me, because that’s how the media works.

But that requires endless hours of tedious online research, digging into every little thing I’ve ever done. And this blog alone has over 1500 entries! What’s the busy would-be muckraker with a calendar full of Internet porn to do?

Well, look no further! As a service to the journalists, pundits, and (who knows?) rival campaign staffers of the future, here, in one handy-dandy collection, is a treasure trove of quotes that you can use to embarrass me in front of the tabloid headline-addicted world.

Sure, you’ll have to take them out of context and selectively edit them, but you’re part of the press! That’s what you do.

 

 

“I hate all the      

problems society gives to

minorities.”

“I enjoy sleeping with

my family at home at night while all the other families and

children

sleep in their homes.”

“I support killing

any attempt to censor the views of

my political opponents.”

Star Wars Episode I was

not

a really good movie.”

 

 

That last one alone should get any target demographic to rally against me!

#ParisAttacks

Perhaps France doesn’t need status updates that mention sadness, shock, and sympathy. Perhaps they need policies that might actually prevent atrocities like this from happening, over and over and over again. Actually, if you’ve followed their politics for the last decade, that’s exactly what the people have been begging for. But we’re more comfortable feigning surprise and impotently offering nothing more than trendy solidarity in mourning. As usual.

Tell me, how many more attacks like this will it take before you agree that more must be done to combat it directly? Five? Ten? Fifty? Will you act surprised next time, too? And the time after that? Be sure to bookmark your “shocked and saddened” status today so you can quickly copy and paste it a few times next year.

“Anger doesn’t solve anything!”

Tell that to the children of today’s victims.

Tell that to the children of next year’s victims.

Here’s a better question: why doesn’t the predictable, preventable murder of over a hundred innocent people make you angry?

Will you be angry next time?

Or the time after that?

Will you still be shrugging your shoulders and “helping” by changing your profile pic for a week after the next attack?

When you offer to pray for Paris, what exactly will you be praying for? Comfort for the affected families? Good. But could you also pray for sensible policy reform by leaders and for cultural strength for society so that we won’t have to offer to pray for affected families again and again with no end in sight?

May God bless all those who were killed today and all those who would stand with them. May we all do more than just display our feelings about this.

May God move all who can help make the world safe and at peace from this plague of terror. May we all do our part to support such a goal.

And may God stop those who would perpetrate such attacks, or condone them, or turn a blind eye to them. And may we all do all we can to help Him.

#ParisAttacks

Something All The Back to the Future Part II Articles Are Missing

Today you could throw a rock and hit some retrospective about Back to the Future Part II. Particularly, they’re adding up what the movie got right and wrong about 2015 (Hover boards! 3D monster movies! Go Cubbies!).

When Marty goes back to the corrupted, nightmare version of 1985, his average suburban mother has been transformed into a dolled-up trophy wife. Right away Marty notices her…ahem…surgical enhancements, and how could he not, because her top is cut down practically to her navel. He stammers that, “You’re so…big.”

Lorraine McFly in the bleak, dystopian 1985, where her altered appearnce shows us how she's been dehumanized and used by creepy Biff.

Lorraine McFly in the bleak, dystopian 1985, where her altered appearance shows us how she’s been dehumanized and used by creepy Biff.

It’s meant to show us just how cheaply she’s been exploited by her scumbag husband, Biff, whom she soon yells at for making he get such exaggerated, obnoxious plastic surgery.

Except that in the real 2015, her breast augmentation isn’t really all that exaggerated, and the outfit that displays it isn’t all that obnoxious–not by mainstream standards.

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The Conservative Critics’ Contradiction

Conservatives are “stuck in the past,” we’re told, but we’re also told that we are constantly getting more “radical.” Somehow, we’re “frozen in time…too old fashioned and…boring” while we’re also getting “crazier and meaner.”

You do realize that those claims are mutually exclusive, right? You can’t be some tired old fuddy duddy impotently pining for the good old days and at the same time be a dangerously psychotic revolutionary.

So which one is it?

NPR, ISIS, and Recognizing Identities

For over a year now, when I hear NPR reporting on terrorism in the Middle East, it’s always with reference to “the so-called Islamic State,” or “the self-proclaimed Islamic State.”  NPR always uses those two, and only those two, modifiers.  Is there some NPR style guide that dictates this?

The rationale is obvious: they don’t want to legitimize the group’s theocratic claims.  Fair enough.

But is the constant use of the qualifiers necessary?  Apparently NPR is afraid that calling them merely the Islamic State–even once–will result in people thinking, “Golly, I guess those guys are the official political leaders of all the world’s Muslims or something.”  And isn’t that really an insult to the intelligence of their listeners?

Approaching this from another angle, though, reveals some cognitive dissonance.  After all, who is NPR to imply that the identity ISIS prefers is not to be honored?  Are they saying that we are not obligated to celebrate someone’s sincerely held belief about their own nature?  Obviously, there has been an uncritical acceptance of some “self-proclaimed” labels and an ideological distancing from some others.  Why the inconsistency?  What’s the rationale for qualifying some labels and honoring others?

But again, the real reason here is obvious.  For mainstream American liberal media, all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Fahrenheit 451 is a Conservative Classic

9781451673319_p0_v7_s456x700And I don’t mean “conservative” here just in the sense that Bradbury is arguing for preserving an established way of life, though his most famous work certainly does that.

No, despite its perennial status as a staple in the counterculture, Fahrenheit 451 defends the ideas of the right far more than the those of the left.

It’s always fun to track the many items in our modern world that Bradbury basically predicted here: earphone radios, massive flat screen televisions, reality TV, etc.  Far more prescient, though, are the modern issues of the Puritanical, tyrannical left that he saw ascending to dangerous heights.

Consider these passages from Beatty’s exposition in the first third of the book.  I’ve labeled them with contemporary problems that Bradbury described perfectly.

Censorship comes from aggrieved special interests who don’t want to be challenged.  This narrowing of acceptable ideas helps dumb down the culture and focuses it on lurid media that stimulates the body and pacifies the mind. 

“All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals.”

“Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag.”

A sprawling government bureaucracy can infantilize society through a shallow, technical education system and a coarse, hedonistic media culture.

“You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, what do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right? Haven’t you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren’t they? Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give them fun? That’s all we live for, isn’t it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.”

“If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.  Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can, nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide-rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won’t be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely. I know, I’ve tried it; to hell with it.  So bring on your clubs and parties, your acrobats and magicians, your daredevils, jet cars, motorcycle helicopters, your sex and heroin, more of everything to do with automatic reflex. If the drama is bad, if the film says nothing, if the play is hollow, sting me with the theremin, loudly. I’ll think I’m responding to the play, when it’s only a tactile reaction to vibration. But I don’t care. I just like solid entertainment.”

Leo Tolstoy on Naive Liberals

Today I read chapter 10 in Part V of War and Peace.  Our hero, Pierre, having recently become enlightened, has set out to reform his estates accordingly.  He enacts some progressive ideas and then tours the area to see the results:

 

The southern spring, the comfortable rapid traveling in a Vienna carriage, and the solitude of the road, all had a gladdening effect on Pierre. The estates he had not before visited were each more picturesque than the other; the serfs everywhere seemed thriving and touchingly grateful for the benefits conferred on them. Everywhere were receptions, which though they embarrassed Pierre awakened a joyful feeling in the depth of his heart. In one place the peasants presented him with bread and salt and an icon of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, asking permission, as a mark of their gratitude for the benefits he had conferred on them, to build a new chantry to the church at their own expense in honor of Peter and Paul, his patron saints. In another place the women with infants in arms met him to thank him for releasing them from hard work. On a third estate the priest, bearing a cross, came to meet him surrounded by children whom, by the count’s generosity, he was instructing in reading, writing, and religion. On all his estates Pierre saw with his own eyes brick buildings erected or in course of erection, all on one plan, for hospitals, schools, and almshouses, which were soon to be opened. Everywhere he saw the stewards’ accounts, according to which the serfs’ manorial labor had been diminished, and heard the touching thanks of deputations of serfs in their full-skirted blue coats.

What Pierre did not know was that the place where they presented him with bread and salt and wished to build a chantry in honor of Peter and Paul was a market village where a fair was held on St. Peter’s day, and that the richest peasants (who formed the deputation) had begun the chantry long before, but that nine tenths of the peasants in that villages were in a state of the greatest poverty. He did not know that since the nursing mothers were no longer sent to work on his land, they did still harder work on their own land. He did not know that the priest who met him with the cross oppressed the peasants by his exactions, and that the pupils’ parents wept at having to let him take their children and secured their release by heavy payments. He did not know that the brick buildings, built to plan, were being built by serfs whose manorial labor was thus increased, though lessened on paper. He did not know that where the steward had shown him in the accounts that the serfs’ payments had been diminished by a third, their obligatory manorial work had been increased by a half. And so Pierre was delighted with his visit to his estates and quite recovered the philanthropic mood in which he had left Petersburg, and wrote enthusiastic letters to his “brother-instructor” as he called the Grand Master.

“How easy it is, how little effort it needs, to do so much good,” thought Pierre, “and how little attention we pay to it!”

He was pleased at the gratitude he received, but felt abashed at receiving it. This gratitude reminded him of how much more he might do for these simple, kindly people.

Heh.  And thus we see that human nature will conspire to constipate civic charity.  I also like Tolstoy’s clear message that one of the monkey wrenches in Pierre’s plan is the corruption of bureaucratic middle managers, who exist to perpetuate their own comfort.  It was ever thus, and thus always shall be.

Yet again, the Law of Unintended Consequences in action.  Truly, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

One Lesson From South Carolina

This week I’ve read a lot from both sides of the political spectrum about the shooting in South Carolina, and one lesson has become clear: never trust any commentary or report that reduces anything to a single cause, a single effect, or a single meaning.

Life is more complicated than that.  Anyone who says otherwise is just trying to sell you on easy ideology.  If we’re ever serious about some issue, we have to approach it from all the messy angles, even the ones that challenge our worldviews.

Racism in the Constitution?

The most recent issue of Square Two featured this article, which included this line: “And don’t forget that the US constitution pronounced slaves to be 3/5ths of a human being.”

I wrote them this message:

Re: “the US constitution pronounced slaves to be 3/5ths of a human being.”  This is just false.
Article I, Section 2 is about counting the population to determine how many representatives we get in government, which is why we have the census every ten years. That count was to enumerate “free persons” and “three-fifths of all other persons,” meaning slaves. Free blacks were counted as a whole, which you fail to mention, and which counters the racist assertion implied in your piece.
 
That language isn’t meant to demean someone’s worth as a human being, but merely to reduce the total count. The strength of a state’s presence in government, in the House of Representatives, is determined by this count. This is why my state of Nevada has gained a third and then a fourth new representative thanks to the last two census counts.
Northern states didn’t want slaves counted at all—that would keep the South from gaining more of a voice at the federal level; Southern states wanted them counted as a whole. The point of the three-fifths compromise was to reduce the South’s power.
Ironically, for those who see this part of the Constitution as racist, this rule did what it was supposed to do: it contributed to the eventual end of slavery.

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An Open Letter To Liberals About Understanding Conservatives

Dear Liberals:

Yesterday I heard someone make some sweeping, derogatory generalizations about conservatives.  These comments received a positive reception from others nearby.  The speaker derided conservatives for “never wanting to innovate or change.”

Basically, the comments were the same stereotypes that conservatives are bludgeoned with every day.

As an educator and a conservative myself, this saddened me. I was reminded of the research that shows that conservatives understand liberal ideas far better than liberals understand conservative ideas.  It’s a natural situation these days that people would find themselves ignorant of political beliefs that disagree with what’s most popular, but I still think it’s a shame and I’d like to help correct it.

I don’t want to discuss our differences in terms of hot-button issues.  Ultimately, our opposing stances on both controversial and mundane topics stem not from some arbitrary decision to take alternate sides, but from the foundational values that animate our respective worldviews.

Policy positions aren’t important.  Permanent principles are.

For a primer on conservative principles, one could do worse than this list by Russell Kirk.  He explains a great set of principles that should be eye opening to anyone.

As a brief introduction, though, just think about the term conservative.  Our highest value is right there: conservation.  “To conserve” means “to save, to protect, or to keep.”  So what are conservatives trying to conserve?

Whatever has been best in the civilizations of history.  Whatever has been proven effective by experience.  Whatever, finally, serves to ennoble and empower life.

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Mothers, Mormons, and Defending the Family

On this Mothers’ Day, I’m reminded of a kerfuffle after the last General Women’s Meeting of the LDS Church, where the leader of our faith’s women around the world urged us to “defend the family.”  This was greeted by some ongoing snarking from the faithless fringe online, who sarcastically queried what exactly is attacking the family in the first place.

Lo and behold, in the last week, a couple of news outlets have caught wind of some teachings by intellectual leaders on the Left which include such gems as these:

“One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.”

         –“Abolish the Family? Or Just Hobble Parents So They Don’t Give Kids ‘Unfair’ Advantages?

“I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally.”

         –“Inequality warriors vs. the family and the individual

Yes, the hostility towards the family is real.  Yes, it needs to be vocally and actively defended in the public sphere.  Yes, we Latter-day Saints have a direct imperative to be at the forefront of this.

And all of those clichéd feel-good bromides about motherhood that we hear in church about mothers being the “guardians of the hearth,” or their teachings to children having “far reaching affects on politics, history, and society,” or that Satan fears mothers because “those who rock the cradle can rock his earthly empire?”

Those are all true.  Experience shows it.  Faith proves it.  Just watching world events unfold offers abundant testimony that we need strong mothers, strong fathers, and strong homes more than ever.

[On an unrelated note, both of the articles linked above compare the leftist remarks in question to one of my favorite science fiction stories–highly recommended to all who want to better understand the sour spirit of these times.]