Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Promoting Infanticide: An Indication of Indifference to Human Life
It is hard to believe, but in our political arena at the present time there are advocates of infanticide. Even harder to understand is that these are some of the same people, self-identified as progressives, who, at the same time, quite properly, criticize other human rights abuses, such as separating parents from children at the border.
In mid-January, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Reproductive Healthcare Act, which allows abortions up to 40 weeks into a pregnancy to protect the woman’s physical or mental health. It even permits non-doctors to perform some of them. To celebrate, Gov. Cuomo ordered the building at One World Trade Center to be drenched in a strange milky pinkish glow in commemoration of the state’s new law that permits fully developed babies to be killed even on what would be their birthdays.
As Gov. Cuomo signed the bill — a death warrant for countless babies — the New York State Legislature erupted in cheers. What does it tell us when men and women are so enthusiastic about a law that permits abortion at any time, for any reason, through the ninth month of pregnancy?
Similar legislation was introduced in the Virginia legislature later in January by Delegate Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax). A video was widely circulated indicating that her bill would allow abortions up to the point of delivery in cases where the life of the mother or her health, including mental health, was at serious risk.
At the present time, late-term abortions are permitted in Virginia only when the mother’s life is at grave risk. Tran’s bill would lift some restrictions. Instead of requiring three doctors to sign off on the procedure, it would have required only one doctor. It also would remove language requiring that the danger to the mother be “substantial and irremediable.”
Asked if her bill would allow abortion even after a woman was dilating, Tran replied, “My bill would allow that, yes.” Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, himself a pediatric surgeon, appeared to support the bill. He initially misrepresented its contents, first stating that it would require more than one physician to agree, and saying it would only apply where “there may be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that is unviable.” When he became aware of what was actually in the bill, Northam maintained his support. In the end, a House subcommittee voted 5-3 to table the bill, with all Democrats voting against.
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin called it a “sad commentary on the culture of death that continues to creep insidiously into the laws of our country.” Writing in The Washington Post, Bethany Mandel, an editor of Ricochet, notes that:
“The ‘safe, legal, and rare’ disclaimer that was once on pro-choice messaging has disappeared. There are more abortions after 20 weeks than gun homicides in the United States, and according to research from the Planned Parenthood-affiliated Guttmacher Institute, ‘data suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.’ Rolling back restrictions further on these abortions will increase these numbers.”
This issue will be with us for some time. Rhode Island and New Mexico are debating bills that would ban the government from “restricting an individual person from terminating that individual’s pregnancy after fetal viability when necessary to preserve the health or life of that individual.” In Vermont, lawmakers are advancing a bill that would enshrine the right to abortion in state law.
The practice of infanticide and child sacrifice is nothing new. It was rampant in the ancient world. With the advent of religion, this slowly declined in what we think of as the civilized world. Judaism prohibited infanticide. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that, “The Jews regard it as a crime to kill late-born children.” The ancient Jewish historian Josephus wrote that God “forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten or to destroy it afterward.” Christianity shares this view and rejects infanticide. The Teachings of the Apostles declares, “Thou shalt not kill a child by abortion neither shall you slay it when born.” Infanticide is explicitly forbidden in the Koran: “And do not kill your children for fear of poverty; we give them sustenance, and yourselves too. Surely to kill them is a grave wrong.”
This subject, unfortunately, has become a partisan political issue with hypocrisy and double standards on all sides. Many conservatives, who would make all abortion illegal, seem to be concerned with the child in question only before birth. They oppose legislation for government-subsidized day care and parental, leave — which would make it easier, particularly for single parents, to raise their children. And liberals, who use the term “right to choose,” ignoring that the choice involved is the death of a potential human being and, in the case of New York’s new law, an actual human being, indicate a strange set of priorities. They are properly concerned, for example, about the potential danger to human life from climate change, but seem able to embrace infanticide at the same time.
Abortion has been a contentious issue for many years and is likely to continue to be so. Some have compared it to the issue of slavery, which was only resolved by the Civil War. Some years ago, the Lutheran theologian Richard John Neuhaus noted that:
“We have procedures for making adjustments between different and even conflicting evaluations. A statement of moral truth is much more inconvenient to the political process. We do not have procedures for dealing with truths, for truths are presumably objective and universal and not amenable to negotiation. . . . From time to time the polity is confronted by issues which cannot conceal the questions that generated them. Slavery was such an issue. . . . The question was whether those of African descent belong to the community of persons who possess rights that we are bound to respect. The Dred Scott decision of 1857 tried to handle the issue by answering the question one way. The Civil War reversed that decision.”
Today’s question is whether the unborn or, in New York, the just-born, have rights that we are bound to respect. Rev. Neuhaus pointed out that:
“The question posed in the abortion debate are fundamental and it is therefore understandable that courts and legislatures might prefer that the issue . . . would go away.”
The issue, however, will not go away — precisely because it confronts us with the basic question of our respect for human life. Do Americans really want to embrace infanticide? The legislation adopted in New York and rejected in Virginia is a wake up call for our society. The choice before us, really, is life or death. Hopefully, we will choose life.
Identity Politics: A Threat to the Unity a Diverse Society Requires
Those of us old enough to remember segregation understand the nature of identity politics. In those days, men and women were judged on the basis of their racial identity — and on this basis some were denied the right to vote, as well as everything from the right to stay in hotels to the use of restrooms. The goal of people of good will was to bring identity politics to an end. As the Rev. Martin Luther King declared, people in a just society should be judged on the “content of their character, not the color of their skin.”
Now identity politics is back, promoted by extremists of both the left and right, seeking to divide the American people on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and sexual identity. Black Lives Matter seeks to isolate blacks as victims. On the right, extremists such as David Horowitz — a former left-wing activist who now heads the David Horowitz Freedom Center — says that, “This country’s only serious race war is against whites.” Where identity politics can lead may be seen in the hate-filled social postings of the killer who took the lives of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
In his book, The Once and Future Liberal, Columbia University professor Mark Lilla criticizes the way left-wing identity movements have embraced the “pseudo-politics of self-regard” and stressed the history “of marginal and often minuscule groups,” all of which make it more difficult to embrace policies which advance the common good and the general welfare. California Governor Jerry Brown notes that, “When you are caught in this maw of identity, feelings, and movements, it becomes very difficult to keep at the more general level that unites people.”
In his book, The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, Stanford University political scientist Francis Fukuyama calls identity politics, one of
“. . . the chief threats facing democratic societies, diverting energy and thinking away from larger problems facing our society. How can we come together to solve major problems, if we keep dividing ourselves into smaller factions? Down this road lies, ultimately, state breakdown and failure.”
In his view, citizenship must be the cornerstone of a renewed national identity, one based on constitutionalism and diversity.
The identity movement has become a dominant force on many college and university campuses. In their book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure,” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt point to a disturbing conviction that lies at the heart of campus identity politics: the notion that each racial group, gender, and sexuality, is fundamentally different, destined to coexist at best in separate spaces. The authors lament that this diverges dramatically from the idea of common humanity that informed both the civil rights movement and, later, the drive for gay equality.
In a contest for the Washington, D.C., City Council, incumbent Elissa Silverman, who is white, is being challenged by Dionne Bussey-Reeder, who is black. The newspaper, The Washington Informer, which serves the African-American community and has a circulation of 50,000, captured the dynamic with the headline “At-Large Council Race Reveals Racial Schisms” and “Prominent Black Women Back Reeder for D.C. Council.” Washington Post columnist Colbert King, who is black, laments that, “Identity politics and naked racial appeals are, like the air, out in the open and with us. They are the extra visible ingredients in this year’s . . . politics.” The same can be said about political contests in many parts of the country.
The extreme to which such identity politics and “grievance studies” has gone, particularly in the academic world, was made clear by scholars James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian. They managed to get seven hoax papers accepted for publication in academic journals. They called the experiment “Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship.” The journal Gender, Place, and Culture published their article exposing rape culture in dog parks; a feminist journal accepted their paper interwoven with excerpts from Mein Kampf. Their contribution to Cogent Social Sciences, which argued that the “conceptual penis” is “better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a gender per formative, highly fluid social construct,” was well received.
Those who promote the division of identity politics seem to have little understanding of the uniqueness of our history and our ability to create a nation that lacks the “identity” of a common race, religion, or ethnicity. What Americans had in common, instead, was a desire to live in a free and open society that respected their individual rights — to be as different or as similar as they chose.
Visiting New Amsterdam in 1643, French Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues was surprised to discover that 18 languages were spoken in this town of 8,000 people. In his Letters from an American Farmer, J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur wrote in 1782: “Here individuals of all races are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.”
During a period of turmoil and division in the 1960s, author Mario Puzo wrote:
“What has happened here has never happened in any other country in any other time. The poor who had been poor for centuries . . . whose children had inherited their poverty, their illiteracy, their hopelessness, achieved some economic dignity and freedom. You didn’t get it for nothing, you had to pay a price in tears, in suffering. Why not? And some even became artists.”
As a young man growing up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Puzo was asked by his mother, an Italian immigrant, what he wanted to be when he grew up. When he said he wanted to be a writer, she responded that, “For a thousand years in Italy, no one in our family was even able to read. But in America everything was possible — in a single generation.”
“It was hard for my mother to believe that her son could become an artist. After all, her own dream in coming to America had been to earn her daily bread, a wild dream in itself, and looking back she was dead right. Her son an artist? To this day she shakes her head. I shake mine with her.”
The U.S. has been an ethnically diverse society from the beginning. By the time of the first census in 1790, people of English origin were already a minority. Enslaved Africans and their American-born descendants made up 20 percent of the population, and there were large clusters of Scotch-Irish, German, Scottish, and Dutch settlers, and smaller numbers of Swedes, Finns, Huguenots, and Sephardic Jews.
In 1904, the British writer Israel Zangwill wrote a now famous passage — as relevant in 2019 as when written, and a prophetic commentary which those who now celebrate division into “identity” groups would do well to consider:
“America is God’s Crucible, the Great Melting Pot, where all the races of Europe are reforming. Here you stand, good folk, think I, when I see them at Ellis Island, here you stand in your 50 groups, and your 50 languages and histories, and your 50 blood-hatreds and rivalries, but you won’t long be like that, brothers, for these are the fires of God. A fig for your feuds and vendettas. Germans and Frenchmen, Englishmen and Irishmen, Jews and Russians. Into the crucible with you all. God is making the American.”
Several years ago, I visited the U.S. Military cemetery in Nettuno, Italy, down the road from Anzio, with my son and grandson. The cemetery covers 77 acres. The total number interred there is 7,861, which represents only 35 percent of those who died in combat from the invasion of Sicily to the liberation of Rome. Reading the names of the dead tells us much about the uniqueness of the American society. All ethnic groups and nationalities are represented. Headstones of pristine marble with stylized Latin crosses mark the gravestones. Headstones of those of the Jewish faith are tapered marble shafts surmounted by a Star of David. In the 1840s, Herman Melville wrote:
“We are the heirs of all time and with all nations we divide our inheritance. If you kill an American, you shed the blood of the whole world.”
As Mark Lilla argues, “identity politics” threatens the unique American story:
“National politics in healthy periods is not about ‘difference,’ it is about commonality. And it will be dominated by whoever best captures Americans’ imaginations about our shared destiny. . . . We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes of pre-identity liberalism. It would concentrate on appealing to Americans as Americans . . . it would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in this together and must help one another.”
Whether it is the “identity politics” of the left or what often sounds like white nationalism on the right, the American idea of diversity, inclusiveness, and individual freedom is being challenged. The American political tradition is something quite different. In his letter to the Jewish congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790, George Washington wrote:
“Happily, the government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that those who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving on all occasions their effectual support.
As if speaking to our diverse society of today, Washington concluded:
“May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make them afraid.”
This is the American tradition which all of us, liberals and conservatives, should celebrate. Those who would divide our society into warring groups are rejecting that tradition. As some have pointed out, “We came over on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
Republicans Used to Oppose Huge Budget Deficits — What Happened?
The Republican Party used to be considered the party of free trade and the party that opposed huge budget deficits. Democrats, quite to the contrary, used to be considered big spenders, completely indifferent to deficits. They were also viewed, with their colleagues in organized labor, as advocates of tariffs to protect American industries and jobs from the competition of the free market. Now, after two years of the Trump administration and its imposition of tariffs and trade wars — and our unprecedented deficits — we must reassess our view of where the two political parties really stand when it comes to economic policy.
In 2010, Republican Paul Ryan made this ominous prediction about President Barack Obama’s budget: “Unprecedented levels of spending, deficits, and debt,” he declared, “will overwhelm the budget, smother the economy, weaken America’s competitiveness in the global 21st century economy, and threaten the survival of the government’s major benefit programs.”
The deficit has once again skyrocketed, a byproduct of increased spending, large tax cuts, and the inexorable rise of Social Security and Medicare expenditures, that Congress, with Republican majorities in both houses has failed to contain. But today, no one seems to mention it. The deficit — which the Treasury Department said in October had swelled to $779 billion in the 2018 fiscal year, up from $666 billion the previous year — has largely been ignored.
With Republicans in power, it seems, budget deficits no longer concern Republicans. “The Tea Party wave of 2010 was animated by federal spending, but that has definitely subsided,” said Tim Chapman, executive director of Heritage Action for America, a conservative lobbying group that helped fuel the Tea Party movement. In Chapman’s view:
“The focus of Trump’s campaign was not on federal spending. He wanted to focus on national security, and tax cuts, and making America great again. When he said that, a lot of the Republican base went with him.”
Under President Trump, the traditional Republican agenda appears to have been replaced. Rory Cooper, who served as an aide to Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the majority leader in 2011, notes that:
“This is definitely one of the major issues that has transformed the Republican Party under Trump. Free trade, Russia, the deficit, and frankly the size and scope of government have all fallen to the wayside.”
After several years of attempts to reduce the federal deficit through tax increases and spending cuts, the nation’s debt load is now steadily climbing. Federal tax receipts rose a mere 0.4 percent over the last fiscal year, largely because of a lower corporate tax rate passed last year by Congress. Federal spending grew by 3 percent during the same period. Spending will be increased over the next decade by $300 billion.
“The evil party and the stupid party got together and called it bipartisan,” said Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
“This is the beginning of a long-term avalanche caused by Social Security and Medicare costs that are only going to get worse every year. I project $2 trillion within a decade, or $3 trillion if interest rates return to 1990s levels. So, no, the tax cuts will not pay for themselves.”
Many conservatives are concerned about the Republican Party’s abandonment of fiscal responsibility. Mr. Chapman of Heritage Action declares that:
“A core part of the Republican brand has been fiscal responsibility. And it is not good for the brand when deficits continue to skyrocket under Republican control. . . . The truth is, conservatives have not sufficiently galvanized the majority of the country around the idea that debts and deficits are a major threat to our country.”
Charles Sykes, the former conservative talk show host in Wisconsin, has known House Speaker Paul Ryan for more than twenty years, and had great respect for Ryan’s commitment to limited government, free trade, and balanced budgets. He laments Ryan’s acquiescence in Trump administration policies that have been quite the opposite:
“Even by his own standards, Ryan’s tenure has been a disappointment. I lost count of how many times he came on a radio talk show I hosted in Wisconsin to discuss the looming debt crisis or the need to tackle entitlements. These were the defining issues of his career. . . . That Ryan now leaves office, with trillion-dollar deficits and entitlements untouched is one of the more disconcerting aspects of our bizarre political world.”
Sykes concludes that:
“Given Trump’s own indifference to fiscal sanity, Ryan might have had relatively few options. But the same cannot be said about his silence or capitulation. . . . What if Ryan had made the case for free markets, asserted the independence of Congress, defended the United States allies. . . . Instead, Ryan not only bit his tongue but allowed legislative trolls . . . . to become accomplices. . . . History is unlikely to be kind. Of course, Ryan’s harshest critics see all of this as inevitable. But it wasn’t. It was a choice by one of the brightest, most decent, and thoughtful political figures of our time. And it was heart breaking.”
According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, under current law, the debt would double from 78 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) now to 160 percent by 2050 and hit 360 percent of GDP by 2093. Under a different scenario, that assumes policies like the recent boosts in federal spending and tax cuts are extended, debt would break an all-time record in just over a decade.
Republicans must ask themselves whether they now want to become the party of unprecedented government deficits and abandon their advocacy of free trade. If they do, long after Donald Trump is gone, they will have a hard time explaining to voters just what it is they stand for. At the present time, this seems to be the posture most Republicans, with a few honorable dissenters, have adopted. Can this party any longer be viewed as conservative? This is a question more and more Americans will be asking. *