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The Least Consequential Consequence of the Shutdown

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The latest media game, given the shutdown, is to find a part of the government that is actually shutdown and write about it as if it were of the greatest imaginable consequence – as if life in this nation is inalterably and forever deeply damaged by the shutdown.  It is as if the nation cannot function without every small bureaucracy and department of the federal government operating a full strength and with utter urgency.  For the most part it has been comical to watch.

I came across one such piece today that may win the prize in this newly minted category of “journalism.”

Shutdown Means E.P.A. Pollution Inspectors Aren’t on the Job

OH NO?!  Not that!  This story appeared in the NYTimes and comes complete with several anecdotes wherein an EPA inspector caught a company not in compliance with regulation.  The story fails to understand pollution, the nature of regulation and regulatory enforcement.

The breathless tone of the piece makes one think that pollution means immediate death for a significant number of people, that regulation is the only thing that stands between a company polluting and not polluting and finally that without immediate and constant enforcement companies will begin instantly pouring massive amounts of pollutants into the environment.  I could write a book debunking these false connections, but will instead devote a paragraph to each.

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Friends, Allies, Means and Ends

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I would presume because of the Dems taking control of the House and the seating of Mitt Romney in the Senate this week, coupled with an expectation that such will result in fireworks that will be embarrassing to and/or destructive of the Trump administration, the few remaining forces of #NeverTrump have been pretty visible of late.  On Wednesday past, I posted a lengthy piece analyzing the president’s character, springboarding off a discussion begun in a Roger Kimball piece.  But in my Wednesday piece, there are a couple of arguments that I left unaddressed.

One was made by Michael Gerson later in the week, and the other is the second part of the Goldberg argument that Kimball was responding to.  I want to start with Gerson’s argument because it is the easiest to deal with.  Here is the heart of it:

By all indications, the reluctant support by white evangelicals for Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton in 2016 has solidified into something like devotion….In this struggle, many evangelicals believe they have found a champion in Donald Trump.  He is the enemy of their enemies….It doesn’t take much biblical research to discover that this isn’t quite how God accomplished things in the original story.

By this logic the United States and the United Kingdom should never have allied with the Soviet Union in the effort to defeat Nazi Germany.  Further “solidified into something like devotion” is just a straw man.  Continued support does not equate to devotion, and a lack of criticism of things that might deserve it is simply trying to preserve and manage a tenuous alliance.  One must pick one’s battles.  In the end this boils down to “the ends does not justify the means.”  I don’t think anyone thinks it does, but there is such a thing as incrementalism.  We’ll return to this in a moment.

Kimball summarized Goldberg this way:

The logic is: Trump’s character is bad. Character is destiny. Ergo Trump’s administration will come a cropper.

On Wednesday, I attempted to lay out that Trump’s character was far less than ideal, but that a) the same could be said for every other occupant of the White House ever, and b) character is a matter of degree, not simply good or bad.  Subsequently and reasonably, one should therefore conclude that the outcome of the Trump administration will be less than ideal.  But is that not something very different from a bad outcome?  Frankly, this is just another variation of “ends do not justify means.”  But doesn’t that really depend on what you consider “the ends?”

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Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell, Would-Be Democratic Presidential Nominee

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Representative Eric Sawalwell joined me this morning, for what I hope will be the first of many visits. Other would-be nominees who have already been guests here include his House colleague Tim Ryan and his former colleague Representative John Delaney who retired from Congress to spend his full time seeking the nomination.  More to follow. (Lots more.)




HH: Before I go, I get to walk with Eric Swalwell. Eric is running for president. He is a Democratic member of Congress from California’s 13th Congressional District, a pretty good one, I know, because my brother-in-law and sister-in-law live in Pleasanton, which he represents. Congressman Swalwell, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show. Thank you for joining me.

ES: Well, thank you, Hugh, for having me on.

HH: In the 2016 cycle, I did 170 interviews with Republican would-be nominees. Secretary Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry both told me last year on long interviews on the show they wished they’d done conservative media in their cycles when they ran for president. Do you intend to do conservative media, Congressman Swalwell?

ES: You know, if I want my parents and my in-laws to see me or hear me on the radio, I’d better. And I actually have, and that’s because I do think you know, it’s a forum that we need to talk to, and you know, can’t dismiss. And I think Fox has told me that no Democrat has gone on Tucker Carlson’s show more than I have in the last four years, and so I intend to keep that spirit going.

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American Character

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Far and away, the most fascinating thing I ran into over the long holiday weekend was this series of tweets from the host trying to encourage a discussion between Roger Kimball and Jonah Goldberg about character and public service.  The starting point is an article by Kimball in which he is responding to what I presume, since I could find no trace of it, was a private conversation between himself and Goldberg.  He could be responding to Goldberg’s body of work or he is responding to Goldberg’s new book, released just Monday 12/31/18, that I know the host was able to read in advance of publication and wonder if Kimball was not similarly able.  I am not blessed with such access, but what I have seen and heard in advance indicates that some of that book would relate to this topic.

To date, I have been unable to find a direct response from Goldberg to Kimball’s piece.  The host, in his tweet series promoting such discussion, adds to it by quoting Washington’s farewell address.  I would encourage the reader to read all links, in detail.  The entirety of Washington’s address would be a great place to start.  The host’s quote is an attempt to inject religion into the discussion, pointing out that Washington said plainly that character was necessary to the functioning of our republic and that religion was necessary to maintaining character.  As preamble, I would also encourage the reader to read this piece by Victor Davis Hanson on why our so-called elites have let us down in many ways.

And finally, before I dive in, some disclaimer.  This discussion, as far as it has gone, quotes the great classics, sometimes in the original.  I must confess to not being terribly well versed in them.  I have read some, and by degree I am as educated as those in this discussion, but while they were reading Aristotle in the original I was learning to prove the Mean Value Theorem.  (For the uninitiated the Mean Value Theorem is the theorem one must prove before proving the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus and the far more difficult proof.)  While they became fluent in Greek and Latin, I learned to synthesize darn near anything beginning with alcohols of four carbons or less and benzene.  While they read their way through the Reformation, I learned to identify unknowns using Infrared, Mass and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy. Some are likely to claim that I am therefore disqualified from entering the discussion.  I disagree.  Character should be universal and universally accessible – it should be common.  This country, as Washington says, is prefaced on such.  If it is strictly the purview of the specifically and highly educated then we lose.

The discussion, as presented in the Kimball piece, centers on Donald J. Trump.  He is the current heart of the matter, is he not?  But the discussion should be broader.  The president is; however, at hand and quite illustrative.  So, I’ll play.  Much of the discussion centers on Goldberg’s assertion, as quoted by Kimball, “He’s written this several times, most recently, I believe, at National Review where he puts it negatively: it is an ‘obvious truth,’ he says, that ‘President Trump is not a man of good character.'”  Kimball then tries to take up Goldberg’s challenge, “Please come up with a definition of good character that Donald Trump can clear.”  Kimball then goes on to make the case that Trump’s character can be measured by his accomplishments.  While I agree that the president’s accomplishments are many and for the most part good, I think character is far more complex than simply accomplishment.

Besides, it is not the accomplishing, but the specific accomplishment and the manner in which it was accomplished that matters when it comes to character.  Quoting Kimball:

As for coming up with “a definition of good character” that the president can clear, let me begin by backing into it and offering a negative definition a friend of mine offered: “Maybe not having sex in the Oval Office with an intern, weaponizing the IRS, DOJ, CIA, and FBI, being impeached for lying under oath or wiping clean thousands of text messages and emails under subpoena…”. The concluding ellipsis, it should go without saying, looks forward to a much longer list.

That is a laundry list of accomplishments by other administrations, but they in no way add up to good character.  There is clearly more to character than simply accomplishment, even good accomplishment.  It seems clear that accomplishment is, at best, a moral neutral.

Rather than discuss what is “obvious,” (As someone that had to prove things with mathematical rigor in school I can tell you that our shorthand for not being able to actually prove what we set out to prove was the statement “It is intuitively obvious to the casual observer”) I would like to discuss what is clearly, and not so clearly, in evidence concerning the current president and character.  I’d like to focus that discussion in three areas.  First, the president is indeed a man of very poor character when it comes to his marital and sexual conduct – the evidence is clear.  Secondly, when it comes to his business dealings there is insufficient evidence regarding his morality and character.  Finally, the evidence is quite persuasive that the man is a boor.  The question is does that add up to a man that is of bad character, and more importantly of sufficiently bad character to disqualify him from the presidency?

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