American exceptionalism: we’d be damned fools not to believe in it

I wrote here about the College Board’s effort to mandate that AP U.S. History be taught from a leftist perspective. That perspective is based, in part, on a critique of “American exceptionalism.”

In my post, borrowing from Stanley Kurtz, I took “American exceptionalism” to mean the view that celebrates America as a model, vindicator, and at times the chief defender of ordered liberty and self-government in the world.

There are, of course, other ways to state the sense in which America is exceptional. But to constitute American exceptionalism as the term has always been used, that sense must be, on balance, a very positive one.

Suppose that Americans stopped viewing their country as exceptional in the positive sense. Suppose we adopted the view espoused by Thomas Bender, to whom the new approach to AP U.S. History is tied, that we are just “a province among the provinces that make up the world.”

Americans would then be exceptional in a different sense.

As President Obama has suggested, it is normal for citizens to believe their country is exceptional. Obama put it this way:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.

This is vintage Obama. He stands above America — putting us in a “global perspective” as just another country that considers itself exceptional.

This, as I tried to show in my post, is the same perspective that gives rise to the way the College Board wants AP U.S. History to be taught.

Still, I agree with Obama that Brits probably believe in British exceptionalism and Greeks in Greek exceptionalism. And I knew first hand that the French believe in French exceptionalism.

Nor is this phenomenon limited to citizens of countries like Britain, Greece, and France, whose histories indisputably are exceptional. When I talk to immigrants from Central and South America, they speak proudly of “my country,” the nation they left to come to the U.S.

I don’t probe deeply enough to learn whether they consider their country “exceptional” or to discover what version of their national history they are taught in school. But it’s clear that they don’t view their country as just a province among the provinces that make up the world.

When I visited the Dominican Republic this past winter, I discovered a narrative of that nation’s history (which I gather is taught) that holds that its patriots thwarted the U.S. when we intervened militarily in 1965. In reality, the U.S. was not thwarted.

The U.S. accomplished its goal of preventing a left-wing takeover of the DR and saw its preferred presidential candidate, Joaquín Balaguer who had been closely associated with the dictator Trujillo, elected president under a plan for forming a new government imposed by the U.S. (Balaguer went on to serve 22 years as democratically elected president, presiding over stunning economic growth and development).

If the Brits, the Greeks, the French, and the Dominicans believe in the exceptionalism of their respective countries, then, as Yossarian might say, Americans would be damned fools to feel any other way.

Obama’s animus

No surprise here, but I had overlooked what Peter Wehner has extracted from the Jerusalem Post:

Speaking extensively on US relations with Jerusalem since the end of the latest round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians last April, and throughout Operation Protective Edge, a candid [former US special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Martin] Indyk said at times US President Barack Obama has become “enraged” at the Israeli government, both for its actions and for its treatment of his chief diplomat, US Secretary of State John Kerry… Gaza has had “very negative impact” on US-Israel relations, he continued. “The personal relationship between the president and the prime minister has been fraught for some time and it’s become more complicated by recent events.”

Wehner comments:

Think about this for a moment. In a neighborhood featuring Hamas, ISIS, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, just to name a few of the actors, President Obama was “enraged” at … Israel. That’s right, Israel–our stalwart ally, a lighthouse of liberty, lawfulness, and human rights in a region characterized by despotism, and a nation filled with people who long for peace and have done so much for so long to sacrifice for it (including repeatedly returning and offering to return its land in exchange for peace).

Yet Mr. Obama–a man renowned for his lack of strong feelings, his emotional equanimity, his disengagement and distance from events, who New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd refers to as “Spock” for his Vulcan-like detachment–is not just upset but “enraged” at Israel.

Wehner adds: “It’s clear to me, and by now it should be to others, that there is something sinister in Barack Obama’s constant anger aimed at Israel.” As I say, no surprise — Obama’s animus against Israel is unsavory and overdetermined — but it is good to have Wehner say it right out loud (whole thing here).

A pro-Hamas left emerges

The historian Jeffrey Herf writes at the American Interest of the emergence of a pro-Hamas left:

On July 31, 2014, a group of left-leaning historians called “Historians Against the War” posted an open letter to President Obama denouncing Israel’s actions in the Gaza War and calling for a cut-off of American military assistance to Israel. On August 13, the letter was posted on the website of the History News Network. On August 13, the signers reported that “in less than twenty-four hours over two hundred US, based [sic] historians had signed the letter.” This remarkable turnout depended on the mobilization of an already existing network of an academic Left that emerged in opposition to the war in Iraq and that stays in touch via a website called “The Hawblog.” On August 14, the blog announced that more than a thousand historians had signed the statement, including a large number from Mexico and Brazil.

With a brief and unconvincing effort to sound balanced, the statement deplored “the ongoing attacks against civilians in Gaza and in Israel” but then turned its fire on Israel for what it called “the disproportionate harm that the Israeli military, which the United States has armed and supported for decades, is inflicting on the population of Gaza.” The signers were “profoundly disturbed that Israeli forces are killing and wounding so many Palestinian children.” They found “unacceptable the failure of United States elected officials to hold Israel accountable for such an act” and demanded “a cease-fire, the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and a permanent end to the blockade so that its people can resume some semblance of normal life.” Further, they urged the President to suspend U.S. military aid to Israel until there is assurance that it will no longer be used for the commission of “war crimes.” “As historians,” they concluded, “we recognize this as a moment of acute moral crisis in which it is vitally important that United States policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict change direction.”

As Herf notes, the Haw in Hawblog is an acronym of Historians Against the War. Yet the Historians Against the War support the Hamas war against Israel. Maybe they should make that the Haw! haw! haw! blog. The complete list of signers is posted with the statement here.

How has the vanguard of the academic left come to support an organization of genocidal fascist? Herf finds it an event that signifies, likening it to the Communists’ support of the Hitler-Stalin pact:

For this historian, the “Historians Against the War” statement of summer 2014 recalls the policy of the Comintern during the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939–1941. In that two-year period, as Hitler invaded and occupied all of continental Europe except the Soviet Union, and island Britain fought on alone, the Communist Parties denounced “Anglo-American imperialism”, called Franklin Roosevelt a “war monger” for aiding Britain and abandoned verbal attacks on Nazi Germany. The Communist Parties only returned to the previous anti-fascist stance of the Popular Front era because Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Had Hitler not invaded the Soviet Union, presumably the Communists Parties would have opposed a strictly Anglo-American attack on Nazi Germany.

The years of the Hitler-Stalin pact offer an often forgotten and embarrassing case of the Left making common cause objectively with fascism and Nazism. It was only in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s massive contribution to the defeat of Nazism that “anti-fascism” again became embedded in the Left’s essence and public presentation. The “Historians against the War” statement of July 31 revives the spirit of the infamous years of 1939-41, but does so with a confidence that many decades of Communist and Western leftist attacks on Israel and on Zionism, along with expressions of “solidarity with the Palestinian people,” has fostered. The habits of mind and emotion cultivated in the Western Left in the era of the secular PLO’s terrorist campaigns of the 1960s to 1980s have remained strikingly intact, even though the terror now comes from the Islamist extreme Right rather than the extreme Left.

Among the few names I recognize on the list of featured signers, there is a distinct geriatric Communist (Bettina Aptheker, age 69), leftover left (Staughton Lynd, age 84) and Communist fanboy (Ellen Schrecker, age 76) flavor. One would like to think that the signers do not represent the vanguard of anything other than the growing struggle against senescence and senility. Yet the complete list of signers is a long, long list (with a few ringers). Can we bring back Hugh G. Reckshun and similar friends from the old online anti-Iraq war petition that James Taranto faithfully monitored?

Unfortunately, Herf is clearly on to something. It is amazing what magical properties hatred of the United States has.

On a local note, Minnesota is represented big time among this utterly retrograde and disgusting crowd. I see among the signers listing the University of Minnesota as their affiliation: Cyrus Bina (Morris campus, of the economics department — how’d he get on here?), David Chang (“I am an historian of race and ethnicity in Hawai’i and the United States”), Christopher Isett (“late imperial and modern Chinese economic, social, legal and political history, East Asian economic history, comparative history and social theory, agrarian history and agricultural change”), Scott Laderman, (Duluth campus, forthcoming book: Empire in Waves: A Political History of Surfing), Kevin Murphy (“history of sexuality,” etc.), Jimmy Patiño (Chicano Studies, he “seeks to critically excavate, extrapolate and facilitate alternative imaginings of democratic practice among subaltern communities in the midst of global capitalism”), Marynel Ryan Van Zee (Morris campus, “[m]y current research is focused on German economic thought of the 19th and 20th centuries, and the persistence of ideas from the German past in the way that the economy, state, and household are perceived today”), Sara M. Evans (Regents Professor Emerita, (“[s]he is described as one of the foremost scholars of feminist studies in the United States, and is attributed [sic] with creating the field of women’s history”) and Elaine Tyler May (Regents Professor, her “work centers on the intersections of gender, sexuality, domestic culture and politics”).

The University of Minnesota is another brick in the wall of the institutional left, deserving of attention all by itself.

Holder cuts left in on $17 billion Bank of America settlement

Radical Democrat activist groups stand to collect millions from Attorney General Eric Holder’s record $17 billion deal to settle alleged mortgage abuse charges against Bank of America, Investors’ Business Daily reports:

Buried in the fine print of the deal, which includes $7 billion in soft-dollar consumer relief, are a raft of political payoffs to Obama constituency groups. In effect, the government has ordered the nation’s largest bank to create a massive slush fund for Democrat special interests.

The deal requires billions of dollars in debt forgiveness payments to delinquent borrowers. It also requires Bank of America to make billions in new loans and to build affordable low-income rental housing.

The remaining money will go to a slush fund for leftists:

If there are leftover funds in four years, the settlement stipulates the money will go to Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account (IOLTA), which provides legal aid for the poor and supports left-wing causes, and NeighborWorks of America, which provides affordable housing and funds a national network of left-wing community organizers operating in the mold of Acorn.

NeighborWorks of America has been a major supporter of ACORN, the left’s most favored radicals. According to Investors’ Business Daily, in 2008 and 2009 NeighborWorks awarded a whopping $25 million to Acorn Housing.

Moreover, an Acorn Housing spinoff is directly eligible for BofA slush funds. It’s an outfit called Mutual Housing Association of New York. HUD lists its contact person as Ismene Speliotis, who previously served as New York director of Acorn Housing.

But Acorn isn’t the only left-wing beneficiary:

In 2011 alone, NeighborWorks shelled out $35 million in “affordable housing grants” to 115 such groups, according to its website. Recipients included the radical Affordable Housing Alliance, which pressures banks to make high-risk loans in low-income neighborhoods and which happens to be the former employer of HUD’s chief “fair housing” enforcer.

Bank of America gets “extra credit” if it makes at least $100 million in direct donations to IOLTA and housing activist groups approved by HUD. Who are these HUD-approved housing activist groups? Investors’ Business Daily identifies some of them:

• La Raza, which pressures banks to expand their credit box to qualify more low-income Latino immigrants for home loans;

• National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Washington’s most aggressive lobbyist for the disastrous Community Reinvestment Act;

• Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, whose director calls himself a “bank terrorist;”

• Operation Hope, a South Central Los Angeles group that’s pressuring banks to make “dignity mortgages” for deadbeats.

Coercing banks to provide “dignity mortgages” to people who are unlikely to pay them? That was a big part of how we found ourselves in the financial crisis.

Not only is Eric Holder not letting that crisis go to waste, he seems bent on generating a new one.

As Investors’ Business Daily concludes:

In effect, lenders are bankrolling the same parasites that bled them for the risky loans that caused the mortgage crisis. With new cash, they can ramp back up their shakedown campaign, repeating the cycle of dangerous political lending that wrecked the economy.

These settlements have little, if anything, to do with “justice” or restitution for innocent victims. In its 30-page “statement of facts,” Justice couldn’t provide a single shred of evidence of fraud against BofA. Nor could it ID a single “victim” by name.

The attorney general is actually perverting justice by extorting billions of dollars from the largest banks in the country and giving it away to the president’s political friends and favorite political causes.

We knew that, if elected, Barack Obama was going to spread the wealth around. We should have realized he would spread it to the left-wing “community organizing” world from which he sprang.

A Lump of Coal for the Climatistas

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported (“Germany’s Expensive Gamble on Renewable Energy”) on the high cost of the climate-related energy fanaticism of Germany’s green shirts (why not?), which is now starting to take a tangible toll on the country’s economic competitiveness:

Average electricity prices for companies have jumped 60% over the past five years because of costs passed along as part of government subsidies of renewable energy producers. Prices are now more than double those in the U.S. . .

One government estimate projects the Energiewende by 2040 to cost up to €1 trillion, or about $1.4 trillion, or almost half Germany’s GDP and nearly as much as the country spent on the reunification of East and West Germany. . .

Yet nearly 75% of Germany’s small- and medium-size industrial businesses say rising energy costs are a major risk, according to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Federation of German Industry. . .

The renewable energy surcharge levied on German households and businesses has nearly tripled since 2010 and now accounts for about 18% of a German household’s electric bill. All told, the subsidies amount to about €24 billion a year, according to Germany’s economics ministry.

So, what country do the climatistas here admire most? Naturally: Germany, precisely because of its policy uber alles approach. Scott and I both wrote here last fall about Ron Binz (“Mercedes Binz”), who Obama wanted to head FERC. (He was even too much for the Democratic Senate.)

Of course, if Germany really cared about greenhouse gas emissions, perhaps they might keep their GHG-free nuclear power fleet operating. As the Journal article shows, Germany really isn’t reducing fossil fuel use very much; renewables are just displacing nuclear. How is that a climate win?

Germany Trends copy

Moreover, because of grid instability problems with wind and solar power, and questions over the long-term reliability and cost of Russian natural gas, guess what Germany is going to do? More coal.

Reuters reported yesterday:

Germany will continue to need coal-fired power plants, its energy regulator said, warning that Europe’s biggest economy should not rely solely on renewables or risk increasing exposure to Russian gas as it shuts down nuclear plants.

“Those who call for an end of coal power generation don’t have much interest in a reliable energy policy,” Jochen Homann, president of the Federal Network Agency (BnetzA), told an energy industry conference on Wednesday.

“We will close further nuclear plants; these capacities need to be replaced,” he said, adding that coal power was vital to achieve this.

What both the Journal and Reuters missed in their stories is that Germany is actually building new coal plants. Here’s the map:

Germany Coal copy

How many ways can you say “Greenfail”?

Now the non-trivia question: with all the cheerleading for the explosive growth of renewable energy (and exploding birds at some solar sites as well), what was the fastest-growing source of energy by total output over the last decade? I’ll just let this Bloomberg headline give you the answer:

Coal’s Share of World Energy Demand Highest Since 1970

The findings are another indication that consumers are prioritizing cheap fuels over efforts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming. Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel, and use of it expanded at utilities from China to Germany.

Wait, where? Germany? Did you say Germany? Neat trick—using more of the cheapest fossil fuel but having the highest electricity costs in Europe. Starting to make me wonder about German engineering.

Critique of pure hippie

Visiting New York with my father in 1967 or 1968, I somehow persuaded him to take me to see the Fugs in one of their now legendary nightly performances at Greenwich Village’s Players Theater. It was a memorable show with something close to the founding group of the Fugs including Ed Sanders, Tuli Kupferberg and two or three others. Thankfully, my dad fell asleep before the Fugs hit their scatological stride.

Sanders is an interesting guy. He majored in classics at NYU and has a literary bent with a twist. He co-founded the Fugs in the name of the creative alternative Norman Mailer had seized on to portray the speech of soldiers in The Naked and the Dead. Among other things, Sanders went on to write The Family, his scarifying account of the Manson murders that has made it into a third edition, I think.

Looking around online recently for some information about Sanders, I happened onto the 1968 episode of William F. Buckley’s Firing Line featuring a drunken Jack Kerouac, a sober Ed Sanders, and Professor Lewis Yablonsky, sociologist and author of The Hippie Trip, an academic exploration of the subject. Kerouac required no introduction, though he did need some coffee and a cold shower. Buckley accurately introduced Sanders as a musician, a poet and a polemicist, adding in classic deadpan style: “He is one of the Fugs, a widely patronized combo.” Priceless.

Buckley begins with Sanders, posing a rich Buckleyesque question as a follow-up to his opening inquiry: “Do I understand from this that are we supposed to make the inference that the hippies don’t have a highly developed political [agenda]?”

I’m filing this under Laughter is the Best Medicine.

Across the Country, the Federal Government Fights For Muslim Worship Spaces [Updated]

The government of the United States is suing the town of St. Anthony, Minnesota, a Twin Cities suburb with a population a little over 8,000, to force the town to allow development of an Islamic center in an area reserved for industrial development. It is a minor news story, but one that sheds light on broader legal and cultural trends. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:

The federal government on Wednesday sued the small north-metro city of St. Anthony, contending that its City Council violated federal law in 2012 by rejecting a proposed Islamic center. …

“An injustice has been done,” U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said at a news conference in Minneapolis. “I will not stand by while any religious group is subject to unconstitutional treatment that violates federal civil rights laws.”

Actually, DOJ happily stood by when the city previously denied a Christian group the use of the same space. Mr. Luger didn’t mention that in his pretentious announcement.

The lawsuit alleges that the council’s decision to deny the Abu Huraira Islamic Center the right to establish a worship center in the basement of the St. Anthony Business Center violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act passed by Congress in 2000.

Like me, you probably have never heard of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. I haven’t studied it, but, according to the DOJ’s web site, it prohibits zoning laws that “treat churches or other religious assemblies or institutions on less than equal terms with nonreligious institutions.” So it may actually apply here. Although, of course, no one worried about that when a Christian group was being turned down.

Apparently the Religious Land Use statute is being used by the federal government around the country to force acceptance of Islamic centers, contrary to local zoning regulations:

It marks the first time federal prosecutors have sued a Minnesota city citing the law, although the Justice Department has filed similar suits elsewhere in the country on behalf of Islamic centers, according to a U.S. attorney’s office spokesman.

So what is going on here? Why did St. Anthony turn down the application to use the property in question as an Islamic center?

In June 2012, the council rejected Abu Huraira’s proposal, concluding that a religious and cultural center was incompatible with the site’s light-industrial zoning. …

On Wednesday, St. Anthony officials continued to defend the council’s action, saying that the rejection was based purely on zoning issues. It “was not based on discrimination at all,” said City Attorney Jay Lindgren.

“Religious uses of any type are allowed in the vast majority of the city,” he said. “They are just not allowed in the roughly five percent of the city reserved for industrial uses. … An industrial zone is designed to create jobs and be an economic engine.”

Once upon a time, that would have been considered a reasonable zoning decision. But now, the full weight of the federal government–that is, the Obama administration–has come down on the side of Islam. And Islam only:

Lindgren said that the city denied another Christian organization’s request in the past few years that was similar to that of the Islamic center.

It isn’t hard to understand what is going on here. While I wish the town of St. Anthony well, it is pretty obvious that they will be ground underfoot by the powers that be, i.e., Eric Holder’s Department of Justice. Not because the administration has any particular regard for religion in general, as Christians and Jews can readily attest–just look at the Obamacare regulations. Rather, because the administration wants to display favoritism toward Islam.

If an administration could be shown to consistently favor one religion over others, would that constitute a violation of the First Amendment? Of course. But, as with so many other Obama administration scandals, long before the judicial system could even begin to address the issue on its merits, the malefactors will be long gone.

UPDATE: While the U.S. Attorney’s office singled out “Islamic centers” as the beneficiaries of federal action under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a knowledgeable reader who works for the Becket Fund says that DOJ has actually been even-handed in applying the statute:

I hold no brief for the federal government – the Becket Fund is the firm that beat DOJ at the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case last Term and in the Hosanna-Tabor case two years before that. And we have a number of other religious liberty lawsuits pending against DOJ right now, including the Little Sisters of the Poor and Wheaton College cases.

So I am not writing because I think DOJ does a good job protecting religious freedom—far from it. But RLUIPA land use litigation is one area where DOJ gets it largely right. If you look at this somewhat incomplete list, you will see that DOJ has a pretty good cross-section of religious land use cases, including Jewish, Christian, and Muslim houses of worship:

DOJ has taken the side of rabbinical schools in Rockland County, NY, and Baptist churches in Arizona, among many others. So it is inaccurate to characterize DOJ’s RLUIPA work as focusing only or primarily on Muslims, as your post does. And since this is one area of religious liberty law where DOJ gets it mostly right, I don’t think you will advance the religious liberty of any group – Christians, Jews, Muslims, or non-believers – by painting an inaccurate picture of how RLUIPA works, or how it has been enforced. In fact you are more likely to increase your readers’ opposition to religious liberty statutes like RLUIPA that are good for our country, not least because they restrict government power.

… I’ve litigated RLUIPA cases across the country, frequently on behalf of Christian and Jewish houses of worship, but on occasion also Muslim or Buddhist ones.

Knowledgeable criticism is always welcome, so thanks. If our reader is correct, and he is obviously knowledgeable, it was coincidence that there was no legal action when the city turned down a similar request from a Christian group. Or, more likely, the Christians never complained, while in this instance, Minnesota’s Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked DOJ to investigate.