Guest post by Richard Lowery, Jr.
Barstool Eruptions as Public Policy
I confess that I am not a constitutional law professor nor have I ever played one on TV so my ability to comment on the legal reasoning behind the U.S. Ninth Circuit court’s ruling regarding President Trump’s travel ban is limited in the same way that my knowledge is limited about Parisian designer garments that are worn by the super models who prance down runways at international fashion shows. But I will admit that I would rather look at the runway models as opposed to the judges since the black robes that are worn by the judges are much less stylish and are very difficult to match with accessories to say nothing of finding decent looking footwear that will go with them.
But having conceded the key points above, I still have some opinions on the travel ban brouhaha. Let us assume that the Constitution does grant President Trump the power to impose his policy. Is this still a wise and prudent thing for him to do?
First, the actual policy. To date, there have been no terrorist activities caused by immigrants from the seven temporarily banned countries. We can agree that the U.S. must be very careful with admitting people from these nations, but barring some inside intelligence not available to the general public that points to an immediate threat, then I question if the temporary ban will make us any safer. Whenever the Federal Government uses its coercive powers, then there should be sufficient cause to do so. Again, if there is reasonable evidence that this temporary ban protects the U.S. from some potential harm, then implement it. But kindly do not enact a disruptive policy it if it is only to fulfill some barstool eruption that was pledged at campaign rallies last summer. (2)
Second, the politics. In general our liberal friends have gone nuts. They have been going nuts for quite some time now, but presently they are travelling down the path of crack-potness at an increased warp speed that would make Captain Kirk proud. MSNBC is sputtering nonsense, liberal commentators are impersonating Chicken Little and the NPR announcers are describing issues in sedate and sugary sweet tones which can only mean that their anti-depressant drug prescription levels have been dramatically increased. Anything that Mr. Trump does will be treated in an antagonistic manner by a venom-spewing press. The average voter – thankfully – does not spend hours reading breathless Washington Post reporter tweets like how an unnamed source was told by an unidentified White House intern’s brother-in-law about an unconfirmed rumor that a top Trump advisor made a face at another top Trump advisor while leaving the restroom. Most sane people - which means we must exclude many University professors - agree that it is prudent to revisit vetting programs for security purposes, but with this high profile travel ban we have innocent people apparently being caught up in the dragnet for insufficient reasons by the Keystone Cops. These are soundbite gifts to his opponents and at the very least the optics are bad. The same people who do not pay attention to Washington Post reporter tweets probably do see the negative reports plastered across TV screens, newspapers and ubiquitous social media devices. Most will not consult previous court rulings to determine if stare decisis favors Mr. Trump’s temporary travel ban. Mr. Trump does not have an unlimited supply of political capital. He just dipped into his political capital bank account, withdrew a chunk and spent it – perhaps superfluously?
Third, the administrative priorities. There are limits to what an administration can pay attention to. Does Mr. Trump want to raise a ruckus and spend energy on high profile court cases to accomplish his admirable goal of making the U.S. secure? Particularly when the ban is not necessary? There will be many future crises beyond his control that will require him to defer his attention and suck away energy from his agenda. But, this current energy sucking ball of hair is of his own making.
Methinks that Mr. Trump hath not comported himself in a wise and prudent manner.
There are attributes of character that have gone out of fashion over the last – say - oh – 200 years. We modern people like motion and action and noise and sparkly things; hence, we are attracted to these traits in leaders which is why we elect as president mediocre legislators with vapid ideas but oratorical gifts (Mr. Obama) and TV personalities with cartoonish outlooks but with marketing/ branding skills (Mr. Trump). Both of these cultish characters exude action and hoopla and bustle.
The ancients had a better appreciation for virtues like prudence and wisdom which are attributes that have gone out of style with us modern folks. The philosopher Mortimer Adler tells us that these objects of thought were topics that pervaded the Great Books of the past but are much less frequently discussed by more recent thinkers and authors. (3) This is unfortunate in that wisdom - unlike knowledge - does not seem to increase with each generation; hence a reduction in societal interest means its usage is given less weight by citizens – and by their leaders. We have more knowledge of stuff, but have less ability to know the wise and prudent use of these things. (4)
Note the following passage from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius on why he admired the emperor Antonin Pius,
“Remember his resolute constancy in things that were done by him according to reason, his equability in all things, his sanctity; the cheerfulness of his countenance, his sweetness, and how free he was from all vainglory; how careful to come to true and exact knowledge of matters at hand, and how he would by no means give over till he did fully, and plainly understand the whole state of the business; and how patiently, and without any contestation he would bear with them, that did unjustly condemn him: how he would never be overhasty in anything, nor give ear to slanders and false accusations, but examine and observe with best diligence the several actions and dispositions of men. Again, how he was no backbiter, nor easily frightened, nor suspicious, and in his language free from all affectation…” (5)
Such wisdom and prudence is not the description of what we moderns look for in a leader. Yet, Russell Kirk – writing about 60 years ago seems to suggest that these are attributes that a conservative should desire. When listing the canons of thought of how a conservative should approach society he wrote that,
“Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress. Society must alter, for prudent change is the means of social preservation; but a statesman must take Providence into his calculations, and a statesman’s chief virtue, according to Plato and Burke, is prudence.” (6)
It is not the role of US president to cause a ruckus for the sake of causing a ruckus. An aura of crisis is the friend of the liberal wishing to implement radical change, but not the conservative who wishes prudent and wise societal improvement. Success should be measured in defusing noise levels to encourage stability and calm to allow individual Americans to deploy their talents and creativity. Mr. Trump is now the U.S. president and he is implementing serious national security policy with potentially far reaching impacts. He is not a casino CEO ginning up hubbub over an upcoming pro wrestling match that is taking place at one of his properties.
Perhaps fewer barstool eruptions and a little more wisdom and prudence are in order.
Richard J. Lowery Jr.
- Models at http://stylecaster.com. Judges at https://www.courts.state.co.us/Courts/Supreme_Court.
- Not sure who gets the credit for popularizing the phrase “barstool eruption”. I recall Charles Krauthammer using it a couple of times. I do like the term and I have been known to have a few barstool eruptions myself after logging in a couple of hours in a saloon.
- Professor Adler writes, “In the tradition if great books, the moderns usually assert their superiority over the ancients in all the arts and sciences. They seldom claim superiority in wisdom… Wisdom is frequently and extensively the subject of discussion in the ancient and medieval than in the modern books. The ancients seem to have not only a greater yearning for wisdom, but also a greater interest in understanding what wisdom is and how it can be gained.” Mortimer Adler, Great Ideas, (MacMillan Publishing, 1952) page 938
- Professor Adler writes, “We believe that, with the centuries, knowledge can be steadily increased and learning advanced, but we do not suppose that the same progress can be achieved in wisdom. The individual may grow in wisdom. The race does not seem to.” Ibid, page 938
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (This edition Simon & Brown, 2011) page 93- 94
- Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind (Regnery, 1953) page 9.