Thursday, May 30, 2024

Saving America's Face

Get ready. New York Times columnist Tommy Friedman is upset. He thinks that America has lost its moorings. Worse yet, he suspects that America has lost its sense of shame.

Dare I say that I do not think he is wrong. He might not have a sufficient number of little gray cells to say anything cogent about the problem, but surely America has lost its sense of shame.

In truth, I said as much in a book I wrote in 1996. It was called Saving Face: America and the Politics of Shame. I suspect that Tommy did not read it, but you can’t have everything.

Sad to say, but Tommy remains loyal to his party. He functions as a Democratic Party flack, and opens his reflection with the notion that in a society where shame mattered Donald Trump would have retired from the public scene once his dalliance with a porn star was exposed. 

We will ignore the fact that said dalliance is not illegal, but we will emphasize the simple fact that deviant sexual behavior is no longer considered to be shameful thanks to Democratic Party hacks, not to mention the great feminist leaders, who went to the barricades to defend the serial cheater and accused rapist named Bill Clinton.

Now, Friedman quotes his friend Dov Seidman, to the effect that cultural norms are established when leaders obey them. Again, he believes that Donald Trump is most egregious in defying said norms, but he might have said a word about the ranting, raving Trump detractors. They have certainly not behaved with exemplary decorum. And that does not merely involve lawfare.

As for how we lost our shame, not to mention our pride and self-respect, consider the wise words of Tommy’s fellow Times columnist, Bret Stephens. I quoted his remarks yesterday, and in case you missed them, I repeat them here:

In the past 50 years, the United States has gotten good at losing wars.

We withdrew in humiliation from Saigon in 1975, Beirut in 1984, Mogadishu in 1993 and Kabul in 2021. We withdrew, after the tenuous victory of the surge, from Baghdad in 2011, only to return three years later after ISIS swept through northern Iraq and we had to stop it (which, with the help of Iraqis and Kurds, we did). 

As I wrote nearly three decades ago, a country loses pride when it loses wars, when its great collective enterprises fall short. Not only have we been losing wars, but, as I remarked, no one has really taken responsibility for the serial failures. In truth, we rationalize our losses, as Stephens also said, by telling ourselves that we did not visit limitless destruction on our enemies. We cannot occupy territory but we console ourselves by staking a claim to the moral high ground.

Nations, especially democracies, often have second thoughts about the means they use to win existential wars. But they also tend to canonize leaders who, faced with the awful choice of evils that every war presents, nonetheless chose morally compromised victories over morally pure defeats.

Now, Friedman thinks that you feel shame when your behavior departs from societal norms. And yet, that implies that society has a single set of cultural norms, one that is embraced and, more importantly, practiced by everyone.

In short, the most significant enemy of shame is multiculturalism. You cannot have multiple cultures with multiple norms and expect people to practice them. When you Balkanize the society, you cannot have a singular set of cultural norms.

To his credit, Friedman understands this. The advent of cancel culture, the blame game that occurs when no one takes responsibility for societal failure, shows this clearly. For the record I suggested as much in my 1996 book.

Friedman explained:

Many universities today seem to be in the grip of a progressive ideological framework that divides the world into hierarchies of colonizers and the colonized, oppressed and oppressors, racists and anti-racists — and now pro-Zionists and anti-Zionists. As a result, those who fall on the wrong side of those binaries feel the need to stay silent or risk being ostracized. The first impulse in too many cases these days is to seek cancellation, not conversation.

But then, Tommy begins to opine on the fact that too many people get their information from Fox News. We would all be more comfortable if Friedman had noted that the New York Times itself went into full freakout mode over an op-ed written by a United States Senator, namely Tom Cotton. And let’s not forget Uri Berliner’s criticism of NPR for promoting leftist propaganda.

In truth, for denizens of the political left, the ones who are promoting the free and fair exchange of ideas, Fox News is the bogeyman. In truth, a quick glance at the television ratings will show that the mainstream media has far more viewers than Fox News. The evening news broadcasts of the three major networks far outdistance Fox in terms of ratings.

That there is a single alternative news source offends people like Friedman. The attack on Fox News is a symptom of a lust for pervasive groupthink. 

And for a sustained attack on patriotism. If we want to recover societal norms, we must begin by being proud of our country. As you know, important forces in American society are not proud of their country. Michelle Obama once opined that the only time she was proud of her country was when her husband was nominated as a presidential candidate. If that is what it takes to elicit your pride in country, you are not proud of your country.

The irony here, so clear that Tommy misses it completely, is that people follow societal norms because they are proud of their country. You cannot detach the one from the other. Lack of patriotic pride will damage your personal sense of pride. A sense that the country is an organized conspiracy whose successes were built on exploitation of oppression will not lead to national pride.

The antidote to shame is pride. Which president and which presidential candidate has been touting national pride? Who has been promoting American greatness? Which political party has been willing to abuse and corrupt and pervert the judicial system in order to attack the candidate whose program says that we should make America great again.

While I certainly agree that Trump would do himself and the nation a very large favor if he followed the advice his advisors have been giving him for years now, and to practice more decorum, but when our friend Tommy places the larger share of blame on Trump he is merely exposing his own prejudice. 

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