Why Do Christians Put Up With Trump? By W. David Montgomery

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“How can practicing Christians support a President as immoral as Donald Trump?” The question has become a popular one in certain literary circles, and more important to me it is one that serious friends ask me.

The answer to the question seems quite simple:

Donald Trump offered the hope of making right what was going horribly wrong in our country. Alternative candidates stood for policies that would make things worse, and were beset with deep character flaws of their own.

Candidate Trump was unabashedly pro-life and willing to defend religious freedom. He stood for a stronger national defense after 8 years of appeasement and neglect. He understood and stated clearly that Western Civilization is under attack from Islamic militants. He supported Israel unreservedly and was willing to lead from the front. He saw how excessive taxation and regulation combined to give us the worst recovery from a recession on record.

His brash style was not only attractive to those alienated from mainstream politics, but also provided a deeper resonance that he understood their feelings of being left behind economically, of increasing government intrusion into their lives, of schools that taught children things that parents did not believe and put them at risk to sexual deviants, and of being ridiculed by celebrities, media and his opponent.

I hold that Trump was wrong to promote the myth that immigration and imports kill jobs and hurt Americans, and I have already written enough on that. We can try to convince him on those topics over time.

Turning from policies to words and personal behavior, his denunciations of Hispanics, tasteless remarks about women and sex, and marital infidelities were also negatives for many of us who voted for him. On the other hand, we support his efforts to scrutinize entrants from countries that breed terrorists as prudent policies not evidence of some personal bias against Moslems.

Allegations about Trump’s lack of truthfulness have been rampant but remain unproven. His obvious willingness to exaggerate facts and numbers in support of his own opinions contrasted to Hilary’s memorization of the most minor detail and skill at devious answers, and for that reason was probably as much a successful tactic as a character defect. “It was a feature, not a bug” to quote Microsoft.

Commentators differ on whether this is a reasonable point of view or evidence that conservative Catholics and evangelicals have become homophobic, xenophobic and otherwise deplorable. My conscience is clear in supporting Trump for these reasons.
There are enough positives and negatives in my own assessment that this result was not pre-ordained. Despite efforts to caricature him, President Trump presents a complex picture of sound and unsound policies and personal virtues and vices.

Some might claim that I am myself co-operating with evil by concluding that President Trump’s actions as President on balance advance the common good and violate no moral laws. That is not how my moral education sees it. For this I take guidance from Pacem in Terris by Pope Saint John XXIII, who discussed at length how in this world most leaders do not share the moral framework to which we as Christians adhere. That makes it necessary to work for as much good as possible in public affairs, recognizing that we must as Christians settle for less than perfection and work with the moral infirmities and motivations of those in power. While at all times trying to change their moral framework.

Of primary importance, President Trump’s policies are consistent with moral laws regarding the taking of innocent life, sex and marriage, and freedom of conscience, no matter how his personal life may differ.

His policies on the economy, foreign policy, immigration and healthcare do not directly run up against moral absolutes, and are matters of prudential judgment of how best to accomplish what moral law prescribes.

Applying the tests of adherence to moral laws and practical effect, I conclude that President Trump’s policies contain no grave moral errors, do some practical harm and achieve a great deal of practical good. Far better than I could have expected of anyone else.

But the question about supporting the President, once all this is out in the open, reverts to his personal, allegedly immoral behavior. Put this way, the question suggests that Christians are hypocritical in supporting someone who blatantly violates their moral prescriptions. A writer in the National Review put it that “Christians had good reasons to vote for Trump but that does not mean they had to join his tribe” and goes on to express dismay at religious leaders appearing with, praying with, and complimenting the President.

It is not that Christians are indifferent to sexual immorality. As one theologian put it recently, “The premise of the Sexual Revolution is antisocial, and its effects are socially destructive, as every pope since Leo XIII has shown, including Francis.” This includes sex in any form outside of marriage, pornography, and the entire LGBTQ agenda.

There is no question that we believe that the acts of which Trump is accused are gravely immoral. Ironically, those who are most preoccupied with President’ Trump’s alleged sexual immorality have for the most part been vocal supporters of the sexual revolution and demanded freedom for consenting partners to engage in any kind of genital activity they enjoy. The question is what our faith and moral compass require us to do about it.

Those who question how “conservative Christians” can support Donald Trump seem on the most part to be working with a caricature of Christian moral thought. Many of those who raise the question are Social Justice Warriors who themselves call Trump supporters “vile human beings” and condemn every utterance that might contain a micro-aggression or expression of hostility or condescension to some “marginalized group.” unless they are directed at someone who voted for Trump. They seem to expect Christians to behave in a similar way, by judging, denouncing and ostracizing any public figure who violates the Sixth Commandment.

That is an ignorant and biased picture of Christian morality and even more offensive than their hypocrisy about sexual license. There are at least three admonitions that prevent us from condemning others as sinners. They also apply to other personal vices that do not have consequences of public concern.

First, “judge not that you be not judged.” In the parable of the adulterous woman, Christ shamed their accusers with the challenge “he among you is guiltless, should cast the first stone.” The point is that we firmly believe that many matters are between a man, his spouse, his priest and his Maker, and that we should mind our own business unless directly affected.

Second, “God’s ways are not the ways of men.” David had Bathsheba, yet is still honored as the greatest of the Kings of Israel and the ancestor of Our Incarnate Lord. Trump never sent one of his future wives husbands out to certain death in battle so that he could marry her. More broadly, God does not necessarily select saints to carry out his plan for the good of his people – as the sexual infidelities of honored Presidents like Kennedy, Eisenhower, and FDR and leaders like Martin Luther King attest.

Third, the whole point is that “We are all sinners.” I am far from perfect, and I cannot expect more of anyone else. Some are more virtuous than others, but that rarely seems to include successful politicians. One of the most infuriating misconceptions is that Christians see themselves as perfect and judge the morals of everyone they encounter. No doubt some do, but they violate the explicit command of the Head of our church. We know that President Trump has not been accused of anything we have not been tempted to do.

So lets get over the hypocrisy bit. Church attendance is not virtue signaling.
We do not go to services to show off how perfect we are, we go because we are sinners seeking to do better. More precisely, since Jesus walked the earth we have been enjoined to do the latter and not the former.

Thus I feel no moral obligation to condemn or defend the President for carnal sins.

I am instead convinced that we who voted for Trump did so for valid and urgent reasons, that as President he has done a remarkable job in delivering what we hoped for, and that our concerns and Trump’s policies are consistent with Christian morality and social ethics.

His personal failings, and likewise mine, will be judged by a Higher Authority than even The Atlantic magazine.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America,   David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

Lessons for the DNC from Richard Nixon by David Montgomery

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Richard Nixon could teach today’s Democrats a lesson in putting the country ahead of partisan gain.

The Democratic Party on Friday, April 20 filed a multimillion-dollar federal lawsuit against Trump campaign officials, the Russian government and WikiLeaks alleging a widespread conspiracy to tilt the 2016 election in Donald Trump’s favor.

“The conspiracy constituted an act of previously unimaginable treachery: the campaign of the presidential nominee of a major party in league with a hostile foreign power to bolster its own chance to win the Presidency,” the suit states.

“During the 2016 presidential campaign, Russia launched an all-out assault on our democracy, and it found a willing and active partner in Donald Trump’s campaign,” said DNC Chairman Tom Perez in a statement, calling the alleged collusion “an act of unprecedented treachery.

Not all Democrats agreed. US congresswoman Jackie Speier of San Francisco, who has a law degree, told CNN that “I think this sidebar lawsuit is not in the interest of the American people.” But the DNC does not care.

How anyone could be so willing to destabilize our constitutional system is impossible for me to understand. Even their obvious affliction with Trump Derangement Syndrome and alliances with the radicals that have taken over the Women’s March and BLM is insufficient to explain why a political organization that pretends to care about the future of the country would try so hard to provoke a constitutional crisis. Than again, this might be no more than an effort to start a digging expedition under the guise of “discovery” for anything that could be used in their “get rid of Trump at any cost” campaign.

The partisan myopia afflicting current politics makes it worthwhile repeating how Vice President Richard Nixon dealt with the apparent fraud that handed the 1960 election to John F. Kennedy. The 1960 election turned out to be one of the closest elections in this nation’s history. Nixon always believed that election was stolen – another word for rigged – by ballot stuffing in Cook County and in Texas.

There was a lot of evidence he was right. Earl Mazo, a Washington reporter for the New York Herald Tribune, investigated claims of voter fraud in the 1960 election. He was quoted as saying: There was a cemetery where the names on the tombstones were registered and voted. I remember a house. It was completely gutted. There was nobody there. But there were 56 votes for [John F.] Kennedy in that house. He then went to Lyndon Johnson’s Texas, where he found similar circumstances.

Roger Stone tells the story more dramatically: “Mayor Daley himself gave away the game on election eve when he said, ‘With the Democratic organization and the help of a few close friends,’ the Democrats would prevail on election day. There is sufficient evidence that the ‘few close friends’ mentioned include Chicago crime boss Sam Giancana… The evidence of voter fraud in Texas, where the Kennedy-Johnson ticket carried the state by a scant 50,000 votes was as widespread and odious as that of the daily machine in Chicago.”

The New York Herald Tribune started publishing Mazo’s articles when still-Vice President Nixon intervened and told Mazo that “Our country cannot afford the agony of a constitutional crisis” in the midst of the Cold War. Rather than follow a course that would polarize and weaken the nation, Nixon chose to leave the White House for a time.

A recent article congratulates Nixon for his patriotic act. Ironically, this article was written before election day as a warning to Donald Trump of the bad things that would happen if he were to contest the results as rigged.

“Despite the razor-thin margin, Nixon publicly conceded defeat very early the morning after the election, shortly before Kennedy declared victory. Nixon did not encourage Republicans to regard the country as locked in a permanent civil war, or to treat the incoming president as a usurper. [How different from the Never-Trumpers and impeachment nuts]

To the contrary, on January 6, 1961, he discharged his responsibility as president of the Senate and presided over the congressional tally of the electoral college vote. ‘In our campaigns,’ he told the joint session of Congress, ‘no matter how hard they may be, no matter how close the election may turn out to be, those who lose accept the verdict and support those who win.’ Nixon noted that he was the first vice president since 1860 to declare his opponent the winner (outgoing Vice President John C. Breckenridge performed the same task for Abraham Lincoln). It was a ‘striking example of the stability of our constitutional system.”

For the good of the country, Nixon decided to accept the verdict and move on.

And that’s the difference. The threat to our democracy is not the thought, the idea or the charge that an election was stolen or rigged or unfair. It has happened. The threat to our democracy is the refusal to accept the verdict of the election.

Nixon was advised in 1960 to contest the election. He decided not to do so for the good of the country. The DNC could learn a great deal from a politician they loathe, but who showed more character and love of country than any of them are demonstrating today.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America,   David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

An Earth Day Fable by David Montgomery

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The April 22 anniversary of Earth Day inspired, predictably enough, an article in the New Yorker bewailing the dissipation of the environmental sentiments of the 1970s, epitomized by the ignominious defeat of the Waxman-Markey bill to combat global warming in 2010. I learned from the New Yorker that several new books and studies attempt to diagnose the reasons for this dreadful moral failure and devise new strategies to accomplish the goal. Fortunately, the New Yorker goes in for long articles, and I was educated about the content of the books without having to read them.

The lesson taken from these books by the New Yorker is that the youthful energy of Earth Day led to passage of landmark legislation – the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Then in the 21st Century, the movement sold out by making an alliance with big business to combat global warming.

According to one of the books, “the original Earth Day remains a model of effective political organizing .… educational, school-based, widely distributed, locally controlled, and mass-participatory.” But then the environmental movement became “an established presence in Washington,” willing to make deals with business and Republicans (the author does admit that all the grand successes came when Republicans were President).

In the New Yorker narrative, aging heads of established environmental organizations became enamored of “cap-and-trade, a system of tradable permits for carbon emissions … because that seemed to be the best way to bring business on board.” They had funding that no one dreamed of on Earth Day and spent it lavishly to promote climate legislation.

Yet they failed – and nothing resembling an explanation is offered, beyond the post hoc, propter hoc fallacy of observing that becoming insiders and deal-makers happened first, then the grand game was lost. Nevertheless, the author wishes for a return to the grass-roots organization and events to recharge the enthusiasm of Earth Day and produce — something.

The failure of the Waxman-Markey bill, the cap and trade legislation on which the New Yorker focused, is easily explained without reverting to grand theories of grassroots organizing versus insider deal-making. It was a bad piece of legislation, and it turned into a Christmas tree of favors to get votes from basically indifferent legislators. Unfortunately, there were not enough favors to go around once the sharks smelled the bait of free allowances and Waxman and Markey tried to incorporate all the contrary agendas of the environmental left.

The sentimental haze of time has allowed many who should know better to refer to Waxman-Markey as a cap-and-trade bill. It did contain a cap-and-trade system, but most of its 1400 pages were taken up with additional regulations, subsidies, and exemptions that eliminated most of the potential benefits of cap and trade. I was one of the pioneers advancing the concept of cap and trade as environmental policy, and I can tell the difference.

A brief explanation of cap and trade and list of provisions of the Waxman-Markey bill is necessary for understanding of what happened. Cap and trade starts with a cap – for example, the bill required that in 2020 carbon dioxide emission must be no larger than 83% of 1990 levels. EPA would then print out emission permits, possibly in one-ton denominations, equal to the limit. Every source of emissions would have to turn in a permit for each ton of carbon dioxide it released in 2020. Emissions would be kept under the hard cap by the fact that only that many permits would be printed. Permits were called “allowances” in the bill, and I will use that name from here on.

The price of allowances would be established by supply and demand. Sources that could control their emissions at a cost less than the market price would do so, and those that could not would purchase allowances. The market price would adjust so that actual emissions equaled the limit.

Cap and trade does just one thing: it puts a limit, chosen by legislators, on greenhouse gas emissions, and it provides just the right incentives for the private sector to choose the least cost ways of achieving that reduction.

That is all theory, and it works as the Title IV program of the Clean Air Act that cleaned up Acid Rain proved. The Acid Rain program was able to get the votes to be included in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 because it replaced a very badly designed program, foisted on the public by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) to protect his coal industry. Unfortunately, three new factors made it impossible to repeat that success with climate policy.

First, the electric utilities responsible for most sulfur emissions, the precursors of acid rain, were already regulated, and cap and trade was an unambiguous improvement. Instead of expensive and for many unnecessary controls, the utilities got flexibility to choose the cheapest way of complying – which was mostly stopping the use of Senator Byrd’s high-sulfur coal. In particular, there was no real fight about how to decide what limit to apply to each utility, since they already were required to reduce their emissions.

Limits on carbon dioxide were new. There was no historical regulatory limit to refer to in allocating allowances. That turned the fight for allowances into a free-for-all. Not only were the actual sources of carbon dioxide fighting among themselves for allowances, but every other interest group with any hint of a claim to be doing something about global warming claimed a right to some as well.

Barbara Boxer let the cat out of the bag when she observed that the bill contained “hundreds of billions of dollars worth of allowances that Congress could allocate to deserving purposes” – such as re-election.

The second reason for failure is that cap and trade imposes a very visible cost on every form of energy. Translating from dollars per ton of carbon to dollars per gallon of gasoline or dollars per kilowatt hour of electricity is a matter of simple multiplication, and everyone involved made those calculations loudly and visibly. There were large disagreements about what the price of carbon would be, but there was no way to hide the fact that a cost there would be.

The entire history of environmental regulation, by means of regulatory agencies that impose specific emission limits on cars, trucks, powerplants, and industries, is one of concealing the cost of those regulations and convincing gullible voters that “business” is paying all the cost and consumers get a free ride. That is just about impossible with cap and trade, and even harder with a carbon tax.

The third reason is that the environmental movement did lose something in the years after Earth Day. Instead of concentrating on the environmental problems – clean air and water and endangered species – it became the voice for a whole range of inconsistent causes: ban nuclear power, mandate energy efficiency, promote renewable energy, use ethanol even if it is worse than gasoline, limit population, get rid of fossil fuels, punish the oil companies, and on and on. Just cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the most cost-effective way was no longer enough to satisfy the desires of the environmental left.

So, Representative Waxman’s first task in the House of Representatives was to see how much he could sweeten the deal for just enough Democrats to get the bill passed. He did this by distributing allowances to buy votes and adding regulatory measures and subsidies for favored industries and environmentalists varied causes.

So allowances were divvied up politically. Some were auctioned to provide revenues to be spent on politically-salient causes, of the rest electric utilities got the most, 15% were to be given to industries that could prove they were threatened by competitors in countries doing nothing about global warming, 10% went to states to spend on renewables and energy conservation, and other free allowances went to autos, efforts to capture and sequester carbon dioxide, and forestry programs.

Distributing allowances arbitrarily or politically does not alter the economic merits of cap and trade, as long as it is not done in a really dumb way, but it does have a great deal to do with political success or failure.

But this was not enough. Contrary to the New Yorker fantasy of a sell-out to the big business desire for cap and trade, the bill was bulked up to its 1400 or so pages by adding substantive provisions that environmentalists demanded in order to support cap and trade.

These included a requirement that utilities to meet a certain percentage of their load with electricity generated from renewable sources; like wind, biomass, solar, and geothermal, promotion of small-scale generation with extra allowances, taxing utilities in addition to cap and trade to create a carbon sequestration research fund, subsidizing specific CO2 reduction technologies singled out in the law, setting CO2 emission standards for coal-fired powerplants even though it would have no effect on total emissions, requiring utilities to support electric vehicles, mandating stricter building codes to reduce energy use, mandating tougher energy efficiency standards for lighting and consumer goods, requiring tighter fuel economy standards for cars, and setting industrial energy efficiency standards.

None of these provisions do anything to reduce emissions further than the cap and trade program would do on its own. To the extent that they do anything at all, they simply require that more costly ways of reducing emissions be substituted for the least cost ways that the price of allowances gives everyone an incentive to adopt.

The result was fine-tuned to pass the House of Representatives by a slim margin, but it then ran into the problem that there are two Houses of Congress, and Senators have very different constituencies and political debts than their House colleagues. There is no way to construct an explicit and effective piece of comprehensive legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions that give enough electorally significant benefits to a majority of both the House and the Senate.

That’s partly because the cost is explicit and now and the benefits are uncertain and far off. So there are very few members of Congress who care about dealing with global warming explicitly and effectively. If the Senate leadership had modified the House bill to attract a majority of Senators, the result would have been defeated when it went back to the House. That is the fundamental reason we do not have cap and trade. Few in Congress cared about global warming per se, and there were not enough favors to go around to buy their votes.

All the tears shed about failure to pass the Waxman bill flow from an inability to tell the difference between good and bad legislation. Claim that a bill will fix global warming and its passage becomes a moral imperative, no matter that the bill has become a monstrous collection of favors, duplicative regulations and bad ideas. Not to mention being utterly ineffective on a global scale, except in the fantasy world that has China, India and others being so impressed by our naive willingness to make futile gestures that they have a come to Jesus moment and reverse their strongly held policy of growth at all costs.

A true return to Earth Day would be for environmentalists to drop their overriding interests in social engineering and moralizing about ineffective solutions, and turn back to caring about the problem itself. They have the opportunity to do that now, by backing a simple carbon tax to fund completion of the tax reform agenda. We will see if they pass the test.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America,   David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

The Snake in the Internet Garden by David Montgomery

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A major purpose of a liberal education, harking back to Greece and Rome, was once to prepare the student for the duties of citizenship. I am reminded of this by a recent news report of new digital techniques for creating fake news, in this case by manipulating the image of a person’s face to make it talk and say the words that another is speaking. President Trump confessing to numerous made up love affairs, or Speaker Pelosi condemning Planned Parenthood, for example. The dangers that the reporter cited included national security, political dirty tricks and in particular deceptions in social media.

I have to confess that my reaction was that anyone who believes what they read in social media deserves to be deceived, and the more I considered it, the more I liked that thought.

It should be difficult to deceive a thoughtful person about anything that matters. Scam artists exploit the greed of their victims as much as their gullibility. Trolls exploit the prejudices and hatreds of their audiences. Bloggers and politicians trust the intellectual laziness of their listeners to get away with contradicting themselves and perpetuating falsehoods that could be checked by looking up a single citation. The anonymity of the internet tempts many to pretend to be something they are not, for innocent or not so innocent purposes.

On the demand side, supposed friends and co-workers believe accusations that they see quoted in blogs or news services. In the grand tradition of gossip, neighbors read and start to believe the most outrageous inventions about their neighbors and their children.

There is nothing new about vulnerability to deception. The serpent tricked Eve, Jacob deceived his father to obtain the blessing intended for his brother Esau, and Iago convinced Othello that his wife was unfaithful. It did not take digital image manipulations and the internet to create opportunities for liars and deceivers.

Technology may raise the stakes, allow more people to be deceived at once and require more vigilance, but the remedy is still the same: “Trust but verify.”

That is where we get back to liberal education. There was also a time when education served to build character, and also to recognize character in others. Learning to read fiction well fosters an ability to recognize what is in character and what is not in character for a person in a story. Indeed, a large part of the craft of an author is to create and communicate character in such a way that the reader is able to see and understand why the figures in the story act as they do. It also fosters a critical sense of “that’s not right, ” recognition that some story lines are simply out of character.

The ability to assess character should thus serve as a check on gossip and on false news. The sense that “that is not what he or she would say” is usually a good guide.

Of course, there are times in novels and in real life that someone does something out of character, either more noble or more base than those who knew them would expect. Here is where verify comes in. If no one verifies stories, the liars will win. Even a few who are willing to check, if they are themselves gatekeepers of information, may be sufficient to break the train of re-tweeted falsehoods. If the story stands up – eyewitnesses, documentary evidence, forensic examination – then the improbable may be true.

The character of the observer matters, too. One virtue that seems lacking in this time of instant communication is prudence – in this case, prudence takes the form of “think before you type.” It may not be the original deception that matters, but the extent to which a deception is accepted as truth and instantly re-tweeted, leading to the outcome that no later correction can possibly reach all those whose opinion of a person, product or institution was warped.

The greater harm may come from the imprudence of those who observe the deception and fail to verify before trusting and acting on an unexpected claim. This reaction could be to repeat a harmful falsehood, or fall prey to an offer that is too good to be true. Charity is another helpful virtue, not to believe the worst of someone or something that was trusted for good reason, until proofs are checked. So is Temperance, to avoid being taken in by something that appeals to greed or other vices.

Logic and rhetoric were also topics in the classical and liberal curriculum that appear to be greatly neglected today. According to Aristotle, there are 13 fallacies commonly used in rhetoric. Some involve deceptive use of language — Accent, Amphiboly, Equivocation, Composition, Division, and Figure of Speech, and others are arguments that appear valid but are not — Accident, Affirming the Consequent, In a Certain Respect and Simply, Ignorance of Refutation, Begging the Question, False Cause, and Many Questions. At a guess, 95% of what politicians and politically motivated commentators say falls in one of these 13 categories.

Aristotle pre-dates digital manipulation by a good 24 centuries, and his analysis of fallacies was motivated by the speakers and politicians of his day, who stood on pedestals in the center of cities and were heard and believed by all the citizens. Not quite as large a census, but still immediate and universal coverage.

His purpose, as should be the purpose of our educational system, was to produce students who could recognize instantly a fallacious argument and state for themselves a correct manner of reasoning. That skill is not developed by indoctrinating students in the political correctness of the day, or by suppressing disagreement and debate in the interest of creating safe spaces. “Trigger alerts” do not develop critical habits of mind or argument.

The greatest danger of digital manipulation appears to be for those who have come to depend on their internet sources of tweets, blogs, and discussion groups where no observation that might trigger them to think will ever appear. Trust in these social groups appears to have taken the place of critical thought and reflection. Internet communication becomes a true Garden of Eden for snowflakes, to mix an irresistible metaphor. Maybe a few bites of the snake in these gardens will lead to a healthy distrust – and even exploration of the world outside those who agree on everything.

If all else fails, the proliferation of technology for deception might just produce its own Darwinian remedy – the recognition that there are no safe spaces in the internet. If it is impossible to tell what is true or false in blogs or news channels or social media, their users will get the message and start to use more traditional methods of obtaining and verifying information. That would not be a bad thing.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America. David and his wife, Esther, live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

A Hero When One Is Needed by David Montgomery

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Heroes need to be recognized and celebrated, and in the middle of a seemingly unending cacophony of disheartening news, one more has appeared.

As I hope everyone reading this is aware, an officer in the French National Police sacrificed his life by taking the place of a hostage being held by an Islamic terrorist. His example of heroic virtue was uplifting. In contrast to Florida police who ran away from the threat to the children they were there to protect, he went unarmed into almost certain death to save just one.

The reports of Lt Col Beltrame’s “gallantry,” a wildly out of fashion term for a man’s character, reminded me of the greatness that the French can rise to. But most important to me, in a Europe that has largely forsaken its Christian faith and heritage, he was motivated, sustained and quite open about his Catholic faith and his love for France.

None of the major news outlets that described Lt Col Beltrame’s life and career – including CBS, CNN, BBC and the Washington Post — mentioned this. It was not for lack of information, because a mémoire written by his priest has been circulating in Catholic media and websites since the day he died. The story of Arnaud Beltrame’s life and death as told by his priest depicts a man who died “a witness of heroic charity.”

In an article in the Catholic Register, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia provided a translation of a public notice from The French Diocese of the Armed Forces. [I quote it here in full because of the difficulty of finding it in publications that most Spy readers are likely to see]:

ARNAUD BELTRAME: A heroic Christian officer who gave his life to save others. Testimony of a canon of the Abbey of Lagrasse (Aude), the day of his death, March 24, 2018.

“It is through the coincidence of a meeting during a visit to our abbey … that I got to know Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame and Marielle, whom he married, on Aug. 2, 2016. We [became friends] very quickly, and they asked me to prepare them for their religious wedding, that I was to celebrate near Vannes this year on June 9. We spent many hours working on the basics of married life for almost two years. I had just blessed their home on Dec. 16, and we were finalizing their canonical marriage record. The very beautiful declaration of intention of Arnaud reached me four days before his heroic death.

“This young couple regularly came to the abbey to participate in Masses, the Office and teaching sessions, especially for groups of couples, Notre-Dame de Cana. They were part of the Narbonne team. They were there again last Sunday.

“Intelligent, sporty, voluble and lively, Arnaud spoke readily of his conversion. Born into a family with little religious practice, he lived a genuine conversion around 2008, at almost 33 years old. He received his first Communion and confirmation after two years of catechumenate, in 2010.

“After a pilgrimage to Sainte-Anne-d’Auray in 2015, where he asked the Virgin Mary to meet the woman of his life, he became friends with Marielle, whose faith is deep and discreet. Their engagement was celebrated at the Breton Abbey of Timadeuc at Easter 2016.

“Devoted to the gendarmerie, he always had a passion for France, its greatness, its history and its Christian roots that he rediscovered with his conversion.

“By taking the place of hostages, he was probably animated by his commitment to an officer’s heroism [translated in another account as “gallantry”], because, for him, being a policeman meant protecting others. But he knew the incredible risk he was taking.

“He also knew the promise of a religious marriage he had made to Marielle, who is already his wife and loves him tenderly, of which I am a witness. So: Was he allowed to take such a risk? It seems to me that only his faith can explain the madness of this sacrifice which is today the admiration of all. He understood, as Jesus told us, that there is no greater love than to give one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). He knew that if his life belonged to Marielle, it also belonged to God, to France and to his brothers in danger of death. I believe that only a Christian faith animated by charity could ask for this superhuman sacrifice.

“I was able to join him at the hospital in Carcassonne around 9pm last night [March 23]. The gendarmes and the doctors and nurses opened the way with remarkable delicacy. He was alive but unconscious. I was able to give him [last rites] and the apostolic blessing on the threshold of death. Marielle took part in these beautiful liturgical formulas.

“… I asked the [medical staff] if he could have a Marian medal, that of the Rue du Bac de Paris, near him. A nurse attached it to his shoulder.

“Arnaud will never have children in the flesh. But his astonishing heroism will, I believe, inspire many imitators, ready to give themselves for France and for her Christian joy.”

There are many worthwhile lessons to be learned from Arnaud Beltrame, not least of which is how he and his wife accepted the sacramental nature of marriage. They were willing to take two years of instruction so as to understand fully what their marriage vows in the presence of God and his Church meant.

Archbishop Chaput commented along these lines that Beltrame “was a man who deliberately shaped and disciplined his own life until it became a habit, a reflex, to place the well-being of others before his own.” This description of Beltrame as a classically virtuous man would have been familiar to Aristotle, St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas, who saw that virtue is a habit of doing what is right that is gained through instruction and practice.

For most people today, “freedom” has come to mean the unconstrained ability make whatever choice they wish. Old conceptions of right and wrong and virtue, especially when asserted as moral absolutes, are condemned as limiting freedom and oppressing those who make contrary choices.

Lt Col Beltrame exercised the older concept of freedom. As George Weigl put it, paraphrasing the great moral theologian Servais Pinckaers, “Freedom … is a matter of gradually acquiring the capacity to choose the good and to do what we choose with perfection.” For example, one freedom that emerges from Catholic doctrine on marriage is that committing to a permanent condition of life with another makes it easier and easier to weather the episodes when every desire is to quit. But Lt Col. Beltrame cultivated virtues much greater than this homely one to which we can all aspire.

He chose the greatest love, to give up his life for another, and by all accounts that choice was no surprise to anyone who knew him.

The terrorist who killed Lt Col Beltrame had no such freedom. He chose to do what all great religions, with the exception of certain versions of Islam, and decent people condemn. He chose that which is always and everywhere wrong, to murder innocent victims. Not only was his action the evil opposite of Lt Col Beltrame’s, his “freedom” to choose that evil path was not true freedom, because it led only to harm for himself and others.

It is appropriate in this week when Christians remember the Passion of One who died that all might live, that we should honor not just Arnaud Beltrame but all those who have given their lives to protect another. The French gendarme exemplifies innumerable others — Saint Maximilian Kolbe, to whom he has been compared, the first responders who perished in the Twin Towers, the civilians on Flight 93, and all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, police and firefighters who have and will die to save others. It would be wonderful to know the stories of how each became able to choose to make that sacrifice, as we know that of Lt Col Beltrame. It is good to remember that those virtues still survive in our self-centered world.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

Tariffs: Trump’s Big Blunder by David Montgomery

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The decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports is a very bad one. Protection of U.S. industries from unfair competition has always been part of President Trump’s message. It is what worried me most about him as a candidate, but until now his approach has been to eliminate ways that government is holding U.S. industry back. Changing course and erecting tariff walls like this could destroy all the good he has done with those positive economic policies.

The losers from tariffs include everyone who uses the products subject to the tariff, or products made from them. In the case of steel and aluminum, that is everyone. Protectionism only benefits the small number of owners and possibly workers in the industries being protected and hurts everyone else.

The case for free trade is very simple. Everyone gains if the United States specializes in those goods that it is better at producing, and trades them for what others are better at producing. Tariffs cause us to produce things that we are not so good at, so that we end up with less in total.

Tariffs do this by erasing the difference between the price at which we can buy steel and aluminum on the world market and the price that U.S. steel and aluminum companies need to receive to remain profitable.

Industries want tariffs because it costs more to produce steel and aluminum here than it does to import it. That is why tariffs are bad policy. Homely examples are in this case quite accurate: I could cut my own grass, but if I spend the same amount of time doing something that I am very good at, I can earn enough to pay my lawn service and have a good bit left over.

Protectionism also harms all the U.S. industries that use the goods being protected. As the picture below shows, steel is required in all the major U.S. industries, and the same is true of aluminum. They are necessary to make the machines that produce everything from automobiles to paper, they are incorporated in all major appliances, we could not generate electricity or build structures without them.

The entire purpose of these tariffs is to raise prices so that steel and aluminum companies can make a profit and replace imports with domestic production. Sounds like a great idea. But the higher price of steel drives up the price of everything else that consumers use: housing because of higher construction costs, automobiles because manufacturing equipment and materials cost more, energy as power plants and pipelines become more expensive, military budgets are stretched further because guns, vehicles, ships, airplanes and structures cost more.

There are a number of phony arguments for protectionism: somebody (usually China) is not competing fairly, it will put Americans back to work, it will fix the trade deficit, and national security is threatened.

They not competing fairly, so we have to retaliate. This is the most common and legally defensible argument for tariffs – some other countries are selling goods to us for less than their cost to produce the goods. The more accurate form of this argument is – they are being stupid so we have to imitate them. If China insists on selling steel or aluminum to us for less than it costs them to make it, why not just let them give us that gift? We can put the resources that would be required to produce the same amount of iron and steel to work in more productive ways – like making things out of iron and steel that we can sell for a profit without government tariffs or subsidies.

It will put Americans back to work. There are many ways in which President Trump’s policies are doing this – regulatory reform that lowers labor costs and increases productivity, tax reform that restores incentives for investment, and reform of Obamacare that removes a big tax that employers must pay to hire workers. But tariffs and protectionism do not. They may preserve jobs for specific workers in specific industries, but at the expense of jobs for workers in other industries that no longer have access to imports and find their costs increased to levels at which they cannot compete. One study, by the Consuming Industries Trade Action Coalition (CITAC), concluded that President Bush’s steel tariff cost 200,000 workers in steel-consuming industries their jobs in 2002 because of higher steel prices.

It will fix the trade deficit. The trade deficit cannot be changed by tariffs. Right now, we are borrowing immense sums from other countries so that the government can spend more money than it brings in. Just like a family that borrows in order to spend more than it earns, borrowing from overseas lets the United States purchase more from abroad than it earns by selling goods abroad. That is, borrowing equals the difference between imports and exports, and that difference is known as the trade (or current account) deficit. Tariffs may change what we import (and export) but as long as we are borrowing immense sums from overseas, the trade deficit cannot go down.

It is necessary for national security. No doubt, China is subsidizing exports and driving American companies out of the steel, aluminum and other industries. That does not amount to a national security threat, any more than Asian countries producing our televisions. By giving these subsidies, China is building an economy that can only sustain itself by constant increases in government-led investment, to produce goods to be sold on foreign markets at prices that fall further and further below their costs to produce. That is not a strong economy.

Our consumers are attaining a higher standard of living than would be possible if China were not making these gifts. The Chinese people are getting less and less for themselves as their government pushes greater subsidies into export industries. The Chinese government brings its day of political reckoning closer and closer by limiting domestic consumption in order to continue expanding its white elephant industries.

Even if China can sustain this kind of growth for a while, we have no need of an industrial policy to defend ourselves in modern wars. There is little likelihood we will face another World War II where victory went to the country that could produce the most and best armaments. If we do need to mobilize again, imports of steel and aluminum are available from many friendly countries, and the technology and mineral resources remain here. The national security argument is nothing but a smoke screen for the traditional pleas of the metals industries for protection from a global market.

This is not the first time that the steel industry has cried for relief. In 1969, 1978 and 1984 and 2002 protection was extended to the steel industry by Presidents of different parties. Sometimes the economy moves in directions good for US metals, and the demand for protection fades. Then things change, imports rise and the plea for protection returns. Most recently this happened with the end of the recession, with construction and investment taking off and steel and aluminum imports growing. That made U.S. steel producers look for a way to get a bigger share of the growing market, and getting some help for the government was the easy solution. They are in essence asking for the same subsidies the Chinese give, but paid for by consumers who, of course, are the ones who suffer in China too.

Protectionism is the Achilles heel of populism, where the right-minded desire of ordinary people to reclaim their culture and economic opportunities is unprotected from the arrows of economic nonsense. The drop in the stock market is the predictable and reliable indicator of the overall damage that these tariffs will inflict on the entire economy. Republicans in Congress have to remind President Trump that these tariffs will harm the very people who elected him, and take action to end them if necessary. That is good politics and looking out for the common good.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

Firearms and Evil by David Montgomery

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School shootings are a moral problem, that cannot be solved by campaigning against firearms. These atrocities must be recognized for what they are – instances of evil that are becoming more common in our secular, individualistic society.

Instead of facing the problem of evil, elected officials and political activists are exploiting mass shootings to push for phony solutions that fit their social agendas. This should infuriate everyone sincerely concerned about the past, present and future victims – and perpetrators.

For example, a bill was introduced in the Maryland Senate (Senate Bill 1062) to criminalize the possession of magazines that allow a firearm to fire more than 10 rounds without reloading. It is already illegal to buy or sell such magazines in Maryland, even though they are readily available in other states and were legal before Governor O’Malley pushed that legislation through. As a result many recreational shooters and hunters already own magazines that hold more than 10 cartridges. They are compatible with a number of rifles and pistols that are legal to purchase in Maryland, and some that are legal to own but may no longer be sold here.

The proposed legislation would make current owners of such magazines subject to as much as 3 years in prison. That is a more disruptive form of gun control than ever before attempted in Maryland, and it would do nothing to prevent mass shootings.

Nibbling away at the Second Amendment is a cause that many progressives support, and setting a precedent for confiscation of parts of firearms from their current owners is high on their list of milestones. The Florida shooting appears to have given those activists an incentive to give it a try.

But criminalizing possession of high-capacity magazines in Maryland cannot possible reduce the likelihood or magnitude of mass shootings – let alone the other ways that evil men find to inflict harm on others. If a young man in Easton or Frederick or Bowie wanted to open fire on a school, it would take him less than two hours to drive to a state where purchase of higher-capacity magazines is perfectly legal. Intending to commit a crime of far greater proportions, he would hardly be deterred by the illegality of possessing it on his way to mass murder.

As many have already pointed out, existing law was quite sufficient to prohibit the Florida shooter from purchasing any firearm, if law enforcement had followed existing rules. That was also the case in many past shootings. But better enforcement and further tightening of restrictions on legal firearms purchases will have little effect as long as an even shorter drive puts a would-be shooter in a neighborhood full of illegal firearms for sale. As terrorist attacks in Europe demonstrate, cars and knives are also effective instruments for killing when firearms not available.

The introduction of bills like Senate Bill 1062 is an outrage not because of their potential effects on law-abiding gun owners, but because it will produce only wasted effort devoted to the wrong questions, no matter how it turns out.

That is because the evil that leads to school shootings is in the individual, and we can see how it arises. All the school shootings were perpetrated by loners, social outcasts, from broken homes, who were subverted by some evil ideology or philosophy. One writer points out that “Shooters have problems at school, family issues, violent behavior, and police encounters. They take medications, lack communication skills and show strange, unpredictable behavior. They indulge in violent video games and send disturbing messages through social media.”

These shooters did not become entranced with killing because they stumbled across a firearm; they searched out a firearm to carry out an evil intention fully formed without any reference to how it would be accomplished.

None of the mass murderers grew up going to church every Sunday with their parents. None had supportive families that showed their love, taught the difference between right and wrong, and brought their children up to believe in a higher power. None attended schools that included moral and spiritual development in their teaching, nor has there been a mass shooting at that type of school.

Those clamoring for action to prevent future mass shootings seem unable to recognize this. When they take a break from blaming firearms, the liberal media repeat that “the red flags were all there” to identify the Florida shooter, and then call for law enforcement to take preventative measures, advocate more social programs for disturbed youth, and demand tighter surveillance of social media. Unfortunately, all of those suggestions amount to looking for a very small needle in a very large haystack of disturbed youth who would be turned up by such profiling.

In all this, the fingerprint of liberal society becomes clear. The shooters are but one or two in a far larger number who fit the profile of an isolated and disturbed youth, yet most remain relatively harmless. All of them are nonetheless damaged by growing up without bonds of love or trust in anything good that is greater than themselves. Thus they become prey to the external evil of neo-Nazi and similar creeds and the internal evil of wishing for their own death accompanied by the deaths of others for whom they can feel no empathy.

Many of us see this as a logical consequence of liberal society. All around, liberalism is driving faith out of the public square and inculcating in its place a belief that nothing matters but an individual’s desires and feelings. Society is then not a community in which stable and permanent relationships (earthly and heavenly) give meaning to life but a place where isolated individuals pursue their own satisfaction.

For those children lacking a permanent community and belief in a power greater than themselves, the social group in school or neighborhood may seem a solution. But that simply makes the pain and isolation of being excluded from such an apparent source of meaning more intense. And exclusion does occur, because none of the members of the group see it as a community, but rather a playground for their own desires.

No wonder some succumb to a sense of loneliness so great that they only desire to kill and die. Firearms do not create that feeling, nor would some minor annoyances in obtaining firearms be sufficient to deter the very few who do become killers.

There are communities within this liberal realm of radical individualism that do provide the kind of upbringing and hope that give a child a reason to do good and avoid evil. They are almost all centered around churches, and despite all the attempts of liberalism to marginalize faith-based communities, they are saving their children from the evils of nihilism and despair. That is why it is worth continuing the battle to restore a core of faith to American democracy. And it is the only proven way to save as many as possible from the fate of the victims and the shooter in Florida.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

Sanctuary or Secession by David Montgomery

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Several commentators, including Ben Stein, have suggested that the Sanctuary Cities are repeating the Secession crisis that led directly into the Civil War.  There is an enlightening comparison to be made, but the facts need to be straight first.

The Sanctuary Cities are not yet at the stage of secession, their actions so far amount to an attempt at nullification.  Likewise, the states that have declared marijuana to be legal in defiance of Federal law appear to me to be attempting nullification.

The famous Nullification Crisis was prompted by South Carolina, but it was over a tariff not slavery.  It occurred during the administration of Andrew Jackson, a President almost as famous for his populism as Donald Trump.  The very protective Tariff of 1828 was enacted during the presidency of John Quincy Adams, and it was very unpopular in the South and parts of New England.  

The more radical opponents of the tariff in South Carolina began to advocate that the state declare the tariff null and void within its borders.  The compromise Tariff of 1832 provided insufficient relief, and in 1832 a state convention in South Carolina adopted an Ordinance of Nullification that declared both tariffs to be unconstitutional and unenforceable in South Carolina.  

Congress responded by passing the Force Bill, which authorized the President to use military forces against South Carolina, and a compromise tariff that was acceptable to South Carolina.

Leading up to the Civil War, it was actually the Northern States that practiced nullification.   In the aftermath of the Fugitive Slave Law, which declared the right of owners to capture escaped slaves anywhere, Pennsylvania and twelve other Northern states passed laws making it “a crime for any person to forcibly remove a black person from the state with the intention of keeping or selling him as a slave.”  The Supreme Court ruled against all these attempts at nullification by states.   Nevertheless, abolitionists defied the law by refusing to turn over escaped slaves and preventing their capture.

I have not yet read about a sanctuary city or state trying to clothe itself in the righteousness of abolition, but I expect it any day.  Where our ancestors overthrew slavery by nullifying laws that required them to return slaves, sanctuaries are determined to overthrow … what? … by nullifying laws that require illegal entrants to be detained and possibly deported.

So one question is, what are sanctuary cities trying to accomplish? If it is to prevent convicted criminals from being deported, that is a foolish obstruction of justice.  What claim does someone who violates the law after arriving in the U.S. have on a right to live here?  Those who have earned a chance are the dreamers who have respected the law and worked hard since being brought here, not the criminals among them.  If the purpose is to undermine enforcement of U.S. immigration laws and create open borders within the sanctuary jurisdictions, that is another and much more serious matter.

The next historical nullification attempt should give the Sanctuary Cities more pause about whom they emulate.  After the Supreme Court declared segregated schools unconstitutional in Brown vs Board of Education (1954), at least ten Southern states passed what amount to nullification measures and refused to follow the Brown decision.  

The Supreme Court explicitly rejected these attempts at nullification in 1958.  In a unanimous opinion, it held that Federal law “can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive or judicial officers nor nullified indirectly by them through evasive schemes…”

The first Nullification Crisis led to granting the President power to intervene with force to enforce laws that states claimed to nullify, and the states backed down.  The Supreme Court held that Brown vs Board of Education could not be nullified, and President Eisenhower sent the soldiers of the 101st Airborne to escort the Little Rock Nine into Central High School.  His action was violently condemned by the Democrats who then held sway in the South.

There is a great deal for Sanctuary Cities to learn from this.  

The first and last nullification crisis ended when the states backed down after President Jackson and President Eisenhower made it clear that they would use sufficient force to uphold the law.

The nullification practiced by abolitionists and endorsed by Northern States had a different outcome – it contributed to the confrontations that precipitated the Civil War.  The Declaration of Immediate Causes that South Carolina issued along with its secession ordinance in December 1860 stated that nullification attempts by the northern states were a cause of its action.  From there on, a series of confrontations led to an avoidable war in which 750,000 soldiers died on both sides.  Nullification inflamed tensions between slave and free states and made a gradual and peaceful abolition of slavery, such as Robert E. Lee and other slave and free state leaders tried to accomplish, impossible.

Thus I agree that there is an enlightening comparison between Sanctuary Cities and the secession crisis.  The Sanctuary Cities are turning the immigration debate into a confrontation between those who would nullify immigration laws and those who favor closing the borders and exporting them all, leaving no room for some compromise on legalizing the status of otherwise law-abiding and productive illegal entrants.   In this, they are just like the nullifying abolitionists whose moral fervor contributed to the disastrous outcome of the Secession Crisis and Orval Faubus who defied Federal law on desegregation.

Even I, firmly lodged in the middle group favoring some compromise, am outraged by sanctuary cities’ and states’ defiance of Federal law and willingness effectively to pardon convicted criminals and release them to continue their predation.  None of us want to face the choice between allowing that practice to continue and ending it by force.  One civil war was enough.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.

 

I am Going Out on a Limb by David Montgomery

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I am going out on a limb.  As I see it, people who idolize foulmouthed comics like Amy Schumer are having fainting spells over President Trump’s alleged comment about shithole countries. Outlets that happily quote obscene rants from Sarah Silverman put on their Victorian costumes and cover up the same words with **** when the President utters them.

Obscenities and profanity have become part of the common language of movies, cable TV and rap music blaring from rice rockets on the road.

If his critics use language just as crude as the President, what is the flap about?  I believe that what the President did is violate the diplomatic pretense that every country is as virtuous, well-governed and civilized as the Western democracies.  That may not be the behavior that some sensitive souls expect of the President, but it is a long overdue recognition of the fact that almost all the poor countries of the world are so because they are failed states, governed by violent thieves and riven with crime and corruption.  That is not a criticism of their people, almost all of whom are peaceful, Christian, desperately poor and deserving of a far better life.  It is a factual description of how they are governed and of the nature of the despots and elites that plunder and rule them.

Since even before Papa Doc Duvalier took over in 1957, Haiti has been governed by a sequence of corrupt rulers and their cronies.  Large parts of Mexico are no-go zones for Americans because of drug wars and crime and its economy has been hamstrung by cycles of socialist and xenophobic policies, not to mention persecution of the Catholic Church by anticlerical revolutionaries on a scale to rival ISIS.  Venezuela was driven from relative if unequally distributed prosperity to the brink of starvation by a socialist demagogue who destroyed its most important industry.   

Ecuador is ruled by a delusional demagogue.  Rwanda, Sudan, and the Congo are repeatedly riven with genocidal wars between tribes and ethnic groups.  Zimbabwe, the breadbasket of Africa when it was Southern Rhodesia, became unable to feed even its own people after decades of expropriation of white farmers and theft by Mugabe and his family.

Countries like Namibia and Botswana have improved their standard of living in almost miraculous fashion because they adopted the clean governments and economic freedoms that we expect in the West.

The Heritage Foundation annually publishes an Index of Economic Freedom that ranks countries in a number of dimensions of governance.  The countries that score lowest in these rankings are consistently found in the list of countries will lowest per capita incomes and lowest per capita income growth.   So why the official silence on this issue?

I believe that the silence furthers the agenda of international bureaucracies and is sustained by fear of appearing racist or xenophobic.  I spent two decades working with and criticizing the UN sponsored groups that develop forecasts of future greenhouse gas emissions.   These scenarios have to be adopted by other subsidiaries of the UN before they can be part of official pronouncements about future levels and impacts of climate change.  

In all these scenarios, the failed states of Africa, Latin America and Asia were assumed to have the fastest rates of economic growth of all countries, so that the point could be made that wealthier countries must give up fossil fuels immediately to make room for their poorer neighbors to grow into economic equality.  

Even when scenarios were admitted that did not assume all countries converge to equal levels of per capita GDP, the reason given for slow growth in poor countries was the Marxist fantasy that wealthy countries continue to exploit them.  No mention was made of internal failures of governance and institutions.

Rarely is it admitted that there is not a snowball’s chance in global warming hell of most currently-poor countries achieving rapid economic growth.  Pointing out in a UN workshop on emission scenarios that these countries are poor precisely because they are failed states run by oppressive dictators would lead to exactly the same reaction that greeted the President’s uncouth comment.  

Thus we have had exaggerated predictions of emissions growth based on the politically untouchable assumption that poor countries are all poised to take off into sustained growth. The underlying policy agenda as well as diplomatic courtesy was furthered by ignoring the fact that there are failed states unlikely to grow without fundamental institutional change.

More important than this minor aberration in UN forecasts, this pretense that the governments of poor countries are virtuous and accountable lies behind much of the failure of aid policy since WWII.  As Easterly and Collier amply document, aid policy toward developing countries has been a sham, in which donor agencies pretend that the funds they distribute through the corrupt governments of these countries are being put to good use, and the despots and thieves who run them pretend that the funds and supplies are being distributed to the poor when in fact they are lining the pockets of the ruling elites.

The rate of growth of per capita income in many of the poorest countries has been zero or negative in recent years, and those that did achieve sustained growth all did so by controlling violence and achieving a degree of political and economic freedom.  But the bureaucracies of foundations, government agencies that dole out aid, and the UN in particular have nothing to gain by requiring accountability.  Their metric is how much money they have sent out, not what change they have affected.  And that will not change until the fact that bad governments and failed institutions are the reasons for poverty is admitted.

So what is happening in U.S. policy that affects these countries in fact, not just in words?  Last week, Vice President Pence and Ambassador Haley broke the conspiracy of silence to demand that United Nations relief efforts recognize that Christian minorities being oppressed in these countries are as deserving as other recipients of UN aid, and USAID started moving funds and supplies to those communities directly.

Agencies like Catholic Relief Services, though they pursue some politically correct agendas of questionable value, recognize that the only way their help can be effective is if it is delivered directly at the community level, not through corrupt regional and national officials.  This approach is increasingly being adopted by privately-funded organizations working in poor countries.

But on top of this it is necessary for the international community to end its code of silence about the nature of failed states and the culpability of their rapacious rulers.  If President Trump’s words could lead to recognition that there really are failed states for which the description is accurate, they might lead to action that would actually do some good for the people suffering under those regimes.

A final reflection: if a citizen of Zimbabwe were to tell me that for all the faults of its leaders, he loves his beautiful country and cannot abide hearing it called a ****hole, I would apologize to him.  I am equally offended at what many say about my beloved country, and I am aware that Zimbabwe is a wonderful place to hunt and a very special place.  I would agree that the President’s alleged comment was a poor choice of words, and he should have talked about countries with ****head leaders and ****ty institutions that keep their people in poverty and desperate to come here.  

Still, the solution to oppressive regimes and failed institutions cannot be migration on a global scale.  It has to be making things better where people now live, and that requires a complete rethinking about how to be prudent and effective contributors to their betterment.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.