The Sarah Huckabee Sanders Incident A Sign Of Both Overpoliticization And Our Coarsening National Spirit
One thing I’ve come to realize over the years is that all people of fame, wealth, or power are, in the end, people too. Whether CEO or politician, actor or famed scientist, they go about their days like many of us do, experience the ups and downs, run errands, and eat.
A person of current public attention in the United States last Friday decided to eat dinner at a small restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. That person, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, was then informed by the owners of the establishment that she was to leave, as they would refuse to serve her because of her political work.
Just a few days prior a similar situation happened in Washington, D.C. as Secretary of Homeland Security Kristjen Nielsen was protested as she dined too. A few weeks ago Fox News Contributor Tomi Lahren also was heckled for her political beliefs, and even had a glass of water thrown at her, while she was out for food with her parents.
We live in a country that deeply embraces freedom of speech and with as contentious the issues as are currently in play in our policy discourse there are many opinions to be heard. Nonetheless, when we allow our politics to overflow from their proper channels to the broader society at large, only bad things can possibly happen.
The coarseness and hyperpolarization of our discourse is something that has been long discussed. However another increasingly worrying trend is the politicization of everything, from what we eat to what we wear, from the cars we drive to where we shop.
When that begins to spill over to our daily lives, and where confrontational protests, sometimes physical, become normalized and encouraged, it seems to create potential gain for short-term political priorities at risk of longer-term decay and radicalization.
Where true and major injustice exists, we should do what we can to push against it. Indeed, throughout history that is what those ranging from great patriots to ordinary citizens have done.
However the issues that currently fill our political discourse are not horrific terrors that merit such harsh reaction, but rather merely regular policy proposals that have been distorted to create over-excitement among our people.
No matter what is said, it is simply incomprehensible and blatantly disgraceful to compare the great injustices of the past worth all-out battling with debates such as business tax legislation and global trade policy.
If some radical partisans terrorize the other side for merely expressing differing policy opinions within still the grand umbrella of American republican and constitutional political philosophy, then how will our country ever be able to engage in serious civic discourse?
The natural logic of silencing differing views in such an authoritarian fashion is that eventually the range of acceptable viewpoints eventually becomes narrower and narrower, and soon we find that even expressing sensible alternatives or disagreement is met with similar force as to truly distasteful ideas.
In the process, not only are the policy and societal benefits of republican governance and democratic debate quelled, but the line between worthwhile alternatives and radical ideas blurred.
In my many years of work in politics and government I am aware that those radicals who disrupt and cause a ruckus are a tiny, tiny group in our large country – perhaps no more than even just 5%, combining them on both the far left and far right. They seem more prominent than they are because their disturbances create media attention and they try to garner the power of a small but skilled and precise force, but they lack even the remotest popular general support.
If the rest of the population is willing to simply shut out the social-media-mob leaders and professional protesters, we’ll realize they actually are infinitesimal in true number and gain their power only from fear and intimidation. They themselves may often be too lost to be worth our time, but for our society as a whole we can still fix ourselves of this scourge that has been corrupting our national spirit.
Earlier this month Google announced it would not be renewing its contract with the U.S. Department of Defense for Project Maven. Caving after thousands of employees signed a petition against the project and after initially standing by it, in doing so Google gave in to putting immediate self-interest above their call to serve the country.
Project Maven is an AI-imaging project intended to improve the military’s ability to process images and videos taken by drones. In doing so, drones will be better able to collect information, be more accurate, and thus reduce collateral damage from drone strikes significantly.
The technology may be controversial in some ways, but in the end it’s intended to both protect civilian lives and to support American national security. The technology will be eventually developed anyway, and given America’s reliance on drone technology and air superiority it remains essential for our country to have it developed early on.
Though there are many other top-notch technology companies working with the military, Google’s abandonment of the project after their contract expires in 2019 both hinders the immediate development of the project and creates larger negative cultural ripples.
As noted tech entrepreneur and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently described in a scathing op-ed, Google “bowed to pressure instead of standing up for our country…[it was] a defeat for U.S. national security, patriotism, and the cause of limiting civilian casualties in war.”
Google is at the same time engaging in numerous data-sharing partnerships with major Chinese technology corporations, which are all closely linked to the Chinese government.
The Chinese government has in recent years engaged in numerous technology attacks on the United States, such as the series of hacks on the federal government revealed in 2015 that the personal and security information of tens of millions of Americans.
It appears that Google is abandoning assisting America’s security and defense at the slightest blowback but has continued to assist one of America’s foremost rivals. Congress has not missed this questionable series of actions, recently engaging in bipartisan criticism and investigation of Google’s data relationships with China.
At a time when technology companies are facing general public and policy scrutiny over their data practices and platform content moderation, Google’s actions could barely come at a worse time for their general perception.
A major HarrisX survey in April found widespread interest in the United States for putting a variety of regulations on technology company practices. Google’s refusal to step up to providing for the country that has created and nurtured them to their roughly $800 billion market capitalization is outrageous, dishonorable, and despicable.
As attorney and political columnist Kurt Schlichter recently said on Fox Business in response to Google’s actions, “[e]very American should do everything they can to support our country’s defense...[w]hen your country calls, the only response is 'sir, yes sir'.”
We each have a lot to contribute in our own ways to the national good. Google, as a technology innovator in artificial intelligence, software, Internet services, and other frontier technologies could give our nation’s military and government a major boost in capabilities.
That Google does not choose to contribute to such an essential project they are especially suited for, and creating a climate that may make it more difficult for our nation’s military to better cooperate with technology companies, is a violation of their duty to this country.
In the meantime, there are many other technology companies intensely working for the public good and serving our nation’s government and military with devotion, including Microsoft, IBM, Amazon, Apple, Oracle, and many more. Amid all the criticism of technology companies, it is worth remembering the immense good they are creating and contributing towards as well.
Technology companies are still businesses, and they respond to market sentiment and pressures. It is my hope that Americans will step up and show technology companies that the blowback from a few is not comparable to the support of the many patriots of all stripes across this land, as the small part we can play.
It’s been a long time since a common rite of passage among our nation’s men was to put on a uniform and defend your nation, community, and family. Yet at a time of increasing hyperpolarization in our country, as well as the deteriorating state of our nation’s youth in mind, body, and soul, national military service may be an idea worth considering once again.
National service has been ever-present in our country’s history. From militias in the Revolutionary War era to the wartime drafts in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, to peacetime drafts through various parts of our nation’s past.
The legacy from those eras of conscription still remain in the form of the Selective Service system, which many of us remember being notified that we needed to register for upon reaching age 18.
The Selective Service system also has been the subject of debate in recent years, as many persons have considered whether women should register for it as well - such as during the 2016 Presidential election when Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton called for such.
Among other republics and democracies in the world national service is relatively common, from the nations of Europe to Africa, from the Middle East to Asia to South America. Conscription began falling out of favor since the end of the Cold War, as the general state of worry over military conflict faded.
Yet in recent years conscription has made a comeback. French President Macron has been trying to reintroduce military conscription in order to “foster patriotism and heal social divisions.” Norway recently expanded its military conscription in 2016 to include women, as Sweden has now re-introduced conscription as well.
Perhaps the most noted military conscription program is that of Israel, which requires all men and women to serve about two years in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), with few exceptions. While brought about by military necessity, it has also cultivated an Israeli citizenry that has the character, grit, and sense of duty to keep their nation thriving.
It used to be that way in America, as serving in the military was a relatively common experience. In 1980, veterans totaled 18% of adults in the United States. In contrast, by 2016 that number had fallen to 7%.
At a time when our nation is reeling from divisions along seemingly every line possible, it is worth considering a common and shared experience as national service to reconnect our country together. The benefits are very clear in other nations, as despite often no overt military conflict conscription still provides a variety of security and social benefits to the country.
Undoubtedly the implementation of a conscription program, not seen in our nation for almost half a century, would be difficult initially. Not only have the times and culture changed, but so has the very nature of our armed forces.
Our military nowadays is an extremely high-tech organization and finding how to best utilize the massive manpower from our almost 330 million person nation would require careful delineation.
Furthermore, many of our nation’s youth, estimated currently at 71% of those between the ages of 17 and 24, are grossly unfit for military service. Creating a new conscript category and integrating them usefully into the nation’s military would be challenging, but given how seemingly every other nation is able to do it effectively we undoubtedly can find a way to as well.
The idea of national service would undoubtedly require a significant period of pilot programs and testing. The idea has been proposed frequently in the national discourse throughout the years and particularly during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. It is a big, nation-changing policy that certainly, if it gets further traction and consideration, would be a serious national debate.
National service is a very realistic program that could do a lot in solving many of our nation’s otherwise seemingly unsolvable problems, as well as reigniting reflection on the meaning of citizenry in a republic.
I think it is worth considering at our present time, as, although it seems a big change, nonetheless could revive our American spirit and heal our nation in an extraordinary way.
Re-prints of some of my columns. NOTE: I ran a national weekly column from 2017 to 2018 printed/distributed by newspapers in dozens of states across the country. The 2017-2018 blogs in this section are re-prints of the national column.