June 13, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Liberals Are Not Mad Enough

The president implied that treason is OK.

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Editor’s note

Today’s Editorial Board goes out to everyone.

If you missed previous editions, now’s the time to subscribe!

Many thanks! —JS

I agree with Jonathan Bernstein. The Bloomberg columnist said today that the Republican Party must respond to the president’s disgraceful remarks on being receptive to a foreign nation’s interference in the 2020 presidential election.

More plainly, it must respond to his suggestion that treason is OK.

Donald Trump said via ABC News:

“I think you might want to listen, there isn’t anything wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent’—oh, I think I’d want to hear it. …

I’ll tell you what, I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do.

Oh, give me a break—life doesn’t work that way.

Bernstein called this “despicable,” adding it’s “really on the current Republicans who could do something about it.” He said: “As long as they’re all willing to join Trump in this kind of despicable behavior, there’s no reason to expect him to stop.”

Like I said, I agree. But I’d put equal onus or more on the shoulders of American liberals. For a variety of complex reasons, liberals—but especially white upper-middle class liberals—tend to be very cool and detached when it comes to issues like this, because they don’t want to appear as argle-bargle as Republicans typically are.

Liberals must rekindle and deepen their love of country for the sake of their country.

For many of today’s liberals, patriotism isn’t one of “the most ordinary emotions,” as George Orwell put it. They have been taught in good faith to take a critical (or even a suspicious) view of patriotism, because historically, patriotism has been as problematic as it has been ennobling. This was the case most recently when the George W. Bush administration equated any questioning of the “War on Terror” to treachery.

Such liberals have been taught to look beyond America’s borders toward creating a universal understanding of the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings, no matter where they are born. Citizenship in a nation-state is of secondary moral importance to membership in humanity. Perhaps above all, these liberals tend to believe that reason, evidence (data!), and logic are superior to passion. Passions trigger wars, liberals tend to believe. Aloofness is necessary to realizing world peace.

At the same time, many liberals tend to hold their country to ethical standards so high that when the United States inevitably disappoints them, they detach themselves emotionally even more than they are. The result can be, as philosopher Steven B. Smith once noted, “a morbidly self-hating form of disillusionment that can often lead to nihilistic fits of rage and contempt.” I’d add the following thesis: the dream of a classless politically neutral world society free of the conflict that comes with nationalist passions is itself helping drive a resurgence of nationalist passions.


By meeting amorality with its own.

Consider another of Smith’s many worthwhile points. He said the idea animating “transnational cosmopolitanism” is that “life itself, regardless of the kind of life one leads, is the highest and most absolute good.” Smith went on to say that:

such an ideal can lead only to moral decay, an inability or unwillingness to dedicate one’s life to ideals, to the relatively few things that matter and that give life wholeness and meaning. The cosmopolitan state would be a world in which nothing really matters, where there is nothing left worth struggling for (my italics).

Liberals don’t usually think of themselves as advancing “nihilism” and “moral decay,” but then, it isn’t the current Republicans, white nationalists or full-blown fascists who are posting playful and ironic gifs on social media saying that nothing matters, as if consigning themselves prematurely and willingly to a kind of postmodern hell.

In the run up to the Second World War, African-American intellectuals had a fierce debate over loyalty. Why should black people fight fascism abroad when they faced so much fascism at home? Out of that came a campaign that eventually prevailed. It was called the “Double V Campaign,” meaning victory in Europe and the United States.

We, as colored Americans, are determined to protect our country, our form of government, and the freedoms which we cherish for ourselves and the rest of the world. Therefore we have adopted the Double ‘V’ war cry—victory over our enemies at home and victory over our enemies on the battlefields abroad.

Thus in our fight for freedom we wage a two-pronged attack against our enslavers at home and those abroad who will enslave us.


If only today’s liberals expressed such patriotism.

This is not just a theory. In response to Trump’s openness to betraying his country, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said: “Disgraceful yet sadly par for the course for this president.” Cool. Detached. Liberals, as you can see, are not mad enough.

The most revealing thing about Trump’s comments, to me, was this:

“Life doesn’t work that way.”

How does life work? Simple.

The strong prey on the weak. That’s life.

Because the strong prey on the weak, the weak come up with all kinds of ways of protecting themselves from the strong—things like rules, norms and morality.

These are what the weak do, because they are weak. But the strong see through all that. They see the weak are pretending. They see the weak don’t really believe in all that stuff. Yeah, sure. Patriotism, I get it. But you know what? “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured? I like people that weren’t captured.” Calling the late John McCain a patriot, in other words, is a banner covering up weakness.

Indeed, the weak are hypocrites for saying they believe in morality. Not only that, the weak are devious. They know morality means nothing, but they demand the strong act morally anyway. It’s manipulation. It’s deceit. It’s getting the strong to betray themselves. Would Trump call the FBI if someone invited him to commit treason?

“Oh, give me a break.”

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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