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Gerson: Only the comfortable can retreat from the cause of justice


For some years, the main political project of the right has been to take control of the government while denigrating the government. Donald Trump drew this strategy to its logical conclusion during his presidential campaign, asserting as a kind of refrain: “Our politicians are stupid.”

Which came to mind following the revelation that chief of staff John Kelly had kept Rob Porter in a sensitive position (White House staff secretary) after being informed by the FBI that there was a protective order against him. As it came to mind when Michael Flynn was elevated to national security adviser following repeated FBI warnings that he might be compromised by the Russians. As it came to mind after the elevation of Anthony Scaramucci to, well, any position of public trust.

I have to admit that the Trump administration has acted with a certain consistency in these matters. Trump and his team accused the government of being corrupt—and have proved it beyond reasonable doubt. They alleged that the government was brimming with stupidity—and took it as a kind of recruiting challenge. Across the executive branch, it is a golden age for the unqualified and unfit. This is the natural outcome of contempt for professional experience, contempt for governing skill, contempt for government itself.

Democrats seeking to take control of the House and deny re-election to the president—along with the conservatives resisting Trump—will be sorely tempted to run with the theme: Trump and his political allies are stupid. This would be a variant of Trump’s strategy to win power by promoting contempt for those who hold power. It might lead to a shift in partisan control. It would do little to recover our national spirit. Someone—from left or right—must restore respect for the enterprise of governing as a source of national unity and moral aspiration.

Is this even remotely possible in our fractured republic? As a homework assignment, prospective leaders might read the speeches of Robert F. Kennedy. The late 1960s were a time not only of division but of political violence. Kennedy accurately described Americans as inhabiting different, unconnected islands.

His response? During his (tragically brief) presidential campaign, Kennedy urged Americans to look beyond mere economic measures of national success and to focus on cultural and spiritual excellence—on “the intelligence of our public debate,” on the “integrity of our public officials,” on our “courage,” “compassion” and “devotion to our country.” He challenged traditional ideological divisions, calling for a “better liberalism” that “knows the answer to all problems is not spending money” and a “better conservatism” that “recognizes the urgent need to bring opportunity to all citizens.” And he confronted a politics premised on conflict. “Some look for scapegoats,” Kennedy said. “Others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: Violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleaning of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.”

Kennedy talked of politics as the realm of urgency and necessity. At any given moment in a democracy, great issues of justice and morality are at stake. The claim that politics is dirty and irrelevant is an argument only comfortable people can make. If you were to live in a neighborhood plagued by poverty, dominated by gangs and served by failing schools, the effectiveness of government would matter greatly to you. Retreating from the cause of justice is only conceivable for those who have few needs for justice themselves.

Kennedy also talked of politics as the realm of nobility. At its best, government is about the right ordering of our lives together. It can’t be unimportant because justice is never unimportant. Political rhetoric and ideals can raise the moral sights of a nation and point men and women to responsibilities beyond the narrow bounds of self and family.

And Kennedy understood that criticizing the corruption and stupidity of those in power is not a politics sufficient to a great country. “We can perhaps remember,” he said, “if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life. ... Surely this bond of common fate, surely this bond of common goals, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at the least, to look around at those of us, of our fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”

Guest Views: Bracing for Islamic State’s westward migration

Declarations that Islamic State is on the verge of defeat keep piling up. During his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump said he was proud to report that “the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria.” In Iraq, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told his country in December that “we can announce the end of the war against (Islamic State).”

Territorially, Islamic State has been squashed. But the threat it poses remains all too real—and ominous.

The New York Times reports that thousands of Islamic State foreign fighters have been slipping out of the eastern Syrian battlefield and hiding in Damascus and other parts of northwest Syria. Many with European roots are paying smugglers to get them over the Syrian border into Turkey, which they hope to use as a conduit to return to their homelands in Western Europe. Some have training in chemical weapons and are staying in Syria to join al-Qaida’s branch in Syria.

Routed from its prized strongholds of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, Islamic State is now becoming what many militant groups morph into after their defeat on the battlefield—a guerrilla movement that emphasizes soft target attacks, using suicide bombings and ambushes to prey on places where civilians congregate.

Baghdad has been a prime target for those attacks. But few places in the world are immune. The wars in Syria and Iraq drew fighters from more than 120 countries. Thousands died in battle, but Western officials say it’s likely that thousands more escaped to their home countries. EU officials think as many as 1,500 militants have returned to their homes in Europe. There were also Americans fighting in Iraq and Syria, though how many were directly affiliated with Islamic State isn’t known.

Will some postwar militants give up the cause? Perhaps. But it would be foolish to think that many others wouldn’t bide their time, and wait for the right moment to inflict terror. Whether carried out by sleeper cells or lone wolves inspired by Islamic State propaganda, we’ve seen what that carnage looks like in London and Manchester, Paris and Nice and, in the U.S., Orlando and New York.

Turkey is a front line for preventing postwar militants from heading westward. Right now, however, Turkish forces are attacking Syrian Kurdish fighters that the U.S. wants at the Syrian-Turkish border as a firewall to Islamic State migration. The Trump administration so far has failed to get Ankara to stand down. Failure’s not an option, however. Islamic State militants slipping over the Syrian-Turkish border isn’t just a Turkish problem—it’s a threat to many Western nations.

For their part, European governments have improved cooperation between their intelligence and law enforcement agencies, following criticism in the wake of terror attacks in Paris and Brussels that such cooperation was lacking. Part of that cooperation involves European intelligence outfits feeding and checking new databases of suspected foreign fighters.

As more Islamic State militants seep out of Syria and Iraq and head westward, Europe, along with the U.S., will need to intensify that cooperation. There’s nothing wrong with feeling good about regaining the territory Islamic State had seized across Syria and Iraq. But it’s far too early to cast the militant group as defanged and defeated.

—Chicago Tribune

Letters to the editor for Saturday, Feb. 10

Davis has been dedicated to improving community

I am writing about Tuesday’s story, “Davis: ‘I have had my troubles’ (Page 3A). I have known Jason Davis for the last couple of years through his work with the African American Liaison Advisory Committee to the Janesville Police Department and through an organization he created called Rock County Cares. This group was created to “give” to students and community members in need school supplies, clothing and the like. The Milton School District has moved forward with creating space for this group to do their work. The organization is working to make an impact in other communities.

I know Jason to be a very respectful, honorable, caring and upfront person. He has shown interest in our community and now is interested in giving back even more by running for city council. I’m pleased to see him want to make a difference in our community.

Tuesday’s article was a disappointment. When do we leave the past in the past? I’m not judging his past and hope this article doesn’t hurt his future in this election. Consider what he is doing now for Rock County through Rock County Cares and the work he has done with the African American Liaison Advisory Committee.



Dreamers have made this nation a better place

I am very proud to say that I am very close to a Dreamer, so much so that his daughter calls me “Grandpa Dick.” I have gotten to know that community and the contributions they have made to this nation. To see the right wing, led by the president, going after these people is a national embarrassment.

I am a Vietnam veteran, and I did not fight for this nation only to see it fall into the kind of anti-immigrant bigotry and hate that the Nazi’s ushered into Germany in the 1930s. To be clear, I do not think that we can just open our borders and let everybody come in. However, these people are here, and they are contributing. When they crossed our borders, people on the political left looked the other way out of sympathy for their conditions back home, and people on the political right looked the other way because their business interests wanted the cheap labor.

Now pathetic politicians led by our president are playing on people’s fears and their bigotry for political advantage. In my opinion, these people are no longer guests but are part of us. I want to thank them for bringing us their culture and exposing us to it. I believe we are a better nation because of it.


Fort Atkinson

Screnock the only conservative in Supreme Court race

Judge Michael Screnock in my opinion is the only conservative judge on the Feb. 20 spring primary ballot.

It is my understanding one of the other candidates is talking in the media about how they would rule on cases that haven’t been presented before them. Is that blind justice or political activism and legislating from the bench? That is not what I want from our judges.

It is also my impression from the ads I’ve seen on TV by the third candidate that they appear to be accusing the president of the United States of violating our human rights. Again, making actual or veiled accusations about elected officials—is that what the judiciary is about now?

Screnock is currently on the circuit court bench in Sauk County, and every indication I’ve seen or heard shows he abides by the rule of law!

President Trump did his job in nominating Justice Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. Now we the people of Wisconsin have to do our job and elect Screnock to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Republicans lost the 10th Senate District a few weeks ago mainly because of low conservative voter turnout. State Supreme Court justices are elected for a 10-year term. Are you willing to forfeit your vote that will last at least 10 years?

I’m voting for Michael Screnock for Wisconsin Supreme Court on Feb. 20 and again on April 3 in the spring election.