Time to reverse course: America is being corrupted by its own power

On April 15, the US, in conjunction with the UK and France, deployed 105 weapons against targets within Syria that the US government claims were part of the Syrian government's chemical weapons program. The stated objective of these strikes was to impede future Syrian chemical weapons capabilities and send a signal to the Syrian regime that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. Even though this strike is practically ancient history now, thanks to the warp speed of our news cycles, the way in which an act of war has been so quickly replaced in the news reflects on the unserious and frivolous attitude with which Americans approach our wars.

Despite the shock and awe of the missile strikes, the entire premise of the US involvement in the Syrian Civil is rather unclear. The Syrian government is widely recognized as winning the war, and even if it were to somehow be defeated it would be inevitable that the myriad of rebel groups would simply continue the war amongst themselves. This leaves few if any options for constructive US intervention into the conflict, a reality recognized by even hardcore advocates of US intervention abroad. After the airstrikes, Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former Obama State Department official and well-known interventionist tweeted, “I believe that the US, UK, & France did the right thing by striking Syria over chemical weapons. It will not stop the war nor save the Syrian people from many other horrors. It is illegal under international law. But it at least draws a line somewhere & says enough."

The United States is able to engage in frivolous bombing that its own supporters say is symbolic and meaningless on a practical level because it is so secure and powerful. Our military might and power projection capabilities exceeded by several orders of magnitude any other power on earth. Our neighbors in the Western hemisphere are all weak, and to the east and the west, we are protected by vast moats in the form of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that no other state has the power projection capability to cross in force. Combined with our large population and productive economy, the United States does not face any external existential threats.

While such security is obviously beneficial, it is both a blessing and a curse as it effectively removes many of the practical effects that check the exercise of American military might. America can go and wreak chaos and destruction in its wake across the Middle East in places like Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria, and not suffer many large immediate consequences in return. There is, of course, the danger of terrorist blowback, but the risk of dying from a terror attack in the US is astronomically low (Cato's Alex Nawrasteh reports that there is only a .00003 percent chance of being killed by a foreign-born terrorist in the US). Millions of refugees and displaced people fleeing from chaos are not crossing the Atlantic Ocean, they are crossing the Mediterranean and disrupting Europe, not America. Aside from tangling with Russia and China in a serious way, the US is pretty much free to do what it wishes around the world and need not fear much in the way of immediate consequences.

Attempts to remake the rest of the world by force of arms have unfortunately not dampened the enthusiasm for trying again and again.

Unchecked power corrupts, and unfortunately, America has fallen into this trap on numerous occasions due to the moralizing and crusading nature that has taken hold of both our domestic and foreign affairs over the course of the past century. In his 1988 book The Present Age, sociologist Robert Nisbet captures this attitude well, saying that “ever since Wilson, with only the rarest exceptions, American foreign policy has been tuned not to national interest, but to national morality."

If one starts with the premise that the United States is a “shining city upon a hill," it is not a huge leap to the idea that the US should sally forth to bring enlightenment to the benighted peoples of the world. What changed around the turn of the 20th century was the realization that, unlike before, America now had the might to undertake such a crusade, the first such foray being the entrance into the First World War --- with the lofty goal of ending war altogether! The abject failure of that goal and all other attempts to remake the rest of the world by force of arms have unfortunately not dampened the enthusiasm for trying again and again.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien gives us a clear exposition of the mind affected by power in the form of Saruman of Many Colors. Saruman began with good intentions, as nearly everyone in the world does, but along the way fell prey to what Eric Voegelin calls the libido dominandi, or the will to power. “We must have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see," Saruman tells Gandalf. The advocates of intervention who favor perpetual US meddling abroad clearly consider themselves to be ordering all things for the good that only we here in the US can see. In the words of Madeline Albright “if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future."

Americans must develop internal checks in the form of restraint and self-discipline.

Unfortunately, the exercise of such unchecked power will inevitably lead the US down the path of its own destruction. We may not face any external existential threats, but we face an enormous existential threat in the form of ourselves. Our national debt is through the roof, thanks in no small part to the price tag on our crusading ventures, and even higher than that when factoring in the unfunded liabilities stemming from the welfare state. The Watson Institute at Brown University calculates that America has spent over $5.6 trillion on its wars since 2001. By 2056 they estimate this spending will have accumulated an additional $7.9 trillion in costs via interest on the debt accumulated to fund these wars. Such a fiscal situation is not sustainable forever.

Beyond the bleak monetary situation, America is plagued by a fraying and weak social fabric comprised of atomized individuals and an absolutist strain in our politics which incentivizes more and more heated conflict over control of the federal government --- both conditions which Nisbet considers to be consequences of American militarism. As Nisbet and many others have explained, war leads to a centralization of state power and control that does not decrease when the war is over. Now that our wars are seemingly never-ending, the slightest role back of the surveillance state and other war-time measures seems out of sight. With this wartime centralization comes the decay of the rest of society, as more and more of social life becomes centered around the government, as opposed to the historical situation in which various non-state institutions, most notably family and religion, were separate poles of power within society. In Nisbet's words “threads are loosened by the tightening of power at the center." If such centralization does not stop, our social fabric may eventually simply tear asunder.

Facing no external checks, Americans must develop internal checks in the form of restraint and self-discipline, if we are to steward our power wisely and prevent our indiscretions from bringing about our own downfall.

Zachary Yost is a Young Voices advocate and a freelance writer and researcher. Follow him on Twitter @ZacharyYost.

Ryan: Bernie at the disco

Photo by Sean Ryan

Saturday at El Malecón, we waited for the Democratic socialist. He had the wild white hair like a monk and the thick glasses and the booming voice full of hacks and no niceties.

Photo by Sean Ryan

The venue had been redecorated since we visited a few nights before when we chatted with Castro. It didn't even feel like the same place. No bouncy castle this time.

Photo by Sean Ryan

A black curtain blocked the stage, giving the room a much-needed depth.

Behind the podium, two rows of mostly young people, all holding Bernie signs, all so diverse and picturesque and strategic.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Lots of empty seats. Poor showing of Bernie fans for a Saturday afternoon. At one point, someone from Bernie's staff offered us seats in the audience, as if eager to fill up those seats however possible.

There were about 75 people in the dancehall, a place built for reunions and weddings and all those other festivities. But for a few hours on Saturday, August 10, 2019, it turned serious and wild for "Unidos Con Bernie."

Photo by Sean Ryan

People had been murmuring about Sanders' speech from the night before at Wing Ding. By all appearances, he had developed a raving lust to overthrow Trump. He had even promised, with his wife just out of view, that, were he elected, he'd end white nationalism in America. For good.

El Malecón lacked its previous air of celebration. It had undertaken a brooding yet defiant spirit. Media were sparse. Four cameras faced the podium. Three photographers, one of whom had been at nearly all the same events as us. A few of the staffers frowned at an empty row of chairs, because there weren't that many chairs to begin with.

At the entrance, Bernie staff handed out headsets that translated English to Spanish or Spanish to English, depending on who the speaker was. The translators stood behind the bar, 20 feet from the podium, and spoke into a lip-ribbon microphone.

Bernie's staff was probably the coolest, by far. As in, they looked cool and acted stylishly. Jeans. Sandals. Careworn blazers. Tattoos. One lad had a black Levi's shirt with lush crimson roses even though he wasn't a cowboy or a ranch-hand. Mustaches. Quirky hats. A plain green sundress. Some of them wore glasses, big clunking frames.

Photo by Sean Ryan

The outfits were distinctly Bernie. As Bernie as the tie-dyed "BERNIE" shirts for sale outside the club. Or later, at the Hilton, like a Grateful Dead cassette stand.

Immigration was the theme, and everyone in the audience bore some proof of a journey. Because America offers life, freedom, and hope.

Sanders' own father emigrated from Poland to America at 17, a high school dropout who could barely speak English. As a Jew, he'd faced religious persecution.

Within one generation, Bernie Sanders' father contributed to the highest stratum of American society. In one generation, near hopelessness had transformed into Democracy, his son a congressman with a serious chance at the presidency.

Photo by Sean Ryan

That's the beauty of America. Come here broken and empty and gutted and voiceless. And, within your lifetime, you can mend yourself then become a pillar of society. Then, your son can become the President of the United States of America!

Four people gave speeches before Sanders. They took their time, excited and nervous. They putzed. Because how often do you get to introduce a presidential frontrunner?

All the native English speakers jammed their earpieces when the woman with the kind and dark energy took the stage.

Photo by Sean Ryan

She mumbled in Spanish and did not look up and said that, when her parents died, she couldn't go home for the funeral. She fought back tears. She swallowed hard to shock herself calm. And the room engulfed each silence between every word.

It felt more like a therapy session than a political rally. A grueling therapy session at that. Was that what drew people to Bernie Sanders, that deep anguish? That brisk hope? Or, rather, the cessation of it, through Sanders? And, of course, the resultant freedom? Was it what gave Sanders a saintlike ability to lead people into the realm of the confessional? Did he have enough strength to lead a revolution?

Photo by Sean Ryan

While other frontrunners hocked out money for appearances, like the studio lights, Sanders spent money on translators and ear-pieces. The impression I got was that he would gladly speak anywhere. To anyone. He had the transitory energy you can capture in the writings of Gandhi.

Photo by Sean Ryan

I'm not saying he's right or wrong — I will never make that claim, about any of the candidates, because that's not the point of this, not the point of journalism, amen — what I'm saying is he has the brutal energy of someone who can take the subway after a soiree or rant about life by a tractor or chuck it up with Sarah Silverman, surrounded wherever he goes.

Without the slightest fanfare, Sanders emerged from behind the black curtain. The woman at the podium gasped a little. The room suctioned forward when he entered. In part because he was so nonchalant. And, again. That magnetism to a room when a famous or powerful or charming person enters. Not many people have it. Not many can keep it. Even fewer know how to brace it, to cull it on demand. But several of the candidates did. One or two even had something greater.

Photo by Sean Ryan

I'll only say that Bernie had it with a bohemian fervor, like he was a monk stranded in a big city that he slowly brings to God.

"We have a President who, for the first time in my lifetime, who is a President who is a racist," he shouted. "Who is a xenophobe and anti-immigrant. Who is a sexist. Who is a religious bigot. And who, is a homophobe. And, what is very disappointing is that, when we have a President, we do not necessarily expect to agree with him, or her, on every issue. But we do believe that one of the obligations is to bring people to-geth-ah. As Americans."

Photo by Sean Ryan

After listening silently for several minutes, the audience clapped. Their sweet response felt cultish. But, then again, what doesn't feel cultish these days? So this was cultish like memes are cultish, in a striving-to-understand kind of way.

"The essence of our campaign is in fact to bring people together," he said. "Whether they're black, or white, or latino, or Native American, or Asian-American. We understand that we are Americans."

At times, this meant sharing a common humanity. Others, it had a slightly more disruptive feel. Which worked. Sometimes all we want is revolution. To be wild without recourse. To overthrow. To pass through the constraints of each day. To survive. The kind of rowdy stuff that makes for good poetry but destroys credit lines. Sanders radiated with this intensity, like a reclusive philosopher returning to society, from his cave to homes and beds and fences and maybe electricity.

Photo by Sean Ryan

But, as he says, his revolution would involve healthcare and wages and tuition, not beheadings and purges and starvation.

Seeing the Presidential candidates improvise was amazing. They did it constantly. They would turn any of their beliefs into a universal statement. And Sanders did this without trying. So he avoided doing the unbearably arrogant thing of pretending to speak like a native Guatemalan, and he looked at the group of people, and he mumbled in his cloudy accent:

"My Spanish — is not so good."

Photo by Sean Ryan

This is the same and the opposite of President Trump's Everyman way of speaking English like an American. Of speaking American.

Often, you know what Sanders will say next. You can feel it. And, anytime this happened, it brought comfort to the room.

Like, it surprised no one when he said that he would reinstate DACA on his first day in office. It still drew applause.

But other times, he expressed wild ideas with poetic clarity. And his conclusions arrived at unusual junctures. Not just in comparison to Republicans. To all of them. Bernie was the Tupac of the 2020 election. And, to him, President Trump was Suge Knight, the evil force behind it all.

"Donald Trump is an idiot," he shouted.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Everybody loved that. Everybody clapped and whooped and some even whistled like they were outside and not in a linoleum-floor dancehall.

"Go get 'em, Bernie," someone in the back shouted.

This was the only Sanders appearance with no protestors.

"Let me say this about the border," he shouted. And everybody listened to every thunking syllable. He probably could have spoken without a mic. Booming voice. Loud and clear. Huddling into that heavy Vermont slug accent.

They'll say many many things about Bernie. One being, you never had to lean forward to hear him. In person, even more so. He's less frail. More dynamic.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Despite the shoddiness of the venue, there was a sign language interpreter. Most of the rallies had a designated interpreter.

"If you work 40 hours a week you shouldn't be living in poverty," he shouted, provoking chants and applause from the audience, as if he were talking about them. Maybe he was.

An anecdote about the people at an emergency food shelf blended into the livable wage of $15 an hour. He shifted into his spiel about tuition-free college and pointed at the audience, "You're not doing well," then at the kids behind him, "they are." He craned his head sideways and back. "Do your homework," he told said.

Laughter.

Half of the kids looked like they hadn't eaten in days. Maybe it was their unusual situation, a few feet from Bernie Sanders at a stucco community center.

Before the room could settle, Sanders wove through a plan for how to cancel debt.

Did he have a solution?

Tax Wall Street, he shouted.

Photo by Sean Ryan

And he made it sound easy. "Uno dos trey," he said. "That's my Spanish for today."

A serious man, he shoved through his speech like a tank hurtling into dense jungle. He avoided many of the typical politician gimmicks. Proof that he did not practice every expression in front of a mirror. That he did not hide his accent. That he did not preen his hair. That he did not smile for a precise amount of time, depending on the audience. That he did not pretend to laugh.

Photo by Sean Ryan

He laughed when humor overtook him. But it was genuine. With none of the throaty recoil you hear in forced laughter.

"I want everyone to take a deep breath," he said. And a palpable lightness spread through the room, because a deep breath can solve a lot of problems.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Then he roused some more. "Healthcare is a human right," he shouted. "A human privilege," he shouted. He told them that he lives 50 miles from the Canadian border in Burlington, Vermont, and healthcare works better up north.

Each candidate had a bad word, and Sanders' was "corporate."

Photo by Sean Ryan

At every speech, he mentioned "corporate media" with the same distrust and unpleasantness that conservatives derive from the term "mainstream media." Another would be "fake news," as popularized by Sanders' sworn enemy. Either way it's the same media. Just different motivations that irk different people.

But the discrepancies varied. Meaning two opposing political movements disliked the same thing, but for opposite reasons.
It sounded odd, Sanders' accusation that the media were against him. The media love Bernie. I can confirm this both anecdotally and judiciously. Yes, okay, in 2016, the media appeared to have sided with Hillary Clinton. As a result, Sanders was publicly humiliated. Because Clinton took a mafioso approach to dealing with opponents, and Sanders was her only roadblock.

Imagine if a major political organization devoted part of each day to agitating your downfall. And then you fail. And who's fault is it?

Sanders wanted to know: those negative ads targeting him, who paid for them?

Photo by Sean Ryan

Corporations, of course. Corporations that hated radicals like him. And really was he so radical? He listed off the possibilities: Big pharma, insurance companies, oil companies.

Because he had become a revolutionary, to them. To many.

He said it with certainty, although he often didn't have to say it at all. This spirit of rebellion had become his brand. He would lead the wild Americans into a utopia.

But just as quickly, he would attack. Trump, as always, was the target.

He called Trump the worst president in American history.

"The fates are Yuge," he shouted.

The speech ended as informally as it had begun. And Sanders' trance over the audience evaporated, replaced by that suction energy. Everyone rushed closer and closer to the man as Neil Young's "Keep on Rockin in the Free World" blared. Sanders leaned into the podium and said, "If anyone wants to form a line, we can do some selfies."

Photo by Sean Ryan

It was like meeting Jesus for some of the people.

There he was, at El Malecón. No stage lights, no makeup, no stylist behind the curtain. Just him and his ideas and his erratic hand commotion.

Then a man holding a baby leaned in for a photo. He and Sanders chatted. And, I kid you not, the whole time the baby is staring at Bernie Sanders like he's the image of God, looking right up at him, with this glow, this understanding.

Bernie, if you're reading this, I'd like to suggest that — if this election doesn't work for you — you could be the next Pope.

New installments come Mondays and Thursdays. Check out my Twitter. Email me at kryan@blazemedia.com

On the "Glenn Beck Radio Program" Monday, Harvard Law professor and lawyer on President Donald Trump's impeachment defense team Alan Dershowitz explains the history of impeachment and its process, why the framers did not include abuse of power as criteria for a Constitutional impeachment, why the Democrats are framing their case the way they are, and what to look for in the upcoming Senate trial.

Dershowitz argued that "abuse of power" -- one of two articles of impeachment against Trump approved by House Democrats last month -- is not an impeachable act.

"There are two articles of impeachment. The second is 'obstruction of Congress.' That's just a false accusation," said Dershowitz. "But they also charge him, in the Ukraine matter, with abuse of power. But abuse of power was discussed by the framers (of the U.S. Constitution) ... the framers refused to include abuse of power because it was too broad, too open-ended.

"In the words of James Madison, the father of our Constitution, it would lead presidents to serve at the will of Congress. And that's exactly what the framers didn't want, which is why they were very specific and said a president can be impeached only for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors," he added.

"What's alleged against President Trump is not criminal," added Dershowitz. "If they had criminal issues to allege, you can be sure they would have done it. If they could establish bribery or treason, they would have done it already. But they didn't do it. They instead used this concept of abuse of power, which is so broad and general ... any president could be charged with it."

Watch the video below to hear more details:



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On Friday's radio program, Bill O'Reilly joins Glenn Beck discuss the possible outcomes for the Democrats in 2020.

Why are former President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama working overtime to convince Americans they're more moderate than most of the far-left Democratic presidential candidates? Is there a chance of a Michelle Obama vs. Donald Trump race this fall?

O'Reilly surmised that a post-primary nomination would probably be more of a "Bloomberg play." He said Michael Bloomberg might actually stand a chance at the Democratic nomination if there is a brokered convention, as many Democratic leaders are fearfully anticipating.

"Bloomberg knows he doesn't really have a chance to get enough delegates to win," O'Reilly said. "He's doing two things: If there's a brokered convention, there he is. And even if there is a nominee, it will probably be Biden, and Biden will give [him] Secretary of State or Secretary of Treasury. That's what Bloomberg wants."

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On the "Glenn Beck Radio Program" Friday, award-winning investigative reporter John Solomon, a central figure in the impeachment proceedings, explained his newly filed lawsuit, which seeks the records of contact between Ukraine prosecutors and the U.S. Embassy officials in Kiev during the 2016 election.

The records would provide valuable information on what really happened in Ukraine, including what then-Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter were doing with Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings, Solomon explained.

The documents, which the State Department has withheld thus far despite repeated requests for release by Solomon, would likely shed light on the alleged corruption that President Donald Trump requested to be investigated during his phone call with the president of Ukraine last year.

With the help of Southeastern Legal Foundation, Solomon's lawsuit seeks to compel the State Department to release the critical records. Once released, the records are expected to reveal, once and for all, exactly why President Trump wanted to investigate the dealings in Ukraine, and finally expose the side of the story that Democrats are trying to hide in their push for impeachment.

"It's been a one-sided story so far, just like the beginning of the Russia collusion story, right? Everybody was certain on Jan. 9 of 2017 that the Christopher Steele dossier was gospel. And our president was an agent of Russia. Three years later, we learned that all of that turned out to be bunk, " Solomon said.

"The most important thing about politics, and about investigations, is that there are two sides to a story. There are two pieces of evidence. And right now, we've only seen one side of it," he continued. "I think we'll learn a lot about what the intelligence community, what the economic and Treasury Department community was telling the president. And I bet the story was way more complicated than the narrative that [House Intelligence Committee Chairman] Adam Schiff [D-Calif.] has woven so far."

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