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Tearing down, building up


Tearing down, building up

On the political treadmill

John Bolton has served in each of the last Republican administrations, so his The Room Where It Happened (Simon & Schuster, 2020) provides valuable insights, even though he did bite the hand that fed him. Harry Truman once said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Bolton charges that Donald Trump accomplishes little because what he mostly cares about is getting the credit: “The differences between this presidency and previous ones I had served were stunning.” The bias of Goliath media is evident when day after day reporters-turned-pundits pile on about Trumpian egotism, mood swings, manipulation by flatterers, and lack of knowledge (plus laziness about getting it), but conservative Bolton says the same from his 453 days of personal observation. 

Yuval Levin’s A Time to Build (Basic, 2020) compares our current divides to those of the 1960s: He rightly concludes problems aren’t bigger but our problem-solving ability seems smaller. Levin shows how many local institutions that provided small-scale leadership opportunities have dried up, so people have “two options: give up the desire for recognition, or pursue recognition in the big pond—that is, pursue some kind of celebrity,” which means being known more not for what you accomplish but what you appear to be. Levin argues for recommitting to local institutions.

Underlying our political malaise is an academic one: Cynical Theories, by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, explains How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody (Pitchstone, 2020). In critical theory, group characteristics—not only race, sex, class, and religion, but gender identity, precise skin tone, body shape, and an enormous variety of sexual preferences—are supposed to be more important than individual personality, character, and ability. In 2002, when I was a syndicated columnist and spoke at a conference of opinion page editors, I learned that the editors emphasized less the quality of columns than their desire to check off a particular ethnic or sexual preference box. Of course, many of those editors are now unemployed.

Two 2020 scholarly books from Princeton University Press provide background for analyzing the contest between “Make America Great Again” and a different MAGA: Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Apple. David Stasavage’s The Decline and Rise of Democracy: A Global History From Antiquity to Today covers times “when technology undermined democracy.” In Outsourcing Empire: How Company-States Made the Modern World, Andrew Phillips and J.C. Sharman show how today’s big corporations don’t have big armies, but they influence our lives as much as big governments do. 


Missionaries and other Christians heading to Africa should get hold of two books by Christopher Ampadu, who teaches at Pentecost University in Accra, Ghana, and is West Africa director of the Samaritan Strategy. Eight years ago I was impressed as I watched Ampadu for a week teaching Ghanaians and visiting economic development projects, so I’m glad he’s gotten his teaching on paper in two books published in Ghana by SonLife, Africa Religiosity and Africa Development (2019) and Roots of Africa Problems (2020). Ampadu sees “root causes” for what they are, primarily spiritual rather than material.

Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds (Bloomsbury, 2019) shows how some LGBT, feminist, and racial theories have had troubling consequences. For example, “one precept not just of feminism but of any decent, civilized society is that men should not hit or beat up women.” The trans upsurge, though, means that in martial arts fighting “people who were born men are now regularly beating women to the ground.” —M.O.


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  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Tue, 09/22/2020 11:13 am

    It's good to know that John Bolton doesn't have a big ego and isn't concerned with getting credit for anything he does.