The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

James Mattis Gives the Country a Warning

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis in Washington, D.C., October 23, 2018 (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A warning from former secretary of defense James Mattis about what really threatens our country; House Democrats conclude that what the country really needs right now is high-profile hearings about the payments to Stormy Daniels; and Bill de Blasio loses interest in his day job.

‘Tribalism Must Not be Allowed to Destroy Our Experiment.’

In his new autobiography, former secretary of defense James Mattis writes:

What concerns me most as a military man is not our external adversaries; it is our internal divisiveness… We are dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions. All Americans need to recognize that our democracy is an experiment and one that can be reversed. Tribalism must not be allowed to destroy our experiment.

I’m close to finishing the first draft of the second thriller novel, thinking through the theme, as well as heroes, villains, chases, explosions, and all that good stuff. One of the themes that’s emerging is how few Americans recognize that peace, prosperity, freedom, and relative social harmony are really glaring outliers in human history* — and how many Americans think that peace, prosperity, freedom, and relative social harmony are “normal” — and that no matter what goes wrong, no matter how many bad decisions we make, our lives will always bounce back to what we think is normal. We don’t realize how good we have it, even in the bad times, and we don’t realize that we can lose it all if we don’t tackle our challenges responsibly.

History isn’t just full of massacres; it’s full of massacres that most Americans never heard of during their educations.

The massacre of the Herero and Namaquain German South West Africa of 1904, — 30,000 to 110,000 people were killed. The Holodomor in Ukraine of 1932 — 3.3 million to 7 million killed in a manmade famine; and the concurrent Kazakh genocide, when another 1.5 million to 3 million were killed. Nanking, China, 1937 — anywhere from 30,000 to 300,000 killed. The Parsley Massacre in the Dominican Republic, 1937 — up to 35,000 killed.

This isn’t just long-ago history, either. Mass killings in Indonesia in 1965, 500,000 to 3 million dead. The Nigerian Civil War — 100,000 killed, and up to 2 million more were killed from starvation. The Bangladesh genocide in 1971 — between 300,000 and 3 million killed. The Red Terror in Ethiopia in 1976 — up to 500,000 killed. The Cambodian genocide in the late 1970s — 1.3 million to 3 million killed. Somalia of 1987 — an estimated 200,000 killed.

Did I say not just ancient history? I meant really recent. Forty-five worshippers killed by the Red Mask paramilitary group in Chiapas, Mexico, 1997. Anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 killed in riots in Gujarat, India, 2002. Several hundred to 1,500 killed in Andijan, Uzbekistan in 2005. About 3,000 massacred in South Sudan, 2012. During the Syrian Civil War, forces loyal to Bashir Assad summarily executed 108 people — half children! — in Houla, Syria, in 2012.

But we don’t have to look to foreign shores to find horrors and monstrosities. The Bear River massacre of 1863; a mob of about 500 people conducted mass lynchings in Los Angeles’s Chinatown in 1871. Maybe you’ve heard a bit more about the Red Summer of 1919 or the Tulsa race riot of 1921; and the destruction of Rosewood, Fla. in 1923.  In 1979, in Greensboro, N.C., the Communist Worker’s Party, the American Nazi Party, and the KKK had a violent clash that killed five and injured twelve.

You’re smart, well-informed readers, yet you’ve probably only heard of half of these; I hadn’t heard about them until I started reading up on massacres in history. If you haven’t heard of these, it isn’t necessarily your fault. Your teachers only had so much time, and the story of one group slaughtering another group was simultaneously depressing and seemingly not all that relevant to students who wanted to do well on the SAT or AP tests. But perhaps a side effect of teaching history the way we do — here are some ancient bloody battles, then things gradually got better, and now we’ve left all those ugly sentiments and feelings and actions behind — is that we inadvertently feed the notion that human nature has changed.

Tribalism, xenophobia, hate — the temptation to succumb to these passions may well be baked in the cake of the human condition. But the fact that massacres and hatred are not omnipresent means we can overcome them. “The internal beast is human nature. It cannot be killed; it can only be tamed. And even then, constant vigilance is required. The story of civilization is, quite literally, the story of taming, directing, channeling or holding at bay human nature,” as Jonah writes in Suicide of the West.

It also means we need to appreciate what Americans have built — slowly, gradually, and with great struggle. Even when we’ve had it bad, we’ve had it pretty good. If you grew up even lower middle-class in the United States with minimal encounters with crime and violence, you won the lottery of human experience, historically speaking. For most of the time man has walked this earth, people lived with the fear that the next village over, or the next kingdom over, or the next country over could suddenly come riding over the hill and kill everyone — just because they wanted their resources, their territory, or slaves.

There is no shortage of malevolent people who would be comfortable with our society backsliding towards the historical norm, just for the opportunity to express that endless rage within them.

In another passage on leadership, Mattis writes, “institutions get the behavior they reward.” What behavior does our media reward? What behavior does our electorate reward? What behavior does our government reward?

*Suicide of the West explores this lesson with a lot more history and economics and a lot fewer gunfights and chases.

Oh, Just What We Needed. Stormy Daniels Hearings.

The Washington Post reports, “The House Judiciary Committee is preparing to hold hearings and call witnesses involved in hush-money payments to ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult-film star Stormy Daniels as soon as October, according to people familiar with the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.”

Is there anyone who feels like they have major unanswered questions about the payments to Daniels and McDougal? Does anyone in America feel like they need to know more, or that they can’t figure out anyone’s motivations or actions in this whole sordid cesspool? This isn’t the JFK assassination or Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide. Federal prosecutors finished their work in July. Michael Cohen pled guilty, saying that he directed the payments at Trump’s direction. Trump offered his usual denial. The question of whether Trump broke federal law hinges upon whether Trump made the payments for the purposes of the election, or whether he would have made the payments anyway.

Trump’s interactions with women have always sounded like they’re one step above Caligula’s, and this has been clear to anybody who has been reading the New York Post since the 1980s. Some of us argued against this path, and the GOP and the country chose this path anyway. The country knew full well who this guy was when they elected him; they know who he is now. Just what are congressional hearings going to do? Even by the cynical motivation of, “we’re going to hold hearings on this, in order to embarrass the president,” isn’t likely to work. Trump went after Mark Sanford for adultery last week. You can’t shame the terminally shameless.

This administration is a target-rich environment for mismanagement, dishonesty, and incompetence, and the House Judiciary Committee keeps tilting at windmills. Remember when we were told that Robert Mueller’s testimony was going to be “the most anticipated hearing in a decade”?

Bill de Blasio, the Mayor Who Wasn’t There

Look, aspiring presidents. If you want to run for president, run for president — and quit your day job. I mean formally quit, instead of simply not bothering to do the day job anymore:

Mayor Bill de Blasio spent a mere seven hours — less than one full workday — at City Hall during the month he launched his bid for the White House, records reviewed by The Post show.

Hizzoner showed up at his office on just six occasions in May, taking part in two meetings, four events, and five phone calls, one of which was his weekly appearance on WNYC radio, according to entries on his official calendar.

The obvious joke here is that de Blasio is such a lousy mayor, that the city was probably better off without him. Or that considering past questions about how much time de Blasio spends actually working as mayor, no one noticed that he wasn’t there.

Perhaps one of the silver linings to this clown-car-pile-up of a Democratic primary is that for all of their flaws, Democratic primary voters are at least noticing which ones are the worst of the worst and keeping them at arm’s length. Bill de Blasio already has a big important job, and quite a few folks who are ideologically inclined to agree with him can’t stand him because of worsening problems in New York City’s quality of life. His record stinks, and he’s always moving on to the next big and exceptionally impractical proposal — Ban steel and glass skyscrapers! Eliminate the gifted and talented programs from public schools! — without bothering to try to fix the biggest problems on his constituents’ minds.

ADDENDA: We’re about two weeks away from the book signing over at Barnes and Noble in the Mosaic District in northern Virginia. There’s now a sign with my giant noggin near the front of the store, which is flattering and a little weird because I go over there to browse and buy books pretty regularly. “Hey, are you Jim Geraghty? Wait . . . are you reading a comic book?” “First, it’s a graphic novel, and, second, um, I’m getting it for my kids. Er, really!”

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