The Politics of Defamation

The politics of defamation

Baltimore Sun, June 10, 2024

By George Liebmann
Seven years ago, I ventured to make some policy suggestions to the new Trump administration. None bore fruit, except for the drift toward marijuana legalization, a consequence of our federal system and not of Trump. In 2020, the Trump-led GOP did not even present a platform. President Biden’s State of the Union speech offered only identity politics and vote-buying. The late historian John Lukacs deplored the drift from issues to personalities to publicity campaigns; the current election features two campaigns based almost entirely on personal vilification.
Trump exploited a revolt against careless trade, immigration, and foreign policies and juristocracy. On the last cause, he prevailed. On foreign policy his non-feasance was an improvement over the previous three administrations, but there was no public persuasion. His efforts on trade and immigration were unconvincing because of failure to address underlying problems.
The Biden administration doubled down on identity politics, on situation ethics as a principle of constitutional law and on a neo-Wilsonian foreign policy consistent neither with international order nor with national interest. It has sought national rules, notwithstanding the invitation that centralization gives to corruption of the courts, growth of uncontrollable federal policing agencies and political discord.
Our trade problems are not due to Chinese conspiracies but to decay of our educational system. When most college graduates are excluded from teaching by union-sponsored certification rules; when teachers of math, science, critical languages and special education cannot be recruited because of uniform salary schedules; and when principals have no authority over teacher recruitment and assignment, textbooks or even building repairs, the decadence of high schools and their low performance can scarcely be wondered at.
Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand gave building-level boards of community leaders, parents and teachers control over most school budgets, effectively making every public school a charter school. Here such reforms are undiscussed. Our corporations are driven by shortage of science graduates either to importing Asians on short-term contracts or to out-sourcing operations overseas. There will still be service jobs in America, for baristas and the emptiers of bed-pans, as well as my ever-expanding legal profession as social conflicts metastasize.
Our higher education policies delivered the keys to the Treasury to the 19-year-old recipients of student loans, which are no longer underwritten; a generation of debtors and indentured servants, hoping to be bought off by Democratic politicians. The free love, affirmative action, and “me too” agendas produced proliferation of administrative staff, lawyers, victim advocates, rape crisis counselors, DEI experts, hearing officers, provosts and assistant deans to propitiate interest groups, paid for by escalating tuitions. Mere high school graduates manage to do without these alleged services. Their effects include grade inflation (the average undergraduate grade at Harvard is a 3.8 or 3.9) and stifling of free discussion. This is not a recipe for progress in the arts and sciences, nor for reasonable politics.
Much of the youthful workforce is outside the national economy, due to obesity, criminality, disease, illiteracy or addiction. In the Progressive Era there were the YMCA and Scouting movements, hostels for young workers and vocational education. During the Depression, doles were avoided and the Civilian Conservation Corps and National Youth Administration were created. Poland has exempted younger workers from payroll taxation. For Biden and Trump, their plight is a non-problem.
What U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and her husband described in 1996 as “reproductive technology shock” following upon Roe v. Wade, produced an increase from 4% to 40% in fatherless families (from 30% to 70% among Black Americans). Biden’s response is to foster sexual license by declaring abortion rights to their extreme; Trump’s response is surrender to religious purists, not to support moderate restrictions inducing caution and responsibility.
Biden, until mugged by reality, followed Vice President Al Gore’s dream of free movement of labor within NAFTA. Trump sought to stigmatize 10 million resident immigrants, not a recipe for success. Neither embraced the recommendations of Barbara Jordan’s national commission, whose report President Bill Clinton threw in the wastebasket. Neither sought to foster nurse practitioners to reduce the birth rate in Central America, as with the Salinas government in Mexico. Nor were law-abiding immigrants given a path to the economy through large application fees as in Australia, the proceeds dedicated to health and housing in source countries.
The states are now well ahead of national parties in fostering accessory apartments in single-family housing, now under-populated because of fewer large families. Co-operative redevelopment of neighborhoods, land readjustment, which re-built postwar Japan Korea, Taiwan and several European cities is forsworn here.
The recommendations of the Dunlop Commission on labor for creation of building-level works councils, embodied in a TEAM Act vetoed by President Clinton, have been revived by neither party.
Both Biden and Trump accept as natural a condition in which 40% of the retail workforce is in the employ of Wal-Mart and Amazon; no effort has been made to foster spin-offs to local investors or the leased spaces originally typical in department stores.
Overshadowing everything are two avoidable wars, inspired by our giving blank checks to Israel and Ukraine without regard to other interests. The Russian assault on Ukraine derived in part from threats of NATO enlargement and support of an “Orange Revolution” overlooking the extent to which Ukraine was an artificial country. President Roosevelt sought to recognize Russia as one of five policemen of world order. President Mickhail Gorbachev contemplated the removal of an Iron Curtain, not its movement 1,000 miles eastward.
The Hamas atrocities in Israel were made possible by neglect of defenses arising from deployments of the Israel Defense Forces in support of expansionist West Bank settlements. Both Biden and Trump have given Israel a blank check for territorial expansion, and previously winked at counter-productive reprisal raids on Gaza. We have allowed ultras the illusion that total victory is possible, though total collapse in both places is more likely, with all that would mean for both our foreign and domestic politics.
George Liebmann ( is president of the Library Company of the Baltimore Bar and the author of various works on law and politics, most recently “The Tafts” (Twelve Tables Press, 2023).

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