The War on Reason

"We are living through an all-out war on truth, facts and reason," said presidential candidate and former secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York recently.  In many respects, the American public has been living within a war against reason.  Hillary Clinton is perhaps later than most to this important problem.  The urgent intellectual problem of our time is, what is reasonable?  The war on reason has substantially damaged our public sphere.

The great philosopher and former FBI director James Comey made this observation about reason in 2016 when considering whether there should be further investigation of the "matter" involving Hillary Clinton: "Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case."  This statement was made on July 5, 2016 – one day after our nation's celebration of Independence Day.  Comey's statement was further confirmation of the surrendering of reason to political causes.  No "reasonable" prosecutor would bring a case against his future boss, President Hillary Clinton.  That was a reasonable conclusion and one that undoubtedly contributed to the painful backlash unleashed by the public against such "truth" and "reason."  Comey's statement as FBI director was in many respects a statement of the ongoing collapse of our nation's independence in the face of a superintending state that selectively enforces the law in order to compel political fealty.

The political annihilation of reason is further illustrated by another great intellectual philosopher: the U.N. ambassador under President Obama, Samantha Power.  Power rose to intellectual prominence in 2002 with her impressive book on genocide, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, where she condemned America and the world for standing by passively when dictators implement genocide against their own civilian populations.  It was an eminently reasonable case.  She was particularly vivid and harsh in chapter eight, where she excoriated American inaction in the face of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians.  It did not take long after President Bush, acting upon such "reasons," removed Saddam Hussein from power for Samantha Power to decide that those very reasons were no longer valid, and she joined those opposing the Iraq war directed at a dictator who used chemical weapons against civilians in order to commit genocide.

By 2008, Samantha Power was ready and eager to join the reasonable case for a new American president: Barack Obama.  She was a zealous supporter.  In her zeal, she got fierce with her rhetoric – denouncing Obama's rival to election as a "monster."  "She is a monster, too – she is stooping to anything."  In 2008, Power thought Hillary Clinton was capable of any degree of treachery in order to win an election.  Her reactionary stance against Hillary Clinton caused the Obama team to temporarily sideline Ms. Power from its campaign while she reconvened her wits.  Fortunately, her political interests prevailed, and she was able to reason her way through the foreign policy of the Obama administration and extensive work in international affairs.

By the time Obama's two terms came to an end, it was now reasonable to see that Hillary Clinton was not in fact a monster, but a necessary successor to President Obama.  When all hopes were dashed that evening while she watched the TV on election night with her global allies, Power set upon a new course of reasonable action: using her security clearance to make surveillance requests upon American citizens connected with the Trump campaign.  Her husband, Cass Sunstein, wrote the book on using information technology to "nudge" individuals in the proper direction, but somehow the American public had evaded reasonable measures, and drastic action would have to be taken by Ms. Power to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president.  It was the reasonable thing to do.  Power unmasked more than 260 American citizens at a brisk pace in 2016 – all the way up to President Trump's inauguration.  Unmasking refers to the practice of political appointees obtaining the identities of American citizens referenced in intelligence surveillance of foreign nationals.  This was an important mechanism for creating the current crisis surrounding President Trump and allegations concerning the Russian government's role in the 2016 election.

All of this leads us back to a reconsideration of what is reason?  It appears that "reason" is whatever suits the powerful at any given moment.  Would Samantha Power "stoop to anything" in order to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president?  Someone who is a monster at one moment may at another moment be an imperative ally.  What might seem like a plain breaking of the law in one case may appear different to someone being employed by that lawbreaker in the future.

Hillary Clinton decries the war against reason.  The American public's war against "reason" is reasonable, and fully consistent with a republic founded upon limits on government rather than its ruthless expansion for selective self-gain.

Ben Voth is an associate professor of corporate communication and public affairs and director of debate at Southern Methodist University.  His two recent books on American politics, Social Fragmentation and the Decline of American democracy and James Farmer Jr.: The Great Debater, seek to find a solution to our nation's current political trials.

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