Columnist: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold …”

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 20, 2016

By Sydney M. Williams

Contributing columnist

My wife and I surprised ourselves. We didn’t move to the right or the left. We did what we believed to be sensible and the responsible thing for ourselves and our children. We moved into a retirement community.

We are not old. Of course, that allegation is relative. I turn 75 later this month and Caroline is two years older. We are physically active and have all our marbles, or, at least, I believe I do; though my grandchildren don’t always find my sense of humor amusing.

We did not make this move to escape what seems an increasingly discombobulated political environment. However, I admit that a respite is desirable, if just to maintain one’s sense of moral balance.

This is especially true in an election year, and particularly so when the leading candidates are as distant from the center as they are. But extremism begets extremism.

When dissatisfaction with the present and disillusionment for the future is rampant as it is, candidates and the electorate to whom they appeal hug the fringes. It is enough to make one want to slip beneath the counterpane, wishing for the morrow.

Speaking of retiring, President Obama gave his final State of the Union address last week. It is the moment when exiting Presidents look back and cite their accomplishments, or, at least, present what they have done in a favorable light, and then present their vision for the future. It is the natural way.

Mr. Obama is a good speaker, as long as his teleprompters function. Last Tuesday he was his eloquent self. He told the usual lies and made the expected exaggerations. He took more than the usual jibes at the opposition. His narcissism, as usual was on display. But, with a straight face, he said his biggest regret was a lack of compromise, an increase in unilateral decisions and a corresponding decline in civility.

Most of us share that regret. But where does blame lie? Who was it in early 2009 that responded to a query from Rep. Paul Ryan, “I won; you lost!”? Who was it that said to Republicans later that same year, “I’m driving; you’re in the back seat!”?

Which Speaker admonished skeptical members of Congress when the Affordable Care Act was being considered — “We must pass this bill to find out what’s in it!”? If Mr. Obama had deliberately set out to sabotage any sense of commonality, he could not have done better.

Leopards don’t change their spots, and ideological politicians don’t adapt policies to changing situations. So, in his address, Mr. Obama continued to disseminate the discord he has sown for the past seven years. He condescendingly suggested Republicans who don’t buy into his theory of climate change — that man is its cause — are so dense they must have denied that the Soviets launched Sputnik in October 1957.

His argument suggests that if man would only reduce greenhouse emissions to zero, the ocean’s would recede and storms would abate. It is a waspish argument, uttered superciliously, which precludes intelligent debate.

The stock market, the next day voted with its feet, down 2.2 percent. The decline in the Dow Jones Averages is 8.25 percent for the year, one of the worst starts on record. The loss approximates $1.5 trillion, roughly equal to a third of what our profligate federal government spends in a year.

The Left, naturally, reports any negative news affecting Wall Street with glee, ignoring the fact that all workers with a pension or individual retirement plan are dependent on capital markets for a secure retirement.

The greatest threat internationally continues to be the threat of Islamic jihadi terrorism. Yet, other than a derisive slap at Sen. Ted Cruz and an isolated comment about “tough action,” the subject got little air time in the State of the Union.

Perhaps it was because Debbie Wasserman Schulz, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman, had invited members of CAIR — Council on American-Islamic Relations — a jihadi-linked organization, to the speech.

Mr. Obama must believe in what Albert Einstein once said about reality being only an illusion; though he also exhibits traits of Walter Mitty and Dylan Lawson. Regarding Islamic terrorism, he lives in Peter Pan’s make-believe world of Neverland.

Despite Maj. Nidal Hasan shouting “Allahu Akbar” as he shot 13 American soldiers, it took the president six years to term the Fort Hood massacre an act of terrorism, rather than “work-place violence.” Islam, according to the president, had nothing to do with the incident.

The year 2016 is less than three weeks old, yet killings by Islamic jihadis persist. An Islamist suicide bomber killed 10 tourists in Turkey. A series of six explosions, attributed to ISIS, killed seven people in Jakarta. The Burkina Hotel in Burkina Faso’s capital city was attacked by an affiliate of al-Qaida, killing 28 people.

Dozens were killed by Islamic militants in the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor. Hundreds of women in Cologne, on New Year’s Eve, were molested by testosteronic young Muslim men.

In Philadelphia, dressed in a long, flowing white caftan and using a stolen 9mm pistol, Edward Archer shot, at point blank range, a policeman. He told authorities he was acting in the name of Allah. Nevertheless, the mayor, Jim Kenney, a disciple of President Obama, assured the press that Islam had nothing to do with that incident.

The cause, he made clear, was too many guns. TROP — The Religion of Peace — an organization that tracks worldwide Jihadi attacks, reported that in the past 30 days, there have been 155 global Islamic jihadi attacks, killing 1,551 people. The West, with its mantle of political correctness, denies what is happening at its peril.

Widespread dissent is not uncommon in the United States, most obviously during the Civil War. But there have been other periods.

During the 1960s and ‘70s, civil and women’s rights, along with Watergate and anti-Vietnam War sentiment made for contentious times. As Karl Rove recently noted, the 1890s were a time when the country was divided between the agrarian South and Midwest and the industrialized and moneyed Northeast.

But calming Presidents helped soothe troubled waters. William McKinley helped unify the nation when he was elected in 1896. President Gerald Ford served the same purpose in 1974. This President has encouraged, not tempered, dissent.

As we head into the upcoming election, it is the person of reason and empathy we should look for — a man or a woman who both loves and respects the Constitution. The country is facing an uncertain future, not only the war with Islamic terrorists, but domestically in unfunded entitlements that, left unaddressed, will bring financial ruin.

The problem cannot be allowed to fester. We do have choices. We could raise taxes to pay for what has been promised. We could raise the retirement age. We could means-test payments. We could reduce in aggregate what is being paid out, or we could increase the workforce. These are issues that need to be openly discussed and debated.

Obviously, the best answer is to increase the workforce by growing the economy more rapidly. Even that may not solve the long term problem, but it would alleviate its symptoms. There is room to do that, as millions left the workforce over the past eight years.

The economy needs tax and regulatory reform. Growth is dependent, above all else, on a sense of confidence in the future — something we have lost. That, of course, means seeking compromise, something that no longer seems part of our political DNA. We have wandered too far in the direction of an imperial presidency — to a place beyond what is good for democracy. It is time to do something sensible, as my wife and I have chosen to do.

Writer’s note: The line is from William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming,” published in 1919, in the aftermath of World War I.

Sydney Williams, a retired stock broker, writes about politics, the economy, global affairs, education and climate, among other topics. He describes his political leanings as being based in the rapidly disappearing ideology of common sense.