Robert Snider, Esq., CJUI Treasurer
I was taught in high school that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a failed president because, unlike FDR, he did not do anything. After I read histories of his presidency and thought for myself, I discovered that Eisenhower had a successful, eight-year presidency. Similarly, I initially accepted the liberal opinion of his famous Farewell Address, delivered in January 1961, just a few months before I graduated from college, that the speech was limited to a warning about the evils of the military-industrial complex. Actually, liberals misrepresent the speech to support their own anti-military narrative and miss its timeless lessons.
The difference between knowledge and wisdom is that knowledge often becomes outdated while wisdom is everlasting. An accurate reading of Eisenhower’s message reveals that its wisdom is powerfully relevant to the present spiritual and governmental crisis that confronts us. Indeed, when the coronavirus crisis passes, the real crisis facing the United States will still be raging.
Eisenhower’s central message is that the nation must balance three powerful competing forces. That balance may only be maintained by exercising good judgment and a failure to maintain balance will result in the loss of our democratic institutions.
First, he pointed out that because we were faced with a ruthless, implacable enemy in Soviet communism, we must maintain a large, modern and technologically sophisticated military together with the industrial capacity to provide the weapons that will intimidate or defeat all who seek to do us harm. He did not advise the limitation of the military-industrial complex. He advised us to be aware that its interests were powerful and that we must keep it balanced so that it did not threaten democratic institutions. The enemy is now different but the threat to our existence remains. Instead of the USSR, it is now China supplemented by fascist Islamic fundamentalism.
Second, Eisenhower pointed out that to provide our military with the needed weaponry we had also created a powerful, special interest; a necessarily huge federally funded scientific, technological and academic based scientific/technological elite. Eisenhower stated that we should respect the efforts of the scientific elite but admonished that we must also be wary of the power and prestige that such an elite will have. He tasked future officials with balancing and integrating these and other forces, within the principles of our democratic system so that the goals of our free society were preserved.
Critics of President Trump want him to turn over to scientists the management of the coronavirus crisis, giving them a free hand to make decisions not only about disease management but areas outside their expertise, such as whether or not people may earn a living or assemble for prayer. That is a cynical and unbalanced program. President Trump, who is the only one elected by all the people and is tasked with balancing a multitude of interests, has properly balanced and integrated the advice of scientists. The weight that he gave to scientists at the start of the pandemic should decrease as the curve of the pandemic changes, the damage to the economy increases and the resentment to the limitations of civil liberties becomes visceral.
Just as General Eisenhower knew that his crusade in Europe would not be successful without taking casualties, Trump’s policies must reflect a realistic balancing of costs and benefits. One of Trump’s first decisions must be which scientists should be listened to and how much credit should be given computer modelers whose predictions have been wildly overstated. There is no need for a Ph.D. in computer science to know that “garbage in means garbage out.” Trump’s reference to the annual deaths from automobile accidents shows that he recognizes that from a societal view, we all accept a small risk of great harm to some for a large societal benefit. For instance, we accept the risk of dying in an automobile accident in exchange for the convenience of personal mobility.
The Democratic demand that the economy shut down because one death is too many constitutes a change from the original “flatten the curve” goal to the pure, cynical program of hurting the economy with a huge loss of jobs in exchange for defeating Trump in November.
Last, but not least, Eisenhower, who spent fifty years in public service including as a four-star general and as president and was keenly aware of the flow of history, pointed out that we cannot live only for the present. Our religious and democratic principles require us to balance out the needs of the present and the desire for comfort with the needs of our grandchildren. At a time when the government is running trillion dollar deficits and borrowing trillions of dollars to fight the damages caused by the governmental shut down of our economy, his warning that “plundering” the material assets of our grandchildren will lead to the sure loss of their political and spiritual heritage must be heeded.
The wisdom of Eisenhower’s advice applies even though he did not know that China, after intentionally or unintentionally unleashing what amounts to a bioweapon against the U.S. population and then intentionally covering it up so the damage would be increased, would try to use the medical and economic damages to fundamentally change the relative power of the two societies.
While the Democrats are spewing torrents of lies and hatred against Trump and proposing domestic policies that amount to a sell-out to China, Trump is fighting to preserve our manufacturing, military-industrial base, and the inventions and discoveries of our creative scientific-technological institutions from Chinese larceny and an economy that can support present needs without impoverishing our grandchildren.
The wisdom of the Farewell Address needs to be taken to heart before it is too late.