Di Leo: Truth, Lies and Journalism

Kamala Harris’ Eligibility Question and the Brick Wall of the Cancel Culture

What is truth?  This can be a challenge, but no matter whether one is a journalist, politician, mechanic or baker, it should be everyone’s quest.  In Western Civilization, from religion to science to philosophy, one of the key goals in life is the search for objective truth, however elusive though it may be. 

What is a lie?  Is it simply the opposite of truth?   

Not necessarily.  This can be harder to determine, in fact, because to be a lie, there must be intent behind it.  A statement or belief may be honestly held, but still be wrong.  Is it then a lie? 

So what do we do with the world of opinion, that broad realm in between?  Time was, a newspaper tried its best to put objective truth on every page but one: the editorial page was the home of the in-between, the opinion, the presently unprovable but fervently believed. 

As an American ages, his mind hearkens back to his memory of times long past, imagining them as having been better. Nobody has ever been perfect, but weren’t politicians more honest, reporters more diligent, teachers more patriotic, passersby more polite, fifty, seventy-five, a hundred years ago? 

Historians tell us that there has been corruption in all fields since time began, but it certainly feels worse today, and nowhere is that more clear than in those who pass off opinion as objective fact, and worse, who attack those who rightly classify matters as opinions, for being “deniers” or worse. 

Manmade global warming, a.k.a. manmade climate change, was long the perfect example.  This earth has cooled and warmed, warmed and cooled, constantly throughout its history.  A thousand years ago, Greenland was green, and Iceland was so hospitable as to draw the Vikings to settle it. A century later, both had become frigid.  Two centuries ago, we had years without a summer, when seemingly endless winters in northern Europe all but eliminated the growing season, but then normal patterns returned, and the crisis was forgotten by all but historians. 

So today’s argument is theory on top of theory – first, that the earth is gradually getting warmer, second, that this warming is a bad thing, and third, that this warming is caused by human activity and should be stopped at any cost.    None of these positions are certain; there is plenty of evidence against them, and even evidence that what little apparent proof there was in favor of the global warming position was fabricated.  But dare to say so out loud, and a scientist can lose his job, a politician can be accused of extremism or quackery, and the common man can be drummed out of polite society by this new “cancel culture.” 

The Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential ticket gives us a new example of this problem – not just the introduction of issues of opinion, but the introduction of a new opportunity for the cancel culture to muddy the lines between truth and lies, between legitimate disagreement and clear facts. 

Let’s set the stage:   

  • Two plus two is four.  This is objective fact, about which no one can disagree.   
  • A navy suit is the best outfit to wear on a job interview.  This is an opinion, but one for which a strong case can be made, particularly in certain professions. 
  • High import tariffs are a good way to protect domestic jobs.  This is an economic theory, with legitimate evidence and intelligent adherents on both sides. It’s not right or wrong on its own; it must be judged in the context of other domestic and foreign policy. 

Political campaigns are always a mixture of these three types of statements – reiteration of indisputable facts, statements of generally agreed opinion, and the differentiators – the policy choices and promises that define a candidate, through speeches, past record, and party platform. Sometimes there are lies too, and the press should call them out, but they must be careful to recognize the difference been an opinion with which one disagrees, and a lie.

The press – and by extension, those who follow the press, from politicians to Hollywood twitterers to schoolteachers to facebook warriors – have lost the ability, perhaps even overruled the goal, of honoring these groupings.  They present opinion as fact, and attack those with whom they disagree not as being wrong but as being liars.  This is a dangerous turn, unprecedented in the American system. 

Consider the Constitutional requirements for eligibility of the president and vice president: they must be 35 and be natural born citizens.  The age part is easily established; the citizen clause is not, because it had unfortunately several distinct meanings during the founding era, and was not concurrently defined in the Constitution or in the law. 

We know the Framers’ intent; surviving correspondence between John Jay, Gouverneur Morris and George Washington indicates that the Natural Born Citizen requirement was put in because the Framers believed that any citizen could hold other offices, but the president and vice president should be limited to people without any instinctive foreign attachments such as dual or triple citizenship.  If a person was not only born in the United States, but also born to US citizen parents, they might hopefully have been raised with American patriotism – a love and respect for the concept of liberty as enshrined here alone – as part of their personal identity.  Only such a person should be entrusted with the highest office in the land. 

The Framers, remember, had a very recent experience with the opposite: In their youth, the Kings of England had been Germans, not through conquest, but through the oddities of the line of succession (and of England’s odd religious prejudices).  The monarchs George I and II were more German than English, with a completely different understanding of the relationship of the people to their government than the English had felt since the days of the Magna Carta.  Our Framers saw hard-won rights being taken away by these Hanoverians, and they wanted to protect America from such a future.   

No law of succession like the British one was going to leapfrog over fifty closer heirs, to pluck a president from a foreign country.  Not with the Natural Born Citizen clause in place. 

Or so they intended, anyway. 

The problem is, without a clear definition in the law, it’s difficult for us to enforce it, except by tradition.  Even the two primary sources for such definitions to which our Framers regularly turned – Vattel and Blackstone – disagreed on its meaning.  A person born in-country, to at least one citizen parent?  A person born in-country, to both citizen parents?  Blackstone himself even used different definitions in different editions, because of changes in British law.  What of a person born out of country, but to both citizen parents?  

We can only surmise what the Framers meant, but we on the Right – the originalists, in Constitutional terms – believe that we must at least try.  We must remind the public of the Framers’ intent, and remind them of the reasons for the requirement, so that even if a clear law cannot keep a violator off the ballot, the wisdom of the electorate can do so at the polls. 

US Senator Kamala Harris was born in 1964, the daughter of two college students – one from India, one from Jamaica.  As such, depending on their respective nation’s laws, she was born with (at least) dual citizenship – Indian and Jamaican.  Due to a lack of available information at this writing, it is unclear whether her parents were ever naturalized as US citizens, so it is unclear whether she became a US citizen by the age of 16 through parentage, or if she was ever naturalized later on her own (as clearly required by US law to hold any elective office here). 

What this means is, we don’t know whether she was a Citizen at Birth, because of questions about her parents’ status, and we don’t know whether she meets the requirements for the presidency and vice presidency because in addition to that, we don’t have a clear definition of the term Natural Born Citizen. 

This isn’t exactly her fault.  The circumstances of a person’s birth are the responsibility of the parents, not the child, and the lack of a good definition for the Constitutional requirement can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the Framers themselves. 

We may believe (as this author does) that the Framers didn’t define the term because they thought it unnecessary; they believed everyone aware of the 18th century British experience would know exactly what they meant – that a president must be someone born in country to both citizen parents. But that’s not the same as codifying it in a lawbook or defining it in place. 

If a person wants to be a doctor, we demand presentation of medical degrees.  If a person wants to be hired as a lawyer, both the JD degree and proof of having passed the bar are required.  A truck driver must show his CDL; a Customs broker must show his broker’s license.  These requirements all go without saying in modern America. 

And yet… 

When we look at Kamala Harris, an “anchor baby” born to citizens of Jamaica and India, and we ask to discuss her eligibility, what is the response? 

The news media immediately attacks those asking the question as racists and liars. 

Within 24 hours of Kamala Harris being named as Joe Biden’s running mate, the headlines were full of attacks calling President Trump and other Republicans racists for bringing up the issue. 

This is a big issue – a serious matter, perhaps more serious today than ever before, because of how much our nation’s laws have already been watered down. 

The United States desperately need presidents who appreciate the liberty philosophy of our Founding Fathers today.  We have wandered too far from that core philosophy over the past century, and we must return, or we are doomed. 

We know from Kamala Harris’ beliefs that the Framers were correct.  She is, like other recent presidents Obama, Clinton and Carter, more a “citizen of the world” than of the United States.  She disregards the principles of the Bill of Rights, and even picks out certain ones to attack in every speech.   

It’s not racist to point this out.  It’s just a fact. Now, the public has choices to make on election day… the electorate can choose whether to follow the Founding Fathers’ recommendation or not.  Since the Framers failed to codify their warning in a manner enabling a legal block to an unAmerican candidate, the voters can honor the spirit of the law by simply voting her down… and they probably shall. 

But the problem of how the issue is presented remains.  Why are people who follow the law called racists?  Why are people who state objective truths, and ask legitimate questions, attacked for the asking, rather than dealt with fairly and honestly? 

Why is the modern American left so hostile to the rule of law, so hostile to the philosophy of the Framers, that they don’t even allow issues to be raised – that, instead, they shut down the argument at the start, before anyone is even given a chance to make the case? 

I think we know the answer.  And that’s one more reason why this election is so very important to the security and future of America and the world. 

Copyright 2020 John F Di Leo 

John F Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based trade compliance trainer, writer and actor.  A past county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party and a past chairman of Chicago’s Ethnic American Council, he has been writing for Illinois Review since 2009.

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