Opinion

JEFF JACOBY

Retire the Crusaders

The Holy Cross Crusaders logo.
Holy Cross website
The Holy Cross Crusaders logo.

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On Friday, after months of internal debate, the student-run newspaper at Worcester’s College of the Holy Cross announced that it would no longer be called “The Crusader.” After more than 60 years, the newspaper will be renamed “The Spire,” a reference to a prominent feature on the Holy Cross campus.

In an editorial explaining their decision, the student editors made clear that their goal is to separate themselves and their paper from the indelible historical associations of the original Crusaders, who slaughtered thousands of innocents, mostly Jews, as they made their way across Europe en route to the Holy Land to seize Jerusalem from Muslims.

“The name change is most certainly not about appeasing faculty or creating ‘safe spaces,’” the editors wrote. It is driven instead by a conviction that, “no matter how long ago the Crusades took place, this paper does not wish to be associated with the massacres” for which they are remembered.

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One day after The Crusader announced its name change, the Holy Cross board of trustees voted not to replace the Crusaders nickname for the school’s teams and logo. Here’s the story in the Boston Globe:

The school’s board of trustees voted on Saturday to keep their moniker after a months-long review exploring whether the nickname, which the school has used for nearly a century, was appropriate.

It is, they decided.

“While we acknowledge that the Crusades were among the darkest periods in Church history, we choose to associate ourselves with the modern definition of the word crusader, one which is representative of our Catholic, Jesuit identity and our mission and values as an institution and community,” said the school’s president, the Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, and the board’s chair, John J. Mahoney, in a statement.

“We are not simply crusaders, we are Holy Cross Crusaders.”

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So the students are rejecting the Crusader name because of its grim historical echoes, while the trustees are retaining the name because they are attracted to its “modern definition.” Unfortunately for the trustees’ position, there is no modern definition of the label “Crusaders” that doesn’t inescapably evoke the pitiless, pillaging originals. And not even Holy Cross traditionalists seem interested in defending them.

I’m not a Christian, but as a conservative with little appetite for left-wing political correctness, I can sympathize with Rev. Philip Boroughs, Holy Cross’s president, who is unwilling to abandon a term that literally means “marked by the Cross.” In a video posted on the Holy Cross website, Boroughs attempts to invest the college’s emblem with more uplifting and gracious qualities than it retains from the bloody Middle Ages:

We’re crusaders for the importance of the intellectual life, and thinking critically and analytically. We’re crusaders for social justice, and care for the underserved. We’re crusaders for making a difference in our world. . . . We talk sometimes about Martin Luther King or Dorothy Day as “crusaders for justice.” That spirit is really how the Holy Cross community sees itself in this terminology — not as connected to the tragic wars that happened in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries.

Which would be fine, if the word “Crusaders” were being revived today after many forgotten centuries down the memory hole. But the term never went away. And even on the Worcester campus, what “Crusaders” primarily means is not people like King and Day, but those medieval despoilers responsible for what the trustees described as “among the darkest periods in Church history.”

As if to drive the point home, the trustees’ statement concedes that it will be necessary “to assess how the visual representation of a Holy Cross Crusader can best align with this definition.” To put that in plain English, it’s hard to claim that the name Crusaders has nothing to do with the marauders of the 11th century when the school’s logo depicts an armored warrior with sword, shield, and cross.

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All wars are terrible and complicated, and the Crusades were no exception. When Western European Christians began organizing military expeditions in the late 11th century to halt the spread of Islam and recapture the Holy Land, they were responding to centuries of Muslim wars of expansion. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “approximately two-thirds of the ancient Christian world had been conquered by Muslims by the end of the 11th century,” and the Crusades marked an attempt by Christian leaders to reverse the pattern.

But the unique evil of the Crusaders lay in the horror they inflicted upon the Jewish communities they passed on their way through Europe, especially those in the Rhineland towns of Worms, Mainz, and Cologne. One contemporary who recorded what happened to them was Albert of Aachen, an 11th-century historian who wrote a detailed chronicle of the First Crusade. A tiny excerpt:

[T]hey rose in a spirit of cruelty against the Jewish people scattered throughout these cities and slaughtered them without mercy, especially in the Kingdom of Lorraine, asserting it to be the beginning of their expedition and their duty against the enemies of the Christian faith. This slaughter of Jews was done first by citizens of Cologne. These suddenly fell upon a small band of Jews and severely wounded and killed many; they destroyed the houses and synagogues of the Jews and divided among themselves a very large amount of money. When the Jews saw this cruelty, about 200 in the silence of the night began flight by boat to Neuss. The pilgrims and Crusaders discovered them, and after taking away all their possessions, inflicted on them similar slaughter, leaving not even one alive.

The slaughter in Cologne was a prelude of still worse horrors in Mainz, where a German nobleman, Count Emicho, embarked on total slaughter:

Emico and the rest of his band held a council and, after sunrise, attacked the Jews in the hall with arrows and lances. Breaking the bolts and doors, they killed the Jews, about 700 in number, who in vain resisted the force and attack of so many thousands. They killed the women, also, and with their swords pierced tender children of whatever age and sex.

The president and trustees of Holy Cross are right: The name “Crusades” does indeed evoke some of “the darkest periods in Church history.” There may be nothing dishonorable about the word itself — “crusaders” with a lower-case “c” — and Holy Cross has done nothing to discredit its mission or its good name. But the shadows will not go away. “We are not simply crusaders, we are Holy Cross Crusaders,” say the trustees. I understand why they say it, and wish them well. But some brands are beyond reclaiming.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a town hall-style meeting, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018.
AP Photo/Steven Senne
Nancy Pelosi spoke at a town hall meeting on Feb. 1 at the Cambridge Public Library.

Nancy’s crumbs

The Republican tax-reform law — you know, the one not a single Democrat in Congress voted for — keeps looking better and better.

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“The contentious tax overhaul is beginning to deliver a change that many will welcome — bigger paychecks,” reported the Associated Press on Thursday.

Workers are starting to see more take-home pay as employers implement the new withholding guidelines from the IRS, which dictate how much employers withhold from pay for federal taxes. Those whose checks have remained the same shouldn’t fret — employers have until Feb. 15 to make the changes.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has estimated that the new rules will mean more take-home pay for about 90% of American workers.

How much extra cash? It depends on several factors, such as workers’ income, how often they are paid and the number of withholdings allowances they claim on their IRS Form W-4 with their employer.

Those whose employers were quick to make the change welcomed the extra money — anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars.

At every step of the way, Democrats fought the tax law with all the rhetorical firepower at their command. They slammed it as a “middle-class con job” (Ron Wyden) and a “punch in the gut” (Charles Schumer). They said it would unleash “Armageddon” (Nancy Pelosi) and trigger “the biggest bank heist in US history” (Jeff Merkley). They bewailed its passage as proof that Republicans are “morally bankrupt” (Elizabeth Warren) and labeled it “a disaster for the American people” (Bernie Sanders).

Yet the law’s good effects have been apparent literally from the day the law was enacted. Hundreds of companies collectively employing more than 3 million workers have announced bonuses, raises, pension-plan increases, and employee stock grants, all attributed to the improved business prospects put in place by the tax changes. (A comprehensive list is maintained by Americans for Tax Reform here.)

Now, as adjusted withholding formulas mean enlarged paychecks for tens of millions of US workers, the tax law’s popularity is jumping. A Monmouth University poll issued last week showed that the public is now evenly split on tax reform: 44% approve and 44% disapprove. That’s very good news for Republicans:

This marks a significant increase in public support from December, when just 26% approved of the bill and 47% disapproved. Perhaps more importantly, fewer Americans (36%) believe that their own federal taxes will go up under the plan than felt the same when the bill was in its final legislative stages last month (50%).

Whether they realize it or not, in fact, at least 8 in 10 Americans will enjoy tax cuts this year, according to the (generally liberal) Tax Policy Center. So the tax law’s approval rating almost certainly hasn’t finished climbing.

Yet the Democrats’ reaction so far has been to double down on the demonizing. Here’s a detail from the AP story that would be comical if it weren’t so sweaty and desperate:

Senator Ron Wyden, on the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Richard Neal, on the House Ways and Means Committee, both Democrats, have asked the Government Accountability Office to analyze the new tables to make sure workers’ paychecks weren’t being systematically underwithheld, which would make paychecks bigger now but lead to a bigger bill at tax time.

Are they serious? The more taxpayers learn about the new law the better it polls, and Wyden and Neal think the explanation lies in overly generous IRS withholding tables?!

Nobody pays me for political advice. But if I were a member of the Democratic leadership, hoping to see my party pick up enough congressional seats this fall to take control of the House, the last thing I would do is continue railing against a tax-cut law that gains approval by the week. Dozens of Republicans have already announced that they will not be seeking re-election; if Democrats wish to coax more GOPers to follow suit, shouldn’t they be reassuring voters that tax cuts would be safe even under a Democratic majority? Why not acknowledge the tax bill’s appeal and commit now to making the rate cuts permanent — instead of letting them expire, as currently scheduled, in 2025?

Nancy Pelosi has several times described as “crumbs” the bonuses and wage increases that businesses have given their workers in the wake of tax reform. Could there be a more tone-deaf response to working-class tax relief? Or one that is more politically self-defeating?

Pelosi and her party ought to be doing everything they can to neutralize — not to exacerbate — taxes and the economy as a campaign issue. The Republicans’ best asset as the midterm elections approach is the $1.5 trillion tax cut and the economic benefits it is spinning off. Given Trump’s unpopularity, I’ve been assuming that Democrats are favorites to win back control of the House this fall. But if they continue to pooh-pooh the tax relief that millions of working-class Americans are celebrating, they may yet snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

What if China’s low prices were for love?

A reader, K., objects to my recent column on trade policy. He suggests I am being too hasty in objecting to the administration’s new tariffs on Korean washing machines and Chinese solar panels.

“The government of China has played a very active role in allowing the availability of cheap solar panels to the detriment of US solar industry,” he writes. He urges me to read “Why China Is Dominating the Solar Industry,” a fine essay in Scientific American by veteran journalist John Fialka. The essay explains how the Chinese government actively nurtured a solar-panel manufacturing industry virtually from scratch, using loans, lavish tax credits, unimpeded factory construction, and strong official support to turn a tiny Chinese solar industry almost overnight into the world’s solar-electric panel powerhouse.

“Whatever the reasoning was behind China’s massive investment in solar module manufacturing,” Fialka concludes, “the impact on its US competitors has not been benign.” Several leading solar-panel companies have been squeezed into bankruptcy, or are now mere shadows of the major players they once were.

My correspondent — and he’s not alone — thinks it is obvious that if China’s government is going to interfere in the market to help Chinese solar-cell makers get a leg up, then it is perfectly appropriate for the US government to do the same thing on behalf of American solar-cell makers.

But is that really so obvious?

I agree that Beijing ought to stay out of the solar (and every other) industry. The Communist dictators who rule China do a lot of things that are regrettable. If I were an American corporation competing with a Chinese firm, I’d be fuming at all the unfair advantages my competitor was reaping because of the support being provided by his government.

But that’s not the whole story.

It’s true that Beijing has put a thumb on the scale — hell, a whole torso on the scale — to enable solar cells to be manufactured more cheaply and exported by Chinese firms. Unquestionably that makes life excruciatingly difficult for would-be cell makers in the United States or other countries — so difficult, in fact, that it is driving some of them into insolvency.

But if China’s dramatic reduction in the world price of solar cells has strangled US cell makers, it has proved a boon to US cell users. Fialka quotes an official from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, who points out the vast upside: the “250,000 American jobs in the solar panel assembly, installation, and maintenance business, many of which wouldn’t have happened without the push from China that dramatically lowered solar module prices.”

Is it self-evident that the interest of US solar manufacturers should take precedence over the interest of US solar-project builders and installers? Not to me, it isn’t. Because China has driven down the price of solar panels, America’s solar manufacturing firms are in a bad way. But their interests aren’t the only one affected by what happens in the global solar-panel market. The White House may wish to assist those US manufacturers by imposing new tariffs — but should it do so if it means wiping out tens of thousands of jobs that depend on solar cells remaining cheap?

Business isn’t always fair. Advantages and disadvantages — caused by everything from geography to climate to education to sheer luck — are never distributed equally. Every company or industry is affected by dozens or even hundreds of factors, some working in its favor, others holding it back. Tariffs and other forms of protectionism cannot magically transform the entire market into an arena of perfectly level impartiality. All they can do is multiply market distortions in other ways.

Let’s push the point further.

US companies object that Chinese firms have an advantage when the regime in Beijing purposely adopts policies meant to help home-grown firms. But suppose those business had come to dominate the market and drive down prices not because of anything their government did, but because of a brilliant scientific breakthrough. Imagine that the effect on the market and on competitors was the same as those caused by the policies Fialka described, but that it had resulted from a wholly different, “legitimate,” input. Would anyone still think that punitive US tariffs were justified in order to assist US manufacturers?

Or suppose — a goofy hypothetical, but just suppose — that Chinese firms were suddenly selling their products cheaply to American importers because they had come to love the United States, and wished to show their appreciation for Americans. If, as a heartfelt gift to the American people, solar-cell companies were exporting their products to American customers at huge discounts, would anyone expect the president to retaliate by throwing up protectionist trade barriers?

US businesses should deal with the global marketplace as they find it. They should do their honorable best to overcome, outmaneuver, or undersell other firms’ competitive advantages. What they should not do is engage in “rent-seeking” — in lobbying politicians to change the rules or manipulate the law in order to win through politics what they couldn’t accomplish in commerce. That is neither honorable nor healthy, and it isn’t the way to make American business — in any industry — great again.

Site to See

Amid the internet’s vast ocean of tripe and twaddle, some websites are extraordinary islands of useful, organized, and interesting information. Each week I share such a website in “Site to See,” with the goal of alerting more readers to one of those online treasures that show off the internet at its most remarkable.

This week’s site is The Big List of Time Travel Adventures[http://storypilot.com/time-travel-fiction.html]. Michael Main has created a vast compendium of books, movies, TV episodes, comic books, and even plays that revolve in some manner around time travel. For each entry there is a title, author, date, short summary, and often a quote, and there are separate divisions that focus on the work of renowned writers in the genre (e.g., Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov), award-winning books, and even a detailed discussion of exactly what doesn’t and doesn’t count as time travel. (Did Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” travel in time?) This is a bottomless reservoir of fascination for anyone even mildly hooked on time travel.

Want to recommend a Site to See? Send a note to jeff.jacoby@globe.com, and put “Site to See” in the subject line.

ICYMI

My Sunday column was about the proposal to build a “great, great wall” on the US –Mexico border. But a massive concrete wall will not make America great or safe or more sovereign. Nor will it have a meaningful impact on illegal immigration. It will only impede the movement of men and women searching for better circumstances, and raise ugly memories of the odious “Wall of Shame” that once divided East Germany from West Berlin. By 2-1 majorities, Americans tell pollsters that they oppose building such a wall. Perhaps they remember how shameful the Berlin Wall was, and want no hint of such a thing on American soil.

My column last Wednesday, discussed above, was on the new Trump administration tariffs on solar cells and washing machines.

The last line

“I am rather afraid that I have annoyed him,” answered the Linnet. “The fact is that I told him a story with a moral.”

“Ah! that is always a very dangerous thing to do,” said the Duck.

And I quite agree with her.

— Oscar Wilde, “The Devoted Friend” from “The Happy Prince and Other Tales” (1888)

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at jacoby@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby.