Is Assassination Justifiable? A Look At Utilitarianism

Is Assassination Justifiable? A Look At Utilitarianism

Most Americans' immediate (and correct) answer to this question would be no, but why?

Is it possible to justify the assassination of a political leader? It’s a provocative question with a seemingly obvious answer: no.

No matter how much one disagrees with a politician’s political views and ideology, it is a generally accepted principle that to attempt to kill--or enact any violence--on them is unjustifiable and inhumane.

This topic was brought to life this past week at a Congressional baseball practice when a crazed gunman opened fire and shot five people, including two sitting GOP Congressmen. Even in a political atmosphere as rancorous and toxic as ours, the crime was met with swift and forceful opposition from just about any and everyone, with condemnations crossing every partisan and ideological divide.

Senator Bernie Sanders, for whom the shooter had volunteered for this past election cycle, even said “I am sickened by this despicable act. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”

As blanket as this opposition may seem, under at least one prominent ethical philosophy, this kind of attack might (depending on the target) not only be theoretically justifiable but also theoretically imperative.

Utilitarianism is, in the simplest of terms, a philosophical doctrine centered around doing the most good for the most amount of people. It is respecting the good of the majority over the good of the individual. In the famous hypothetical train situation, wherein one can flip a lever, condemning one person to death, or do nothing and let two people die, utilitarians would immediately flip the lever. This line of thinking can also be tied to Machiavellianism, the belief that “the ends justify the means.”

Of course, this all sounds wonderful in theory: doing the most good for the most amount of people, no individual life matters more than any other individual life, strive in all your decision making to make a choice that leads to the most net good (or least net bad).

In practice, this philosophy can be a lot more problematic. Imagine, for example, you see a child drowning in a lake or a stream. He could die any second so there is no time to take off your nice, expensive suit. Should you jump in anyway and try to save the child?

The immediate response you should all be having is “yes, of course, I will sacrifice my suit to save this fictional child’s life.” And I would guess that would be most people’s initial reaction.

Utilitarianism would, however, suggest you instead let the child drown, sell the suit for hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on how nice it is, and give the money to some charity that feeds starving African children for pennies a day. This would, in theory, be the most good for the most amount of people.

Theoretically, this focus of deciding based on the most good for the most amount of people could be applied to political assassinations, as well.

Take, for instance, President Donald Trump. Nearly every person, myself included, regardless of political leanings would likely condemn any violence--perpetrated or attempted--against him as wrong and un-American. However, many liberals, myself included, consider his Presidency to be a threat to thousands of people, as well.

Despite the proposed travel ban’s failure to pass muster with the Courts, President Trump is still very likely to admit fewer Syrian refugees than his predecessor, President Obama, and is almost certainly going to admit fewer Syrian refugees than his 2016 opponent, Secretary Clinton.

Despite the fear-mongering and divisive rhetoric surrounding one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time, refusing to offer aid to some of the most vulnerable people in the world could very well result in the deaths of many refugees in war-torn Syria or desolate refugee camps who could have otherwise found a home in the United States.

Much like President Obama, President Trump has also already killed hundreds of civilians in the Middle East.

In late May, a series of attacks on an ISIS-occupied town in Syria killed 106 civilians, including 42 children. According to the UN, at least 300 civilians have been killed by US airstrikes in the northern city of Syria of Raqqa alone since March. Another strike in March on Mosul, Iraq reportedly killed about 200 civilians, which is the most deadly US strike (in terms of civilian casualties) since the War in Iraq started in 2003.

These are just a few of the many state-sponsored acts of terror committed by the US in the Middle East. Though the Trump administration is by no means the first or only administration to have killed civilians in the Middle East in the name of the War on Terror, it certainly appears that the numbers are higher now.

As Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world [is] my own Government.”

Now, let’s talk about healthcare. This issue has been in the news a lot lately as Congressional Republicans seek to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. Though it is likely to see changes in the Senate, the bill as was passed in the House stands to force upwards of 23 million Americans to lose their health insurance, per CBO reports.

This could and likely would lead to earlier deaths for some of these people, and that is solely on the conscience of the Republican Congresspeople who voted for this bill before even seeing what the CBO report would show.

Taking all of this information into consideration, a utilitarian could reasonably justify an assassination of President Trump. And, under utilitarianism, this would be a fair and just ethical decision.

Much like the instance of the child drowning, this is a perfect example of how, though wonderful-sounding in theory, utilitarianism collapses into the realm of seemingly insane in practice. If someone were to commit this type of violence, I and upwards of 90 or 95% of all other Americans would voice our collective disdain for the hypothetical political coward. But why?

It is clear why we would all collectively agree that murdering anyone, maybe even especially the President of the United States, is wrong. We as a society generally place a high premium on individual lives and the taking of one is considered the most heinous of crimes.

This makes sense and I think one would be hard-pressed to find any substantial amount of people willing to disagree that murder is wrong and should be illegal. But, can something morally wrong still lead to something good?

Many liberals--and some conservatives, too--would consider it a good thing if President Trump were to resign, to be impeached, or to have never been elected in the first place. Yet, all of us would grieve if he were to die, either of natural causes or by some deranged attacker.

Sure, it makes sense for us as humans to feel sad for the death of another. As despicable as his politics may be, Donald Trump is still a human being and so are his family members, friends, and associates.

A certain amount of this grieving would be performative outrage, as well. We would feel a collective duty or an obligation to be public with our grieving. We would feel the need to make sure everyone knows that we, too, are sad and/or angry.

Functionally, the death of President Trump would result in the same as his resignation or impeachment. Plenty of Presidents have died or been killed throughout history without a Constitutional or democratic crisis. Yet, no one would celebrate a death the same way. Even if someone thought it was ultimately a good thing that he was dead and out of power, they wouldn’t celebrate.

Part of this is political and societal pressures, but part of it is also genuine human emotion. It’s not natural to feel glad about someone’s death or feel that it is somehow right, no matter what circumstances accompany that death.

This is, I think, where utilitarianism fails. It does not recognize the unique and individual value of every single life. Instead, it thinks of lives as mere numbers. Even if the death of President Trump were ultimately good for the world as a whole, it would still be tragic.

Cover Image Credit: Nigel Parry

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17 Empowering Bible Verses For Women

You go, girl.

We all have those days where we let the negative thoughts that we're "not good enough," "not pretty enough" or "not smart enough" invade our minds. It's easy to lose hope in these situations and to feel like it would be easier to just give up. However, the Bible reminds us that these things that we tell ourselves are not true and it gives us the affirmations that we need. Let these verses give you the power and motivation that you're lacking.

1. Proverbs 31:25

"She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future."

2. Psalm 46:5

"God is within her, she will not fall."

3. Luke 1:45

"Blessed is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her."

4. Proverbs 31:17

"She is energetic and strong, a hard worker."

5. Psalm 28:7

"The Lord is my strength and my shield."

6. Proverbs 11:16

"A gracious woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth."

7. Joshua 1:9

"Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

8. Proverbs 31:30

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised."

9. 1 Corinthians 15:10

"By the grace of God, I am what I am."

10. Proverbs 31:26

"When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness."

11. Psalm 139:14

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

12. 1 Peter 3:3-4

"Don't be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God."

13. Colossians 2:10

"And in Christ you have been brought to fullness."

14. 2 Timothy 1:7

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline."

15. Jeremiah 29:11

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. 'They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'"

16. Exodus 14:14

"The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm."

17. Song of Songs 4:7

"You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way."

Next time you're feeling discouraged or weak, come back to these verses and use them to give you the strength and power that you need to conquer your battles.

Cover Image Credit: Julia Waterbury

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Ilhan Omar Is at Best Foolhardy and at Worst, Yes, Anti-Semitic

Her latest statements seem to lack substance, motivation, or direction.


I find the case of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) to be a curious one.

Specifically, I am referring to the recent controversy over select comments of hers that have generated accusations of anti-Semitism. In all honesty, prior to doing research for this article, I was prepared to come to her defense.

When her comments consisted primarily of "Israeli hypnosis" and monied interest, I thought her wording poor, though not too egregiously deviated from that of most politicians in the current climate of bad behavior. After all, Israeli PACs surely do have a monied interest in the orientation of United States policy in the Middle East. Besides, if President Trump can hypothesize about killing someone in broad daylight and receive no official sanction, I don't see the need for the House of Representatives to hand down reprimand to Rep. Omar for simply saying that Israel may have dealt wrongly, regardless of the veracity of that position.

And yet, seemingly discontent that she had not drawn enough ire, Omar continued firing. She questioned the purported dual loyalty of those Americans who support the state of Israel, while also making claim that the beloved former President Obama is actually not all that different from the reviled current President Trump.

In short, the initial (mostly) innocuous statements about the United States' relation with Israel have been supplanted by increasingly bizarre (and unnecessary) postulations.

Those latest two controversies I find most egregious. Questioning the loyalty of an American citizen for espousing support for a heavily persecuted world religion and in defense of a refuge for practitioners of that self-same religion that has existed as an independent state since 1948, seems, in really no uncertain terms, anti-Semitic.

After all, is it not her own party that so adamantly supports persecuted Palestinians in the very same region? Is it not she and fellow Muslim Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) (who is not without her own streak of anti-Semitic controversy) that have rejected challenges to their own loyalty in being ethnically Somali and Palestinian respectively? Is her claim not akin to the "racist" demands that Obama produce proof of his birth in the United States, and the more concrete racism that asserted he truly was not? And (if you care to reach back so far) can her statement not be equated to suggestions that President John F. Kennedy would be beholden to the Vatican as the first (and to date only) Catholic to hold the presidency?

From what I can discern amongst her commentary, in Omar's mind, the rules that apply to her framework on race, ethnicity, religion, and culture as sacred idols above reproach do not extend to her Jewish contemporaries.

Oh, and may I remind you that over 70% of Jewish Americans voted for Hilary Clinton in 2016.

And yet, beyond even this hypocrisy, is the strange disdain Omar suddenly seems to hold for Barack Obama. Even as a non-Democrat, while I can find reason for this, it is still largely perplexing.

To begin with, I recognize that Ilhan Omar is not your prototypical Democrat. She would scoff at being termed a moderate, and likely would do the same to being labeled a traditional liberal. While she doesn't identify as an outright democratic socialist, one would have to be totally clueless to avoid putting her in the company of those who do, such as Tlaib or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

As such, she's bound to have some critical evaluations of President Obama, despite the lionizing that the Democratic establishment has and continues to engage in. Two points still stick out to me as obvious incongruities in her statement, however.

First, Obama and Trump are nothing alike. Again, this coming from someone who does not regularly support either, I can at least attempt to claim objectivity. While Obama might not have been faithful to all the demands of the far-left during his presidency, his position on the political spectrum was far from the extreme bent that Trump has ventured into.

Secondly, there is the style of the two men to consider. While Obama had his share of goofs and gaffes (I still think it somewhat juvenile that he often refused to say "radical Islamic terrorism" when referring to Islamist extremists) he pales in comparison to Trump. Every week Trump has his foot caught in a new bear trap. Obama is enormously tame in comparison.

And in addition to all of that, one must beg the question of Omar's timing. With Republicans emboldened by her controversies and House Democratic leadership attempting to soothe the masses, why would Omar strike out at what's largely a popular figure for those that support her most? There seemed no motivation for the commentary and no salient reasoning to back it up, save that Omar wanted to speak her mind.

Such tactlessness is something that'll get you politically killed.

I do not believe Barack Obama was a great president, but that's not entirely important. I don't live in Ilhan Omar's district; her constituents believe Obama was a great president, and that should at least factor into her considerations. Or maybe she did weigh the negative value of such backlash and decided it wouldn't matter? 2019 isn't an election year, after all. Yet, even if that's the case, what's to gain by pissing off your superiors when they're already pissed off at you?

You need to pick your battles wisely in order to win the war, and I'm highly doubtful Omar will win any wars by pitching scorched-earth tactics over such minute concerns.

Her attitude reminds me not only of that of some of her colleagues engaging obtusely and unwisely over subjects that could best be shrugged off (see the AOC media controversies), but also some of my own acquaintances. They believe not only in the myth of their own infallibility, but the opposition bogeyman conjured by their status in a minority or marginalized group. As the logic goes, "I'm a member of x group, and being so gives me the right to decimate anyone who has any inclination to stand against me in any capacity, tit for tat." So much for civility.

I initially came here to defend Rep. Ilhan Omar, and I still do hold to that in certain cases. The opposition to some of her positions is unwarranted. She is allotted the freedom of speech, as are all Americans.

And yet, in certain other cases she has conducted herself brashly, and, one could argue, anti-Semitically.

All I can say is that I am content living adjacent to Minneapolis, not in it. You'd be hard-pressed to find me advocating for leadership that makes manifest in such impolitic fashion.

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