The dominant political news of the week was the dismissal of Lt. Michael Flynn (ret.), President Trump’s first National Security Advisor. His abrupt departure brought back a few issues that should have been answered during the fall campaign, but weren’t. In a multi-part series, I’ll be examining the following:
1. Were the leaks that led to Flynn’s ouster justified? Are leaks ever justified?
2. Is the President’s Russophilia damaging to his Presidency and the nation writ large?
3. Should career civil servants place greater emphasis on conscience or policy?
It’s been a nagging question for something like 18 months now: what is the relationship between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin? The questions first arose during the campaign, when Trump seemed to be sending public love notes to Putin. The questions reappeared after President Trump, rather than accept that Putin is a diabolical dictator, preferred to argue that the US government operates in the same nefarious manner as the Russian. And they roared into prominence this week, with the revelations about former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn’s tête-à-tête with the Russian ambassador and the leaks about the Trump campaign’s contacts with the Russian SVR.
The President’s conduct towards Russia and Vladimir Putin certainly engender some questions.
1. Why is Trump so reluctant to condemn Russia and Vladimir Putin in particular?
I’ve given this some thought, and I have a sort of good news/bad news idea about the subject. The good news: I do not think President Trump is being blackmailed by, or in any other way criminally beholden to the Russian Federation. Do I think he has business interests there? It would be ludicrous to think a man who once held a beauty pageant in Moscow and has at least minority interests in resort properties around the world doesn’t have some sort of similar arrangements in Russia. Do I think those holdings are substantial enough that the Russian government could leverage them to their advantage? No. Not even someone as vain as Donald Trump would be willingly complicit in treason over a few hotel rooms. If he is, then we’ve plumbed new depths of depravity.
I suspect the reason is simpler, but far more disturbing. Based on public statements going back nearly 30 years, I believe our President wants to be Vladimir Putin. He admires and respects the way Putin handles things, with an autocratic iron fist wrapped in a cement glove. Killing political opponents? Perfectly fine (remember, Trump once praised the Chinese for running down dissenters with tanks). Invading foreign countries and plundering them? It’s cool – just keep the oil. Operating above, below and in conflict with established law? From abusing eminent domain in the 1980’s to his “so-called judges” remarks in the last few weeks, Trump has consistently demonstrated that he thinks laws apply to everyone BUT him. Even Stephen Miller’s outburst last Sunday (“the President’s authority will not be questioned!”) demonstrates a very totalitarian view of government, the kind of government prevented by our Constitution. That he’s constrained by the Constitution and its provisions against executive overreach galls Trump (and, sadly, his supporters) to no end. Putin has no such constraints and when he did, he was able to just ignore them until the Russian constitution was changed.
2. Why was his campaign in “constant” contact with Russian officials?
This is, of course, still unproven. However, the fact is that there is an investigation into the likelihood of contact between the SVR and the Make America Great Again campaign, and that it’s been partially leaked, suggest there’s more than just smoke to this question. As for why it would have occurred, see the above conclusion that Donald J. Trump stars in “Crazy about Vladdy.” The one thing that nobody seems to recall is that Vladimir Putin actually won a democratic election in 2000, on a platform eerily similar to the one Donald Trump ran on in 2016. If the person you venerate over all others might be in a position to offer advice and encouragement, any of us would seek their counsel.
3. Why didn’t Trump tell Vice President Pence that former national security adviser Mike Flynn wasn’t being honest about the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador?
3a. Why wasn’t Flynn fired the second Trump learned he was deceiving the vice president?
Once again, if the President is attempting to model his administration on that of his favorite Russian dictator, neither of these questions is difficult to answer. In fact, they both have the same answer: Flynn was ordered to lie to Pence by Trump. As to why Trump would have Pence lied to, there are two reasons. The first is that Trump was certainly aware that having Flynn reach out to the Russian ambassador regarding the latest Obama sanctions was a clear violation of the Logan Act. He also knows that despite decades in public office, nobody has ever accused Mike Pence of malfeasance or corruption. He knew then that Pence’s reaction would, at best, be another tepid endorsement of the President’s orders and Flynn’s duplicity in carrying them out.
The other thing to remember on this point is that part of Vlad’s governing style, and one that has thus far proven true of Trump’s, is a dedication to the idea of equal but rival teams in open competition. Pence is the de facto leader of the ‘establishment’ group. Flynn was very much part of the ‘apocalyptic’ group. In effect, Trump was already pitting those two groups against each other before he even took office. That he waited nearly 72 hours before firing Flynn after the first revelations about that phone call, and Flynn’s duplicity towards Pence, looks for all the world like Trump was waiting to see if there would be any blow-back on Pence. After all, Trump is also aware that of all the people in his administration, the two most admired on Capitol Hill are Mike Pence and James Mattis. Pence, being his Constitutionally appointed successor should he be unable to complete his term, therefore presents a clear and pressing danger. The fact that unlike Obama with Joe Biden, or George HW Bush with Dan Qualyle, his VP is considered one of the few sane members of his inner circle poses the threat, essentially giving cover to Democrats if they decide to implement clause 4 of the 25th Amendment.
The larger question that needs to be answered is: does the President’s infatuation with Russian style politics and deep admiration of authoritarianism endanger the nation? So far, the answer is not in any lasting way. The Constitution was written by men who were intimately familiar with being ruled by a tyrant and designed to ensure that no one person could unilaterally impose his will on the government. As they intended, the structures they built have soundly defeated Trump’s every move to emulate his idol’s governing style, much to his chagrin. The separation of powers works.
That is not to say Trump cannot inflict serious damage, at least on the United States and the western democracies strategic position. But dealing a fatal blow to the Constitution does appear to be beyond his scope.
There are other questions, but we don’t have enough information to speculate on the answers. For instance, who in the campaign was speaking to the Russians? Are they now in the administration? Were any of those people responsible for the leaks to the Washington Post that started this ball of wax? The President could, of course, put an end to all this by issuing a statement that answers those questions.
But then again, we know Trump isn’t about to do that. He’ll continue his current method of dealing with this crisis, attacking the press for asking the questions and attacking the leaks themselves. Because, after all, that’s what Vladimir would do.
This morning, our President-elect took to Twitter with this:
Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2016
Immediately, the world became unhinged.
“Flag burning is reprehensible, but it’s protected by the Constitution” is the general refrain I’m hearing. But does that statement hold water?
The supposed Constitutional protection for flag burning isn’t actually written anywhere into the Constitution. In fact, 48 states and the federal government have explicit statutes proscribing a penalty for burning, or otherwise desecrating, the United States flag. The federal statute is 18 US Code 700 and in part reads,
Whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.
I realize I’ve probably just sent your heads spinning, so I’ll give you a moment to recover. Go ahead, grab a glass of water (or whatever) and I’ll wait.
(Oh, good. You made it back. Had me worried there, for a minute. I know this is pretty shocking stuff and I’d hate to think I just gave someone a heart attack.)
Chances are, anyone under the age of 45 has been indoctrinated that flag burning is a Constitutional right. Indoctrinated by the media, indoctrinated by schools, indoctrinated by every institution controlled by the socialist (and treasonous) left in America. Sadly, that’s most of them. Actually, liberals have been trying the “Constitutionally protected” approach to flag burning going all the way back to 1907. That was the year the Supreme Court decided in Halter v. Nebraska that flag desecration was not a fundamental right.
What most people point to now in their zeal defend flag burning is the 1989 decision in Texas v. Johnson, in which the court invalidated the conviction of Gregory Lee Johnson. In 1984, Johnson decided to make his displeasure with President Reagan’s policies known by burning a flag during the Republican National Convention. He was convicted, sentenced to a year in prison and fined $2,000. He appealed, claiming his First Amendment right to political speech was violated.
What’s interesting is that the court did not overturn his conviction on First Amendment grounds. That narrative springs forth from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s concurrence, in which he wrote:
For all the record shows, this respondent was not a philosopher and perhaps did not even possess the ability to comprehend how repellent his statements must be to the Republic itself. But whether or not he could appreciate the enormity of the offense he gave, the fact remains that his acts were speech, in both the technical and the fundamental meaning of the Constitution. So I agree with the Court that he must go free
Kennedy felt the need to mention the speech issue in his concurrence because that is not the grounds the Court used for issuing it’s 5-4 reversal. Instead, the court based the majority opinion on the basis that the Texas statute was designed to prevent rioting. Since both the state and defendant agreed that there was no riot, or even an incitement to riot, the statute violated the defendant’s 8th and 14th Amendment rights.
Not his 1st Amendment rights.
Why does this matter, you might ask? Isn’t a violation of a citizen’s rights still egregious, regardless of which right was violated? That’s rhetorical, of course. Any time the justice system violates Constitutionally protected rights is a perversion of justice. That’s precisely what the Court upheld.
However, buried in the Court’s decision was an affirmation of the 1907 decision in Halter v. Nebraska. That was the first Supreme Court case that upheld flag desecration as not protected by the Constitution. The majority opinion, penned by Justice Brennan dances around the subject of 1st Amendment protection of flag burning. He states that while the Court cannot find reason to grant a special class to speech involving the flag, it is within Congress’ purview to do just that, concluding:
Congress has, for example, enacted precatory regulations describing the proper treatment of the flag, see36 U.S.C. §§ 173-177, and we cast no doubt on the legitimacy of its interest in making such recommendations.
So, if you set aside what you’ve been told and what you’ve been taught, all of a sudden the President-elect’s statement is no longer quite so outlandish as at first seems. I cannot say I agree with his idea of stripping citizenship. After all, there is no crime for which we strip citizenship, not even treason. But jail and a fine? That seems perfectly acceptable. And as it turns out, Constitutional, as well.
Clinton supporters are claiming that since Hllary won the popular vote, it proves the Electoral College is a dysfunctional anachronism that impedes modern democracy. They don’t seem to understand, or care, that statements like those only prove the reasons for the Electoral College in the 1780’s remain with us today.
First and foremost, the Founding Fathers had deep, abiding distrust of unfettered democracy. James Madison wrote in Federalist 10:
A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.
This understanding that direct democracy is an unwieldy form of government, certain to end in direct violence of neighbor versus neighbor, is what drove the Founders to establish the United States as a representative republic. They strove, at every level of the federal government they were creating, to isolate the democratic forum to the smallest, most localized unit possible. Indeed, one of the striking aspects of American governance is the interplay between the states and the federal government they devised.
A large part of the reason for establishing that interplay between state and federal government was the Founder’s understanding that, even in the earliest days of the nation, there were stark differences between the various states and regions, and competing interests between heavily populated areas and sparsely populated ones. In establishing a federal government that was an equal partner of the states as regards most matters, they allowed local control over local issues, while allowing for an overarching national policy that might be in direct contravention to what a state preferred. Factionalism, which they understood was an unremarkable and inevitable feature of human society, could thus be controlled. No single faction could become so omnipresent as to impose its will on the rest of the nation.
This theory of government extends through to the idea of the Electoral College. Most of us are familiar with the idea of the Electoral College as stated by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 68:
It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.
But very few of us have given much thought to this part of the same essay:
The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.
Here we see expressed the idea, once again, of deference to state preference, even when contemplating a federal election. Yes, the election of a President would occur in all the states simultaneously, but it was not a singular electoral event. Rather, it was to be the continuation of state elections. To ensure that each state was not pressured by outside influences, each states electors are to meet in that state and vote. They are not to travel to the seat of national government. The method of their meeting and deliberation is left to the states to decide.
So how does the 2016 general election demonstrate that these ideas are still needed today? Consider this: Mrs. Clinton will assuredly wind up with more raw votes, if tabulated nationally, than Mr. Trump. But, that is due to her extreme support on the Pacific Coast. Her share of the popular vote in California, Oregon and Washington is around 65%. Of the roughly 61 million votes she received, nearly 9.5 million of them came from those three states versus only 4.3 million for Mr. Trump. To look at in reverse, in every other region of the nation, Mr. Trump outpolled Mrs Clinton by some 5 million votes and had the far higher share of the total, with nearly 53% of the votes cast.
If we were to do as Mrs. Clinton’s supporters ask, and amend the Constitution to abolish the Electoral College, we would be saying that only 3 of our states were electing the President. The other 47, despite a preference for the opposing candidate, would be shunned.
But the hidden beauty of the Electoral College is in ensuring that every state and every region receives import upon the selection of the President in proportion to its size and influence in the federal government. So yes, Mrs. Clinton is assured the 74 electoral votes from those states. All she needed was another 196 (or 38% of the remaining) electoral votes to win the Presidency. But Mr. Trump, by virtue of his running a broader campaign that appealed to more voters across a wider swath of the nation, gained more electors in the other states. He outpolled Mrs. Clinton in the deep south, the midwest, the plains states, the mountain west and battled her to a near draw in the northeast.
I understand its a bitter pill for her supporters to admit that Mrs. Clinton’s message did not have the type of broad appeal that resonated across the nation. But one again, the Electoral College is ensuring the candidate with the broadest support will assume the Presidency on January 20.
As I’m writing this, Hillary Clinton needs a miracle of biblical proportions to prevent Donald from winning the Presidency. Odds are, I’ll win the Powerball lottery before she does.
I’ve made no secret that I do not think Mr. Trump will prove to be a good President. I’ve been #NeverTrump since he announced his candidacy because I’ve felt a government led by him will be a disaster. As person dedicated to small government, Trump’s big government tendencies are an affront to my sensibilities. So are his attitudes on race, gender and immigration. And his love of authoritarianism and total ignorance of our Constitution remain deeply troubling, and dangerous, flaws. All of this led me to vote today for Evan McMullin.
Regardless, the man has won the Presidency. It was a herculean effort that required defeating the best political machine ever created. Now, it is my duty to support this man as President.
Support does not mean blind obedience. Support does mean pointing out those occasions when his conduct is unbecoming of his office. Support also means going to loggerheads when I believe he is advocating policies that will harm our nation. In short, support does not require anyone vacillate on their principles. Rather, it means defending those principles to the fullest while allowing Mr. Trump to govern in his way.
Indeed, it is by being supportive that we can mitigate any damage President Trump causes best. Given his history, this is likely to happen often. We must be prepared.
And it is our duty, as United States citizens to so. But for now, I’m off to bed.
It’s possible the United States has had worse candidates for President in our history. We’ve certainly had our share of horrible campaigns, and we’ve had our share of horrible Presidents.
But you’ll be hard pressed to come up with a worse combination of candidates and campaigns than 2016 has brought.
The incumbent party nominated a woman with a 40 year history of corruption and scandal. How can anyone be surprised that, true to form, she may well become the first President-elect under indictment in our history? If elected and she manages to avoid prosecution for what certainly looks like egregious violations of the law, Hillary Clinton’s presidency would be kneecapped before she ever takes the oath of office. Nobody trusts her. Nobody can even pretend to believe anything she does or says any longer. As her own campaign staff has said, she has demonstrated terrible instincts and decision making. To call the next four years under her “leadership” a disaster in the making is to be generous – to disasters.
Ordinarily, a candidate that bad and that flawed wouldn’t have a chance in hell of being elected. But the Republicans, in a remarkable display of self-immolation, nominated someone as equally awful. Every character deficiency exhibited by Mrs. Clinton is personified in spades by Donald Trump. Self-dealing? Corrupt? Narcissistic? Check off all those boxes. And just as Hillary “bleachbit” her copy, I’m not even sure Donald has even read the Constitution. But he loves his petty dictators, from Vlad Putin to Deng Xiaoping. As for the rest of us, he’s already he told us what he thinks: “For the most part, you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect.”
I had held out hope for the Libertarian candidacy of Gary Johnson. That was before he started talking and proved that (a) he’s either insane or killed his brain in a fog of hash smoke and (b) he’s actually not a Libertarian. He is, however, obviously just as opportunistic as both of the major party candidates.
So, the top three pretenders for President of the United States are unqualified and unfit for the office they aspire to, and probably belong in prison. What is a patriotic citizen to do this November 8th?
There is an answer. There is one candidate who, despite probably not able to carry more than a couple of states, embodies the strength of character, dedication to Constitutional principles and belief in the greatness of America we’ve found so lacking in the other candidates.
That is why, for 2016, Political Baseballs is proud to endorse Evan McMullin of Utah for President of the United States.
Since he’s only listed in 11 states, odds are you will have to write his name in on your ballot. I encourage you to find out the vagaries regarding write-in candidates in your state and take the effort to write him in. As mentioned, he likely will not win. But casting your vote for Mr. McMullin will not be wasting it, for two reasons.
First, the entire concept of “voting for the lesser evil” is what has left our nation in it’s current state. Far too often, we accept the idea of a binary choice between two poor options. This leaves voters voting not as much for a candidate, as against the opposing candidate. It’s a terrible situation that our current political parties have delivered to the American people, one who’s likely outcome this time will be the worst four years for our republic since the Civil War. By voting for Mr. McMullin, you can actually vote for someone who isn’t corrupt, isn’t beholden to either political party, isn’t bankrolled by all of the usual power players and isn’t responsible to anyone other than his own conscience and the voters. Rather than needing to rinse the stink off from voting for Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton, you can be proud of your vote.
Second, by now even the most partisan among us have to realize something has gone terribly wrong with our political parties if the best candidates they can come up with are the parasites they’ve nominated. If you truly want to send a message that we, the People, have had enough of their nonsense, there is no better way than to vote for a candidate who is inviolate in his beliefs. Even if you do not agree with Mr. McMullin’s conservative viewpoint, you cannot deny his uncompromising defense of his principles. I’ve heard many of you over the last two years, both conservative and liberal, say you want to “blow up the system.” Voting for Mr. McMullin is a shot right into the heart of the unscrupulous parties that have placed power and wealth above the country.
So, when you vote, don’t worry about pulling a lever or punching a hole. Write in the only candidate worthy of your vote: Evan McMullin.
Our current President forever lost my support when in April 2009 he said, ” I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” As James Kirchik wrote later that month in the LA Times,
“If all countries are ‘exceptional,’ then none are, and to claim otherwise robs the word, and the idea of American exceptionalism, of any meaning.”
Mind you, even the very liberal Kirchik was offended at the offhand way in which the new President (and latest liberal icon) had dismissed American exceptionalism as being, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. In fact, the problems that have risen during this Presidency are directly attributable to this President’s inability to identify what American exceptionalism is and why our past reliance on it has always overcome even the most overwhelming obstacles.
So, what is American exceptionalism? The idea was first expressed by the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville in his book, Democracy in America. In 1835, the United States did not have an economy the rest of the world envied. We had few factories, few railroads, and our merchants were forced to trade in British pounds sterling or gold bullion. Our military was not feared, large, or respected. In fact, the 1835 graduating class from West Point totalled only 56 officers – of whom, 38 quit the Army after their 5 year commitment.
So, if the United States did not have the trappings of power that might lead a European gentleman to presume a national exceptionalism, what did we possess? How could a relatively poor and weak nation so impress this man that he would write a series of books about so seemingly absurd a concept as American exceptionalism?
The answer lies in the very nature of what America is, and what it means to be an American. Unlike any other nation in the history of mankind, the United States of America is unique in our very makeup: we are not of a single ethnicity, we are not defined by natural borders and our history is not rooted in the misty memories of the prehistoric tribes that roamed the rest of the world. Alone among nations of the world, to be American is to pledge fealty not to a man, nor a religion, nor a piece of land, but rather to an ideal: the idea that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights -and that government’s principle duty is to secure those rights for every person.
I hadn’t given much thought about this until our current election. After all, the hew and cry over Mr. Obama’s giving short shrift to the concept of American exceptionalism had come from both the right and left (although, to be certain, it was more pronounced on the right). So it seemed reasonable that the American people understood what made America an exceptional nation, even if the President didn’t. And I kept thinking that, up until Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton secured their respective party’s nominations.
I’m sad to say that it seems most people today have no idea what American exceptionalism means, or where it comes from. There are those who think it comes from an inherent nativism, forgetting that one of the most crucial aspects of Americanism is that anyone, from anywhere, regardless of wealth or circumstance, can become an American. This concept is emblazoned on the base of the Statue of Liberty. You know, the bit about “Give me your tired, your poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free”? That poem isn’t talking about the economically depressed (although the vast majority of immigrants in our country’s history have been far from wealthy). It’s telling the rest of the world, if you value freedom & liberty above all else, this is the place to come. It’s the message that brought my family here during the Cold War. It’s the message that brought everyone’s family here.
Then there are those who think American exceptionalism is rooted in being the greatest economic power on earth. They either don’t know, or don’t want to believe, that the United States’ period of economic dominance was a short one, lasting about 30 years. And it only came about because alone among the world’s actors, the United States wasn’t physically devastated by the Second World War. It has nothing to do with greater industriousness or intelligence of the American worker. If you don’t believe that, I can point to a whole world of people with as strong a work ethic as you’ll find in America.
Many of our fellow citizens think American exceptionalism is a byproduct of military might. There’s nothing wrong with having a strong military, but that’s hardly exceptional. Comparatively speaking, even at it’s strongest our military was a mere shadow of the Macedonian army under Alexander or the legions that secured the Pax Romana.
Each of those are things that any nation can take pride in, but they are hardly exceptional. Other nations have, at other times, established preeminence in trade and military might. Think of the British Empire of the 19th century, the Romans, the Persians, the Egyptians. But none of those nations could truly lay claim to being something exceptional, which is to say, something that nobody had seen before or since. Something unique.
In addition to our national identity being forged of the ideals of liberty and equality, there is one other thing that makes us exceptional. That is our willingness to be introspective and during that introspection, to demonstrate to the world that we are both strong enough and wise enough to understand that we haven’t perfected our society. After all, it took us 90 years to get from announcing to the world that all men are created equal to codifying that precept, and it took another 100 years after that before those laws began to be enforced. What other nation in history has undertaken such monumental efforts, not closeted but openly? Can you imagine the awe of the common Chinese citizen when they compare Tiananmen’s brutal repression with the March on Washington?
That is liberty. That is freedom. That is the “poor huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
And that is American exceptionalism. I fervently hope those of you who’ve forgotten it remember, before this nation and her ideals are left to rot in the ash heap of history.
Too often, in our poorly educated minds, the words “fascist” and “Adolph Hitler” are transposed. While Uncle Adolph is certainly history’s most infamous fascist, he was hardly alone. Fascism as a political system has existed for nearly two centuries and been used far too often and by far too many dictators to pretend Hitler was it’s only proponent. He was, in fact, only one of several fascists who rose to power in the early- to mid-twentieth century. Benito Mussolini, Hideki Tojo and Chiang Kai-Shek preceded Hitler to power; Francisco Franco, Antonio Salazar, Juan Peron, Engelbert Dollfuss, Getulio Vargas, Jorge Marees, Ionas Metaxas, and Robey Leibbrandt were all peers. More modern adherents include such luminaries as Manuel Noriega, Ferdinand Marcos and Tudor Ionescu.
It is obviously a false equivalency to say they are all acolytes of Adolph Hitler, especially as several of them rose to power as much as a decade before the Reichstag burned. Indeed, Mussolini considered Hitler to be his student. Nor is it correct to say all fascists are natural allies. The Axis powers of World War II were all led by fascist governments, but distrust rather than cooperation was their hallmark. And let’s not forget that despite the aid from Germany and Italy that helped Franco secure power, Franco snubbed all overtures to join them. Franco was busy in an on-again, off-again shooting war with his protege Salazar (one that lasted into the late 1960’s). What this illustrates is the variances within fascism: nazism, clerical fascism, falangism, and so forth.
So, if HItler wasn’t the proto-fascist, who was? Who founded the ideology that dozens of tin-pot dictators have adopted as their own in the past century?
That would be Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), a British philosopher, writer and mathematician. Indeed, if modern students hear of Carlyle at all, it is usually because of his work in mathematics: he is credited with developing the quadratic equation (you know, the joyless algebra equation written as ax2 + bx + c = 0). And while high school freshmen the world over hate him for making their homework harder than they want, their real derision should be directed at his influence on sociology.
Carlyle was a reactionary in his approach to what he viewed as the shortcomings with classical liberalism. Whether the free market economics of Adam Smith, or the idea of natural rights borne out in our Declaration of Independence, Carlyle viewed the advancements made in the 18th Century to be the direct cause of the chaos overtaking Europe in the early 19th. This culminated in his 1840 opus, “On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History”. It is a rather long tome in which he lashes out at the idea of democratic rule and free markets as the antithesis of history’s natural order. He passionately argues that in accepting these ideas, society abandoned the natural roles of the hero as leader, of war as the principle means to glory, of industry being directed towards producing the means of war, and of societal hierarchies (today we would call them “classes” or “castes”).
Carlyle advocated that Great Men are the natural leaders of both government and society and should be elevated as such; if society refused to accept them, then it became their duty to wrest power away from the masses. He had tremendous scorn for free markets and coined the term many use today to describe modern economics, “the dismal science.” It isn’t that Carlyle didn’t believe that business owners shouldn’t be able to keep their profit (after paying the government their “equitable duty”); but rather that anyone in business not producing goods and services that directly benefitted the state should not be in business. A natural hierarchy was emplaced of men, but natural rights were not. The amount of rights a common man could be expected to receive were commensurate with his place in society; those at the top naturally had more rights than those at the bottom. And as for those at the bottom, they were generally an impediment to the advancement of the society. Enslavement or even execution was their only natural right. (Carlyle expounded further on this in “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question” in 1849).
Further, Carlyle was a proponent of the state as the only viable method by which the Great Man, or Hero, could extend his rule and direct his will. The principle role of the common man within the state was to prepare for war. Treason in thought or deed were the only crimes that truly promoted social disorder; treasonous activities included anything that could subvert the rule of the Great Man and should be eliminated at all costs. And since the state was the engine that made society possible, it was incumbent upon all citizens to ensure that undesirables be kept out, by all means necessary.
In short, Carlyle’s view of national socialism (he coined the term to separate his philosophy from that of his contemporary, Karl Marx) relied on these key points, in order of importance:
- A Great Man or Hero; the natural societal leader
- A strong, insular state
- A hierarchical society, down to and including slavery
- Policing of society to ensure adherence to societal norms
- Directed markets
- Denial of Natural Rights
Of course, today we call this fascism, not national socialism. That term we reserve for nazism, which differs from straight fascism in its adoption of some Marxist principles, particularly as relates to property rights and the veneer of popular rule.
So the question is, does Donald Trump embody those 7 principles in his vision? Anyone who’s paid attention to what he’s said – and just as importantly, not said -in not only the past 15 months of campaigning but also the past 40 years of public life, will have already recognized Trump’s themes in Carlyle’s worldview. But for those who need further convincing, let us see how Trump and Carlyle agree.
- A Great Man should be our natural leader: An entire forest’s worth of paper has been produced detailing Trump’s narcissism and self-aggrandizement, so no need to expound further on that. Suffice it to say anyone willing to proclaim the virtues of every dictator from Benito Mussolini to Deng Xiaoping to his current infatuation with Vladimir Putin sees himself as a man of similar abilities – and traits.
- The strong, insular state: His motto, “Make America Great Again,” is a paen to this idea. In case you still weren’t sure, remember one of the hallmarks of the strong state is keeping undesirables out. From his proposed Mexican wall to the Muslim ban, a cornerstone of Trump’s campaign is keeping the undesirables out – by all means.
- Hierarchical society, including slavery: Trump certainly views American society as existing within a strict hierarchy. He launched his campaign by demonizing those of Mexican heritage as “rapists and murderers.” He has been sued by the federal government for housing discrimination, but various state governments for employment discrimination and once by a trade union for refusing to pay immigrant workers. It isn’t overt racism, so much as revelation in his belief that if you aren’t in the correct class, you have fewer rights and if you reside at the bottom, you’re unworthy of much more than crumbs.
- Police State: At various times, Trump has advocated for expanded police power to ensure the classes remain in their correct position. Undesirables should be rounded up. Agitators should be put down, with force. Indeed, Trump’s idea of “Law and Order” is less about law and a great deal more about order, enforced at the point of a gun.
- Militarism: “I’d bomb the hell out of them.” “Keep the oil.” “The military would not refuse my orders, even if they found them illegal.” “There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.” “I’m more militaristic than even George Bush.” Tie all of that in with his expressed desire to spend trillions on rebuilding the military machine to Cold War levels, along with his willingness to economically attack the rest of the world and yeah. Donald Trump is definitely a militarist.
- Directed Markets: The other prominent cornerstone of Trump’s candidacy is a complete refutation of free trade. It’s also, in addition to a lifelong commitment to the hierarchal society, the one thing you can go back decades (his very first Wall Street Journal interview, in 1980, in fact) and find a consistent view. In fact, Trump hates free markets every bit as much as Carlyle did in his day. After all, as Trump has said, any business that puts profits ahead of Making America Great Again is engaged in treason and should pay a heavy price.
- Denial of Natural Rights: There are two documents that historians point to as delineating natural rights. One is the French The Rights of Man. The other, fortunately, is enshrined as law in our Constitution; our Bill of Rights. At various points throughout this campaign, Trump has shown contempt for the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th Amendments. He loves the 7th (I can’t think of another politician who’s filed more lawsuits). He likes the 2nd, but only for certain people (here we go back to the hierarchical society again). That Trump thinks natural rights are a figment of some 18th century scholar’s imagination is pretty obvious.
So, is Trump a fascist? Undoubtedly, and as such, he is the antithesis of every idea this country was founded upon and supposedly stands for today. While frightening, it isn’t that he is, or that he has come within a hair’s breadth of the Presidency that worries me. No, what’s truly frightening is that so many of our fellow citizens remain blind to his nature – or worse, not blind but fully supportive of his goals.
As Americans, it is not in our nature to demonize a segment of the population based on the actions of a few of their members. That is, of course, unless the actions of the community in general, in response to the reprehensible actions of the few, are equally reprehensible.
We have reached that point as regards the American Muslim community.
Whether by design or ignorance, it has failed to accept responsibility for the fact that it’s members are willingly conducting acts of violence against the American public writ large. Rather than work with the authorities to identify those members who’ve espoused radical ideologies, they’ve given them sanctuary. Rather than remove leaders whose mosques preach hatred, they’ve continued to fund them, often lavishly. Rather than work to drown out the voices within the Muslim community who’ve preached jihad against the rest of us, those voices are elevated and given prominence.
As a nation, we’ve asked the Muslim community to effectively police itself. After Ft. Hood, after Boston, after San Bernadino, Americans said we want you to work with us. We said we understand there are differences in worship, but so long as you agree on the principles of life and liberty, we’ll work to overcome any prejudices.
Now, we can add Orlando to the list of American tragedies created by a member of the Muslim community. Another young man who had espoused antagonism towards his homeland for years, not hiding his views. Another young man who studied at mosques that reinforced his hatred of the United States. In his case, his imam has been caught on video telling his minions that “homosexuals should be killed to save them from themselves.”
This willful, conscious and intentional separation of the Muslim community from American society by Muslims can no longer be tolerated by the rest of us. We must remove them from our midst. Expel them, imprison them – by whatever means necessary; Muslims have demonstrated they are a cancer on the rest of the American public. They have proven to have loyalties not to the United States, but to Mecca.
Stop to consider if any other group acted towards the rest of us as Muslims have. If Catholics were an insular religion that demanded the extermination of Jews, they would be ostracized and imprisoned. If Baptists preached that anyone who wasn’t Baptist should be killed to save them from themselves, the rest of us would demand the expulsion of Baptists.
Undoubtedly, our political leaders will respond to this latest Muslim atrocity with appeals for calm and requests of Muslims to police themselves. And undoubtedly, those appeals and requests will be ignored and mocked by Muslims. Yet again, as they were after Boston. Our feckless and cowardly “leaders” will be ridiculed in mosques from Newark to Appleton, as they were after San Bernadino.
No more. Enough is enough. It is time to admit what we have been loathe to admit and accept reality. Muslims do not want to be part of the fabric of our nation. Rather, they want to be a nation within the nation and at war with the rest of us. That is unacceptable and intolerable. And for that reason, they must go.
Ever since getting blown out in Wisconsin, Donald Trump has been hollering about the way we select presidential candidates, calling it unfair, or deriding it as a “rigged system.” Sure enough, the left-of-center pundits and writers who support him, and most of the misguided people who’ve pledged their allegiance to the “Trump Train,” have suddenly decided that a system that’s been around almost as long as the United States is fundamentally flawed. I shouldn’t be surprised. The typical Trumpster also tends to think the US Constitution is terribly flawed and no longer relevant.
The delegate system is based on the same idea that fueled the adoption of our Constitution. That is, the best system of governance is a representative republic, with semi-autonomous states sharing power with a centralized national government. As conceived by the men who gave us our Constitution, the office of President was not to be directly entrusted to the general populace. Rather, they conceived the idea of electors being chosen by the people. The electors would then choose the President. They had two reasons for this, both outlined in Federalist 68. The first is that the general populace can be easily swayed by emotional appeals to our baser instincts. As Alexander Hamilton noted, “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union.” The second was they understood the vast majority of citizens are not active politically, nor are they as attuned to the issues and policies as their brethren who are politically active. Their decision was that by entrusting the selection of Chief Executive to a group of people who were politically active, they were ensuring that the gravitas of the position was honored. Yet at the same time, because the electors were selected by the citizenry, the people’s voice would be heard. Hamilton, again: “… the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.”
I realize this conception of how our political system was created will confound most of you. After all, you’ve heard since childhood that the United States is a democracy. Every politician declares it during every speech. Most sadly, we’re taught in school that because we vote, we’re a democracy. Some people are taught that we’re a representative democracy; that our votes go to elect representatives who are supposed to vote the way we want them to. That’s also incorrect! We are a representative republic. We elect representatives. The representatives we elect are then to debate and vote on the issues and policies as best they see fit. The decisions they reach are not bound by any measure to popular will. We then can decide if we approve of those decisions at re-election time. There have been occasions – quite a few, actually – when a representative has defied popular will in the votes they cast. One of the most celebrated books of the 20th century, Profiles in Courage, highlights eight such occasions that profoundly changed the history of our nation.
Our founders were against the idea of political parties, but their creation is a natural outgrowth of politics. It’s only natural that people who share similar views and goals would coalesce into groups working towards implementing those ideas into law and policy. Even in our nascent stages, the republic soon found itself being divided into political parties. The very men who were opposed to the idea of political parties were creating them. As those parties formed, they began to decide on which candidates for office would receive the backing of the party – including candidates for President. Should it be a surprise that they adopted a similar system for choosing their candidates as the one outlined in the Constitution?
Of course not. Many of you seem surprised at the notion that the popular vote doesn’t decide who a party’s nominee for political office. In order to understand why this is, you need to realize that prior to 1972, most states didn’t even have primary elections. Those that did, did not “bind” their delegates to vote for any particular candidate. The delegates, in most cases, were selected at state conventions. In the remainder, delegates were directly chosen during a caucus. In either case, the general public was barred from attending: only members of the party could choose their delegates. And quite often, the national party conventions did not resolve the issue of who the Presidential nominee would be on the first ballot of delegates. It seems to me that the system worked rather well. In the case of the Republicans, the convention chaos resulted in some pretty momentous choices; men who went on to become some of our most consequential Presidents. Lincoln (3rd ballot), Harding (10th), and Eisenhower (2nd) were all the products of contested/brokered conventions. In fact, during the 1952 convention Robert Taft accused Eisenhower of “stealing” delegates that were supposedly his. That led to the adoption of the “Fair Play” rule. In an ironic twist, it is that rule which Trump is using to accuse Cruz and Kasich of “stealing” delegates this year.
The liberalization of the nomination process began in 1972, in the aftermath of the riots at the Chicago and Miami party conventions in 1968. Most states adopted primaries, many opened those primaries up to the general public (no party affiliation required) and states bound the delegates chosen to reflect the popular vote at the convention for at least the first ballot. Only a few states opted to remain with caucuses or conventions selecting their delegates. And only one state does not bind any of their delegates, while several have a mix of bound and unbound delegates. The desired effect, the nominee being chosen by popular affirmation, has been achieved. Indeed, only the 1976 Republican and 1980 Democratic conventions have offered any drama, although in both cases the insurgent candidate was defeated between the end of the primaries and the convention.
Since the liberalization of the nomination process, consider the men nominated by the popular vote: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Dole, George W. Bush, and Romney. Only one of those men could be considered consequential in a positive manner. Only 3 of them have managed to win the Presidency, and two of those left office with the country in far worse shape than when they entered. If we were to change anything as regards candidate selection, I would prefer we return to closed caucuses and conventions without general public input. You may call it “undemocratic,” but the objective is to find the best candidate; to find people who can represent the values of the party and lead the nation. The general public has demonstrated exactly what the founders feared: an incredible ability to choose the very worst people for the most important job in the world.
Consider the roll call of Presidents since 1972 and see if you can actually dispute that. Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama have been elected as President. One was forced from office, another was impeached. Both Bushes left the nation economically in tatters. Carter is best remembered for his failures, while Obama is ending his Presidency with his signature achievement about to go belly up and the nation slipping back towards recession. Only Reagan managed to accomplish anything of note, but even his accomplishments have proven to be short-lived. Even ending the Cold War hasn’t lasted; today we’re faced with a resurgent and belligerent Russia and China.
You might also argue that by returning a system by which party insiders, we would be disenfranchising you. I don’t think so. Remember, the nominee is supposed to represent the party, not the general populace. I know many people who call themselves Republican or Democrat, but the reality is, they only are on election day, and often only on Presidential Election day. The other 1,460 days of the election cycle they do absolutely nothing to support the party. It’s kind of like telling people you’re a member of the cast of your favorite TV show, because you can quote some dialogue and know all the characters. In other words, if you want a say in who a party nominates, it would mean actually getting involved in the political system. Simply voting is a privilege of being a citizen. Performing the actual duties of citizenship – canvassing for candidates, raising funds, perhaps serving in local government, attending party meetings – these are also ways of becoming involved with a party at the local level. Not incidentally, it’s also how you become more acquainted with the political system.
In this year when so many of you seem more interested in blowing up the system, rather than putting in the individual effort to make it “work,” it’s also the best way to change the things about the system you don’t like. And who knows? Maybe, instead of whiners-in-chief, we can actually get back to commanders-in-chief, to Senators who worry more about representing their states than the national party committee and Representatives with more than graft on their minds.
By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard that Ted Cruz’ primary win in Wisconsin made Donald Trump’s chances of securing the GOP nomination more difficult. Folks, I’m here to let you know: Cruz’ Wisconsin victory means Trump will never see the inside of the Oval Office, unless invited by the President. This is where the dream crashes into reality, and as usually happens in that case, dreams end up in a thousand little pieces.
As you’ve heard ad nauseum by now, in order to secure the nomination on the first ballot at the GOP Convention in July, a candidate needs to have secured the votes of 1,237 delegates. Most states require their delegates to vote as instructed by the popular vote during the first ballot. Most don’t if voting goes to a second ballot, and only two require it on a third. By the time a fourth ballot is required, all delegates are free agents: they can vote for anyone they like.
There are two reasons why Trump will not win the nomination in a floor fight. To put it another way, Trump needs to 1,237 delegate votes on the first ballot, or else he’s toast. The first is that Trump’s lack of campaign organization has prevented him from having a significant presence at the state and county conventions where the delegates are actually chosen. The other is that his main rival may not be loved by the GOP establishment, but he has been a Republican for his entire life. He’s built a strong grass-roots network among other GOP activists, the very people who make up the bulk of the delegate selectees. That combination has led to a large bloc of delegates who, although required to vote Trump on the first ballot, will be voting Cruz on subsequent ballots. We already know Trump will lose the majority of delegates from Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. We also know he will lose the entire South Carolina delegation. His inability to organize at the state level has cost him Colorado and North Dakota. Additionally, Cruz’ organizational strength makes it likely he will have a majority on the 112 delegate Rules Committee – and that will allow him to set rules in place that will further complicate Trump’s ability to wage a floor fight.
So, obviously, Trump desperately needs to get to 1237 and preferably more, so that he can withstand any defections from states that do not require their delegations to vote as per the popular vote (think Pennsylvania). While not impossible, the math would require he outperform what he’s done to date. To wit: as of this point, Trump has secured 37% of the GOP vote, and 714 delegates, or 45%. To get to 1237, he needs another 523 of the available 912 delegates, or 57%. All Cruz needs to do is hold Trump under 523 delegates in the remaining contests.
Begin in New York, with 95 delegates available. New York’s rules are relatively simple: for each congressional district won with a majority, the winning candidate receives 3 delegates. For each district won with a plurality, the winning candidate receives two delegates and the second place finisher (provided they receive at least 20% of the vote) receives one. Additionally, there are 14 at-large delegates. If a candidate receives a majority of the vote statewide, he receives all of them. Otherwise, they are allocated according to the popular vote, to all candidates receiving more than 20% of the vote. So, in order to secure all the delegates, Trump will not only need to win a majority in the state, but also in each of 27 individual districts. He is polling above 50% statewide, but not in every district. Because New York has roughly half of it’s population clustered in New York City, Queens, Kings, Staten Island, Suffolk, Westchester, Bronx and Nassau counties, Trump’s decided advantage there (around 90%, according to some polls) bodes well for the overall percentage. But Cruz will win several upstate counties, and John Kasich may actually hold Trump under 50% in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester. It is more likely that Trump will go to bed on April 19 with about 60 more delegates than he woke up with.
The other sizable contest is in California, another apportioned state. Similar to New York, the state awards 3 delegates for every congressional district won by a candidate. While Trump is polling slightly ahead of Cruz in the Golden State, Cruz has a decided advantage in the Los Angeles area, with it’s 54 delegates, and the Orange County area, with another 18 delegates. Overall, California has 172 delegates available, but it’s unlikely that Trump gets more than 90.
There are several states remaining that are winner take all, but most of these are probably going to end up in Cruz’ column. The only one of these Trump is expected to win is New Jersey, with 51 delegates. Cruz is expected to carry Indiana (57 delegates), Montana (27) and South Dakota (29).
So, that means Trump will need to garner 313 of the other 481 delegates remaining. New Mexico’s 24 delegates are unbound, so call it 313 of 457. And Pennsylvania has a quirky method of allocating delegates – only 17 are bound, the remaining 54 unbound. So, assuming Trump carries the state with a plurality and receives 12 of the 17 committed delegates, that means he needs to carry 301 of the remaining 386 delegates. Even though the remaining contests are primarily in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, which are areas Trump is expected to do very well in, grabbing 78% of those delegates is a herculean feat. There is absolutely no margin of error, no way more unforced errors such as led up to the Wisconsin primary can roil the headlines.
So what about the oft-threatened independent Trump candidacy? There are unsurmountable obstacles to his mounting one. Indeed, there is a reason Trump entered the race as a Republican, rather than attempting to resurrect the Reform Party or another independent bid. It comes down to money. Trump is not a poor man, but most of his estimated $2.4 billion net worth is not in disposable assets. It’s tied up in major real estate or marketing licenses. Coming up with the estimated $750 million to $1 billion required to mount an independent presidential campaign is no small feat. Indeed, campaign rhetoric aside, Trump hasn’t even been able to afford the primary bid he’s mounted: according to his latest FEC filing, he’s been forced to raise $25 million from outside sources. Further dispelling the notion of a self-financed campaign, Trump’s campaign announced on Tuesday they would be soliciting donors should he prevail at the Convention.
When combined with the organization required to ensure ballot access in all 50 states, an organization he lacks, the opportunity to mount an independent bid has already passed. It’s why the other billionaire who seriously considered entering the race as an independent set March 1 as his drop dead decision day.
So there you have it. The odds of Donald Trump securing the Republican nomination are somewhere between razor thin and none. The odds of him mounting an independent campaign are even less. Donald Trump’s political career effectively ended last Tuesday.
And for that, we can all breath a little easier.