It looks as though (once again), the federal government is about to “shut down.” But what does that mean, exactly?
We’ve been down this road before, and quite a few times. What a government shutdown actually means is the roughly 40% of the federal government that is deemed “non-essential services” will cease functions until the latest hissy fit ends. Here’s a brief list of things that won’t be affected:
- The military
- Border patrol
- Air traffic control
- Social Security payments
- Most operations of the FBI, CIA, NSA, etc
- Tax collections
So, if Congress is going to shut down those non-essential services but the essential functions of governance continue, then I hope it’s a long shutdown. Not a few days or even a month. No, let’s make it a go right through the end of the fiscal year in September.
Why? Simply put, after seven months of realizing that non-essential services are just that – not essential – we can finally start wresting control of the budget back from the bureaucrats. Once Americans recognize that they’ve been hoodwinked for generations into supporting things nobody really needs, they won’t be anxious to start those operations up again.
So, yes. Let’s have us a shutdown. But this time – let’s leave it shut down permanently.
I haven’t commented on the Alabama Senate race for a simple reason. I don’t live in Alabama. And of the thousands of people who follow this blog, very few of you do, either.
The nationalization of local and state elections is one of the trends that’s evolved over the last decade that’s left all of us worse off than we were before. Even without the media attention focused on this particular election, which features two candidates few people outside of Alabama had even heard of until a few months ago, the national party apparatuses had already been staging forces, sending money and trying to coordinate with the state parties.
To what end? The reason we supposedly enacted the 17th Amendment was to prevent the rampant corruption that comes about from Senators being beholden to political machines. Yet here we are, 104 years later and we’re no better off than we were then. If anything, we’re worse off. At least in the latter 19th century, politicians were only corrupted by their local and state machines. Today’s politicians may start out being corrupted by local interests, but they quickly learn that in order to maintain their status on Capital Hill they need to play the tune according to what their national taskmasters demand.
As originally envisioned by the Founders, Senators were supposed to be representatives of their states. Today, they are nothing more than pawns in the all-consuming sport of the national party getting to 51 votes. Even if a bill would absolutely destroy or enhance their respective state’s industry, economy or sovereignty, every Senator knows where their duty truly lies. Yes, they know they must vote the way their party leadership tells them to vote.
So excuse me if I do not get as worked up about today’s election in Alabama as the various bloviators on the web or television. After all, they’re part of the machine, too. They rely on keeping you exercised, rooting for your team (Go Blue! Go Red!) in matters that don’t concern you whatsoever. But do you know what it is good for? It’s good for my popcorn consumption.
You see, I just sit over here munching on my popcorn watching y’all line up opposing football teams, ready to bash and clash over sheer nonsense while the country burns around you – and you not realizing how complicit you are in it’s demise.
I finished re-reading Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers the other day, and it got me thinking. Now, those of you who are only acquainted with the story via the rather dreadful Hollywood version probably think it’s just another space opera. While the backdrop to the story is an intergalactic war between humans and aliens who look spiders and act like ants, in reality Heinlein used the story to convey a message about societies and how they govern themselves. The world Heinlein has created, some 200 years into our future, is one in which humans have abolished our two competing philosophies of governance (democracy and socialism) after a great, cataclysmic war. Instead, there is a global republic – but the only way to obtain citizenship in this republic is by completing a term of service to the government. Not everyone who wants to be a citizen is accepted for service, though.
Throughout the novel, Heinlein lays out who is accepted for service and why, and how this society came to be ordered. Despite being originally published in 1959, much of what he wrote as regards the symptoms of a dissolving democracy seems as though it were ripped from the headlines of today. He describes rampant crime in the cities, gangs of youth preying upon the weaker members of the community, rising substance abuse, joblessness, aimless citizens and ineffective (and often corrupt) politicians. But for Heinlein, the greatest cause of societal collapse was that while virtually everyone was granted the privileges of citizenship, few exercised the duties. He wrote,
“…their citizens (nearly all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of ‘rights’ and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure.”
The principle reason that only those who have completed a term of government service are granted citizenship (and the stringent standards for acceptance into said service) is to ensure that the citizens of the Terran Federation will exercise not only the privileges, but duties of citizenship.
It was this point that got me thinking. As I mentioned, much of what Heinlein wrote about as the symptoms of societal decay are prevalent in today’s society. But something I’ve thought for quite some time is that we have cheapened the value of citizenship to the point that for many of our number, citizenship is even less important than residency. Indeed, we no longer consider granting citizenship as a privilege to a select company of our number. Rather, most of us think of it as a right guaranteed by… something. Stop to think about that for a moment.
We have people here who were never granted residency demanding the same rights as citizens, and others (including those in elective office) defending their “right” to do so. We have people claiming the rights of citizens who have never so much as stepped foot in this nation. Further, the number of citizens who actually exercise the duties of the citizenship given as a birthright is depressingly small. YouTube and Facebook are filled with videos of educated citizens who cannot name the Articles of the Constitution, the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, or define any of the inalienable rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Spend more than a few moments on Twitter and you will be verbally accosted by droves of people who cannot tell the difference between a parliamentary democracy and constitutional republic. Visit the local courthouse, and you’ll see most people called for jury duty doing their level best to avoid said duty. And sadly, barely half of us bother to cast a vote when the time comes (and even fewer when the election isn’t tied to a national referendum). Given the sorry regard my fellow citizens have for their duties, I am sorely pressed to say the majority of those casting a vote even know who or what they are voting for – too often, they’re simply checking the box under “R” or “D”.
In the nearly 60 years since Heinlein published Starship Troopers, the condition of our society has deteriorated to the point he foresaw, even if it’s taken perhaps a bit longer (he placed the dissolution of the United States in 1987). The question that’s been nagging me for days is this: Heinlein saw no way out of this mess except to restrict the right of governance to a select few, based on a criteria that placed an innate drive for public service above all other factors. In short, he was of the opinion that our current attempts at including more and more people into the governance of society was exactly the wrong tack. His society works because a caste of elites run things, but not elites as we’re given to thinking in our age. Indeed, the protagonist in his novel quite literally throws away a fortune in order to begin public service (later, his father does the same).
Heinlein is not alone in his thinking. Since the very founding of our republic, we have constantly watered down the requirements for citizenship, as well as the duties thereof. Consider that the men who created the nation saw citizenship as being open only to land owners who had established themselves. Over the intervening years, we have so cheapened citizenship that we now grant adolescents those same rights – and more.
It is something to think about. Why is it we require those not born on our soil to pass an exam and take a loyalty oath before granting citizenship, but not those who are native born? Ask yourself: could you pass the citizenship exam? Would you be willing to take the Oath of Citizenship? Bear in mind, once subscribed to this oath, you will be freely granting the government the power to require unpaid service of you, in both military and civilian positions. Did that last sentence cause you to go “whoa” for a moment?
That sentence is the crux of Heinlein’s argument: the vast majority of our citizens are not willing to truly sacrifice for the privilege of citizenship and prove it daily. He thought human nature being what it is, that such fallibility meant the end of democracy. I hope he was wrong. But I’m not as sure today as when I first read that book some 40 years ago.
There’s been some furor over NBC political news director Chuck Todd’s description of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore the other day. You can watch the segment below:
The flak Todd is catching is legitimate: he is expressing the very liberal (and very wrong) concept of government and liberty; to wit, that individual rights and freedoms are granted by the government. The fact is that the Founding Fathers established the Constitution to limit the powers of the government, even going so far as including the 10th Amendment (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited it by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people“) in the Bill of Rights. It also fits with the very declaration that created the nation to begin with (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed“).
If what Chuck Todd was saying – that our rights come from government, and so therefore government can remove those rights as it chooses – was actually considered radical by the media establishment, the outrage be deafening. Sadly, the media establishment is overrun with liberals. Liberal dogma, which depends on the idea that people are subservient to government, fully accepts Todd’s characterization. Indeed, it lionizes it. The outrage response is not to Todd’s remarks, but to articles like this one.
I wasn’t going to bother to commenting on the entire thing. After all, it’s just another illustration of the fundamental divide between conservatives and liberals. You can’t reconcile that basic difference – conservatives know that rights do not come from government and liberals feel that they should. But then, something happened in my own life that brought this problem to the fore.
My brother-in-law works long, hard hours at his job and to help him out, my wife and I have been watching my 13 year old nephew from the time he gets done with school until her brother gets home from work. This also means I get to help him with his homework. The subjects he usually asks for help with are the three I’ve always been comfortable with: math, science and history (or in the modern vernacular, social studies). Yesterday, he asked if he could quiz me on the stuff he learned in history that day. It’s a little game we play – he’s a bright kid and he tries to catch me with trick questions. To my surprise he broke out a pocket Constitution and asked, “What are the rights given by the First Amendment?”.
I told him none. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, religion, the press and assembly – but it doesn’t give them to anyone.
Now, ordinarily I would be ecstatic that the very basics of our government are being taught in our schools. Civics is a subject that is not given nearly enough study by our youth. But his reaction to my answer might have me rethinking that position. You see, he was shocked – astonished, even – by it. Then he said, “But my teacher said our rights come from the Constitution.”
I suppose I shouldn’t have been angered by that. I mean, textbooks are written by liberals, curriculum are designed by liberals, and most of our educators are liberals. But that such drivel is being taught had me seething. To my nephew’s credit, he was able to follow along as I outlined how the Constitution does not grant rights, but was written to ensure the government protects rights. But the fact that I spent 90 minutes deleting the programming the liberal establishment was implanting in one impressionable 13 year old not only angered me, it frightened me.
This is the problem with liberal academics today. Rather than an exploration of ideas, it has become a process of indoctrination into the liberal world view. Even though my nephew’s pocket Constitution included the Declaration of Independence, his class hadn’t covered it. They hadn’t even read it – and in fact, had been told not to. Educators have figured a novel way of turning the Constitution in on itself, in a version of double-speak that would leave even Orwell breathless.
If we are not having our kids explore the very foundations of the government they’ll soon be entrusted with guiding, what are we inviting? The answer to that is also self-evident: a subversion of the very country our forebears worked so hard to create and preserve. The liberal dream realized: the fairest, most equal society in history, with the rights you deserve provided by a benevolent government.
Of course, we’ve seen that movie before, thousands of times. It was the underpinning of the French Revolution, complete with guillotines for those who would not accept the government’s benevolence. It girded the Soviet Union’s gulags, the reeducation camps in Maoist China, the chaos in the streets of Venezuela. It was the result our founders feared – and from what I’m see happening today, the one I’m afraid we’re fast headed towards.
One of the unique things about being a citizen of the United States is that unlike other nationalities, we often have these discussions about what being an American actually entails. We’ve been engaged in just such a discussion for the past four or five years now, and many people have landed on many different definitions.
Are we defined by our borders, the territory we control as a nation? Are we defined by our ethnicity or ethnicities? By our economic circumstances, both as individuals and as a nation? For many, these definitions, or a combination of these definitions, is what defines “Americanism.” These may be aspects of American life, but they are not what defines us as a people. As we saw this past weekend in Virginia, clinging to those notions is more divisive than unifying. They cannot define a nation as diverse as ours, one where wealthy and poor from every ethnicity on the planet call home.
Likewise, political leaders who foster these views cannot be unifying. They can only divide the nation along religious, ethnic and class lines. Both our last President and our current one have willingly used the imagery and language of grievance, attempting to force the nation as a whole to view the world through the distorted lenses of one subset of Americans or another.
The reality is the United States is not confined by our borders, defined by our economic clout or existent by our military power. You might have heard the United States identified as an ideal, and that is what our nation is. The glue that binds us are not the temporary trappings of wealth and power. The power that has allowed our nation to grow, to prosper, despite welcoming every ethnicity, every religion, and every race on the Earth was given to us by the men who created this country:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
I think that for many of us, these words have lost their meaning. After all, we’ve all heard them countless times. I can scarcely think of anyone who can’t recite them word for word.
Yet, we cannot deny the power they hold. It is those words, more than anything else, that drew our ancestors to this country. Those words are the birthright of every American and it is those words that are our unifying force.
One of the things I like to do, when faced with a passage whose meaning is difficult to comprehend, is to reword it in a way that is easier to understand. Bear with me as I do so here.
We: Who were the Founders referring to by “we?” The document this passage is taken from – the Declaration of Independence – was an open letter to the King of England and Houses of Parliament, on the behalf of the citizens of the new nation they were creating. “We” is nothing less than every American citizen.
hold these truths: to hold a belief is to accept it without question; a truth is an incontestable fact.
to be self-evident: something that needs no outside proof of its existence.
that all men are created equal: everyone, everywhere is no different than anyone else – and we are born into this condition. Whether you have the privileges and wealth of a Wall Street billionaire or are left scrounging for subsistence in the Somali sun, every person that will ever see this world is the same.
that they are endowed by their Creator: While the majority of the Founders believed in the Christian god, it’s important to note that not all of them did. George Washington and John Adams were deists, as were notable non-signatories of the Declaration, including Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen. It should also be noted that New York and New Jersey already had sizable Jewish populations by the middle of the 18th century (indeed, Dutch Jews were among the first settlers in New Amsterdam and Newark). Even among the devout Christians, there were religious differences – Charles Carroll of Maryland was a practicing Catholic, for instance. But the one thing all of them agreed on was a belief in a higher power, or Creator.
with certain unalienable: something which can neither be granted nor taken away by human authority.
Rights: Jefferson, John Adams and Franklin all were well versed in the philosophy of John Locke. While Locke’s ideas regarding natural rights were already well-established in philosophical circles by the mid-18th century, the Founders were doing something truly revolutionary here: they were claiming that by our existence, human beings have entitlements that no government can interfere with.
What follows is a listing of what those entitlements are.
that among these are: Whoops! make that a partial listing. Jefferson is saying there are other, unspecified rights, and he’s selected only the ones pertinent to why the Colonists are creating a new nation.
Life: Yes, you have a right to live. Sounds almost silly, until you watch this.
Liberty: for the 18th century thinker, Liberty was well defined by David Hume – “By liberty, then, we can only mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will; this is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may.” I’ve read many other definitions of liberty, but this one – despite it’s age – still seems the best.
pursuit of Happiness: While nobody can guarantee that you will find peace and joy in the world, you’re entitled to try and find whatever it is that lets you achieve it.
One 36 word sentence carries quite a bit of import, I would say. If we were to reword the entire thing, it would come out something like this:
American citizens agree that the following is a statement of fact:
All people are born the same, and the Creator that grants us our existence does, by that existence, grant us certain privileges and entitlements that no person, government or entity can take away. Some of these entitlements are our lives, our freedom of movement and thought, and our attempt to derive peace and joy from our existence.
It isn’t as flowery or memorable as the original, I know. But this statement is what separates America from every other nation. It is what defines us a people, and as a country. America has not always lived up to the ideals laid out in this statement, but it is the fact we continue to strive towards it – rather than abandon it – that has characterized our place in history.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once said he dreamed of the day when his children wouldn’t be judged by their ethnicity, but by who they were as people. It was Dr. King’s way of restating our guiding principle, the American principle of natural rights. We haven’t gotten there yet, as the events in Charlottesville showed. Call me a sap, a sentimental fool or a man blinded by his beliefs, but I still think the vast majority of the people who call the United States home believe in our founding principle, but are being led astray by fear of an unknown and rapidly changing future.
Thank you for your time today, and may God bless America.
*The video I linked to above can also be watched here. You’ll need about 20 minutes to watch the whole thing. It’s painful and at times angering, but I suggest you do.
…but you are not guaranteed a job. You are not entitled to a job, and nobody owes you a job.
It’s almost funny. It is downright comical to watch fellow “conservatives” try to shame Alphabet into rehiring James Damore. Over the years, the sentiment annunciated at the beginning of this post was supposedly a bedrock principle. But, as with so many other supposedly conservative principles, the past 18 months has revealed that they were just talking points for many “conservatives.”
Look, here’s the deal. When you sign an employment contract (and I don’t care if you’re sweeping streets or writing code for one of the world’s largest companies), you agree to abide by your employers code of conduct. You can talk about liberty, and freedom, and all of those other things – but if you agree to work for someone, you are voluntarily agreeing to put curbs on those things.
My first “professional” job was as a QA engineer for Panasonic, more years ago than I care to remember. There was an official dress code: men were to wear a dark suit, white shirt and tie. At the time I accepted the job offer, I owned one suit. It was a very fashionable suit for the 1980’s, but it definitely wasn’t “dark” (think Miami Vice). So guess what I did? I went out and bought 3 navy blue suits and 5 white dress shirts. I wanted the job and understood that I needed to adhere to that dress code, even if it didn’t match my personal style.
I understand Mr. Damore has a problem with Alphabet’s diversity policy. I guess at this point, the entire world knows he does. I’ve disagreed with various company policies at some of the places I’ve worked, as well. There are three things that are perfectly acceptable, that you can do in that situation. You can keep quiet and soldier on. You can take your concerns through proper channels, generally by directing those concerns to a supervisor or the company HR department. Or you can quit and look for a different job.
I read the memo that landed James Damore in hot water. It is a well thought out, backed with research studies, cogent argument against Alphabet’s diversity policy. It is not a screed, as some liberal organizations declared it. Had he distributed it on Facebook, or as a private blog post, or any of the other ways a ten page article can be distributed, he probably would have avoided being fired (unless he represented himself as a Google employee). At that point, he is speaking as a private citizen and probably doing the public a great service. Given the recent hullabaloo around affirmative action and gender equality, we need more solid, fact based opinions from the proponents on both sides of the issue.
But he didn’t do those things. Instead, he typed it up as an internal memo and distributed it within Alphabet. That action, and that action alone, was grounds for termination. That he was making a political statement compounded the problem and forced management’s hand.
Let the Saga of James Damore be a cautionary tale to the Social Justice Warriors of the left and the Culture Warriors of the right. Unless you’re working as a political operative, don’t bring your politics into the workplace.
After all, you aren’t entitled to a job, either.
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.