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29 June 2016

Life after Brexit: Reflections and Predictions

I spent about two hours crafting a long, detailed explanation about my predictions for what will happen now that Brexit has won.  Unfortunately, my magisterial masterwork was unceremoniously deleted as I tried to update a quotation from an op-ed penned by National Front party leader Marine Le Pen (I'm sure my progressive friends, who will instantly dismiss anything coming from Le Pen's, er, pen as racist and xenophobic, will consider this some form of poetic justice).  So, rather than try to recreate that effort, allow me to phone in something quickly so I can get to sleep:

- Markets:  Markets have been, and will continue to be, roiled by the news of Brexit.  However, the Brexit vote--as I've argued repeatedly (here, here, here, and here)--was never about economic concerns.  The only argument the Remainers had, however, was fear:  fear of economic turmoil, fear of extreme nationalism, fear of a trade war, fear of losing benefits.

Progressives are inherently materialists.  They never can understand why humble folks--many of whom were the beneficiaries of sweet EU largess--would "vote against their economic interests."  This confusion results from both a failure to realize that redistribution of wealth ultimately harms everyone, including the beneficiaries thereof; and possession of a purely materialist worldview, that sees other concerns--religious belief, thirst for liberty, personal convictions--as illusory at worst and cynical at best.  The progressive inevitably projects his own material cynicism on those he criticizes.

(For a beautiful and uplifting description of the importance of democracy and its link to traditional Christianity, check out this post from the blog Archbishop Cranmer, entitled "Brexit, the Bible and Democracy:  The Judgment of God is the Voice of the People.")

Once the terms of the UK's exit are negotiated and the "new order" is established, markets will stabilize.  My hope is that the Brits will use this new birth of freedom as an opportunity to clean regulatory house at home; having weaned themselves from the teat of European goodies, they will continue by declaring independence from their own heavy regulations and taxes.  I believe Great Britain is facing an historic moment akin to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's election in 1979, which saw Britain restore liberty, as Parliament regained power from the state-run industries and the illiberal trades unions.

- Great Britain:  The two major political parties--the Tories and Labour--are experiencing internal upheaval.  The "Leave" side won Brexit because a substantial number of working-class Labour voters broke rank and joined about half of the Tories to achieve victory.  Labour's Bernie Sanders-esque leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is facing a vote of no-confidence. His 70s-style, statist socialism was out of step with Labour as it was.

 
Euroskeptics:  Good Policy, Bad Barbers

On the Conservative side, Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to step down.  I predict (and hope) that Boris Johnson will become the next PM, and take charge of Brexit negotiations.

What of the United Kingdom Independence Party?  I initially thought UKIP would begin to fade, having achieved its singular mission of the past twenty-five years:  to get Britain out of the the European Union.  That was, however, until I saw Nigel Farage's uproariously funny (and spot-on) speech before the European Parliament.  Soak in the sweet boos as the globalist elites watch their utopian schemes implode before their very eyes.  Farage's speech is the kind of brash victory lap that would make him a star among movement conservatives in the United States.  I don't think we've heard the last of him.

- The European Union:  There will be other referendums--unless German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with support from France and Italy, clamps down.  There is already talk of stepping up the pace of "ever closer union," with the EU establishing a European Army and further eroding national sovereignty of its members.  If the EU gets an army, it will finally be able to accomplish by force what it has so far only been able to do through economic coercion and trickery:  create a European superstate that tramples both national sovereignty and democratic checks on unbridled power.

I hope there will be referendums in many more countries; I suspect there will be at least in the Netherlands and Poland.  Poland is heavily Catholic and traditional, and is naturally wary of Germany consolidating power.  Its worldview does not fit neatly into the progressivist schemes of the European Union.

"If the EU gets an army, it will finally be able to accomplish by force what it has so far only been able to do through economic coercion and trickery:  create a European superstate that tramples both national sovereignty and democratic checks on unbridled power."

Look for Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, to continue to gain ground in France.  Le Pen has done much to purify the party of her father's anti-Semitism and blatant racism.  There are those that argue that the party is still xenophobic, and that its rhetoric now is merely a "dog-whistle" to closet racists.  This strikes me as inaccurate.  It would be akin to arguing that the Democratic Party in the United States is still racist because it supported first slavery and then segregation, the latter as recently as the 1960s.

Here are some choice excerpts from an op-ed Le Pen contributed to The New York Times, entitled "After Brexit, the People's Spring is Inevitable":

"British voters understood that behind prognostications about the pound’s exchange rate and behind the debates of financial experts, only one question, at once simple and fundamental, was being asked: Do we want an undemocratic authority ruling our lives, or would we rather regain control over our destiny? Brexit is, above all, a political issue. It’s about the free choice of a people deciding to govern itself. Even when it is touted by all the propaganda in the world, a cage remains a cage, and a cage is unbearable to a human being in love with freedom....

"One thing is certain: Britain’s departure from the European Union will not make the union more democratic. The hierarchical structure of its supranational institutions will want to reinforce itself: Like all dying ideologies, the union knows only how to forge blindly ahead. The roles are already cast — Germany will lead the way, and France will obligingly tag along."  (Emphasis added)

 
 Is Frexit Next(it)?  Not if Germany has anything to say about it.

As the sinking ship of the European Union takes on water, watch for it to grow increasingly tyrannical in its flailing desperation to remain afloat.  Perhaps pressure from Eastern European members will help aright the ship and move the EU toward reform that allows national sovereignty while maintaining more appealing aspects of the organization, such as the free trade zone.  However, the Eurocrats in Brussels will not give up their posh, secure jobs and their cosmopolitan lifestyles so easily, much less their incredible power over the peoples and (semi-)sovereign states of Europe.

The peoples of Europe and the United States fought two world wars in the last century to prevent an imperial and fascist Germany from ruling the Continent for a reason, and European Realpolitik has been premised on a balance of powers since 1815, and really as far back as the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.  A supranational United States of Europe, at least as conceived by progressive Europhiles, is unsustainable and unworkable given the cultural, linguistic, and economic diversity of Europe.  Free trade between free nations is wonderful; coerced and artificial unity through heavy-handed, undemocratic edicts is the height of tyranny.

27 June 2016

Cold Turkey

Last week, approximately 52% of Brits voted to "Leave" the European Union in a national referendum.  They did so peacefully and democratically.  Already, 23 June 2016 is being hailed as Britain's "Independence Day."

I've written several posts about Brexit recently (here, here, and here).  Last Friday's post, which I wrote as the results were coming in Thursday evening, explored why liberty--a vote for "Leave"--was worth the price of temporary economic disruption and, too, of giving up certain "benefits" bestowed to EU citizens.

(A quick aside:  I still find it interesting that a supranational organization that originated as an economic free trade zone evolved into an entity capable of forcing twenty-some-odd nation-states to pool sovereignty; didn't Europe fight two world wars to prevent Germany from ruling the Continent?  But I digress.)

Based on several comments on my Facebook page, and from personal conversations, it seems that some of my pro-Remain friends and colleagues missed this point, or very candidly admitted that national sovereignty and liberty are not worth the price of sweet EU bennies (one colleague--a reluctant Brit--discounted the entire "Leave" campaign as fundamentally xenophobic and racist, implying that those alleged qualities alone invalidated the entire movement).  To the latter contingent, I can only hope we can agree to disagree.  To the former, allow me to address some points.

"[D]idn't Europe fight two world wars to prevent Germany from ruling the Continent?"

One poster discussed at length that Brits have "become VERY accustomed to the benefits," and that, whether they are in the EU or not, they "will still be governed, regulated, and heavily taxed by their own government but no longer enjoy the goodies that come with EU membership!"

Consider, if you will, a drug addict.  Let's say someone addicted to heroin seeks treatment and begins taking daily doses of methadone.  Would we say, "Oh, well, sure he's off heroin, but he's still chemically dependent on methadone, and now he's missing out on the sweet high that only heroin can provide"?  Or would we continue to encourage this recovering addict to kick his methadone habit, too, and restore a sick, dependent body to healthy independence?

Quit me cold... and don't let me in the European Union.

Generous government benefits--whether they come from the EU or the British government--might come with some nice "perks" (every pro-Remainer I've talked to seems preoccupied with the ability to travel freely through Europe, something most of us plebes haven't had the luxury of doing without a passport; this, to me, seems to be the definition of a "First World Problem"), but those "goodies" come at a price.  The British people have freely said, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Naturally, there will be those who will start jonesing for cheap travel opportunities to economically depressed parts of Southern Europe, where they can live out leisurely, government-funded retirements.  There will also be everyday people who still find themselves frustrated by high taxes and tight regulations, and missing out on certain opportunities afforded them by EU membership.

"The Brits have thrown off one level of bureaucracy because... they realized it was not worth the cost."

But is the solution more regulations and higher taxes?  The Brits have thrown off one level of bureaucracy because, despite the redistribution of wealth it brought (which mostly went away from productive countries like Britain and Germany and to profligate nations like Greece), they realized it was not worth the cost.  One of two things will now happen:  either Brits will demand further deregulation and reform of their own government, which will further ease their burdens and lower costs; or they will make an oft-repeated mistake and demand more redistribution and more taxpayer-funded goodies.

Crucially, though, the choice will be theirs to make.

Leaving the European Union will be like tearing off a bandage.  It will hurt like hell initially--we're already seeing the effect on markets, which can't stand uncertainty--but the pain will be fleeting (as I've argued in my earlier posts on the topic).

Similarly, any nation facing heavy regulations and stifling taxes can pursue a similar course--if it hasn't become too hooked already.  "Austerity" failed in Greece not because it demanded that the Greek government stop paying janitors wages comparable to skilled tradesmen; it failed because the Greek government couldn't kick its habit (and because austerity required tax increases, not stimulating decreases).  The nation--and the Greek people--have become so dependent upon handouts, they can no longer function without huge bailouts from wealthier nations.  That dependency will only perpetuate the cycle of addiction.

The best approach is not more dependency--more bureaucracy, more social programs, more taxes--but quitting cold turkey.  Rip off the Band-Aid, then get back to being free... or end up like Greece.

(Some parting notes:  to shield myself from slander and libel, let me make it clear that no xenophobia is intended or implied--I hope the Greeks can lift themselves out of poverty, which would be much easier if Germany had let them leave the European Union a year ago.  In this Wednesday's post, I'll discuss what might happen next now that Britain has voted to leave the EU.  That will likely be my last post on Brexit for awhile, as we return to the American scene.  --TPP)

24 June 2016

Economics: A Human Science

If you've read my blog the past couple of weeks, you know that I am strongly in favor of Brexit, or Great Britain voting to "Leave" the European Union.  I've laid out my reasons here and here.  As I write this post, results are trickling in on that historic vote, and I am intermittently checking them with great interest--and not a small bit of trepidation.  Right now (about 10:30 PM EST/-5 GMT), "Leave" has a slight edge, but the outcome is too close to call.

Already, though, the British pound and the euro have taken a beating in value, as gold prices soar (this blog is conservative in viewpoint, so I probably should start urging you to buy gold, guns, and freeze-dried food reserves; sourcehttp://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-23/pound-surge-builds-as-polls-show-u-k-to-remain-in-eu-yen-slips).  One of the major bogeymen of the "Remain" side in the referendum was the threat of economic downturn.  As I conceded in both of my previous posts on Brexit, there will no doubt be major economic disruption should Britain vote to "Leave."  However, a (likely temporary) drop in the value of the pound sterling is a price well paid for restored national sovereignty.

 
God Save the Queen... and Great Britain from the clutches of Eurozone bureaucrats

As conservatives, we're accustomed to viewing economics--or, at least, economic growth--as a positive good.  After all, we believe in the power of free markets to satisfy human needs and desires, and to innovate new ideas and products that alleviate human suffering, drudgery, and toil.  Conservative politicians tend to focus on job growth and prudent deregulation--often coupled with tax and spending cuts--as perennial, bread-and-butter issues that directly affect voters' pocketbooks for the better.

 "...these [fiscal] policies are not about making gobs of cash... but about what those gobs can do to improve lives."

But economics, like much else, is not a means unto itself.  The reason conservatives like economic growth--besides, well, making money--is that it demonstrably improves people's lives.  Deregulation, similarly, can work beneficially (if you doubt me, just ask anyone who has ever dealt with the Affordable Care Act and the Department of Health and Human Services).  In essence, these policies are not about making gobs of cash--although that is certainly nice--but about what those gobs can do to improve lives.

Thus, we have a stark contrast between the organic, healthy, occasionally unpredictable economic growth of a free market and the regimented, inequitable, limited economic growth of progressive corporatism.  Our current economic environment, I fear, is far closer to the latter than the former.  Complex, heavy regulations benefit larger firms and discourage the formation of smaller, newer firms by raising the upfront costs of entry.  Perverse incentives raise the costs of healthcare for young, fit Americans, while making it unrealistically cheaper for older, sicker, chubbier patients.  Overly-generous social safety benefits (some of which, like the food stamp program SNAP, the government actively advertises and encourages people to use) discourage able-bodied Americans from pursuing work.

I could go on (and on... and on).  In short, conservatives are used to being correct on principle and on economic outcomes.  Typically, conservative fiscal policies align with, rather than try to manipulate, economic realities, so the outcomes of those policies tend to be both principled and positive.

"As fiscal conservatives... let us never lose sight of the human side of economics."

In the case of Brexit, however, the quest for restored sovereignty--a stand on an important first principle--will result in some negative economic outcomes.  A major argument of the "Remain" side is that staying in the European Union will preserve Britain's economic stability and ensure it a place in a European common market.

Such an argument is seductive, but it leads to a gilded cage.  Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman famously said that economic freedom is a necessary precursor to, though not a guarantor of, political freedom.  With Brexit, the axiom is almost reversed--by reclaiming its political freedom, Britain will then be able to pursue renewed economic freedom.

As fiscal conservatives--or those that support free markets, freer trade, and light regulations--let us never lose sight of the human side of economics.  We too often treat economics as a science.  Instead, it should find a home alongside the humanities.

Our chief aim should be to unleash human potential.  So liberated, its creativity and ingenuity can lift human life to greater heights.

We already have a model:  we've been doing it in the United States for over 200 years.

22 June 2016

Brexit: It's Now or Never

Tomorrow--23 June 2016--the people of Great Britain will make an important decision:  to either "Remain" in the European Union, or to boldly "Leave," and seize back their national sovereignty.  Should they vote for the former, they will never again have the opportunity to regain the latter.

As I detailed in a post from 13 June, "Brexit:  The Antidote to Supranational Tyranny," Brexit is the best option for Great Britain.  I laid out a number of arguments as to why I believe this is the case, chief among them being that this vote is about national sovereignty more than anything else.  Today, I'd like to expand upon that point.


 Brexit--it's a good thing.

There are many compelling arguments for why Britain should vote to "Remain."  Many argue (and I think they are correct) that voting to "Leave" will cause economic upheaval and a dampening of markets.  Others argue that European Union offers a collective bulwark against Russian expansionism.  Related to those arguments is a third, namely that Britain is now so intertwined with Europe, that neither can truly divorce the other.

These arguments carry certain weight, but when viewed from the perspective of sovereignty--that of the British nation-state, and that of the British people--they account for little more than dross and window-dressing.

First, voting "Leave" will almost certainly cause some turmoil in international and domestic markets.  Why?  Because investors crave stability.  But in light of freedom from an increasingly tyrannical, centralist, and bureaucratic European Union, Britain will very quickly recover economically, as will the world.  Once investors and analysts realize that Brexit isn't the end of the world--and once Britons are freed from the EU's onerous regulations and redistributive schemes--the British economy will flourish.

Currently, the European Union is experiencing zero percent--let me write that again--zero percent--economic growth (Source:  Douglas Murray's excellent essay--"Exit Britain?"--from the 13 June 2016 issue of National Review, Volume LXVIII, No. 10).  Why should the British stay in an organization run by recklessly humanitarian Germans that props up profligate Greeks and unemployed Spanish teenagers?  The short-term negative economic impact would be well worth Britain's long-term economic prosperity and, more importantly, national sovereignty.

Unless Europe callously blocked British trade--something it can ill-afford to do--and the United States dragged its feet on a bilateral trade agreement, Britain would bounce back quickly.  There is no excuse for the latter, despite President Obama's threat to send Britain to "the back of the queue," but the former would be unsurprising.  The engineers of the European Union seek "ever closer union," which in their twisted take on federalism translates to "ever greater control."  However, even Brussels seems prudent enough to avoid a trade war with one of the largest economies in the world.


Why should the British stay in an organization run by recklessly humanitarian Germans that props up profligate Greeks and unemployed Spanish teenagers?

The second major pro-Europe argument revolves around defense.  Russia under Vladimir Putin represents a real threat to Europe, especially to the old Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe.  However, Britain's exit from the European Union would seem to have little impact, at least in the long-term, on how to approach this problem.  Putin will still be there on the 24th regardless of how Britons vote on the 23rd, and Europe would be "biting off its nose to spite its face" if it didn't continue to work with Britain as a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The whole "Remain" argument seems to rest on the premise that Brexit would destroy NATO.  This argument melts away under the slightest of scrutiny.  The United States and Turkey are both NATO allies, but not part of the European Union.  The NATO alliance can still work whether Britain is in the EU or not.

Additionally, the silver-lining to a possible Brexit vote--and to Putin's incessant saber-rattling--is that European nations are finally picking up their share of the tab for their defense.  In some ways, the fecklessness of American foreign policy has done a great deal to strengthen militaries across Europe.  I would wager Brexit would continue this trend, which might help some of the Continent's more spend-thrift nations get their fiscal houses in order.

The third point--the meshing of Britain with Europe--is the stickiest of all, but that's ultimately a technical and diplomatic problem that can be resolved.  Besides, what has this intertwining given Britain?  Unsustainable, exploding immigrant populations?  Soldiers and shopkeepers beheaded by Islamist radicals?  As I pointed out last week, Britain should praise God and Margaret Thatcher that it stuck to the pound sterling.

Regardless, it's foolish to think that Britain will simply stop interacting with Europe.  Again, any substantial block to a fruitful economic and diplomatic relationship between Britain and Europe would come from a vindictive European Union.  Even then, elites in the EU and Britain would quickly work out how to keep business going between the British Isles and the Continent.

How could so much freedom emanate from one little island?

Historically, Britain has always stood apart from the rest of the Continent.  Trying to force upon it the label (and reality) of being "European"--something it assiduously avoided for hundreds of years--flies in the face of British character and values.  Those values place a premium on rule of law and representative government.  Since the Magna Carta of 1215, the people of England have held their ever-widening rights and freedoms dear.  It would be a shame to see the crucible of so much liberty succumb to the glossy seductions of cosmopolitan tyrants.

Instead, 801 years later, let us have a New Magna Carta, a new birth of liberty and sovereignty.  Once again, I would urge my friends in Britain to vote "Leave" tomorrow.  Yes, it will lead to short-term uncertainty.  Yes, the road ahead is unclear.  In the final estimation, however, liberty is always full of questions, but it is well worth the price.  In the case of Brexit, no other consideration matters.

20 June 2016

Federalism Denied

In last Wednesday's post, "Politics, Locally-Sourced," I urged readers to become more interested in and educated about their local and state governments.  A keystone of modern conservative political philosophy (and of the classical liberalism of the Framers) is decentralization, the idea that power should be spread broadly, both in terms of population and geography.  Due to the massive power the federal government accrued during and after the Second World War, decentralists also argue that power should devolve from the federal government back to the States.  The federal government, of course, plays an important role in maintaining the national defense, conducting foreign affairs, and regulating interstate commerce, among a number of other constitutionally delineated areas, but a great deal of power is reserved for the States in the X Amendment.

The X Amendment reads thus:  "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."  Clearly, then, where the Constitution is silent, the States are reserved broad powers.  They cannot become dictatorial--their constitutions must not conflict with the national supremacy of the US Constitution--but they can have broad latitude in determining statewide regulations, taxes, and the like.

In theory, at least, this federalist structure is how our nation is supposed to operate, and it manages to do so, despite significant hobbling from the federal government.  Congress has forced upon the States a number of unfunded federal mandates.  Essentially, a large portion of State budgets are consumed with fulfilling orders from Washington, D.C., without any form of assistance.  Additionally, States are often coerced into adopting certain policies or passing certain laws, lest the federal government withdraw their funding (this tactic was used to increase the drinking age from 18 to 21--not necessarily a bad thing, but the means matter almost as much as the ends; such coercion circumvents the proper amendment process).

What brought about this change, and how can we reverse it?  How can we restore the proper balance between the States and the federal government?

There are no easy answers here, and the centralization of power in the federal government occurred for a complicated host of reasons:  the acceptance of a desperate people of a greater role for the government in the economy during the Great Depression; the (temporary) success of a massively planned economy during the Second World War; the massive expansion of the welfare state during the Great Society; the (necessary) fight at the national level to protect the civil rights of black Americans; and more.

However, I would argue that a major source of this problem was the passage of the XVII Amendment.

The XVII Amendment replaced the old system of selecting senators with their direct election.  Prior to its passage, senators were selected by their state legislatures, which were themselves chosen in local elections.

There are a number of compelling arguments for why this amendment was adopted.  For one, many states had already moved to a de facto system of direct election, in which voters essentially "elected" their senator, and the state legislatures were duly pledged to vote in accord with the people's choice.  Also, there were several scandals in which senate candidates merely bribed state legislators for their votes.  Finally, many state legislators found that voters cared more about who the legislators would elect to the Senate, not what they thought about state problems.

You can review these arguments in a (rather condescending) piece from Slate by David Schleicher entitled "States' Wrongs."


"[T]he States no longer have a constitutional role in the federal government."

However, while there certainly appeared to be need for reform in senatorial elections, many of these problems still persist.  Voters are still overly-fixated on national politics, even more so than voters in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  If anything, state elections are even more focused on national issues than they were before.  Special interest groups still manage to exert influence over the Senate, and can do so even more effectively by whipping up voters.

Most importantly, though, is that the States no longer have a constitutional role in the federal government.  The Senate used to serve as the representative of the States' interests, while the House still operates as the representative of the people's interests.  Now the people have direct influence over both branches of Congress, and an important, necessary brake on the fickle will of the majority is gone.

States' rights has become an ugly phrase, associated as it is with slavery and segregation.  However, just because states' rights has been invoked to defend the indefensible doesn't mean that it isn't a good idea.  The States function as an important bulwark against tyranny, and federalism affords many opportunities for policy innovation and experimentation--Louis Brandeis's "laboratories of democracy."  Also, the geographical, ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity of the United States practically demands states' rights, as different States have different needs, goals, and desires.

Repeal of the XVII Amendment is extremely difficult and unlikely:  people like to vote (actually, people like to know they can vote, even if they often choose not to do so).  But Congress, specifically the Senate, can do much to keep the further expansion of federal power in check.  Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska is spearheading this effort through his speeches, delivered from the Senate floor, about the proper role of the Senate and its obligation to be an august, contemplative chamber.

We, the people, can also take steps to become more involved in state politics.  Ultimately, the drive to restore federalism starts with us.

***

For more information about the XVII Amendment and different approaches to addressing it, here are some resources:

The Campaign to Restore Federalism (pro-repeal of the XVII Amendment):  http://www.restorefederalism.org/

"Repeal the 17th:  Problems to Address" by constitutional scholar Rob Natelson:  http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2013/08/26/repeal-the-17th-problems-to-address/

"Repeal the 17th Amendment?" by Gene Healy of the Cato Institute (great piece that is sympathetic to the idea, but recognizes the political problems involved):  http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/repeal-17th-amendment

"States' Wrongs" (mentioned above) by David Schleicher of Slate (anti-repeal, with some interesting historical background and a lot of elitist sneering at movement conservatives):  http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2014/02/conservatives_17th_amendment_repeal_effort_why_their_plan_will_backfire.html

17 June 2016

What is Popular Sovereignty?

On Wednesday, 8 June 2016, I posted a piece entitled "American Values, American Nationalism."  In that piece, I discussed the "Five Core Values of America," a set of values inspired by a government textbook I used to use with my US Government students.  The second value, "popular sovereignty," is deals with the idea that power in our political system ultimately derives from the people--as Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address, our government is "by, of, and for the people."

This post received quite a few comments on my Facebook page, including this one from a good friend of mine:

Now watch as I set my progressive-libertarian friend straight--respectfully.

My friend raised a very valid point:  the Framers of the Constitution were suspicious, if not outright terrified, of democracy.  Aristotle had identified democracy as one of the "bad" forms of government that came when rule by the people went bad.  The Framers had seen the consequences of a federal government that was too weak, namely the barely-contained chaos of Shays' Rebellion in 1785.  Naturally, they wanted a government by, of, and for the people--thus the requirement that the Constitution be ratified by 3/4ths of the States in special ratifying conventions (designed to circumvent the Anti-Federalist state legislatures)--but they recognized that unbridled populism would lead to demagoguery.  It's pedantic to say it, but Nazi Germany is the quintessential example of a desperate people granting dictatorial powers to a charismatic individual.

"Pure democracy, without any checks on the majority's power, quickly turns to one-man authoritarianism."

The French political philosopher Montesquieu argued that the English government succeeded because it balanced monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy effectively, which further influenced the belief of the Framers that government should filter the will of the people through a complex system of checks and balances, and a rigorous, jealously-guarded separation of powers.  Thus we have such institutions as the much-maligned (but quite brilliant) Electoral College, and a Senate that is designed to act as a break on the people's (often fickle) will.  Indeed, before it was corrupted by the XVII Amendment, the Senate was intended to represent the interests of the States themselves, rather than the will of the people, which is represented in the House of Representatives.

***

So, how did I address my friend's concerns?  Here is my reply (with some minor edits for clarity and brevity) to my friend's remarks, and to elaborate on the concept of "popular sovereignty":

You are correct in noting the skepticism with which the Framers viewed unbridled democracy. There was much wisdom in their skepticism, precisely out of concern that a well-positioned demagogue could, in the right circumstances, sway the fickle populous to his whims. Pure democracy, without any checks on the majority's power, quickly turns to one-man authoritarianism.

When I write about popular sovereignty, then, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I mean "consent of the governed." The people consented through our constitutional order when they elected delegates to special state ratifying conventions (circumventing the generally Anti-Federalist-controlled state legislatures). The people, then, ultimately gave consent to that government, and continue to do so through regular elections. Of course, a complex system of checks and balances tempers the will of the people (voiced primarily through the House of Representatives, which controls the power of the purse), balancing with it the will of the States, and vesting a great deal of authority to halt dubious legislation in the hands of the executive.

As for Thomas Jefferson's love of revolutions and his proposal to rewrite the Constitution each generation, the actual Constitution provides a useful mechanism that makes such rewrites generally unnecessary, but possible: the amendment process. So far, every proposed amendment has come from the Congress, and all but two have been ratified in state legislatures (the other two were ratified, like the Constitution itself, in special state ratifying conventions). However, the Constitution provides another method--one that has yet to be used--to propose amendments: 2/3rds of the States can convene a constitutional convention to propose amendments. Texas's current governor, Greg Abbott, is currently working on just such a convention of the States. In short, the Constitution provides us a way to change it to fit current needs without throwing out the whole document.

Of course, I would argue strenuously for an originalist reading of the Constitution and its amendments, all of which should be read in the context of those who proposed them. This still allows for changes through the amendment process, and for congressional elaboration. The Constitution is not meant to cover ever eventuality, and gives a great deal of space to Congress and (this is important and often forgotten) the States.


"It approaches something like tyranny when the President has the power to write laws (indirectly through the bureaucracy he manages) and to enforce them."

As for your comments about technocrats, perhaps I should clarify here, too. What I am primarily concerned about is the ability of federal agencies to write their own rules, many of which have the force of law. This practice is dangerous because most of these federal agencies operate within the executive branch and have little congressional oversight. Law-making powers are meant to rest solely within the Congress, and the job of the President is to duly enforce those acts to the best of his ability. It approaches something like tyranny when the President has the power to write laws (indirectly through the bureaucracy he manages) and to enforce them. Even scarier is the prospect that the federal bureaucracy has become so large that the President cannot exercise effective control over it, or even know what it's doing! Many presidents--particularly our current one--have used bureaucratic rule-making to push unpopular measures without input from the people's representatives. Congress is complicit in this, as it has delegated these powers to the executive bureaucracy, and the Supreme Court has allowed it to do so.

That being said, you are absolutely correct that there is a need for an intelligent, qualified, and motivated civil service, and, naturally, we want our dams to stay sealed tight and our roads to be paved and efficient. I would never dream of proposing we elect, say, the head of the South Carolina Department of Transportation. Here, again, the Constitution provides precedent: at the national level, the President appoints his cabinet heads, as well as federal and Supreme Court judges and justices. The Senate, however, has the responsibility of confirming these nominations, helping to prevent egregiously bad appointments.

If these proper checks and balances are maintained--if the different branches stick to their constitutional duties and limits, and if the proper relationship exists between the federal government and the several States--even a reckless executive can only do so much damage. If Congress vigorously protects its legislative prerogatives, an unqualified or authoritarian-minded president may still do some harm, but his ability to do so will be greatly diminished, and the damage can be contained.


***

This conversation went back and forth for a few more posts, which I will possibly include in future pieces.  In the interest of space--as this rumination is already quite lengthy--I will refrain from sharing them now.

However, I would ask that you permit me one parting thought:  we should be on guard against the lionization of the presidency.  The Congress--which represents the people and is, therefore the seat of popular sovereignty--may be consistently unpopular, but it is the proper branch to resist the huge expansion of the presidency.  Presidents increasingly attempt to speak for the people, but in a country that is divided between two entrenched, fundamentally incompatible political philosophies, it is nearly impossible to do so.  Indeed, attempting to do so leads to a Rousseau-style attempt to impose "the common will" on people--whether they want it or not.

Instead, let's speak for ourselves.  We can do that through involvement in local politics, but also by communicating with our Congressmen and Senators.  Let them know that we expect Congress to reclaim its proper legislative powers from the executive bureaucracy.


15 June 2016

Politics, Locally-Sourced

Yesterday was election day in Florence, South Carolina, and in other localities throughout the state.  Specifically, there were a number of primaries, both Democratic and Republican, for various local and statewide seats, including an exciting State Senate race for my district, SC-31.  That race saw a long-serving incumbent, Senator Hugh Leatherman, face challenges from local insurance agent Richard Skipper and current Florence County Treasurer Dean Fowler, Jr.  This race was of particular interest because of the huge sums of money spent on it, as well as Governor Nikki Haley's injection into the race (she endorsed Richard Skipper).  Ultimately, Senator Leatherman retained his seat for another term (he's currently been serving in the SC State House and/or Senate for thirty-six years) handily, with a respectable showing from Mr. Skipper.

(For detailed results of yesterday's elections throughout the Pee Dee region, click here.)

 
Mmm... sweet, delicious numbers.
(Sourcehttp://wpde.com/news/election-results; screen-shot taken at 10:09 PM, 14 June 2016)

For all that time, money, and effort, 10,953 voters cast ballots (according to returns from WPDE.com).  In essence, those voters picked the State Senator (as there is no Democratic challenger, Leatherman will run unopposed to retain his seat in November).  I don't know the exact number of eligible voters in SC-31--it's a strange district that includes parts of Florence and Darlington Counties--but I would wager there are far more than 10,953.

Turnout for primaries, especially off-season and local ones, is typically very low.  Voters in these primaries tend to be more involved politically and more informed about local politics... or they happen to be friends with a candidate.

It's often said that politics, like much else in life, is all about relationships.  This quality is what gives local elections their flavor, and what keeps candidates accountable to their constituents.  In other words, it's usually good that we know the people we elect to serve us, or at least to have the opportunity to get to know that person.

Indeed, our entire system is designed to work from the bottom-up, not from the top-down.  As I will discuss on Friday in a longer post about the concept of popular sovereignty (written in response to comments about last week's post "American Values, American Nationalism"), this does not mean that we don't occasionally entrust professionals to complete the people's work--after all, I wouldn't want a dam constructed by an attorney with no background in hydroelectric engineering.  But it does mean that ultimate political authority derives from the consent of the governed--from "We, the people."

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Americans often knew very little about the goings-on in the nation's capital.  Washington, D.C. was largely seen as a distant, almost alien place that served an important role in foreign policy and in times of national crisis, such as war, but few people followed national politics too terribly closely.  Indeed, even presidential candidates were nominated by state legislatures or party caucuses, and were elected at conventions by national delegates (as opposed to the current system of "pledged delegates" that exists in conjunction with democratic primaries).

"[U]ltimate political authority derives from the consent of the governed--from 'We, the people.'"

Instead, most Americans' focus was on local and state politics, because those were the levels of government that most affected their lives.

Today, that relationship is almost completely inverted.  Due to a complex host of factors--the centralization of the federal government; the standardization of mass news media to reach a national scope; the ratification of the XVII Amendment and the subsequent breakdown of federalism--Americans now know far more about national politics than they do local or statewide politics.

The irony is, the national government is where everyday people have the least influence, and where it is the hardest to change policy.  Also, changes in national policy affect all Americans.  What might work well in, say, Pennsylvania could be a poor fit for South Carolina or Oregon.

At the local level, though, Americans can have a great deal of impact--they can more easily talk to their city councilman than their congressman (although I would like to note that SC-7 Congressman Tom Rice is one of the most accessible and approachable people I've ever met).

Let's follow the trends in dining and shopping and go local.  Learning more about local politics is healthy for the body politic, and is one small but effective way we can begin to restore the proper balance and focus between the people, the States, and the federal government.

13 June 2016

Brexit: The Antidote to Supranational Tyranny

I've been planning to do a few pieces on the question of "Brexit"--whether or not the United Kingdom should leave the European Union, or to remain a part of it--but originally intended to wait until the 23 June referendum drew closer.  However, over the weekend I received this e-mail from a student:

A summer vacation well spent.
In case you can't read the e-mail, here's the text in full:

Dear Mr[.] Cook (Self entitled defender of Rock & Roll),
I know this isn't the average email you get from a student, political. However, with one of the most impactful votes to effect [
sic] the US economy to take place in just 11 days, June 23, I would like to ask how you felt on the United Kingdom's vote on whether to stay in the EU or leave it. US news has refused to cover this major event due to irresponsibility and foolishness. Just wanted to know your thoughts on this vital subject.

(Please note that I am blessed to teach some very bright students.)

Brexit is a hugely complicated issue; however, viewed through the lens of national sovereignty versus the dubious claims of supranational organizations, the ultimate solution is, in my mind, a no-brainer:  the people of Great Britain should vote "Leave" this June.

Now for some preliminary disclaimers, lest I be burned in effigy:

To any British readers, please do not presume that an upstart, boorish American is preaching at you about what to do with your national destiny.  If the situation were reversed, I'd rightfully scoff at any attempts from "Europeans" to tell my country how to function.  However, I ask that all readers approach my arguments for Brexit in a philosophical and rational way; that is, treat them in the context of one mind reasoning from a set a premises, not as an American lecturing foreign nationals about their sovereign politics.

(British readers--if you exist--please feel free to leave your comments, reflections, reactions, and bitter recriminations below; I respect and welcome your perspective, which is far more accurate and attuned to the realities of the situation than my own.)

I'd also like to acknowledge the influence of a book review I read over the weekend in the 9 May 2016 edition of National Review (Volume LXVIII, No. 8).  The review, written by John Fonte and entitled "The EU's Soft Utopia," is of the book The Totalitarian Temptation:  Global Governance and the Crisis of Democracy in Europe by Todd Huizinga, a long-time observer of European Union politics.  I highly recommend you seek out this review.  I intend to read the book soon.

 ***

Now that those pleasantries are out of the way, I'd like to lay out my case, clumsy though it may be.  My remarks are adapted from those I sent to the young man above.

The Brexit issue is one of huge importance to the US, the UK, and Europe, and while it has not been covered heavily in the mainstream media, I've read a number of articles about it in both National Review and the Weekly Standard.

The question of whether or not to vote "Remain" or "Leave" really depends on your perspective and your goals, or what you think the European Union is supposed to do.  The EU itself tries to appear unsure of its goals, but its mission clearly states that it seeks "ever closer union" of the various member nation-states.

The EU began life as essentially a large economic free trade zone that gradually expanded, and which then adopted a common currency in the late 1990s (a move, we now know, that was fraught with peril, especially as it is very difficult for disparate nations at different points of economic development and national sovereignty to share a single currency effectively; see also Greece).  My perception is that the EU wants to become, ultimately, the "United States of Europe"; indeed, this goal is straightforwardly expressed by many pro-Europe observers.  The question, then, is this goal desirable or not?

 The United States of Europe, where six-weeks paid vacation is a basic human right.
(Source:  http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=119048&picture=european-union-flag)

It certainly has elements that are attractive.  In theory, a politically unified Europe becomes a powerful check against Vladimir Putin's Russia.  Many of the "far-right" populist parties in European nations (France's National Front, Germany's Alternativ für Deutschland, etc.) are gaining traction now due to the flood of (often violent) Islamic "refugees" into Europe, and many of those groups view Putin's ultra-nationalistic Russia warmly (some, too, are allegedly bankrolled by Russia).  Moving toward greater union would help resolve the economic problems the euro faces, as it would allow the EU to change monetary and fiscal policy in its member states, which would no longer look like America under the Articles of Confederation, but would instead look more like America under the Constitution.

At least, that's how we're supposed to view it.  Unfortunately, that comparison quickly falls apart under scrutiny.  The constitutional order our Framers carefully constructed in 1787 functions very differently than the European Union conceived of by its architects.  The EU is largely run by an unelected, globalist-progressive bureaucracy that is both unaccountable to the peoples and sovereign member states of Europe, and which has already acted to oust democratically-elected leaders (see also:  Italy).  Sure, there's the European Parliament, which is currently (and ironically) dominated by members from Euroskeptic parties like UKIP, but it has only limited functions and can essentially only vote to block decisions made by the European Commission, itself made up of unelected commissioners.

The EU, then, cares not for democratic input, national sovereignty (and, therefore, borders), or federalism.  A United States of Europe would be a heavily centralized unit that might allow some state sovereignty in some limited areas, but would ultimately have vast, unchecked control over its members, with little regard for what the people in those member states want (just look at Germany and Angela Merkel's increasingly unpopular--and arguably dangerous--stance on the refugee crisis).

So, while a large, intact European Union would present a unified front against Russia, it would also be a largely undemocratic front against the United States.  Some have argued that the EU is necessary to keep NATO viable, but I don't buy this argument.  NATO has functioned well, if somewhat inconsistently, with a couple of dozen or so sovereign states for decades.  If Britain votes "Leave," how would this dynamic substantially change in the long-run?

"A United States of Europe would be a heavily centralized unit that might allow some state sovereignty in some limited areas, but would ultimately have vast, unchecked control over its members, with little regard for what the people in those member states want...."

Ultimately, the Brexit vote is a referendum on national sovereignty.  If national sovereignty has any meaning and significance for the people of Britain--and for the world--British voters will resoundingly vote "no" to the EU.

Would such an outcome have ripple effects politically and economically?  Absolutely.  Britain might struggle temporarily because of the (admittedly) huge institutional and economic disruptions, but it would soon rock back to its feet, as it would find itself freed of the EU's overbearing economic regulations and rules.  Britain is also well-positioned to leave, as it prudently maintained the British pound, and could very likely continue to accept euros for everyday economic exchanges.

The European Union might callously block trade with Britain, but Britain's large financial and consumer markets would quickly erode any such vindictive measures.  President Obama has darkly warned that Britain would be at "the back of the queue" for future trade deals, which would be a slap to the face to the Churchillian, Anglo-American "special relationship."  Our next president would, if he or she is wise, quickly embrace a "most-favored nation" treaty with Britain to keep trade open and affordable between our nations.

Putin might take advantage of the situation temporarily, but Europe and Britain would likely come together rapidly in the face of any Russian aggression.  Putin is wily and will take any advantage he can, which is all the more reason for the Obama administration to put aside its pro-EU stance and to support an independent Britain should the British people vote "Leave."

Just because Putin might benefit doesn't mean that Brexit is ultimately a bad idea.  A "Leave" vote would, in a paradoxical way, be healthy for the EU, as it would likely lead to the exit of nations that have no business being under the euro, such as Greece and Spain.  It would also inspire and embolden other nations to push for greater transparency, accountability, and democratization from the European Union's leaders and institutions.

Most importantly, though, it would strike a blow against the totalizing, globalist elitism of the EU bureaucracy.  Brussels might see itself as enlightened, progressive, cosmopolitan--and, as a result, more humane--but it's still authoritarian and anti-democratic-republican in the way it functions and pursues its vision.

Therefore, while I recognize the potential geopolitical and economic risks, I sincerely pray that the good people of the United Kingdom will strike a blow for republican self-government, national sovereignty, and liberty, and vote "Leave" this June.

The time for Brexit is now.  Like ripping off an old bandage, the initial pain will sting, but only briefly.  The old wound will heal, and a new, freer nation will enjoy the fruits of its sovereignty.

10 June 2016

Created by Philosophy

Near the end of my last post, I included a quotation from the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  To recap, it was her famous dictum that "Europe was created by history.  America was created by philosophy."  What exactly does that mean, and why is it important?

As I also pointed out in my last post, European nationality (and, by extension, the European nation-state) is built on notions of blood and soil.  In other words, being French means you are descended from a group of people broadly defined as "French" and you reside within the French "hexagon" (or at least claim that as your home).  Obviously, not every European nation-state still pursues this model--in some cases to their detriment--but some, like Italy, strenuously do.

 Now that is one sophisticated hexagon.

(Post-colonialism, being "French" includes many people outside of this geographic region, and now the French would more broadly define their nationality through shared language and culture--a model that moves closer to what I perceive to be the American model of nationalism).

In the United States--or, more specifically, in colonial British North America--Americans had a unique opportunity to define their national identity far more broadly.  Indeed, one could argue Americans did so out of necessity:  colonial British North America was a tapestry of cultures, languages, and ethnic groups.  Most hailed from the British Isles and Northern Europe, but the 18th century saw large influxes of Germanic and Scotch-Irish immigrants, not to mention the unfortunate forced immigration of the trans-Atlantic African slave trade.  Most were Protestant of various stripes--the German settlers in particular brought a rich and baffling array of spiritualism and religiosity to a young America--but Catholics and even a small number of Jews also made the trek to the colonies.

The massive Irish and German immigration brought by the Irish Potato Famine and the failed democratic revolutions of 1848, respectively, brought even more diversity to the land at that point known as the United States, and so-called "New Immigration" after the Civil War saw immigrants from Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Greece, and beyond.

By the time those "New Immigrants" began arriving in the 1870s until the tide was stemmed in the 1920s, the United States had already developed a model for nationality born of its colonial experience.  Indeed, the young United States proclaimed its nationality at the very moment it proclaimed its independence from Great Britain.

In writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson laid down the framework for what it means to be an American.  Jefferson, like all of the Founding Fathers, believed in the universal rights of men, rights derived not from any worldly, temporal authority, but from God Himself.  Every civics student is familiar with the ringing declaration that "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."  Herein we see the roots of American values, birthed through the centuries by the tenacity of independent-minded Englishmen and bolstered by the more admirable claims of the Enlightenment.

However, many modern readers miss the first paragraph of the Declaration, which opens with the phrase "When in the Course of human events...."  This seemingly innocuous phrase holds within it deep wells of significance.  Jefferson here is saying that these ideals and rights are not specific to one place or one time.  The "human" here refers, rather, to all of humanity.  The phrase "in the Course of human events" refers to the timeless quality of these values--the self-evident truths of the Declaration apply yesterday, tomorrow, and forever--ad infinitum.

Thomas Jefferson, Babe Magnet

This simple phrase, then, goes a long way in explaining why the young United States was able to hold together in spite of its broad diversity of ethnic groups and religions, while the similarly diverse Austro-Hungarian Empire, which attempted to balance the interests of different ethnic groups by favoring some and oppressing others, ultimately collapsed.  The universal truths of the Declaration, espousing universal rights bestowed by the very Creator of the universe, give all men the opportunity to live their lives as they wish, confident in their liberty and free to pursue happiness and fulfillment as they please.

No doubt this philosophy of God-given liberty has bolstered the United States economically, allowing it become the richest, most prosperous nation on Earth--surely a carrot for future and continued immigration.  Ultimately, however, the most successful and fulfilled Americans, both native-born and immigrant, are those that come to embrace the core philosophy of the American experience.

A sad note in parting:  the increasing ignorance of these God-given rights, and the increasing balkanization of the American nationhood into favored classes and victim groups as a result of said ignorance, is undermining the universal vision of the Founders.  America today looks more and more like the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the early 20th-century:  decadent and splendid on the surface, but torn by internal turmoil and ethnic strife within.

To avoid a similar state, the United States must make a concerted effort to revive the Founders' understanding of the American philosophy enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.

08 June 2016

American Values, American Nationalism

I've been teaching American history and government for six years (and continuously since 2011).  Part of my regular teaching duties includes US Government, a standard survey course that covers the Constitution, federalism, the three branches of the federal government, and other topics of interest.  It's a simple, semester-long course that, while not terribly novel, is absolutely essential.

Before we even read the Preamble to the Constitution, though, I introduce the students to the idea of America.  This lesson plan is not a unique creation; it comes from the textbook Government By the People by David Magleby and Paul Light, which I used to use for the course (I don't know Magleby and Light's political leanings, but the book is a fairly straightforward and useful primer on the mechanics of US government).  I follow the authors' course by starting with what they call the "Five Core Values" of America, which are as follows:

1.) Individualism

2.) Popular Sovereignty

3.) Equality of Opportunity

4.) Freedom of Religion

5.) Economic Liberty

Why do I start each semester in this fashion?  I've found that many Americans--and not just teenagers and young adults--aren't exactly sure what makes American special.  Sure, many can point to our military dominance and our economic clout, but during a time when both appear to be losing ground to other nations, we can't solely make our case on those grounds.

Others might point to our superior educational system, our extensive infrastructure, or our superior health.  The United States certainly is blessed with these qualities, but study after study shows that we're falling behind the rest of the world academically, and everyday experience (especially here in South Carolina) demonstrates that our roads are crumbling.  And don't get me started on the mess that is the Affordable Care Act.

So if we can't rest our claims for American greatness on these grounds--or, if we can only hope to do so temporarily--what really does make the United States special?  Is American exceptionalism only truly relatively, as President Obama implied in April 2009 when he proclaimed, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism"?

The answer--as you've probably guessed--are the very values listed above, the values enshrined in our founding documents, in our political culture, and in our hearts.  The powerful but fragile legacy of liberty handed down from English common law, these values still energize the United States.

What makes the United States unique, too, is that these values form the basis of our sense of nationhood.  No other nation--at least, not prior to the declaration of the United States in 1776--can claim a similar basis.

The term "nation" itself refers to a specific tribal or ethnic affiliation based on common blood, and usually linked to a specific (if often ill-defined) bit of soil.  The nation-states of modern Europe followed this course; for example, French kings over centuries gradually created a "French" national identity, one that slowly subsumed other ethnic and regional identities (Normans, Burgundians, etc.), into a single, (largely Parisian) French culture and nation.

The United States, on the other hand, is not a nation built on ties of blood and soil (although we do owe a huge debt of gratitude to the heritage of Anglo-Saxon political culture for our institutions), but, rather, founded on ideas, ideas that anyone can adopt.

We believe, further, that these ideals are universal, and are not, ultimately, specific to our place and time.  Sure, some countries might lack the institutional stability and political culture to sustain a constitutional republic like ours, but, ultimately, we believe that any people, anywhere in the world, can come to adopt our American values.

The concept of American nationhood, therefore, is flexible and adaptive to many contexts, but is ultimately grounded in firm absolutes.  Often these values butt up against one another, or there is disagreement about their importance.  When, for example, does the will of the individual become so out-sized that it threatens, say, popular sovereignty, or freedom of religion?

The Constitution was designed to adjudicate these disputes fairly and transparently--with a Supreme Court acting in good faith and in accord with the Constitution--to protect individual rights from the tyranny of the majority, and to protect the majority from the tyranny of minority special interest groups.

In this regard, perhaps, American nationalism has faltered.  The consistent undermining of our carefully balanced constitutional order--the centralization of federal power, the aggrandizement of the executive and judiciary, the delegation of legislative powers to the federal bureaucracy, the equivocation of Congress--has served to damage our national identity and our national values, turning the five core values above into distorted perversions of their proper forms.

To wit:

1.) Individualism--the protection of the individual's rights--has become a grotesque, licentious individualism without any consequences, one that expects the state to pick up the tab for bad decisions, which can no longer be deemed "bad."  Alternatively, actual constitutional rights are trampled upon in the name of exorcising "hate speech."

2.) Popular sovereignty--authority flowing upward from the people--has been flipped on its head, becoming, instead, a top-down sovereignty of the enlightened technocrats and un-elected government bureaucrats.

3.) Equality of opportunity--an equality that recognizes that everyone is different but enjoys the same legal and constitutional safeguards to fail and to succeed--morphs into equality of outcome, a radical form of egalitarianism that brought us the worst excesses of the French and the Russian Revolutions, and ultimately breeds authoritarianism and demagoguery.

4.) Freedom of religion--the most important of our constitutional rights, as it rests both at the foundation of our republic and of our very souls, the freedom of conscious itself--now becomes a vague "freedom of worship," which is really no freedom at all.  Religious observation is to be a strictly private affair, one (impossibly) divorced from our public lives.

5.) Economic liberty--the freedom to spend and earn our money as we please, with a token amount paid in taxes to support the infrastructure we all use and to maintain the military and police that protect our freedoms abroad and domestically--becomes excessive economic regulation, with many potential economic opportunities simply regulated out of existence.  Rather than laws forming in response to new technologies or ideas, regulations are crafted to protect existing firms and and well-connected special interests.

With such a distorted view of our national values and our rights--stemming, in many cases, from ignorance of them--many Americans find it difficult to articulate what exactly it means to be an American.  In this light, problems like illegal (and, in some cases, excessive legal) immigration take on a whole new tenor:  how can we expect foreign migrants to adopt our values--to become part of the American nation--if we ourselves cannot articulate what American nationhood and values are?

The solution starts with proper education and a realignment of our thought toward the proper definitions and forms of our values.  As Margaret Thatcher said, "Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy."  Understanding our national philosophy--our "Five Core American Values"--will allow us to rediscover our exceptional nationhood.

06 June 2016

Six Long Years

A lot can happen in six years.

When I last posted on this blog, I announce that Nikki Haley had been elected Governor of South Carolina.

That was November of 2010.  Think about what was going on at that time:

- Democrats still controlled the Senate, but had just lost the House to the rising T.E.A. Party insurgency.

- The Affordable Care Act had been passed, but would not go into effect until 2013 (2014, as it turned out, due to the executive fiat of the Department of Health and Human Services).

- The Great Recession was, from a technically economic standpoint, over, but the much-vaunted Obama recovery was still frustratingly anemic at best, and virtually invisible to many Americans.

- President Barack Obama hadn't completely divided the country along race, class, and gender lines, and his disastrous foreign policy hadn't completely crippled American power and prestige abroad.

What a difference six years make.  Here are some highlights:

- Nikki Haley not only began her first gubernatorial term in 2011; she handily won reelection in 2014 in a landslide victory against her 2010 opponent, Vincent Sheheen.  The relatively unknown upstart from Bamberg made good on her promise to grow the State economically.  She guided the state through the horrible Charleston Nine massacre in 2015; adroitly handled the resultant push to remove the Confederate Flag from the Statehouse grounds; and entered VP buzz for the carnival-like 2015-2016 presidential election season.

- The Democrats lost control of the Senate after an unexpected Republican surge in the 2014 midterm elections, which cemented the gains of 2010 and showed Americans' growing dissatisfaction with the Affordable Care Act in particular and the Obama administration's equivocating in general.  This victory came despite an unpopular government shut-down (led by the brilliant Senator Ted Cruz of Texas) in 2013 and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's drubbing in the 2012 presidential election.

- Racial wounds that had mostly scabbed over were ripped open once again--this time with the president dumping plenty of salt on them.  Alleged police misconduct in Ferguson, Missouri and beyond brought out protestors in droves... despite the fact that many of these unfortunate events were not racially motivated (although some, such as the death of Eric Garner in New York City, highlighted the perils of excessive force and regulations).  Baltimore caught fire, Ferguson was ablaze, and the big losers were small black business owners who saw their stores looted amid cries for racial and social justice.

- The American college campus, always a training school for Leftist ideologues, became a breeding ground for illiberal Progressives, those who loudly (and sometimes violently) suppressed freedom of speech if such speech was deemed unacceptable or "hateful" (the latter often taking a rather protean definition).  Dovetailing with the rise in identity politics (see the previous bullet point), campus multiculturalism took on a dangerously Balkanized flavor, one that denounced the First Amendment and, in the process, heterosexual white men in favor of a vague commitment to skin-deep "diversity" (unless you're transgender, in which case you can be whatever you feel like at any given moment).

- Out of all this craziness came the largest, most talented field of Republican presidential hopefuls in the nation's history.  With seventeen (!) candidates, Republicans were treated to a wealth of talent--but also a great deal of muckraking, mudslinging, and intense political maneuvering.  From this crowded field emerged an unlikely victor:  business mogul Donald J. Trump.  In one of the biggest twists in American political history, a non-ideological, brash, gutsy-but-not-very-detail-oriented, and always-controversial reality television star won the nomination of an increasingly conservative Republican Party.  Put another way, a thrice-married, formerly-pro-Clinton, formerly-pro-choice New Yorker beat out a born-again, pro-life Texan.

Needless to say, it's been pretty crazy.

With everything that's happened, I realized that it's time to get back into this world of political commentary.  The unique character of the 2016 presidential election alone has me salivating (be on the lookout for my brief overview of the 2015-2016 presidential nomination process).  There are so many questions:  what will become of the Republican Party?  Can Trump win the election (for what it's worth, I think he can)?  Will Hillary manage to hold off socialist Bernie Sanders?  How will Trump and Clinton go after each other?  Should conservatives support Trump, or back a third-party candidate (for reasons I'll explain in a future post, I'll say "yes, with some caveats" to the first part and "no" to the second)?  What would a viable third-party candidacy look like--if such a thing is possible?

There's a lot to talk about.

So, strap in and brace yourself--it's going to be one heck of a ride.

All the best,

The Portly Politico

03 June 2016

Returning Soon...

The Portly Politico returns Monday, 6 June 2016, after a six-year hiatus.

That's a lot of sixes.

Stay tuned.