The Competence Question

The lesson we can learn from Afghanistan is not that Joe Biden lost what Donald Trump could have won. Nor is it that Trump, and his deplorable supporters, are to blame. After all, withdrawal was their plan. Nor is it—God forbid—that the United States should stay in Afghanistan forever. 

The lesson is a hard one. The national government of the United States is incompetent. 

The United States has been defeated in Afghanistan. The United States set incompetent, unachievable war aims, spent as much as $2 trillion over 20 years in the attempt, and achieved none of them. None. The Taliban are stronger, better financed, better equipped, more likely to remain in power, more able to harbor terrorists, more sophisticated, and more popular than they were in 2001. Women in Afghanistan will return to their former abject condition. China will be the Taliban’s partner for the extraction of Afghanistan’s natural resources, and for the promotion of the heroin trade.

The United States famously employs 16 intelligence agencies, a massive State Department, and a fabulously equipped Department of Defense. None of these institutions had the foresight to predict their failure. To say they were blind is unfair to the blind. They either willfully did not look or were consciously deceiving their country. Yet, the heads of these institutions have suffered no loss of prestige. There have been no dismissals, no reckonings, no resignations. The brass, the top bananas at the State Department and the intelligence agencies are, in fact, proud of the role they played. They are incompetent even to address their incompetence.

The incompetence in Afghanistan is not a specific, one-off, incompetence. The incompetence of the national government of the United States is general.

The national government of the United States is a gerontocracy. The president is nearly 79, the speaker of the House is 81, the Senate minority leader is 79, and Senate president pro tempore is 81. The Senate majority leader is the youngest of the senior elected officeholders at 70. The chain of succession for the presidency under the Constitution is president, vice president (who is incompetent, despite her youth), speaker, president pro tempore. Interrupted only by a cackle, it is liver spots all the way down. A gerontocracy requires the cooperation of the middle-aged and young, who cannot conceive of themselves wielding power and so defer to the old. Many place their hopes in Donald Trump, who will be 78 in 2024. This is a deep, broad incompetence.

On January 6, 2021, rioters who disbelieved the election results entered the Capitol building. The reaction of the national government to this event has been to militarize the Capitol, to praise the forces that failed to secure the Capitol, devise their expansion into a national police force, and charge hundreds of people, and imprison as many as 60 of them—many without prior criminal records—without bail, without access to evidence against them, whether inculpatory or exculpatory, and without a trial date. 

The principal causes of the events of January 6 were the events of November 2020. An insecure mail-in process, adopted in many states without consent of their legislatures, under the pretense of mitigating a pandemic, tainted confidence. The use of electronic equipment in ballot counting, the integrity of which cannot be audited without technical expertise, and the highly irregular conduct of election officials, such as obstructing observers and stopping and restarting counting, further undermined confidence. 

Compounding the uncertainty was the fact that the time between the election and the certification of electors is set on the assumption of general confidence in elections. It leaves little time to properly contest election irregularities or for the courts to entertain any challenge on its merits. 

Leading counsel for the challenges, Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell, have been referred by the bench of New York, federal bench of District of Columbia, and the federal bench in Michigan for sanctions, i.e., disbarment. To question the integrity of the election is uniformly regarded by the national government as unpatriotic and conspiratorial. Still, if it were so misguided, there would be no need to condemn suspicions so forcefully. Elections in the United States have not always been clean. There have been problems in the South but also in the North. The ability to challenge the integrity of elections has been essential to the restoration of integrity. The confidence needed to tolerate a challenge is a competence required for confidence.

The United States is passing through a pandemic that, while marginally worse than the 1968 Hong Kong Flu pandemic, manifestly is not as severe as the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. The leading official of the national government’s lurching, draconian, and largely ineffective response to the pandemic is none other than 80-year-old Dr. Anthony Fauci. Fauci is the chief of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), where he has held his position since 1984. 

If Fauci has talents, we know one is playing king of the hill. In the 36 years Fauci has held his position, he has apparently trained no one younger than himself to be the face of the national government’s answer to the pandemic. He denies, somewhat jesuitically, that he is entangled in gain of function research at the Wuhan laboratory, a probable origin of the COVID-19 virus. He is permitted, in essence, to investigate himself in the matter. Again, in the midst of a grave crisis, our national health institutions cannot cope with this incompetence. They are incompetent to address their incompetence.

The incompetence goes on and on. Congress has ceased to function effectively as a legislature. It passes bills in length comparable to the Holy Bible, which its members could not read even if they desired to do so. These bills invariably delegate rule making authority to the agencies. What does Congress do if not legislate? It fundraises. In essence, Congress has become a fundraising body with a legislature, much like Prussia was an army with a state. 

The Constitution, to which each national office holder and each member of the armed forces swears allegiance, effectively has become in many key respects a dead letter. The Constitution contemplated a separation of powers and a limited government; the scope of its powers were enumerated and the main body of power was left to the states through federalism. Now, the executive legislates. The legislature noisily investigates. The cameras roll. The courts judge executive legislation by whether or not it is arbitrarily imposed or revoked, as it did with DACA and the Remain in Mexico policy. The question of whether executives playing games with selective enforcement amounts to legislating—and recall, the Constitution unequivocally says “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States . . .”—the judiciary shyly demurs. 

The national government’s trade policy of 40 years, combined with the selective enforcement of immigration, has destroyed the value of unskilled labor in the economy of the United States, impoverished the middle class, and destabilized the American family, which now requires two salaries to operate just so they can go broke paying for college credentials for their children to do the same. 

The United States is insolvent and rapidly becoming more so. As a topper, the United States has adopted something akin to a religion, wokism, a strain of perverted Puritanism, which it seeks in myriad ways to establish, including special flags, as a national religion in violation of the First Amendment.

The larger lesson, derivative of this woeful tale of incompetence, is that it is no longer possible to speak of our problems as ones that can be resolved by a sweeping of the House and Senate in 2022, or the presidency in 2024. While such political goals are important, they are unlikely to solve the problem in the absence of something like a 30-year run of the election of real statesmen. The political parties generally, for all the partisan sound and fury, seek the preservation of the status quo, which enriches the political actors and their friends and affiliates. 

The national government has demonstrated, beyond a doubt, that it will depose any elected official who threatens its power and ambitions. The 16 intelligence agencies, while they were deceiving the American people about Afghanistan, were working to frame an elected president as a Russian agent.   

Unfortunately, therefore, Americans must start a discussion of what follows. If the national government cannot control itself, if it is incorrigibly incompetent to do its job—like win wars, negotiate competent trade deals, remain solvent and protect the civil rights of all Americans, in its present form with the present matter, the people that make up its component parts—then what ought to replace it? 

We need a national government. We cannot make it a competent one with our current elite. We can protect ourselves from it only by reducing its power with a new form of government that will restrain the national power until competence for a more energetic form of government is again possible. 

The calling today is to consider, lawfully, what form the government should take and how it can be done. As a nation, the United States has faced this challenge before. In 1787, the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, which required unanimity to amend, had proven incompetent. The nation was mired in recession, and corrupted by ubiquitous debtor-creditor fights and sovereign debt and currency issues that so undermined the nation that the possibility of reconquest by Britain loomed. 

A constitutional convention was called. A new constitution was proposed, one that addressed the incompetence of the national government. It needs to be done again. As for the critics aghast at the suggestion, ignore them. That’s what self-government is. Few things could be more American. 

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About Jay Whig

Jay Whig is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness. Whig practices law in New York and a resides in Connecticut, specializing in insolvency and restructuring. Opinions are his own.

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