America • Americanism • Declaration of Independence • History • Post • self-government

Calvin Coolidge: ‘If All Men Are Created Equal, That Is Final’

The following is an excerpt from Calvin Coolidge’s (lengthy) speech in Philadelphia on July 5, 1926, marking the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. 

We meet to celebrate the birthday of America. The coming of a new life always excites our interest. Although we know in the case of the individual that it has been an infinite repetition reaching back beyond our vision, that only makes it the more wonderful. But how our interest and wonder increase when we behold the miracle of the birth of a new nation. It is to pay our tribute of reverence and respect to those who participated in such a mighty event that we annually observe the fourth day of July.

Whatever may have been the impression created by the news which went out from this city on that summer day in 1776, there can be no doubt as to the estimate which is now placed upon it. At the end of 150 years the four corners of the earth unite in coming to Philadelphia as to a holy shrine in grateful acknowledgment of a service so great, which a few inspired men here rendered to humanity, that it is still the preeminent support of free government throughout the world.

Although a century and a half measured in comparison with the length of human experience is but a short time, yet measured in the life of governments and nations it ranks as a very respectable period. Certainly enough time has elapsed to demonstrate with a great deal of thoroughness the value of our institutions and their dependability as rules for the regulation of human conduct and the advancement of civilization. They have been in existence long enough to become very well seasoned. They have met, and met successfully, the test of experience . . .

. . . About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

In the development of its institutions America can fairly claim that it has remained true to the principles which were declared 150 years ago. In all the essentials we have achieved an equality which was never possessed by any other people. Even in the less important matter of material possessions we have secured a wider and wider distribution of wealth. The rights of the individual are held sacred and protected by constitutional guaranties, which even the Government itself is bound not to violate. If there is any one thing among us that is established beyond question, it is self-government—the right of the people to rule. If there is any failure in respect to any of these principles, it is because there is a failure on the part of individuals to observe them. We hold that the duly authorized expression of the will of the people has a divine sanction. But even in that we come back to the theory of John Wise that “Democracy is Christ’s government.” The ultimate sanction of law rests on the righteous authority of the Almighty.

On an occasion like this a great temptation exists to present evidence of the practical success of our form of democratic republic at home and the ever-broadening acceptance it is securing abroad. Although these things are well known, their frequent consideration is an encouragement and an inspiration. But it is not results and effects so much as sources and causes that I believe it is even more necessary constantly to contemplate. Ours is a government of the people. It represents their will. Its officers may sometimes go astray, but that is not a reason for criticizing the principles of our institutions. The real heart of the American Government depends upon the heart of the people. It is from that source that we must look for all genuine reform. It is to that cause that we must ascribe all our results.

It was in the contemplation of these truths that the fathers made their declaration and adopted their Constitution. It was to establish a free government, which must not be permitted to degenerate into the unrestrained authority of a mere majority or the unbridled weight of a mere influential few. They undertook the balance these interests against each other and provide the three separate independent branches, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial departments of the Government, with checks against each other in order that neither one might encroach upon the other. These are our guaranties of liberty. As a result of these methods enterprise has been duly protected from confiscation, the people have been free from oppression, and there has been an ever-broadening and deepening of the humanities of life.

Under a system of popular government there will always be those who will seek for political preferment by clamoring for reform. While there is very little of this which is not sincere, there is a large portion that is not well informed. In my opinion very little of just criticism can attach to the theories and principles of our institutions. There is far more danger of harm than there is hope of good in any radical changes. We do need a better understanding and comprehension of them and a better knowledge of the foundations of government in general. Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.

No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp.

If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.

Photo credit: History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images


America • civic culture/friendship • Education • Identity Politics • Post • Progressivism • self-government • The Culture

K-12 Education Has Become Progressive Sunday School

As an adolescent, just beginning my education as a Catholic, I had Catechism classes. There, for usually an hour, we learned some of the basic tenets of the Roman Catholic faith. In other denominations, this is known as Sunday School. I suppose the true purpose of Sunday School is edification and the equipping of the pupils with a solid foundation in religious faith. Progressive Liberals have their own Sunday School. Of course, given that they tout a Trojan Horse religion, they get away with not calling it what it is.

As a teacher and a former public school student, I have become intimately acquainted with the inner workings of the Progressive Liberal Sunday School catechizing the youth of America. Over 50 million young people attend the public schools every year where—to an overwhelming extent—their minds are prepared to accept and think uncritically about basic Progressive Liberal doctrines by the priests and priestesses who teach their classes.

Within the schools that teach the teachers, Social Sciences—which the university Schools of Education fall under—registered Democrats outnumber Republican Professors by a margin of over 10 to 1. Even in my Jesuit School of Education, we were heavy on social justice but weak on the classical canon of literature; we went deep into the all-powerful influence of racism, sexism, class and other bigoted isms as applied to education, but we hardly ever talked about the Western tradition of liberty, the pursuit of truth, and the search for the sublime.

It should come as no surprise that K-12 teachers in America adhere overwhelmingly to the Progressive Liberal faith. Verdant Labs, using Federal Election Commission data showing the professions of those who contribute to political campaigns, created some educated guesses about how Republican or Democratic certain professions are. The data on my profession, teaching, was unsurprising. There are 79 Democrats in the teaching profession for every 21 Republicans. At the high school level there are 87 Democrats for every 13 Republicans. And in elementary schools there are 85 Democrats for every 15 Republicans.

The Unions, to which almost all teachers belong, give overwhelmingly to Democrats. Since 1990, the K-12 teacher unions gave close to 80 million dollars to Democrats; they gave only 3.4 million of those dollars to Republicans. 95 percent of their donations have gone to Democrats. This puts traditionalists like myself in a tight bind. My dues help bargain for the salary that allows me to be a part of the middle class; but the organization is a far-left outfit that pushes a social agenda that is antithetical to my own personal beliefs.

I saw firsthand the workings of the union at the State Representatives Assembly I attended several years ago. We spent a good amount of time discussing salaries, working conditions, and so on, but the floor was also open for numerous resolutions. Among them were resolutions about equity (a Progressive Liberal code for forced equality of outcome), ethnic studies (any culture except traditional European, Jewish, or Christian cultures in practice), celebrating the “Black Lives Matter” movement (no motions about Blue Lives—including Black Blue Lives were brought up), a resolution about “toxic masculinity” (despite the fact our most problematic students tend to have NO masculinity in the house) and a resolution against teachers being armed in class. Essentially, it was a hit parade of the Progressive Liberal professions of faith.

The Sunday School works quite simply. Students are exposed to a Progressive Liberal curriculum by a teaching staff who are constantly honing their skills to be at the cutting edge of Progressive Liberal doctrines as they develop. The job of the curriculum, which Progressive Liberal instructors posing as “experts” select, is to prepare the ground for them to explain and inculcate Progressive dogmas into the minds of children.    

Textbooks are often where this starts. What does that look like in practice? Take an Advanced Placement U.S .History textbook called The American Pageant. This is a popular textbook that tens of thousands of the 500,000 students who take the AP U.S. History test use to prepare for the exam. In the words of Burt Folsom, an economic historian and emeritus professor at Hillsdale College, the textbook teaches “flawed ideas…that mislead students into thinking that the United States is fundamentally corrupt, and that the world is often worse off because America exists and has so much global influence.” In the textbooks which we use, certain words are used as slurs. This isn’t shocking. They are written by a professoriate which I earlier mentioned has 10 liberals for every 1 conservative—and social conservatives are often even less represented. Words like “conservative,” “Christian,” “male,” “patriarch,” “white,” “European,” “rural,” “older,” and “religious,” are used almost exclusively in negative contexts.

What is the outcome of immersing students in these ideas? Can we trust K-12 educators to present them objectively and fairly when they skew so heavily to the Left?

While students are fed a steady diet of Progressive Liberal dogmas and content, teachers are subject to a steady stream of re-education meant to indoctrinate them further and further into the Progressive Religion. Where practicing Christians have Bible studies to refresh their minds and re-enter the study of Scripture, K-12 teachers have Teacher Training to refresh the basics. For example, while I was researching this Chapter, I got an email from my Union offering a free course called: “Implicit Bias and Microaggressions: Race, LGBTQ, Ability and Intersectionality.” I get invitations to these sorts of courses at least once a month in my personal and school email.

This course, which probably involved paying the presenters several thousand dollars, begins “with an overview of implicit bias and microaggression as it applies to race in the classroom and the workplace. A special emphasis on how implicit bias and microaggressions can impact the success of students regardless of the positive intent of adults or other students.”

What is an example of a microaggression? Asking a student where he is from.

The apparatus for teaching Progressive Faith Dogmas is well funded and extensive. That Far Left Institution for Propagating and Defending this Social Justice Faith—also called the Southern Poverty Law Center—has an endowment of over four hundred million dollars.  One of the programs they run is called “Teaching Tolerance.” The lessons that this group produces are used in thousands of American public schools in front of hundreds of thousands of American students, every single year.

Teaching Tolerance has numerous other lessons pushing the Progressive Liberal religion and do all of the things .Progressive Liberalism needs to exist as a faith. For example, deconstructing the past (e.g.,  Teaching Tolerance’s lesson that excoriates Dr. Seuss as a racist), breeding racial resentment (e.g., Teaching Tolerance’s lesson on the poisonous concept of “white privilege”), pushing open borders (e.g., Teaching Tolerance’s lesson on Islam which paints anyone opposed to migration as a xenophobe), calling for higher taxes on Americans as a form of environmentalist reparations (through its lesson on how class relates to carbon emissions).

The largest teachers union, the National Education Association, itself has a list of similar “social justice” lesson plans intended to do to students the same thing Teaching Tolerance aims to do.

Every parent and taxpayer who is a traditionalist unwittingly supports this system as they fork over property taxes to pay for the educations of their own children or the children of their community, the faith of the family is denigrated.

If you think that an hour of Church every Sunday or the occasional patriotic celebration like the 4th of July is enough to immunize your children from the tidal wave of cultural liberalism they are subjected to on a daily basis, you are either negligent or sorely naïve. We can see the results of this so clearly and yet social conservatives wonder why they keep losing the culture war and are pushed further and further to the margins.

We are losing our country because the Progressive Left has captured the institutions which they know are crucial for destroying the Judeo-Christian foundations of this civilization. While Bible reading is banned as mixing Religion with the State, no such ban applies to any of the pseudo-religious texts which constitute the “Holy Scriptures” of Progressive Religion. Gallup documents the changes since 2001; and they are striking. In 2001, 45 percent of Americans believed having a child outside of the context of marriage was acceptable. In 2018, the number was over 61 percent. In 2001, 59 percent of Americans thought divorce was morally acceptable; in 2018 the number was 71 percent. In 2001, 49 percent of Americans thought doctor-assisted suicide was acceptable; in 2018 it was 56 percent. Indeed, it will probably only be a matter of time before for support for other forms of sexual “liberty” become more and more popular. The culture is moving from Traditional faith due to the Progressive Sunday School system: polygamy, bestiality, bigamy, prostitution, perhaps even pedophilia have the potential to be mainstreamed into a culture being torn out from the roots up.

The Trojan Horse is at the gates. And the faithful are caught unawares.

Photo credit: Getty Images/ Stock photo

America • Energy • Environment • EU • Europe • Post • self-government • Technology

Why Don’t Climate Activists Support Nuclear Power?

For several days in mid-April, downtown London was paralyzed by thousands of “climate activists” protesting the failure of the British government to act swiftly enough to combat climate change. In mid-March, thousands of students across the United States staged school “walkouts” to demand action on climate change as well.

These protests are ongoing, but the underlying logic is hard to see. The primary sources of anthropogenic CO2 are no longer Western nations, which are only responsible for about 30 percent of all global emissions. The biggest single culprit, if you want to call it that, is China, responsible for 28 percent of global emissions, nearly twice as much as the United States, and 28 times as much as the United Kingdom.

Rapidly industrializing India, responsible for 6 percent of global CO2 emissions, is on track to become the most populous nation on earth. The chances that China and India will sacrifice their national future in order to reduce CO2 emissions are zero. The same holds for every emerging nation, including the demographic heavyweights Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, along with all the rest.

The logic of these protestors also fails when it comes to the science of climate change, although to suggest something might be off in their thinking is heresy. So rather than point out that moderate warming might actually be beneficial to the planet, or that extreme weather is more highly correlated with a cooling planet, let’s accept all the popular wisdom with respect to “climate science.” So what? According to their own theories, it’s already too late. Climate alarmists have repeatedly said we had just a few years left—or else.

In 1989, a “senior U.N. environmental official” said “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000. Then in 2006, former Vice President Al Gore told the Washington Post that “humanity may have only 10 years left to save the planet from turning into a total frying pan.” Fast forward to 2019, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) joins today’s alarmist chorus, telling us “the world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change.”

So where’s the logic and reason behind these protests? The biggest emitters of CO2 are not going to stop emitting CO2, and it’s too late anyway. But there’s an even more obvious flaw in the logic of these protestors, and more generally, in the entire agenda of the climate change lobby: They will not support nuclear power.

The Case for Nuclear Power
While it’s disingenuous for those of us who don’t believe anthropogenic CO2 is a mortal threat to humanity to use the emissions-free argument to promote nuclear power, it’s important to recognize that nuclear power plants don’t emit anything into the atmosphere. Even so-called “deniers,” if they’re intellectually honest, acknowledge that burning fossil fuel still causes genuine air pollution. Although carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, lead, and particulates are scrubbed out of most modern power plants in America, the rest of the world lags behind in cleaning up their smokestack emissions.

Even in America, where auto tailpipe emissions are cleaner than ever, air pollution can accumulate around busy intersections in large cities and remains a health hazard. Whether used to recharge car batteries or to otherwise power the electric grid, nuclear energy is 100 percent emissions-free.

Although fear of a nuclear accident continues to animate anti-nuclear activists around the world, nuclear is also safer than ever. But all the nuclear accidents in history—including the big three, Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island—have caused at most 200 deaths. Even that number is based on generous speculation since it is impossible to positively identify the cause of illnesses people develop decades after an exposure.

Of course, there have been accidents while mining for nuclear fuel, or during construction of nuclear power plants. But as this chart shows, using data from the International Energy Agency, coal mining, drilling for oil and natural gas, and harvesting of “renewable” biomass are all far more harmful to human health.

Absent from the above chart are renewables, but this doesn’t mean renewable energy doesn’t have a cost in human life. Renewable energy relies primarily on photovoltaic panels, wind generators, and batteries, all three of which are incredibly resource intensive. Hundreds if not thousands of miners have already died, working under slave conditions, to extract the cobalt and lithium needed for modern batteries. As renewables increase their share of global energy production, this human catastrophe will increase in scale, and to-date there are minimal reforms, and no viable alternative materials.

Not only does nuclear power have an exemplary safety record when compared to other forms of energy, the next generation nuclear power technologies are safer than ever. These new reactors employ even more resilient cooling systems, they can reprocess their own spent fuel, and they are being designed as modules of various power outputs that require far less maintenance.

Nuclear fuel is also abundant. The world’s present measured resources of uranium are enough to last for about 90 years at current global rates of consumption. According to the World Nuclear Association, “this represents a higher level of assured resources than is normal for most minerals.”

This is an important point. Just as the concept of “peak oil” was popularized in the late 1990s, and debunked about 10 years later as new reserves were discovered and new methods of extraction were developed, it is unlikely the global supply of nuclear fuel would diminish precipitously, especially as reprocessing technology improves. The history of resource extraction, at least when market forces are allowed to operate, is that innovation and alternative solutions are always sufficient to offset looming scarcity of any particular resource.

Renewables Are Overrated
Wind, solar, and biofuels are touted as the answer, but the fact is they cannot match the efficiency and reliability of nuclear power. There are a lot of aspects to this, from the incredible waste of land, to the devastating toll on wildlife, to the resource intensity, to the monstrous recycling challenge as these massive installations wear out and have to be replaced. But what should be relevant to the climate activists is the intermittency of renewables, which cannot produce energy when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

To compensate for the on again off again nature of renewable energy, fossil fuel has to be employed as backup. This not only guarantees ongoing CO2 emissions, but it has economic consequences. Because natural gas power plants now have to be shut on and off depending on the availability of renewable energy, they cannot efficiently recover their construction costs. This artificially distorts upward the actual cost of fossil fuel energy, making renewable energy look more economical by comparison. Nuclear power plants, which have zero emissions but cannot be rapidly turned on and off, are in some cases being decommissioned to make room for hybrid renewable/fossil fuel systems. In states where this has happened, CO2 emissions have actually risen.

We Need an “All-of-the-Above” Energy Strategy
Global civilization depends on cheap, reliable, abundant energy, and it needs as much of it as it can possibly get. Just in order for average worldwide per capita energy consumption to reach half of what it currently is in the United States, global energy production has to double. This is an immutable fact.

Of course we should continue to develop renewable energy, just as we should continue to research breakthrough energy technologies such as fusion power. But fossil fuel use is not going to go away, its use is going to increase for at least the next 20-30 years until something better comes along. And clean, safe, abundant nuclear power should be part of our global energy portfolio, no matter what anyone believes regarding CO2 and “climate change.”

It is interesting to wonder who is behind the massive demonstrations around the world demanding “climate action.” Whoever they are, perhaps the single biggest challenge to their sincerity is their unwillingness to support nuclear power as part of the solution.

America • Americanism • Conservatives • Electoral College • Government Reform • political philosophy • Post • self-government • separation of powers • The Constitution • The Culture

The New Social Contract We Must Reject

America’s public life is disordered; our discourse toxic. Competing lists of scandals and abuses (calls for impeachment, “nuclear options,” attacks on free speech, and so on) are long and shop-worn—and often miss the real issue that something profound, systemic, and dangerous has happened to our nation. A hostile ideology now permeates the institutions that inculcate our children’s values, that shape or manufacture public opinion, and that supply the public with our only menu of political options from which to choose.

In effect, our ruling class has declared a new social contract, and they expect us to accept in silent acquiescence.

A social contract reveals itself in action, not ideas, and the true nature of the new, progressive contract emerges in countless examples of applied tyranny rather than its rhetoric of liberation. If we allow this new social contract to become our national norm, we will no longer be Americans in any meaningful sense. We will descend from a self-governing people into the subjects of social democratic elites who will dictate what kinds of political, economic, and social relationships we have with one another and with our new rulers.

American public life grew from a creative tension between two competing but ultimately compatible visions of who we are and what makes our common life meaningful. In effect, Americans have lived in and between two social contracts, which we have come to call “liberal” and “conservative.”

Our liberal social contract is largely individualistic; it stresses natural rights, political consent, and legal protections that extend from protecting contracts to guaranteeing equality of opportunity. Our conservative social contract, accepting much of liberalism, undergirds it by emphasizing the ties of community—of family, church, and local association—that make economic and political cooperation possible and help give life meaning. Freedom and stability, rights and duties, personal drive and the deeper ties and shared stories that bind us, these seeming contradictions have served as the poles of our common life, allowing us to forge a society of dynamic, ordered liberty.

Things have changed. Whether in the sweeping power grab of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal,” the old-style socialism of Senator Bernie Sanders, or the dogged resistance of “mainstream” Democrats to any judicial nominee who recognizes the duty of judges to follow rather than make law, formerly fringe positions have coalesced into a new consensus on the left more radical than anything we have seen previously in our two-party system.

How did this happen?

Barack Obama’s vapid speechifying about America’s coming “fundamental transformation” sounded sophomoric to many of us but inspired others—activists, academics, journalists, and politicians—to believe their vanguard had finally captured all the important cultural and political high ground. The words were conceptually empty but nonetheless important as they signaled a coming out for this vanguard. Feeling free to use naked power to implement their new social and political model, progressives largely immobilized non-progressive elites whose foolish complicity in the building of the new paradigm left them without a script.

This paradigm owes much to the most radical of American Progressives from a century ago. It is laid out most fully, however, in a work of academic philosophy, the 1971 book A Theory of Justice by Harvard philosopher John Rawls.  At one level, Rawls merely restates old leftist prejudices, and his abstruse language hardly conceals the radicalism of a “social contract” demanding that we reject our lived culture, our inherited principles, and the defining traits of our American character in favor of a radical, inhumane, and fundamentally unjust “theory of justice.”  

On another level, Rawls offers the purest form of political abstraction that supported a method of analysis perfectly attuned to the desires of a new generation of radicals for moral certitude and for those who cannot tolerate dissent or pluralism.  In this way, Rawls crafted a very useful and seductive theory for people who want action. Rawls’ contract begins with the question: what type of society would an individual choose from behind a “veil of ignorance” completely masking every aspect of a distinctive self:  gender, class, talents, physical limitations, religious and moral beliefs? Rawls’ answer is a “fair” society, in which the only permissible inequalities would be those that produce disproportionate benefits to the most disadvantaged. The cold abstraction of Rawls’ system produces moral heat against all forms of difference and inequality, and against anyone who fails to parrot the claim that its principles are self-evident. And so, dissent from the new orthodoxy is portrayed as a sign of racist rage and a selfish thirst for power, political majorities are dismissed as brainwashed rubes or mere fictions, and open opposition to the new order is deemed treason. Rawls’ theory effectively closes the mind of disciples in order to prepare them for the long march to power.

If we have learned anything over the last two and a half centuries it is that nothing is so dangerous to real, particular, breathing humans as moralism devoted to abstract visions of the good. Unfortunately, we seem perpetually destined to unlearn such lessons. “Free” college, medical care, and guaranteed incomes, courts determined to legislate against the expressed will of the people, and the poisonous demands of today’s identity politics all share a hostility to the norms of personal responsibility and traditions of due process deeply embedded in our liberal/conservative consensus. They demand rejection of tradition and opportunity in favor of using government and radical pressure groups to redistribute wealth and power according to political standards.

Political conflict is nothing new in America. Nor is all political conflict the product of disagreements over our social contract. For example, much of the tragedy of race relations historically has stemmed from primitive emotions and bad, race-based pseudo-science. But at the core of today’s toxic politics is a battle for America’s soul. We must choose: Are we, as a people, dependents of a central government and those who perpetually run that government, looking for administrators to protect us from all the tragedies of life—including sickness, poverty, feelings of inferiority, and speech we find hurtful? Or are we a free people, possessed of a common story as well as our own stories in our own communities, capable of governing ourselves provided each of us is given fair treatment and room to move in the public square?

The Rawlsian contract demands that every form of inequality—political, economic, and social—pass muster according to rigorous, unrealistic criteria. In effect, every aspect of our lives is to be judged by the most “woke” among us, who will then use the power of the state to enforce their judgement. Promising liberation, the Rawlsian social contract would reduce each and every one of us to a featureless cog in a great machine of constant social reconstruction. This most political of social contracts is the real foundation for the politics of envy and resentment promoted by Occasio-Cortez, Sanders, and their enablers.

At its heart, the Progressive social contract is a rejection of society itself in favor of a pervasive, inescapable politics, guided by a permanent ruling class insulated from the people by tenure, lifetime appointments, civil service rules, and a corrupt political system. Real political consent comes, not from behind a veil of ignorance, nor from the kind of mass, national elections called for by those who would destroy our Electoral College. It comes from people within their own states and local communities. National politics and promises must take a back seat to local concerns and loyalties if we are to regain self-government. For this to happen we first must call out those who would shame normal Americans into submission. It is time to call a radical a radical and a socialist a socialist. Most important, it is time to remind ourselves that, whether conservative or liberal, a majority of Americans still believe in self-government and ordered liberty; this is what has bound us together, and what must continue to bind us together if we are to remain a free people.

Photo credit:  Getty Images

America • American Conservatism • Americanism • civic culture/friendship • Hollywood • Law and Order • Post • self-government • The Culture

Civilization Wins in ‘The Highwaymen’

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Hollywood’s cultural liberalism is effective not because it lectures us. Indeed, the lecturing, hectoring awards shows have been getting clobbered in ratings precisely because they do that. The movies and TV shows that succeed in moving our culture leftward do so because they tell a story that gets us to sympathize with the hero.

In his fine little book, The Three Languages of Politics, Arnold Kling writes that the three most significant political ideologies in America see political issues in terms of distinct fundamental conflicts. For liberals, it’s the oppressors versus the oppressed; for conservatives, it’s barbarism versus civilization; for libertarians, it’s tyranny versus freedom.

The categories are not mutually exclusive, because the people who hold these ideologies are rarely completely pure. (People with completely pure political ideologies are fanatics, and all fanatics are boring, Pellinore.) The oppressed fight for freedom; tyranny is itself a form of barbarism; real freedom can only flourish in civilization. Still, as basic frameworks, they are both durable and remarkably explanatory.

John Lee Hancock’s new film, “The Highwaymen,” speaks the language of conservatism. The movie—showing in theaters and on Netflix—follows famed Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and his partner Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) as they track and ambush Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, bringing an end to one of the most celebrated killing sprees in U.S. history.

Superficially, “The Highwaymen” is a cop-buddy picture, with the stock elements of the genre. More substantially, it’s a compelling consideration of society’s response to evil, civilization’s response to barbarism.

John Fusco’s screenplay serves as a rebuttal to 1967’s unduly honored “Bonnie and Clyde.” If ever there were a movie that spoke the language of liberalism, that was it. In the popular imagination of the Great Depression, Bonnie and Clyde were Robin Hoods, robbing from banks. Director Arthur Penn bought into that myth, weirdly sympathizing with them even as his film graphically displayed their violence. If Bonnie and Clyde were bloody, they at least sided with the oppressed Everyman against the oppressor banks.

Likewise, “Bonnie and Clyde” slandered Frank Hamer as a braggart and a buffoon, motivated not by a sincere desire to enforce the law and protect society but rather by revenge and self-glorification. The Hamer family was so upset by the portrayal that they sought and won a substantial defamation settlement against Warner Brothers.

Hancock and Fusco set out to right that wrong, along the lines of John Boessenecker’s 2016 book, The Epic Life of Frank Hamer.

Rather than a showboat, Hamer is correctly depicted as a serious, experienced lawman, methodically tracking his quarry across the south and Midwest. Bonnie and Clyde knew they were wanted; they didn’t advertise their route or their whereabouts. Hamer and Gault had to understand their targets and anticipate their moves. They also had to disabuse some of the locals of their hero-worship and figure out which local law enforcement officers they could trust.

In reframing the story to be sympathetic to Hamer and Gault, Fusco literally had no choice but to choose the language of conservatism: Hamer as Civilization, confronting the Barbaric Bonnie and Clyde.

Because Bonnie and Clyde were barbarians. They robbed banks. They killed lawmen in cold blood and engaged in any number of petty thefts from the Everyman whose sympathy they exploited. And as true barbarians, they turned civilization’s own ethics against it. Confident that men in 1930s America would be reluctant to shoot a woman, Clyde used that moment’s hesitation to get the drop on those they confronted.

Hancock’s filmmaking here is masterly. He simultaneously emphasizes the inhumanity and violence of Parker’s and Barrow’s crimes, while distancing us from the criminals. They are shown only from a distance, from behind, unclearly, fleetingly. They are the Other, come to terrorize, and we can never empathize with them.

And yet, we are dealing with human beings. If we are to avoid turning civilization’s defenders into tyrants or oppressors, if Hamer is to be something other than the assassin from “Serenity”, we must confront the choice to take life head-on. Conservatism demands that examination of hard truths and hard choices. In two pivotal scenes, Fusco’s screenplay does just that.

Repeatedly, Hamer has to tell people that Bonnie and Clyde aren’t who they think they are. They aren’t Robin Hood and they’re not the nice kids who grew up in Dallas. They are stone-cold killers.

One person Hamer doesn’t have to tell that to is Henry Barrow, Clyde’s father. Yes, they discuss whether Clyde was a bad seed or was pushed to go bad. Instead of ending there in trite fashion, though, the two men agree that it really doesn’t matter. What matters is what Clyde has done. Is it enough to put him past redemption? And if so, what must the response of society be to that evil, whatever its source?

Our distance from Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow works to filmmakers’ advantage in one other scene. The two detectives have located the criminals’ hideout. Harrelson’s Gault holds Parker’s hairbrush, and is reminded that he has been chasing a real person across the country, a woman, and he is preparing to take her life. Because we have also only seen Bonnie and Clyde from a distance, we’re with him.

Once again, Hamer sets the terms: “It’s never easy, and it’s never pretty. And there’s always blood at the end of the road—you know that.” Weakness right now is just going to get more good men killed.

The movie opts not for the easy postmodern moral ambiguity, but instead shows the calm, reasoned self-confidence of men bringing individuals to justice.

Photo credit: Netflix

America • Post • Religion and Society • self-government

From the Rubble of a Church Rises a Spirit of Love

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COLUMBUS, Miss.—At the First Pentecostal Church on Tuscaloosa Road, the last Saturday of February was a day filled with supposed-to-be’s.

Little Jereson McCool was supposed to be at the church hall surrounded by 60 members of his family and community to celebrate his fifth birthday, but his grandma’s train from South Carolina was running five hours late. His mom, Misty, made the call from the train station to the church’s Pastor Steve Blaylock to see whether they could move it to the next day.

Tom and Betty Lindsay, an elderly couple who live by the river, were supposed to hole up in a residence located in the church because of pending flooding, but Betty’s sister insisted instead that they stay at her home 20 miles away.

The mother-daughter cleaning crew that was supposed to be cleaning the sanctuary of the church for the big baptismal service that was planned for the next day decided at the last minute to just go do it early in the morning.

These last-minute changes to plans proved to be lifesavers. A tornado—one of nine that ravaged parts of Alabama, Georgia and here in Mississippi—destroyed the very church building they would have been in, ripping off the roof and collapsing the walls. A few untouched pews remained as a reminder that a house of God once stood there.

“Even in the midst of all that destruction, there was so many miracles, things that just are unexplainable that happened, that only God could cause,” said Blaylock.

The pastor’s voice cracked as he considered the lives that would have been lost. When he drove up the road and saw the structural devastation of his church, he felt profound gratitude that none of those people who were supposed to be there were there.

The violent tornado leveled 300 homes, closed down the local school and cost one person her life. It also brought the community and strangers together the next morning to begin rebuilding the structure and renewing faith.

“As we were trying Saturday evening to get anything out of the Sanctuary that we could recover, we started talking about what are we gonna do about church tomorrow,” Blaylock said. “So I started asking you know, maybe we oughta wait until another Sunday to do our Baptismal service rather than the next day. One particular man, Blake Brown, told us that if there’s any way possible, I still wanna get baptized. He was new to our church, and boy, that just excited me and everybody else. We’re like, we’ll make it happen. We’ll make it happen, if we have to go to the river or whatever we do, we’ll make it happen.”

So they did. The miraculous thing was that people came. People came from their church, and locals who didn’t belong to the church came. Strangers who just happened to hear about what happened came.

Obviously, we have been a greater light in our community than what we realize,” Blaylock said.

First Pentecostal, unlike some Southern Pentecostal churches, is not divided by race. Both blacks and whites practice in a town whose population is 63 percent black and 35 percent white.

It is also a Democrat town in a Republican state.

“There are so many forces in our world that divide people,” Blaylock said. “But to see the community in our area, we are a mixed community. We have Hispanics, we have Native Americans, we have blacks, we have white, we have mixes of all kinds. But everybody, everybody was out helping each other.”

He added, “Nobody asked what political party that you supported while we were out there Saturday night and Sunday. Nobody cared who was beside them, they were just thankful that they were there, and that they were helping, and they expressed love.”

That Sunday morning, the day after the tornado hit, a total of nine people were baptized in an outdoor service using a borrowed baptism tank. Two hundred attendees sat in folding chairs surrounded by jagged lumber. Two hundred people showed up to dig them out so they could have their service.

Even the local Lowe’s showed up with a flatbed, bottles of water and dozens of work gloves to lend a hand.

Blacklock said, “Our motto before the storm was, ‘Loving God and Loving People.’ And now our motto is, ‘To Rebuild Bigger and Stronger Together.’ Might not be bad a motto for the whole country.”

Photo credit: First Pentecostal Church, Columbus, Mississippi Facebook Page.

America • Congress • Conservatives • Deep State • Defense of the West • Democrats • Donald Trump • Elections • History • Post • Republicans • self-government

Trump’s Task Was Caesar’s

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At a meeting of the Roman Senate on this day in 44 B.C., a group of his fellow senators surrounded Julius Caesar and stabbed him to death. While his assassins claimed to have freed the Roman Republic from a tyrannical Dictator for Life, Caesar equally could claim to have freed it from them. Popular reforms he’d successfully put through as dictator had effectively ended the long and brutal rule of strictly self-dealing elites in the Senate.

Two thousand years later we are witnessing a similar struggle for power in the American Republic, as a president pledged to reform battles our own entrenched elites. As the adversaries struggle also to assert opposing political narratives, understanding what is happening depends on whose version of events we believe.

Nor in Caesar’s case did this all-encompassing conflict ever abate. Even when he’d defeated them, the leading Roman senators never accepted Caesar’s rule because these men considered themselves the only legitimate Roman rulers. They held that Caesar had broken the law when in defiance of his Senate-recognized authority, over a single Roman province, he crossed its boundary at the Rubicon River to confront his political masters in Rome with an army. When his army prevailed over theirs, and Caesar had packed the Senate with his reforming supporters, the enemies (whose lives he’d spared) charged that Caesar had replaced their government of laws with one-man rule.

But many more than Caesar held that the Roman Republic was no longer worthy of that name. Gradually the elites who were its guardians had implemented public policies that benefited only themselves, making wars of conquest abroad and hoarding wealth and power at home. Decades of such policies had disenfranchised all other social classes and discredited not only the elites who made them but also the very Republic they represented.

Yet until Caesar’s army defeated theirs these discredited elites still controlled all the levers of power, just as ours do today after decades of similar policies and despite the surprise election of President Trump to challenge them. The ongoing and increasingly bitter struggle in Washington is for the power to reform—or preserve—public policies that benefit our elites at everyone else’s expense.

Caesar’s victory in that struggle meant new policies to serve the whole republic and not just a favored part. He curbed the appeal of foreign wars by claiming from the Senate the administration of new colonies, which had become a path to private wealth in the same way that American wars in the Middle East serve private rather than public interests. At home, Caesar slowed the concentration of wealth and power by capping interest on debt and restricting slave labor and land consolidation, three ways the elites had undermined the traditional self-sufficiency of the Roman middle class.

Nor were these reforms one-sided. By recognizing existing debts and property rights, Caesar refused to deprive the elites of what they owned or were owed. The balance he struck proved lasting; indeed it was preserved by the emperors who followed Caesar as the basis of their political power.

Today we might say Caesar’s balanced approach amounts to running the country like a business, which is evident in every major public-policy reform President Trump has passed or proposed. A plan to keep out illegal immigrants with a border wall comes with more leniency for some illegal immigrants already here. Cutting corporate taxes and regulation comes with pressure on companies to bring back off-shored manufacturing, and new tariffs to redress trade imbalances come with a willingness to renegotiate existing agreements. And at least so far a major military build-up has come with fewer wars of foreign conquest, along with a willingness to pursue diplomatic solutions, as with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

However, we do not yet have a government for the whole republic. The president is still grappling with our entrenched elites, who since his election have been using the mainstream media and the federal bureaucracy—two levers of power firmly in their control—to try and dislodge him before he can dislodge them.

In similar circumstances the Roman elites badly overreached. Caesar defeated them with the support of the Roman public as well as the Roman army, and through his reaction to their overreaching as much as by his own premeditated planning. President Trump, too, is as much a skillful improviser and strong reactor as a plan-maker. Like Caesar, he is a charismatic individual who is loved and hated by his supporters and detractors with equal ferocity and perhaps even blindness.

But it’s the larger framework around both men that really matters in this comparison, and we should consider not only what President Trump but also his threatened opponents will do. It was the Roman elites in the Senate, not Caesar, who first acted outside the law to deny him earned political victories and prevent his planned reforms; only then did Caesar cross the Rubicon.

What will American elites do to preserve their policies which they have made ours? What have they done already? First and foremost it is their volatile behavior that should concern us in Trump’s America as in Caesar’s Rome.

Image credit: “The Death of Caesar,” by Vincenzo Camuccini/WikiCommons

Elections • EU • Europe • Post • self-government

The Time Has Come for Britain to Embrace a ‘No Deal’ Brexit

Ever since June 2016, when the British people voted 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the European Union, establishment British politicians have been grappling with the consequences. With some notable exceptions, they have conceded that the will of the people would have to be honored, and some form of Brexit would indeed take place. Few politicians, and few ordinary Britons, however, understood or agreed precisely on what “Brexit” would mean.

That Britain would formally leave the EU was fairly obvious, but the extent of the ties that would remain, and the degree to which Britain would still obey EU laws and regulations, was anything but clear.

Not surprisingly, given the vehemence with which many Britons opposed Brexit, the “Remainers” worked hard from the start to manipulate the terms of Britain’s divorce from the EU so that the practical impact of Brexit would be minimal. Some would like to stay in the EU customs union, for example, and allow for the free movement of EU and British citizens back and forth—calling into question whether “Brexit” would have much real meaning at all.

Now the British people are approaching crunch time: the deadline for Britain to leave the EU is March 29th. British Prime Minister Theresa May struck a deal with EU authorities that would have scripted Britain’s departure from the organization and kept most economic ties in place. That solution, though, was roundly rejected by Parliament, which is divided between those who want a fuller, more robust version of Brexit—something akin to a definitive break—and those who see even May’s demi-Brexit as going too far. This large faction in Parliament would like to cancel Brexit altogether, or submit the matter to the British electorate a second time, so that voters would have the option of reversing course.

In addition to the pro- and anti-Brexit forces, some British party leaders are simply playing political games: they seek to destabilize May’s Conservative government and precipitate a general election, although it is by no means clear that such an election would ease Britain’s path to (or away from) Brexit in any way, shape, or form.

In a nutshell, the British political establishment appears hopelessly divided, dysfunctional, and paralyzed. Generating a workable plan for Brexit that would pass Parliament appears next to impossible.

Under these circumstances, politicians usually fudge the issue: they decide not to decide (just yet) and give themselves an extension. This is indeed an option for Britain and the EU, but both would have to agree on the terms and extent of any Brexit postponement, and none of this would make sense if the deadlock in Parliament seemed irresolvable. Extending the deadline for Brexit would also be a profound humiliation both to the British government and the EU. They would be admitting that, after almost three years of negotiating, they are unable to move forward.

From Theresa May’s perspective, however, the alternative to a postponement—a “no-deal Brexit,” which would abruptly sever all ties between Britain and the EU—may appear even worse. Economists, legal experts, journalists, and others have been warning for months that a no-deal Brexit would be deeply painful and disruptive, especially to trade. The status of Britons living in Europe, and Europeans living in Britain, would be jeopardized. The border between the Republic of Ireland and British Northern Ireland would once again become meaningful, and border crossings and cross-border trade would have to be, or might have to be, policed by customs officials and border authorities.

Remainers have worked hard to convince the British people that such a “hard” Brexit would produce “chaos” and misery on an apocalyptic scale. May, as a theoretical opponent of Brexit herself, may be inclined to give credence to these doomsday scenarios.

The truth, however, is that anti-Brexit propaganda consistently has attempted to play on the fears of British voters, and it frequently has exaggerated the ill-effects that a vote for Brexit, or actual Brexit, would produce. By and large, the British economy has performed well since 2016, despite the massive uncertainties surrounding how Brexit will be implemented. Indeed, the confusion regarding Brexit is arguably more harmful economically than Brexit itself.

Remainers like to argue that the Brexit vote should be overturned, because some of the claims made by Brexit supporters were inaccurate. The same could be said about the claims of Remainers both at the time of the 2016 referendum and today. No election takes place in a context of perfect honesty and intellectual clarity.

The best and most balanced assessment of the situation Britain finds itself in today, then, is this: despite the hyperbolic rhetoric on both sides of the debate, nothing truly terrible has befallen the British people because they voted to leave the EU, and if they do leave the EU in March, even under no-deal conditions, life will go on. Britain will still be strong, prosperous, and free. Some suspect, and I am one of them, that it may even be stronger, more prosperous, and certainly it will be freer and more fully sovereign than it has been in decades.

The one option that any right-thinking person must reject is another referendum. The British people have spoken on the issue of Brexit, and it is high time for their political leadership to accept the legitimacy of the people’s views. The attitude that elections are only valid when they lead to results congenial to the ruling class, which appears to be spreading throughout the West, and which certainly has a firm grip on the hard-left of the U.S. Democratic Party, is not one that can be reconciled with the integrity of the democratic process and the values that undergird it. Britons cannot be asked by their elitist, internationalist political masters to keep voting on Brexit until they get it “right.” Theresa May should disabuse the Remainers of this fantasy once and for all.

So there is only one path forward for Britain that respects the democratic rights of her people: a no-deal Brexit. Whatever temporary “chaos” such a move generates, Britons and Europeans should have confidence that, ultimately, life outside the purview of EU bureaucrats is possible—as we in America can attest—and in truth it isn’t so bad.

I strongly endorse the concept of a no-deal Brexit, and I look forward to welcoming the people of Britain into the family of truly sovereign nations, where they have always belonged.

Photo Credit: Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Administrative State • America • Americanism • Center for American Greatness • civic culture/friendship • Declaration of Independence • Democrats • Elections • GOPe • Harry Jaffa • History • Lincoln • Post • Republicans • self-government

The Crisis of the Republicans Divided

To understand the Republican Party today, in all its cluelessness, one needs to know what it was when it was founded. One needs to know what went into the making of “the party of Lincoln”—less the details of the history than the great crisis of America that was involved.

I would argue that the Slave Power that Lincoln confronted in the 1850s and ’60s bears frightening similarity to the slave power we see today in the administrative state and its manifestations among those in academia, the media, and the corporate and political elite, where political correctness reigns.

Fortunately, a striking opportunity to rediscover this America is a marvelous recent history of republicanism in America, From Oligarchy to Republicanism: The Great Task of Reconstruction, by an emerging scholar, Forrest Nabors. Nabors views America from the time of the Founding through the Civil War and Reconstruction not only in terms of slavery, race, and section but in actual political terms—oligarchy (the rule of the few) and republicanism (democratic self-government). He carefully notes the difference between Northern and Southern lives illustrated by such measures as education, political representation, and land ownership. In this endeavor he supplements the principles supplied by his and my teacher, the preeminent Lincoln scholar Harry V. Jaffa (1918-2015).

The data lead him to the inevitable conclusion that both blacks and working class whites were under the rule of slave-holding oligarchs. Thus, the institution of slavery defined not just the despotic relationship between white master and black slaves but rather the whole society where the few ruled the many. Keep in mind that in 1860 no one in a Southern, slave-holding state could vote for Lincoln; his name did not appear on their ballots.

In responding to my friendly critique of his argument, Nabors presented a brief summary of leading themes of his book. But to be of maximum benefit to his readers, which I hope are many, his essay needs some correction, in the form of how his thesis relates to today’s political crisis.

In sum, Nabors’s response overemphasizes majority rule as the crucial principle of American republicanism. He is completely silent on its bedrock principle of natural rights. Majority rule is derivative from the central truth of natural rights, as we know from Jefferson as well as The Federalist Papers. Attempting to advocate majority rule without natural rights is the error for which Jaffa excoriated conservative legal stars such as Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Scalia.

Fortunately, Nabors’ book is not silent on natural rights. For example, he points out that the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution of the Kansas Territory declared slavery to be established by “the law of nature.” But that’s not the natural right teaching of the Founders. (Recall that Lincoln and Charles Darwin shared the same birthdate, February 12, 1809.)

In Crisis of the House Divided (1959) Jaffa attacked liberal historians in the name of Lincolnian equality, while in A New Birth of Freedom (2000) he attacked former friends, neoconservative and conservative academics and pundits in the name of the social contract. In both books he sought to destroy the credibility of both types of elites, who ignored or misunderstood the natural rights at the heart of the Declaration of Independence. Jaffa advocated natural right in its forms over the historical progress or evolution (historicism) of his opponents. While government by historical evolution is unlimited, the government by natural rights is limited to protecting individual freedoms and human happiness.

But natural right is also ever the cause of revolution and civil war. Therefore, its critics advocated historical evolution as a scientifically grounded theory. The historically advancing consensus John C. Calhoun offered in his political theory (originally as a protection of slavery), returned as a replacement for natural rights. Recall that Calhoun denounced the Declaration of Independence for its “self-evident lie” of human equality.

Calhoun and Woodrow Wilson, despite their differing defamation of the Founders, are on the side of historical progress. (FDR tried to steal the Declaration too, by embracing it and falsely interpreting it.) Liberals and their intellectual establishment embrace the departure from the Founding, easing the way to the odious Howard Zinn and his America-hating history and the rule of political correctness. Nabors himself seems not to object to the banishment of Confederate monuments, a policy that scarcely advances the Founders’ advocacy of natural rights and undermines the public appreciation of martial virtues of ancestors.

So how do Americans restore natural right today, when it becomes scandalous to point out the natural differences between boys and girls? Are we not on the verge of another civil war over natural right? Or might there be another birth of freedom?

Harry V. Jaffa, in some of these collected essays, defended nature in his denunciation of deference to “gay rights.” But he declined to pursue this angle in his later writing.

One step involves the taming of the Darwinian conception of nature, in favor of one that allows for the rationality of final causes, that is, a hierarchy of purposes in human life, as part of the science of man. This science does not necessarily involve a Creator or God, though it would not only not rule one out, it would make that possibility a core of its endeavor.

The next, related step might be to rehabilitate the American founders’ conception of property rights as natural rights, or derivative from natural rights. As Madison contended, “as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.”

I am delighted to report that both steps, as well as others, toward a “scholarship of the politics of freedom” are being taken by students of Harry V. Jaffa.

Cultural Marxism • Elections • First Amendment • Free Speech • Online Censorship • Post • self-government • Silicon Valley • Technology • The Culture • The Left • The Media

How Big Tech Will Swing the Midterms, Then Take Over the World

Facebook is a menace to grassroots political organizing—and to free and fair elections generally. The social media giant this week announced it would ban “misinformation” about the upcoming midterm elections. According to a Reuters story about the new policy, “Facebook Inc. will ban false information about voting requirements and fact-check fake reports of violence or long lines at polling stations ahead of next month’s U.S. midterm elections, . . . the latest effort to reduce voter manipulation on its service.”

But not to worry: “The world’s largest online social network, with 1.5 billion daily users, has stopped short of banning all false or misleading posts, something that Facebook has shied away from as it would likely increase its expenses and leave it open to charges of censorship.”

Don’t believe it. Facebook is already in the censorship business.

In an article published last month titled, “How Facebook Policy Hinders Political Speech,” Ruth Papazian explained in excruciating detail just how difficult it has become to place political ads on Facebook. What this monopolistic communications behemoth has done to the abilities of grassroots groups to spread their messages far and wide cannot be understated.

Facebook selectively has disabled the most effective means of grassroots organizing ever devised. The timing of the move, a few months before one of the most pivotal midterm elections in American history, denies every small neighborhood group and individual activist the capacity to quickly tailor the content of their ads to local voters.

Large, lavishly funded, well-established campaigns, however, are relatively unaffected by Facebook’s new policy. They have the money, connections, and expertise to treat this new policy as a speedbump. And, of course, it isn’t just Facebook.

With growing assertiveness, an assortment of mega-corporations that, for all practical purposes, control virtually all online communications in America, some of them the largest companies on earth, are making a concerted effort to influence the 2018 elections. And their ambitions reach far beyond this November.

These corporations have left-leaning employees and left-leaning top management. They wield an ability not only to suppress viewpoints with which they don’t agree and promote viewpoints with which they do agree, but they can also use search results and proprietary search content to shape behaviors and values dramatically.

Big Tech Is Rewriting History
To present an embarrassingly obvious example of how Big Tech is rewriting history, take a look at the result that comes up on Google if you search under the term “American Inventors.” You will see portrait images of fifty individuals who are, according to Google, the top inventors in American history. There are 21 black men, 11 black women, and 18 white men. Curiously, no white women are included on the list.

This blatant distortion of historical reality matters more than might readily be apparent. First, it is part of a pervasive pattern whereby the left-wingers who control high-tech companies are rewriting history. But it is more pernicious in its consequences than just that. How will a 10-year-old African-American view his role in society, if he believes that two out of three of the most significant American inventions came from the minds of brilliant African Americans but that these contributions deliberately have been neglected? Won’t that be evidence to support the leftist assertion that racism, and only racism, account for lack of prominent mention for blacks in American history?

If this were an isolated example, it would not matter. But it is emblematic of how Big Tech is controlling not only who can communicate and what we can see, but how we view ourselves, our society, and our origins.

The Biggest Companies in the World
When we say “Big Tech,” that’s no exaggeration. The table below presents the financial power of some of the primary players controlling how we learn and communicate.

The data on this table makes obvious that behind the monopolies or near monopolies these companies wield in data search, social networks, videos, online retail including books, movies, and music, smartphones, and web browsers, there is almost unimaginable financial power. These seven companies together are sitting on $385 billion in cash. Think about this. The smallest of the seven, Twitter, has nearly $4 billion sitting in its checking account.

The pieces are in place for these companies, if not literally to take over the world, then at least to play a crucial role, if not the crucial role, in shaping what kind of world we leave to the next generation. For all practical purposes, they have monopolistic control over how we learn and communicate. And they have more discretionary cash than any other private interest, anywhere. The tools of influence they wield are only beginning to be developed.

To explore the dystopian potential of these dawning technologies, you don’t have to rely on conservative analysts. Arguments aplenty can be found in the liberal media; you would think they’d connect the dots and recognize what could happen if and when Big Tech is no longer controlled by liberals.

Writing for The Atlantic, Yuval Noah Harari suggests “perhaps in the 21st century, populist revolts will be staged not against an economic elite that exploits people but against an economic elite that does not need them anymore.” He suggests that the AI revolution may transfer the relative efficiency of a nation’s political economy from one currently favoring democracies to one favoring dictatorships. He argues that the power of massively connected networks, incorporated into everything we use and present everywhere we go, controlled by powerful AI systems, flips the equation, explaining that “the main handicap of authoritarian regimes in the 20th century—the desire to concentrate all information and power in one place—may become their decisive advantage in the 21st century.”

Elaborating on this point in his recent article published by The Guardian, “The Myth of Freedom,” Harari describes human beings as “hackable.” He writes, “propaganda and manipulation are nothing new. But whereas in the past they worked like carpet bombing, now they are becoming precision-guided munitions. When Hitler gave a speech on the radio, he aimed at the lowest common denominator, because he couldn’t tailor his message to the unique weaknesses of individual brains. Now it has become possible to do exactly that.”

Think about it. Your Fitbit, always connected, monitors how you react as you click on various links online. This means that not only your clicks but your simultaneous physical reaction to what you are seeing are monitored and compiled. Eventually, the machines know you better than you know yourself. Your brain has been hacked. Dr. Pavlov, meet Brave New World.

Even the hyper-liberal New Yorker has alluded to how technology enables totalitarian regimes, in the closing paragraphs of a September 2018 article, “What Termites Can Teach Us.” Writer Amia Srinivasan refers to the “RoboBee,” “a mechanical bee, smaller than a paper clip, that can take off, fly, and land.” She cites a paper published by the Center for a New American Security, “Robotics on the Battlefield Part II: The Coming Swarm,” which holds up the RoboBee as evidence of the possibility of 3-D-printed, less-than-a-dollar-apiece drones that, in vast quantities, “could ‘flood’ civilian and combat areas as ‘smart clouds.’”

Patriots, you may or may not have reason to be paranoid, but in any case, don’t rely on your AR-15s to preserve your liberty. Start a hacker collective. The “smart cloud” is coming. You can’t shoot down a swarm of bees. Then again, you may not care.

Big Tech Is Redrawing International Maps
Consider the map feature on Google. The planet’s nations and cities include bitterly disputed borders and place names. But even physical features require subjective decisions. Shall higher altitudes be depicted in summer or winter? A summer image might feed the imagination of anyone inclined to believe the “planet has a fever.”

Call up Google’s “satellite view” of the vast savannas of Africa or the steppes of Asia—are they summer brown or spring green? A vastly differing impression is created. And how green is the green? Are the watered areas of earth verdant and lustrous with life, or tepidly broaching a bit of tentative foliage wilting on a warming world? What about snowpacks and glaciers? What view? Winter or summer?

When it comes to political geography, Google is an international actor with enormous influence. It’s a tough job, drawing borders on a map when everyone on earth uses your map.

According to Google, the city of Srinagar is no longer part of Indian Kashmir. Instead, it’s in a region with dotted borders indicating uncertain sovereignty. Similarly, the entire northeastern portion of Kashmir is lopped off, with dotted lines again, indicating that this area may actually be part of China. A province in the extreme northeast of India, Arunachal Pradesh, now has a dotted line drawn through its middle, questioning whether the northern half of that province belongs to India or to China. Ditto for the eastern border of Tajikistan, where Google’s dotted line asserts that nobody knows where Tajikistan ends and China begins. But among Google’s mapmakers, who decides? Where’s Tibet? Why no dotted line to delineate that occupied land?

While Google ignores Tibetan claims to nationhood, they recognize every indigenous tribe in North America. Observe the United States. When the lower 48 fills about half your screen, you’ll see the names of each state. Zoom in one notch. Suddenly the Navajo, Blackfeet, Crow, Yakima, Cheyenne and dozens of other tribes all have nations—reservations with borders and place names written in faint but capitalized fonts larger than those used for names of major cities. Same thing for Canada and South America.

Even if Google’s mapmakers didn’t have an agenda, millions of people would disagree with their choices. But billions more would accept the lines they draw, solid and dotted alike, as truth. The manner in which Google arbitrates international borders constitutes real power. Google controls 92 percent of the global mapping and GIS market. The company also controls more than 90 percent of the global internet search market, and through YouTube, it controls 79 percent of multimedia websites and video portals worldwide. And Google has more than $100 billion in its checking account.

Big Tech Is Reprogramming Americans En Masse
That the founders and the employees of big tech companies are overwhelmingly Democrats should by now be beyond serious debate. And evidence mounts that these biases inform how they write their algorithms. There’s nothing objective about an algorithm—it may process every query with complete impartiality, but built into the logic and lookup tables are the preferences and priorities of a human being.

One widely reported study claims that biased search results can influence elections in close races. The study, authored in 2015 by Robert Epstein and Ronald E. Robertson and published in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences, reached four conclusions regarding search engines and search engine manipulation: First, they identify a positive feedback loop, whereby when search rankings affect voter preferences, those voters then search on terms that are, for example, favorable towards a particular candidate. This results in those favorable search results receiving more clicks which in-turn causes them to be ranked higher still, generating more views and clicks, and so on.

Second, search engine manipulation is very hard to detect, leading those influenced by it to believe they have formed their new opinions voluntarily.

Third, unlike explicit campaigning, where candidates have equal access to conventional means of voter outreach, search engine manipulation occurs at the discretion of the company that owns the search engine, leaving out-of-favor candidates with no means to counter its effects.

Fourth, conventional means of voter outreach continue to lose effectiveness relative to the impact of online resources such as search engines.

The elephant in the room here is Google, and even if that company isn’t directing its programmers to introduce liberal bias into their search results, the culture within Google suggests their programmers would be doing it anyway.

After all, this is the company that fired James Damore for circulating an internal memo that committed the heresy of arguing that disparities in group achievement might be due to something other than racism and sexism. This is the company where, in a leaked email, their former head of “multicultural marketing” described efforts she led on behalf of the company to increase Latino turnout in the 2016 election and bemoaned the fact that not enough of them voted for Democrats. This is the company where 90 percent of reported political donations by executives and employees went to Democrats in the period between 2004 and 2016; over $15 million.

And it isn’t just Google, of course. Twitter “shadowbans.” Facebook suppresses conservative commentators. YouTube restricts conservative videos. Apple bans “controversial” programs from its App Store. Can Amazon and other eBook purveyors even rewrite classic literature? Well, why not? The tactics these companies employ are difficult to detect and nearly impossible to counter.

Increasingly, this handful of mega-corporations have the power to rewrite history, to determine who is permitted to have a public voice, and to decide what is a fact and what is not a fact. And it extends to nearly every facet of life, not just election manipulation, but the foundations of Western Civilization; culture, race, gender, patriarchy, nationalism, patriotism, meritocracy, underachievement, even the reasons for climate change.

As Big Tech arbitrates the premises of reality, facts, according to their own beliefs and biases, a complicit media follows suit. For example, the BBC recently updated their guidelines for future reporting on climate change issues. Suddenly certain conclusions are no longer heard. But facts are based on data. And data can often be analyzed and interpreted, with integrity, to yield diametrically opposed conclusions. “Facts” are often opinions. This skepticism used to be the lifeblood of both science and journalism, but skepticism is only selectively encouraged anymore. Big Tech is narrowing that range when it ought to be expanding it.

Pessimists frequently refer to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 as representative of where we’re headed. But more likely we are being herded into a future more reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. That novel, written in 1931, is astonishingly prescient. In his forward to the 1946 edition of Brave New World, Huxley writes: “There is, of course, no reason why the new totalitarianism should resemble the old. A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.”

Stare into the glass. The mesmerizing blue light. Click. Click again. Let the dopamine flow.

Photo credit: Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Administrative State • American Conservatism • Big Media • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Deep State • Democrats • political philosophy • Post • self-government • The Constitution • The Courts • The Culture

The Suicidal Sanctimony of Phony Conservatives

Christine Blasey Ford made scurrilous accusations against Brett Kavanaugh for actions she claims occurred nearly 35 years ago when they were both minors. Both Judge Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, who Ford also claims was present have vehemently and categorically denied her claims. The people who know Kavanaugh, as well as decades of evidence of a life lived with dignity and propriety, support him.

Even one of the people Ford claims was a witness denies her claims. Ford says that Leland Keyser was a friend of hers and was at the party in 1982. But Keyser says she has no recollection of the party. Not only that, she denies knowing or ever being in a social situation with Kavanaugh. Keyser’s statement calls into question whether the party occurred at all, which would make Ford’s claims against Kavanaugh entirely false.

Predictably, however, Ford has been joined by Stormy Daniels’ execrable mouthpiece, Michael Avenatti. Now a Yale classmate is making claims about some nudity at a dorm party, which have been questioned or denied by people who were allegedly there. So why are some self-described conservatives signing up to help this circus along?

What’s Different Now
False accusations and smear campaigns against upstanding Supreme Court nominees are nothing new. Democrats destroyed Robert Bork’s reputation in 1987 with a campaign of lies. Republicans said never again. So when Democrats tried it again on Clarence Thomas in 1991, that effort failed.

Today, however, so-called conservatives are helping Democrats destroy Kavanaugh as they seem to miss the point: Democrats aren’t acting in good faith. There is no search for truth—the campaign to derail Kavanaugh’s nomination is just brass-knuckled power politics. Democrats will do and say anything they think will keep Kavanaugh off the bench.

The longer it goes on, the more claims they will gin up until Republicans just can’t take it anymore and slink off in defeat, leaving Democrats in control of the Supreme Court. Remember when Harry Reid admitted to lying about improprieties in Mitt Romney’s tax returns but justified it by saying he “did what was necessary.” The same ethic is at work here.

National Review’s Jim Geraghty not only thinks that Ford’s claims should bar Kavanaugh from the Supreme Court, but he told Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic, who wrote she believes Ford despite the lack of evidence, that “it’s hard to see how he could remain a federal judge.” David French agreed that the allegations, if proven, should “mar him for life.” National Review Online Editor Charles C. W. Cooke agreed, adding that he doesn’t think that makes him “irrational or a Stalinist.”

Dennis Prager disagreed and made the commonsense argument that people should be judged based on the entirety of their lives and not for things that occurred in their youth, for which there is no evidence, and which the accused has denied. For that, he earned the opprobrium of French’s wife, Nancy, in a scathing op-ed in the Washington Post. French added that she “is no longer a Republican” because Republicans tell her that “character doesn’t matter” and that “people are disposable.”

Yet, these are the people who represent themselves as “true conservatives.” They’re not and it’s time for actual conservatives to realize it and ignore them. What they really are is self-righteous moralizers and anti-social prigs.

Aiding and Abetting Political Enemies
If the Frenches and the Geraghtys of the world kept their opinions to themselves, the country would be better off. Unfortunately, they are members of a very vocal political suicide cult who falsely claim the conservative mantle yet collaborate with political enemies and work to advance the evidence-free smear of Kavanaugh. The only thing these “conservatives” seem genuinely interested in conserving is the platforms they use to reprimand the rest of us for not living up to their preposterous standards.

For those of us concerned about practical politics and the future of American republicanism, a constitutionalist majority on the Supreme Court is vital to regaining some notion of responsible self-government. It has been the object of two generations of work by actual conservatives. But these hectoring scolds are actively working to seize defeat from the jaws of victory on the basis of a patently obvious, after the buzzer, bad faith smear campaign designed to destroy a man whose entire life—not to mention the testimony of many contemporaries—contradicts the claim.

If they are successful, we will all pay the price.

These are people who must not be allowed to represent the rank-and-file conservatives who backed Trump (none of these commentators did) and who want to effect a constitutional restoration. If you want to see a fair representation of what right-leaning Americans, including women, are thinking about this situation, watch this:

Geraghty claims that an alleged awkward encounter at the age of 17 should earn a lifetime ban from the federal bench. This sentiment appears to be shared by many of his colleagues and fellow travelers. What other employment does he believe should be off limits? I wonder if he’s thought it out that far or if he’s just emoting. Should it bar someone from all legal practice? What about insurance sales? Real estate? How about Walmart greeter?

And why? What are the rules? And what other purported sins should bar Americans from public service and even employment? Failing to observe the sabbath? Idolatry? Taking home some Post-It notes from the office? Dining and dashing with college friends? I’d say that it quickly becomes absurd, but they past that point long ago. And I can’t help but wonder if this provisional Committee on Public Virtue could say that every action of their own conforms to their quickly evolving standards.

A Cop-Out of a Fig Leaf
These so-called conservatives know no sense of proportion and thus lack basic wisdom. The fact is, they have no standards. Everything is ad hoc, impressionistic, emotional, and most of all driven by a sense of seeking to preserve their own place without regard to the good of others or the country. It is ugly, petty, and graceless.

Their preferred formulation of “if the charges are true, then . . . ” is a way to declare guilt and pronounce a sentence without ever having to seeing a shred of evidence and despite vehement, categorical denials from the accused. It is vulgar and wrong. It is also counter to the standards of French’s own denomination, which teaches that the Ninth Commandment requires the maintaining and promoting of one’s neighbor’s good name. By promoting gossip, smears, and accusations in the most public way he is doing just the opposite, despite his use of the “if . . . then” fig leaf.

Let me show you how this works: “If the Frenches, Charlie Cooke, and Jim Geraghty kick puppies, they should never be allowed to have a dog.” It doesn’t definitively say they kick puppies, but it does leave a distinct odor of wrongdoing and helpfully offers a ready-made punishment.

So let’s try another: “If pundits who claim to be conservatives promote unfounded Democrat smear campaigns, then no one should listen to them.”

Or this one: “If they actively use their platforms to undermine conservative causes, then we should realize they aren’t really conservatives at all and ignore them.”

Pharisaical Pretenses
Remember that these are the very same people—the same “principled conservatives”—who claim to want dignity and propriety in our public officials. But their participation in Kavanaugh’s public defenestration makes it less likely that such people will want to serve. It is a vile spectacle. They are nothing but self-seeking virtue hustlers—the right-wing equivalent of Al Sharpton—who claim virtue while practicing vice.

The real truth is that no one is good enough for them because in their hermetically sealed world, politics isn’t a practical art at all, and it isn’t about improving the country. It’s just a game of fake virtue one-upmanship to see who can be holier than thou. It’s unrealistic, immoral, and dysfunctional. It’s just the flip side of the unrealistic utopian ideology which has made Leftist politics so destructive.

On the Right, we need to reject the hectoring moralizers and two-bit virtue hustlers. Destroying people’s lives and careers without evidence, trafficking in gossip and self-regarding sanctimony should be given no place. Like it or not, the pharisaical pretense of Geraghty, French, and company enables vile bottom feeders like Michael Avenatti who cook up sick conspiracy theories about Brett Kavanaugh in a desperate attempt to keep a constitutionalist off the Supreme Court. Shame on them.

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2016 Election • Administrative State • Center for American Greatness • Deep State • Democrats • Donald Trump • GOPe • Government Reform • Political Parties • Post • Republicans • self-government • separation of powers • the Presidency • Trump White House

Is Trump’s Cabinet Undermining His Agenda?

Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear: Trump in the White House, has exposed something constitutional scholars might, at best, call outright insubordination. At worst, it amounts to an incidental coup by several former and current Trump Administration advisers. Then again, Woodward’s book may just be another unsubstantiated torrent directed against a president who offends the touchy sensibilities of America’s hallowed globalist elite. In any event, it speaks to the dire need for fundamental institutional reform (a need that, as yet, Trump has failed to address.)

Gary Cohn’s Oval Office Caper
According to Woodward, former White House aide Rob Porter and former White House economic adviser Gary Cohn physically removed documents meant for the president’s review from the resolute desk in the Oval Office. The documents, Woodward reports, concerned a proposal to end a trade deal between the United States and South Korea.

If true, this would indicate that both Cohn and Porter ignored well-established White House protocols for presidential decision making. It would also mean that the duo decided to rewrite the president’s stated (and desired) directives against the president’s wishes.

Think about it: President Trump campaigned on a consistent policy of reforming what he (rightly) viewed as America’s lackluster trade policies. He sold himself to the American people as a critic of  “free trade,” and vowed to renegotiate the bad deals his predecessors had created. If Woodward’s account is correct, then, both Cohn and Porter circumvented presidential power, and did what only a president has the authority to do: change American trade policy to conform with their own views.

Cruise Missile Confusion
Another instance of potential insubordination—at least as reported by Woodward—occurred during a tense early 2017 exchange between Defense Secretary James Mattis and the president. In 2017, when the Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad purportedly used chemical weapons against his own civilian population, Trump was so irate that he wanted to “f—ing kill” Assad. He called Mattis and demanded that decisive military action be taken against the Syrian autocrat. Yet, according to the Woodward report, Mattis not only pushed back but refused to follow through on what was a verbal presidential order authorizing the lethal use of force.

Some have argued that Trump’s words did not constitute an order as there is some confusion about that point among constitutional scholars. Basically, if the president calls his war chief at the Pentagon and orders him to take Assad out, then that technically constitutes a direct and inviolate order. Remember, the United States Constitution and other relevant legislation gives the president immense power to use military force. This is why clear lines of communication and explicit delineation of authority is essential between the president and his cabinet officials. The Constitution, not the bureaucracy, provides such clarity.

If such a declarative statement from the president—whether verbal or written—constitutes as an order, then any failure to execute that order would have been an act of insubordination, and Mattis would be eligible for removal from office. Ultimately, the United States did strike Syria with cruise missiles. But in no way was that operation intended to “f—ing kill” Assad, as the president allegedly wanted.

Mattis and his fellow general, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, have completely denied all of Woodward’s claims. But Woodward insists he has “hundreds of hours” of interviews backing up his reporting.

What’s more, it’s not as though what Woodward is writing is new. The rumored divisions and acrimony within the Trump Administration (particularly in its first year) were the stuff of Potomac legend. Mattis and Kelly are stand-up men who have served this country with distinction. I take them at their word when they say they never uttered the words Woodward attributes to them. Even so, doubts of this kind still linger because they and their associates have consistently demonstrated a measurable degree of skepticism about Trump, and in this they are not alone within the government.

Deep State’s Gonna State
Trump has a real problem (and, so do we as a democratic citizenry) if Woodward is correct. Not only is Trump beset with unforgiving enemies in the permanent bureaucracy and in the Democratic Party, he is also matched against a hostile corporate media and propagandists-masquerading-as-experts in academia. If the Woodward book is even partly true, Trump is warring with elements of his own administration.

We’ve already seen this at play with Trump’s ongoing public spat with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. There were also evident tensions between Trump and his former national security adviser, H. R. McMaster. These new (unsubstantiated) reports of the Cohn-Porter Oval Office caper and Mattis’s possible refusal to execute a lawful presidential command suggest the problems facing constitutional governance in the United States today are pervasive.

What’s more, the New York Times took the extraordinary step of publishing an anonymous op-ed by a supposed senior Trump Administration official who announced emphatically and proudly that he (and many others at the top-levels of the administration) were actively working to “do what [they] can while preserving [America’s] democratic institutions.”

According to the anonymous op-ed, this has created a “two-track presidency,” one in which Trump issues decrees and edicts, but another where the anointed “betters” (read Swamp Dwellers) in the White House essentially ignore the presidential orders. The writer claims that this isn’t the work of the “deep state,” but rather that of a “steady state” working to insulate our hallowed institutions from the excesses of Trump.

I wonder how, if such an event occurred under former President Obama’s watch, the Left would have reacted to such “anonymous” sniping in the press from active senior members of the administration?

What the recent spate of exposés about the Trump Administration tell us is that America’s democratic institutions are under assault. Yet, they are not under assault from either Russian troll farms or Donald Trump’s incessant need to tweet. Instead, they are besieged by those who’ve cynically claimed for themselves the mantle of being defenders of our glorious republic (through entirely undemocratic means). Therefore, Trump must reform the bureaucracy at every level. It’s the deep state or us. Woodward’s book just reinforces this fact.

Trump is like Caesar: he is surrounded by enemies and something ominous is underway. This issue transcends Trump’s presidency, however. It affects the whole country. Are we a representative republic of the people? Or, are we an oligarchy? I fear the answer.

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Identity Politics • Law and Order • Post • Second Amendment • self-government • The Culture

Stand-Your-Ground and the Florida Governor’s Race

Florida is at the forefront of the national debate on gun rights, and it has been for a long while. It led the nation with its “shall issue” concealed-carry reform in 1987 under Governor Bob Martinez. Today, approximately 10 percent of adult Floridians have a concealed carry permit.

While the claims Florida would turn into the Wild West never materialized, George Zimmerman’s racially charged shooting of Trayvon Martin galvanized Florida and the nation in 2012. Those who called for Zimmerman’s head frequently blamed the situation on Florida’s “stand your ground” law. His defenders saw an upside-down universe of double standards, fake news, and results-oriented charges of racism.

Following the Zimmerman trial, stand-your-ground has been invoked imprecisely and often by critics in the wake of every self-defense shooting, particularly when there is a racial dimension. The law, in fact, has little to do with most of them. To understand the impact of the 2005 law, we need to consider Florida’s previous self-defense laws, which were rooted in the principles of the English common law.

Self-Defense Always Requires Reasonable Fear
Both before and after 2005, Florida law allowed self-defense through deadly force in a very limited number of situations. It had to be necessary in the eyes of a reasonable person, and deadly force could only be used to defend one’s life, to prevent great bodily harm, or to prevent a “forcible felony.” Then as now, the person claiming self-defense could not be the aggressor. Deadly force could not be used only to defend property. And, prior to 2005, there was a duty to retreat if doing so could be accomplished in safety. There was a limited permission not to retreat when defending oneself in one’s home, an exception derived from the strong Anglo-American tradition that a “man’s home is his castle.”

Florida treated self-defense as an affirmative defense, for which the defendant had to, at the very least, meet a “burden of production” before the matter could be submitted to the jury. Once the question was before the jury, however, the prosecutor had to disprove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Disputed questions of self-defense can be very high stakes indeed. Under the legacy system, a prosecutor would be within his rights to proceed to trial if he thought there was a chance the jury wouldn’t agree with claim of self-defense by the defendant, who faced life without parole as the penalty for first degree murder. Even a defendant with an irrefutable claim of self-defense would remain in suspense until the very end. Of course, the costs of an adequate legal defense could prove ruinously expensive even in a successful case.

The Stand Your Ground Law
The 2005 stand-your-ground amendments made two significant changes to Florida law. First, the duty to retreat was no longer mandated in public spaces. In this regard, Florida now stands with the majority of other states, which have adopted what are alternately called “stand your ground” or “true man” modifications to the common law treatment of self-defense.

Abolishing the retreat requirement is uniquely American. While other legal systems, including English common law, conceive of self-defense as a nod to extreme necessity, the American legal regime reflects our frontier heritage of rugged individualism. In this view, there is a moral dimension to affirming the rights of the law-abiding to enjoy their freedom, help themselves, and prevent the bad guys from getting away.

There are also practical reasons to do away with the retreat requirement. Florida previously didn’t require retreat when it could not be accomplished safety, but whether it’s ever safe to retreat is subject to a great deal of uncertainty and interpretation. As then state representative Dennis Braxley argued at the time in favor of the bill, retreating is a “good way to get shot in the back.”

In defending its own variation of “stand-your-ground,” the Nevada Supreme Court summarized the matter this way:

First, we note that a rule requiring a non-aggressor to retreat confers a benefit on the aggressor and a detriment on the non-aggressor. Second, it is often quite difficult for a jury to determine whether a person should reasonably believe that he may retreat from a violent attack in complete safety. Thus, a rule which requires a non-aggressor to retreat may confuse the jury and lead to inconsistent verdicts. We believe that a simpler rule will lead to more just verdicts.

While often invoked to discredit the stand-your-ground law, George Zimmerman’s right of deadly force only came into being when his head was being bashed into the ground by Travyon Martin. He claimed, and the jury agreed, that he was reasonably at that moment in fear of great bodily harm. His screams and the large gash on the back of his head—shown at trial, but rarely shown in the media—made this pretty plain. Zimmerman had no opportunity to retreat at that point, and had no duty to retreat prior to the assault. No law prevented Zimmerman from following or talking to Martin or walking around his own neighborhood, and such noncriminal behavior is allowed everywhere.

Self-Defense Immunity
The second aspect of the 2005 stand-your-ground bill is somewhat unique to Florida; the law allows a pretrial immunity hearing to protect a defendant that proffers evidence of a prima facie self-defense claim to the court. Under the immunity standards, law enforcement agencies risk having to pay the defendant’s attorneys’ fees in the case of an arrest where such immunity is invoked successfully.

This procedure gives defendants invoking self-defense two bites at the apple. They can prove to a judge that they engaged in self-defense, unless the prosecutor successfully shows with “clear and convincing” evidence that it can refute the claim. Even if this immunity hearing is unsuccessful, the prosecutor still must prove their case—including disproving self-defense—beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury.

Surprisingly, Zimmerman’s defense team never bothered to invoke this procedure, even though it would have provided a basis for an appeal and also would have revealed the prosecution’s main strategy in advance of the ultimate trial.

So both aspects of stand your ground—the removal of the duty to retreat and the provision of a pretrial immunity hearing—were completely absent from the Trayvon Martin stand-your-ground cause celebre.

Stand-Your-Ground Has Become a Political Litmus Test
Stand-your-ground is likely to be an issue in the 2018 Florida governor’s race. Trump-endorsed Republican candidate Ron DeSantis is a strong Second Amendment supporter. Democrat Andrew Gillum, following the trendy causes of “gun safety” and racial justice, has stated that he thinks the stand-your ground-law should be repealed.

Both candidates have recent cases to lend strength to their appeals. Just a few weeks ago, in a case out of Lakeland, Florida, an Uber driver, who was very skilled in using his firearm, took out a drunk, aggressive guy who attacked him. The sheriff said—not quite accurately—that it was a classic “stand your ground” case. Here, there was no time or means of retreat; you can see the video here. It was, more accurately, a classic “self-defense” case, but the doctrinal confusion over stand your ground is apparently universal.

For opponents of the law, a truly sketchy use of force by Michael Drejka in Clearwater led to a delay in prosecution by the Pinellas County Sheriff. The sheriff said his hands were tied by the prospect of liability if he made an inappropriate arrest. Activists including Al Sharpton and Benjamin Crump descended on the community, claiming stand your ground was a “racist, Jim Crow” law. The victim was an unarmed black man, Markeis McGlockton. While McGlockton shoved the shooter to the ground, Drejka’s use of force in responding appears disproportionate. Other facts suggest that the shooter was a hothead, itching for confrontation. Nonetheless, retreat does not seem to be an issue. In spite of the brief delay by the sheriff, the prosecutor’s office eventually chose to prosecute the matter. Many gun-rights supporters—including me—feel no strong need to weigh in on this particular incident, which seems gratuitous and sketchy under the law.

The media and people uneasy with the idea of self-defense in general invoke stand-your-ground all the time.  Activists contend the law is racist, but it’s not exactly clear why; after all, black defenders can invoke the same right to stand their ground and engage in self-defense against white aggressors. Media misreporting of stand-your-ground likely also fuels some confusion by the gun-owning public, who should be reminded that deadly force is appropriate only in life-and-death situations.

When combined with Florida’s liberal concealed-carry laws, stand-your-ground is, however, a nod to the rights of citizens and victims in a world where crime, lawlessness, and uncertainty have increased. This is particularly so since the crime wave of the 1970s and 1980s, when more and more law-abiding people wondered if courts were completely out of touch with their apparent indifference to citizens’ concerns for safety, autonomy, and a level playing field with the criminal class.

Florida represents the front lines of the culture war. It combines a native southern citizenry with a great many transplants, who sometimes have the progressive values of New York or New Jersey or the foreign countries whence they came. You see much of this cultural divide among the parents of Parkland High School, and in the gulf between the more culturally Southern Panhandle and the rest of Florida. Gun control and self-defense law go to the heart of whether Florida will give up historic freedoms in a quest for safety or empower ordinary citizens to take care of themselves.

Jeffrey Snyder, in his excellent essay,  “A Nation of Cowards,” summed up the matter succinctly: “As the Founding Fathers knew well, a government that does not trust its honest, law-abiding, taxpaying citizens with the means of self-defense is not itself worthy of trust. Laws disarming honest citizens proclaim that the government is the master, not the servant, of the people.”

Whether the issue is health care, stand-your-ground, or gun control, the fundamental question in the governor’s race is whether Florida aims to be a self-governing people whose government is its servant or the reverse. In other words, the chief issue in this contest—as it was in the contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton—is fundamentally one of what kind of country we are and aim to be.

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Administrative State • Center for American Greatness • Conservatives • Donald Trump • Law and Order • political philosophy • Post • Republicans • self-government • separation of powers • The Constitution

Polarization Over Kavanaugh Is a Good Thing

The heated polarization over Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court is a sign that the country is ripe for a serious reckoning with what makes a judicial nominee—particularly one to the U.S. Supreme Court—“qualified.” It shows that America is once more willing to take on the burden of doing politics with respect to the judicial branch. And since the court’s power is extremely broad in scope, it’s both necessary and good that the nation is soberly deliberating about this vital question through its elected representatives.

Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the editor-in-chief of the legal blog Lawfare, is of a different opinion, however. He is worried about the state of America’s judicial confirmation process. In the pages of The Atlantic, Wittes laments that we are in the death throes of the “Confirmation Wars” that rage about us. Judge Kavanaugh, he writes,

will be confirmed because there are 51 Republican senators in office and a Republican vice president who can break a tie if need be. While he may get a few Democratic votes, he will get confirmed—indeed, he will get a vote at all—because Republicans right now have the raw political power to confirm him on their own. That political constellation of power exists because people expect him to vote in certain ways on certain types of cases, to deliver certain specific outcomes on issues they care about. Democrats will oppose him for the same reasons.

While this constitutes a deviation from past practice, it’s difficult to see precisely what’s either technically or substantively wrong with the situation that Wittes and those who agree with him decry.

Technically, at the political-constitutional level, the Senate is well within its power to withhold its “advice and consent” and so reject any president’s (judicial) nominee for any reason—or no reason at all. As we’ve seen, the Senate can refuse even to give a nominee a hearing. While that has incensed some, the reality is, in appointment matters, the Senate has the final say, and nobody who’s being honest doubts that.

As a substantive matter, Wittes’ view—namely, that nominees should be on the auto-confirmation track if they’re well-credentialed and have the right “temperament”—is only coherent if one believes that a nominee’s having the right judicial philosophy is a nice “value add” but isn’t strictly necessary to be a qualified judge.

But that’s wrong. Judicial philosophy—how one views the Constitution and conceives of one’s role as a judge, particularly how one understands the limits of one’s own authority—is by far the most important component of being a good judge. And the post-Bork Senate is finally showing that it understands this.

Whether each party consciously understands why it supports the judicial philosophy that it does—“originalism” for the Republicans, “living constitutionalism” for the Democrats—is wholly beside the point. What does matter, however, is that it has happened. And it has forced us to confront an uncomfortable reality: For Republican and Democratic senators alike, only a certain type of nominee is confirmable (i.e., the kind that has the judicial philosophy to which these senators are partial, regardless of why they are partial to it).

This is as it should be, the lamentations of “proceduralists” like Wittes notwithstanding. What matters more than anything else with respect to the judiciary is that the judges who get confirmed won’t one day reveal themselves to be robed tyrants. The country had enough of that from the Warren court. The old confirmation process was possessed of a certain decorum, yes, but it was at the same time not well-suited to detect and then smoke out nominees who would go on to rule by judicial fiat. Plus, it was only able to be so genial because only one judicial methodology, what we today call “originalism,” was understood to be legitimate, and most judges operated within that framework.

Until the 20th century, that a judge would be a natural-law originalist went without saying. But, beginning in late-19th and early-20th century America (and even earlier in a non-American context), Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. precipitated a legal revolt, with the aim of reconstituting the judiciary into one that would rule with an eye toward reifying the best social consequences. The Holmesian judiciary would base its decisions on economic, social science, and statistical reasoning at the expense of the actual text of any given law. He and his disciples pushed “living constitutionalism” into the mainstream, where it had no right to be and where, regrettably, it remains to this day. “Originalism” only became a self-conscious legal theory in the 1980s as a counter-reaction to Holmes’ legal rebellion, but it has always existed.

It simply won’t do to lament the “politicized” process we have today, as Wittes and others do; that critique means nothing. In the United States, judges always have been subject to political-electoral rule and control. On the front end, they need to run the presidential-nomination-and-Senate-confirmation gauntlet, and on the back end, they can be impeached. (Judges need to be impeached much more frequently, as it happens.)

Here’s Wittes again: “Our debate about judges takes place in the language of principle. We pretend to debate judicial philosophies, when we all know there was no philosophical objection to confirming Merrick Garland” (emphasis added).

Wittes goes too far, however. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) stated reason for blocking Judge Garland had to do with the timing of an election, to be sure, but we must ask: Were McConnell and Co. flexing their political muscles just for the sake of flexing? Or because they opposed Judge Garland’s becoming Justice Garland and therefore gaining the authority, along with just four other justices, to impose his will on the entire nation? Obviously it’s the latter; the move was highly risky and thus it needs to be justified on grounds other than, “Screw Obama!”

At some level, the GOP understands that a non-originalist/“living constitutionalist” judicial philosophy is inherently disqualifying of a judicial nominee (at least one to the Supreme Court), and it doesn’t matter if that’s just because the nominees they oppose “would give us results we don’t like.” In this case, even if not in some others, the ends really do justify the means, and that’s because nominees bring their background assumptions onto the bench with them; judges whose basic disposition is non-originalist simply cannot be trusted to act as judges ought to act, how the Constitution envisions they’ll act.

The Constitution is far too important to be left in the hands of judges who see its provisions as having about as much solidity and force as silly putty. We cannot risk handing over the Constitution to judges who have no qualms about torturing it to say something it plainly does not whenever it’s politically expedient.

What we need is even more polarization, more rancor, over the judiciary. This polarization in our body politic is akin to a fever in a human body: Just as a fever combats sickness, so, too, does polarization. Except, instead of the flu, America is fighting the virus of judicial tyranny.

A Justice Kavanaugh would be the beginning of her recovery.

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Photo Credit: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Administrative State • Conservatives • Donald Trump • Government Reform • Law and Order • Post • Pro-Life • Republicans • Second Amendment • self-government • separation of powers • The Constitution • The Left • the Presidency

The Coming Restoration of the Constitution

Just as the upcoming midterm elections may be the most important of our lifetimes—since they will determine if the Trumpian Counter-Reformation will continue or be frustrated—the hearings this week on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court are a watershed event in jurisprudence.

Fifty years ago there was a fragile consensus, even in our great law schools, about how justices were to go about doing their jobs. That consensus was formed by admiration for Felix Frankfurter, the occasionally mercurial, but stunningly brilliant, appointee of Franklin Roosevelt. Frankfurter, contrary to the later pattern of justices appointed by Republican presidents, moved to the right on the court, becoming more conservative with age. By the end of his career, in a series of thoughtful opinions, he had explained that the task of a justice was not to formulate new constitutional law according to his personal preferences, but, rather to exercise restraint and wisdom in preserving the original constitutional scheme of separation of powers and preeminence of state and local governments.

For Frankfurter, and for sensible justices since, in particular Justices William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas, the federal government was one of limited and enumerated powers, and justices were supposed be jurists, not legislators.

By the turn of the 20th century in the law schools, at least, as I tried to show in my recent Law Professors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law, the Frankfurtian consensus had collapsed, so-called “legal realism” had triumphed, adherence to the rule of law was out of favor, and the task of justices had been reconceived as that of Ephors uniquely qualified to dictate rules for the rest of their fellow Americans.

Dismantling the Old Constitution
It takes about 30 years for the wildest ideas in the legal Academy to be transformed into mainstream jurisprudence, and thus the jurisprudence of the far Left—Critical Legal Studies (the principal tenet of which is that law is simply politics)—which was in ascendance in the mid 1980s, profoundly shaped decisions such as Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), when the Supreme Court declared—rejecting millennia of experience—that the United States Constitution mandated that marriage could no longer be limited to a bond between one man and one woman. This followed the landmark opinion in NFIB v. Sebelius (2012), when Chief Justice John Roberts, who prior to that time had been regarded as a fairly reliable conservative, in the course of upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), virtually declared there were no longer any limits on Congress’s legislative power.

Put simply, the court had laid the groundwork for the destruction of our constitutional scheme, and had nearly abandoned the traditional ideas that judges were not legislators and that it was the state and local bodies, not the federal government, that were supposed to be the primary movers in national life. Justices David Souter, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Anthony Kennedy, all Republican appointees, had been instrumental in this dismantling of jurisprudential tradition, but they are all gone now.

President Trump, influenced by Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society, as well as the Heritage Foundation, pledged to reverse this dismantling, and this was enough to garner him the support of a few of us traditionalists in the academy. He confirmed our faith in him with the Neil Gorsuch appointment, and he has done the same with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, a man squarely in the Frankfurtian mold, even if he comes from a hotbed of anti-Frankfurtian jurisprudence, Yale Law School. The Life of the Law, it would seem, is full of ironies.

A New “Swing Justice”
The Left has been apoplectic since the announcement of Kavanaugh’s selection, as it accurately perceives that this may mean a new direction on the court. Where Justice Kennedy had been the “swing justice,” supporting his progressive colleagues on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion, Kavanaugh’s joining the court will give the “swing” position to Roberts, perhaps the least conservative of what will now be a group of five.

Adam Liptak, the New York Times’s Supreme Court correspondent, and thus a reliable barometer of the progressives’ view of the Court, declared, “If Roberts assumes that position . . . he will lead a solid five-member conservative majority that would most likely restrict access to abortion, limit the use of race-conscious decisions in areas like college admissions, uphold voting restrictions, expand gun rights, strike down campaign finance regulations, and give religion a greater role in public life.”

Just so. The Supreme Court is not going to overturn Roe v. Wade (1973), the decision that somehow discovered a right to terminate a pregnancy in penumbras and emanations from various amendments, but that decision was clearly without adequate constitutional foundation, and the court has already begun the process of returning the protection of fetal life, at least in the later months of pregnancy, to the states, where traditionally it belonged. The same can be said of the protection of the right to vote, which even the 14th and 15th Amendments recognized was a matter for state and local governments.

Liptak is probably right about future court decisions by a conservative majority that may end other nefarious aspects of federal campaign regulation, as they should be ended. Such legislation, with the damnable McCain-Feingold law as the worst example, ought to be seen for what it is—incumbency protection. The remnants of McCain-Feingold and other such legislation effectively prevents newcomers to politics who cannot afford the consultants and lawyers who are necessary to conduct modern campaigns without running afoul of arcane and onerous rules, and the possible risk of fines and prison terms for violations.

A Litany of Dog-Whistles for the Left
This was a country founded on the propositions that there can be no order without law, no law without morality, and no morality without religion, as Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase declared in a grand jury charge in 1803, voicing sentiments shared by Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and before them, William Blackstone and Edmund Burke. Thus, it will be a salutary development if, indeed, the court gives religion, in Liptak’s words, “a greater role in public life.”

The Left’s dream of repeal of the Second Amendment is not going to be realized, and, accordingly, the court may, as Liptak expects, protect the traditional right to bear arms. That is now recognized as an individual right, like the others guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, and it should be no surprise that a conservative court would enforce it.

Conservatives traditionally have recoiled from the Left’s penchant for counting by race, and for seeing individuals not as fully-formed and unique human beings, but as markers in a political game pitting ethnic groups against each other. Increasingly, conservatives have held with Martin Luther King, Jr., that Americans should be judged by the “content of their character” (as well as their innate talents and abilities) rather than by the “color of their skin.”

Chief Justice John Roberts has been eloquent in condemning racial politics, and if he leads the Court to limit the “use of race-conscious decisions” he will be leading it in the right direction.

Liptak’s litany of dog-whistles for the Left are actually a program of traditional and sensible jurisprudence for the Right, and for the nation. President Trump has made a second brilliant appointment to the Supreme Court, and though the Left will rage this week, there should be enough senators who understand that it is the popular organs like the Senate that should be making the law, not the judicial branch, and that the Constitution will be better preserved in the hands of a Justice Kavanaugh.

Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Declaration of Independence • political philosophy • Post • self-government

The Timeless Principles of the Declaration of Independence

The Continental Congress voted on July 2, 1776 to declare independence from Great Britain and approved the final wording of the Declaration on July 4. John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail during the period leading up to declaring independence: “Time has been given for the whole People, maturely to consider the great Question of Independence and to ripen their judgments, dissipate their Fears, and allure their Hopes, by discussing it in News Papers and Pamphletts, by debating it, in Assemblies, Conventions, Committees of Safety and Inspection, in Town and County Meetings, as well as in private Conversations, so that the whole People in every Colony of the 13, have now adopted it, as their own Act.” This involvement of “the whole People” was not a new practice, but one that had been cultivated for generations.

Declaring independence was done in the name of the people:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation (emphasis added).

Invoking the people in the first line of the Declaration was not simply a rhetorical flourish or a dramatic overture; the former British subjects, now American citizens, were actively involved in severing ties and forming a new nation.

Calvin Coolidge, in his speech on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, stated that the act of declaring independence “represented the movement of a people.” He explained further:

It was not, of course, a movement from the top. Revolutions do not come from that direction. It was not without the support of many of the most respectable people in the Colonies, who were entitled to all the consideration that is given to breeding, education, and possessions . . . . The American Revolution represented the informed and mature convictions of a great mass of independent, liberty-loving, God-fearing people who knew their rights, and possessed the courage to dare to maintain them.

The people Adams and Coolidge described did not rise up spontaneously. The recognition of duties, liberty, and rights began in the century prior to independence. It was simultaneously a civic, cultural, and political formation that continues to this day and consciously must be perpetuated.

Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, discovered the principle and the life of American freedom in the township and recognized that it fostered self-governance. It nurtured the growth of freedom because of what it permitted and required and because of its limited scope. “Interests, passions, duties, and rights came to be grouped around the township’s individuality and strongly attached to it. In the heart of the township one sees a real, active altogether democratic and republican political life reigning.” Though initially confined to the emigrants in New England Tocqueville observed, the two or three principal ideas that formed the bases of the social theory of the United States and were combined in New England “penetrated the entire confederation.”

The freedom that was cultivated among the New Englanders thus became a part of the habits of the nation. This point cannot be given too much emphasis. In his chapter on the principal causes of maintaining the democratic republic in the United States, Tocqueville points to mores, which he understands as the habits, opinions, usages, and beliefs of the people, as regulating and directing the democracy of the United States. These mores, Tocqueville explains, are habits of the heart and of the mind; they comprehend the moral and intellectual state of a people. The experience of the township instilled in the immigrants and their descendants the love of freedom and the habit of governing that Tocqueville saw as crucial to sustaining democratic institutions. What Tocqueville observed was consistent with Adams’s description of the people’s involvement in declaring independence.

The assertion in the Declaration that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed again recognizes the active participation of the people. The practice of consent began as early as 1610 with the Mayflower Compact that united the first settlers of the Plymouth colony. In his 1821 speech commemorating the Declaration of Independence, John Quincy Adams described the compact as “a social compact formed upon the elementary principles of civil society, in which conquest and servitude had no part. The slough of brutal force was entirely cast off; all was voluntary; all was unbiased consent; all was the agreement of soul with soul.” The shared root of the words consent and consensus is from the Latin consentire, to be in agreement, in harmony.

The Plymouth settlers drafted a compact that bound them into a body politic for better ordering and preservation, to enact and frame just and equal laws, acts, and constitutions for the general good of the colony. These same settlers were also British colonists. It is their descendants who severed ties with the British for not recognizing their inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The colonists exercised their legitimate right in 1776 to separate and withdrew consent from being governed further by the British.

The events leading up to independence began when the British levied taxes on the colonists with the passage of Sugar Act in 1764 and the Stamp Act in 1765. Individual colonies protested by sending letters and petitions to the British Parliament, but James Otis of Massachusetts, who had been advancing arguments invoking the natural rights of the colonists, suggested an intercolonial conference. Representatives from several colonies met as a body to formulate a response in the form of a Declaration of Rights and Grievances. The colonists in their private capacity also published letters and pamphlets arguing against the taxes.

While boycotts had greater impact toward ending British taxation, this initial intercolonial meeting was significant because it was a first attempt at providing a coordinated response to the British through a representative body. Following on this, the First and Second Continental Congresses met in Philadelphia in September 1774 and in May 1775, respectively, to address British actions that the colonists deemed hostile or contrary to their interests. Committees of Correspondence between the colonial governing bodies also served to develop ongoing intercolonial communication, which informed both private citizens and legislators.

We can begin to discern a pattern that has been woven into the fabric of America from these three examples: the local governments observed by Tocqueville as cultivating self-governance, private individuals adhering to a compact of their own design, and cooperative intercolonial bodies articulating rights and seeking redress for grievances. The tradition of convening groups of people, citizens, to seek common ground or resolve disputes, appointing representatives to governing bodies to meet on behalf of the people, and formulating a united response after debate, is a long standing tradition in America that preceded the formation of the states and the nation and was instrumental in declaring independence successfully from the British.

The citizenry was not only habituated to these practices, their representatives were as well. Coolidge made the following observation as it specifically related to declaring independence:

This obedience of the delegates to the wishes of their constituents, which in some cases caused them to modify their previous positions, is a matter of great significance. It reveals an orderly process of government in the first place; but more than that, it demonstrates that the Declaration of Independence was the result of the seasoned and deliberate thought of the dominant portion of the people of the Colonies. Adopted after long discussion and as the result of the duly authorized expression of the preponderance of public opinion . . . It was in no sense a radical movement . . . It was conservative and represented the action of the colonists to maintain their constitutional rights which from time immemorial had been guaranteed to them under the law of the land.

The orderly process mentioned by Coolidge is one that has become a hallmark in America, but it goes beyond the elected representatives carrying out the wishes of the electorate. Two organizations that spawned significant movements in the United States modeled their Declarations after the Declaration of Independence: the American Anti-Slavery Convention in 1833 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the Woman’s Rights Convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York.

Both acknowledged the rights in the 1776 Declaration, but the Anti-Slavery advocates sought to complete the recognition of those rights for all and the Woman’s Rights advocates sought to expand them. Their efforts to accomplish their goals overlapped and included sending forth agents, circulating tracts, enlisting the pulpit and the press, purifying churches from the practice of participation in slavery, encouraging the labor of freemen, petitioning state and national legislatures, and organizing Anti-Slavery Societies and holding Women’s Rights Conventions throughout the country. Their efforts to disseminate their arguments and persuade the citizenry and their elected representatives is consistent with the practice that was followed by the colonists and subsequently citizens of the newly formed United States upon declaring independence.

Among the finest examples in the twentieth century of shaping and influencing debate through an orderly process consistent with that which started with the colonists was Martin Luther King’s non-violent protests. In his “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” King explained the steps he took to achieve full recognition of those rights articulated in the Declaration of Independence. He was in Birmingham because it was the most segregated city in the United States. It had, in King’s words, an ugly record of brutality; there was no justice to be had in the courts, and the city fathers refused to engage in good-faith negotiation. Requests to the Birmingham economic community to “remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs” also failed. Like the colonists some two centuries previously whose efforts at negotiation with the British failed, King’s efforts also failed. He saw himself standing between the forces of complacency and those who called for violence. It became clear to him that other methods had to be tried; he decided on a course of direct action.

King wrote, “We would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: ‘Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?’ ‘Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?’” King prepared the protesters, in an orderly manner, for a non-violent protest with a specific aim: “The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.” This is one example of the colonists’ experiences differing from King’s efforts: in spite of repeated efforts, the British refused to negotiate; King fared better, though not before grave trials and sufferings.

While many were critical of King’s efforts, he responded:

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue . . . . I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

Similar to the efforts of the colonists who declared independence and proclaimed that they were To assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, King used various means to achieve an equal station for those living in Birmingham and all other places that continued to suffer the gross injustices that festered in those places that previously denied life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Anti-Slavery Society and the Women’s Rights Convention acted in a similar fashion to King and the colonists; they raised the tension by bringing to the forefront matters that needed debate. There were disagreements, but the goal was to seek a remedy and resolve the tension. The practices that date back to the colonists of acting in concert to right wrongs, to do so without violence, and to advance reasoned discourse in order to persuade have been used repeatedly throughout the nation’s history.

Returning to Tocqueville’s discussion of township, he warned that freedom can only be sustained when the institution has been among the people and its existence is part of their habits and customs. “In order to defend themselves successfully they must have completed all their developments and have been mixed with national ideas and habits.” We should remind ourselves of these practices, in private capacities and public, and embrace them anew to resolve our contentious debates.

Editor’s note: This essay is based upon a speech delivered at the St. John’s College Graduate Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico, July 4, 2018, “Does the Declaration of Independence Still Speak to Us Today?”

Photo Credit: Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Administrative State • California • Post • Progressivism • self-government

Straw Bans vs. Common Sense

By now you’ve heard that the Santa Barbara, California city council outlawed the distribution of disposable plastic drinking straws. For a moment, it appeared the city would actually send minimum-wage workers to jail for handing out the newly reviled objects. While that sensational detail captured Americans’ imaginations, another crucial admission might have been overlooked. During council’s discussion of the ordinance, councilman Jason Dominguez said, “Unfortunately, common sense is just not common. We have to regulate every aspect of people’s lives.”

Dominguez later disavowed the plain meaning of his words, but we should applaud him for making a perfect statement of modern progressivism’s core idea.

Progressivism is the rejection of Americanism, of the American idea. Progressives reject the American founders’ core idea—that all people are born free and equal and capable of self-government. Instead, the progressives believe they have to regulate every aspect of people’s lives—that government by experts is better than government “by the people, for the people.” Why? As Dominguez let slip, “unfortunately” common sense is simply not common enough for the Founders’ design to work.

Notice what Dominguez’s clear statement of progressivism does to the the Founders’ idea of “we the people.” In the modern progressive view, the “we” (meaning the ruling elite, to which group Dominguez assumes he belongs) regulate “the people.” There are now two classes: the rulers and the ruled.

America’s Founders put their faith in the people’s common sense. America has been called the “common sense nation,” and Tom Paine’s book Common Sense did much to ignite the American Revolution. Paine’s essential contribution was convincing a sufficient number of Americans that America did not need a royal sovereign, that we could rule ourselves.

According to the founders, the people are sovereign. In their time, that idea was bolder than bold. In that era it was actually a contradiction in terms. A sovereign was a king or queen; it was the role of the people to be ruled and the role of the sovereign to rule.

The purpose of the Founders’ design was to enable us, the American people, to rule ourselves. The government was to be, quite simply, the agent of the sovereign people. As Chief Justice John Marshall wrote: “It is the plain dictate of common sense, and the whole [American] political system is founded on the idea, that the departments of government are the agents of the nation . . .”

The Founders’ focus was liberty. Consequently, their design provided a limited role for government. Here is Thomas Jefferson in his first inaugural address:

Still one thing more, fellow-citizens—a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government…

Progressivism, by contrast, is all about restoring the old order of rulers and ruled. Thanks to the modern progressives, federal, state, and local governments in America are now populated with people who believe they “have to regulate every aspect of people’s lives.” They may claim to be “liberal” or they may call themselves “progressive.” Whatever label they choose, their target is an America in which more and then still more is either forbidden or compelled.

You have to give them credit; they have made remarkable “progress.” When they are able to regulate plastic straws out of existence, they really have come a long way, haven’t they?

Perhaps President Trump’s “common sense conservatism” gets it just right. If we are going to restore America, we must return common sense to its rightful place in American life.

Americanism • Conservatives • Donald Trump • Economy • EU • Europe • Foreign Policy • Immigration • Post • Progressivism • self-government • The Left • Trade

Mayday for Brexit

President Trump managed to ruffle a few feathers during his visit to Great Britain this week before Air Force One even stroked the runway. Then, when he arrived, he nuked the entire country.

The disruptor-in-chief, sugar-blooded from shaking a few defense pennies from spendthrift NATO allies, brawled into Prime Minister Theresa May’s headspace, saying her current Brexit deal wasn’t what 17.4 million Brits voted for.

He was just warming the crowd. President Trump then gave an interview to our most influential newspaper, The Sun As you can imagine, the garrulous Guy Fawkes went wild.

Trump told The Sun that Prime Minister May had “wrecked” our Brexit negotiations. That our jewel-in-the-Brexit-crown trade deal with the United States was “probably dead.” Then he backed Boris Johnsonthe former foreign minister and May’s braying rivalfor prime minister. All this when political tensions fray to the last fiber.

We British like to think we lead the world in etiquette. A dedicated industry churns out ever thickening tomes of advice on mannerly conduct. The 
Debrett’s A-Z of Modern Manners even advises the red of cheek to pen a handwritten note after an initial apology for a faux pas.

But politics is not a garden party. Donald Trump wasn’t elected to fawn and fiddle, but to move fast and break things.

He’s right, too. May’s proposed deal to take Britain out of the European Union certainly is not what the largest number of voters in this country’s history had in mind. Over half of them have junked her deal. And the Conservatives now trail the hapless Labour party.

Revealed last week, May’s plan doesn’t really take us out of the European Union. It’s BRINO—Brexit in Name Only.

After all, we voted to “take back control” of our money, our borders, and our laws. May’s proposal (which the EU will still likely shred) does none of that. The move to end “free movement of people” (open borders) has been replaced with “reciprocal mobility arrangements.”

We won’t control our trade deals. We won’t control our borders. We won’t control our laws.

Martin Howe QC, one of Britain’s top legal minds, said the deal amounted to a “worst-of-all-worlds ‘Black Hole’ Brexit,” chaining us to EU laws and regulations, but without a vote.

In other words, we have swapped syphilis for herpes.

Political Theater in London
It shouldn’t surprise. The political class never wanted a referendum. Ever since June 23, 2016, they’ve schemed cross-party, diluting the will of those they deride as “racist” or backward or both.

Much like their protestor fanboys, the ruling class doesn’t like this democracy thing. The revolt of the elites has swung violently against those, like us, who decided the last 30 years has been disastrous. We gave them the wrong answer and now they are provoked by what they consider our ignorance and ingratitude.

After all, they run the show. And they don’t think much of the audience chiming in mid-performance, let alone the rubes bouncing a few tomatoes off the stage. Elite theater is just thattheater.

The protestors eagerly lacquering their social media feeds into festivals of synthetic virtue are merely backup dancers. Sadly, not everyone can find the time to throng the streets of London selfying into Clarendon-filtered marvel. We have work.

Some time-lavished hipsters have even bilked £16,000 (around $21,000) for a 20-foot-high diaper-garbed inflatable “Trump Baby” to fly over Parliament Square.

They still need you to know that Trump is unacceptable. Well, they need you to know that they think Trump is unacceptable. In reality, they need you to know that they are faucets of goodness. Attention is limited in an age where the demand for it proves limitless. Some people just have to stand out.

But what point are they making? Emotional incontinence is not an argument. It just marks one as someone in devilish need of a Xanax.

Trump’s Policies Remain Popular in Europe
Perhaps they’d like to know that most Brits may not like Trump the man, but they do like his policies. A
study last year found majorities in Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Poland would block all immigration from Muslim-majority countries. In the UK, just under half nodded, while only less than a quarter disagreed.

Moreover, 70 percent of Brits wanted all immigration tightened, and a hefty fifth wanted it cut entirely. And in the Europe they so gaudily crave? Voters in every EU member country stated immigration and terrorism were their top two concerns. The same issues, in other words, which planted Trump in the White House.

They might have noticed that Trump-like populist governments have plundered the continent of progressive parties. Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Italy are all occupied with the kind of folks they deem unacceptable. Why? Because the EU itself is shakier than EU high priest Jean-Claude Juncker after a libatory lunch.

And the inflatable Trump Baby? Well, it was filled with hot air and went limp after just two hours of work. Its staying power being a reflection of that of the protesters who carried it.

America • Deep State • Democrats • Donald Trump • Elections • GOPe • Government Reform • Greatness Agenda • Hillary Clinton • Obama • Post • Republicans • self-government • The Constitution • The Culture • The Left • the Presidency • Trump White House

What the Health of the Body Politic Needs Now

Our body politic operates much like our own bodies, alternating between different levels of awareness and activity as it experiences and responds to stimuli. The parasympathetic nervous system, for example, helps the body to “rest and digest”—to function in specific ways while relaxed and calm. It is the state conducive to healing, growth, change. The sympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, is the body’s go-to source of energy and focus in “fight or flight” situations that increases the body’s ability to respond in times of stress—whether it’s taking an exam, tending to a sick child, or responding to a threat to your life.

It may be tempting to think that living in perpetual parasympathetic conditions is the key to true happiness. Alas, no. Happiness—or more to the point, the pursuit of that often elusive state—requires stress and pain. For the body (and soul) to thrive, it requires a healthy back and forth between these two systems. And when there’s a disturbance to that balance, the body can get stuck in one state and start to break down.

Similarly, the health of a nation depends upon the nature of the stimuli and how its people respond individually and collectively. Life on this side of heaven will always be strained, but the age in which we live is different from those that came before it in that the din of life is growing louder and causing greater harm the less we connect with our souls and with the God who made us.

An Unhealthy Turn
We Americans have been in a sympathetic dominant state for quite some time. We are inundated with stressors from the moment we wake. Even with all the trappings of modern conveniences in our work and family life, we’re also over-taxed, over-medicated, condescended to, misled, and violated. Competing narratives vie for our attention, everywhere and all the time. Certain narratives—like certain bacteria—have a predatory quality that lingers, striking the host at a moment of weakness, always with the goal to weaken it further to the point of its ultimate destruction.

That is why progressives, for example, go berserk as if according to script after a tragic event involving a gun; targeting every gun owner and would-be gun owner who had nothing to do with what happened. If they can take away the Second Amendment, the First Amendment becomes much more vulnerable. If they can take away the First Amendment, then like dominoes, the protections surrounding the rest of our rights—particularly those inconvenient natural ones—start to fall away.

There is no such thing as inert freedom. You’re either moving toward its full expression or its total suppression.

So we’ve been on perpetual defense as we’ve watched our people and our nation in the throes of palpable, albeit avoidable, decline. The body politic, just like the human body, can take only so many blows.

The 2016 Prescription
From the vantage of 2018, it seems clear that Barack Obama’s presidency was meant to be the beginning of the end for constitutional government as we’ve known it. Obama and his fellow ideologues—with typical ghoulish delight—were giddy to be at the helm of this demise, goading us into twilight. Great nations can last only so long, we were told. 
It’s just a matter of time. But Obama overused his phone and pen, so more Americans started paying closer attention to what was going on, and as it happens, they really didn’t like it.

But where to turn? The courts? Congress? An unreliable, low-T Republican Party?

The candidacy, election, and presidency of Donald Trump changed everything. Wildcard though he was, he has turned out to be the Great Disruptor in the best sense of the term. Trump is not only punching through the fake news about himself and his presidency but also through the lie that America is doomed immediately to the same fate as that of ancient Athens or the Roman Republic. We are at long last experiencing some parasympathetic relief (#Winning! in MAGA parlance) on the economic, political, regulatory, international, and cultural fronts. Every day is a news bonanza. When has politics ever been so exciting? I thought nothing could beat the 2016 election, but Trump’s first term is utterly lit.

Struggles Within the Body Politic
There is, however, a portion of the country that isn’t doing so hot. There is certainly overlap among these groups, but basically it’s the unrepentant NeverTrumpers, #TheResistance, the Democratic Party, the GOP establishment, and much of the media who doggedly remain in their sympathetic dominant state. They are broken and breaking further still. They pitch fits at Trump’s every executive action, tweet, and speech. Nothing less than his total and complete annihilation is acceptable.

Only then, with Trump out of the way and their bruised egos assuaged, can they come after those of us who instinctively cringed at Obama’s Worldwide Apology Tour and fumed when Iranian thugs forced our sailors onto their knees and one into a hijab. We actually believe this place is unique and lovely and worth preserving. We are not blind to our faults, past or present, but neither do we relish in them in some bizarre attempt to twist self-hatred into a virtue.

They bombard loyal and effective surrogates of Trump’s America First agenda. When snark and smear aren’t enough, they harass and threaten and openly advocate or commit acts of violence. Impatient to attain a reality more suitable to their selfish pursuits, they seem quite suddenly to care about big words they don’t understand like “democracy” and “freedom.” Bereft of shame or the ability to make a simple, logical argument, they feed off their shared animus toward Trump and move with disturbing frenzy from target to target.

Strengthening the Body in 2018 and Beyond
Dynamo though he is, Trump is just one man. And while he has strong support from his family and administration, in addition to a GOP-led Congress, he remains vulnerable. For the America First agenda to become an American ethos once again and extend beyond Trump’s presidency, he needs more unfettered time.

To get that, he needs greater support in terms of numbers and strength of will in the Congress. The Russia-collusion/FBI/Justice Department drama, media harping, among other anti-Trump shenanigans—and indeed some self-inflicted wounds—have been distracting enough, but to be stymied by a weakened GOP—or worse, a Democrat-led Congress would cause further delays.

Our system of government and the influential institutions within the wider culture have strayed so far from what engenders genuine freedom that it’s cumulative effect has led to an unnatural and unsustainable imbalance of power. The sovereignty of the American people is tenuous.

I’ve previously written that I didn’t think the fate of our nation hinges on one person. But that was before Election Day, before elements within the swamp and deep state rose up en masse in opposition to Trump. I knew it was bad, but now I know better. Trump is surrounded. Our collective political fate, therefore, is linked to Trump’s and Trump’s is largely linked to Congress. The 2018 midterm elections thus take on a special significance. Put simply: We need to protect Trump. A feckless GOP is indeed problematic, but at the moment it’s the particular means to a particular end. We need to elect Republicans with an American greatness mindset, spiritedness, and savvy. They’re out there. They’re in us.

America • Democrats • Elections • Identity Politics • Political Parties • political philosophy • Post • Progressivism • self-government • The Left • The Media • The Resistance (Snicker)

The Democrats’ Declaration of Dependence

This Fourth of July, as Americans celebrated our nation’s Declaration of Independence, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) issued its own Declaration of Dependence.

Yes, the socialism that linked the historically murderous regimes of Hitler’s Nazis, Stalin’s Bolsheviks, and Mao’s Red Guards is now the economic policy guiding the elite of the party of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy. Somewhere, Henry Wallace is looking up and smiling.

How’s that for “radical,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez?

Being a party that still must rely upon pesky elections for obtaining power, the multitasking DNC overtly played the identity politics game to gin up its midterm voter turnout and covertly ensured its new adherence to socialism was hog whistled to the Left. (“Hog whistling” is when Leftists communicate amongst themselves their desire for free stuff at others’ expense with the taxpaying public being none the wiser, though soon to be poorer.) Hence, it is what the DNC didn’t say in its Declaration of Dependence that is instructive, if ominous.

There was no mention of either “liberty” or “freedom.”

Instead, “equality” was the word of the day for the DNC propagandists, who misunderstand the term and apparently believe the United States was founded as a revolutionary experiment in socialism, which has yet to be obtained within our woefully imperfect union. Why? Because the DNC thinks individual liberty is the reason for America’s societal ills. (Newsflash: the Left calls you “deplorable” for a reason.) It’s why the DNC is enthralled with the oppressive administrative state which is designed to make decisions for you since you can’t be trusted to do so.

And no ideology better subordinates and, in over 100 million cases, kills the individual for the “good” of the collective than socialism. (As the deranged crank Rousseau euphemistically put it in a manner that would make the DNC propagandists proud: the recalcitrant, God, guns, and religion clinging, liberty-loving individual should be apprehended by the state and “forced to be free,” i.e., free not from government but from his life.)

Doubtless, the few who knew socialism’s barbarous history in the 20th century decided to skip past it and, instead, tried to pretend their support of this radical, malevolent economic theory was historically “justified.” For, unlike Jefferson, today’s Democrats have deliberately conflated our inherent moral equality (which is the origin and cause of our right to liberty) with material equality. If the DNC weren’t so averse to the concept and practice of your individual right to liberty, it would have quoted Jefferson’s passage from the Declaration of Independence more fully:

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.

Note, that Jefferson wrote the “pursuit” not the attainment of happiness. He and his founding generation knew that amongst truly free citizens equality before the law would result in the equality of opportunity, and an inequality of outcomes. Thus, as American citizens, we have both the unalienable right to liberty because of our equality before the law. No one may rule us without our consent. No one is more expert about what we should do with our liberty than we are.

Now, however, the DNC wants to curtail liberty to enforce material equality through government power. It is the same siren songs of socialism once heard in nations from Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union; and, unless you want to wind up like them, they must be soundly rejected.

Indeed, it remains to be seen how many rank-and-file Democrats will be putting their John Hancock on the DNC’s Declaration of Dependence. Many already have, because they are ignorant of human nature and of history and, for the more moronic of liberal mind, they hold out hope that “this time we’re smart enough to make socialism work!”

Still, there is some hemming and hawing about signing on to full socialism, not least of all among the Democrats who have to get elected to make a living. After all, it’s not just conservative taxpayers forking over the free stuff to government dependents. There’s going to be a whole lot of economic redistribution going from base voting limousine liberals to the people they’ve economically exploited, too. (In the DNC’s mind, wealth is only accumulated by exploitation of the poor—unless you were president and wrote some books and made movies on Netflix.)

To those trembling hands uncertain about whether to sign on to the DNC’s Declaration of Dependence, let us paraphrase another Founder, Benjamin Franklin: Those who would give up their essential liberty to purchase a little prosperity, deserve neither liberty nor prosperity.

Since we’re all in this free republic together, my Democratic friends, please read the historical fine print before you sign. Like all of socialism’s other false promises, we’ll get neither liberty nor prosperity. But we will get impoverished, re-educated, and/or killed.

If you think there’s still a decision to make, seek professional help; and remember: Free stuff isn’t free, and liberty is not negotiable.

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