Why ‘progressivism’ is regressive

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, President Calvin Coolidge provided a keystone speech.  He was known as a man of few words,* but the occasion of our nation’s birthday inspired him to pay homage to those who had gone before.  The entire address is worth your time, but this excerpt in particular speaks to today:

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.     ((Emphasis added)) 

For most of human history, despots and absolute rulers held life-and-death sway over their people, who had little control over their own lives.  When America is referred to as ‘exceptional’ it is in that context, rather than in comparison with contemporary nations (although it often applies there, too).  The Founding generation carefully distilled centuries of human experience into a philosophy of governance that managed to be both idealistic and pragmatic at the same time.  They recognized the dignity of the individual as a creation of God, yet also allowed for the fact we are fallen in nature and prone to abuse our authorities.  As James Madison, chief architect of the Constitution put it:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Those who want a ‘living Constitution’ they can warp to the whims of the times forget how carefully its systems of checks and balances was forged.  The chains they placed on Leviathan have been weakened over the generations by tinkerers and would-be tyrants.  The recycling of old ideas as “new” has not improved our charter, for truly, “there is nothing new under the sun.”  Rather, it’s demonstrated the wisdom and foresight of those who crafted it.  As the title quote for this blog suggests, we are on a wrong road.  To truly be ‘progressive,’ we need to turn back and get onto the right road.

(*) A female visitor to the White House once approached Coolidge to inform him she’d made a wager she could get him to say more than two words.  “You lose,” was Coolidge’s reply.

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Hating Trump > loving America

The $1.3 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill passed by the GOP-controlled House and Senate last night is a gigantic middle finger to middle America and to President Trump’s stated agenda (upon which he was elected).  It is proof positive once again the establishment Republican party is utterly useless in the fight to regain control of our government and our country by “we the people.”  Consider:

  • A supposedly “fiscally conservative” GOP passed the largest spending bill in U.S. history, after removing the debt ceiling and spending caps earlier this year
  • Despite complaints over procedure in the passage of Obamacare and other legislation in recent years, Congressmen were given just 1,000 minutes to review a 2,232-page abomination.  This comes after the GOP previously pledged to post legislation online for public review at least 72 hours before any vote.
  • The record spending level included $2.7 billion for international disaster relief and $1.37 billion for “contributions to international organizations.”  It even provides the Defense Department authority to “spend what funds it determines” to enhance the border security of Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia.  But in response to President Trump’s $25 billion in long-term funding for U.S. border security, the omnibus provides a mere $1.6 billion, with specific restrictions against building a solid wall, and only targeting 33 out of 1,954 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border.
  • No funding was cut to self-proclaimed “sanctuary cities” and states such as California that are flaunting Federal immigration authority on a daily basis.
  • The bill continues the practice of forcing taxpayers to subsidize the murder of babies by Planned Parenthood to the tune of more than $500 million annually.

Voting on the bill began Thursday, with current budget authority set to expire at 12:01 Saturday morning.  The “Republicans” in the House supported it 145-90, and 23 of 51 GOP Senators also voted “yes.” Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell no doubt delighted in sticking a finger in Trump’s eye, presenting him with an attempted fait accompli — a choice between accepting a bill no different from what Pelosi and Schumer would have produced, or taking public blame for “shutting down the government” (which, really, doesn’t sound like a bad thing anymore).

As I write this, the President just publicly signed the bill, expressing his displeasure, but claiming it was necessary to secure defense funding.  This is ridiculous, and I’m highly disappointed in him for submitting to the blackmail of a jammed-up deadline.  Sure, he said he’d never sign such a hastily prepared bill again — but he shouldn’t have accepted this one, either.  The purpose of a presidential veto is to tell Congress “rethink your actions.”  There is no more appropriate situation to exercise that authority than this one, in which Congressional leadership used procedure to force through folly.  Trump will pay a political price for accepting this.

Make no mistake: there is a war waging in D.C right now.  It is not between Republicans and Democrats (which are simply two flavors of the same poison).  It’s between those who believe this is a nation of laws, run with accountability to the people, and those who believe they can talk a good talk during campaigns, then do whatever the hell they want in the intervening years.  The war is being fought on several fronts: the budget, the special counsel farce, in the courts over immigration authority, and behind the scenes with an attempt to expose and prosecute the corruption of federal agencies accelerated by the last administration.  There is also good reason to believe the GOP leadership is only happy to ensure they lose majority status in this year’s mid-term election, which would clear the way for the Democrats to redouble their baseless efforts to impeach and remove Trump, who, despite his flaws and mistakes, remains more attuned to the dreams of real Americans than just about anyone else in D.C. Mordor.

In short, the GOP hates Trump more than it loves America.  Think about that.

bi-factional ruling party
There is no meaningful difference in how these four set policy.  None of them give a damn what Americans really want.  They all need to go.

Strong words rooted in history

But meaningless unless backed by equally strong action:

The morning after the Trump administration sued California over its immigration policies, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions Wednesday appeared in downtown Sacramento to say states cannot defy the federal government when it comes to immigration

“A refusal to apprehend and deport those, especially the criminal element, effectively rejects all immigration law and creates an open borders system,” Sessions declared. “Open borders is a radical, irrational idea that cannot be accepted.

“There is no nullification. There is no secession,” Sessions said. “Federal law is ‘the supreme law of the land.’ I would invite any doubters to Gettysburg, and to the graves of John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln.”

The invocation of John C. Calhoun and nullification is particularly appropriate.  Calhoun’s South Carolina in 1832 claimed the power to “nullify” a hated Federal tariff by simply refusing to collect it within the State’s borders.  The president at the time, Andrew Jackson, was emphatic about Federal supremacy within its Constitutional sphere.  At his behest, Congress passed the Force Act, essentially giving Jackson the power to use military force if necessary to compel compliance and collection of duties.  It never reached that point, in no small part because of Henry Clay’s gifted statesmanship in Congress.  But the situation emphasized the power struggle over Federal versus State prerogatives nearly two decades before Southerners fired on Ft. Sumter.

One interesting aspect of the “Nullification Crisis” was that it pitted a sitting president (Jackson) against his own vice-president (Calhoun).  Two years prior to the crisis this conflict had been made apparent at the 1830 Jefferson Day dinner.  The president, aiming a barb at Calhoun and signaling his waning support for Southern arguments about States’ rights, toasted “Our Union; it must be preserved.”

Calhoun shot back: “The Union, next to our liberty most dear.  May we all remember that it can only be preserved by respecting the rights of the States, and distributing equally the benefits and burdens of the Union.”

What, you thought today’s political divisions were unprecedented?  Hardly.

Here’s the point of the history brief: the immigration confrontation flips the usual situation where “conservatives” advocate the 10th Amendment’s reservation of power to the States while “liberals” seek to use Federal supremacy in everything — the better to force change they likely could not through the electoral process.  As recently as the Obama administration Arizona attempted to strengthen border security, only to be sued by the Feds for stepping into an area of Federal supremacy.

Now the shoe’s on the other foot, with the parties in power reversed.  Arizona allegedly couldn’t strengthen its border security beyond the Federal level of enforcement, but California can loosen it?  While both sides are guilty of putting power over principle, it’s both more obvious and dangerous with the sudden liberal embrace of claiming exceptions to Federal power.  The same leftist groups who argued before Federal judges in 2016 that North Carolina couldn’t ban confused men from women’s restrooms is now arguing California can have its own foreign policy in the area of immigration.  Okay…

Here’s what California and Calhoun have in common (besides both being Democrats, but I digress…): both were/are Constitutionally wrong.  Some readers may be surprised to see me write that, because Constitutionally I am a strict constructionist who interprets (in keeping with the 10th Amendment) the document as a constraint on Federal power, and am generally sympathetic to defending States’ rights.  That said, if the document expressly gives the Feds a particular power, there’s no arguing it.  In the case of Calhoun’s fight against tariffs, Article 1, Section 8 (*) of the Constitution clearly grants Congress the power to levy taxes, duties, imposts and excises, provided they are uniform throughout all States.

The Constitution does not contain the word “immigration,” but in the same section cited above grants Congress the power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization.  This means States and cities have no authority to establish “sanctuaries” where illegal immigrants are given the same privileges as citizens.  Those local authorities who do so are in defiance of the Constitution, and have abrogated any oath they took to support and uphold it.  They should be held appropriately accountable for that.

Because the “sanctuary” concept has become so trendy in Leftist circles, the Trump administration now faces widespread defiance of Federal authority.  Trump is sometimes compared to Jackson (faulty personality and all).  One wonders whether he will rely solely on the courts, where your mileage varies considerably concerning Constitutional interpretation, or whether he will follow Jackson’s more direct approach.  Or, for that matter, President Lincoln’s:

WHEREAS the laws of the United States have been, for some time past, and now are opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed, in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by law. (emphasis added)

Now, therefore, I, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, the militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of seventy-five thousand, in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed…

It’s a simple thing to substitute  California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont for the list of States in the first quoted paragraph above, and have the declaration apply to the issue of whether or not the United States can control its borders without local interference.

Given how divided we are as a nation, I have no doubt such a declaration would precede the same kind of national tragedy that Lincoln’s did.  It’s not the outcome I’d want, but reality has a way of disregarding our personal desires.   More than at any time since 1865, Americans need to rediscover how easy it is to read their own Constitution, and understand what policies are and are not acceptable under it.  That document used to be a unifying force in our national fabric.  Our current collective ignorance of it is a significant contributor to the political climate in which we find ourselves.

The tinder is very dry, and matches abound.  Pray for the best but prepare accordingly.

********************

(*) on a lighter note, I should point out I’ve long thought it funny that Article 1, Section 8 spells out the powers of Congress, while fans of the TV show M*A*S*H will recall the Army’s version of “section 8” refers to discharges due to mental unfitness.  Make of that what you will.

“You may say I’m a Dreamer…”

“…but I’m not the only one.”

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I tuned in for the State of the Union speech last night and I’m glad I did, for several reasons.  First, watching the Democrats win the “Worst Performance by a Minority Party at a State of the Union Address” award was priceless.  You could see it on their faces: they expected at this point in history to be watching Her Hillariness make permanent the hard left agenda inflicted by Obama.  Instead, they’re watching the country back away from the cliff, for however long the reprieve lasts.

More pleasantly, Trump struck the right tones in his address, maintaining discipline in his comments and rarely seeming to wander from the script as he often does.  Sure, he’ll never be as polished a speaker as Ronald Reagan, but that doesn’t matter: he communicates effectively in his own way.  Reagan may have started the trend of inviting “showcase” guests to the SOTU address, but Trump took it to a whole new level last night.  He put faces to the issues of border security, economic reform, courageous service and American patriotism.  I’ve become as cynical as most when it comes to such stage shows, but it was hard not to feel something when the president introduced Ji Seong-Ho, who escaped the brutality of North Korea and now fights that regime as a broadcaster and aid to fellow defectors.  To all the Lefties who’ve preened they’re some kind of underground “#resistance” to Trump’s allegedly “fascist” administration, the president was saying “THIS is what real resistance to real tyranny looks like:”

31goldbergSOTU-master768

The line that most struck me, however, was this:

My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream.  Because Americans are dreamers too.

In one swift moment, Trump yanked the term “Dreamers” away from the open borders advocates, reminding them there are people already in this country whose dreams are threatened by unchecked immigration, both legal and illegal.  It highlighted the many ways in which the Democratic party has put the interests of foreigners above those of the people they are elected to serve.  It was a masterful rhetorical stroke.

I came away from the speech optimistic.  Not necessarily because I think the administration will achieve everything they’ve set out to do.  Not because I think Trump is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  But because this unlikely president is doing something that’s needed doing for a long time:

He’s teaching the Republicans how to fight.  In doing so, he’s giving the country its best — and perhaps final — shot for recovering from its leftward drift toward becoming California writ large.

Say “no” to unqualified voting

We’ve been indoctrinated to believe voting is a “right,” and that much of progress in America is related to the gradual expansion of the franchise to the point where anyone with a pulse can enter a voting booth.  We’ve even become so “inclusive” that some cities are allowing non-citizens(!!) to vote.

Before I get bombarded with the usual Progressive insults, let me state for the record that I do not believe voting should be limited on the basis of ethnicity or wealth (i.e. landowning requirements).  But on the question of voting, there is one thing of which I am certain: the automatic universal franchise for those born here is the worst idea in the history of republican thought.  Why have I reached this conclusion?  Consider this:

A new survey conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center finds that most Americans are ignorant of many very basic facts about the Constitution.

* More than one in three people (37%) could not name a single right protected by the First Amendment.
* Only one in four (26%) can name all three branches of the government.
* One in three (33%) can’t name any branch of government. None. Not even one.

You can’t do anything in life well without knowing the rules.  Why should voting be any different?  Now, note carefully what the Washington Post (motto: “Democracy Dies In Darkness“) says next:

The protection of constitutional rights is in large part the business of lawyers, judges, government officials, and other experts. But public opinion plays an important role, as well, which it is unlikely to do as effectively if most of the public is ignorant.

No.  Emphatically no.

The informed and invested citizen is the primary protector of our constitutional freedom.  Therein lies a major part of the problem: being informed and taking action requires effort and some level of personal sacrifice (such as leisure time).  For the vast majority of people, this is simply too much work.  It’s well-said that “Few men desire liberty; most men wish only for a just master.”  Voting is not a “right.”  It is a privilege, and carries with it the reverse of the coin: responsibility.  To hand over the responsibility largely to “lawyers, judges, government officials, and other experts” (notice the order in which these are listed?) is to hand over the privilege of having a voice as a citizen.  By not acting to enforce the Constitutional role on our various government functions, the public has allowed them to determine the limits of their own power (hint: none).  A true citizen refuses to accept that, and challenges — physically, if necessary — undermining of the Constitution.

The only way to be able to do that is to know the Constitution.  It’s no surprise to anyone who’s read this blog for long that I believe voting should be restricted to those who have passed a civic exam at least as difficult as the citizenship test (which, frankly, is not a high bar).  Such an arrangement does not preclude participation on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender, wealth or any of the other categories that have been used historically to deny the franchise.

What it does is require the would-be voter to earn the privilege — something nearly everyone can do (excepting the mentally incompetent, who already are not allowed full privileges in society).  By bestowing citizenship on those who enter our nation illegally, and allowing anyone with a pulse to vote, our nation shows it does not value either.

“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”
— Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1776

Frankly, studying for an exam is a small price to pay for the franchise.  Others have theorized about requiring much, much more.  (While I don’t subscribe to Heinlein’s exact solution, the requirement to have a “citizen” demonstrate a commitment to something more than their own narrow self-interest would go far to fix what ails us.)

The next time you’re contemplating the sorry state of our nation, just remember it’s likely a good number of the people surveyed were in a polling place last November, and their vote was swayed more by emotions (“I feel like there should be universal health care”) than by knowledge and analysis (“There is no such thing as a free lunch“).

Idiocracy, indeed.

Doing the small stuff right first

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?”  Luke 16:10-12

Victor Davis Hanson notes the all-too-familiar scene of elected leaders pontificating about speculative global matters while failing utterly to address the needs of those closer to home, who put them in office in the first place:

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg used to offer all sorts of cosmic advice on the evils of smoking and the dangers of fatty foods and sugary soft drinks.  Bloomberg also frequently pontificated on abortion and global warming, earning him a progressive audience that transcended the boroughs of New York.

But in the near-record December 2010 blizzard, Bloomberg proved utterly incompetent in the elemental tasks for which he was elected: ensuring that New Yorkers were not trapped in their homes by snowdrifts in their streets that went unplowed for days.

The Bloomberg syndrome is a characteristic of contemporary government officials.  When they are unwilling or unable to address pre-modern problems in their jurisdictions – crime, crumbling infrastructure, inadequate transportation – they compensate by posing as philosopher kings who cheaply lecture on existential challenges over which they have no control.  …

We have become an arrogant generation that virtue-signals that we can change the universe when in reality we cannot even run an awards ceremony, plow snow, fix potholes, build a road or dam, or stop inner-city youths from murdering one another.

Governors who cannot build a reservoir have little business fantasizing about 200-mph super trains.

It’s said that “all politics is local.”  The failure of our self-righteous ruling class to address some very basic responsibilities is one of the main factors propelling the rise of the likes of Trump.  There are encouraging signs, however, that some in our capitols are listening to the rising anger; for instance, the call by 10 U.S. Senators and a number of Representatives to curtail or forego the standard Congressional recess in August in order to get some actual work done.

What a concept…

Note to the GOP leadership: it’s not gone unnoticed that you’ve spent more time fighting the president than trying to enable the agenda that got him elected.  You may think you’re blocking a fluke presidency.  In reality, if you stymie Trump you’re going to like what comes next even worse.  In martial arts I was taught to use three escalating approaches to stop a threat: “nice” (evasion and warning), “not-so nice” (evasion and inflicting a “stinger”), and “nasty,” involving serious physical injury to the assailant when all other options had failed and the threat had become critical enough to justify serious violence.  The Tea Party was “nice” and civil; they were unfairly demonized and marginalized.  Trump is the “not-so-nice” second attempt to get the government’s attention.  God help us all if we arrive at “nasty.”

If a Congress cannot pass a balanced budget on time, or a Mayor cannot deal with large-scale violence in their city, or a State legislature cannot pass a budget at all, then these people have no business occupying their current positions, much less running for higher office.  (And I repeat: running for an office should require the candidate not currently hold an elective office, since modern campaigning inevitably results in shortchanging current duties.) We, the people, need to stop looking at the seniority and patronage of our individual representatives, and hold them collectively responsible for our nation’s current woes.  In fact, we need to borrow a phrase from The Donald himself:

You’re fired!”

Quote of the day

“We have always known that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. It’s worse now, because capture of government is so much more important than it once was. There was a time when there was enough freedom that it hardly mattered which brand of crooks ran government. That has not been true for a long time — not during most of your lifetimes, and for much of mine — and it will probably never be true again.”

Jerry Pournelle, noted Military-Science-Fiction author and occasional pundit, written shortly after the 2008 election.