Both Parties Eviscerate Principles

Over the last two and half weeks there has been a proliferation of hyperbole and Orwellian nonsense. But it is the stunningly rapid role reversal that should generate the most concern among fair minded Americans. Just a few months ago Republicans and conservatives were bemoaning President Obama’s use of executive power; Democrats were unconcerned. Today, President Trump’s progressive opponents vigorously decry his use of executive power, and most Republicans suddenly have no complaints.

By exchanging scripts Democrat and Republican party hacks have unwittingly exposed thoughtful Americans to the factional power-before-principles mindset that permeates political life inside the Washington DC bubble. Said differently, George Washington was right.

In 1796 outgoing President Washington warned Americans that the “alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension” could “gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual.” But even if the worse case scenario did not materialize, President Washington suggested that a passionately partisan approach to government posed other problems.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.

Today many Americans are passionately factional, they want psychological and political revenge after eight years of President Obama. The means is almost irrelevant, and hypocrisy is the order of the day. A pen and a phone will suffice. Yet an unconstitutional executive action does not magically become holy constitutional writ when aligns with a party’s policy preferences, or is signed by a particular party’s president. If Republicans are ever going to be the party of change, constitutional principles (e.g. the Separation of Powers) must triumph over all partisan views.

Looking beyond the specter of political parties, George Washington observed that humans possess a “love of power, and proneness to abuse it.” As a result, he cautioned leaders to “confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres.” Likewise, James Madison believed it was essential to safeguard the delicate balance of executive, legislative, and judicial power found in the Constitution.

This can only be done by a steady attention and sacred regard to the chartered boundaries between the portion of power vested in the Government over the whole, and the portion undivested from the several Governments over the parts composing the whole; and by a like attention and regard to the boundaries between the several departments, Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary, into which the aggregate power is divided. Without a steady eye to the landmarks between these departments, the danger is always to be apprehended, either of mutual encroachments and alternate ascendencies incompatible with the tranquil enjoyment of private rights, or of a concentration of all the departments of power into a single one, universally acknowledged to be fatal to public liberty.

Regrettably, neither conservatives nor progressives are willing to curtail their political potency in the name of an old-fashioned principle. Instead, elected partisans take turns hypocritically throwing stones at each other. Consequently, political discussions often fail to advance past the trenches of a twitter war. Many Americans are genuinely concerned – they want their representatives to be consistent, not opportunistic. With no miracle in sight Americans can only hope George Washington exaggerated the dangers of factions, and James Madison was too pessimistic about the accumulation of political power in one branch of government. Given the wisdom of the men in question, that hope is a horse headed to the glue factory.


Congress Must Grow Up

This week millions of progressive Americans have foolishly focused their anger on an executive order that temporarily halts immigration into the United States from a handful of countries. Meanwhile, conservatives have generally defended the measure. Both responses are disappointing: liberals are focused on the symptoms of the disease, while most conservatives ignored the disease of executive overreach altogether.

If the truth be told, Congress is to blame. Decades ago Congress decided it was easier and politically safer to delegate much of its constitutional authority to the Chief Executive. A misalignment of legal and moral authority has resulted. Today the President reasonably believes he has the legal authority to close America’s doors to individuals who present a threat to America’s safety. However, this was not how our constitutional system was designed to operate.

Article 1 Section 8 of the US Constitution clearly states that Congress has the authority regulate the naturalization process, and it is therefore it is reasonable to believe Congress also holds the power to regulate immigration. More to the point, the text and spirit of the Constitution does not empower the President to effectively write a new law via executive decree. Assertions to the contrary bespeak a dangerous attachment to the notion of an imperial president, and reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the separation of powers.

Democrats in congress and the media must stop whining; conservatives must likewise cease their  hypocritical cheering. The Constitution must be supreme – regardless of the President’s party affiliation. It is time  for Congress to claw back the power they have carelessly ceded to the executive branch; it is time for Congress to make difficult choices and take responsibility for the results.

Editor’s noteThe Department of Homeland Security’s recent decision to cease enforcing the President’s executive order only underscores the legal and political necessity of thoughtful legislative action by Congress.

It Is Not 1984 (but it might be 1884)

Last Tuesday’s election results were shocking, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin all backed the Republican presidential candidate for the first time since 1984. This electoral surprise has made some jubilant Republicans and conservatives giddy; a few pundits have even reached the erroneous conclusion that Republicans were given a “mandate” on election night. The presidential election results point to different conclusion.

Donald Trump’s electoral foe, Hillary Clinton, was arguably the weakest Democrat nominee since 1988. Nevertheless, Donald Trump was the second most popular candidate in the race. In fact, Mr. Trump’s win marks only the fifth time since 1864 that the victor failed to receive at least 47% of the votes cast (this also happened in 1892, 1912, 1968, and 1992). Even Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful bid in 2012 surpassed Mr. Trump’s lackluster showing.

Rather than trying to turn Mr. Trump’s weak victory into a mandate, politicos would be better served by re-considering history. In 1884 presidential candidate Grover Cleveland was dogged by scandal: he  had fathered a child with a single woman, a socially unacceptable choice during the 19th century. Nevertheless, Mr. Cleveland won the election. In hindsight this event was even more remarkable because President Cleveland was one of only two Democrats to reach the Oval Office from 1860-1932 (the other Democrat was Woodrow Wilson).

The giddy GOP acolytes should pause, because Donald Trump could be this generation’s Grover Cleveland, a rare victor in a dismal political era. Facts do not lie; Republican presidential candidates have lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections. The  exception was 2004, a close wartime election that pivoted on national security.

America is politically and culturally divided; the angst is visible and deep. Republicans and conservatives can only bridge this gap by identifying their core principles, revisiting their favorite solutions, and sharpening their ability to persuade a diverse electorate. Absent reflection, the impending debate over the United State’s long-term financial problems will be driven by politicians who favor a more expansive and expensive national government.

Last Tuesday’s presidential election heralded a change, but politicians and voters that favor a limited federal government cannot expect to be a powerful force beyond the next few years if they continue to lose the popular vote in presidential elections. Only innovative ideological reforms can help the Republican party stave off a dreary future.

Electoral Dissatisfaction

Poor decisions can have painful and even dangerous consequences. In the case of Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton, two poor decisions could cost her the White House. The former Secretary of State rashly chose to use a private email address to conduct sensitive government business. Ms. Clinton also acted improperly when she chose to serve as Secretary of State while her husband’s foundation accepted substantial monetary gifts from foreign entities. Regrettably, the former Secretary of State’s public transgressions are almost matched by the immature, hurtful, and inappropriate comments made by her main rival, Donald Trump. Mr. Trump has taught generations of future politicians what not to do. Don’t brag too much, don’t call people names, don’t act vindictively, and don’t treat women like disposable toys.

Yet these dissatisfying facts don’t get us any closer to knowing who the next occupant of the Oval Office will be. So let us begin with the basics. Presidential elections are decided by the Electoral College, not the popular vote. There are 538 electoral votes, and a bare majority – 270 – is needed to win. Washington DC and 48 of the 50 states give all of their electoral votes to the candidate who receives the largest percentage of the votes cast in that state. In most cases modest research yields information that makes it easy to predict which candidate will acquire a given state’s electoral votes.
Here is what will happen tonight.

Hillary Clinton can be expected to excel in Delaware, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and densely populated Washington DC. Donald Trump will triumph in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and lonely Wyoming.

The former Secretary of State’s baseline haul will be 263 electoral votes, while Mr. Trump’s initial tally will be 190 electoral votes. As a result, six swing states – Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio – will decide the outcome of the election. Hillary Clinton only needs to win one of these swing states to attain victory. Unfortunately for Donald Trump, Florida, Colorado, and Nevada will be in Ms. Clinton’s victory column by the end of the night. Mr. Trump’s consolation prizes will consist of one electoral vote from Maine, and victories in Ohio, North Carolina, and Iowa. Final score: 302 to 236.

Under normal circumstances a Trump loss in Florida, North Carolina, or Ohio would bring the election night fun to an early end. However, the unpopularity of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump offers Americans an opportunity to compare this year’s alpha politicians to their predecessors. The most jarring statistical reference point will be the victor’s stunning lack of popularity. With only three exceptions since the Civil War (1912, 1968, and 1992), the winning presidential candidate has reached the 45% threshold. By this evening’s end two members of the Clinton family could appear on that list.

Similarly, if Donald Trump fails to corral the support of 43% of American voters, he will become one of the least popular Republican nominees since Lincoln. Even within this remarkable group Mr. Trump fails to measure up: four of the five men faced either an exceptionally strong third-party challenger (William H. Taft and George H.W. Bush), or the political winds associated with the Great Depression (Herbert Hoover and Alfred Landon). The fifth man, Barry Goldwater, was also unlike Mr. Trump – he honorably refused to exploit social tensions for political gain.

Recently economist and author Thomas Sowell observed that “each political party has picked a loser this year. Unfortunately, one of them is going to win, and then the whole country can lose, big time.” He is right. And it seems many Democrats don’t particularly care about a candidate’s lack of honesty, while a substantial number of Republicans are unmoved by a candidate’s severe character flaws. If this is truly the case, America future will grow dimmer with every election.

A Life of Randomness

This week Thomas Sowell made an excellent point:  our freedom of choice necessarily eliminates the prospect of perfect diversity, and as a result, thoughtful individuals should not expect a perfectly diverse distribution of human beings in any area of life. The reason for this, as Mr. Sowell ably points out, is that people have individualized inclinations, come from different cultures, and encounter harmlessly variegated opportunities for personal  growth throughout life.

Perhaps it’s a matter of personal experience, but a life of sterile statistical randomness sounds quite unappealing; thankfully life is more than a coin flip.

Ban Assault Vehicles or Ask Tough Questions

Today it is commonplace to hear individuals who are not gun owners (or only casual gun owners) advance the argument that it is easier to buy a gun in some neighborhoods than a book. But this point is only a little more than a distraction. For although is all too easy to buy an illegal gun (or a gun for illegal purposes) in some American neighborhoods, the presence of this fact does not prove that draconian gun laws are necessary.

In many of the neighborhoods where books and computers are deplorably scarce, illicit drugs are arguably more common than guns – even though these drugs are almost completely illegal. The reason for this is self-evident: an object’s legal status does not control its availability – the market does. Bearing this truth in mind, it is obvious that the fundamental problem is not the availability of guns, but the demand for them; sellers supply what buyers demand.

Almost a century ago progressive crusaders attempted to fix society’s problems with a supply-oriented prohibition against the manufacture of alcohol; their efforts were a spectacular failure. More recently, policymakers have been waging a war against the sale and consumption of illicit drugs, yet this solution has likewise failed. Now, well-meaning (and idealistic) reformers suggest that gun violence in America can only be solved if peaceful firearm owners (many of whom place cultural importance on individual firearm ownership) acquiesce to a ban on some rifles, and the elimination of popular features on other firearms. These legal changes would be a superficial solution to a complex problem.

As recent events in France have shown, large trucks are almost as dangerous as firearms. The logic is inescapable – heavy, high-capacity assault trucks should be banned. Ordinary peace-loving citizens do not need them. Likewise, modern engines are also unnecessarily powerful. Private citizens do not need to move a vehicle in excess of 70 mph. Assault trucks, SUVs, and large cars should only be available to members of the military, law enforcement officers, and individuals who have the financial wherewithal to purchase an expensive permit. Most folks only need something a little bigger than a Smart car, cleverly equipped with a governor to limit its top speed to 45 mph.

Satire aside, heavy regulations on certain vehicles would save hundreds (if not thousands) of lives each year. Nevertheless, our cultural attachment to fast, pleasant, individualistic, travel has severely thinned the ranks of sane car-ban activists. Culture also lies at the center of the firearms debate: many Americans, including some casual gun owners, find the culture of firearm ownership alien, and are therefore comfortable advocating strict regulations for this strange culture. More cultural tolerance is needed.

Reasonable gun control advocates should reassess their position. It is strikingly heavy-handed to advocate the  regulation of all individuals in a given category (lawful gun owners) when more than nine-tenths of the whole group are peaceful, productive members of society. Open-minded progressives would not tolerate this porous logic from conservatives, nor should they be expected to. The Constitution and Bill of Rights were specifically designed protect the “liberty” of “the people” from the well-meaning but ill-conceived whims of the majority.

Gun violence, like alcohol and drug abuse, is a symptom of a larger human problem. If all guns were prohibitively expensive, cheaper hand-held weapons would indubitably proliferate. Politicians and activists should move beyond the world of superficial problems; an illiberal attempt to curtail the constitutional rights of gun enthusiasts will not solve the underlying spiritual, social, and economic problems. Open-minded and thoughtful Americans should enter the uncomfortable realm of ultimate causes. Now is the time to ask the toughest questions.