Flagged

A lot of liberals are up-in-arms (figuratively speaking) about Justice Sam Alito (yet again). They cite 2 related reasons as proximate causes for their angst.  (1) Three years ago, Justice Alito’s wife hung an upside down flag in front of their house over a particularly nasty neighborhood spat. (2) The Alito’s have flown (and for all I know still are flying) an “Appeal to Heaven” flag over their vacation house at the Jersey shore.  

The facts of these cases appear to be largely uncontested; the motivations, however, are not. Is this a tempest in a teapot, or is there some substance to it? Let’s examine the cases, bearing in mind that political smears are used routinely when motivations are in dispute, especially when, as today, there is intense political polarization. 

In the first case, it appears that Martha-Ann Alito flew the offending inverted flag on January 17, 2021 outside the Alito home. Justice Alito is not accused of actually placing the flag himself. Further, the allegation is made that the upside down flag, traditionally a symbol of distress, was actually a signal of support for the January 6 rioters. 

At this point the question must be asked: Where is the evidence that (1) an upside down flag is a sign of support for the rioters, and that (2) Justice Alito was attempting to signal his support for the Jan 6 rioters? Or (3) are Justice Alito’s detractors attempting to make the argument that he should have demanded symbolic silence from his wife who was actually signaling support for the rioters? 

There is zero evidence for any of these theories outside of the fever swamps. But let’s acknowledge that the Jan 6 rioters included an awful lot of deluded kooks, some of whom were disposed toward the use of violence.  After all they did threaten to hang VP Mike Pence.

Let’s look at the flags some rioters flew. The flags included: a Three Percenters militia group flag; a Release the Kraken Flag; Kekistan Flags; Confederate Flags; Gadsden Flags; America First flags, Betsy Ross flags and, oh yes, plain old American flags. 

I for one have no idea what some of these flags are supposed to represent. I do know that an American flag in distress was often used by Vietnam War protesters. And progressives used an inverted flag to protest the overturning of Roe v. Wade. But I would be hesitant to challenge the loyalties of anyone who flew an American Flag; an American flag in distress; a Betsey Ross Flag, or a Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag (to name a few). 

But what about campus protesters who fly the Palestinian flag? Or how about the routine use of T-shirts emblazoned with a Che Guevara  logo?  How about a Nazi flag? Certainly, Hamas, Che Guevara and the Nazis were bloodthirsty killers. Even if the best and brightest at elite schools haven’y quite figured that out yet. And the meaning of those symbols ought to be unambiguous (excepting of course for the afore mentioned best and brightest). And those who choose to do so, are well within their rights to express themselves with odious symbols. 

The Supreme Court has for a long time ruled that free speech rights, including symbolic speech, trump all else except in cases where imminent violence is threatened. In 1931, the Court ruled in Stromberg v California that expressive speech is a free speech right. That ruling was re-affirmed in Tinker v. Des Moines in 1969. Similarly the court ruled in 1989  in Texas v Johnson that burning the flag was protected by the first amendment. 

So Mrs. Alito, as long as she did not threaten imminent violence, was well within her rights to display an inverted American Flag, just as the couple were perfectly with their rights to fly an “Appeal to Heaven” flag over their vacation home.  The question then becomes: Should either or both have displayed either flag?

Let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that the symbolic meaning of those flags is completely unambiguous. Is the liberal argument that Justice Alito should have told his wife not to fly the inverted American flag. Hmmm. I would have thought that liberals would argue that women are not mere appendages of their husbands; that they are independent actors who make their own decisions. I guess in the progressive mind, that only counts where abortion rights are concerned.

But, the argument goes, Justice Alito should avoid even the appearance of bias. There may something to this argument. But again it assumes the Justice is responsible for his wife’s opinions and behavior.  That said, assuming the symbolic meaning of the inverted flag is unambiguous. Martha Ann Alito probably should have avoided displaying it, if only for appearances sake. But it is certainly not a hanging offense, especially for Justice Alito. 

The “Appeal to Heaven” flag non-controversy is another matter altogether. The charge that it displays sympathy for “Christian Nationalism” is pure bunk. Why? Because for one, (leaving aside the lunatic fringe)  the term is undefined. It is a term designed to signal disdain. It’s just another example of using language to change popular meaning.  Like for instance: Addict (preferred usage: person with substance abuse), Homeless (preferred usage, people experiencing homelessness), Sex change (preferred usage: transition), Breast feed (preferred usage: Chest feed).

By the way, the “Appeal to Heaven” flag was first commissioned and subsequently used by that old insurrectionist, George Washington. Who, truth be told, was an insurrectionist in the eyes of King George III. Here I must say that I would be hesitant to attempt to dissuade people from following Washington’s example of how to live. (And yes, I am perfectly aware that he owned slaves, probably didn’t admit to chopping down a cherry tree and like all humans, was not perfect). 

But let’s not kid ourselves. The uproar over the flag, to put it mildly, is indicative of a dual standard. All we have to do is recount some of the political commentary that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg insisted on making while on the bench. For instance, she is on record saying the following:

“I can’t imagine what this place would be – I can’t imagine what the country would be – with Donald Trump as our president,” Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

She followed that up, according to the NY Times by saying that her  late husband would have said it was “time for us to move to New Zealand.”

“He is a faker,” she said of Trump. “He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego. … How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns?” Ruth Bader Ginsburg on CNN

“It won’t happen,” she said. “It would be an impossible dream. But I’d love to see Citizens United overruled.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“I thought Heller was “a very bad decision,” she said, Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” Ginsburg told Clara Spera in the days before her death, NPR reported.

And on it goes. Not that she was wrong about Trump. I actually think she was spot on about him. But that is not the point. She was as political as they come. Except that she was politically aligned with conventional elite opinion, which means that it was quite OK.   

Some liberal commentators raised an eyebrow or two over those remarks, but there was no hue and cry demanding that she recuse herself on a whole raft of cases. And she did apologize, sort of, by saying she would be “more circumspect” in the future. But that just meant she intended to be more cautious about speaking her mind; not that she retracted her comments. 

So yes, if just for appearances, it would have been better if the inverted flag had not flown over the Alito house.  On the other hand, the “Appeal to Heaven” complaints are pure bunk. 

The real story is that a group of progressives are out to get Alito personally because he wrote the majority opinion in the Dobbs case that overturned Roe. And they mean to remake the Court by packing it. This is their latest excuse. The latest faux controversy is just another predictable tempest in-a-teapot. Good for bumper stickers, but that’s about it.

And, by the way, I haven’t heard any wailing lately (or ever) from progressive quarters about the leak of the draft of the Dobbs decision. Funny thing about that. 

JFB

Please follow and like us:
Posted in Politics | Comments Off on Flagged

Is Donald J. Trump a Conservative?

At the moment former President and current Republican presidential nominee Donald J Trump is the defendant in a books-and-records criminal trial in lower Manhattan. Serious people doubt that the books-and-records charges should ever have been brought, much less blown up into 34 felony counts. In fact the argument goes, the Manhattan DA lacks the necessary jurisdiction to prosecute the case. That is because the predicate crime used by Mr Bragg (the elected Manhattan DA) to turn a misdemeanor into a felony and thus avoid a statute of limitations problem, is a federal offense over which he has no jurisdiction. 

But nobody seriously doubts that Mr Trump is lying through his teeth when he denies that (a) he had a sexual encounter with porn star Stormy Daniels and that (b) he ordered his fixer Michael Cohen to pay hush money (not illegal in itself) to cover-up this story (and others).  

I bring the trial up because it is germane to the question under examination, namely, is Donald J Trump a conservative?

He is routinely referred to as a conservative in the mainstream press. Sometimes he is referred to as being “far right” which in today’s popular usage roughly means being “very” conservative. 

Why is all this relevant to Mr Trump’s political posture?  It is relevant because conservatism in America has tended to  claim that it is founded on what we might call traditional values.  It has championed family, community, local governance, civil society, religion and limited government. It favored incremental change. It abhorred central planning and bureaucratic top-down commands from on high. Above all, character and culture mattered to conservatives. 

So the question must be asked: How does this rough description of the broad outlines of American conservatism align with either: (a) Mr Trump’s behavior or (b) his policy proposals?

The quick answer is: It doesn’t. 

It is simply beyond any doubt that Donald Trump is, essentially, a libertine. That is close to the opposite of a conservative. The idea that he would show any restraint in pursuit of what he considers to be in his personal interest is beyond risible. The man, like Bill Clinton, is a walking appetite. 

Further, his supporters have adopted the Clintonesque facade of separating his “personal life” from his public persona. They argue that he is a fighter who cares about them. That he is a disrupter who will clean the swamp. In short, he and his supporters have (probably unknowingly) adopted key underlying cultural precepts of progressivism. For Donald Trump, the personal is the political. 

Consider, for instance, the laughable claim that the 2020 election was stolen. There are only two possibilities here: (a) the highly unlikely possibility that Donald Trump actually believes this or (2) the far more likely possibility that he is lying, as usual. If he actually believes the election was stolen he is simply delusional, although it is much more likely that he is lying, again like Clinton. Either Clinton, come to think of it.

Consider the implications. In either case, the governing postulate is the idea of “my truth” which is to say Donald Trump’s “truth”. Not The Truth. Which is to say that the actual truth doesn’t matter. Because there is no such thing as Truth. That is a sentiment routinely voiced by progressive intellectuals, or as Nietzsche put it, “There are no facts only interpretations”. It is a sentiment fully embraced by Donald J Trump, even if unknowingly.     

Let’s get away from the personal for the moment and examine Trump’s policy proposals. One of the best places to look for a presidential candidate’s policy proposals is the convention platform. That presents a bit of a problem though because in 2020, the Republican Party didn’t bother to adopt a platform. Which says something about Trumpian egomania. So much for avoiding the personal; it’s all about him. 

Nevertheless we can suss out Trump’s policy inclinations from things he has said. But it is important to keep in mind his erratic and unpredictable behavior in any attempt at analysis. A couple of key issues: it is clear that Trump is hostile to a global free trade regime; he is a fan of industrial policy; he is antagonistic toward NATO and like Joe Biden, he loves spending giant wads of other people’s money that he doesn’t have, particularly for entitlements. 

None of these attitudes even remotely reflect a conservative policy outlook. Conservatives have been championing free trade at least since the Reagan years and arguably before. It is only recently (to their credit) that some liberals have come around to the benefits of free trade. Progressives— who tend to see the world in zero sum terms—are still hostile to free trade. They prefer using trade as a vehicle for industrial policy—as does Mr Trump. 

Support for NATO—and other allies—has mostly been an area of agreement between liberals and conservatives in the post WW2 era. But Donald J Trump has campaigned against what he terms “forever wars”; has threatened to walk away from our NATO treaty obligations, and has shown a remarkable liking for strong men abroad. These positions are hardly what conservatives—especially those in the Ronald Reagan mold—would support.  

Now consider fiscal policy. Mr Trump—along with President Biden—has pledged not to touch Social Security. To put this in perspective, keep in mind that Social Security benefits totaled $1.4 trillion in 2023. By way of contrast, the military spent $820 billion in 2023. The trustees of the Social Security System estimate that the so-called trust fund will be depleted by 2034, necessitating a 20% reduction in benefits. 

Entitlement outlays, which constitute the bulk of federal expenditures, are the main driver of spending in a federal budget that is already wildly out of control. Refusing to reform the system, continuing to add over a trillion dollars a year to debt  accumulation and effectively setting up a guaranteed reduction in benefits is hardly a conservative policy stance. 

So when it comes to his personal behavior or his policy inclinations either in foreign or domestic policy Trump can hardly be called an American conservative. But there is a sense in which he can be called conservative in another context. That context is the conservatism of continental Europe of the 20th century. 

Continental European conservatism, as distinguished from Thatcherite British conservatism, was distinguished as an altar-and-throne type of conservatism. It often featured a monarchial system backed by the Catholic Church. Spain under Generalissimo Franco was a perfect example of that. And truth be told, Continental European populist conservatives are making a bit of a comeback. 

There is, for instance,  Viktor Orban in Hungary. Giorgia Meloni of Italy gets a nod. Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands have recently seen strong electoral showings by right wing populists. 

In America Catholic Integralists, who display some similar characteristics, are starting to make a mark. Public intellectuals like Patrick Deneen, a political scientist at Notre Dame rose to fame with his 2018 book Why Liberalism Failed. Adrian Vermeule, a professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law has voiced support for Catholic integralism. Sohrab Ahmari, op-ed Editor of the NY Post is one of the more visible spokesmen for Catholic Integralists. 

But mainstream conservatives in America have kept their distance. In fact, Bret Stephens, a mentor and friend of Ahmari recently scorched him as Ahmari (who has gone through numerous ideological transformations) went from an “urbane, intelligent and unfailingly good-humored” mainstream conservative to exhibit the kind of personal nastiness that many on the right now seem to value. 

So what can we conclude?  That Donald J Trump is no conservative–at least by American standards–either with respect to his personal behavior or with respect to his policy inclinations. It would be more accurate to describe him as someone who has unknowingly adopted the philosophical beliefs of progressives and combined them with attitudes typical of European strongmen.

 JFB

Please follow and like us:
Posted in Policy, Politics | Comments Off on Is Donald J. Trump a Conservative?

Are Liberalism and Progressivism Compatible?

Robert Frost , the American poet, once observed that “A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel”. Which brings up an interesting question. Can American liberals differentiate their traditional brand of liberalism from progressivism? Or will they continue to drift into the “woke” culture-war camp? 

It’s an important question. Important because the philosophical roots espoused by the woke crowd are qualitatively different from those of traditional American liberalism. Very different. And the emerging fight between the progressive and liberal wings of the Democratic Party may very well decide the question. Hence the quotation from Robert Frost.

Traditional liberals—think Patrick Moynihan, Hubert Humphrey, Scoop Jackson—used to favor efforts by the welfare state both to expand economic opportunities available to the working class, and to project American power and prestige abroad. Some of those efforts were doomed to failure. Lyndon Johnson’s attempt to engineer a utopian “Great Society” comes to mind. 

But there were big picture successes too. For one, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall came down.  Steadfast support from traditional liberals was important to this effort. In addition, liberal internationalism set the stage for establishing the  global trade regime that lifted over 1 billion people out of crushing poverty.  

Domestically, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968  greatly expanded opportunities for minority citizens. These laws, which were extremely controversial at the time, were premised on the idea that removing unjustified (mostly governmental) barriers to opportunity as a result of immutable characteristics  would allow all individuals to thrive—if they chose to do so. 

That is not where we are now. Not by a long shot. The dominant ethos, at least in elite universities, is that America is hopelessly and irredeemably racist; bound up in White Supremacy and that our rights are in name only. Those rights are merely tools used by special interests, White Supremacists and other powerful actors to maintain their grip on power. And let’s not forget that today’s graduates of elite universities are the journalists, artists, politicians and culture shapers of tomorrow. 

This battle is being fought out on the campuses of those elite universities. Nominally, the battle is over the conduct of Israel in its war with Hamas. But as Jeremy Peters noted in a New York Times piece dated May 1, “In their [the students] eyes, the Gaza conflict is a struggle for justice, linked to issues that seem far afield. They say they are motivated by policing, mistreatment of Indigenous people, discrimination toward Black Americans and the impact of global warming.”

It doesn’t take much of a leap to see that the campus protests are not simply about the Israeli-Palestinian War. The whole laundry list of progressive policy wishes is on display. And that policy wish list is one that President Biden has signed up for at the explicit urging of the likes of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren et.al. 

Also on display is a particularly virulent antisemitism. For years left wing antisemites pretended that they were opposed to various policy stances of the Israeli government, including Zionism. But recent events have ripped that mask away. With Jewish students being assaulted on our supposedly diverse campuses and cries of “Globalize the Intifada” and “From the River to the Sea” protest leaders, who are not necessarily students, have made their intentions clear. They wish to annihilate the State of Israel and the Jewish people.   

Some liberals would like to believe that the so-called student protests are a one-off. But that presents a problem: To begin with, there aren’t protests directed at providing aid to Ukraine. Ditto for Taiwan. Which brings up another point. Both Ukraine and Israel have come under attack by invading forces that claim to be the rightful inhabitants. Vladimir Putin maintains that Ukraine is actually a part of greater Russia. Iran and its proxies claim that “the Zionist entity” as they call it, are on land that rightly belongs to a historical fiction that has become known as the Palestinian people.   

For that matter, Taiwan has been independent of (meaning separated from) mainland China since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.  That was 75 years ago. In the meantime it has built up its civil society, as well as its own institutions: economic, political and legal. 

China, along with Iran and North Korea, is a major supplier of war materiel to Russia. So it is more than obvious that Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan are different fronts in the same war.  Conceptually speaking, it really isn’t possible to separate these conflicts. Unless, of course, the point is to obfuscate. 

Which is precisely what the Biden Administration is doing. After asserting that U.S. backing for Israel is “ironclad” president Biden announced that the U.S. would not deliver certain weapons to Israel if it proceeds with its plan for a full scale invasion of Rafah. 

According to press reports, he U.S. is trying to convince Israel that a more targeted approach would be preferable to a full scale invasion. According to the Washington Post, United States officials insist that Israel, with U.S. help, can destroy the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah by identifying senior Hamas leaders. Which, if true, implies that the U.S. already knows where these leaders are, but that the information is being held back from an ally to gain leverage.   

Supporters of the Biden Administration argue that the protests do not resemble those in 1968; that the upcoming Democratic convention 2024 will not turn into a replay of 1968, and that the vast majority of Americans do not support the protesters so there is nothing to worry about. 

But that is not the point. To understand the political dynamics it important to separate out the protest leaders from their rather naive followers. In that regard Hillary Clinton opined that most of the protesters do not know much about the history of the region. She was probably being kind. Most of the protesters don’t have a clue, but that hasn’t stopped them. Often wrong and never in doubt is a fairly typical trait of followers. 

However, the leaders, many of whom are not students at all but professional agitators, have gone into this with eyes wide open. They have a specific ideology which is incompatible with American liberalism. They are proponents of the Neo-Marxist class war idea of intersectionality. Not only is the idea of intersectionality incompatible with the individualism of what was traditionally referred to as liberalism, it is authoritarian at heart.

Intersectionality divides the world into groups of people who are either oppressors or oppressed. Further, there is a pecking order of oppression and oppressed. Jews, who used to be considered a minority are now characterized as “white adjacent” and hence part of the oppressor class. Israel is a “settler colonial” state that oppresses the supposedly indigenous Palestinians. That was the justification for murdering infants in their cribs on October 7. Those babies were part of the settler colonialist class so they had it coming.

Note that the protesters went from anti-war to pro-Hamas in the blink of an eye. It took longer in 1968 but eventually the battle cry became “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh—The Viet Cong is Gonna Win”.  Note too which members of Congress support the protesters: The Squad. 

The point of the protests is not to persuade voters. Not at all. The point of the protests is to provoke a reaction that can then be used to “prove” how oppressive the system is. Just the way the Chicago 7 defendants did in their trial. Some charges stuck initially, but eventually all the guilty verdicts were overturned on appeal. 

It is true that public opinion today is still on the side of the Israelis. It is also true that, according to Gallup, in 1996 only 27% of the adult population supported gay marriage;  support is now  71%. As recently as 2010 only 40% of the adult population supported legal recognition of gay marriage. Similarly, marihuana legalization had 35% support in 2005; now it’s 70%. The point is that majorities are temporary and unless they are backed by the underlying culture, those majorities can be tenuous. 

Which brings us to the state of the culture and the use of political violence. To the extent that political institutions begin to lose legitimacy, the use of political violence by strategic players will increase.  Donald J Trump still claims that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged” and so, egged on by Trump himself, his supporters ransacked the Capitol in a vain attempt to prevent the official declaration of Joe Biden as the victor. 

Black Lives Matter engaged in violent  protests primarily in the 2020 — 2022 period. The FBI and ATF tracked 164 structure fires during BLM protests (from May 27 — 30) in Minneapolis — St Paul alone. ANTIFA has been running violent protests for decades. Environmental “activists” have spiked trees to prevent logging. Al Sharpton’s Action Network is famous for its battle cry of “No Justice, No Peace”. 

The protests against US aid for Israel have predictably turned violent, with protesters occupying buildings, vandalizing property and attacking Jewish students. It may only be the first step toward more of the same as election day approaches. And as for the election itself, it will be a minor miracle if the result (no matter who wins) does not result in political violence. 

So American liberals have a choice to make. They can align themselves with progressives which implies abandoning their liberal traditions; their commitment to individual rights, global trade and our allies. Or they can re-affirm their prior commitment to individual, not group, rights; they can enforce America’s laws equally, they can re-affirm American sovereignty, commit to a global trade regime, and stand by our allies.  It’s up to them. 

JFB

Please follow and like us:
Posted in Political Economy, Political Philosophy, Politics | Comments Off on Are Liberalism and Progressivism Compatible?

Problem Solving 2024 Style

If the proverbial Martian were to land on planet earth and peruse the news he would quickly discover that the United States currently has several severe, possibly existential problems with which it has to deal.  According to the news, the problems include:

  1. the fact that South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem shot her 14 month old puppy, Cricket
  2. the surprise resignations of both Miss USA and Miss Teen USA
  3. The outfits worn by porn star Stormy Daniels (clothing analysis courtesy of the NY Times) during her 2 days of testimony in the criminal trial of former president Donald Trump, in what is supposedly a books and records case. 

Playing a decidedly second fiddle is a congeries of foreign policy fiascoes and domestic financial crises in the making that threaten the health of the global rules based order.  Among the foreign policy fiascoes is  President Biden’s threatened refusal to supply Israel with “…American weapons, including heavy bombs and artillery shells, if Israel carries out a major operation in Rafah, a city crammed with about a million Palestinians…” (NY Times May 9, 2024). And why has he done this? Because he is afraid of losing votes in Michigan and Nevada. 

That is pretty much what Trump got impeached for in the first go around. He threatened to hold up aid to Ukraine unless they succumbed to his political interests. Same situation here with Biden. 

It bears mentioning that the reason, according to the Times, that Rafah is “crammed” with Palestinians is that Hamas refuses to let them leave because it wants more civilian casualties for propaganda purposes.  

We should also note that Iran directly attacked Israel with about 170 drones and 120 ballistic missiles. And that the Houthis, an Iranian proxy have shut down traffic in the Red Sea. And that the Israelis have had to evacuate over 60,000 people near the northern border with Lebanon where Hezbollah, another Iranian proxy, lobs rockets and bombs into Israel on a daily basis. 

In the background, a small sliver of students at mostly elite universities have (illegally) set up what are effectively  anti-semitic pro-Hamas encampments.  And not to put too fine a point on it, these protesters are blaming Israel for Hamas’s savage attacks on Oct 7. And the response of most university administrators has been to cower before the protesters. 

In the matter of Ukraine, the Biden Administration has not screwed up policy all by itself. The Biden folks had impressive help from the clown show known as the Republican caucus.  A majority of House Republicans, 112 in all, voted against providing additional aid to Ukraine. In the event, the ever insightful Marjorie Taylor Greene (AKA space laser Marjorie) moved to have Mike Johnson removed from his position as Speaker of the House. He was saved with the aid of the Democrats who for once used their heads. 

But not to worry, the Biden Administration has played its part in the chaos. After a brief statement in 2022  implying he would tolerate “a small incursion”, surprisingly enough the small incursion turned into a full scale invasion.  Biden then said we would support Ukraine “for as long as it takes”. But Biden never addressed the nation to lay out the (obvious) reasons for supporting Ukraine; in fact he still has not done so. How is that for how the Commander-in-Chief rallies the troops?

Moreover, the Biden Administration has slow-walked sending weapons to Ukraine, only giving them enough to forestall an immediate Russian victory. Despite pleas from Ukraine President Vladimir Zelensky, the Administration has refused to provide Ukraine with the advanced weaponry it needs to achieve a lasting victory. Not surprisingly, Russia may now have a strategic advantage. 

And as for “as long as it takes” remember that this is the guy who walked away from Afghanistan leaving that country to the new and improved Taliban. That fact certainly plays a part in the calculations of China as it eyes Taiwan. At the same time there is less and less reason for Beijing to take Biden’s threats seriously.

Of course there is the domestic financial situation to consider.  We are sitting on roughly $26 trillion in publicly held debt and another $6 trillion in debt that the government owes to other parts of the government, mostly the illusory and spectacularly ill-named Social Security trust fund. Effectively that means that we are swimming in $34 trillion in unfunded liabilities. 

But not to worry, both Joe Biden and Donald Trump have promised not to touch Social Security, which is a very large driver of continuing debt finance. The Social Security system (which pays out slightly over $1 trillion per year and rising in benefits) is due to go broke in 2033 according to the latest auditor’s report. Actually that understates the problem; the system is already broke in that it is insolvent. It will run out of cash around 2033, but it is already incapable of meeting its obligations much beyond that. There isn’t enough money in the world to cover the liability sans reform. 

But not to worry. Governor Noem will not be shooting any more puppies; we will solve the mystery of why the respective Miss Americas resigned, and Stormy Daniels will soon be working on her next movie. 

Problems solved.

JFB

Please follow and like us:
Posted in Politics | Comments Off on Problem Solving 2024 Style

Presidential Immunity? No Thanks.

Q: Where in the Constitution is any form of immunity specified.   

A: Nowhere

So how is it that the Supreme Court is embroiled in a case in which apparently serious people argue that former President Trump is immunized against criminal prosecution for decisions he made while serving as President?

It is easy enough to argue that the separation of powers that that frames our legal and political system precludes any criminal prosecution of the president while he is president.  Under our tripartite system the president is the head of the executive branch and all executive branch employees implicitly derive their powers from the president. A sitting president can therefore simply refuse to allow the federal bureaucracy to present a case against him while he is president. After he has left office, that power no longer resides in him. The disposition of any potential criminal case rests with his successor. 

Proponents of presidential immunity argue that a president has to make difficult and sometimes controversial decisions. The last thing a president needs, they say, is to be looking over his shoulder, wondering if he will be criminally prosecuted for an unpopular decision. 

That argument missed the point. If Congress wanted the president to be immunized, Congress could pass a law so stating. It is not within the purview of the Supreme Court to make policy here. Nor should it be.

During oral arguments before the Court, Associate Justice Ketanji Brown addressed the policy question head-on. Why she wondered, shouldn’t the president be criminally liable for the decisions he makes if those decisions break the law? After all, lots of people in the United States make important, sometimes life-and-death decisions every day. They aren’t immune from potential prosecution. What makes the president different?

Good question.

In the United States, at least in theory, political leaders are supposed to be held to the same standard as everybody else. Getting elected (or appointed) to some office is not supposed to be a get-out-of-jail-free card. 

But, the argument goes, the justice system needs to be independent of the political system so that the administration of justice is not corrupted by politics. That is pure fantasy, not to mention a gross misreading of history. 

For example, US Attorney General John Mitchell in his role as chairman of President Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign was convicted and served time in prison for numerous felonies related to the Watergate scandal. Nixon was pardoned by President Gerald Ford. 

Eric Holder, US Attorney General under President Obama and self-described presidential “wing man” was voted in contempt of Congress for his refusal to turn over documents related to the “Fast and Furious” Case. And let’s not pretend that US Attorney General Bobby Kennedy was anything but a political advisor to his brother, President Jack Kennedy.  Or pretend that Franklin Roosevelt didn’t try to pack the court.

One of the many problems we have in the United States is not that executive agencies lack independence. It is actually the opposite: Not only do Executive Agencies lack political accountability, they provide a political shield for their masters. 

How else to explain the machinations of Lois Lerner and the IRS in targeting conservative groups for heightened scrutiny? Or the way James Comey and the senior management of the FBI used their power to clear Hillary Clinton and target Donald Trump? Or the letter released by 50 senior past intelligence operatives claiming that the (obviously true) Hunter Biden laptop story was Russian propaganda? The list goes on.

Let’s be clear. We are not suffering from an outbreak of Presidential lawfulness. Presidents have gotten into the habit of ruling by decree via rule-making in the executive agencies. 

Consequently, the problems we actually have include: (1) executive lawlessness on a grand scale; (2) accompanied by Congressional indifference, (3)  all of which have been aided and abetted by the judiciary’s deference to executive agencies as a result of its 1984 Chevron decision. (Note: Chevron Deference as the doctrine is known may very well be on the chopping block this term). 

So of course, former President Trump’s claim of immunity from criminal liability should be dismissed out of hand. It probably won’t be; regretfully, some accommodation to the “rigors of the Presidency” will probably find its way into the ruling.   

The proper way to handle this is for Congress to write into law any exceptions to Presidential criminal liability that they seek. And to be politically accountable at the ballot box for their vote on the law.  The Supreme Court should stay out of it. And having a president looking over his shoulder is not such a bad idea.  

JFB 

Please follow and like us:
Posted in Law, Policy, Politics | Comments Off on Presidential Immunity? No Thanks.

Trump Strikes Again

We are back from Bordeaux and guess who is in the news?

Bad ideas never die. They just bide their time. 

The latest version of this truism is brought to us, naturally enough, by a Presidential contender. This time around it is none other than Donald J Trump. If the Wall Street Journal’s front page story is accurate, Trump’s advisors are busy concocting a plan to blunt the independence of the Fed on the assumption that he (Trump) emerges victorious in November. 

And, as Trump likes to say—he is a low interest rate man. 

Various iterations of the Trump plan would place more power over interest rate decisions into the hands of the President. One of the arguments is that the President is the one figure elected by all the people and that as a result he should be the voice that represents them in this crucial area of policy making. This time worn argument gets dredged up constantly by people who either don’t understand the separation of powers or resist it. 

Which is another way of saying that they argue that the constitution should be shredded (yet again) because it is inconvenient (as it is meant to be) for power hungry politicians. After all, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution specifically authorizes Congress, not the President  “…To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures…”. It says absolutely nothing about the President having any authority whatsoever over monetary policy. 

It is important to realize that there is a long history here. This is not a new stupid idea. On the contrary, it is a very old stupid idea. It was in 1832 that populist President Andrew Jackson vetoed a Congressional vote to extend the charter of the Second Bank of the U.S.  After his re-election, Jackson announced that the Government would no longer deposit Federal Finds in the Bank, thus putting it on the road to extinction, which finally occurred in 1836. Jackson apparently thought that the bank corrupted politics with “too much money”. Sound familiar?

But Jackson wasn’t the only one who railed against banks. There was William Jennings Bryan, a lifelong Democrat whose father was a fan of—Andrew Jackson. Bryan secured the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1896, 1900 and 1908. He lost all three times. 

 It was in 1896 that Bryan made his famous “Cross of Gold” speech that excoriated eastern bankers and argued that the debate over monetary policy was part of a broader struggle over democracy and the welfare of the “common man”. That also sounds very familiar.

And then we have Congressman Wright Patman (D.TX), another hater of banks. He is described in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology as a supporter of populist legislation whose perennial target was the Federal Reserve System. He resented the Central Bank’s political independence, and thought that “high” interest rates, brought about by monetary policy, benefitted banks at the expense of ordinary citizens. 

Once again we have the populist argument that the common man is harmed by banks. 

None of this is to say that the Fed has a history of getting things right. On the contrary, the Fed has a pretty appalling track record when it comes to a sober evaluation of its policy making. But its track record during the times it fell under the influence of the White House is even worse. Much worse. 

Consider the 1960s and 1970s. Then President Lyndon B Johnson took Fed Chair William McChesney Martin to task for tightening policy in 1965. That apparently intimidated the Fed sufficiently that it proved to be more pliant. And inflation took off. 

Similarly Arthur Burns did President Richard Nixon’s bidding and eased up on the money supply for the 1972 presidential election. Inflation soared afterwards. Again in the late 1970s President Jimmy Carter’s Fed Chair G . William Miller decided to be a team player rather than clamp down. Once again inflation took off. Shortly thereafter the U.S. fell into a financial crisis and had no choice but to allow interest rates to explode. Treasury Bill rates soared into the teens and Mortgage rates topped 16% before it was all over. 

Which brings us back to Donald J Trump. Does anybody this side of sanity think that Trump (or any other politician for that matter) would bring sobriety to monetary policy making? Of course not. Politicians count votes. And more people borrow than lend. Ergo the great majority of politicians will support fixing “low” interest rates over market determined rates. That is, until there is a financial crisis brought about by bad monetary policy. 

Where is the evidence for this supposition? Entitlements. Both major party candidates promise to leave entitlements alone (mostly Social Security and Medicare), even though the programs are insolvent.  

The evidence could not be any more clear. Populist politicians will make a beeline for a cliff if they think there is enough of a crowd with them. And then they will fall off the cliff.   

JFB

Please follow and like us:
Posted in Policy, Politics | Comments Off on Trump Strikes Again

Houston–We Have a Problem

Presidential campaigns are rarely about what the job of being president actually entails. The campaign itself is mostly a contest between the two major parties and the respective incentives they face. Note that this process is only remotely connected to the actual job of being president. 

What presidents mostly do is make executive decisions about stuff that finds its way into the Oval Office inbox. But decision-making ability is not what the candidates typically campaign on. Instead they repeat party pieties ad nauseam, launch mindless attacks the other guy, and then proceed to assemble a poll-tested list of policy priorities. That list, often in the form of the party platform, is designed to attract a coalition that can produce 370 votes in the electoral college.  

Once in office the victor appoints White House and agency staffers with ties to the winning coalition groups. Policy priorities are then reformulated so that the groups most instrumental in securing the electoral victory are placed at the top of the pecking order.  That, in a nutshell, is how policy priorities are decided and ultimately, how policy is made. 

But the world has a habit of intruding on these neat and tidy arrangements.  Nobody in 2020, for instance, predicted our shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan, or that Russia would invade Ukraine, or that Hamas, under the watchful eye of Iran, would launch a brutal attack on Israel, or that we would be bombing the Houthis, or that Venezuela would be eying Guyana. 

In fact, foreign policy was hardly even mentioned in recent presidential contests—even though the conduct of foreign policy is one of, if not the, major responsibility of the president. And not to put too fine a point on it, when during a 2012 presidential debate Mitt Romney had the temerity to argue that Russia was our principal adversary, he was brutally mocked by Obama. That was when Obama’s vice president was none other than Joe Biden, foreign policy expert. 

Which brings up our current problem. Neither of the top contenders in the 2024 presidential contest, namely, Joe Biden or Donald Trump, has demonstrated the slightest capacity for rational decision making with respect to policy. But each has demonstrated a crude personal survival instinct, the consequences be damned. Further, both have shown themselves to be inveterate liars, although not very good ones, with a penchant for corruption. 

Consider the 4 years of the Trump presidency. What exactly did he accomplish outside of what any normal Republican would have accomplished? The answer is…Nothing. 

How about uniquely Trumpian accomplishments? So remind me, where is that wall Trump promised to build? Remember…that’s the wall that Mexico was going to pay for. What did all those Trumpian tariffs accomplish other than to raise prices (an implicit tax) on consumers?  And who was it who appointed Dr. Anthony Fauci to run health care policy when the COVID -19 pandemic hit? 

And speaking of health care policy, Obamacare is still with us even though Trump had a majority in both the Senate and House. But, in fairness, he did manage to add about $7.5 trillion to the national debt. And thanks to Trump, Republicans don’t need to worry about that Senate majority anymore. Or a stable House majority. 

In fact, Republicans can credit Trumpian candidates with the trouncings they experienced in 2018, 2020, and 2022. Especially as affluent and highly educated suburban voters fled the party in droves. 

So how about Joe Biden? Well, the latest of a long series of fiascos is the special prosecutor’s report on how Biden handled, or mishandled, the classified documents he kept in his garage among other places. Which, by the way, is where his  drug addicted son had access to them since he was living there for a while. 

According to the New York Times, Special prosecutor Hur “found evidence that Mr. Biden had willfully retained and disclosed sensitive information after he left the vice presidency in 2017.” The Times continued to reference Hur who maintained that  “Mr. Biden came off as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” 

The White House simultaneously maintains that (1) Biden did not “willfully” retain said documents and (2) Biden’s memory is “fine”. Hmm. 

Anyway the special prosecutor declined to prosecute. He contended that it would be difficult to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Biden formed the requisite criminal intent to commit a crime. That finding raises a couple of interesting questions.

Are we supposed to believe that Biden has the mental acuity to be responsible for the potential use of the nuclear football, but lacks the mental sharpness needed to form criminal intent? Are we supposed to believe that the formation of criminal intent is actually necessary to charge Biden with a felony? What about gross negligence—which does not require criminal intent. 

So why was Trump charged, but not Biden? Without question, both mishandled classified documents. But the evidence strongly suggests that Trump actively sought to hide evidence of wrongdoing from investigators, while Biden did not. Also remember that the prosecutor insisted he had proof that Biden shared classified information (implicitly) including sources and methods. Whether Trump shared information or was engaging in mere braggadocio has yet to be determined. 

None of this serves to excuse the behavior in question. It only affects the level of the charge. In Trump’s case, attempts at concealment suggest criminal intent. In Biden’s case there is no suggestion of intent. Just negligence, perhaps born of entitlement.  Or dull-wittedness.

But the difference between intent (in Trump’s case) and gross negligence (in Biden’s case) is simply a factor in calculating the severity of punishment. Both are still felonies. And let’s further consider the idea that a reasonable jury wouldn’t convict Biden because he is old and infirm. While that could be true, it is more likely that Biden couldn’t be convicted because partisan passions are running so high. 

Which is also the case with Trump. Remember that there are still millions of people who are utterly convinced that Trump won the 2020 election but that the election was stolen from him. And who still call the January 6 rioters “patriots”. 

Any reasonably competent defense attorney would make sure that at least one true believer was on a Trump jury, thereby insuring a hung jury. Pretty much the same way O. J. Simpson’s attorneys made sure that none of the jurors had taken high school chemistry. 

So where does all this leave us? Well, like the astronauts on the Apollo 13 mission, we have a problem. The problem is that both of the (heavily favored) candidates for their party’s respective presidential nominations are manifestly unqualified for the job. And both have the records to prove it. 

It is also the case that the “leaders” of the Republican and Democratic parties are terrified of their respective primary voters. Consequently they have chosen to remain silent. With rare exceptions they have chosen either to kiss the ring of Donald Trump (the Republicans) or in the Democrat’s case go along with the nomination of Joe Biden. This in spite of Biden’s obvious frailties and the real possibility of ushering in the administration of President Kamala Harris sometime in the next few years. 

In poll after poll, the great majority of voters insist that they do not want a Biden-Trump rematch. But that is where we are headed. It is clear that both the Republicans and Democrats  are sacrificing the interests of the country in order to appease their respective interest groups; both those who show up for the primaries and those who have a lock on the party machinery.

Unfortunately, unless something shakes up the race, the likely outcome is a Biden-Trump rematch which would delight Russia, Iran and Beijing. There is still a long time between now and the nominating conventions. It is not too late for things to change, but it gets less likely by the day. 

In the final analysis we have met the enemy and the enemy is…us. After all it is the voters who show up in the primaries and the general who ultimately determine who the victors are. And despite their insistence that they don’t want a Biden-Trump rematch, the voters, sheeplike may very well vote for one. 

JFB

Please follow and like us:
Posted in Politics | Comments Off on Houston–We Have a Problem

It isn’t Over Until the Fat Lady Sings

After winning New Hampshire’s Republican primary, Donald Trump put on a characteristic display of magnanimity. He referred to Nikki Haley as “Birdbrain”. He proceeded to follow up by announcing on the comically misnamed “Truth Social” that any future contributors to Haley’s campaign would be frozen out of MAGA land.  Finally he decided to weigh in on Haley’s dress, which for some reason or other he didn’t like.  Surely, one of the most pressing issues of the day, and one that potential voters should consider seriously. At least as seriously as they should consider him. 

Amid all the ruckus about Trump’s supposed inevitability—he leads Haley by 32 to 17 delegates out of 1,215 needed to win—it is important to realize that both the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary showed just how weak Trump actually is as a candidate in a general election. For one, the turnout in Iowa was unusually low. Only about 108,000 people showed up to caucus compared to 187,000 in 2016 and 122,000 in 2012. (Some, but not all of the falloff is undoubtedly attributable to the weather). 

By contrast, in New Hampshire the turnout was high—record setting in fact. And the high turnout can be attributed to Trump—by people who turned out to vote against him. In that primary, in which independents and Democrats could vote, Nikki Haley got 44% of the vote which was 7 points higher than the polls suggested. Further, inasmuch as Trump was president from January 2017 until January 2021, he essentially ran in Iowa and New Hampshire as an incumbent. 

Normally incumbents garner pretty close to 100% of the vote. (Biden got 64% of the Democratic vote even though his name wasn’t even on the ballot, most Democrats say they don’t want him to run,  and the primary was in name only). But Trump only managed to get 51% and 54% respectively in the Iowa and New Hampshire races. If that isn’t enough to give supporters pause for thought, a look at the result cross-tabs makes it clear that Trump’s voters are likely to be younger, less affluent and less educated than Haley’s (and DeSantis’s for that matter). Haley has been winning college educated, affluent voters, the very voters who used to make the GOP dominant in the suburbs. 

These are the voters who have been abandoning the GOP in droves. The result is that the Republican Party lost the House in 2018; the White House in 2020 and the Senate in 2021. In 2022 Republicans barely re-captured the House in spite of Biden’s horrific poll numbers and lost a golden opportunity to take the Senate as Trump selected MAGA candidates all of whom went down to defeat. Chances are that November of 2024 will repeat the pattern if Trump is nominated. Trump appears to have a tight grip on a shrinking party, which is surely indicative of a losing position. 

What is to be done if America is to be rescued from the prospect of an awful choice between Trump’s predictable chaos or Biden’s incompetence? (And mind you that doesn’t even count the very real possibility of Kamala Harris’s ascension to the White House.) Well, Nikki Haley has one month to stage a long-shot victory in South Carolina if she is to stay in the contest as a credible challenger to Trump for the nomination and Biden for the presidency.  Can she succeed?

Possibly. But only just possibly. Then again Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal has an excellent column on the subject in which she says that Haley should go for broke and attack Trump in her quest to win the South Carolina primary and derail him. After consulting with her friend and fellow Reagan speech writer Landon Parvin,  Noonan says Haley should  attack Trump on substance and should do so with the deft use of humor. She could do so by reminding people of all the awful things Trump has said and letting that sink in.  

She could begin by saying ( I am quoting from the column here) “Remember when Trump said he could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and people would still vote for him? Well, if he would try to shoot somebody in the middle of the street here in South Carolina, we would return fire. And that is what I intend to do today.”

Peggy Noonan has a point. The other combatants have either avoided confronting Trump directly (think DeSantis) or have approached the task full of anger (think Chris Christie). Then after being demeaned and humiliated by Trump, most kiss the ring and endorse him. A perfect example of profiles in cowardice. 

On the other hand, Haley can turn on the charm and take the challenge to Trump. She can do so forcefully and directly without being nasty. Like Margaret Thatcher did in her day, Haley may be able to win over voters who are tired of the nonsense that both of her opponents (Trump and Biden) are trying to sell.  It just might work. 

JFB

Please follow and like us:
Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

The Rematch

With their respective primary victories in New Hampshire last night, ex President Donald J Trump and current President Joe Biden set the stage for a rematch of their desultory 2020 election contest. Consequently the 2024 campaign will pit two of the most determined ignoramuses ever nominated by a major party against each other in an epic battle of dismaying cluelessness.  

Let me be clear that when I refer to the ignorance of the major players, I do not mean to imply that either of them are stupid. By contrast I do mean that they are remarkably ignorant about the formation and implementation of public policy. They each appear to be naive enough to believe (or profess to believe) that simply passing a law or promulgating a regulation will actually achieve the desired outcome. The whole idea of unintended consequences is just ignored. 

As a result, the differences between Trump and Biden are remarkably small. The supporters of each will rebel against this idea. But let’s consider the fact that each campaign has “plans” to “fix” the “problems” that they claim to have discovered.  Take trade for instance. In his first term Donald Trump slapped tariffs on a whole host of products to “fix” the trade deficit “problem”. And president Biden continued the practice and added to the tariffs. 

And what did the trade deficit do? Well, from 2018 through  2021 (using the latest available numbers) the trade deficit increased 45% from $593 billion to $862 billion. By Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 it had increased again to $945 billion. So the policy (1) imposed a large tax on US citizens in the form of higher prices and (2) failed on its own terms. Do you see any of the major candidates arguing to rescind the policy? No. Why not? Ignorance on the part of both the candidates and the public. 

How about foreign policy, which according to exit polls is a priority issue for only about 10% of the voters. And while we are at it, let’s not forget that we are a major supplier of war materiel to Ukraine in its war with Russia; likewise to Israel in its war with Hamas and other Iranian proxies. Or that China is increasingly aggressive with respect to Taiwan and the South China Sea; that North Korea has lately taken to referring to South Korea as its enemy, or that Venezuela has its eye on Guyana. Not to mention that American hostages are still being held by Hamas or that we are now in a shooting war with the Houthis, another Middle Eastern Iranian proxy. 

So what are the proposed policy prescriptions of the respective campaigns of Trump and Biden. Well, Trump will end the Ukraine war in 24 hours. How do we know? Because he said he will. Just like he said he won in 2020. And, he says, he knows Putin very well and has a good relationship with him. There you have it. Case closed, no problem.

The Biden foreign policy aims are—well what are they? That seems to be a big secret. He has gone wobbly on the Israeli-Hamas war, probably because his party has been backing away from it, not least because it is ideologically hostile to a neoliberal foreign policy (as is the Republican Party). And, not to put too fine a point on it, there is a fair amount of antisemitism in the Democratic Party’s base. It also bears repeating that while social spending has soared (under both Trump and Biden) military spending under Biden has just about kept up with inflation, straining military readiness. 

How about Fiscal sobriety? Neither administration has anything to write home about. The budget deficit (not necessarily the best measure) increased $7.8 trillion during the Trump years. During the first 3 years of the Biden administration the deficit increased a little over $7 trillion. It will probably be more like $8 trillion before his first 4 years are up. By the way, Democrats love to blame recent deficits on the 2017 tax cuts. However, federal tax receipts increased 41% rising to $4.8 trillion from $3.4 trillion from 2020 to 2022. The growth in spending far outpaced revenue growth. 

Spending is the problem. And not just “emergency spending” to deal with Covid-19. Specifically, tax-and-vote spending and the something-for-nothing mindset of the electorate is the source of the public finance disaster we are in. Let’s remember that total accumulated federal debt is now about $33 trillion. 

Speaking of what we laughingly refer to as the federal budget, each candidate continues to display a remarkable inability to deal with arithmetic. Both major candidates have pledged to avoid reforming Social Security and Medicare, the main drivers of deficit spending. The mere fact that the programs are insolvent is a pesky little detail they are each determined to avoid mentioning. Interest on the debt by the way, now exceeds $1 trillion per year, which is greater than the military budget.  

So how have the candidates differentiated themselves from each other? They will each claim that the other guy either was then or is now, a terrible president. And neither of them will be wrong. But both Trump and Biden will just engage in name-calling rather than address substantive policy differences because substantive policy differences, except for things like abortion rights, are largely non-existent. 

As a practical matter even those differences are much smaller than they appear.  Let me explain.

Both Parties have staked out positions on abortion rights designed to please their respective bases. Those positions are wildly out of sync with national, (but maybe not with regional) opinion. The Republicans essentially demand an end to abortion rights. The Democrats essentially demand abortion on-demand, paid for with tax dollars. 

The public, on the other hand, does not like either Democratic permissiveness or Republican calls for a ban. The public probably prefers something like a ban around 15 – 20 weeks into pregnancy with an exception if the life of the mother is in jeopardy. 

The only politician willing to speak the truth on this has been Nikki Haley who correctly observed that a blanket national law would be impossible to pass since it would take 60 votes to pass the Senate and that is unlikely to happen. Try telling that to either base and see how far you get. 

Regardless, Dobbs v Jackson, placed the issue where it belongs. That place is in the political arena in state capitals, not the federal government. That, in the spirit of federalism, is where local political differences can be negotiated. Further, a national law—one way or the other—would probably wind up on the constitutional chopping block. 

Then there is the all purpose claim that Trump—and Republicans generally—represent a “threat to democracy”. For instance, Dem Governor of Illinois JB Pritzker has referred to Nikki Haley as MAGA in heels.  

Let’s think about this for a minute, and for the sake of argument let’s stipulate that the term democracy refers to an established procedure for the transfer of political power; the rule of law; the defense of property rights, and all the other rights established in the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, popularly known as the Bill of Rights. 

Now let’s consider the claim that Trump is a threat to democracy. There should be no doubt that the man is abysmally ignorant; that he has no problem palling around with dictators; that he is a liar of epic proportions; that he has no toleration for dissent; that he is probably a felon (though yet to be convicted); that his use of language veers into the edge of violence and he has very strong authoritarian tendencies. 

The main question here is this: are American institutions capable of restraining him—or anybody else in a similar position? My answer to both questions is: Probably yes, but only probably. 

Some background to the question first. Democrats have a long history, going back at least to Harry Truman, of calling Republicans fascists. There is accordingly a boy-who-cried-wolf aspect to all this. That’s probably one reason why so many Republicans simply ignore it when Democrats go into a fever pitch and call their opponents fascists, racists etc, even if the description really fits. And Democratic hands are not clean here either. For instance, Joe Kennedy was a Nazi sympathizer.   Strom Thurmond began life as a Democrat, ran for president in 1948 as a Dixiecrat, and ultimately became a Republican in 1968.

Can American institutions restrain any President, including Trump? It depends on what restrain means. It is extremely doubtful that we will ever face a “7 Days in May” type situation. After all, in the end the January 6, 2021 affair was a clown show. Was it a disgrace? Yes, of course. Did it ever have a chance of succeeding? Not a chance. And plenty of the rioters are today spending time in jail, which is where they belong.

The more difficult question has to do with the separation of powers and the  bureaucratic power of the Administrative state. There is, for instance, a very long laundry list of  cases where the courts have slapped the Biden Administration down for its abuse of the executive power. Some of the more consequential ones are:

  • The eviction moratorium
  • The Vaccine Mandate
  • Student Debt Cancellation

Additionally, although not necessarily in the courts:

  • A concerted attack on the first amendment by having executive agencies direct social media companies not to publish what the Administration labels “misinformation”
  • Routine efforts to do an end-run around the 2nd amendment
  • Sending the FBI out to intimidate traditional Catholics, referring to them as terrorists
  • Slow walking and then attempting to cover up Hunter Biden’s business dealings, tax evasion, and Joe Biden’s emails sent under pseudonyms while he was VP
  • Maybe 1 million people have been released into the country under a misused immigration-parole authority

This is actually a small sample. The list is almost endless. And this type of selective protection of rights is not the sole province of Biden, or of Democratic Administrations. There was the Obama (D) Administration’s use of the IRS against the Tea Party and the Nixon (R) Administration’s use of the Intelligence agencies, FBI and IRS against “enemies”. 

Ultimately, the protection of our rights depends on a culture of Liberalism and tolerance. Those virtues are under threat as they aways are. And neither party seems to be particularly interested in defending them. So that’s why the answer to the question(s) above is only: probably.

JFB

Please follow and like us:
Posted in Politics | Comments Off on The Rematch

The March for Life

Mostly they were young women. And they came by the thousands despite the cold and  wind and snow. At first it seemed like a trickle, but within an hour the trickle turned into a torrent. The Federal Triangle and Smithsonian Metro stations near the National Mall began to brim with Right-to-Life marchers who were there to listen to the speakers before marching. After the speeches, which included several Congressmen including Speaker of the House Mike Johnson,  they marched past the Capitol and headed toward the Supreme Court.  

Photo of a sign stuck in the snow at the 2024 March-for-Life.

The March-for-Life was unlike—very unlike—the standard issue demonstration that is typical of the ones that routinely take place in the District. It made no attempt to undermine the foundations of the American system as so many routinely do.  

Washington, DC — January 19, 2024. Right-to-Life Marchers group near the Washington, Monument.

In stark contrast to their left-wing counterparts, e.g,—Justice for Palestine, Black Lives Matter—both the Right-to-Life march and the underlying movement demonstrated support for the maintenance of American institutions and the rule of law. It should be noted that the overturning of Roe v. Wade  by Dobbs v. Jackson was the result of 50 years of patient legal work spearheaded by the movement and the Federalist Society. This in spite of furious, sometimes violent, opposition by the left: let’s not forget, for instance, the hearings of Bret Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas.   

The fact, and it is a fact, that so many Republican politicians are incapable of voicing a robust defense of Dobbs (which was correctly decided) is a comment on Republicans, not the underlying legal case.  

Instead of violence, looting and burning—remember those “mostly peaceful” protests during the pandemic? (See the map below). Or the use of violence to attempt intimidate Senators Sinema and Manchin that President Biden described as “part of the process”? Or how about the widespread violence of the 1960s? By contrast the speeches at the March were preceded by the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and the display of American flags. 

The theme of this year’s March (the 51st) was “With every woman, for every child”. In that regard the speakers called attention to the thousands of pregnancy centers the pro-life movement supports. In contrast, note that Congress just recently passed, and Biden threatens to veto,  two bills to fund those centers. Speakers also emphasized the importance of changing opinion on the morality of abortion rights, which also stands in sharp contrast with the coercive attempts at a stifling conformity of opinion that is so popular among left-wing proponents of right-think. 

Washington, DC — January 19, 2024. Marchers brave the snow for the Right-to-Life movemenr.

The movement also wants to put the lie to rest that abortion rights, even abortion on demand is the preferred choice of women, especially young women. Grant the self-selection of the crowd, it is hard to ignore just how many young women turned out for the March, not to mention surveys on the subject. A recent (May 2023) Gallup poll found that 47% of respondents thought that abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances, compared to 49% that thought that abortion should be illegal either in all or most circumstances. Hardly what you’d call uniformity of opinion. 

Washington, DC — January 19, 2024. Right-to-Life Marchers brave the snow and gather near the Washington Monument.

All in all, the March-for-Life was a robust demonstration of the strengths of the American experiment in self-rule; the importance of the right-to-life and above all the dignity of each and every individual human being. That each and every human being was created—created in the language of the Declaration of Independence—with equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Now would be a good time to remember that. 

JFB

Please follow and like us:
Posted in Culture, Politics | Comments Off on The March for Life