Two Americas and Trump

In 2006, looking toward the presidential election of 2008, my top choice to lead the country was Mitt Romney.  At the time, he was serving as governor of Massachusetts.  Given his time in the private sector, where he made loads of money leading Bain Capital, his time successfully rescuing the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and his time as governor, where he was gaining valuable experience as chief executive of a state, I felt he would be the best person to succeed President George W. Bush.

I had no knowledge as to whether he would actually run for president.  He struck me as a likely candidate for a number of reasons: he was a governor who seemed to be very ambitious (he waged an effective, if unsuccessful, challenge to Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts in the 1994 Senate election); he would be continuing a family tradition (his father, Governor George Romney of Michigan, ran for president 40 years earlier); and he just seemed to look the part.  I was for Mitt Romney before it was cool.

In January 2008, I drove from New Jersey to New Hampshire to help the Romney Campaign in Portsmouth a few days before the primary election.   I made telephone calls and knocked on doors.  Senator John McCain was gaining momentum in the state and we Romney supporters were doing what we could to get out the vote for Mitt.  He would lose the primary and, a few months later, the nomination to McCain.  The Senator would lose the general election in November.

In 2012, Romney managed to get the Republican nomination for president.  Unfortunately, Mitt would suffer the same fate as McCain in the November general election.

After waiting six long years for Mitt Romney to be elected President of the United States, it was depressing to see him go down in defeat, especially given my belief that Mitt was the more qualified candidate.  It was difficult for me to understand why so many Americans – an absolute majority – did not agree with me.

I share my Romney story because of the way many Americans react to President Donald Trump.

In the wake of the 2012 election, I had a few contentious discussions about the election results.  One of them sticks out in my mind.  I recall making the case that Romney’s track record of success (creating jobs in the private sector, turning around the troubled Winter Olympics, etc.) would be a real asset in a president.  My sparring partner did not see this at all.  He, like others I would speak to about the election, simply liked President Barack Obama.  Really liked.  It was no secret to anyone I knew that I did not share those feeling for Obama.  Still, if I felt Obama was doing a good job as president, I might not vote for him, but I would understand why others would.  I did not feel that Obama was doing a good job and had trouble processing why he was rewarded with a second term.

A few years later, something occurred to me that could, in part, explain the 2012 election, or at least my understanding of the outcome.

When I decide who to support for president, I want to know where the candidate stands on a variety of issues (taxes, immigration, the courts, reforming entitlements, etc.).  Some issues are more important than others but the candidate who is most aligned with my thinking is likely to get my backing.  Millions of Americans have a similar approach in selecting their favored candidate.  Millions of other Americans have a different approach.  Those Americans may also look for a candidate who generally agrees with them on a few issues.  However, a great deal of weight is given to other factors.  How the person speaks.  How the person looks.  Where the candidate went to school.  The race and/or sex of the candidate can matter a lot.  Where the person stands on social values.

Some of these and other similar considerations matter to me as well but I give them far less weight in my decision making.

Both types of Americans also give quite a bit of weight to political party, which serves as a kind of short hand in indicating values and policy positions.

In the case of Obama, his race was a net plus.  It was not the only thing that helped him cross the finish line though.  Unlike the speaking style of recent Republican presidents, he neither rambles or is syntactically-challenged.  He has calm demeanor.  He is in good condition and looks great in a suit.  He has a lovely family.  Obama is essentially America’s Prince William.

For many Americans, when they’re choosing a president they are principally voting for a head of state.  They want someone who looks and acts the part of president.  They want someone who can handle the responsibilities of the office as well but there is a high priority given to an ability to represent the country and having traits that suggest that the individual could be a something of a role model.

I like the idea of someone who can be an effective head of state.  During times of national tragedy, having a leader who can help heal the nation is valuable.  I, however, tend to prioritize getting policies enacted (or repealed).  It helps a great deal to have a president who can effectively champion good public policy.  Many Americans who feel this way, and vote accordingly, are principally selecting a prime minister.

In American politics, there is a clear divide between Republicans and Democrats.  There is another divide that is essentially overlooked.  That divide is between republicans and monarchists.

Nations like the United Kingdom have a hereditary monarch as their leader.  In the UK, the monarch is the head of state, while there is a separate person who serves as prime minister, who is the head of government.  After the American Revolution, the Founding Fathers created a republican form of government for the United States, in response to and in rejection of a monarchy.  The President of the Unites States is both head of state and head of government.  Though formally, we do not have a monarchy, many American voters view the presidency as an elected monarch.

Back to Donald Trump.  Many monarchists see Trump as an obscenity.  This is feeling is particularly intensified because of Trump’s immediate predecessor.  Obama was seen by many as an elegant and intellectual individual who played the part of head of state well, even if there were sharp disagreements over policy.  In contract, Trump, who is brash, often vulgar, wears ill-fitting suits, and has been branded by many as being a racist and misogynist, is intensely disliked by a big chunk of the American public, even among those who are sympathetic to his policy positions.

The monarchists want a president they can admire.  The republicans want presidential accomplishments they can admire.  Monarchists and republicans are not just different but often do not understand one another.

Though he has been in office less than two years, Trump is well-positioned to have a successful presidency.  His slashing of regulations and the tax reform law he signed into law have contributed to economic growth and lower unemployment.  He is nominating Constitutionalists to federal judgeships, including to vacancies on the Supreme Court.  He appears to be having success in foreign affairs.  Whatever concrete successes Trump has during his presidency, the left-of-center monarchists, who despise him, will never give him credit (“It was a trend that started in the Obama era.” , “Presidents don’t actually create jobs.”, etc.).  However, the republicans who generally support him will be happy that the President has kept his promises and will be able take pride in the fact they voted for him in 2016, even if they originally had some reservations.  For the right-of-center republicans, Trump is essentially America’s Winston Churchill.

Slavery, Citizenship, and the Rebellion

This is a repost, with slight modifications, of a piece posted December 18, 2015.

The War Between the States; War of Northern Aggression; Second American Revolution; War of 1861; War for Southern Independence; Mr. Lincoln’s War; American Civil War; Civil War; or simply, the War.

These are some of the names that have used to describe the military conflict in the United States between 1861 and 1865.  The War of the Rebellion – the official name of what most Americans refer to as the Civil War – is the subject of many books.  In some book stores, there is a section called U.S. History and a separate section called The Civil War.  The Civil War holds a special place in American history.  This is not surprising given that the war produced over 600,000 casualties, more than all other American wars combined.  Also, the divisions in the country then, which helped ignite the conflict, still exist today.  The cultural differences between the North and the South are still with us.  The sectional political differences that existed then persist to this day (most states in the South are reliably “Red” and most states in the North are reliably “Blue”).  And, of course, the racial divide, which often meant the difference between bondage and freedom early in our history, has not quite healed.

The different names referring to the conflict also, in some ways, reflect the differing in the reasons and perspectives for the conflict.

Ask random people why there was a war, and you will invariably hear “slavery” was the reason.  Some will cite “state-rights” as the core issue.  A few will even point to “the tariff” as the cause.  It is quite telling that Americans cannot quite agree on what caused a national crisis that resulted in Americans taking up arms against each other for four long years.  This lack of clarity is one reason of many reasons why there have been so many books written on the subject and continue to be written.

The question of why there was war between the two regions is one worth answering.

In November 1860, American voters went to the polls and elected the Republican Party nominee President of the United States.  The presidential nominee, Abraham Lincoln, was the country’s first Republican president.  Both houses of Congress were also controlled by the Republican Party.  The party was only six years old, having been founded in Wisconsin in 1854.  Wisconsin, itself, had only joined the Union six years earlier.  The Republican Party had been put together by former Whigs, Free Soilers, and a few Democrats.  The new party had adopted most of the platform of the Whigs, namely, economic protectionism and modernization.  The Republican Party had also adopted the position that it wanted to stop the spread of slavery within the United States.

To many in the Southern states, this must have been quite shocking.  A brand new party; with no base of support in the South; founded by abolitionists; opposed to the spread of slavery; formed in a relatively new state, so far north it may as well been part of Canada, had just taken over the U.S. government.  It is no surprise that several of the Southern states would announce their intentions to leave the Union.

The consensus of the rest of the country was that the nation breaking apart would be a bad thing.  It could easily set the precedent of other states wanting to leave the Union.  It would also suggest that the experiment of self-governance did not, and, perhaps, could never work.  Abraham Lincoln did not want to be the president that presided over the dissolution of the United States of America.

The South, led by Jefferson Davis, wanted to leave the Union and was willing to use military force to achieve this goal, since it was not in its interest to stay.  The North, led by Abraham Lincoln, wanted to keep the country together and was willing to use military force to do so, since it was not its interest for the South to go.  “And the war came.”

The intentions of the South warrant closer scrutiny.  In 1861, Lincoln stated in his inaugural address that he would not interfere with the institution of slavery where it already existed.  Lincoln also tacitly approved in the same address a proposed amendment to the Constitution (Corwin Amendment) that would prevent any future amendments from interfering with the institution of slavery.  These concessions would not deter the Southern states from their intentions to leave the Union.

Why did Lincoln’s words not reassure the South?  Why would the Southern states risk war by attempting to secede?  What did Southerners fear?

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war.

Lincoln, Second Inaugural, March 4, 1865

Those three sentences in Lincoln’s 1865 address may provide useful clues.  First, in reference to slavery itself, Lincoln acknowledges that the institution was somehow the cause of the war.  He seems to be saying that slavery had something to do with the conflict but may not have been the primary cause.  Second, it may be helpful to refer to the census of 1860.  South Carolina, the first state to announce its intention to leave the United States, has a slave population that represents 57% – an absolute majority – of the total residents of the state.  Mississippi, the second state to announce its intention to leave, has a slave population that represents 55% – also an absolute majority – of the total residents of its state.  The next four states to announce their intentions to leave were Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana.  Those states had slave populations as a percentage of their entire state of 44%, 45%, 44%, and 47%, respectively.  It is almost the case that the higher the slave population percentage, the sooner the state announced its intention to secede from the Union.  The other clue in Lincoln’s address was that one-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves.  Had the slaves been Irish or French, there probably would not have been a war.  It is very likely that the people of the South were less in love with the institution of slavery but more in favor of keeping the United States a white nation.  Had the slaves been white or some other non-black race, in the face of war, slavery may have ended sooner and without bloodshed.  Since the slaves were black (or “mulatto”) and clearly ethnically different from American whites, it would not have been in the interest of Southern planters to free those in bondage because it could have meant sharing or surrendering political power and resources with those easily identified as former slaves.  This may have led to intermarrying with individuals whose ethnic features would have been difficult to breed away.  Fearing the emergence of a “mongrel” race that could have real political and economic power was of concern to Americans, particularly those in the South.

Slavery ultimately became a tactic to control those of African descent in the (Southern) United States.  We know this because shortly after the war ended, Southern legislatures passed laws that were known as “Black Codes” and these laws were a tactic designed to control the conduct of those of African descent in the (Southern) United States.

The Reluctant Conservative believes that for the American South, secession and war were about race and national identity.  Since blacks were mostly localized in the southern part of the nation, Southerners were far more concerned about demographics than their northern counterparts.

On this 150th anniversary of Secretary of State William Seward issuing a proclamation of the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, which, among other things, extended U.S. citizenship to the former slaves, it is worth revisiting how the amendment came to be.

Happy Birthday, Fourteenth Amendment

On this day 150 years ago, the people of the United States formally welcomed five million of the nation’s residents into the American family.  That day would mark the end of a long and brutal pathway to citizenship.

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Senator Collins, Abortion, and the Supreme Court

Justice Anthony Kennedy announced on Wednesday that he will be retiring from the bench, effective July 31.  President Trump is expected to nominate his successor by July 9.  The Senate Committee on the Judiciary will hold hearings on the nomination in the coming weeks.  Assuming the nomination moves out of the Committee, the full Senate will vote to decide whether to approve the nomination.  Among those voting will be the Republican Caucus’s most liberal member, the senior Senator from Maine, Susan Collins.

Senator Collins (R-Maine) stated on This Week with George Stephanopoulos on July 1, 2018, that the most important quality in a potential justice for the U.S. Supreme Court is respect for precedence.

I believe I am in good company in believing that the most important quality in a potential justice would be fidelity to the Constitution of the United States.  After all, the justice upon taking office would pledge an oath to God to support and defend the U.S. Constitution, NOT to support and defend prior rulings of the Court.

The issue for Senator Collins is not fidelity or respect for precedence; it is the abortion rulings from 1973 (Roe v. Wade) and 1992 (Planned Parenthood v. Casey).  She does not want these rulings, which guarantee a Constitutional right to an abortion, overturned.

It is fine for Senator Collins to have this opinion, but she ought not hide behind the legal doctrine of stare decisis (stand by matters decided).  The fact that abortion is not mentioned in the Constitution or that the legal reasoning behind both abortion decisions is legally shaky does not seem to matter to her.  As a member of the legislature, she does not seem troubled that the Court, in both cases, made law in violation of the separation of powers principle.

Had the Court come to opposite outcomes in 1973 and 1992, where not only does the Constitution not guarantee the right to an abortion, but stated that under the Fourteenth Amendment, an abortion would be the taking of a life without due process of law — thus making abortion unconstitutional — would the Senator be arguing for the respect for precedence?  I suspect not.

We should be careful about this issue of precedence.  It is true that stare decisis does promote stability in the law.  However, stability that does violence to the Constitution is not stability that should be respected.

In 1896, the Court issued its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the “constitutionality” of racial segregation and institutionalized the doctrine of separate but equal.  That decision was effectively overruled in 1954 – 58 years later — in the Brown v. Board of Education case.

As of this writing, Roe v. Wade is 45 years old.  Senator Collins believes that, given the longevity of this ruling, it should be considered “settled law” by any future Supreme Court.

Question: Does Senator Collins, using her own standard, believe that the Supreme Court was wrong to unanimously overturn the 58-year-old separate but equal doctrine in 1954?  I suspect not.

During her This Week interview, Senator Collins laid out the following as important qualities that a Supreme Court justice should have: judicial temperament, integrity, intellect, experience, qualifications, fidelity to the rule of law and the Constitution.  She also said, “most important of all” respect for precedent.  All the qualities she lists are important, but she is wrong that the respect for precedent should be the most important consideration.

When Senator Collins votes on the nominee, she ought to consider each of the traits she mentioned; however, the commitment to precedence should get diminished consideration.

Travel Ban

This week, possibly as early as tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue its opinion in the federal travel ban case Trump v. Hawaii.

It is surprising that this case went all the way to the Supreme Court.  The travel ban applies to residents of seven countries (Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen).  Six countries have majority Muslim population.  Many of the President’s critics refer to his executive order as a Muslim ban.

The travel ban omits the majority of the Muslim world, including Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.  This is not a Muslim ban.

The countries covered by the ban are instead ones that fail to provide the minimum baseline of information needed to vet their nationals.  Given that the U.S. continues to face the threat of terrorism from the Muslim world, this policy would seem rational; but in my view, it does not go far enough toward providing security to residents of the United States.

A portion of the oral arguments focused on the First Amendment: does the travel ban violate the Free Exercise Clause?  The answer is no, since the U.S. Constitution does not apply to foreign nationals on foreign soil.  This would be true even if the executive order were an outright Muslim ban.  There would be no constitutional problem with excluding Muslims on account of being Muslim.  It may, however, violate federal law.

Unfortunately, because of our country’s history of discrimination based on race, nationality, and religion, American today are very sensitive and will make great efforts to distance themselves from that history, even if doing so makes the country less safe.

This sensitivity also leads to an incentive to identify bigotry where none exists, then publicly and loudly oppose it.

The critics of the President are desperate to demonstrate that he is, among other evils, some sort of bigot.  And they are willing to endanger the American people to prove it.

Should the Supreme Court do the unthinkable, Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, in his role as Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces, must defy the Court’s ruling, striking down the executive order.  The Court has no business second guessing how the President defends the nation.  This could create a constitutional crisis and may lead to impeachment, but the President simply cannot let stand such a dangerous ruling from the Court.

Media Mind Control

I once had a colleague who shared a similar interest in politics and public affairs.  One morning I popped over to chat with him.  I had a something on my mind and I shared my thoughts with him.  Oddly, where I thought we had similar views on this topic, I saw a nearly blank stare back at me.  He had no verbal response to what I had said.  He either did not agree with my assessment or was indifferent to my take on the issue.

Two days later, the same colleague came over for a visit and spoke to me about the same topic I had shared with him two days earlier.  There was an enthusiasm in his voice and body language.  He recited to me almost the same points I had raised.  It was almost as if we had not had the original conversation, but he did reference the fact that I had spoken about the issue with him.  I discovered that his newly-found interest in the topic was the result of listening to radio talk show host, Mark Levin.  Turns out, Levin was reacting to the news of the day as I was and brought the same issue up on his daily talk show.  Mark Levin shares my view on this topic and it is no surprise that he raised the same legal and historical arguments that I shared with my colleague.

The difference in my colleague’s level of interest – from zero to interested in two days – had to do with who gave voice to the issue: Mark Levin was a trusted source.  It was not that he did not believe what I was saying to him – he was aware of my knowledge of legal and constitutional matters.  He just did not understand the level of importance I placed on the issue; or just did not see me as a figure of authority.  He is a consumer of talk radio and the Drudge Report.  If he did not get it from either source, it simply was not news to him.  I was not his trusted source of news and analysis.

Over recent years, when I share with family or friends my thoughts on issues that I find important, I get similar non-responses.  I often bring up topics that I feel get ignored by mainstream media sources.  While I rarely get any disagreement with what I am sharing, I do not anywhere near the enthusiasm I feel, if I get a reaction at all — unless Wolf Blitzer or George Stephanopoulos is reporting it, it’s not news.

The media has lots of control over what we discuss with friends and family, how important an issue is, and, very often, what we think.  The media – television especially – shapes public opinion.  To the extent that there is a political bias in how an issue is presented, the media can greatly affect how we vote.

In recent days, we have heard and read a lot about the separation of families at the border.  Specifically, young children are taken from illegal alien parents, who cross the southern border of the United States.  When U.S. authorities arrest parents with children for unlawfully entering the country, the children are placed into detention centers.

It is unfortunate when children, especially young children, are separated from their parents.  U.S. border officials are enforcing the law.  The adult foreign nationals are violating the law.  They are aware that they are violating U.S. sovereignty when they enter the country without permission.  If adult illegal aliens want to keep their families intact, they should not enter this country unlawfully.  This is a problem of the illegal alien’s own making.  Apparently, the fact the U.S. officials have not been very serious about securing the border over the past few decades has inspired foreign nationals to feel that coming to the U.S. to live is an entitlement.  There is no doubt that some come here for a better life (jobs, personal safety, etc.), but that does not entitle anyone to come here without the permission of the U.S. government.  They make matters worse by involving children in their decision to trespass into the United States.  Each of these acts is an abuse of children.

Our media does not report this violation of U.S. sovereignty.  Reporters simply report on the “inhumanity” of the family separation and our country’s role in that inhumanity.  Former First Lady Laura Bush calls the policy cruel and immoral.  Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also a former First Lady as well as a U.S. Senator, calls the border situation a moral and humanitarian crisis.  Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele compares detention centers to concentration camps.

This story will continue to be covered.  It will be covered to paint President Donald Trump and his administration as evil.  Many in the media find Trump’s presidency an offense.  This story, among others, is a way to fight back.  They will use their platform to shape public opinion in the runup to the mid-term Congressional elections in November.

The fact that some Americans are killed by some illegal aliens, including MS-13 gang members, gets very little media coverage.  The fact that many Americans, even young children, in urban centers are victims of violence is virtually never discussed on cable news shows.  The fact that American children are separated daily from their law-breaking American parents does not create the same level of outrage.

Our media today has created noble victims at our southern border.

The question remains whether the American people will continue to be the gullible dupes of television anchors.