Monthly Archives: August 2017

roy moore for senate

Roy Moore for Senate? I Think Not.

Voting Roy Moore for Senate Insults the Rule of Law

Perpetual bigot and shocking ignoramus Roy Moore has again dipped his toes into Alabama politics after again being forced off the state’s supreme court.  Unfortunately for the people of Alabama and those of the nation writ large, the Roy Moore for Senate campaign may be on its way to victory over establishment (and President Trump favored) candidate Luther Strange.  But let’s be clear: Supporting Roy Moore for Senate means ignoring his history of ignoring law and acting as if being a justice somehow means he’s immune from following the laws he interpreted.

In 2000, Roy Moore, then a controversial circuit court justice, made his first bid for the Alabama supreme court.  He ran on an avowedly theological platform, arguing the state needed “God [in] our public life [to] restore the moral foundation of our law.”  As any legal scholar should be able to tell you, the Founding Fathers sought a strict separation of church and state, wholly and purposefully keeping God out of public life to maintain a truly secular Republic with moral foundations premised on the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.  His legal and historical shortcomings also transcended to social ignorance as Moore argued that Christianity’s declining influence “corresponded directly with school violence, homosexuality, and crime.”

Moore, despite his contempt for America’s legal foundation and bizarrely incorrect views of religion and its role in society, somehow won his race and proceeded to legislate from the bench, an affront the judiciary’s role in government and a malady conservatives have long claimed to despise.  In D.H. vs. H.H., Moore wrote that the state should use a parent’s sexual orientation to be a deciding factor in refusing custody.  Such a demand did not have precedent in state law, but when it came to potential rights for homosexual individuals, Moore abandoned conservative legal principles and instead, in this case and others, let his moral beliefs define his rulings, acting without regard to state law when it didn’t align with his religious teachings.

God First, Constitution Second

roy moore for senate ten commandmentsHis allegiance stood only to religion, though a judge should value the law and the Constitution above all else.  Shortly after his election, Moore made plans for a large Ten Commandments monument for the Alabama supreme court building, again pointedly ignoring the secular basis of our law and society.  The 5,280 pound behemoth, once constructed, led Moore to declare “today a cry has gone out across our land for the acknowledgment of that God upon whom this nation and our laws were founded. … May this day mark the restoration of the moral foundation of law to our people and the return to the knowledge of God in our land.”  Rather than idolize the state’s constitution, the federal Constitution, or the laws created by man with no divine influence or interference, Moore spent public dollars to erect a testament to his religion and his beliefs, not necessarily those of his peers, state lawmakers, or the entirety of Alabama.

Unsurprisingly — self-evidently, really — his waste of public funds to install a religious monument on state property prompted a lawsuit claiming that the monument “sends a message to all who enter the State Judicial Building that the government encourages and endorses the practice of religion in general and Judeo-Christianity in particular.”  The case, Glassroth v. Moore, presenting damning evidence about how the monument created an environment in which the government had endorsed a religion (a First Amendment violation).  Lawyers of different religious beliefs notably changed their work practices to avoid the religious atmosphere and public prayer the government sanctioned via the monument.

Fealty to a Higher Power

Moore’s defense used not the Constitution, but some supported higher power to which Moore supposed we must all pledge fealty.  He argued that the monument “serves to remind the Appellate Courts and judges of the Circuit and District Court of this State and members of the bar who appear before them, as well as the people of Alabama who visit the Alabama Judicial Building…that in order to establish justice we must invoke ‘the favor and guidance of almighty God.'”  For, Moore claimed, the Ten Commanders are the “moral foundation” of our law and that the monument marked “the beginning of the restoration of the moral foundation of law to our people” by “recogniz[ing] the sovereignty of God
and “acknowledging God’s overruling power over the affairs of men.”  

roy moore removed from office

Of course, the Constitution does not claim divine guidance.  It does not say that only through the grace of a higher being did the document originate.  Our Constitution — the supreme law of the land — came not from a higher power but from the hearts, souls, and brains of the men present at the constitutional convention.  The Constitution is of man and for man, with no loyalty or subservience to a supposed higher power.  We are the sovereigns.

Removal from Office

US District Court Judge Myron Thompson declared the monument violated the Establishment Clause and the First Amendment, making it unconstitutional.  Thompson found that Moore “installed a two-and-a-half ton monument in the most prominent place in a government building, managed with dollars from all state taxpayers, with the specific purpose and effect of establishing a permanent recognition of the ‘sovereignty of God,’ the Judeo-Christian God, over all citizens in this country, regardless of each taxpaying citizen’s individual personal beliefs or lack thereof. To this, the Establishment Clause says no.”  He thus ordered Moore to remove the statue from public grounds (a circuit court agreed with Thompson’s findings).

roy moore for senate 2017Moore ignored the ruling, saying he would not remove the statue even though doing so would cost the citizens of Alabama $5,000 a day (the other state supreme court justices overruled Moore’s decision and moved the statue to a private location).  Refusing to obey the court order from a US judge clearly shows Moore’s contempt for the rule of law.  Because the monument so closely aligned with Moore’s religious beliefs and because the First Amendment prevented him from thrusting his beliefs on Alabama taxpayers, Moore decided that ultimate fealty should be paid to his deity, not to the Constitution he swore to uphold.  Furthermore, Moore revealed that if his personal beliefs told him a superior judge’s ruling fell short, Moore could simply ignore the orders and act as if the law did not apply to him.  He acted lawlessly and with clear disdain for court orders, our judicial system, and the US Constitution.

These actions prompted ethical complaints that culminated in Moore’s forced removal from office as his actions “undercut the entire workings of the judicial system…. What message does that send to the public, to other litigants? The message it sends is: If you don’t like a court order, you don’t have to follow it.”  (He appealed the decision up the state supreme court, but his former peers ruled against him.)

State Supreme Court Justice, Part Two

A decade after his removal, Moore decided to again run for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and, despite his earlier removal for lawless actions and clear contempt for the law when it means curtails his efforts to imperialize his beliefs, Alabamans once again elected him to the post.

roy moore for senate

Moore quickly showed that nothing had changed.  He had learned nothing from his first removal from office.  He hadn’t learned about American history or realized that in American law, we follow the Constitution, not an individual judge’s religion.

Roy Moore: Tyrant of the Bench

After a federal court legalized same-sex marriage across a handful of states, Moore refused to enforce the ruling despite falling below the federal court in the judicial hierarchy and illegally demanded state officials and judges to do the same.  A year later, Moore continued his dereliction of duty by ordering Alabama court judges to ignore the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (which legalized same-sex marriage across the country)

The Alabama state supreme court could not overrule the federal court, let alone the US Supreme Court.  Doing so ever so clearly violates the supremacy clause of the Constitution: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”  McCulloch v. Maryland further solidified the supremacy clause and underpins the entire American judicial setup.

A rogue justice cannot stand in the way of court orders regardless of his religious convictions.  Doing so ignores and violates the Constitution and describes a tyrant of the bench.

Second Exit from Office

Later that year, the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission submitted a list of six charges of ethical violations by Moore to the Alabama Court of the Judiciary.  With Moore suspended, the case proceeded and culminated in recommended removal from office for:

  1. Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for disregarding a federal injunction.
  2. Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for demonstrated unwillingness to follow clear law.
  3. Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for abuse of administrative authority.
  4. Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for substituting his judgement for the judgement of the entire Alabama Supreme Court, including failure to abstain from public comment about a pending proceeding in his own court.
  5. Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for interference with legal process and remedies in the United States District Court and/or Alabama Supreme Court related to proceedings in which Alabama probate judges were involved.
  6. Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for failure to recuse himself from pending proceedings in the Alabama Supreme Court after making public comment and placing his impartiality into question.

Various appeals again provided Moore not hope.  The Alabama supreme court again upheld his term suspension.  Rather than face a second forced removal from office, Roy Moore resigned from his position to run for Senate.

Roy Moore for Senate

Now, Moore easily won first place in the GOP Senate primary’s first round and has a strong chance to win the runoff and likely become Alabama’s next senator.  Somehow, a number of Alabamans think it’s a good idea to vote Roy Moore for Senate despite his decidedly un-American attitudes.  This is a disgrace to the state, the nation, and the rule of law.

Vote Roy Moore for Senate to elect a man whose experiences show such incredible contempt for the law and the Constitution.  Moore, or an individual like him, shouldn’t ever be taken seriously or supported by a single soul.  The Roy Moore for Senate campaign is not one based on American values.  It’s based on Roy Moore’s values.

Moore doesn’t care about the Constitution.  He doesn’t respect the rule of law.  His one loyalty is to religion and, like the colonizers of old, Moore has an imperial attitude wherein his religious theories and beliefs must, at all costs, be thrust upon citizens either through judicial activism or, should the Roy Moore for Senate campaign be successful, intrusively moralistic laws that clearly do not align or follow the Constitution, as Moore should have learned in his two short stints as a justice.

Don’t support Roy Moore for Senate.  Stand for the Constitution and our laws, not the religious delusions of a man inclined towards enforced religious tyranny.

illiberal democracy

Ascendant Illiberalism

Illiberal democracy is on the rise

Across the globe, illiberal democracy has emerged as a potent force.  The discontents caused by the Great Recessions, coupled with other structural economic issues that exacerbate inequality while failing to lift the incomes of the middle and working classes, have left many yearning for change of any sort.  That desire has manifested itself in a resurgent populist movement, both from the left and the right.   Unfortunately, most so-called populist candidates have a decidedly authoritarian bent that challenges liberal democracy, though not democracy itself.

Liberal democracy refers to a representative democracy in which a constitution bounds the actions of lawmakers and preserves the fundamental liberties of individuals to protect any given minority from the possibly tempestuous whims of a majority coalition.  Citizens choose lawmakers in free and fair elections in which all who qualify have the equal opportunity to participate.  The system thrives of vibrant discourse and national unity largely free from identity politics and grievances.  It does not refer to a government controlled by a left-wing political party.

Illiberal democracies have the opposite values: Lawmakers rarely feel meaningfully constrained by a constitution which can be easily amended or simply ignored and that does not guarantee the rights of all residents.  Instead, minorities can see liberties abridged by the majority.  This typically happens for easily defined groups based on ethnicity, but can extend to religion, economic status, or any other discernible characteristics.  Though such polities have elections, they are not typically free and fair.  Citizens may find it difficult to vote either because of limited polling access, voter intimidation, or brute voter suppression.  At worst, elections exist for show only with the outcomes already predetermined by the in-power party (who, in most cases, acts to consolidate and preserve attained power).  It’s a system that can quickly devolve into authoritarianism.

Yet politicians who believe and embrace such illiberal principles have recently seen electoral success in western democracies (or democracies that, in recent decades, have sought to be considered western).  Turkey, Hungary, Poland, and the United States all exemplify ascendent illiberalism.

In Turkey, President Erdogan has transformed a liberal democracy into an increasingly autocratic state.  He’s done so through a variety of reforms that strip powers from the prime minister and instead place them in the president (ie, himself), a position that’s traditionally been ceremonial.  Though a national referendum supposedly endorsed these reforms, many critics have complained about electoral irregularities, claiming that Erdogan fixed or manipulated the vote to ensure the desired outcome.  The referendum itself took place under conditions of fear: In the year since the failed military coup, Erdogan has jailed some 45,000 oppositionists (and 150 journalists), purged around 130,000 from the civil service ranks, and shut down around 160 media outlets.  Erdogan supports such actions by claiming the jailed or fired individuals supported the coup and thus posed a threat to Turkey, a ridiculous lie few believe.  Together, the referendum and ongoing state of emergency point to a country partially embracing illiberalism and partially having shoved down its throat.

Hungary has seen a popular lurch towards authoritarianism, with Prime Minister Orban winning a “landslide” reelection despite his known illiberal attitudes.  Orban himself, inspired by the likes of Russia, China, and Erdogan’s Turkey, declared he will build a new, “illiberal state” in Hungary to lead the nation “in the great global race for decades to come.”  His tenure has seen “an erosion of the independence of the judiciary, the packing of courts with political loyalists, a wholesale political purge of the civil service and the chief prosecutor’s office, new election rules that advantage the governing coalition and the intimidation of the news organizations (who can be issued crippling fines for content deemed “not politically balanced” by a government-appointed panel).”  When stopped or challenged, he’s simply used a large parliamentary supermajority to amend the Constitution.  Freedom House proclaims the upcoming 2018 elections to be a critical juncture for Hungary: If Orban emerges victorious, Hungary may become the illiberal state once thought to be confined to Europe’s dark past.

Poland, too, has moved in an illiberal direction under the leadership of the far-right populist “Law and Justice” party.  The party, legitimately elected, has broken “the constitution, both in letter and in spirit,” by undermining the constitutional court, politicizing the civil service, and subverting public media.  These actions create cronyism and a government that serves the party, not the people.  Once all institutions have been coopted, they can be successfully turned against opposition, thereby creating a de facto one party state.  Luckily, Poles have not bowed down to such illiberalism.  While a large percentage of the country supports Law and Justice and its illiberal aims, a large, liberal sect of the population widely protested laws that would fundamentally overhaul the constitutional court’s composition, subserving it to the will of the ruling party.  The Polish president vetoed both bills because of the popular backlash.  More judicial reforms, however, have been promised.  Poles need to continue resisting illiberal intentions and not let Law and Justice create an illiberal state.

Lastly, America, democracy’s shining beacon, has moved in an illiberal direction with Donald Trump’s election.  Trump campaigned on a variety of illiberal themes and identity politics that relied on vilifying an ever amorphous “other” — in his case, illegal immigrants and Muslims comprise that villain/enemy group.  He’s attacked the judiciary and questioned its legitimacy.  His belief in US intelligence agencies remains doubtful.  He fired James Comey because of the Russia investigation and has sought other methods to curtail its scope and authority, even threatening to fire special investigator Robert Mueller.  Trump’s routinely attacked the press and even labelled them “enemies of the American people.”  Many of his campaign positions would violate the constitutional rights of minorities.  And yet he retains the support of almost the entire Republican congressional caucus and most Republicans in the nation.  His clearly illiberal bent should worry Americans, but thankfully, unlike in Turkey, Hungary, and Poland, our institutions have thus far been resilient to Trump’s illiberalism.

Illiberalism is ascendent.  The above cases only mention the most obvious — other examples of illiberalism include UKIP’s influences in Britain, Alternates for Deutschland in Germany, and the National Front in France.  Across the western world, these populist movements manifest themselves in illiberal forces that all traverse the road to authoritarianism.  We must resist these populist temptations and instead stay committed to the long-standing liberal values that promote and defend our natural liberties.

only trump can win

Could Other Republicans Have Beaten Hillary Clinton?

Would Another Republican Have Won?

Townhall recently published a piece entitled “It’s Time for Conservatives to Celebrate This President” (ie, Donald Trump).  The piece itself is utterly ridiculous and advances a number of silly claims that should not be taken seriously by any respectable person.  One of the most ludicrous arguments for why conservatives should celebrate Trump is because only he could have beaten Hillary Clinton.  That’s simply not true.  Here’s why.

Cyclical Politics

Politics is cyclical – since 1952, a party has only held the White House for three consecutive terms one time (Reagan-Reagan-Bush from 1980-1992).  Couple natural “party fatigue” (as it’s called) with relatively slow economic growth (more on that later), and Republicans should have had an easy 2016 election.  
Econometric models, which have historically had a low error rate of error (though they also struggle with open races, as was the case in 2016, tending to overestimate the incumbent party), estimated a generic Republican would receive 51.4% of the major-party vote to a generic Democrat’s 48.6%. 

In reality, Donald Trump won 48.9% of the two-party vote (46.1% overall) and Clinton 51.1% (48.2% overall).  Trump actually under-performed a generic Republican’s expected result by 2.5 percentage points (put another way, President Obama won reelection in 2012 with 51.1% of the popular vote and 332 electoral votes.  A generic Republican in 2016 likely would have done at least as well).  
Trump substantially underperformed a generic Republican because of his deep unpopularity – he was the least popular presidential candidate ever, with Clinton coming in at number.  Someone like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Scott Walker, or even Ted Cruz would likely have had a popularity advantage over Clinton, allowing that candidate to perform in-line with expectations. 

The Trump Coalition

It could be argued that Trump’s unique coalition – winning a substantial share the white working class and driving them out in strong numbers – made his win possible and that of another Republican impossible.  I find that unlikely for two reasons: One, Republican senators running in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania both took “traditional” paths to statewide victory a generic Republican would have emulated; and two, a regular Republican would have maintained the favor of college-educated whites (Trump likely became the first Republican nominee to lose the college white vote) and likely would have improved on Mitt Romney’s 2012 showing among Latinos and African Americans by a greater amount than did Trump. 

To the first point, incumbent senators Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) both won their states through suburbs, the homes of college-educated whites who traditionally vote Republican but broke for Clinton in 2016.  Wisconsin has always been swing state that Democrats took for granted – President Bush only won by 0.6 percentage points in 2004 – and it had been trending away from the party for a while (see: Scott Walker winning three statewide races in just four years).  Reince Priebus, then RNC chairman, had built a strong party infrastructure ready to turnout votes for any Republican nominee.  Pennsylvania, too, has trended red with Republicans outpacing Democratic voter registration throughout the state, but especially outside of Philadelphia.  In both states, then, a strong nominee – whether with a particular coalition or simply popular – had an understated/estimated chance to break the so-called blue wall.  
With regards to the second point, a Republican candidate with moderate views on immigration (and, to an extent, race) would have fared better with Latinos and African Americans than did Trump.  While neither electoral group resides heavily in swing states as a whole, the propensity of Latinos in Nevada and Florida likely would have tipped both states to a moderate Republican candidate and a respectable showing among African Americans would have kept the Rust Belt competitive.  A moderate candidate also would have kept college-educated whites whose suburban votes have long propelled Republican candidates in swing states.  Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, or Scott Walker all would have done better with this group than did Trump.
For those reasons, I do not buy the argument that only Trump could beat Clinton.  Most Republicans would have been able to do so, and likely with more electoral votes.

Voters Refusing Expertise

the death of expertise review

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Voter Refusing to Trust Experts Leads to Demagoguery

Tom Nichols’ new book, “The Death of Expertise,” comes at an important point in America’s political development.  62 million citizens cast a ballot for Donald J. Trump, whose entire campaign built on the idea that experts – whether in the “political establishment,” media, or academia – ignored the wants of common Americans and instead pushed some sinister, self-serving agenda.  Decry it though we might, for many, the death of expertise has set in.  To them, experts should not and will not be trusted.

That creates many problems for a democracy, chief among them the electorate’s susceptibility to (often extremist) demagogic appeals.  Voters wary of experts tend to be uninformed by virtue of doubting or entirely avoiding the analysis of experts.  Long-form journalism, the professor on CNN, knowledgeable elected officials cannot reach the voters who instead dwell in sources of alternate information that, at best, misinforms through low-quality output or, at worst, deliberately misleads those inclined towards non-mainstream views.

death of expertise review
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Such voters, as Nichols points out, fall victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect in which they are overly confident about their abilities to understand complicated policy.  Thus when an ignorant candidate enters the race and espouses overly simplistic (and often entirely wrong) policy viewpoints, Dunning-Kruger voters embrace him or her whereas more sophisticated voters – those who still trust experts – shy away.

Nichols writes that


Americans have increasingly unrealistic expectations of what their political and economic system can provide. This sense of entitlement is one reason they are continually angry at ‘experts’ and especially at ‘elitists’…When told that ending poverty or preventing terrorism is a lot harder than it looks, Americans roll their eyes. Unable to comprehend all of the complexity around them, they choose instead to comprehend almost none of it and then sullenly blame experts, politicians and bureaucrats for seizing control of their lives.

The demagogue, whether through true ignorance or a unique ability to manipulate people, recognizes this outlook and tailors a campaign around it.  To pay obsequious court to the people, the demagogue often condescends to simplicity, using rhetorical appeals such as “I alone can fix” or “How stupid must [they] be to not solve these easy problems?” or otherwise boiling down complex issues into few-word soundbites that may energize the ignorant, but offer no solutions.

Donald Trump perfectly exemplifies this.  He is truly ignorant, but his ignorance connects with a relatively large portion of the population that, like Trump himself, disdains experts and expects simple answers to all political questions.  While other elements played into Trump’s ascension – racial anxieties and underlying sexism, to name a couple – his ability to connect over ignorance furthered his perceived populism and helped forge a lasting connection with millions of voters.

This problem lies in large part with the voters, an argument from which Nichols does not shy.  He contends that such disdain for experts and its accompanying willingness to make one’s nest with an ignoramus simply because (s)he speaks a similar langue “is a self-righteousness and fury to this new rejection of expertise that suggest, at least to me, that this isn’t just mistrust or questioning or the pursuit of alternatives: it is narcissism, coupled to a disdain for expertise as some sort of exercise in self-actualization.”

Voters must recognize the consequences of willful ignorance and see how it can hurt democracy.  Only by accepting experts and the lessons they can teach – and only by experts maintaining their credibility and legitimacy – can a democratic political society resist demagoguery and adhere to its liberal founding principles.

the death of expertise tom nichols review
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sheriff joe arpaio pardon

Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Pardon is an Abuse of the President’s Power

Sheriff Joe Arpaio: Pardoned, to the Detriment of Civil Rights

And the Rule of Law

As a category 4 hurricane – Harvey – barreled down on Texas, threatening some 8 million people with catastrophic flooding, Donald Trump decided to pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for his contempt of court conviction.

Sheriff Joe routinely violated the constitutional rights of Latinos by specifically targeting them for their skin color and presumed ethnicity during traffic stops and other raids throughout the Arizona county.  Further, in a ruthless crackdown on illegal immigration that could only be successful by tossing constitutional rights aside, Arpaio illegally detained hundreds for presumed illegal immigration status (presumed because of skin color) and no other reason.

Of course, no distinguishing characteristic marks illegal immigrants; a presumption of illegality can only be gathered by race and racial profiling violates the Constitution.

And yet even after a 2011 court injunction ordered Arpaio to stop his holding “individuals solely on the belief they were in the country illegally” (requiring those held to be “accused of a state crime”), Arpaio continued his unconstitutional practice.  Over the following 17 months, Arpaio’s office illegally detained (again, based only on skin color) and turned over to ICE 171 individuals, in “flagrant disregard” to the court’s order.

That led to a conviction for criminal contempt of court.

American Values

Our country cannot be about jailing individuals because of their skin color.  That’s not who we are.

But it’s who Donald Trump is.  While campaigning, he promised, at various times, to deport all illegal immigrants within two years.  Again, on appearance, nothing differentiates an illegal immigrant from a legal immigrant.  Without justifiable reason to detain someone (ie, a crime committed), they only means by which Trump could achieve his goals would be to indiscriminately round up all who look like illegal immigrants — that is, Latinos.

Obviously, that’s unconstitutional (law furthered by Melendres v. Arpaio), but it is reminiscent of Arpaio’s actions in Maricopa County.  Trump sees a kindred spirit in Arpaio.  The pardon reflects Trump’s harshest immigration rhetoric and clearly says to other corrupt actors: If you violate the Constitution by routinely using racial profiling and illegal detentions as a means of cracking down alleged illegal immigration, President Trump will offer his support, support that could culminate in a pardon.

Law and Order

That last point also runs in the face of Trump’s “law and order” campaign and presidential theme.  Arpaio pointedly stated that “nobody is higher than me.  I am the elected sheriff by the people.”  Clearly, Arpaio thought his election elevated him to a position of being the law.  He – not the courts – would declare which laws should be followed and, as sheriff, only he could enforce the laws.  It necessarily follows that the law would not apply to him since no one had authority to apply it to him.

In no way does that align with a “law and order” pledge.  “Law and order” must apply to everyone, including elected officials.  The second it ceases to do so, authoritarianism can easily arise.  Unrestrained officials can enforce and assert policies of their choosing without fear of legal retribution.  People live in perpetual fear knowing that while laws apply to them, it does not apply to the enforcers – the enforcers would not be held accountable for any of their actions.

Trump seems to think government works in that outlined authoritarian fashion.  He bristles at the Russia probe and has long-sought to undermine it through whatever means necessary, generally through obstruction of justice or assaults on the separation of power.  It comes as little surprise, then, that a president with such disdain for the rule of law, despite his campaign rhetoric, would pardon someone with a similarly authoritarian political philosophy.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s pardon is yet another instance of Trump’s disregard for fundamental civil rights.  He doesn’t believe that one’s race should not be a determining detention factor and he doesn’t think the rule of law should apply to elected officials (at least to those whose ideology aligns with Trump’s).  This move undermines the rule of law and shows that Trump neither understands nor cares about American values.

kid rock for senate

The Insanity of Supporting Kid Rock for Senate

Our History Demands Better than Kid Rock for Senate

Believing that the Kid Rock for Senate shadow campaign should be successful – believing that Kid Rock has a place in the Senate – shows nothing but contempt for the Founding Fathers.  Those who created the Senate envisioned a prestigious chamber dominated by political and social elites – those versed in policy, eloquent in speech, and able to create a deliberative chamber removed from the tempests of public will.  The Senate would inspire awe; the country’s finest would fill its ranks and act as true patricians debating on behalf of the states and the country, controlling foreign policy, checking the easily-swayed House of Representatives, and preventing the president from acquiring undue power.

For a while, the senators fulfilled that vision.  Foreign observers such as Alexis de Tocqueville idolized and heralded the American Senate.  Citizens, too, had the utmost admiration for the body.  Visitors often filled the galleys for speeches by renowned oratorsschoolchildren later memorized these very speeches.  Ideas and compromises flowed as great statesmen rose from their desks and embraced the dreams of the Founders.

The Senate has since fallen from its glory.  Corrupt actors have mangled the Senate’s image through demagoguery, process destruction, and using the Senate as a post-Reconstruction and Civil Rights Era tool to maintain systemic white supremacy, especially in the South.  These disgraces, though largely a thing of the past, tarnished the chamber’s image, and rightfully so.

Today’s senators have done little to restore the body to its former glory.  Senators act as puppets of their president.  Voters, too, bear a lion’s share of the blame: They fail to treat the Senate with the seriousness it deserves, which leads to the election of eggheads and process destruction (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has abused the Senate’s long-standing process during his tenure and has faced no backlash from those charged with holding him accountable).

Voters fail to understand the purpose of the Senate (and, for that matter, the presidency).  Political incursions by know-nothing hobbyists have devalued elected offices and encouraged voters to treat elections as sports and games, not serious matters with long-lasting repercussions (see: Donald Trump’s election).  Such hobbyism among those seeking prestige, power, and profit should be restrained by voters, but instead voters, not taking the Senate seriously, flirt with ludicrous candidates.

Michigan voters exemplify just that.  Kid Rock, profane and ungifted musician who knows nothing about politics, let alone public policy – a hobbyist looking for money whose political ramblings should never be taken seriously – has teased a possible Senate run and already voters have rallied behind the blowhard.  A Trafalgar Group poll found him leading a hypothetical matchup with incumbent Debbie Stabeow by 3 points (49-46).  Kid Rock has no campaign, no discernible policies, and no reason to run for office.  He’s the antithesis of our Founders’ vision for the Senate.

So why do people lust for the idea of Senator Rock?  Because in their delusions of populist supremacy – in the grips of the death of expertise – voters think perceived elites should be scorned while ignorant fools (that is, people who sound like the average voter) supported and touted as the American political ideal.  But that’s idiotic.  We have elites for a reason.  Politics is not easy – nor should it be.  Our country needs public servants committed to the Constitution, to fighting for their constituents and the country as a whole, and to serving selflessly.  We need senators that fit the elitist chamber purposefully created by the Founding Fathers.

Republican officeholders and party leaders must also be ravaged for their role in promoting pathetic political hobbyism and degrading our once-valued and estimable institutions.  Worthless Vichy Republicans fell in line behind Donald Trump, a true demagogue, bigot, and obvious threat to liberal democracy and our existing democratic institutions.  That didn’t stop them.  Rick Perry, who called Trump a “cancer on conservatism,” now serves in Trump’s cabinet.

This trend continues with Kid Rock.  Texas governor and human abomination Greg Abbott loves the idea of “shaking up Washington” by electing Kid Rock.  Former New York governor and brief presidential afterthought George E. Pataki also endorsed Kid Rock for Senate.  Pataki’s support makes no sense considering he has no future in electoral politics.  In other words, he has nothing to gain by supporting Rock; without ulterior motive, it may simply be concluded that Pataki, too, has failed to study our founding.

Anyone who’s studied our history and cares about our institutions would be embarrassed to support Kid Rock for Senate.  And yet here we are, awaiting the decision of a fool, one that could see a further tragic American political development and a new low point in the Senate’s fall from grace.

do americans believe in democracy

Do Americans Believe in Democracy?

Americans aren’t enthusiastic about liberal democracy

Democracy.  The theory underpinning our Republic; the heart of the American experiment; the principle for which millions dedicate their lives.  It’s the pillar of our country’s identity and a principle we have long sought to export.  Yet despite democracy’s centrality in our political life, do the American people actually believe it?

Our Political System

America is a liberal democracy.  That means our Constitution enshrines rights unalterable by an elected majority to preserve the liberty of all inhabitants, regardless of the likes of race, gender, creed, religion, and so on.  Elections are fair and free with suffrage near universal for those of age.  Scholars such as Francis Fukuyama have heralded such a governing system as the “end of history” (that is, the final point towards which all governing systems evolve).

A liberal democracy protects citizens against tyranny of the majority or the minority.  In so avoiding authoritarianism, other minor inconveniences of a diverse state arise: Viewpoints differ among the population, meaning arguments – vicious at times – will be had; government will often be gridlocked as members of different political parties butt heads on how to best achieve common goals; policies will not be perfect as only through compromise will necessary steps ever be taken.

Americans Dislike the Perceived Costs

Americans dislike those messy drawbacks to liberal democracy, a phenomenon that leaves many susceptible or even willing to accept arguments proffered by demagogues with a decided authoritarian or otherwise illiberal bent.

In “Stealth Democracy,” John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse examined how Americans feel about the political system.  The results, a bit dated and likely worse now, should scare those who believe in liberal democracy.

A whopping 86 percent of the American people believed that “elected officials would help the country more if they would stop talking and just take action.”  In other words, elected officials – namely, the president – should act unilaterally and without concern to those who disagree with them to advance ideological aims.  That, of course, is invited (democratic) authoritarianism: Americans elect someone and then encourage that person to act as (s)he sees fit.

60 percent think “compromise is really just selling out on one’s principles.”  Governing is impossible without compromise because never at any point in time will a polity experience 100 percent agreement on any given subject, no matter how trivial.  For non-trivial matters, majority support for any given policy will never overwhelming, especially in a legislative chamber.  To pass legislation – to do anything – compromise is needed.

60 percent also believe “government would work best if it were run like a business.”  Governments must care for the people (“common welfare”).  Businesses care only for profit (as, arguably, they should).  These diametric purposes almost certainly cannot be meshed and, when tried, results are disastrous.

31 percent would forego the democratic part of liberal democracy and simply hand the government over to “nonelected, independent experts rather than politicians or the people” and simply hope that these individuals somehow decide to protect liberty and act for benevolent purposes.

Liberal Democracy and Donald Trump

Last year, the study’s authors repeated the surveys and found very similar results while also noting that those least inclined to support liberal democratic values favored and felt positively towards then-candidate Donald Trump.  In other words, illiberal, anti-democratic Americans found their favored candidate.  And that should come as no surprise for Donald Trump broke numerous democratic norms throughout his campaign and has continued to do so while in office.

It should frighten us all that a large minority of Americans have only marginal affection for liberal democracy and that they have found an illiberal politician who now extolls those beliefs from the Oval Office.

A thriving liberal democracy depends on citizens believing in its values and passing those beliefs onto children.  These democratic mores protect democracy from the flaws that befall it – especially its susceptibility to demagogues.  As those beliefs crumble and are made further mainstream by a candidate who earned 62 million votes, the continued vibrancy of our liberal Republic may be threatened.

donald trump russia sanctions

Donald Trump Hates the Constitutional Separation of Powers

He Wants Congress to be Impotent

Donald Trump has proved time and time again that he’s no fan of the separation of powers.  He sees the presidency as an authoritarian figure, one who wields all of the nation’s power and who through unilateral action can shape policy and make decisions with immediate impact.  These delusional visions have of course met with reality.  Our Constitution divides power among three branches, with the legislative first of the equal.  Trump’s found himself and his goals blocked or slowed by Congress.  And he’s no fan of that.

At various points in his presidency, Trump has sought to rebalance governing power by exerting his authority over members of Congress.  This stems from his campaign rhetoric, a central of theme of which held that he alone could fix the nation’s problems.  Those words had no room for Congress to act; in fact, Trump seemed to entirely forget the institution, figuring that, if elected, he would be the one true sovereign.  Now, as the executive, he’s tried to subvert a coequal branch by continually threatening lawmakers who dare oppose his agenda or stand up to him.

Most recently, after signing into law sanctions against Russia stemming from the country’s interference in our election – a fact which Trump continues to deny – Trump continued his frightening assault on the separation of powers, writing “I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected.  As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”

First of all, Trump greatly overstates his deal making ability.  His riches, contrary to what he says, stem from inheritance.  In fact, Trump is multiple billions of dollars poorer than he would be had he passively invested his inheritance rather than trying to play businessman.  Trump’s declared bankruptcy numerous times and nearly ran a casino into the ground (his father bailed him out by illegally infusing the casino with $3,000,000 in chips to circumvent lending regulations).  Not to mention other failed ventures, such as Trump Steak, Trump Airlines, Trump Magazine, Trump Water, and Trump Vodka.  Or the times he’s been sued for stiffing contractors.  No, Trump is not a great dealmaker.

Trump’s continued fabrication about his deal making prowess, however, is not the worrying part of his statement.  The second sentence, in which he touts his unilateral ability to make better deals than all of Congress, fundamentally attacks the separation of powers and seeks to delegitimize Congress, its ability, and its lawmaking authority.

The Founding Fathers gave Congress, especially the Senate, broad authority over legislative affairs, including foreign policy (there’s a reason the president must seek senatorial ratification for treaties).  Congress has an explicit prerogative to regulate foreign commerce, a central component of foreign policy.  Yet Trump’s words undermine the separation of powers by implying that he alone should be charged with foreign affairs and Congress should either cede to him all authority in that front or simply rubber-stamp all of his decisions.  The words reek of contempt for Congress.  He yearns for unilateral authority unchecked and unquestioned by another governing branch.  In other words, he wants – and feels entitled to – a fundamental overhaul of the separation of powers simply because of his self-assumed greatness.

Trump’s statement also seeks to delegitimize Congress by implying the body is incompetent when it comes to foreign affairs – and its incompetence means America is worse off than had Congress simply sat back and allowed Trump to work his magic.  This implication serves only to undermine any actions taken by Congress by leading people to immediately doubt any congressional creation, especially when it comes to foreign relations.  Why should I trust Congress when the president himself has said the body is ineffectual when it comes to making deals?  Why not just let Trump make deals and pass legislation?  Why bother with Congress at all?

Lastly, Congress worked in a bipartisan and nearly unanimous fashion to craft these Russian sanctions, yet Trump nonetheless attacked the reason, ability, and effect of Congress’s work.  Rarely do all members of Congress come together for something as important as the Russia sanctions – if the president claims that 99 percent of Congress can’t work together to do something as well as he could alone, how bad must be the laws passed by a bare majority?  It implies that the bipartisan work of Congress cannot ever match the abilities of the president himself, a rather dictatorial sentiment.  Trump’s saying that Congress, working in near unanimity to fulfill its explicit constitution duties, should not be making laws because the deals struck are subpar, especially when compared to what he could do.  And that’s dangerous because it no longer assumes Congress should proactively perform its fundamental duties; rather, Congress should wait for the president to act and only follow the whims of the enlightened, dear leader.

This rhetoric should not be tolerated by any lawmaker who loves the Constitution.  Attacks on Congress’s legitimacy and authority to carry out its constitution prerogatives should never be made by the president and never accepted by members of Congress.  Representatives and senators should band together to unanimously pass a joint resolution stating the legislative branch’s authority to pass laws pertaining to foreign relations and issue a stern warning to the president: Undermine Congress at your own peril; your support is fleeting, the Constitution is forever.

left-wing populism

Left-Wing Populism and Liberal Democracy

Populism is Dangerous

Populism is a force antithetical to liberal democracy, if not democracy itself.  Liberal democracy tempers pure, majoritarian democracy by introducing a written set of rules (a constitution), separation of powers and resultant checks and balances, and, most importantly, by protecting fundamental rights for all people (especially minorities).

Regardless of immutable characteristic – that is, race, creed, national origin, sex, gender, religion, etc – all individuals within the polity have fundamental rights, namely those of life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.  Populism’s appeal attacks this fundamental tenet of a liberal society.

Populism’s Origins

Populism generally emerges after economic shocks or during prolonged economic malaise.  Following the first event, voters naturally rebel against the status quo and search for an answer, no matter how outlandish or irrational, to calamitous events outside of their control.  During periods of economic stagnation in which voters may find economics stalling and inequality rising, populism gains traction by promising to revitalize or overhaul a system not necessarily broken.  This speaks to human nature: Restlessness and a desire to change even what’s working.

Left-Wing Populism

Left-wing populism emerges when voters perceive financial elites and society’s wealthiest as wholly responsible for an economic calamity and see that class as unduly benefitting from an economic recovery (made worse when incomes, by and large, stagnate).  Though same may doubt whether left-wing populism can actually threaten liberal democratic values, its discontents should be obvious: A temporary majority designs policies that directly target a minority class (in this case, the wealthy), often in hopes of stripping them of their property.

Financial elites and the capital-hoarding upper-strata owns the government and entirely rigs the economic system to ensure capital-holders benefit while laborers slave away for mere dollars and bear the brunt of the burden when the economy crashes.  Therefore, the left-wing populist argues, policies must be crafted to tax or take away the wealthy’s property.  They must be vilified and have income and perhaps even assets seized and then redistributed to society’s workers, in a just and equitable manner as defined by a central authority (one that nationalizes and so owns the means of production).

It promises fairness as supposedly defined by the masses (though how the masses decide what constitutes a fair distribution of collective goods remains an unsolved question, even in the most radical of proposals and ideologues).  What better way to guarantee fairness for all than by seizing the excess of those whose greed has condemned so many to poverty?

Dangerously, such rhetoric and ideas appeal to many because a vast majority stand to benefit whereas a select few suffer.  A large majority may find vindication for actions that target a specific minority because the majority itself is so large and the cause so normatively pure.  But such efforts violate a central idea of liberal democracy: Property rights.  Liberal democracies ensure that the government cannot wantonly seize assets regardless of majority whims.  Property itself drives the economy – without property (ie, money, goods, etc), individuals would not be driven to work and innovate and so the state itself would collect no tax revenues, no goods would be produced, and the standard of living would fall dramatically.  Furthermore, it creates a precedent in which any majority coalition can seize the property of a detested minority, whether an economic minority or a racial or religious one.  Liberal democracy falls to individuals’ lust for revenge.

[See how right-wing populism attacks liberal democracy.]

right-wing populism

Right-Wing Populism and Liberal Democracy

Populism is Dangerous

Populism is a force antithetical to liberal democracy, if not democracy itself.  Liberal democracy tempers pure, majoritarian democracy by introducing a written set of rules (a constitution), separation of powers and resultant checks and balances, and, most importantly, by protecting fundamental rights for all people (especially minorities).

Regardless of immutable characteristic – that is, race, creed, national origin, sex, gender, religion, etc – all individuals within the polity have fundamental rights, namely those of life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.  Populism’s appeal attacks this fundamental tenet of a liberal society.

Populism’s Origins

Populism generally emerges after economic shocks or during prolonged economic malaise.  Following the first event, voters naturally rebel against the status quo and search for an answer, no matter how outlandish or irrational, to calamitous events outside of their control.  During periods of economic stagnation in which voters may find economics stalling and inequality rising, populism gains traction by promising to revitalize or overhaul a system not necessarily broken.  This speaks to human nature: Restlessness and a desire to change even what’s working.

Right-Wing Populism

Right-wing populism most obviously attacks and undermines liberal values: It appeals to voters by vilifying minority racial and religious populations.  Minorities cause economic catastrophes, so right-wing populists claim.  Immigrants lower wages and dilute the true population with inferior genes, morals, and values.  They draw undue funds from the government and contribute little to the nation’s culture; it amounts of an invasion of a state’s sovereignty.  Moreover, immigrants, especially those of different religions, threaten law and order by illegally entering the country, sympathizing with terrorists, and working to undermine the nation from within.

The vilification, then, arises from a mixture of contrived rationality as well as typical demagogic rhetoric that centers around xenophobia and the inherent inferiority of those different from the nation’s native stock.  Only by dramatically curtailing immigration, doubling down on law and order, and enacting reforms that limit religious practice to prevent extremists from meeting and planning terrorist attacks can the nation be salvaged.

Or so the right-wing populist argues with rhetoric that establishes a national “golden age” to which current conditions can be compared.  This golden age, often contrived, benefits from memory’s ability to ignore the bad and focus solely on the good – the golden age becomes a period of full employment, accepted national morals, low crime, and no threat from terrorism.  It contrasts perfectly with a threatening world in which low-skill jobs become increasingly sparse and terror attacks, though rare, dominate news coverage and the fears of millions.

This naturally appeals to many.  It takes agency away from voters and the existing system.  One person’s unemployment isn’t due to mismatched skills or any fault of his own; rather, it’s due to an outside force who undercuts wages while also failing to assimilate with the existing culture.  Fear motivates voters.  They come to believe carnage dominates society, whether from crime or terrorism.  And so vilifying immigrants and religious minorities becomes the means by which the country can be salvaged (and united in a front against assaults on sovereignty and national values) and returned to its golden age.

But obviously this is at odds with existing liberal values.  Minorities lose rights under such populist administrations.  Liberal democracy is the problem because it protects enemies of the state.  Its pillars must be struck down to allow the native majority to govern and protect the nation, often by whatever means necessary.  In the end, such democracy really is rule by the mob.  A fleeting majority riled by emotions and stirred to passion through hateful rhetoric leads to rights for some and tyranny for all.

[See how left-wing populism attacks liberal democracy.]