Declaring Rights in Virginia in 1776

The year 1776 is auspicious for the United States because that’s when we became the United States. Most of our attention in commemorating that event centers on the Declaration of Independence, and rightly so. I’ll have something to say about that document in a post next month.

Another document, which was at Thomas Jefferson’s elbow when writing the Declaration, came out of his home state of Virginia a month earlier, but far too many of our citizens are ignorant of it.

George Mason, along with other key leaders in Virginia who were fashioning the new government there in anticipation of independence, created the Virginia Declaration of Rights as a bold statement of the limits of civil government.

This Declaration made clear the following concepts:

  • Inherent rights (meaning those given by God) cannot be surrendered to the government.
  • Government derives its power from the people, who set its limits.
  • Oppressive government may be altered or abolished.
  • The branches of government must be separated to avoid tyranny.
  • The society operates on due process of law.
  • There will be no excessive bail or fines and no cruel or unusual punishments meted out by government (wording later to be included in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution).
  • No general search warrants were to be allowed (there must be specific cause for a search—anything else is an invasion of a person’s property).
  • Freedom of the press should not be restrained.
  • A militia of the people is a guarantor of liberty.

Sections 15 and 16 of this Declaration are worth quoting in full. Principles and character are the subject of section 15:

That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.

Notice how the Founding generation focused on the significance of the character of its citizens. The consensus at the time was that a free government would fail without fundamental principles and without a people willing to exhibit those key character traits mentioned in the document.

Then there is section 16:

That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

This is a clarion call for recognizing that civil government cannot dictate what an individual is required to believe. That’s between each individual and God. We should be free to follow our consciences. This statement comes fifteen years before the same concept was applied nationally in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Another interesting aspect of this section is how it ends: it calls for Christian forbearance, love, and charity for all. The inclusion of the word “Christian” is another testimony to the consensus of the era. The Founders saw Christian faith as the bedrock of society even as they allowed everyone to have their own liberty of conscience.

In my view, Biblical principles are the foundation of everything that is good in the governmental institutions established in America. That’s why I labor to reintroduce them to this current generation. Ignorance of that fact and rejection of those principles are the reasons we are witnessing the slow decay of our culture and the various dysfunctions of our governments.

Loving & Critiquing Higher Education

You critique what you love. I love education; that’s why I worked hard to get a doctorate in history; that’s why I continue to gain more knowledge and insight with a wide range of reading interests; that’s why I teach at a university. Yet I critique education frequently in these posts because I’m alarmed at the dismal state of learning in this nation.

In particular, since I do teach at the college level, I’m dismayed by what a college degree means now. It’s so much less than it used to mean. I see students walk across the stage at graduation who couldn’t figure out how to pass quizzes in my basic American history survey courses. So many who end up in college just aren’t prepared to be there.

Of course, that the result of an education they did or didn’t receive prior to arriving on campus.

I don’t blame them, in most cases. And if students who are not really ready to be in college nevertheless shows a determination to learn, I’m right there with them. I want them to succeed; after all, I am an educator.

Once they are in college, however, another problem erupts all too often lately. What are they now getting out of their college education? Are they being introduced to Christian principles and morals? Well, not on most campuses anymore. How about at least an appreciation for what Western civilization has created, despite the follies and errors that have accompanied those achievements?

It’s always beneficial to learn from the follies and errors. As a history professor, I keep hoping that lessons from the past can correct wayward policies in our current society.

Alas (that sounds like a good, old-fashioned way of using words), all some students ever hear are diatribes against the past, especially a European-American-centered past. Those Westerners did everything wrong, you see, and we must rebel against it all.

You, as parents, get to pay for this indoctrination. There might be an alternative:

There are so many horrific examples of where we are in higher education that I could pick and choose what to highlight. The most recent one, though, hails from the state of Washington at an institution of supposed higher learning called Evergreen State College near Olympia.

Evergreen, from what I read, began in the 1970s as an “experimental” college. The timing of its origins, as well as the word experimental, are clues to the worldview offered at this place.

Earlier this month, students staged an event where they told white students and white faculty that they should stay away from campus for a day. Apparently, that was supposed to be a teaching moment for how minorities feel marginalized.

One biology professor, Bret Weinstein, dared to criticize this advanced way of thinking. Keep in mind that Weinstein is a liberal/progressive himself. He just thought this was absurd.

The result? Weinstein was castigated for his unenlightened thinking, mobs took over the campus, property was destroyed, and the college had to close its doors for three days due to all the death threats.

This is higher education?

An anomaly, you ask? Not all secular institutions of presumed higher education have gone this far, but the worldview that led to this fiasco dominates most university campuses today.

Try being an open conservative on a secular campus and see what happens. Try being an evangelical Christian on those same campuses and see how you are treated.

But if you are an ardent Marxist, a militant homosexual, an angry feminist, or a radical environmentalist who believes the ecology is more important than people—well, then you fit in nicely.

I’m simply trying to do my part to help my students examine all things through a Biblical lens. I’m hoping they may provide some balance to the dominant worldview.

Discernment in the Trump Era

Feelings run high on Donald Trump . . . on both sides. What I’m seeing on the Left and on some parts of the Right is practically an unthinking response to anything Trump does.

The “Resist” movement won’t rest until Trump is impeached or, as in the case of New York City’s “Shakespeare in the Park” program, possibly assassinated. The group put on a modern version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with “Julius” looking suspiciously like the current president. It was so blatant that big corporate sponsors have pulled out.

Certain media outlets have made Trump their focus with a constant barrage of stories, documented or not, that always put him in a bad light. Here’s looking at you, CNN, with a dishonorable mention to MSNBC.

Real journalism doesn’t rely on anonymous sources before airing “news” stories. Real journalism finds the facts first. Real journalism wants to inform, not promote an ideological agenda. But unthinking ideology is where we are today.

Bottom line: the Left, which usually is unhinged anyway, has gone off the deep end.

The antidote, for me, used to be certain talk radio hosts and Fox News, which were willing to give the other side. They provided the balance so that progressive brainwashing wouldn’t have complete sway over people’s minds.

I no longer listen to Rush Limbaugh because I believe he has allowed his principles, which he used to enunciate so clearly, to drift downstream.

Let me be clear (how often do I say that?) that I still appreciate the straight news offered by Fox. Bret Baier’s Special Report, for instance, is one program I continue to watch because I trust his journalistic integrity. Chris Wallace is another who doesn’t let an agenda drive his interviews. Neil Cavuto is willing to tell the truth no matter whom his target may be.

But I’ve been greatly disappointed with some of the other Fox programs. I stopped watching Sean Hannity long before the last campaign. Intellectual depth was in short supply. Now he’s basically a shill for Trump regardless of what Trump does.

Then there’s the Fox and Friends morning show. It was always a favorite of mine because the hosts are very likeable and Christian views have been respected on the program. Those two factors remain. Yet I can hardly stand to watch it now because it’s one long commercial for how grand and glorious Donald Trump is.

I hope you’re getting my point—I disagree with blind loyalty no matter which side of the political spectrum.

Here’s the difference, though: I’ve come to expect ideological blindness from the Left; it’s how they naturally operate. What’s new, ever since the Trump Bandwagon has appeared, is the same type of blindness on the Right. And that is deeply disturbing.

An essay on the Red State site yesterday laid out the problem very well. Responding to someone who tweeted that principles are only a means to an end, the writer countered,

Principles are not a means to an end. Principles are those things you believe to be fundamentally true. If you can easily set them aside in order to attain a goal, they weren’t principles so much as they were postures. If your moral compass is only something you use to gauge what you can probably get away with, it’s not really a moral compass.

Those of us who have tried to maintain balance on the person and actions of Donald Trump, praising him when he does something right and drawing attention to those things he does that are damaging, are now being accused of disloyalty. I see it differently, and the writer of that essay does as well:

I do think that for people who once claimed to be outraged by the immoral antics and low character of certain Democrats, the morally superior choice is to apply the same standard to your own party.

It’s the only rational choice, unless you’re someone who really doesn’t know the difference between postures and  principles or who thinks political expedience is more important than telling the truth.

If you don’t think Trump is his own worst enemy, you may not be paying close attention:

And if you haven’t noticed the near-chaos within his administration—constant rumors of Trump’s disapproval of his people, threats of firing, general incompetence in running the executive branch—it’s time to remedy that inattention.

While I’m concerned about what has happened to conservatism in the Trump Era, I’m even more distressed about what I see in the evangelical community. I’m witnessing far too many Christians who are willing to turn a blind eye to Trump’s faults and automatically rush to his defense no matter how foolish he has been.

God calls us to discernment.

We are not to be tribal loyalists who willfully shield our consciences from unpleasant truths about our president.

We are called instead to be the conscience of the nation. We abandon that calling when we refuse to call out sin and/or incompetence on our “side.”

My goal ever since Trump won the election has been to support him whenever I can and to critique him honestly when he goes astray from a principled foundation.

Trump needs us to critique him because we are not the ideologically driven Left. He needs to hear from those who want him to succeed. Our honesty and integrity is crucial for the future of our nation.

Evangelicals, please heed this call.

Tweeterdumb

One of my main objections to the Trump nomination during the primaries last year was his character. I feared that as president he wouldn’t be able to control himself because he had never manifested self-control in his life. Whatever Trump wanted to do, Trump did, regardless of the consequences.

I was told by many not to worry about that since he would be surrounded by people who could rein him in. So how’s that going?

My fears have been realized over and over again. Trump’s thin skin gives his emotions dominance over his behavior. While there are many instances of this in his actions, the way he gets into trouble most often is through his tweets.

His Twitter account, which many have urged him to shut down (to no avail) is his way of getting back at anyone who crosses him. He claims it’s his way of getting his message out to the public, frustrating the mainstream media. Yet there’s very little substance in most of his tweets; the majority are varying levels of personal invective toward individuals or groups that either oppose him or are not fully on the Trump Train.

And they sometimes fan the fires of a controversy that would have died off if only he could let things go. That’s not wise; it’s an exercise in foolishness that undermines any good he might presume to do.

By the way, the political cartoons I’m using are not from the fevered brains of progressives; these cartoonists are conservatives who see the damage he is doing to the conservative brand.

Sometimes, Trump is just dead wrong on the facts. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, after the recent terrorist attacks, told the people that they were going to see more police and military on the streets, but not to be alarmed by that since they were there for protection.

What did Trump do? He tweeted the following: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!'”

That comment ignored the context of the statement completely. Yet when it was pointed out to Trump that the “no reason to be alarmed” wording was related to the increase of security, he doubled down on his misinformed earlier tweet by sending out another one: “Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his ‘no reason to be alarmed’ statement. MSM is working hard to sell it!”

I hope to be very clear here. I’m no fan of this Muslim mayor of London who has shown himself at odds with common sense in combating terrorism. Neither am I a fan of the mainstream media that seeks to destroy the Trump presidency. But in this case, Trump was obviously wrong.

And he refuses to acknowledge he was wrong, making matters even worse.

Again, this comes back to character, or the lack thereof. It also makes one wonder whether he is competent to handle the office he’s been given.

There have been other times when his surrogates have explained him to the public, only to have him tweet something that contradicts what they have said. Being on the communications team for this president must be one of the hardest jobs in Washington.

There is a growing sense that this administration has few accomplishments it can point to. Of course, the rest of the Republican party has played a part in that as well, but that’s for another post. Besides Neil Gorsuch (who has yet to be tested) and a few Obama executive orders being axed, what has this administration done compared to what Trump promised?

If you’ve taken the time to analyze Trump’s tweets, you will find they follow a clear pattern. Someone came up with a handy aid for how Trump tweets. I thought I would share it with you.

You’re welcome.

Lest I be misunderstood, I don’t want Trump to fail on the matters that concern me most: religious liberty, abortion, and government regulations. If he fulfills his promises on those issues, I will be pleased. Yet he is his own worst enemy, and his lack of emotional control may well be his undoing.

It’s well past time to get his act together. I’m simply not confident that he can do so.

A Plague on Both Your Houses

“A plague on both your houses,” Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet. While the Trump-Comey drama is not one of star-crossed lovers—indeed, there is little love to go around—the phrase is apt. Neither Trump nor Comey comes out of the Senate committee hearing yesterday with full credibility intact.

There is no hero here, but there was enough detail offered to make the plague comment applicable.

First, James Comey.

What to think of him? People who know him well say he is a man of integrity. If that’s so, why did he go before the public last July, lay out all the reasons why Hillary Clinton ought to be prosecuted, and then decline to do so?

He says now it was due to the problem he perceived with Loretta Lynch, reigning attorney general at the time, who told him to tone down the Hillary investigation and who met with Bill Clinton on that infamous airport tarmac while the investigation was going on.

Somehow, in Comey’s mind, to maintain the FBI’s independence, he had to drop the Hillary “matter” (the word Lynch wanted him to use publicly rather than investigation).

Democrats loved him in July.

Then in October, the dreaded October Surprise surfaced when he announced the investigation was opened again due to new information. Democrats squealed, Hillary lost, and they and she have used that incident to prop up the accusation that Comey lost the election for her.

Republicans loved him in October.

Once Trump took office, the Russian influence investigation began to circulate in the liberal media: the newest reason offered as to why Hillary lost. Tensions rose between Trump and Comey over that. Eventually, Trump fired Comey.

Democrats rejoiced over that, hoping it meant the FBI was on to something about Trump and Russia. Comey’s testimony, they enthused, would bring him down for good.

After yesterday’s revelations, their enthusiasm has dampened. The Russia allegations thus far cannot be tied to Trump or his top campaign officials. Gloom descends on Democrat headquarters.

Comey made it clear in his testimony that Russia definitely did try to interfere with the election, but he also made it clear that the investigation couldn’t connect anything to Trump (except for the ongoing Mike Flynn dramedy) and no votes were tampered with. The tally was accurate.

Of course, most Americans probably came to that conclusion long ago.

Now for the Trump side of the plague on both houses.

While firing Comey was his right as president, it was outstandingly foolish, and Trump has become adept at doing outstandingly foolish things, thereby making everything worse for himself.

Rather than abide by the official explanation for why Comey was fired—one that came from the adults in his administration—he opted instead to have an interview with NBC in which he said the firing had to do with the Russia probe.

All that accomplished was the appointment of a special counsel to look into all these matters. Again, the administration adults came out with a statement that declared this a good step in that it would finally put to rest the accusations.

Trump couldn’t let that stand. He tweeted that the appointment of the special counsel was an outrage, calling it “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” Next time, maybe you shouldn’t be so restrained, Mr. President. Use some hyperbole instead.

Not settling for stirring the pot with that one, he then offered this tantalizing tidbit:

James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!

Comey commented yesterday in the hearing, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes!” He believes they will back up his accusations of what Trump said to him in their meetings.

So, now we have a special counsel, primarily because Trump couldn’t leave things alone and had to vent like a juvenile who wants the last word.

Comey was not reticent with his view on Trump’s honesty. In the hearing, he proclaimed that Trump is a liar, and that he took extensive notes on their conversations in order to document what Trump said.

The first major accusation is that Trump cleared the room of everyone else one day except for him and Comey, and then proceeded to urge Comey to end the Flynn investigation because Flynn is a good man. Comey says he didn’t follow that presidential wish.

While that doesn’t rise to the level of obstruction of justice, it still reeks of an attempt to unduly influence the course of an investigation. This may be the way Trump has operated in his business, but that’s not what’s expected in the Oval Office.

The second accusation is that Trump wanted a pledge of loyalty from Comey. The FBI is supposed to be independent in its investigations, not bowing to whatever a president wants. What kind of loyalty did Trump mean? Do whatever he’s told?

Trump’s lawyer came out later and stated that Trump categorically denies those accusations. They never happened, he says. Comey is making it all up.

Well, Comey was under oath. If it is discovered that indeed he is making it all up, he will be subject to prosecution. Does anyone really think he’s opening himself up to that?

Trump’s denial is not under oath. It’s simply a denial.

Who to believe? Is this merely a “he said, no, he said” quandary that has no resolution?

I can’t say that I have complete confidence in Comey’s integrity, and he certainly hasn’t displayed honor in all his actions. But then there’s Trump.

Does anyone recall how blatantly Trump lied during the campaign season? How he threw out whatever hints of scandal against his opponents that crossed his mind? How he insulted everyone running against him for the nomination?

If you have no problem with Trump’s history of insinuations, hints, and outright falsehoods to get what he wants, I’m not sure what I can say at this point that will make a difference.

The takeaway?

  1. Trump didn’t obstruct justice in the legal sense. There is nothing there for Democrats.
  2. The Russia probe is probably a dead end. Democrats and the liberal media are going to have to find a new narrative.
  3. Comey hasn’t exactly distinguished himself in his actions. He did leak some of his comments about Trump, he allowed Lynch to derail the Hillary investigation, and he never stood up to Trump when asked to do things he thought were wrong.
  4. An investigation of Loretta Lynch is needed; did she obstruct justice?
  5. Trump’s honesty and integrity have every reason to be questioned.

Shakespeare was right: “A plague on both your houses.”

Everyone Else Is to Blame

Some people just won’t go away. Former president Obama is one. He’s already making public comments on his successor, pointedly criticizing his policies. It might be helpful if Obama could remember how George W. Bush treated him when he took office. Honoring a long tradition of allowing the new president to set his own course, Bush never launched into a public critique. But that was when honor was still something people cared about.

Now we have Hillary Clinton refusing to exit stage left quietly. I know this is kind of old news, but I haven’t been commenting on politics recently—I have to catch up.

What’s remarkable about Hillary’s public statements of late is that they are so tone-deaf and ridiculous that even her own Democrat party leaders are distancing themselves from her.

She simply can’t come to terms with her loss in the last election, and she doesn’t seem the least bit willing to admit she might be the biggest factor in that loss. No, everyone else is to blame.

Surely the loss couldn’t have had anything to do with a private e-mail server, Benghazi, or the antics of the Clinton Foundation. Of course not. She deserved to be president because her last name is Clinton (when she chooses to use it instead of Rodham). The new president is illegitimate.

In her commencement speech to her alma mater, Wellesley, she did joke (as much as Hillary can ever joke about anything) that a little liquid imbibing helped get her through the defeat, but again, there was nothing in that speech that displayed any knowledge of her own faults. Those listening, though, might have picked up on one of those faults:

How does one develop a seared conscience? It can start at a young age and become such a habit pattern that one actually begins believing the falsehoods:

The nation dodged one bullet in November. We’re still trying to deal with the other bullet. More on that tomorrow.

The Obliteration of Common Sense

It was nice, first of all, to have a break from blogging while I was in England. It was also nice to write blogs when I came back that could highlight the trip rather than turning back to the political sphere right away.

That respite is now ended.

I have both an intense interest in current events and a sense of obligation to try to shed as much light on what’s happening as I can. This certainly doesn’t mean that everything I write is spot on; only time will clarify how accurate my comments are.

The one thing that has bothered me most lately is the polarization within the culture. It only manifests itself politically—it runs much deeper, based on differing worldviews.

The cultural and political Left, which are virtually identical, have gone close to insane in many cases. Trump Derangement Syndrome has obliterated whatever common sense might try to assert itself. Take the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.

I believe Trump did the right thing. In this instance, he showed clear thinking (he wasn’t tweeting at the time). Yet how has the Left responded to his decision?

Good question.

Watch out for the rise of the oceans that will surely kill us all:

I guess elections really do have consequences:

Here’s another salient point: Obama just did this agreement unilaterally, never submitting it to the Senate for ratification. It was a treaty; the Constitution clearly states that all treaties must go through Senate ratification. He simply dismissed that “minor” detail as nonessential to promote his own ideological goals.

What terrible things are now going to happen as a result of pulling out of this accord?

Precisely.

Then there was the Kathy Griffin story dominating the news cycle for a while. Her stunt left the Left reeling, as very few of her ideological soulmates were willing to support her performance art (a nice way of describing it).

Abandoned by CNN and her usual Trump Derangement Syndrome fellow travelers, she tried an apology, but it had to be worst attempt at an apology on record, blaming the Trump family for her now-ruined career.

So, Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement was common sense. The foolish and reprehensible Griffin gave plenty of reason for the public to rally to his side. One would think he could take advantage of that politically.

But he still has that Twitter account:

That particular tweet was more puzzling than anything; at least it had nothing to do with policy. If only it would have stopped there. President Trump seems determined to remain his own worst enemy. More on that in a future post.