Elections & Integrity

Thanksgiving is now past and, thankfully, so are the elections. There was every possibility that in my home state of Florida we might see recounts go on interminably. The counties to blame for that always seem to be the same ones, election after election. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the requirement that integrity be the basis for our elections—and for those who are elected. Is that really too much to ask?

I wonder if there will ever be the kind of accountability that is needed to ensure that the voting is carried out without bias.

While the above political cartoon is fantasy (at least I trust it is), there is ample reason for questioning the integrity of some of those responsible for counting the votes. Democrats are always crying that elections are being stolen. Well, maybe they’re right, only not in the way they think:

Now that the Democrats will control the House of Representatives, a rather weird thing has occurred—Trump has given his support for Nancy Pelosi to be elected Speaker once again. There’s been a lot of head scratching going on over that endorsement.

Of course, his most adamant followers/adoring fans will look upon this as a brilliant move because she is perhaps one of the most polarizing figures on the political scene. I’m not so sure he’s really all that astute. I think he just likes strong people. Witness his affinity for Chinese leaders, Kim Jong Un of North Korea, and the Saudi royal family.

But I digress.

The new Democrat House might make the illegal immigrant crisis even more alarming.

Meanwhile, a lot of Democrat hopefuls are lining up to run for president in 2020. The latest poll of potential Democrat candidates is rather interesting:

Frankly, I don’t look forward to 2020. My distaste for politics grows. That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in what will develop, but my interest is on the governing side—I believe deeply in good government based on Biblical principles and will always be advocating for that.

It’s the seamy politics I’m not fond of. As a historian, I know that seamy politics has been with us in all eras, but all of our new technology—round-the-clock cable news, social media, etc.—while good in itself, has only provided a platform for the seaminess to become more evident.

Oh, for integrity and principles in our politics! When I see someone who models that, I will vote for that person.

Florida in the Limelight . . . Again

I didn’t live in Florida in 2000 when the nation was focused on the presidential recount. I was one of many who found it simultaneously concerning and amusing. There was a photoshopped meme at the time that I still use in class.

Along with that one, I share this:

It’s funny, but now that I live in Florida, I would really like to see my state not be the focal point once more when it comes to election miseries. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Of course, not all of Florida can be blamed for this. My county apparently knows how to count votes. Broward County? Well, not so much. And the supervisor there, Brenda Snipes, can credibly be accused of having what one might call a “slight” slant toward Democrat hopefuls.

Oh, I believe in counting every vote—every legitimate vote. I hope I, and countless others, can be excused for wondering how legitimate this current recount really is.

Gov. Rick Scott, seeking to be the next senator, seemed to have a clear victory over incumbent Bill Nelson, but this recount has narrowed his lead from 50,000+ to less than 15,000. For the record, such a drastic change is unprecedented in recount history, leading to a strong charge of some kind of fraud being perpetrated. Knowing what I do about Democrat tactics, please allow me to be one of those who has, shall we say, grave suspicions about the integrity of this recount.

All that is not to say that Democrats haven’t made gains nationally this time around. They now will control the House of Representatives. While not exactly an overall Blue Wave, to say this is negligible is to deny reality.

Are there any other optimistic signs?

What might this portend for 2020?

I’m being facetious, as I think cartoonist Ramirez is also. Yet I do believe that Republicans need to take seriously what this election means. Many suburban voters abandoned the party, allowing the House to fall to Democrats. Races that should have been won going away were extremely close. There is reason to believe a major factor is perception of the man who currently sits atop the Republican establishment.

Birthright Citizenship & Executive Orders

President Trump has thrown the political world into a tizzy. In itself, that’s nothing new; he seems to delight in doing so rather regularly. The latest instance is his suggestion that he can end birthright citizenship by issuing an executive order.

I’ll come back to that assertion shortly, but first, let’s look at the issue itself.

The idea that anyone having a child born in the United States automatically makes that child an American citizen has been judged constitutional by our federal courts. The controversy now centers on illegals giving birth. Are those children American citizens if their parents entered the country in opposition to the country’s laws?

All of this stems from the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. How about some historical context here?

The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were all added to the Constitution at the conclusion of the Civil War, and all were concerned with slavery and the condition of former slaves. The 13th abolished slavery; the 15th gave former slaves the right to vote. The 13th never caused controversy after the fact; the 15th suffered from attempts to limit that right to vote, but those attempts were eventually banned.

It’s the 14th’s statement about citizenship that is the focus of our current debate. The actual language of the amendment is this:

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.

The first thing to consider is that it was written in the context of ensuring that former slaves were not excluded from citizenship. It was the antidote to the infamous decision in the Dred Scott case in 1857, a decision that upended previous American experience by saying that no black person is or ever was a citizen of the United States. That was at odds with the many free blacks who always considered themselves citizens and had even voted in elections.

That was the main reason for the 14th Amendment: to correct that false belief promulgated by the Dred Scott decision. That is the historical context.

Another part of the historical context is to consider the words uttered on the Senate floor by the author of the amendment, Sen. Jacob Howard, who, in 1866, clarified what was intended by the citizenship clause. Howard stated,

This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons.

According to Howard, citizenship does not apply to foreigners/aliens and those who are representatives of other countries residing in America as ambassadors, etc. In my reading of the statement, I see a distinction between that particular class of foreign representatives and the general connotation of foreigners and aliens. Wouldn’t an illegal alien fit into that latter category?

I realize there can be differing interpretations. That’s why I wouldn’t mind having this debate be open and free, and even submitted to the courts for further clarification.

Now, on to the president’s assertion that he can do his own personal clarification on the issue.

He cannot.

No executive order from any president can undo a constitutional amendment and/or the courts’ decisions based on that amendment. If Trump were to try to undo this precedent merely by the wave of the magic wand of Executive Order, he would not accomplish his purpose—it would immediately be challenged and go directly to the courts.

His goal in making this pronouncement appears to be purely political, an attempt to rally the base as the midterm elections draw near. While that may be understandable politically, it is nonsense constitutionally.

Here’s where I must challenge my conservative colleagues: if you decried how Obama misused executive orders (and I was one of the decriers), you must be consistent and apply that reasoning to Trump’s proposed use of this particular executive order.

If you excuse what Trump proposes as legitimate, you have tossed away your integrity and have decided that constitutional principle no longer matters as long as a president you support resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

On the substance of this birthright issue, I agree that the original intent of the 14th Amendment has been skewed. However, the old cliché remains true: two wrongs do not create a right.

I’m actually glad that the nation might be led into a debate on whether children born to illegals have the privilege of citizenship, but that debate needs to go forward in the constitutionally prescribed manner, not by a phony application of a presidential executive order.

An Epiphany: I’m a Liberal, Not a Conservative

I received an epiphany a couple of days ago. I discovered that I’m not a conservative, but a liberal. From whence did this epiphany emanate? It was solemnly declared by a certain conservative columnist (who will go unnamed because I don’t wish to focus on individuals but ideas). His column was all about the need to purge everyone from the conservative movement who continues to raise issues about the conduct of Donald Trump.

His comments go far beyond mere purging; he says conservatives must call those traitors to the cause what they really are: liberals. The tone of the article was rather angry.

Now, I don’t wish to imply that he named me specifically. I’m not well known and prefer to stay that way. He focused instead on individuals like Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a man I admire for his willingness to speak truth to power (yes, that’s a cliché, but please allow its use here for my purposes). Ignore Sasse’s 90% conservative voting record; he’s not a real conservative; it’s all a head fake.

You see, we now know, as a result of the insight from this conservative columnist, that Ben Sasse is really a liberal. And since I agree with most of what Sasse says about the president, I must be a liberal as well.

As you might guess, it came as a shocking revelation to me that I am, in fact, a liberal. I didn’t realize I had been fooling people for so many years.

So, it’s now time to throw out everything I’ve written and everything I’ve done in political circles for the past thirty-plus years because it was all a lie.

For instance, my first book, a spiritual biography of Noah Webster, based on my doctoral dissertation, must have been the result of all those years being influenced by my liberal professors.

The book merely talks about this Father of Early American Education as a conservative of his day who believed that government had to be based on the rule of law and that character was a cornerstone of good government.

And all of Webster’s talk about how education is not our societal savior and how grand schemes of government control over education will not lead to utopia? Well, I only included those things because I was writing about this old reactionary guy. My hidden agenda was to promote modern liberalism, undoubtedly.

My second book, which deals with Biblical principles and how they should apply to all of society, and particularly to government, must have been a ruse also. After all, when those principles are explained in the book, I keep coming to the conclusion that they seem to support conservative concepts.

But, great deceiver that I am, I only promoted those ideas because I’m actually a Deep State mole seeking to undermine the conservative movement from within. Finally, someone has caught me in my great deception. How will I ever live this down? I’ve been found out.

And what to make of book number three? You know, the one that examined the impeachment of Bill Clinton? Why on earth did I interview all thirteen of the House Managers—Republicans all—to provide them with a forum where they could give their side of the story and explain to all who might read this volume exactly why they felt they had done the right thing?

Again, this must have been part of a plot to mislead true conservatives as to my beliefs and character. What better way to make them think I’m “one of them” than by inserting myself into the controversy on the conservative side? Not only that, but I was clever enough to make it appear that I agreed with those House Managers that President Clinton ought to have been removed from office.

Why did I go to such great pains to conceal my real convictions? Well, I’m a liberal, not a conservative. That’s the real reason for sure.

Then came the penultimate misdirection—my book on Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers. I spent so many years reading everything both men had written only because I had to make sure my cover wouldn’t be blown.

If you look carefully, though, you can see I tripped up now and then. I actually allowed criticism of both men on certain points, which certainly gives away that I’m not a true conservative because criticism like that cannot be allowed.

I did, however, conceal most of my liberalism by writing things that would be considered commendatory about both Reagan and Chambers. This, obviously, is the height of all my deceptions in these varied books. I fooled everyone—because I’m a liberal, not a conservative.

Well, what about my teaching? Students have been fooled for thirty years as I kept hidden from them my true beliefs. And that work I did for the Christian Coalition back when it was a real force to be reckoned with? Pure subversion.

And then there’s this blog I’ve written for ten years. Can you possibly understand how difficult it has been for me to pretend every time I write a post that I’m really a conservative? The pressure has, at times, been nearly unbearable.

Okay, that’s enough.

The conservative columnist who wrote what he did has dealt with us once and for all—we are liberals in conservative clothing, undermining real conservatism.

Yet, I see it differently. Those of us who are willing to critique President Trump, not only for past indiscretions but for the manner in which he conducts himself in the presidential office currently, are actually attempting to save conservatism.

We see the kind of conservatism espoused by that columnist as more of a tribal allegiance—shall I say nearly a cult of personality—that has little to do with principled conservatism.

Our goal is to conserve conservatism, hoping that when the Trump Era finally comes to an end, that there will still be a movement devoted to the Constitution and the concept of the rule of law, and that considers character as a bedrock necessity for good government.

The Prickly Tariff Issue

I know that writing about tariffs doesn’t sound all that appealing, but I wouldn’t have to do this if President Trump hadn’t decided to make them so central to his policy. After all, here’s what he tweeted a couple of days ago:

Tariffs are the greatest! Either a country which has treated the United States unfairly on Trade negotiates a fair deal, or it gets hit with Tariffs. It’s as simple as that – and everybody’s talking! Remember, we are the “piggy bank” that’s being robbed. All will be Great!

Are they really all that great for everyone?

I’ll come back to that further down in this post, but first, a short history lesson.

Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution gives the Congress the authority to pass tariff laws, so they are constitutional. No argument there. However, it is Congress that has that authority. Why, then, can President Trump unilaterally impose tariffs? Sadly, it’s because Congress passed some laws that he can use to assume that power.

Basically, that is Congress relinquishing its responsibility. Some in Congress are trying to change that, but the effort seems to be going nowhere. Apparently, Congress doesn’t want that responsibility too much—tough decisions might lead to losing a re-election bid.

The first time a tariff became an issue was with the so-called Tariff of Abominations, which passed in 1828. The tariff sought to protect northern and western agricultural products from competition with foreign imports; however, the resulting tax on foreign goods would raise the cost of living in the South and would cut into the profits of New England’s industrialists.

South Carolina, under the leadership of John C. Calhoun, declared that the tariff was unconstitutional because it was not primarily for raising revenue but for protection of certain segments of society. That led to the Nullification Controversy of 1832-33 when South Carolina simply said that the tariff wouldn’t apply in that state.

Regardless of the merits of the objections to the tariff, it’s pretty clear that no state can just decide that a federal law passed by Congress won’t be carried out in the state. Challenging the law in the courts would be the way to go, or finding a compromise in legislation, but there is no basis for nullification. Eventually, a compromise bill was enacted that soothed ruffled feathers on both sides, but not without lingering animosity.

Let’s see, who fired the first shots of the Civil War? Oh, yes, that would be South Carolina.

Tariffs later became a vehicle championed by the Republicans as a means to protect American products by making foreign goods more expensive. Democrats, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, were actually the party of free trade. The tariff was a big issue in the 1880s and 1890s, particularly. One political cartoon of the era made fun of the need to protect American industries that were fully capable of holding their own in the world:

But the one tariff bill that always strikes terror into the hearts of those who know history is the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, passed in the throes of the Great Depression.

This tariff increased protection to an all-time high in American history. The purported goal was to raise the price of foreign goods so high that Americans wouldn’t want to buy them, would turn to American industry instead, which would then need to produce more, which would mean they would hire more workers, thereby ending the unemployment problem.

Voilà! Depression ended! All will be well! It made a certain amount of logical sense. But that rationale left out one salient feature—a response from those nations who were the targets of the tariffs.

Other nations reacted to these tariffs by raising their own against American goods. After all, they didn’t want their citizens buying American when they could buy homegrown products. Consequently, the overseas market closed to a lot of American industry and the opposite happened from what was promised: more Americans were thrown out of work.

While there may be a place for tariffs, one must be very careful that they don’t boomerang and create new problems at home: higher costs, lower production, and greater unemployment.

Ever since Trump initiated his tariffs, a number of productive companies, along with certain types of farmers, have been hurt.

Because farmers, especially those who grow soybeans, are being affected, Trump came up with a solution that most conservatives and/or Republicans would have never agreed to (but they didn’t have a vote because everything is coming straight out of the executive branch—something conservatives always legitimately criticized when Obama did it). What is the solution? A $12 billion bailout for those farmers.

Yes, it’s the tried and untrue government subsidy solution made possible by taking more from the American taxpayers: taking from all (well, all who actually pay taxes, at least) to benefit a targeted group.

Some will say that Trump’s approach is working because the EU is now in negotiations to reduce tariffs all around. Some are referencing a recent Wall Street Journal editorial as proof.

While it’s true that the editorial expressed relief that we might be stepping back from the brink, it’s instructive to read the entire editorial, where one finds this warning/caution:

The White House will crow that Europe blinked, but it’s more accurate to say the two sides are stepping back from mutually assured economic destruction. The car tariffs would certainly have punished Germany, the locomotive of Europe’s economy.

But Mr. Trump also had ample political and economic incentive to call a truce. The retaliatory tariffs from China, the EU, Mexico, Canada and Japan are beginning to hurt U.S. farmers and manufacturers.

Mr. Trump felt obliged this week to bail out U.S. farmers by providing up to $12 billion to buy surplus crops that can’t find a foreign market. Harley-Davidson and other firms are moving plants abroad to avoid higher import costs and duck retaliatory tariffs. All of this in turn is beginning to have political consequences as more Republicans in Congress are finding their voice in favor of free markets.

The combination of a potential economic crisis followed by an electoral crisis undoubtedly entered into the reasoning for trying to bring the tariff war to an end.

By the way, it’s not necessarily ended. These are only the beginnings of talks; we still have to wait and see how they develop.

I’m a free-trader at heart because I believe that protective tariffs put the government in charge of picking winners and creating losers, thereby messing up the market system. I also believe that American manufacturing and agriculture can compete with the world without tying themselves to the government, with all its attendant strings, and regardless of how unfair some other nations might treat our trade.

When did conservatives stop believing this?

Reagan & Trump: The Dishonesty of the Moral Equivalence Defense

If you’re going to say anything to help explain why evangelicals are so on board with Donald Trump, at least don’t be dishonest about it. The dishonesty rears its head particularly when comparing Trump to Ronald Reagan.

It happened again recently on Fox News when the Rev. Robert Jeffress stated that Reagan was a “known womanizer” also. Jeffress continued, “The reason we supported President Reagan was not because we supported womanizing or divorce. We supported his policies.”

I can try, I suppose, to give Jeffress the benefit of the doubt that he is merely ignorant. I hope that’s the case.

Lou Cannon, one of Reagan’s chief biographers, when asked about this claim, commented,

Reagan dated widely after his divorce before he met Nancy. I don’t think he looked at another woman after that. Neither of his wives ever accused him of infidelity. Definitely NOT a womanizer.

Well, what about the divorce? Doesn’t that make him the same as Trump?

William F. Buckley, a close friend of Reagan’s, shared that when someone told Reagan, “Well, you got divorced,” the response came back, rather heatedly, “I didn’t divorce anyone. She divorced me.”

All who have studied Reagan with more than a passing glance are well aware of how deeply hurt he was by that divorce. He didn’t want it; he had been completely faithful to his wife, actress Jane Wyman. She was unfaithful to him.

Consequently, from a Biblical standpoint, he was guiltless regarding that divorce. When he married Nancy in 1952, he was steadfastly faithful to her for their entire 52 years together. He loved her with all his heart, as everyone who knew them can attest.

The moral worlds of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump don’t align; rather, they clash.

So, if you are one of those who tries to equate the morality of these two men, seeking to provide a rationale for why it’s fine to look the other way with respect to Trump’s many infidelities and other major character flaws, I respectfully ask you to change your tactic. This one is a dead end.

A Supreme Choice Tempered by Moral Equivalence

Give thanks today for an organization known as the Federalist Society, which vets potential federal court nominees for President Trump. The latest Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, even with a few question marks in the eyes of some conservatives, seems to be a solid choice.

Of course, Democrats were poised to oppose whomever Trump nominated; it didn’t matter who it was. This political cartoon makes the point rather well:

Pray for Kavanaugh—he is about to go through one of the worst experiences of his life:

If he survives it, we will (hopefully) have a Supreme Court more likely to adhere to constitutional principles. Alito and Roberts (the latter for the most part) began the move back toward constitutionalism—along with the stalwart Clarence Thomas—and the addition of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh should strengthen that move.

Trump made a good choice with Kavanaugh.

I also have to come down on Trump’s side when certain FBI agents made it quite clear that they had an agenda against him as they pursued the Russia investigation. The bias of the two agents, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, can’t legitimately be downplayed.

Yet Democrats, when Strzok appeared before the House committee, did their best to ignore the evidence. That particular hearing highlighted the deep polarization of our politics perhaps more than anything else recently:

Yet Trump has a problem in that he cannot seem to distinguish between the fact of Russian meddling and the investigation into possible collusion. Proving the former does not prove the latter, but he always wants to conflate them.

I seriously doubt that he colluded. But when he says that the Mueller investigation is only a witch hunt and that there is no real evidence that Russia tried to meddle in the election, he raises questions as to why he is so insistent on that. It makes one wonder if there’s some truth to the collusion after all.

No matter what one thinks of that investigation, keep in mind it has not indicted Trump at all; it has fingered the Russians who were involved, and that’s important to know even if they never are brought to justice. We need to learn from what happened.

Putin says there’s no truth to the investigation or the indictments. And we should believe him? Why? Because this dictator, invader of Crimea, and strong-armed murderer of opponents is entirely believable? Really?

Trump’s now-infamous press conference with Putin, in which he said he saw no reason to believe Russia was involved, and in which he cast equal blame on America for problems with Russia, was cringe-worthy.

The reaction wasn’t just from the nether regions of the Lunatic Left. His own Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, felt he had to go public with a statement that the meddling was a matter of fact. Coats, by the way, if you are unfamiliar with him, is a Christian man of high integrity. He would not have made that statement if he didn’t believe it is true.

Others have noted that conservatives in the intelligence community, who are not anti-Trump, feel betrayed by their commander in chief.

Trump played the moral equivalence game—America is just as bad as Russia. At the very least, it diminished him as he stood next to Putin.

Some of his best advisors helped him see he had to walk that back. His statement the next day, though, was just as problematic because he attempted, rather awkwardly and not very authentically, to say he didn’t really mean what he said. The whole thing looked forced, and he ended by saying that while the Russians might have been involved, there might have been others as well.

It didn’t help.

I would have welcomed a President Pence, Cruz, Rubio, or Walker with greater assurance that they all have a deeper understanding of constitutionalism and principles of government than Trump. Republican primary voters, though, opted instead for this.

It’s the hand we’ve been dealt. We have to make the best of it.