"I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge, and stand in the gap before me in favor of the land." Ezekiel 22:30

Friday, November 11, 2016

Why I’m Celebrating This Election


I’m really excited about the results of the 2016 presidential election. So much so that I’m celebrating. But not for the partisan political reasons you might think.

It took me about 12 hours after the presidential election results became clear to come to grips with what happened. I knew going into Election Day that, unlike many people I know, of the two most plausible outcomes – a Trump win or a Clinton win – I wasn’t going to be particularly excited or in much of a celebratory mood about either.

This may surprise you. Throughout the campaign I conscientiously shared publicly (at least on social media) relatively very little in terms of political commentary. That was partly due to the responsibility of my job, but also because, frankly, the world has enough noise; I figured I didn’t need to contribute to the tumult. Plus, if you know me, you probably know or can guess where I stand on things. However, I did write one blog post specifically on Donald Trump which you can read here, and there were a few other twitter and facebook posts. My thoughts on Clinton were not as public, but again, if you know me, what I think of her candidacy will not be a shock.

Not that it matters to anyone, but in the interest of full-disclosure and to prove that I’m not celebrating for partisan reasons, I cast my presidential vote for neither Trump nor Clinton. Dismaying as this may be to some of you, I can look back on this election with a clear conscience knowing that I did not have to support a “lesser of two evils,” yet still got to see Clinton (the obvious pro-abortion candidate) blocked from the presidency. Many reluctant Trump voters I know cast their votes largely on the “lesser of two evils” argument or similar reasoning. Conversely, I chose to vote for what I believe was the greatest good given the options, because ultimately I am only morally responsible for my vote, not the votes of others.
I know the issue of abortion weighed heavily in the decision making of many of you, as it should. Without getting into too much detail, all the pro-life arguments for Trump in this regard were to me unconvincing at best. I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised, but that does not mean Trump earned my support.

All that to say, personal political opinions aside, even though I’m not elated about the winner of our presidential election, I am celebrating the results.

Yes, I’m celebrating the United States of America and our Constitution. The brilliant electoral system our founders designed has once again proved its worth. Although many of those who are disappointed in the outcome are howling about “unfairness” and are clamoring to do away with the “arcane, insane 18th-century idea” that is the Electoral College, I want to take this opportunity to celebrate it.
Consider this: in four of the past seven elections (’92, ’96, ’00, ’16) the President of the United States of America, the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, was supported by less than half of the population yet they still won the election! In 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and now 2016, the winner actually lost the popular vote to their opponent and still became president. So, if you fall into the camp that didn’t vote for Trump and now you’re upset because “the system” didn’t “respect” the “will of the people,” get over it. This isn’t the first time less than half the people have elected a president and it won’t be the last.

Some might look at these results and conclude that our electoral system is critically flawed. But I say it is ingeniously designed!

Why?

Because our country is a republic, not a democracy. Sadly, after years of bad education and plain ignorance or naivety, many Americans think we do live in a democracy. But under pure, majority-wins democracy, the majority wins. Period. No questions asked. In a republic such as ours, the will of the majority is tempered by the rights of the minority through a representative government. Instead of voting on everything, we choose representatives through a democratic process to vote for us on many important decisions, and more importantly the rights of the minority are respected, advanced, and can even be victorious, as we have seen! What a brilliant system!

Some might argue that under the Electoral College the votes of some are weighted more heavily than others based upon their residence. For example, the votes of those Trump supporters in California - currently one of the deepest blue states where Clinton won with 61% of the vote - seemingly don’t have as much of a voice as the Trump voters in Wyoming where Trump won 70% of the vote. But did you know that as recently as 1988, California was reliably Republican? Missouri actually voted in support of the winning presidential candidates in every election, save one, between 1904-2004. It has only been recently that Missouri has swung Republican on a consistent basis. That’s because candidates and races, demographics, economics, and any other number of factors vary from cycle to cycle.

While it may seem as though the votes of certain people in a particular presidential elections don’t have the same level of importance as other votes in choosing the president, that simply isn’t true. Remember, your votes for president aren’t actually votes for your chosen presidential candidate. Your votes are for representatives who cast the votes for president, just as we elect representatives to Congress and the Senate to vote for us on many important issues.

If you don’t think you have a voice, with relative ease you can move to a state where you will. If you don’t want to move, just wait! Depending on the candidates, geographic shifts, and the realignment of the Electoral College every ten years, the next presidential election could be dramatically different. You can also join with other like-minded residents of your state to campaign for your candidate or issue, and begin changing the hearts and minds of your community.

Some might say that the Electoral College system only works when the popular vote and the electoral vote are both won by the same person. I contend that it works best when they are split. This prevents one faction from becoming too powerful. Republicans can’t simply sit back in 2020 and assume that Donald Trump will be easily elected. For the next four years they’ll have to work very hard making the case to the American people and a majority of voters who didn’t vote for Trump that he deserves re-election. Think about this for a second. The Democrats, the party that lost the presidential election, starts off the next election cycle with presumably more popular support than the current occupant of the White House. In this case, even in defeat, the losing party has remarkable strength, which in turn strengthens our republic (unless you want to make the argument that our binary political system is a problem in-and-of-itself. That's a topic for another day).

The United States of America has a long history of characteristics most democratic societies can’t claim: peaceful transfers of power, free & stable elections, respect for the rule of law, and essentially an unchanged form of government which has lasted longer than any of the most powerful countries in the world during the same time. Besides some universal changes like women’s suffrage that all major nations have adopted, just think of how the other major nations have changed forms of government since our constitution was ratified in 1788. China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Mexico, Russia, and Spain to name a few have endured bloody civil wars, revolutions, or otherwise dramatic changes in their form of government.

What change has the United States seen in our form of government? Well, in addition to adding 37 states to our federation, and in turn dramatically increasing the number representatives in Congress, we’ve changed our constitution to allow for direct election of senators. That’s essentially about it. There is something about the American system of choosing our presidents that gives it remarkable staying power. You can thank the Electoral College in large part for that stability.

Is it perfect? No. Some tweaks could probably be made to the Electoral College to increase it's effectiveness and improve our system. But it’s for all the reasons above that I’m celebrating this crazy, whacky, shocking, unprecedented, terrifying, and demoralizing 2016 presidential election, because after all, if you’re an American the President of the United States is your president for at least four years, whether you voted for him or not.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Those Catholic Men: The Long Run


My latest article for Those Catholic Men deals with looking at the long run vs. the short run as a Catholic man. Should we worry about the way things are shaping up in 2016, or should our concerns be tempered by the knowledge that we need to think about eternity? Here's a sample:
The 20th century economist John Maynard Keynes famously wrote: “In the long run, we’re all dead.” The quip was meant in some ways as a tongue-in-cheek jab at those who did not share his views about the long-run effects of high government spending, and in context is a criticism of what Keynes perceived as flaws in his opponents’ thinking. Although technically speaking the term “long run” has no definitive calendar equivalent in economics (“long run” is really only applicable within the context of a given model), and despite Keynes’ more ironic intentions, the statement is ultimately true, for in the longest of runs within the only model – life – that truly matters we are dead, on earth at least. 
But for a Catholic, that is precisely the point.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Blockbuster Tax Plan to Save the Country

What follows is a piece written in May, shortly after the Obama Administration issued a directive to the nation's public schools regarding "inclusive" bathroom policies. It is not a thoroughly detailed article, at least in terms of specific policy proposals, but it should spark some conversation and discussions, and hopefully I will be able to get back around to writing about this topic of tax policy in the future.


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Ever watch a terrible movie or series that started out great but became an obvious train wreck right near the end? If the history of the United States was a movie series, we would probably now be on the sequel that does its best to ruin the earlier installments with a lame script, flat jokes, and no point. The latest episode in the on-going saga of federal government overreach now centers on who has a right to certain bathrooms. It’s like the sequel that never should have been (ahem, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides).

Step back and think about this: The United States of America, a nation founded on some of the highest ideals of human freedom imaginable – ideals which were nearly unthinkable at the time - by some of the most enlightened men of their era, which went on to survive civil war, multiple economic collapses, invasion and attacks by foreign and domestic enemies, to win two world wars because of the bravery of an entire generation, to stare down the barrel at nuclear war without a flinch, and to defeat the Soviet Union, is now grappling with the oppressive notion that one should take care of one’s “business” in the restroom that corresponds with one’s sexual identity.

If past performance is an indicator of future results, I would reckon a guess that our fair nation would vanquish said enemy and ensure bathroom equality for all! Except that I’m writing this after the fact, so we know how this turns out.

Seriously, George Lucas couldn’t have written a more boring script with better original material (okay, okay, Peter Jackson might take issue with that).

The point is that our once great country has now stooped to the level where the commander-in-chief of the most powerful military in the world is giving directives on bathroom policy to our nation’s schools.

Aside from the obvious moral, philosophical, and religious issues with this new edict (the importance of which I cannot overstate), it violates two of the most fundamental tenets of what makes America so unique: subsidiarity and federalism.

Without relying on a dictionary to define these terms, let’s simply say that subsidiarity is the principle that people nearer to a problem should be the ones dealing with it. Federalism is a system of government that attempts to put this principle into practice. In other words: local people, local problems, local solutions.

Taking a page from Catholic social doctrine, American conservatives and the broadly defined political “Right” have made federalism and subsidiarity the bedrock of their policy proposals for generations. Many on the Right are especially fond of saying issues like abortion and marriage should be “state” issues, as opposed to “national” issues decided by the Supreme Court. On the other hand, liberals and the “Left” have shown utter contempt towards federalism and subsidiarity, first during the Wilson administration, then more forcibly through FDR’s New Deal. Instead of allowing local people to solve their own issues, they prefer to foist their radical, ideologically-based “solutions” upon Americans across the country, regardless of whether or not a problem actually exists. Liberalism has unceremoniously discarded the concept of solidarity.

This is why we now face a situation where our federal government is telling the roughly 98,000 public schools across this country how they should set an “inclusive” bathroom policy to accommodate the estimated less than one-third of one percent of the population who is transgendered.

How can this happen? Two words: Moo. Lah.

Any government has essentially two methods for imposing the rule of law: force and funds. One relies on the barrel of a gun, the other on a checkbook. Money may not actually be the thing that makes the world go ‘round, but it pays the people who do. When it comes to government programs and directives, money talks and it’s a lot nicer than the barrel of a gun.

The ability to withhold funds is how the federal government can coerce thousands of schools into submitting to its warped ideology.

It’s a broken system and it’s a problem for federalism.

If conservatives are serious about restoring federalism and subsidiarity to our system of governance and the nation itself, then we need to get serious about our broken tax system. All the most prominent tax proposals from leaders like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and even Herman Cain (remember the 9-9-9 plan?) fundamentally misdiagnose the problem because they all maintain the status quo of the federal government as direct collector of taxes and wealth redistributor. We pay our taxes, they spend the money thousands of miles away. In this way the government is allowed to continue strong-arming state and local governments into adopting policies against the will of local citizens. Is that what we really want? Is that at all what the founders envisioned?

What we need is a system that eliminates the direct taxation of individuals by the federal government and replaces it with a taxation of the states based on a formula of state population, state GDP, and other economic factors. Think of it like a membership fee for states to be part of the Union. States could determine the method, or methods, of taxation that work best for them in order to fund state programs and pay their “fee” to the federal government. Welfare programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security would be operated solely at the discretion of the individual states to the degree and in the manner they choose. The federal government would be strictly limited, by law, to operating necessary services such as national defense and the regulation of interstate commerce, including enforcing uniformity and standards in production (yes, this would include enforcement of child labor laws for all you liberals wondering).

Paul David Miller recently made the case at The Federalist that it’s time to resurrect the Federalist Party. “The central political issue of our generation is the assault on human dignity and self-government by the ‘progressive’ left and the Trumpist right,” he says, then later follows with some rhetorical questions:
What if, instead, we stopped looking to the federal government to engineer our national culture? Our nation is big, broad, and wonderfully diverse. Why in the world should we all have a single education policy? Why not let lower levels of government make their own social policy?
If it can be done with social and education policies, why not our tax policies? Why do conservatives freely speak of abortion and marriage as issues to be dealt with at the state level but not taxation? A complete overhaul and localization of our tax system would unleash ingenuity and creativity like never before because of the unprecedented competition between the states.

To effectively make a Federalist Party vision a reality, not only would we need a new party, we need a new tax system. If a new Federalist Party does begin, one of the foundational aspects of the new party’s platform ought to be a complete overhaul of our tax system similar to what is outlined above. Such a position would radically differentiate it from the Republicans and Democrats. Sure, more research would need to be done, and it would need to be sold to the American people. The millions of federal employees, bureaucrats, and the special interests who leech off our broken, bloated federal government will resist because many of them would likely lose their jobs. Laws would need to be changed and the Constitution may even have to be amended. It will be a difficult task accomplishing it all, but one worth doing when our freedom is at stake.

Just like any movie script, laws sometimes need to be revised to produce a better final product. Even though we are in the midst of a terrible sequel, we know our original material of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is second-to-none. We’ve had a few mistakes along the way, but it’s not too late to change things. If we’ve learned anything from Hollywood, it’s to keep trying until you get it right, because you never know when you’re sitting on the next blockbuster.