Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The current hiatus in American political development offers an opportunity for reflection on the great works, written and spoken, by great American leaders that compose what might be called an American political canon, the solid core of what America represents in theory and in reality.  If such a canon were composed it would have to have at its center those presidents whose words best defined the nation and its central purpose for their times.  It would then have to expand to include statesmen of stature whose contributions supported and augmented the themes of the highest elected officials.

  1. The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson (1776). The first and still most persuasive argument for why there must be a United States of America. [“We hold these truths to be self-evident….”]
  2. The Constitution of the United States, James Madison (1789). The enduring foundation for America’s political structures and laws. [“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”]
  3. The Federalist, Madison, Hamilton, and Jay (1788). The theory and logic of the Constitution and its necessity in creating a national Republic.
  4. Farewell Address, George Washington (1796). Establishing the principle of presidential term limits and laying the foundation for definition of the role of the presidency.
  5. The Monroe Doctrine, James Monroe (1832). An early pillar in the construction of a United States foreign policy, in this case as it proscribed European colonization in the Western Hemisphere. [“…The occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.”]
  6. The Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln (1863). An elegy justifying the cause of union, laying the groundwork for reconciliation, and blessing those who have not died in vain.  [“we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”]
  7. The Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln (1865). A magnanimous embrace for secessionists and the path for a reunited nation. [“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”]
  8. The Memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant (1885). A monumental military history of the Civil War demonstrating a magnanimous spirit that helped begin the long healing process.
  9. The Winning of the West, Theodore Roosevelt (1896). This four volume history of the Western frontier is valuable for what it says about America and its author.
  10. The Four Freedoms, Franklin Roosevelt (1941). Defining America’s role in the world after World War II and a platform for a new engaged foreign policy for the remainder of the century.  [freedom of speech and expression, the freedom to worship God in his own way, freedom from want and freedom from fear.]
  11. The American University Speech, John Kennedy (1962). A prophetic warning of the dangers of confrontation in the nuclear age and the case for arms control negotiations.  [“While we proceed to safeguard our national interests let us also safeguard human interests. And the elimination of war and arms is clearly in the interest of both.”]
  12. I Have a Dream, Martin Luther King (1963). The iconic case for civil rights at last and the anthem of a movement.  [“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”]

This list is preliminary and incomplete.  But it does reveal a central theme: many if not most of America’s great leaders have also been great writers.  Great writing comes from familiarity with the classics, both literary and political. These authors have in common respect for ideas and ideals.

James Madison and later Hamilton provided extensive editing for Washington’s farewell speech.  The Monroe Doctrine was a collaborative effort.  Franklin Roosevelt and Kennedy both had assistance in the preparation of their historic speeches.  Abraham Lincoln, an American literary genius, drew from the Bible and William Shakespeare.  This core canon was produced by literate leaders who had extraordinary talents at self-expression and at intuitively sensing the soul of a nation.

A voluminous list of works by others might well provide a second circle.  Henry Adams’ The Education of Henry Adams, would be one.  It is widely believed to be the best autobiography ever produced by an American.  Biographies of all Presidents, a few more than others, must be added for their historical value.

The works of the best historians, Gordon Wood’s magisterial history of the founding era, An Empire of Liberty, for example, should provide yet another circle around this canon.

All are invited to suggest additions to this list of works all Americans, especially students, should be familiar with.

 

The Russian Cloud

Author: Gary Hart

Presidents in the past, most notably with Bill Clinton and Boris Yelstin and George W. Bush with Vladimir Putin, have committed what might be called the “buddy fallacy” where U.S.-Russian relations were concerned.  That is they thought even a modicum of personal congeniality could be the basis for U.S. policy.  President Trump seems to be repeating that fallacy.

At its best, friendship between the leaders of two great powers must be considered a plus.  At its worst, it confuses personal relations with complex disparities in national interests.

Thus, in one respect President Trump’s visceral belief that it is better to have Russia as a friend than an enemy makes common sense.  On the other hand, it blurs real differences between what Russia views as its interests and what we view as ours.  And, for a President with no foreign policy experience and still dubious prior relationships with Russia, it can lead to serious misunderstandings and miscalculations.

Compounding the confusion is the appointment of a Secretary of State whose considerable interactions with Russian officials have all been corporate commercial.  And now an Attorney General who swore, inaccurately, that he had not had contact with Russian officials.

Conflicts in interests are well known and documented: Russia’s seizure of the Crimea and de facto invasion of Eastern Ukraine; tacit pressure on the “near abroad”, especially in the Baltic region; troublesome relations between the Putin regime and expanding Western European right-wing political parties; and Russian military and political support for the Assad regime in Syria.

On top of all this is blatant Russian interference in the recent U.S. national election, clearly aimed in a partisan sense against the Democratic Party and its candidate Secretary Clinton.  Mr. Putin has longed believed that the United States has sought to manipulate Russia’s political structures and provided covert support for democratic insurgencies through non-governmental organizations.  This may provide the basis for a belief that he is simply retaliating in kind.

Against this backdrop there are what the media call “mixed signals” coming from the Trump Administration where Russia, among other topics, is concerned.  The President’s attitude (it cannot be called a policy) to date is simply that it is better to have Russia as a friend than as an enemy.  The new Secretary of State has been silent to date.  Our Ambassador to the United Nations has taken a traditionally critical position concerning Russia’s actions in opposition to us and our allies.  And, perhaps most ominously, senior “strategists” in the White House have signaled, at least indirectly, that they welcome the rise of the right across Western democracies that identifies with Mr. Putin’s nationalism, cultural conservatism, religious orthodoxy, demonization of immigrants, and resistance to social tolerance.

Likewise, the attitude (one must call it that instead of policy) toward the Atlantic Alliance, especially NATO, by the Trump Administration is untethered.  The President has called NATO “obsolete” but his Secretary of Defense confirmed our continuing commitment to it.  At the very least this causes confusion in European capitals.  Is the United States committed to its principal post-World War II security alliance, or should each nation make its own arrangement with Moscow?  At stake in all this is not simply the future U.S.-Russian relationship, but even more importantly the U.S. relationship with Europe and the democratic world.

It is difficult to imagine normalization of United States-Russian relations either in a traditional sense or on some new as-yet unarticulated basis until the mystery of the President’s personal attitudes toward Mr. Putin and whatever background they represent are clarified and laid to rest.  It is difficult to disprove a negative, to prove that something that didn’t happen didn’t happen.  But the only known way to do that is to turn over every rock not only where Mr. Trump is concerned but also the several individuals close to him who have dabbled in Russia in recent years.  Sunlight is the best disinfectant.  Unfortunately, one of the rocks that must be overturned has to do with Mr. Trump’s taxes and that seems an immovable stonewall.

Perhaps a new approach to clearing the air and the deck where the Trump Administration and Russia are concerned should be considered.  Because of the role it played in the recent election, whatever investigations the FBI is undertaking regarding Russian connections may be suspect or discredited.  Congressional inquiries, even with a Republican majority, will be partisan, politicized, and media saturated.

Consideration, therefore, might be given to a special panel composed of respected statesmen and women of both Parties empowered to compel testimony under oath, inspect personal and classified documents (including tax returns), and issue a public report that either eliminates all suspicion of prior Trump-related activities in Russia or identifies areas of conflict of interest.

Otherwise, it seems inevitable that a cloud will linger for years to come regarding how relations between the current U.S. Administration and the Putin government are being formulated and whether in response to some prior arrangements or personal understandings.  That will confuse whatever policies are adopted either to strengthen U.S.-Russian ties or draw lines against Russian actions in opposition to the interests of the United States and our allies.

The Axe on the Table

Author: Gary Hart

Historians and political scientists analyze the world in terms of nation-states.  The nation is the people and the state is the government.  When a gap occurs between the people and their government, even a democratically elected one, a variety of things can happen on a graduated scale from a new election to a revolution.

The new Trump Administration is not the first to be led by a president with a low approval rating.  It is the first where that low rating occurred so soon after an election.  Even presidents such as Harry Truman who experienced low approval at certain points, came back to be considered by history and reflective opinion to be somewhere between better than average and outstanding.

Aside from this early opening slump, the other rare circumstance for the new Administration is that its Party controls virtually all of government, not only the White House and all the executive agencies, but also both Houses of Congress and soon the Supreme Court.  This partisan accumulation of power in effect sets aside Constitutional checks and balances, leaving one Party, and only one of its wings, to dictate policy and its application.

Several factors contribute to the public unhappiness with the President and many in the Congressional majority, even though they claim to be carrying out the promises they made during the recent election campaign.  One is the gap between propaganda and reality.  Stunning numbers of those supporting repeal of Obamacare did not know it was the same as the Affordable Care Act.  When asked if they believe there is too much government regulation, a large majority concur.  The same people object, however, to elimination of clean air and water regulations, worker safety rules, food and drug regulations, and much else.

When asked if taxes are too high, a large majority say yes.  But the same people are angered at tax cuts for the rich.

The difficulty is that those now running the government mean it when they propose to cut taxes, including for the wealthy, slash regulations across the board, eliminate government agencies that deliver services the public expects, reduce public pensions and privatize Social Security and Medicare.  The people, the nation, thought they voted for a scalpel that might disadvantage a few others but not an axe that chopped off whole elements of society.

Those now in power have been sharpening the axe for decades, in some cases since the age of Franklin Roosevelt.  Now, the time they have been waiting for has arrived.

Elimination of the “administrative state”, the professed goal, is guaranteed to produce an everyman-for-himself society with unsafe food and drugs, polluted air and waterways, dangerous working conditions, lower wages, reduced childhood nutrition, and the elderly and poor further marginalized.

Were the dangers not so great, it might be interesting to observe the results of a domestic and international experiment in populist nationalism that casts off security alliances, exiles immigrants, withdraws from trade treaties, lets climate temperatures (and oceans) rise, and cancels much of the New Deal and Great Society.  Decades of progress now under siege did not result from the hated liberalism; it was bipartisan.  The massive rejection of that progress is also a rejection of moderate Republicanism that believed in free trade and responsible regulation.

Despite the nonsensical notion that Trumpism is a revolt against the “elites” (consider the Cabinet), it is instead a revolt against social progress, mature government, and a civilized society.

In the absence of checks and balances and a mature sense of history, we have entered dangerous waters where the gap between the state and the nation will only widen.  When the radical wing of one Party achieving its objectives, there will be no wide-spread demonstrations of public gratitude and affection, no town hall meetings at all, and only repeated rallies of the dwindling true believers.  Even those rallies will be smaller and much angrier.

Hic Sunt Dracones

Author: Gary Hart

The Hunt-Lenox Globe, built in 1502, carried this phrase, “Here there be dragons”, in an area of uncharted maritime waters.  Since then what dragons there be, great whales, or who knows what, have been sighted and cataloged (that is unless you are among those still searching for the Loch Ness Monster.)

Where United States foreign policy is concerned, however, we may be entering an era described by that globe.  Based upon proclamations by the new President and some around him, there is reason for concern that post-World War II political, economic, and security alliances may be headed for the dust-bin and we are steering into seas whose dragons may be only vaguely visible.

The South China Sea.  Multiple Southeast Asian nations lay claim to maritime territories in the region.  They include Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and most notably China, among others.  China is constructing makeshift islands on coral reefs to establish territorial claim.  We have protested these actions in international organizations and brought naval ships and patrol aircraft into the region.  In recent days the new President announced abrogation of the “one China” policy devised by Richard Nixon and followed by every American administration since then.  This was a formula for the return to the coldest of cold wars with China, with military confrontation not excluded.  In what is becoming a pattern, other officials have contradicted the President and reaffirmed commitment to the one China policy.  Nevertheless, this be a dragon requiring attention.

The Baltic States.  Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are members of NATO.  President Trump has declared NATO “obsolete”, thus exposing these small nations to the threat from its neighboring wolf to the East with whom the President has proclaimed unaccounted for friendship.  Once again, the new Secretary of Defense, who understands completely the importance of NATO to US and allied security, has walked back from the commander-in-chief’s dismissal of our most important security alliance.  Even if, as hoped, the Secretary prevails, members of NATO will wonder at our commitment to their security.  An explosive dragon to be watched.

NATO disintegration.  Depending on which day of the week, and which official is speaking, we are either going to continue as the central pillar of NATO or we are not.  If we are not, expect monumental increases in Defense Department expenditures as well as the rest of the alliance lining up outside the Kremlin to cut the best bargain they can against Russian domination of Europe.  The Baltic States represent the first, but not the only, test of whatever new arrangement is being devised in the White House where Russia is concerned.  If NATO is abandoned or weakened, we are indeed entering uncharted waters.

Trade Wars.  The new administration has abandoned the multi-national Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, thus opening the way for China, not the United States, to fashion trade rules for this vast region.  Thus, we have lost leverage to insist on labor and environmental rules required for fairness and climate protection.  Whatever collective trade arrangements these ten or so nations devise for themselves, we will not be part of.  One would have thought the author of The Art of the Deal would have welcomed the chance to demonstrate his superior negotiating skills in this historic and vast venue upon which we are deeply dependent to create jobs for American workers and lower costs to consumers.  What dragon will arise in our absence will hardly be friendly to us, our workers, or our consumers.

Deficits.  No authoritative institution has stepped forward to account for the negative impact on our national budgets caused by promised tax cuts, heavily tilted toward the wealthy, and unspecified major spending increases in military budgets.  Indeed, all calculations available show a very large, if not massive, increase in government deficits.  Whether the President is the last man standing to believe in the discredited “supply side” myth, one cannot know.  But, to date, no one in his Party, which has made so much of ending deficits, has stepped forward to explain how this looming gap will be closed, that is unless you believe the Speaker of the House may not be telling the truth about privatization of Social Security and Medicare.  The dragon-slayers of national deficits in the majority Congressional Party have gone strangely silent.  But the dragon remains.

Carbon emissions.  Lacking memory and a sense of history, at least over inconvenient subjects such as pollution, the Party of Richard Nixon has been trying to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency since he created it.  A great step in that direction was taken by the confirmation of a new director of the Agency who hates it.  Lacking the political courage to introduce legislation to eliminate the Agency, which would ignite a public fire-storm, this President simply appointed an assassin to attack it from within.  Look for career experts in air and water quality, toxic waste cleanup, regulation of toxic chemical production, and much else to resign rather than dismantle decades of progress or be re-assigned to the EPA office in Nome, Alaska.  The dragon of carbon in the atmosphere threatens to break out of its cage.

Iran.  There is daylight, once again, between the President and more sober members of the security agencies on the question of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between the U.S. and Iran.  There is no evidence that the President has ever read the agreement or even been seriously briefed on the advantages to us, others in the Middle East, and the world to a major power agreeing not to produce nuclear weapons.  There is more at stake.  Iran is on our side where ISIS is concerned and is strongly supporting anti-Islamic State forces.  Iran’s reformers in government have indicated a desire for closer economic and political ties with the US and the West.  It will take no talent or imagination to destroy the basis for a better relationship.  Who would benefit from such a policy is totally mystifying.  It is the result, like the Affordable Care Act, of being a major accomplishment of the Obama Administration and therefore, by definition, something to be destroyed, cutting off our nose to spite our face.  This dragon must be kept in its cage.

North Korea.  In the world of dragons, this one is front and center.  Let’s forget (if possible) making policy in response to a North Korean missile launch over dinner at a country club.  There is possibly no greater test of the new Administration’s sobriety, maturity, and leadership command than this.  It is not going to become simpler and it is not going away.  Disarray, as at present, in the National Security Council and among senior intelligence officials and agencies, is an invitation to miscalculation with horrendous consequences.  Overnight, North Korea could become a greater threat to world stability than ISIS.  Rounding up immigrant children will not solve it or make us safer.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

This may not be 1502, but we are unquestionably sailing into unfamiliar seas without a compass, a clear idea where we are headed, or a captain with experience in steering the ship of state. It is not a good time for improvisation, intemperance, off the cuff decision making, or frivolous behavior.  Our ship requires navigators.  They are called statesmen.  We need to find them and quickly.

How We Got Here

Author: Gary Hart

If current leadership is intent on dismantling a series of institutional arrangements that have provided relative political, economic, and security stability among democratic nations, we should first understand the forces that have led us into this current cul-de-sac.

The most obvious economic tsunamis in recent decades have been globalization and the rise of the information economy.  Historically, we have to go back to the late 19th century to find precedents.  The industrialization of America, that shifted our economic base from agriculture to manufacturing, began in the first half of that century but was most powerfully felt in the 1880s and 90s.  The dislocations caused by Americans leaving farms and small towns and migrating into cities to work in factories most closely parallels the late 20th century decline of steel, auto, textile, and other manufacturing activities and the shift of the economic center of gravity from the industrial East to the high technology West.

Reading The Age of Reform by Richard Hofstadter (1955) provides eerily similar patterns of social upheaval and political unrest that came to be known as the Populist era that then gave way in the early 20th century to the Progressive era focused on political and economic reforms.  “A great deal of the strain and the sense of anxiety in Populism results from this rapid decline of rural America”, he wrote.

He continued: “Such tendencies in American life as isolationism and the extreme nationalism that goes with it, hatred of Europe and Europeans [Mexico and Mexicans today], racial, religious, and nativist phobias, resentment of big business, trade-unionism, intellectuals, the Eastern seaboard and its culture—all these have been found not only in opposition to reform but also at times oddly combined with it.  One of the most interesting and least studied aspects of American life has been the frequent recurrence of the demand for reforms, many of them aimed at the remedy of genuine ills, combined with strong moral convictions and with the choice of hatred as a kind of creed.”

Added to globalization and information were other powerful social forces: the rise of immigration from the Central America, the culture wars that began in the 1960s over civil rights, abortion, and more recently gay marriage, and the replacement of traditional mainstream media (newspapers and television networks) by partisan media and social media.  A potent symbol of the latter transformation was President Reagan’s abolishment of the “fairness doctrine” as applied to federally licensed radio and television programming.  “Equal time” for opposing points of view became quaint overnight and propaganda poured forth.

Politically, the Roosevelt coalition of the Democratic Party disintegrated, especially with the decline of unionism, and the influence of “Dark Money” (Jane Mayer, 2016) created a right of center Republican orthodoxy that drove out moderates and established the red State system through gerrymandering.

A substantial contributor to the new Age of Anxiety was the transformation of war, the 9/11 attacks on America almost exactly a decade after the Soviet Union, and the Cold War with it, collapsed.  “We will be attacked by terrorists using weapons of mass destruction, and Americans will die on American soil, possibly in large numbers,” the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century warned the new Bush Administration in January 2011.  Nothing was done to prevent it.

The Age of Reform dated from 1890 to 1917 when it was overtaken by World War I and then the Great Depression.  Out of necessity the latter event produced Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.  Following World War II, the Atlantic Alliance, with its security and economic stabilization rules and institutions was established by Roosevelt, Truman, Marshall and Acheson.  Largely as a result, there has been no World War III.

If we are to abandon these alliances, and presidential utterances seem to vary day by day, we are entitled to know what, other than isolationism, nationalism, and nativism, is to replace them.  So far, there is little evidence of serious, thoughtful, and statesmanlike thinking going into this.

America is greater than any single individual and its people have survived many curious detours.  When this one is all over, we may recall Mr. Dooley’s observation about that earlier period of excess: “Th’ noise ya hear is not th’ first gun of a rivolution.  It’s on’y the people iv the United States batin’ a carpet.”

America: Headlines from 2020

Author: Gary Hart

The Russian Ambassador to the United States has renewed his lease on a top floor suite at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

The author of The Art of the Deal has just announced an agreement with the Peoples’ Republic of China that he will withdraw the U.S. Seventh Fleet from the South China Sea in exchange for exclusive rights to place hotels and casinos on its newly created man-made islands.

The United States has just signed an agreement to join the recently formed League of Populist-Nationalist Euro-Atlantic states pledged to defend its members against any resurgence of “decadent liberal democracy”.

Since the abrogation of the Joint US-Iranian nuclear control agreement by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Jordan have announced that they will follow Iran in developing their own nuclear defense forces.

The Director of the Environmental Protection Agency has announced that, according to a recent report by two unnamed scientists, the increase of almost one percent Celsius in global temperatures is not due to man-made carbon releases.

A leaked secret memorandum from the Department of the Treasury calculates that TrumpCare is now expected to cost twice that of ObamaCare with ten million fewer enrollments.

Australia has now joined Mexico and four other nations in recalling its Ambassador from Washington for “consultations” for an indefinite period.

Relocation of hundreds of thousands of students from public schools to tax-supported charter and parochial schools has caused a serious drop in test scores and rise in teacher retirements in core urban public schools.

Since the Trump Administration has unilaterally abrogated adherence to Article Five of the North American Treaty Organization, Russian forces have moved into Eastern areas of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to “protect Russian-speaking citizens being persecuted” by those governments.

More than a third of the career Foreign Service Officers at the Department of State have resigned or been fired for “insubordination” or “lack of commitment to the program.”

The Trump Organization has announced plans for Trump hotel and casino complexes in ten major Russian cities, as well as projects in a number of foreign capitals whose political leaders have developed especially strong ties with the U.S. Administration.

Despite the US-China negotiations over the South China Sea, the PRC has been systematically reducing its investments in US treasury bills causing long term markets to downgrade confidence in the US economy.

Since virtually all of the Dodd-Frank Act has been repealed, most major banks and investment houses have resumed experimentation with packaging and marketing high risk unsecured lending instruments and financial markets have begun to downgrade their bonds and sell their stocks.  An increasing number of financial analyists predict a recession deeper and longer than in 2008.

The metal from the melted Statue of Liberty now represents almost a mile of the Trump Folly Mexican fence.  But it remains the favorite crossing point for refugees from the South.

 

 

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 – Emma Lazarus

Matters of Principle

Author: Gary Hart

The most important things are often the most obvious.  Wouldn’t you think it appropriate if someone set up a conversation site called “mattersofprinciple” that this individual should state his or her own principles?  Joel has just asked whether the host was inclined to do that.  So, with several caveats, an attempt will be made.  Caveats: the following list is not exhaustive.  So, in response, please do not adopt the “I notice you didn’t mention…” fallacy.  The parameters of this site are not boundless.  Also, one man’s principles that follow are focused on government, ethics, and public policy, not spiritual, religious, or moral matters directly.

Matters of principle:

One: All men, that is to say all humans, are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights;

Two: The United States Constitution remains our best blueprint for governing in days to come;

Three: The First Amendment to the Constitution requires special attention and protection;

Four: Laws and policies should be based on the national interest, not one or more special interests;

Five: Likewise, the interests of the nation supersede the interests of parties and ideologies;

Six: We the citizens of a Republic must protect our rights by performance of our duties;

Seven: The commonwealth, all those things we hold together for ourselves and future generations, must be protected and preserved, and corruption of those interests must be steadfastly resisted;

Eight: The size of our government should be determined by the kind of society we want, not the reverse;

Nine: Citizenship in a republic requires that attention be paid to realities, and individuals have a duty to determine facts underlying all public matters under consideration:

Ten: America’s role in the world should be based on friendly relations with all nations of good will;

Eleven: Diplomacy is paramount in political and economic matters, and force is employed only when our safety is demonstrably in danger;

Twelve: In our dealings with others, we must focus on our common interests and not our differences.

These principles are illustrative and not exhaustive.  But they do represent an important exercise that thoughtful citizens should make.  Each of our loyal band of correspondents might try it for themselves.  What is the rock-solid foundation upon which you base your public life?  What is elemental, abiding, and enduring in your system of beliefs?

In a better world, candidates for public office, and especially those seeking national leadership, should be required to state the personal principles upon which they rely in their public lives.

Imagine replacing a candidate debate with bluebooks distributed and a half hour given to writing a statement of principles to be made available to and discussed with the public.  The field of candidates would narrow dramatically overnight.

Credit card companies may ask, “what is in your wallet?”  Citizen voters should ask, “what is in your mind and your heart?  What are your fundamental beliefs?”

These and other personal principles are derived from the writings of those who created this nation’s founding era, a lifelong study of political ideas and ideals, observation of the lives of those who have earned respect, and a lifetime of public service.

 

 

 

The public discontent, now being commented on so extensively in political circles, did not suddenly emerge in the last year or so.  It dates at least to the mid-1970s when the first waves of globalization and automation began to wash up on our shores.  Everyday citizens, especially in traditional manufacturing jobs, began to make their concerns known to office holders and office seekers.

The recurrent theme, often unstated, was: I’m losing control of my life.

There was, and still is, a sense that our national government either did not know how or did not care to deal with the seismic shifts being felt not just in Detroit and Buffalo but in the heartland and the West as well.

With apologies for the personal references (and the “I” references that dominate the opinion section of the New York Times), my reaction to this building disquiet was to re-examine our Constitutional structures for evidence of what our Founders suggested we should do with our political system to adapt to change, to a future none  of them could possibly imagine.

Jefferson thought about this a lot.  After leaving the presidency, he concluded that the system of representative democracy was the best, if not the only, system that would accommodate a nation of, at that time, three million citizens and one that was bound to grow across the continent.  In short, not everyone could attend every meeting.

But, to let citizens participate in self-governance, his only solution was to institute a system of ward or elementary republics at the local level, permitting local citizens to attend periodic public meetings to decide the best practical solutions to issues of public education, public assistance, local security, courts and other public institutions, and a host of other community concerns often peculiar to that community.

Contrary to the ideological struggles that would soon emerge over the evils of “big government”, he did not urge adoption of local republics to weaken national government.  He did so to give every day Americans a share in shaping their own local destinies as much as possible.  His concern over power in Washington, underwritten by an increasing federal budget, was the opportunity this offered to powerful special interests to benefit at the expense of local taxpayers.  And recent events have proved this concern to be prophetic.

This reiteration of a little-known detour in American history is to demonstrate that there are approaches to re-engage citizen participation in ways that refuse to ignite, yet again, a stale “debate” over the size of government (which does not change even when conservatives are in power).  But an experiment in Jeffersonian local republicanism would surely reveal how discontented Americans are or are not.  Public participation in city and county town meetings and school board meetings is notoriously low.  So how discontented are people genuinely?

Remember, once again, Oscar Wilde’s critique of socialism: “Too many evenings.”

Participation in government requires time, thoughtful study of issues, search for accurate information (as opposed to political propaganda), consideration of alternative points of view, patience, tolerance, and most of all civility.

For too many Americans it is too easy to sit in the comfortable chair, watching partisan television tell you what you want to hear, and socializing only with those who share your political views.

Local republicanism will not solve problems of foreign competition, competitiveness, productivity, trade friction, security against terrorism, climate change, currency imbalances, and a host of international matters.

But it could improve the quality of public education, provide targeted solutions to local unemployment, protect community air and water resources, reduce drug addiction, overcome ethnic or racial tensions, and a wide variety of local concerns.

And especially now, when at least half or more of the country is discontented with a president ostensibly elected to respond to public discontent, citizen duties have become paramount.  In some circles there is talk of a Resistance.  That resistance should refuse to quietly accept destruction of decades of consensus on public education, climate, health care, collective security, and a foreign policy based on alliance.  The forming Resistance must be based a new republican ideal of citizen duty.

The price to be paid for regaining control of our lives is assuming responsibility for participation in solving the problems closest to home and in resisting a new elite’s efforts to govern the country for itself.

Technology and Its Discontents

Author: Gary Hart

A word to all concerned, especially the faithful commentators:  In its wisdom, the host of this website, tierra.net, has chosen to “upgrade” the server for this site.  When this happened a week or so ago, I was unable to access the site myself.  So, predictably, I contacted tierra.net’s Support office to ask for help.  It turns out I have to coordinate my php with their php, then stand on my head, then wander off into a bizarre tech world I don’t begin to understand, then I can access my own “upgraded”  website.   When I explained to Support that I was of the pre-technology generation that came along just after the invention of the electric light bulb and thus could not implement the crazy procedure required by the “upgrade”, Support recommended that I hire a webpage designer.  Being a man of modest means, to say the least, I’m not sure I can afford a webpage designer to jump through the hoops necessary to let me access my own website.

I believe I have now been granted a temporary reprieve, after weeping copious tears on the phone with Support, but only for a week or two.  All this to say, to anyone who cares, that I will either try to find a charitable soul who will help this cranky old politician  enter the brave new world, relocate mattersofprinciple to another service provider, or ride off into the pre-technology sunset…which would make my many critics very happy.  Other options are welcome.  Apologies for all this unnecessary confusion.

GH