TBT: Out of Control Feds

Ah, 2019—when the disaster of the 2020 presidential theft was a distant possibility, and long before Lord COVID descended from his Chinese chemical lab to sow destruction upon us all.  Back, then, our greatest concern was incompetent government bureaucrats running us over, then ticketing us for the pleasure.

That’s the story behind this post, which discusses Jim Treacher’s near-death encounter with a federal SUV, and the efforts of the feds to shift the blame to Teacher, rather than the federal agent who mowed him down.

Well, they can flatten our dreams, our economic prospects, and our freedom, but they can never flatten our hope.  Here is 23 March 2019’s “Out of Control Feds“:

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Blue State Secession

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I’ve written several times about the possibility of secession—of a (hopefully) peaceful dissolution or separation of the United States.  To be clear, I do not want that to happen, and I fear such a separation would be anything but peaceful.  But if it means a world where the progressive crazies can test out their wacky theories and policies in their own land with its own borders—and I am well outside of those borders—then it may be the best possible of all options.

I tend to disagree with Daniel Webster’s assessment that “Liberty and Union” are “now and forever, one and inseparable.”  While I think the Union of the States did at one time strengthen the defense of liberty, it increasingly seems that the Union—as manifested through the power of the federal government—is trampling those liberties.  I prefer John C. Calhoun’s rejoinder to Andrew Jackson:  “The Union, next to our liberty, most dear. May we all remember that it can only be preserved by respecting the rights of the States and by distributing equally the benefits and burdens of the Union.”  The Union is great, but only so far as it preserves liberty and the rights of States.

Quoting John C. Calhoun favorably, of course, is dangerous in these woke times, as he was an evil slave owner (per the social justice warriors) and argued that slavery was a “positive good.”  Of course the man wasn’t right about everything, but he was right about States’ rights and the importance of liberty.  I can acknowledge that Truth without accepting his other beliefs.

But I digress.  It seems that secession or peaceful separation is not merely a conservative pipe dream, a distant hope for some second chance at liberty.  The progressives are getting in on the action.  The ultra-progressive publication The Nation has a long op-ed published entitled “The Case for Blue-State Secession.”  Most of the piece is ridiculous Leftist dogma, but the fact that the totalitarian Left is toying with the idea is intriguing.

H/T to Brion McClanahan of The Abbeville Institute and McClanahan Academy for this piece; below is his YouTube podcast explaining the op-ed:

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Law and Order?

It’s an election year, in case you’d missed that point, and our man Trump is up for reelection.  Trump is not doing well in the polls at the moment, but George H. W. Bush was similarly down against Michael Dukakis at this point in 1988, and won in a blowout victory.  Of course, Dukakis was an exceptionally feeble and excessively nerdy politician, and Lee Atwater’s Willie Horton ad was a gutsy, effective attack on Dukakis’s program of weekend release for prisoners.

1988 was also a very different America.  Even 2016 seems like another world.  Trump’s election was the paradigm shift of our age, spawning four years of constant resistance from progressives and neocons alike.  Joe Biden, like Hillary Clinton before him, enjoys the full support of the media and the institutions; even in his advancing senility, they are determined to drag him into the White House, where he will serve as a dull-witted, mentally-diminished puppet for every crazy Left-wing policy ever concocted in the faculty lounge of a women’s studies department.

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TBT: Southern Conservatism: John Randolph of Roanoke

A lodestar of modern conservatism is that the federal government is too powerful and overreaching, and that power should be devolved back to the States and local governments.  That such devolution rarely occurs, even under Republican presidents, is just further evidence of how entrenched the bureaucratic class is within the Beltway swamp.  It’s easy to see the extension of federal power since the New Deal programs of the 1930s and the government’s control of the economy during the Second World War, followed by Johnson’s Great Society and various big government schemes to solve our problems.

But these concerns about the growth of federal power are not new, and there were already grumblings about them in the earliest years of the Republic.  In yesterday’s History of Conservative Thought session, we analyzed John Randolph of Roanoke‘s “King Numbers” speech, in which the aging but feisty Virginia decried the overreach of federal power—in 1830!

The occasion for Randolph’s speech was the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-1830, in which the State sought to revise its constitution with a number of—as Randolph called them—“innovations,” including age requirements to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates (25) and the State Senate (30).  Another proposed change was the elimination of property qualifications to vote.

Randolph vehemently opposed these reforms on the grounds that the Virginia Constitution in its then-current form was the greatest charter of government ever conceived, and that it had been wholly sufficient in serving as the sole block on the expansion of federal power.  Randolph also argued that the US Constitution, rather than dealing with the external issues of national defense and regulating foreign affairs and commerce, had instead turned its focus inwards, seeking to regulate the States.

It’s fascinating to read now, nearly two hundred years later, Randolph’s antebellum arguments against the aggrandizement of federal power, at a point when the federal government under the Constitution was barely forty-years old.  One of Randolph’s most interesting points was that, regardless of what the Constitution said it was designed to do, the reality was much different.

One of the students asked what Randolph would think if he saw things today, and I said, “He’d probably have a stroke.”  Far from being the last stand against and check on federal authority, Virginia now is the compliant handmaiden to federal expansion, as Northern Virginia is the home of the Swamp People that operate the federal bureaucracy.

It’s unfortunate that we’ve forgotten Randolph today.  Even in his own time, he was considered somewhat of an eccentric.  But eccentrics make life interesting, and this one certainly issued some strong warnings, even at that early date, about the danger of excessive federal power and the erosion of States’ rights.

With that, here is 24 June 2019’s “Southern Conservatism: John Randolph of Roanoke“:

As my History of Conservative Thought course rolls on, I’m learning more about the forgotten byways and overgrown, stately ruins of the various branches of conservatism.  Students this week are reading a couple of documents from John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, the two founders of the Federalist Party, and key to the passage of the Constitution.  Hamilton, the author of the bulk of the pro-ratification Federalist Papers, also created the financial system upon which the United States functions today.

Hamilton and Adams have both enjoyed renewed interest in recent years, Hamilton due to the smash Broadway musical about his life, and Adams from a critically-acclaimed HBO series (one that, sadly, takes some unnecessary artistic license with the past).  In the case of Hamilton, American history students are often enthusiastic to get to him in my AP US History course, and Hamilton mega-fans often know more about the first Secretary of Treasury than I do.

But we’re reading a speech from another important figure from American history, albeit one largely forgotten:  John Randolph of Roanoke.

Randolph of Roanoke, sometimes considered the “American Burke,” was part of the Virginia planter aristocracy and a staunch republican, in the sense that he opposed centralization of power while supporting a strict interpretation of the Constitution and a limited government at every level.  He was one of the so-called “Old Republicans,” a group within the dominant Democratic-Republican Party of the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian era that adhered strictly to the Constitution, and which believed the States possessed a check on the federal government’s power.

He was also a traditionalist, and his powerful “King Numbers” speech at the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829-1830 represents a hearty endorsement of conservative principles, prudently applied.

Randolph of Roanoke makes several important points in the speech, but two stick out to me immediately:  his detestation for the tyranny of majority (the “King Numbers” referenced throughout the speech), and his love of Old Virginia.  On the latter point, he was quite eloquent:  not only did he argue that Virginia was a bulwark against an overreaching federal government (remember, he’s making this point in 1830), he also notes that its constitution was entirely sufficient to the task.

He argues early in the speech that there is no need to change Virginia’s constitution, because no one had brought any provable objections against it!  It’s the essence of a conservative argument.  Further, Randolph of Roanoke decried the mania for what he called “innovation,” a kind of reform-for-reform’s-sake, at the expense of the tried-and-true.

As to the tyranny of the majority, Randolph of Roanoke points in “King Numbers” to the absurdity of giving some men or factions greater power simply because they can win by one or two votes.  He uses examples—unfamiliar to many modern readers—of the Tariff of 1816 (one of my tariffs the Southern planters and yeoman farmers alike found odious and burdensome) and the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the latter passing by a mere two votes.

We praise “democracy” now, but the Founders of our nation feared unbridled democracy as a form of mob rule, which would inevitably yield tyranny at the hands of a charismatic demagogue.  Randolph of Roanoke makes the rather compelling point that even in representative government, mere majoritarianism can be quite destructive, as the side with the majority actually benefits if it can seize that majority by a narrow margin:  that’s just more of their opponents who lose!

Randolph of Roanoke, like many men of his time and station, was an unapologetic defender of slavery, which likely accounts for part of his fall from our curricula (although he emancipated all of his slaves upon his death).  His anti-nationalism (in the sense that he was opposed to a powerful federal government) is also at odds with the prevailing trend in American history textbooks to applaud whenever the national government aggrandized itself at the expense of the States.

Regardless, we would do well to read him again.  He was, even for his time, a bit of an oddball, but his quick wit and vast depth of knowledge, as well as his love his State (he believed Virginia was the great inheritor of Greco-Roman and British Common Law) were inspiring to his fellow Virginians.  They could be inspiring for us, too, and all lovers of liberty.

Blog Spotlight: Salt of America

Here’s something a bit lighter for your Tuesday.  I was poking around on the Internet looking for—well, I don’t know what—and I stumbled upon this charming little blog, Salt of America.  It has an “early Internet” feel in terms of layout, with a few banner or sidebar ads, and an archaic system for logging your ZIP code so the site can get sponsors.

Other than the ads for Mobil 1 engine oil and Campbell’s Soup, the site includes all sorts of articles and documents pertaining to rural living in the American past.  The site features a series of local and regional histories that explore the development of various American cities and States.  I’m particularly interested in checking out a two-part series on America’s first State to ratify the Constitution, Delaware (Part I, Part II).

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#MAGAWeek2019: John Adams

It’s #MAGAWeek2019 here at The Portly Politico.  Each day’s post will be a SubscribeStar exclusive.  For a subscription of $1/month, you gain exclusive to each day’s posts, as well as exclusive content every Saturday throughout the rest of the year.  Visit my SubscribeStar page for more details.

Yesterday’s edition of #MAGAWeek2019 looked briefly at the career of our first Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.  Hamilton’s controversial financial proposals helped put the nation on a sound financial footing, but also created a rift between loose constructionist Federalists, who favored a national bank and closer commercial ties with Great Britain and protective tariffs, and the strict constructionist Democratic-Republicans, who wanted a nation of small, independent farmers and more diffused power.

Alongside Hamilton in the new Federalist Party was another important figure, one somewhat maligned by history, but who has enjoyed a revival of reputation thanks to a popular HBO miniseries and a thorough treatment from popular historian David McCullough:  our second President, John Adams.

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#MAGAWeek2019: Alexander Hamilton

It’s #MAGAWeek2019 here at The Portly Politico.  Each day’s post will be a SubscribeStar exclusive.  For a subscription of $1/month, you gain exclusive to each day’s posts, as well as exclusive content every Saturday throughout the rest of the year.  Visit my SubscribeStar page for more details.

Last year for #MAGAWeek2018 I highlighted several of our great Founding Fathers, including obvious picks like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.  I also threw in the less-obvious son of a Framer, John Quincy Adams.  One key Framer I left out:  the ubiquitous Alexander Hamilton.

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Southern Conservatism: John Randolph of Roanoke

MAGA Week 2019 is one week away!  Get ready to celebrate America all week long!  This year, all MAGA Week posts will be exlusive to my SubscribeStar page, so subscribe today!  $1 a month gets you full access to all posts, including new content every Saturday.

As my History of Conservative Thought course rolls on, I’m learning more about the forgotten byways and overgrown, stately ruins of the various branches of conservatism.  Students this week are reading a couple of documents from John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, the two founders of the Federalist Party, and key to the passage of the Constitution.  Hamilton, the author of the bulk of the pro-ratification Federalist Papers, also created the financial system upon which the United States functions today.

Hamilton and Adams have both enjoyed renewed interest in recent years, Hamilton due to the smash Broadway musical about his life, and Adams from a critically-acclaimed HBO series (one that, sadly, takes some unnecessary artistic license with the past).  In the case of Hamilton, American history students are often enthusiastic to get to him in my AP US History course, and Hamilton mega-fans often know more about the first Secretary of Treasury than I do.

But we’re reading a speech from another important figure from American history, albeit one largely forgotten:  John Randolph of Roanoke.

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TBT: Politics, Locally-Sourced

Monday’s post, “Symbolism and Trumpism,” looked at the importance of unifying symbols, and how our interpretations of those symbols derive from our local experiences.  While Trumpism is a nationalist movement, it is one infused with localism—the more parochial form of federalism.  Local identity—and rootedness to a place—is crucial in building investment in one’s nation.

Indeed, I would argue that localism is key to building a strong nation.  People need personal and emotional investment in their communities.  That means the ability to make a living and support one’s family where one finds oneself.

Unfortunately, we tend to emphasize the importance of national politics, while knowing very little about local and State politics—the level that can really affect our lives day-to-day.  Yes, the federal government and its power are cause for concern, and we should keep a close eye on it.  But the reason it’s grown to such gargantuan proportions is because we’ve delegated greater powers and responsibilities to it, rather than doing the hard work of governing ourselves and learning about our local politics.

Yesterday was election day in Florence, South Carolina, and in other localities throughout the state.  Specifically, there were a number of primaries, both Democratic and Republican, for various local and statewide seats, including an exciting State Senate race for my district, SC-31.  That race saw a long-serving incumbent, Senator Hugh Leatherman, face challenges from local insurance agent Richard Skipper and current Florence County Treasurer Dean Fowler, Jr.  This race was of particular interest because of the huge sums of money spent on it, as well as Governor Nikki Haley’s injection into the race (she endorsed Richard Skipper).  Ultimately, Senator Leatherman retained his seat for another term (he’s currently been serving in the SC State House and/or Senate for thirty-six years) handily, with a respectable showing from Mr. Skipper.

(For detailed results of yesterday’s elections throughout the Pee Dee region, click here.)

Mmm… sweet, delicious numbers.
(Source:  http://wpde.com/news/election-results; screen-shot taken at 10:09 PM, 14 June 2016)

For all that time, money, and effort, 10,953 voters cast ballots (according to returns from WPDE.com).  In essence, those voters picked the State Senator (as there is no Democratic challenger, Leatherman will run unopposed to retain his seat in November).  I don’t know the exact number of eligible voters in SC-31–it’s a strange district that includes parts of Florence and Darlington Counties–but I would wager there are far more than 10,953.

Turnout for primaries, especially off-season and local ones, is typically very low.  Voters in these primaries tend to be more involved politically and more informed about local politics… or they happen to be friends with a candidate.

It’s often said that politics, like much else in life, is all about relationships.  This quality is what gives local elections their flavor, and what keeps candidates accountable to their constituents.  In other words, it’s usually good that we know the people we elect to serve us, or at least to have the opportunity to get to know that person.

Indeed, our entire system is designed to work from the bottom-up, not from the top-down.  As I will discuss on Friday in a longer post about the concept of popular sovereignty (written in response to comments about last week’s post “American Values, American Nationalism”), this does not mean that we don’t occasionally entrust professionals to complete the people’s work–after all, I wouldn’t want a dam constructed by an attorney with no background in hydroelectric engineering.  But it does mean that ultimate political authority derives from the consent of the governed–from “We, the people.”

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Americans often knew very little about the goings-on in the nation’s capital.  Washington, D.C. was largely seen as a distant, almost alien place that served an important role in foreign policy and in times of national crisis, such as war, but few people followed national politics too terribly closely.  Indeed, even presidential candidates were nominated by state legislatures or party caucuses, and were elected at conventions by national delegates (as opposed to the current system of “pledged delegates” that exists in conjunction with democratic primaries).

“[U]ltimate political authority derives from the consent of the governed–from ‘We, the people.'”

Instead, most Americans’ focus was on local and state politics, because those were the levels of government that most affected their lives.

Today, that relationship is almost completely inverted.  Due to a complex host of factors–the centralization of the federal government; the standardization of mass news media to reach a national scope; the ratification of the XVII Amendment and the subsequent breakdown of federalism–Americans now know far more about national politics than they do local or statewide politics.

The irony is, the national government is where everyday people have the least influence, and where it is the hardest to change policy.  Also, changes in national policy affect all Americans.  What might work well in, say, Pennsylvania could be a poor fit for South Carolina or Oregon.

At the local level, though, Americans can have a great deal of impact–they can more easily talk to their city councilman than their congressman (although I would like to note that SC-7 Congressman Tom Rice is one of the most accessible and approachable people I’ve ever met).

Let’s follow the trends in dining and shopping and go local.  Learning more about local politics is healthy for the body politic, and is one small but effective way we can begin to restore the proper balance and focus between the people, the States, and the federal government.