Phone it in Friday XI: Coronavirus Conundrum, Part IV: Liberty in the Age of The Virus

The Age of The Virus is unprecedented.  Well, not entirely—major plagues and pandemics have swept the world before.  What’s unprecedented this time is the wholesale closure of the most commerce, along with rigid governmental and social admonitions to “social distance” and “shelter-in-place.”  Tin-pot municipal tyrants and State governors are engaged in a virtue-signalling race to see who can curtail liberties more rapidly and completely.

Pointing out this reality opens one to social scorn.  It’s amusing—and a bit frightening—to see the earnestness with which some Americans cling to their new mantras, the articles of faith handed down from the CDC and various government apparatchiks.  Even as our knowledge of The Virus seems to change daily, these public health acolytes cling to the every pronouncement from so-called “experts.”

Please don’t misunderstand me.  Yes, we should be vigilant about washing our hands and avoiding the accidental infection of one another, especially the elderly.

What concerns me is how quickly so many of us have been willing to accept greater degrees of control over our lives in the name of combating an invisible threat.  But now it feels like we’re living in the episode of Sliders called “Fever,” in which a totalitarian CDC cracks down on Los Angeles because, in that universe, penicillin was never discovered.

We’re not at Sliders levels—yet—but with that acquiescence has come an expansion of government power at nearly every level. I am not a libertarian, and I fully expect a robust federal response to a difficult international situation (remember, The Virus came from CHI-NA).  But that doesn’t mean local, State, or even federal authorities can simply hand-wave away the Constitution.

The Framers surely knew disease and death in their time.  When the Constitution was drafted in 1787, there was no capability for directing society with relative efficiency; even if there were, though, they would not have wanted to use it to suspend liberties.  The Framers surely knew there would be plagues and sickness in the United States, yet they included no clause such as “in the event of widespread sickness, these Articles contained heretofore in are, and of right to be, suspended until such time as the Congress shall deem suitable for public safety and the common welfare.”

Yet we see officials at the lowest levels of government telling people not just to stay home, but threatening to shut down churches and other assemblies.  Doesn’t that violate the First Amendment protections of freedom of religion and freedom of assembly?  Again, the prudent approach is for churches to accommodate the health of their congregants with remote services or other workarounds, but shouldn’t they be allowed to hold traditional services if they so choose?

The critics and medical scolds by now are howling with rage.  “What do these gossamer rights mean when we’re dead?”  Is that all anyone cares about?  What happened to Patrick Henry’s fiery cry of “Give me liberty, or give me death?”  What’s worse:  death from worshiping the Lord, or life in a soulless, gutless, freedom-less world?

I’m not alone in my assessment here.  Bill Whittle ripped into New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this week, arguing that His Dishonor’s promise to shut down churches that continue to congregate would represent a high-handed assault on the First Amendment.  Even Whittle’s colleague Scott Ott thought Whittle’s defense of the Constitution was a bit rich, basically arguing that the Constitution can take a break during this outbreak.

I’m perceiving similarly expedient arguments among others on the Right.  It’s disgusting how many folks on our side are running like slavering dogs to lap up the crumbs of authoritarianism.  Whittle in the video above makes the compelling point that the Constitution functionally means nothing if any government official at any level can simply ignore its protections.  He also correctly points out that these rights are God-given, part of our very human nature.  No government can legitimately deprive us of them.

Another one of the saner voices is RazörFist, who also sees a great deal of big government chicanery in this pandemic (warning, Razör’s videos often contain strong language):

Z Man has also expressed skepticism about The Virus—or, at least, our draconian responses to it—and has received his share of scorn and dismissal.  But in his post Wednesday, “Fermi’s Paradox,” he made an interesting allusion to E.M. Forster’s novella “The Machine Stops,” originally published in 1909.  That short story (which I highly recommend you read—it has the same chilling effect as Kipling’s “The Mother Hive”) details a world in which humanity exists in a state of mindless, perpetual comfort, its every need attended to by The Machine.

In the story, humans have become so accustomed to cloistering in their little cells that they abhor face-to-face interaction, instead communicating via blue discs across great distances.  They are so dependent upon The Machine, they come to worship it (an interesting development, as their society has “advanced” beyond the “superstition” of religious belief—another subtle point from Forster).  They only travel on rare occasions, and avoid it unless absolutely necessary.

Eventually, The Machine deteriorates, with disastrous results; I will likely write about the story in more detail next week.  For our purposes, it sounds eerily like our current society:  shelter-in-place, “Stay at Home” (as digital signs on the Interstate tell me, implicitly scolding me for being on the highway), watch Netflix, #AloneTogether, etc., etc.—we’re told to be comfortable and to crave safety and comfort above all else.  They are the highest goods.

We’re through the looking glass here.  I’ve been pessimistic that we’re even living under the Constitution anymore, especially after the intelligence agencies attempted to overthrow a sitting President.  Vestiges and scraps of it still reign, but they seem to be the exception.  And most Americans don’t seem to care, so long as they can watch TV, the WiFi is working, and there is pizza.

We’re no longer the Roman Republic, but we’re not the Roman Empire in the 5th century, either.  We’re more like the Roman Empire in the 2nd or 3rd centuries:  coasting along on the remnants of a functioning system, with a play-acting Congress shadowing the motions of republicanism.

I hope I’m wrong.  Regardless, wash your hands.

Napoleonic Christmas

It’s Christmas Week!  And what a glorious week it is.  It’s been raining persistently in South Carolina since Sunday morning, but I’m enjoying the coziness of the hygge—warm coffee and lazy reading.

PragerU had a little video up this morning from historian Andrew Roberts about Napoleon.  It’s an interesting take on the not-so-short French emperor—an apologia, really (for those that prefer reading—as I often do—to watching videos, here is a PDF transcript).

Roberts argues that Napoleon was not the necessary precursor to Hitler, et. al.; rather, Napoloen was “sui generis“—a man unto himself.  While I believe the ideas of the French Revolution did unleash the totalitarian forces of Hitlerism, Stalinism, Maoism, and all the rest—a murderous, bloody Pandora’s Box—I’ve never considered Napoleon among their ranks.

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Sanford Announces Presidential Bid

Former South Carolina Governor and Congressman for SC-1, Mark Sanford, announced Sunday that he is seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2020 against incumbent President Donald Trump.  When Fox News host Chris Wallace asked Sanford why, he said that “We need to have a conversation on what it means to be a Republican.”

Sanford’s ostensible desire is to draw attention to America’s massive national debt, and our political unwillingness to address the ever-expanding, elephantine gorilla in the room.  But as local radio personality and former Lieutenant Governor Ken Ard said on his show this morning, Sanford is shining a bright light on himself as much as he is on the national debt.

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Lazy Sunday XXVI: Small Town Life

I’ve been awash in local boosterism lately.  As a Jeffersonian at heart (especially now that I’m a freehold yeoman farmer, what with my single fig tree, twenty yards of grapevines, and drooping pecan trees), small town, rural living appeals to me at a deep level.  I am, like most Americans, infected with the bug of urgent nationalism, as it seems that every major problem is a national issue (due, in no small part, to two centuries of centralization and the breakdown of federalism), but I increasingly seek to think and act locally.  That’s where the most immediate and substantial changes to our lives occur.

The slow summer news cycle has seen me engaging in a bit more navel-gazing this summer, and thinking more about the things that matter in life:  our towns and communities; good books and music; friends and family.  Cultural issues are, potentially, political; as the late Andrew Breitbart often said, politics is downstream from culture.  Books, music, and movies matter, and the local level is the best place to see culture in action.

All of that armchair philosophizing aside, this week’s Lazy Sunday looks back at some posts about small town life, both in Lamar and Aiken.  Enjoy!

  • Hump Day Hoax” – This post is one of this blog’s most popular, in part because I shared the link to it in the comments section on a major right-wing news website.  It’s a somewhat unfortunate example of small town politicking gone wrong.  The mayor of my little adopted hometown, Lamar, is a very sweet lady, and she seems genuinely interested in improving our town, but she scuttled those endearing efforts when she ran straight to Newsweek claiming that her vehicle had been vandalized as part of a hate crime.  It turns out the mysterious, sticky yellow substance on her car… was pollen.Initially, I thought she was opportunistically trying to gain some grace on the cheap, as the Jussie Smollett hoax was then-current in the news.  After talking it over with some folks, I’m thinking now it’s more of an example of a deep paranoia among some black Americans who are, essentially, brainwashed from birth into believing they are the constant targets of hate crimes from vindictive whites.  Coupled with—sadly—a certain degree of stupidity—how can you have lived in the South for decades and not know what pollen looks like?!—it makes for an embarrassing mix.
  • Egg Scramble Scrambled” – Every April, Lamar hosts a big festival, the Egg Scramble, that attracts around 6000 people to town.  Keep in mind, Lamar’s population sits just south of 1000, so that many people at once creates a huge influx of cash into the local economy.  It’s a big deal.  I was out of town for the Scramble this year, but I was looking up news about it when I discovered it had been ended early due to a fight.It was only later that I learned there was gang activity (my initial thought in the post was that some hooligans just got out of hand, and the police shut the down the event to avoid any future roughhousing), with shots fired.  It doesn’t appear anyone was hurt, but, boy, did this story get buried fast.  It was only from talking to neighbors that I got a more complete picture.

    I am, perhaps, not acquitting my adopted home town well.  It really is a lovely—and very cheap—place to live.  I suppose I’ll have to write a more favorable account of Lamar life soon to make up for these two negative portrayals.

  • 250th Day Update” – This post is a bit of a stretch for this week’s theme, but it includes a hodge-podge of updates that, in one way or another, connect to small town life:  high school football games, local festivals, relaxing holidays, and the like.  Those little things are what make life colorful, and enjoyable—and they’re the things that truly matter.  Read the update for more.
  • Aiken Amblings” – A late-night SubscribeStar Saturday post, this subscriber-exclusive post details my visit to Aiken’s Makin’, Aiken’s long-running crafts festival.  It’s probably the best example of local boosterism I’ve ever experienced personally, and I am surely a booster for it.  It also didn’t devolve into gangland violence, so that’s a plus.  For just $1, you can read the full account—and all of the other great pieces on my SubscribeStar page!

That’s it for this Lazy Sunday.  I’m hoping to check out Yemassee‘s Shrimp Festival later this month (September 19-21), schedule-permitting.  As the days shorten and the weather slowly cools, it’s time to get out to some local festivals in some small, rural towns.

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Idaho’s Regulatory Reset

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The big, exciting news in conservatism this week is the sunsetting of all of Idaho’s state regulations.

It’s a curious situation:  all of Idaho’s regulations sunset annually, but the Idaho State Legislature usually renews all of them as a matter of course.  This year, after a contentious legislative sessions, the legislature failed to reauthorize the regulations, so the entire body of state regulations expires on 1 July 2019.

Libertarians and small government conservatives are rejoicing, and this retirement is, indeed, revolutionary—it’s essentially an opportunity to “reset” the State’s regulatory regime, starting from scratch.  That will provide a great deal of opportunity to reinstate what worked in a regulatory sense, and to keep the rest of the chaff on the threshing floor.

The Mercatus Center’s piece on the Idaho situation also points to another welcome change:  the burden of proof now shifts to new regulations, rather than those seeking the repeal of old ones:

Governor Brad Little, sworn into office in January, already had a nascent red tape cutting effort underway, but the impending regulatory cliff creates some new dynamics. Previously, each rule the governor wanted cut would have had to be justified as a new rulemaking action; now, every regulation that agencies want to keep has to be justified. The burden of proof has switched.

An enduring frustration for legislators seeking to cut regulations must be the “Helen Lovejoy Effect“:  constant emotional appeals that cutting or revising this or that rule will breed dire consequences of catastrophic, apocalyptic proportions.  The Idaho legislature’s fortunate lapse in consensus has flipped the script.

Another item of note here:  it’s intriguingly paradoxical how legislative disagreement and gridlock ultimately brought about an opportunity for real reform.  While most legislative gridlock seldom ends with such dramatically positive results, this situation demonstrates the usefulness of hung legislatures:  sometimes, getting nothing done is preferable to getting something destructive done.

From the perspective of liberty, a government not taking action is often the better outcome.  That’s why conservatives were so rankled when President Obama promised to govern via executive fiat (“I have a pen and a phone”) on the grounds that congressional gridlock necessitated such drastic action.  The Framers of the Constitution baked inefficiency into the cake:  our national legislature is supposed to act slowly and deliberately.

Of course, the total repeal of all regulations is not all sunshine and unicorn hugs.  Contra hardcore libertarians, some regulations are useful, and their benefits far exceed their costs (although the opposite is often likelier).  The challenge for Idahoans is to figure out how to get back the useful regulations without reinstating the corrosive ones.  To quote the Mercatus Center again:

The main constraint now facing Idaho state agencies is time—they could use more of it. Regulators have just two months to decide which rules should stay and which should go. With more time, they might be able to tweak and modernize those regulations deemed necessary; instead, many rules may simply be readopted without changes.

So, in the haste to reinstate beneficent regulations, the detrimental ones could also get thrown back in.  If that happens, Idaho will have squandered a virtually unprecedented opportunity to remake its regulatory regime into a more streamlined, pro-liberty apparatus.

If, however, Idaho can pull it off, it will serve as a model to other States looking to streamline their regulatory agencies and services.  That’s a promising outcome, and one that all lovers of small- and limited-government should endorse.

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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.

The Deep State is Real, Part II: US Ambassadors and DOJ Conspired Against Trump

Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC) dropped a bombshell earlier this week:  Obama-era US ambassadors conspired with the Department of Justice against President Trump.  Every site I find points back to the original Washington Examiner piece linked above, although the blog Independent Sentinel has a bit more commentary, tying it back to the fake Christopher Steele dossier.

You’ll recall the Steele dossier is a document the Clinton campaign commissioned through back-channels (a law firm), which was then used to obtain a FISA warrant to wiretap then-candidate Trump’s communications.  That mendacious original sin spawned the odious “Russian collusion” narrative that lingers around the Trump Administration like a bad fart.  Andrew McCarthy in National Review calls the dossier a “Clinton-campaign product.”

Regardless, if Meadows is correct, it serves as further proof that the Washington “Deep State”—the “Swamp”—is very, terrifyingly real.  It will stop at nothing to disrupt President Trump’s America First agenda, and subvert a free and fair election.

What’s most chilling about all this chicanery is not that it targets President Trump particularly (although that certainly creates its own problems—few good, conscientious Americans will choose to run for public office, especially as conservatives, unless they have the cash and the guts to risk everything).  Rather, it suggests that our experiment in self-government is dangerously threatened by a group of unelected elites cloistered in the Washington foreign policy and law enforcement establishment.

America stands at a crossroads.  We’ve arrogated ever-more power to an unaccountable federal bureaucracy.  Many conservatives—myself included—hoped that the extended government shutdown would aid in the draining of the Swamp.  So far, though, it seems that the president is still surrounded by enemies.

We have a choice:  we continue down the current road, ceding more power to the government, and hoping against hope for some kind of “enlightened, constitutionalist despot” to restore as much of our constitutional framework as possible.  President Trump’s difficulties weeding out seditious bureaucrats suggest that path is incredibly difficult, and it will make presidential contests—as well as Supreme Court nominations—increasingly vicious.  The progressive Left has an edge in the culture, the institutions, government, and on the streets.

The other option is weed out the federal bureaucracy, strike down the administrative state, and restore power to Congress.  Restoring power to the States would also reduce the emphasis on national politics über alles.

But conservative politicians have been peddling those nostrums for years, without much headway.  Thus, we find ourselves struggling along with a feeble Congress, a dictatorial federal court system, an arrogant administrative regime, and a presidency that is both excessively powerful and, paradoxically, unable to control its own bureaucracy.

Something has to give.  President Trump has fought back ably overall, but one man alone cannot restore our constitutional order.  Indeed, that’s the whole point of our system—to diffuse power broadly.  He’s done what he could through the constitutional powers at his disposal.

I don’t know what the future holds, but if we want to continue the grand experiment in self-government, we have to hobble the Deep State—indeed, it must be destroyed.

#MAGAWeek2018 – Limited Government

For the last day of MAGA Week 2018, I’m dedicating this post not to any specific historic individual, but instead to a facet of political (conservative) philosophy:  limited government.

It’s easy to take limited government for granted, or even to fail to recognize it:  it doesn’t seem to occur organically, although modern-day economic libertarians will claim as such (never mind that this ignores most of the last 6000 years of recorded history).  Limited government is rooted in self-government, which did flourish once given a chance, but it certainly required the fertile soil of 550 years of English political history.

Limited government is not quite the same as small government.  A government can be “small” in terms of its expenditures, but still not “limited”—imagine a lean, efficiently-run dictatorship in a very small country.

Limited government, on the other hand, suggests a “smallness” of scale, but also carefully delineates the scope of the government’s purview.  The “checks and balances” and “separation of powers” of the Constitution are key ingredients, not just between the different branches of the federal government, but between the federal and State governments as well.

The whole point of our system—beautifully laid out by the Framers, but particularly James Madison—is to defuse and counterbalance power, and to submit all authority to rule of law.  The Constitution, then, is the limiting of what government can do.  Everything else is left to the people.

Unfortunately, our nation has given up our old attitude—“ask forgiveness, not permission”—for “assume you’re not allowed to do something without getting it sanctioned by some authority first.”  That’s a shocking change from the Framers’ attitude, and to our century of “salutary neglect” prior to 1763.

Recall that Americans didn’t declare independence in 1776 because taxes were too high, but that they were being taxed without their consent—without representation in Parliament.  The whole theory was that government ruled with the consent of the governed, a notion dating back to the feudal privileges of the barons at the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215.

Similarly, the Boston Tea Party was a response to the monopolization of tea entering the colonies—a corporatist scheme cooked up by the British government to bail out the failing, government-subsidized British East India Company.  The colonists rightly reasoned that, should the importation of tea be monopolized, any product could be subject to monopolization—potentially destroying the colonial economy under the thumb of an exploitative British government.

Americans believed—correctly—that their rights as Englishmen were being trampled, and that the British government was overstepping its bounds.  In essence, Parliament and King George III failed to apply the traditional limits of English government to their colonial possessions in British North America.

As such, our Framers put together a written Constitution (unlike Britain’s unwritten constitution, which can essentially be changed at the majoritarian whim of Parliament; thus, people arrested in Britain for posting controversial topics on Facebook—and the persecution of Tommy Robinson), one that clearly delineates the roles of the three branches of government.  The Bill of Rights prudently added the Tenth Amendment, which devolves power down to the States and the people.

As for why limited government is great, I will close with this recommendation:  watch the video below from Prager University.  Adam Corolla lays out the best case for limited government I’ve ever heard.

Enjoy—and thanks for making America great again!