January 20th, 2016 // 7:52 am @ Oliver DeMille
The New Myth
Something significant has occurred during the 2015-2016 election cycle. The mainstream media has effectively portrayed “anger” or “being politically angry” as bad. “Good” citizens, in this context, are those who aren’t upset, frustrated, or angry about…well…anything.
Indeed, the media has created an interesting picture of what politics should be (in their opinion). This is multifaceted, but actually quite simple. With careful camera shots, and a clear agenda in the editing room, the media has portrayed two Americas–both of them far from accurate.
On the one hand, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Carly Fiorina have become the faces of American anger. When the media shows clips of these candidates, they are animated, usually upset about something, and speaking in strident tones with extreme words.
Their supporters are portrayed in nearly all of the video images as rowdy, unthinking, and a bit star-struck. The clips are carefully selected to show middle- and lower-class-looking Americans waving flags, wearing campaign t-shirts, and sporting sweats, jeans, un-manicured hair and waistlines that are larger-than-normal (at least on television).
In contrast, Bernie Sanders is portrayed as an apostle of decorum. Like other candidates, he waves his arms, speaks in extreme terms, and jabs his finger repeatedly at the crowd—but this is nearly always aired without actual audio. We often don’t hear what Sanders is saying; instead a reporter or commentator uses moderate tones while these pictures run in the background.
We are left with the soft, soothing and studied commentaries of professional journalists, while Sanders’ visual antics communicate energy, passion, and political strength. The juxtaposition of these cues and messages is subtle, but effective: “Sanders has great passion and momentum, and his ideas are credible and intelligent.”
Behind the Curtain
When we are allowed to actually hear Sanders speak, he is usually sitting in a one-on-one interview, conversational, and politely direct. No finger-jabbing, no waving arms. His hair may be a throwback to an episode of Back to the Future, but he looks confidently and humbly into the camera and speaks like an economics professor. “He is just the messenger. Hear his truth…”
Most clips of his audiences emphasize trim, handsome, young people (many of them students), often with jackets and ties. Indeed, they are exact replicas of Ron Paul crowds from past elections. The older participants mostly look like academics… Once again, the message is clear.
In contrast: When Trump or Cruz are interviewed in person, the cameras invade their personal space and close in on the face. Every “angry” wrinkle is visible. The camera backs off for Sanders and Clinton, showing the whole body—dressed for an episode of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The message is obvious: “This is a genuine man, or woman, of the people.” Clips of their intellectual discourses-of-the-day are played and replayed. As for Trump and Cruz, the sound bites are sensational and extreme.
But watch the full videos, where they are available. In reality, all four of these candidates have moments of extremism and other moments of intellectual depth. The same is true of Christie, Fiorina, Carson, and O’Malley, for that matter. Yet ask most TV viewers, and the word “intellectual” will apply to the Democratic candidates, while the Republican candidates are “extreme.”
A lot of artful and conscientious camerawork reinforces these stereotypes.
To be clear: Sanders’ stump speeches are every bit as “angry” as Trump’s. His rhetoric is patently extreme. “Wall street is ruining it for everyone else. Greed controls our nation. The 1 percent must pay their fair share, including free college for everyone. A much higher minimum wage is absolutely necessary—anyone who disagrees is part of the lies and greed.”
Likewise, Cruz is every bit as intellectual and studied as Hillary.
Perhaps the most interesting thing in all this: The typical ways the mainstream media portrays the Democrats are also applied to Marco Rubio. Not to Huckabee or Rand Paul. Not to Santorum or Kasich. Not to Christie or Carson. Just to Rubio.
The media has so far portrayed him as intellectual, credible, wise—like the Democratic candidates. Also, Rubio doesn’t wear the typical Republican uniform (suits and ties that scream “Mr. Smith Owns Washington.”). He frequently wears a sweater-like casual jacket with a zipper down the front. Very pedestrian. Very academic. Again, the mainstream media frequently portrays him like it does the Democratic candidates.
[Why is that, do you suppose?]
By the way, the same thing occurred with John McCain during the 2007-2008 primaries. Later, once he was the nominee, the media shifted its approach and portrayed him the same way it had other Republican: extreme, out of touch, slick around the edges, uncaring, silver platter.
Romney didn’t get this stylized media treatment in 2012, and no other Republican is getting it now. Just McCain and Rubio. Interesting…
And, again, the real message of the 2016 election, if you accept the cues and innuendos of the mainstream media, is that:
- “Anger is bad!”
- “The Republicans are all angry.”
Let’s consider this idea seriously. If anger is bad for politics, then we must of course be happy with everything President Obama has done. “No anger. Just smile. It’s all good.”
Steps to Solutions
The problem is that it isn’t all good. In his last State of the Union address, the President painted a rosy picture of a more prosperous and safer American than when he took office. Both are false. The national debt has ballooned from $10 trillion when he entered the White House to $19 trillion today. ISIS is a real threat, along with Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, other terrorists, North Korea, Iran (much worse than before), China, Russia…etc. We aren’t a bit safer.
There is much to be concerned about—very concerned. Calling such concern “anger” and equating it with being unintelligent or uninformed is, in fact, totally out of touch. It’s also ignorant. False. And insulting.
The economy is still facing serious problems, and the last seven years have only made things worse. Are many voters “angry?” Yes, in both parties. And with good reason.
A smug, arrogant media isn’t helping. Let’s be honest. The mainstream media are at least as responsible for today’s widespread American “anger” as the White House.
Anger isn’t the ultimate solution, to be sure. But it actually is a reasonable first step. Or, perhaps, the second step, after first recognizing that something has gone wrong. There’s a lot to be angry about, and only people who aren’t paying attention—or actually like the status quo—feel great about the country’s current path.
Determination and Change
Being angry about the bad directions Washington is taking doesn’t mean voters are unintelligent, uninformed, or unsophisticated. It means they care. It means they’re watching, and they expect Washington to do its job—a lot better than it has recently.
It means they’re still part of a democratic republic and they still believe democracy works. They take their citizenship seriously, and they’re gearing up to take action on election night.
The truth is that this is what scares the mainstream media. They label it “angry” because they don’t want to admit that the majority of voters disagree with the elite media and want a lot more government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
If you’re an elitist, freedom scares you. So you call it names, like “angry” or “uninformed.” In truth, it is angry, but it’s actually very well informed. It’s the power of the people focused on an election with an intensity not seen in a lot of years.
The people want real change, like they did in 2010 and 2014. And they’re determined to make it happen. But this time, their intensity is pointed at a presidential election.
The mainstream media knows what’s coming, but they’re going to try to stop it if they can. This approach will make a lot of voters even angrier—and even more determined.
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November 19th, 2015 // 2:28 pm @ Oliver DeMille
All in the Family
A poll by the Pew Research Center shows that, beginning in 2014, the percentage of young women living at home or with family members is the highest since 1940. The number of young men moving home is also growing rapidly, but hasn’t quite topped the 1940 mark yet.
A significant factor in this shift is that more and more young college graduates are unable to find jobs. Another contributor is that many of the jobs young people do find don’t pay as much as they did for twenty-somethings over the past several decades.
Beyond the college changes, high rent and higher costs of living for everyone are contributing to this change. In short, more young people are staying or moving back home.
Could this be a cyclical return to the multi-generational family households that dominated the 1930s? If so, we would expect to see more grandparents moving in with middle-age children and their families (or vice versa)—and, in fact, this is also occurring. Some eras of history—those with long economic downturns or very slow economic growth—naturally tend toward multi-generational families.
Overall, the U.S. economy is still struggling, even though the Great Recession began seven years ago, and even though Washington claims it ended four years ago. But since 2011, we’ve seen only very small growth in the U.S. economy, around 1-2% annually.
For many people, this level of growth doesn’t keep up with the annual increases in their expenses. Many families still feel like the Great Recession never ended, because they seem to be falling further behind. And while the Obama Administration touts the increased numbers of jobs in the past four years, most of these jobs pay much less, and offer fewer benefits (if any), than those so many people lost between 2008 and 2012.
In other words, the recession may technically be over—on paper—but look at the numbers more closely and the economy is still sputtering. Over ninety thousand Americans have now stopped looking for work, so the lower unemployment numbers don’t really mean that lots of jobs—or good jobs—are back.
The New Economic Normal?
All in all, the Obama Administration has taken the approach that 1-2 percent annual growth for our economy—with lower-paying jobs and more people relying on increased government benefits to survive—is the new normal. The Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaigns have voiced the same sentiment.
In fact, the Democratic candidates daily make the case that government should offer many more programs (a national $15 minimum wage, free college, increased welfare funds, etc.) so people can get used to making do, even without jobs. Obamacare already did this for health care, though rising costs are causing numerous problems for those who do pay for their own health care.
In contrast, many of the Republican candidates for the 2016 election have argued that we need to get back to 4% annual growth or much, much higher. Whether any of the candidates can win in 2016, and then actually do something to significantly boost the economy, remains to be seen.
We may well be at a national crossroads. If we follow the Democratic path, we’ll increase taxes and depend more on government to help families make ends meet. And paying the bills will be increasingly difficult.
If we adopt the perspective of some Republicans that we really can reboot the economy and spur 4%, 6%, or even higher growth, we can restart the American Dream for the current and next generation. But can any of the Republican candidates actually do it? Only time will tell. At least some of them are trying.
What Actually Works
Let’s be clear. Governments don’t spur economic booms. Entrepreneurs, small businesses, and big businesses that expand and hire do. But when the government regulatory burden and tax rates are as high as they are right now, it’s going to take some government action to free up the economy and incentivize more entrepreneurs and businesses to take action toward major growth.
As for the trillions of dollars held by U.S.-based corporations abroad, the government needs to bring our tax rates down to the point that it makes sense to bring this money back home to the U.S. economy. So, yes, the free economy needs real relief from government right now.
The next election could make all the difference. We’ll either reinforce the Obama legacy and put more people into low-paying (or no) jobs and onto government benefit rolls, or we’ll reboot the economy by freeing it up and incentivizing free enterprise growth, hiring, and expansion.
These are two very clear, opposite directions, and only one of them even has the chance of benefiting American freedom and prosperity in the years ahead. Our economy is at stake.
October 20th, 2015 // 4:09 pm @ Oliver DeMille
“Why can’t the two parties in Washington just get along?”
“Why can’t the politicians just stop bickering and work together?”
“With the factional divides in the Republican Party, no Speaker of the House can get anything done.”
“Shutting down the government is a failure of leadership.”
“I wish Washington would just stop fighting all the time.”
Sound familiar? I’m amazed at how often I hear these words. At the barbershop. At the store. Waiting for my car to get serviced. At a family party. Granted, not every conversation is about politics. Most aren’t, in fact. But when politics does come up in casual conversation, you can usually count on hearing these sentiments—or something very much like them.
Yet every one of these phrases shows a serious lack of understanding. The people who utter these words either don’t understand the Constitution, don’t like it, or have decided not to openly show that they understand the Constitution.
In a cultural sense, these words are false. They’re wrong. They’re ignorant. These statements are the opposite of the Constitutional culture established by the Founding Fathers and ratified by our forefathers. And this misunderstanding is literally a much bigger problem for America than anything happening in Washington. In fact, many if not most of Washington’s problems are rooted in this broad misunderstanding.
Specifically: If a lot of the regular people don’t understand the Constitution, our government will be dysfunctional. But not in the way the media portrays. In fact, the problem is almost precisely the opposite of what the media typically tries to spin.
I. Why the Framers Wanted Lots of Tumult
and Conflict in Washington
The U.S. Constitution is based on separations of power and checks and balances. The Framers clearly saw that, through human history, political power has been abused. Almost always, and by every kind of government. And this abuse takes a certain form: Power centralizes in one political entity (sometimes the executive of the nation, whether king or dictator or president; sometimes in the legislative or parliamentary branch of the government; and other times, in judges), and then the bearer of that centralized power abuses it.
This is the story of ancient Greece and Israel, of both the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and of the various Germanic, Asian, African, and pre-Columbian American tribes. The same plot is repeated numerous times in the island nations around the world, and in dynasties, feudal eras, and nomadic cultures. James Madison made special note of how this pattern played out in Western Civilization, particularly various Greek city-states and alliances, and a number of German, French and other European princedoms and commonwealths (Federalist 18,19,20).
Madison’s conclusion, which was adopted by most of the Framers, was that no single branch of government should have too much power, and that the only way—the only way—for a people to remain free is for the branches to have the power and duty to effectively check and balance each other (Federalist 47,51).
Madison warned that the people wouldn’t stay free unless such ongoing checks and balances, tumultuous and intense at times, were part of America’s regular fare (Federalist 37,38,53)–what we might call our cultural DNA. In fact, if the three branches of the federal government ever became less than jealously in conflict with each other, Madison warned, the people should be very concerned about their freedoms (Federalist 47,48,51).
In addition, the three major parts of the federal government were created to provide certain vital functions, based on different strengths. They were meant to be:
- The Decisive Branch (executive), to stop foreign aggression
- The Protective Branch (judicial), to maintain the inalienable rights of the people, especially against government abuse of power
- The Chaotic Branch (legislative), to argue, debate, disagree, deliberate, and ultimately pass only a few limited laws that nearly everyone can agree upon
This is the crux of the Constitutional culture the Framers established. Today it remains central to maintaining our freedoms.
II. The Constitutional Culture
the Framers Wanted
Under this system, freedom is in jeopardy if the executive, legislative, and judicial branches aren’t actively checking each other (ibid.).
One of the leading Founding Fathers, St. George Tucker of William and Mary College, called any government where the three branches weren’t at odds and actively fighting each other by the name “tyranny.” Madison said the same in Federalist 47.
The people can only remain free if each branch uses its checks and balances to keep the other branches in line (Federalist 47,48,51).
When the branches do this, it is chaotic. But it’s the kind of chaos that happens when the branches fight each other, which is much better than what happens when the branches stop bickering and work together to reduce the power and freedoms of the regular people.
In short, chaos in Washington usually means that the branches are attacking each other, instead of the freedoms of the people. That’s a good thing!
The major checks of each branch were, and are:
- executive veto
- judicial decisions concerning constitutionality
- legislative purse strings
Again, the Framers knew that the use of these checks would be hotly contested, turbulent, divisive, and often very upsetting to those on the receiving end of such checks.
The Framers realized that sometimes a presidential veto would feel disastrous to some people. They also knew that a Court decision of “unconstitutional” or “constitutional” would at times trigger a lot of frustration, and that the Congress using its power of the purse to shut down government if necessary would cause real discomfort.
Madison warned in Federalist paper 1 (the introduction to the Constitutional system) that during such periods of “great national discussion”, the following would happen in America:
“A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose.”
Yet such checks—including vetoes, Court decisions, and Congressional tumult and government shutdowns—were the very basis of the U.S. Constitution. As Madison put it: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” (Federalist 51)
This bears repeating. The Founding Fathers knew the use of a check by one branch of government on another would bring controversies and adversarial contentions. Indeed, “controversy” is mentioned 25 times in the Federalist, and “adversaries” and “contentions” are discussed 40 times.
But for the Framers, the real worry, the big danger, was the “ambition” of people holding government offices. Forms of the word “ambition” appear 62 times in the Federalist. The Founders were willing to allow angry feelings about checks and balances, in order to stop abuses of power by government officials and agencies.
This is the very foundation of the U.S. Constitution. As mentioned above, it is firmly based on the idea that government officials, agencies, and branches that spend lots of time fighting each other will find less time to over-govern or over-regulate the people. Those who understand this reality understand our Constitutional culture. Those who don’t, do not.
III. When You Hear that “Government is Gridlocked,”
Remember that Jefferson and Madison
are Somewhere Cheering!
Today, however, when a discussion about Washington or politics arises, it often turns in the direction of politicians not getting along, or not getting much done. But let’s be clear: if the politicians start agreeing on a lot of things, our freedoms will be voted away more quickly.
The Founders knew this, and in response they purposely established separations of power with checks and balances to keep us free.
As Madison said, quoting Montesquieu, in Federalist 47:
“‘There can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body…’ or ‘if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive functions.’”
That’s pretty straightforward. “There can be no liberty…” if the checks and balances aren’t used.
Unless government is frequently gridlocked, freedom quickly declines.
The checks and balances matter.
Yet when the House uses its Constitutional power of the purse to withhold funds or shut down the government to keep the president or Court in check, many Americans today somehow think that Congress isn’t doing its job. The truth is the opposite. If the House isn’t using its power of the purse to keep the president and Court checked, then Congress isn’t doing its job.
If the campaigns and debates to elect a new Speaker of the House aren’t heated, passionate, and tumultuous, then Congress isn’t doing its job very well.
If sections of the House aren’t fighting each other, Congress isn’t doing its job. Same with the Senate. Same with all the branches of the government.
IV. The Constitution Works—
We Should Try Following It
When did the majority of citizens stop understanding the Constitution? When did so many of us stop seeing that the separations, checks, and balances are key to our freedoms? Or forget what the actual checks and balances are?
For example, if your Congressman/Congresswoman won’t use the Constitutional power of the purse to fight for freedom, you should elect a new one.
Ultimately, the majority of American citizens have somehow stopped understanding the Constitutional culture the Framers outlined—with its intense, passionate, turbulent and rowdy conflicts between the three branches of government (and even within Congress). Somehow many voters have been swayed by the modern media view that everything should be smooth, friendly, and without struggle, that politics should be professional, gentlemanly, and efficient.
Indeed the media has convinced too many of us to see the latest political fights and shake our heads in frustration or disgust, when we should be smiling and carefully watching to ensure that the branches of government keep fighting each other—except when the national security is legitimately at stake.
That’s how our Constitutional system is designed, and the result is more freedom for the regular people. Most nations of the world, and of history, would give nearly anything to have such a Constitutional structure with its checks and balances and the freedoms and prosperity they engender.
If we ever actually adopt the type of civil, tranquil, administrative politics many in the media envision, we’ll live in a nation that has lost its freedoms. The fact that serious, vigorous debate and intense disagreement in Congress and other parts of Washington is seen as somehow…bad…is a national tragedy. Such fervent skirmishes and struggles are what the Framers wanted when they designed the Constitution the way they did. This is precisely what is needed to ensure that no one group or elite upper class controls everything.
Furthermore, the emasculation of Congress and its Constitutional power to check the president and Court by withholding funds as needed and shutting down the government on occasion is a major step in the direction of losing our freedoms.
If only more people understood the Constitution.
Next time you hear about chaos in Washington, smile. Smile widely. Grin and take a deep breath. The Framers got it right.
But if you ever hear about a lack of gridlock in the government and laws sailing through Congress in gentlemanly civility, you’ll know that we’re experiencing a massive loss of freedom.
We all need to help more people understand the Constitutional culture of freedom the Founding Fathers gave us, based on lots of chaos and bickering in Washington.
September 10th, 2015 // 6:30 am @ Oliver DeMille
“U.S. median income is $42,000 per year, while the European median income is $27,000. That’s close to the average difference in annual income between U.S. high school grads ($28,000) and college graduates ($45,000). And the current elite class wants America to become more like Europe. This explains much of what Washington is doing these days.”
What Is Coming
Sadly, it isn’t quite that simple. The crisis is coming.
What’s the Crisis? Imagine this: It’s the summer of 2017, and we have another career politician in the White House. On the day of the 2016 election, or even earlier, we learned that none of the anti-Establishment candidates were going to win. Instead, the media informed us that the American electorate was putting another regular politician into office.
And since inauguration day, that president has followed a path similar to earlier presidents, from Bush I and Clinton, to Bush II and Obama: the national debt is still skyrocketing, our foreign policy is a disaster, the government is growing, increased regulations attack our prosperity every month, and the Supreme Court is legislating additional policies that hurt the nation.
On top of all this, the mandates of Obamacare are really kicking in now, increasing many small business costs by 30% or more annually—and as a result, those businesses that survive are laying off large numbers of employees. Your family health insurance premiums are up many thousands of dollars a year. The economy is still struggling, with less than a 2% growth rate, and good-paying jobs are increasingly scarce. At least one or two of your close friends or family members have lost their jobs.
In other words, it’s clear that the 2016 election has changed almost nothing. Terrorist attacks are increasing in both Europe and a few targeted attacks in the United States—as Iran uses its new $100 billion dollars to fund such violence. ISIS is still spreading, and China continues to increase its naval presence around the Pacific Rim. Moreover, Putin is becoming increasingly aggressive, not just in Eastern Europe but also in Syria, the North Pole, and the Pacific.
If the new president is a Democrat, there is a strong push to increase taxes and federalize even more state-level programs. If, contrast, if the president is a Republican… well, exactly the same thing is happening.
If we vote for the same kind of candidate we’ve voted for since 1988 (a career politician), we’re going to get the same thing we’ve experienced since…you know…1988. Meaning that career politicians are going to give us the same thing that career politicians have always given us:
Increased government. Very little positive change. A continual slide toward bigger government, higher debts, and decreased individual prosperity and freedoms.
This is the crisis ahead: More of the same. Except that it’s continually a bit worse, year after year, election cycle after election cycle.
“The definition of insanity,” you remind yourself, “is to keep doing the same thing while expecting different results.” In business, the prime directive is that to actually change an organization, you have to significantly change the leadership. If career politicians keep running the White House, little is going to change. This is true.
It’s frustrating. We don’t want to believe it, because we hope things will be different this time. But each election proves that it’s the reality. Career politicians do what career politicians do. Over and over.
Specifically: whatever career politicians say as candidates, once they’re elected they do what they’ve done before. Count on it. The following presidential candidates are not going to bring much change to Washington:
- Joe Biden
- Hillary Clinton
- Jeb Bush
- Chris Christie (to his credit, Christie is openly promising to do what career politicians do: just more of the status quo)
- Marco Rubio
- Scott Walker
- John Kasich (actually, at least Kasich has balanced two major budgets—the federal budget during the 1990s, and Ohio’s budget while serving as governor; thus, he’ll likely do this again—even if he doesn’t do much else, this is a pretty good thing)
But does anyone actually believe that if Jeb Bush is elected president we’ll reverse the national debt, repeal Obamacare, or seriously send education decisions and funding back to the states, where it belongs? No way.
The above candidates are part of the system; and reaching the pinnacle of the system they’ve spent their lives supporting won’t incentivize them to drastically change things. Whatever your political views, it’s clear that those who’ve made their lives in the system aren’t likely to alter it in any significant way. Period.
The following are a lot more likely to really change things:
- Bernie Sanders
- Carly Fiorina
- Rand Paul
- Donald Trump
- Ted Cruz
- Ben Carson
Say what you want about them, but they aren’t part of the typical Washington Establishment.
If elected, would one of them actually change things?
Maybe. Maybe not. But there is at least a chance.
In contrast, with the first list above, there’s no reasonable, rational expectation of real change.
Part II: What Will the Crisis Look and Feel Like for Americans?
Beyond the question of whether or not real change will come after the 2016 election, a deeper question is this: “If it doesn’t come, what will happen?”
In other words, “Where is our current national trajectory taking us?” First of all, if real change does come, it could take a number of different directions. That’s what change does. Genuine change is almost impossible to predict, because a significant change causes so many additional, cascading, changes.
If anyone on the first list above becomes our next president, I believe we have less than a 1% chance of changing course in a serious way that really shifts our national direction. Even if someone on the second list is elected, I’m convinced we’ll have less than a 40% chance of such a course correction (and 0% if it’s Bernie Sanders).
And let’s be clear: a course correction is desperately needed. If it doesn’t come, where are we headed?
Answer: In the early 1960s, many in the Euro-American elite class adopted the idea that the U.S. was beginning to outpace the nations of Western Europe—economically, technologically, and militarily. Moreover, they calculated that such a divide would be bad for business (specifically the business of the elites, which includes both the economic endeavors of the 1% and also their political influence).
To combat this growing divide, the elites began using their institutional, fiscal, and monetary influence to make the United States more like Europe. They began in earnest by dropping the gold standard in 1971, and providing an influx of elite money into higher education donations and endowments, and simultaneously with increased investment in and ownership of major media outlets.
Influenced by these funds and those who provided them, education began spreading the idea that America should be more like Europe, and the graduates of these programs increasingly dominated the campus scene through the seventies and eighties. By 1987, Allan Bloom decried what amounted to the Europeanized politicization of higher education in his bestselling book The Closing of the American Mind.
Choosing a Dream
Media increasingly reinforced this same message—“America should be more like Europe”—in stories and reports, from the major national newspapers to the Big 3 television networks. Nearly all cable channels and Establishment-supported Internet news outlets followed suit.
Among Establishment policy makers, Samuel Huntington’s writings on “Civilizations” and Francis Fukayama’s “End of History” essays pointed U.S. financial-, domestic-, and foreign-policy institutions (and bureaucracies) in the same direction.
Where does this leave us today? The “American Dream” includes the ideal that each household should achieve home ownership, financial independence (at least by the time of retirement), cars, savings, education for the kids, and a better lifestyle for each additional generation. In contrast, a middle class family in Europe typically lives in an apartment, has fewer children than American families, owns (on average) less than one car, and expects decreasing financial opportunities for coming generations.
To put this in financial terms, the U.S. median income is $42,000 per year, while the Western European median annual income is $27,000.
While it may not appear so at first, these numbers are drastically different—especially if you are applying for a home or vehicle loan, trying to start a business, deciding how many children to have, or funding a child’s college education. Indeed, an American family of three making the European median income of $27,000 a year typically lives in an apartment and has approximately $4,050 a year or less in disposable income. The U.S. median income of $42,000 upgrades the family to a home and $12,180 in annual disposable income.
That’s roughly the same as the average difference in annual median income between U.S. high school grads ($28,000) and college graduates ($45,000). That’s right: the direction of U.S. median income is headed toward less than the average wages of high school grads.
This comparison is not overstated. This is where we’re headed. Of course, the affluent classes won’t suffer this same fate, but a lot more Americans will become part of the struggling class. Just like in Europe.
Who we vote for matters.
If we want real change, we need to vote for something different.
August 19th, 2015 // 2:36 pm @ Oliver DeMille
Steps to Freedom
I read another great book today, and it rekindled my sense of hope for the future. If you care about freedom, you’ve got to read it! This new classic is Liberty’s Secrets by Joshua Charles, and it is…
But I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s a story here, an important one. And I need to tell it in order to do justice to this book. In a world of brief sound bites and too frequently shallow media and educational conversations, a great book is easily overlooked. Such greats all too often go unnoticed because we live in an era of constant—aggressive—distraction. So to introduce a genuinely great book, we need to get this right. Here goes…
I. The Great Books
I was a young boy when first it happened, old enough to ride my bicycle to the library on hot summer afternoons and find interesting books to read, but young enough that high school sports and summer trainings weren’t yet part of my daily routine. One day under the memorable breeze of the town library’s large swamp cooler I came across a long shelf of books that boldly called themselves “The Great Books”. I stopped and stared. I re-read the title, then pondered.
“These can’t be the only great books,” I reasoned to myself. “There must be others.” Intrigued, I pulled out a volume and perused the title page, then skimmed through several chapters at the beginning of the book. I was impressed by the small print, the columns and footnotes, and the sheer quantity of big, unfamiliar words. They were downright intimidating.
I marveled a bit, rubbing my fingers along the cloth-covered bindings. I knew I would read these books some day. I just knew it.
I remember nothing specific about which volumes I investigated that day, but I skimmed many of them, reading a sentence here and another there. The afternoon passed, and I eventually returned the last volume I’d removed to its place on the shelf and went to the front counter to check out the L’Amour novel I’d selected for the week’s reading.
We lived in the desert, and it was a very hot summer, so during the exertions of my bike ride home I forget about the “Great Books”. But each time I returned to the library, I noticed them again. It seemed like none of them were ever checked out, and I could well believe it. They were truly daunting, with their gold foil lettering, fancy author names, and massive domination of shelf space.
II. Fast Forward
Today I just finished reading a truly great book on freedom, and I smiled widely as I completed the last few lines and closed the book. I removed the dust jacket and ran my fingers over the sleek black hardcover with the red foil print. “I was right, that day,” I thought to myself.
Then I realized I had been right on both counts. I would, in fact, come to read the whole set someday. I couldn’t have known at the time that I would re-read The Great Books many times, teach them extensively in multiple university, high school, and graduate level courses, and spend many hours discussing their content with colleagues, business executives, students, professionals, family members, and friends. The Great Books volumes have become dear friends over the years, and I have returned to them often for heated debates with their authors or to rehash unfinished questions in the “Great Conversation”.
But I was right about the other thing as well: there are great books beyond those in Britannica’s 54 volume set. And when I encounter an additional great book, I always feel a sense of excitement. Great books are great because they are important. That’s the major criterion. They have to be truly significant, to add meaning to our world—to innovate something that wasn’t there before the book brought it to life.
III. What Makes “Great”?
Over the decades I’ve experienced several great books beyond those from the “official list,” and they always leave an impression. Like The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom, The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler, or The Five Thousand Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen. Such books, like those by Bastiat or Austen, simply must be added to list. Along with Solzhenitsyn’s works.
In recent years I’ve come across several additional great books, like Andy Andrew’s The Final Summit, Chris Brady’s Rascal, Stephen Palmer’s Uncommon Sense, Orrin Woodward’s Resolved, Judith Glaser’s Conversational Intelligence, or Henry Kissinger’s On China. I also studied an old great book I hadn’t ever read before, The Early History of Rome, by Livy, and found greatness in its pages as well. When you read a book that is truly great, it’s a moving experience.
Such books come along rarely, so when they do it is important to pay attention. But what makes a book genuinely great? After all, greatness is a very high standard. It can’t just be good. As Jim Collins reminded us, good is too often the enemy of great.
Nor can it simply be well written. It can’t merely be accurate, detailed, beautiful, or interesting. More is necessary. It can be one, a few, or all of these things, but to be truly great, it must be also be transformational. It must change you, as you read.
IV. A New Great Book!
When I started reading Joshua Charles’ book a few days ago, I didn’t know I was in for such a treat. I had already enjoyed his earlier bestselling work, so I was ready to learn. I got my pen and highlighter out, and opened the cover. But as I read I realized that this book is truly very important. Needed. And profound.
Then, as I kept reading, I noticed that I was feeling something. A change. A different perspective. A re-direction. I was experiencing…the feelings that always accompany greatness.
Charles notes in several places that as a member of the Millennial generation he felt compelled to share this book with the world. Why? Because, in his words: “I wrote this book for one reason, and one reason only: to reintroduce my fellow countrymen to the Founders of our country and the vision of free society they articulated, defended, and constructed, in their own words.”
As a member of Generation X, I was thrilled to see a Millennial take this so seriously—and accomplish it so effectively. Even more importantly, as I read I noticed something very important, subtle but profound. Charles doesn’t make the mistake of so many modern authors who write to the experts and professionals in a field. His scholarship is excellent, and he goes a step further. He has a more important audience than mere political or media professionals. He writes to the people, the citizens, the voters, the butchers and bakers and candlestick makers—the hard-working people who make this nation go, including the artists, scientists, teachers, executives and leaders.
In so doing, he is a natural Jeffersonian, speaking the important principles of freedom, culture, economics, and leadership to a nation of people—not merely to politicos or aristos, but to everyman. To underscore this (and I doubt it was a conscious decision on his part, but rather his core viewpoint), his word choice refers not to “the American voter” but rather to “we the people.” He considers himself not merely the expert, but one of us, one of the people.
I could have hugged him for this, had he been here in person. We have far too few freedom writers today who see themselves truly as part of the citizenry. When they do come along, albeit rarely, I feel a sense of kinship and I know that their hearts are in the right place. Jefferson would be proud. For example, Charles wrote:
“We no longer know where we came from, the grand story we fit into, and the great men and women who inspired the noble vision which birthed the United States of America, the first nation in history to be founded upon the reasoned consent of a people intent on governing themselves….
“Additionally, few of us are well-read enough (a problem our educational system seems blithely unconcerned with) to discuss the lessons of the human experience (often simply called ‘history’)…”
Freedom, the classics, voracious reading, leadership, and the future—all rolled into one. “This is my kind of author,” I realized, once again. “These are the themes I emphasize when I write.” So did Jefferson. And Skousen, and Woodward. No wonder I love this book.
The Current Path
More than profound, Charles’ book is also wise. Belying his Millennial generation youth, he speaks like an orator or sage from Plutarch when he warns:
“Liberty is difficult work. It is fraught with risks, with dangers, with tempests and storms. It is a boisterous endeavor, an effort for the brave and the enterprising…”
These latter words have stayed with me since I read them several days ago. I keep remembering them. Boisterous. Brave. Enterprising.
These are the traits of a free people. In classical Greece, among the ancient Israelites, in the Swiss vales, the Saracen camps, the Anglo-Saxon villages, and the candlelight reading benches of the American founders—wherever freedom flourished. Yet today we train up a nation of youth to be the opposite. To fit in (not boisterous). To avoid risk (not brave). To focus on job security above all else (not enterprising).
If this trajectory continues, our freedoms will continue to decline.
Where and When
Speaking of freedom, Charles calls us to immediate action with his characteristic humility, depth, and conviction: “We either pass it [liberty] on to our posterity as it was passed down to us, or it dies here and now.”
Here and now? Really?
Is it that immediate? Is it truly this urgent? Is it really up to us?
The answer is clear: Yes.
Yet, it is.
“He gets it.” I smile and take a deep breath. Then I whisper to myself: “Another great book!”
I hold the book sideways and look at the many pages where I have turned down the corners. Dozens of them. Just for fun, I open one of them and read:
“…we have every reason to be doubtful of, skeptical about, and disdainful toward the notion that Caesar [government] can solve all our problems.”
I nod. When freedom is under attack, leaders rise up from among the people. This book is part of that battle.
“The Great Books indeed.” I grin as I say the words.
I turn to another page with a dog-eared corner and read Charles’ words:
“‘Society is endangered not by the great corruption of the few, but by the laxity of all,’ Tocqueville had noted, and on this he was in complete agreement with the Founders.”
And now, I note, with at least one Millennial.
I feel a sense of building hope for the future. “The Millennials are beginning to lead,” I say with reverence.
“This is big. And if this book is any indication of what’s to come…
“It’s about time,” I say aloud.
Then, slowly, “Everyone needs to read this book.”
*Liberty’s Secret by Joshua Charles is available on Amazon