April 19th, 2017 // 8:05 am @ Ian Cox
by Ian A Cox
The Biggest Question
Wow! That’s deep.
The thought kept recurring as I read. The article, written by an innovator, filled me with numerous ideas—old and new—about Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. The author showed how this classic work, and others like it, are relevant to national events right now, including the famous–not to mention great–maxim: “That government is best which governs least.”
The author showed how this applies to our current national challenges. The biggest question that came to me as I read was something we all need to consider:
“How can we increase our influence in a world that seems to be heading in the wrong direction?”
This isn’t just a rhetorical question. We have more power than we might realize. The struggle for freedom resets with every new generation.
We are always one generation away from potentially losing our liberty. Education is key, and understanding freedom is a must for those who hope to protect and spread freedom.
Moreover, the battle for freedom resets in certain predictable ways. In his book We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident, Oliver DeMille gives some perspective on this fateful struggle for freedom in the United States after we gained our independence.
Here’s a summary:
- The House of Representatives was the first to vie for power, as early as the 1790’s. But the executive branch flexed its muscles as well and managed to stop the over-reaching House.
- In the early 19th Century the Marshall Court pushed for widespread control, but the Presidents during the time were able to largely obstruct court expansion (checks and balances = obstruct).
- Next, the mid-19th Century saw a resurgence of local governments as prejudices ran rampant and public servants and jurors turned a blind eye to injustice. This was eventually curbed by the exodus of many oppressed groups and minorities to the west, which created new regions and states, increasing the federalizing power (the Electoral College).
- The States then pushed for dominance of power in the mid-to-late part of the 19th Century, but were beaten by the combined federal powers of the three branches of government.
- An Aristocratic Senate was the leading power center of the early 20th Century, but it only gained influence where the Court allowed.
- The Executive branch stole the baton from the Senate in the settling dust of the Second World War, and this continues today. In fact, its aggressive competitor for power is the Supreme Court—both take turns usurping influence.
A great strength of the United States Constitution is the multi-layered governmental system it created, including a network of intricate checks and balances, as outlined above. The price of human nature and usurping freedoms from others is that power doesn’t decrease; it only transfers to other branches that tend to increase their power in order to bring back a proper balance. In each of these eras a complete takeover was thwarted, but power was centralized and freedoms gradually slipped away.
Deciding Our Fate
This power pendulum persistently swings back and forth, from one group to another, until more individuals take up their true duties as citizens (real influence).
This can occur 1) peacefully, 2) when a violent reset happens (like the Civil War), or 3) when our society collapses and something new is established out of the ashes.
The peaceful option is clearly preferable.
These issues and problems are not merely something we need to think about for today and tomorrow. We must embrace these things with a generational perspective. Because they exist on a grander scale, we have to ask the important questions. Are we solving the problem, or are we stopping one problem by creating a new one?
For example, the Civil War was practically written into the original Constitution; it was a paradox in the fabric of the whole system. Either the joint founding ideals of “all men are created equal” and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” had to be done away with, or slavery had to go. Both could not ultimately flourish together.
Likewise, the Mexican-American War (against Spain) was guaranteed as soon as the Monroe Doctrine was adopted. And, once we decided that extensive international relations via broad treaties were in our best interest, we accepted the wars of Europe as our own.
Phillip Bobbitt’s Shield of Achilles shows how we inadvertently embed the battles that future generations must fight into the chinks and weaknesses of the systems and programs we create today. The establishment of organizations like the Federal Reserve, Internal Revenue Service, and International Monetary Fund created the inevitable outcome of hyper-inflation, boom-bust cycles, and fiat currency, to name a few.
To a great extent, we are always creating our future crises.
Is this the society and government we want to fund with our taxes? Is this the group we want to endorse with our good name? To stand with confidence, with a clean conscience, and to fulfill each of our moral obligations, we must ask ourselves the hard questions. Here I reiterate the innovator’s call to action; we must not be the ostrich with our heads buried in the sand–but we also must avoid falling victim to a conquering Caesar (or a Byzantine bureaucracy).
There are a few options that have historically worked in changing a society’s fate. Some of these alternatives are still very possible today, while others are becoming less and less available to most people. Here’s a breakdown of the top three from history:
You pack up and leave, in hopes of finding a better place to restart. This has happened successfully many times in many cultures, but it is risky. Today there are very limited options for this choice. We have different forms and styles of government to pick from, but there isn’t untamed land that can be cultivated and founded from the ground up.
This is probably the most common form of rebellion. A group raises up arms and fights, in hope of overthrowing or removing tyrants. This method usually fails—not that it doesn’t remove the tyrants from power, but it typically breeds revolution after revolution and more often than not, ends with some new tyrant. In most cases, little actually gets fixed.
3) Civil Influence
In the modern world, civil influence has become the regular, expected, and non-violent form of change. This was brought about in large part by the spread of more democratic forms in societies and governments. As the people’s standard of living, education, and access to information worldwide increases, so does their ability to get involved and flex their muscles as the first and foremost branch of any governmental form. This is the at times slowest method of change, but often the most successful in the long-term.
Where civil influence was once answered with the death sentence (if you weren’t in the ruling class), it is now a real and viable option for any member of society to initiate the spark of change. This requires us, as John Locke argued, to be tolerant. Like the original thirteen colonies, we have now reached a point where the regular people need each other in order to get the right things done. This means we need to work with people who don’t always perfectly agree with us in every detail—or even in many details.
Now, this doesn’t mean we don’t stand for what is right or shirk our moral duties, but rather that we pick our battles. If we are constantly coming out against everything that peeves us, nobody will listen when it really matters (e.g. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”). Some things will absolutely happen in society that we dislike. But we can’t let disagreement make us disagreeable. It’s actually good that there are differing views on important issues. In fact, we should have a Hamilton and a Jefferson at each other’s throats in cabinet meetings, Congressional floor debates, and Supreme Court decisions–because it leads to more considered and effective solutions in the end.
More importantly, to really have influence, it is helpful not to be the guy who people hate at parties, always harping about the latest issue. Build friends, foster relationships, and focus your political influence when the time and topic are right. That said, be ready and watchful. The right time and topic will come.
Hope for a Better Future
A government by the people will largely be a reflection of the people. It could be a great government if a Moses, Marcus Aurelius, George Washington, Confucius, Muhammad, Cincinnatus, etc. is at its head; but as history has shown, it wouldn’t last. Maintaining a long-lived and successfully free society demands that a lot more citizens think and understand the principles of freedom (at the same level as, or better still, higher level than, our political leaders).
If you and I do this and we invite our communities to do the same, if “we the people” take on the responsibility to govern ourselves, we can and will have the best type of government—one that need only govern least. We must stop passing the buck on the hard things, or someone else will gladly take them up and decide for us. We the people, the first and original branch of government, have always had the most power to check and balance our government, and that hasn’t changed in today’s world.
An elite class can only rule when most of the citizens don’t have the same level of learning.
With persistence, civil influence really can provide proper checks and balances against the potential threats to freedom that naturally exist wherever power resides. In truth, it’s ultimately the only thing that does. It can be difficult. It takes patience, vigilance, study, understanding, and sacrifice.
But it does work.
 See, for example, the struggles of ancient Greece to unite city-states (unity vs. sovereignty), and the same issues in the nations of Europe and later the American colonies.
 A much more likely outcome in our situation.
 Consider the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, etc.
 From the American Revolution to Brexit.
About the Author
Ian A Cox is an entrepreneur and consultant who mentors leadership and the Liberal Arts for students and business men and women of all ages and levels. Ian is a popular keynote speaker at educational and business events. He loves reading, basketball, and discussing deep ideas on history and political science. Ian and his wife Emma have two sons.
March 14th, 2017 // 4:52 pm @ Oliver DeMille
Why Did the American People Give Donald Trump the Presidency?
The mainstream media doesn’t get it. Why did the majority of people in the majority of states—enough to win the Electoral College—vote for Donald Trump in the last national election? For much of the elite class, not just in national newspaper offices and television network suites, but also in Hollywood circles and the halls of academia, the election of Trump makes no sense. They blame flaws in Hillary’s campaign, or Jared Kushner’s algorithms, or even Putin’s hackers.
The underlying belief among much of the elite is, “Someone smarter than the masses must have made this happen; the people certainly didn’t do this all on their own.” For elites, the explanation is still as shocking and elusive as it was on election night. The impossible happened, in their view. Therefore something must be amiss.
The truth is much more simple. The American people chose Donald Trump, for better or for worse, because they saw something the media and other elites never grasped—and still don’t. Love Trump or hate him, or anything in between, but it’s important to understand what happened, to know why voters put him in the Oval Office. We need to understand what they wanted, and what they’re still expecting from him today and in the years ahead.
Powers Big and Small
To get to the bottom of this blue-state mystery, we first need to reject the typical media attempts to explain something they don’t really understand. Simplistic rationalizations such as “white backlash” or “the rise of the angry-uneducated-poor” lack comprehension. These types of analysis show just how deeply most elites misunderstand the situation. Their shocked faces on election night demonstrated the level to which they lack clarity on what occurred—and is still occurring.
The problem is a huge gap of understanding between elites and the masses. The rift between these two groups is extreme—and widening. Today there is a great need to translate the view of the masses on freedom and progress to the elite classes (who are deeply dipped in the sauce of university-ism, careerism, and professionalism, all of which color their attempts to understand).
To begin with, the great challenge of freedom is that it is vulnerable, as Michael Polanyi assured us in his 1951 classic The Logic of Liberty. If freedom isn’t protected by the vigilance, sacrifice, and wisdom of the masses, it is even weak. Note that it is the vigilance and sacrifice of the masses that matters, not the training or sophistication of the upper class. Indeed, freedom is vulnerable and even weak precisely because the elite classes exist—and are always trying to take over. When elites of any sort rule, freedom declines for the large majority of people.
Thus the American framers gave the voting power–ultimate sovereignty and control over the government–to the masses. Not to the popular vote, but rather to the majority of people in the majority of states (through the electoral college). They did this so that a few of the most populous states couldn’t combine as a kind of elite ruling group. The framers not only wanted the people to rule, but for all people, even in little towns and on the back roads, to have a real say in government.
Why? History is clear on this: whatever group is in charge treats itself better than other groups. Always. Thus the solution to dominating rule is to have the masses govern. But even this would lead to some corruption, so the framers had the masses rule certain things (locales, states, the House, the purse strings) while elites in each state were allowed to rule other things (the Senate, foreign relations, protection of the states). National elites were given no direct power under the Constitution because the framers considered them too dangerous.
Checks in Action
Freedom is vulnerable, even weak, unless the people keep elites in check–but how? Answer: Elections. The framers knew that the masses understood something the various elite groups would never quite grasp: what the people really want. Of course, elites always think they know what is best for the masses, believing that somehow their “superior” education, training, views or wealth make them better able to tell their “inferiors” what is needed. This was arguably the framers’ biggest worry, that such elites would rule (e.g. Federalist 1,10,14,17-20,51).
Elections were designed precisely to put down such elite power.
The elite classes certainly dislike this arrangement. Who wouldn’t? But it is the very arrangement the framers gave us, and for this precise reason: to keep elites in their place. That the elite establishment is still shocked when it happens is ironic. No matter how often they think they’ve finally circumvented the Constitution and replaced chaotic Jeffersonian-society with clean, ordered aristocracy (though they never openly use this term), elections somehow keep coming along and disrupting their plans. Madison must be grinning from beyond the grave.
In the 2016 presidential election, the framers’ system once more stood up and rocked the institutions of the elite. That they’ll fight back is clear. But what will they fight against? It isn’t Trump that did this. Madison did. Hamilton gave it eloquence, Franklin added gravity, and Washington provided clout. And here’s the rub: few elites even understand why it happened. They fight it in a rage, but what, exactly are they fighting against? Most aren’t sure…
In contrast, most of the masses do understand. It was time to reduce elite power.
There is a reason most elites struggle to cut through the clutter and understand what happened. Their language isn’t designed to explain this. Their training never included it. They grasp at straws, like sophomore students of Mandarin, content to memorize vocabulary but only vaguely aware that the tone of each word drastically alters its meaning. For elites, today’s political tone from middle America is distant, unclear, alien. Most aren’t even sure it is real.
They prefer to explain away the masses as “angry.” But ask them what causes the anger, or why so many people thought Trump was the solution. The elites don’t know how to explain this to their children, much less articulate it fluently to themselves. It is a mystery… something most modern elites deeply resent and consider inferior. Not quite tangible.
With all their training, status, and cosmopolitanism, why are many elites so clueless about the masses? Because most non-elites communicate their political views in a different language, something elites find strange and unexpected. Also, partly, because most elites have spent a lot of personal and institutional effort trying to climb the status ladder away from the masses. To “rise above” their roots. To leave the crowd, which they largely, as mentioned, consider inferior.
Once they’ve “arrived” and become part of the professional and elite classes, the thought of going back, or, even worse, of realizing that the masses have something elite culture doesn’t—or, horror of horrors, that it might even be better in some ways—is largely unacceptable to them. The socialization of professional and elite culture makes people almost purposely unable to understand what is going on among the masses.
In other words, modern professional/elite education and training customizes people with a certain way of seeing the world. As a result, they frequently believe nobody has more wisdom than they do—certainly not people who weren’t trained to see things in the same way. But people who don’t bother or don’t know how to analyze certain things in the accepted academic way aren’t less intelligent, they just aren’t trained to respond to things in the prescribed academic format.
Instead, they use their intelligence in other ways—analyzing, considering, noticing, and responding to myriad additional clues in their search for understanding. As such, they naturally come up with different conclusions than the proscribed expert/professional method.
Who is to say their way is inferior? The truth is, the framers believed that the masses should be given more power than elites in electing our political leaders. The framers knew that the American masses would be best at knowing what is best for the American masses.
It’s really very simple. The masses vote for what they want, and elites sometimes don’t understand it because the elites want something very different. Specifically, the 2016 election meant the following to the masses:
- America was on the verge of turning its entire government and culture over to elite domination, and we have been heading in that direction ever since the end of Ronald Reagan’s tenure.
- It was time to reverse this trend, to reduce the power of elites and give more power back to the people.
Like the shocking upheavals that lifted a Jefferson, Jackson, or Reagan to the presidency (tearing down the growing power of elite groups, even wreaking havoc and division, but the very kind of chaos and division that drastically reduces elite power) the majority of people in a majority of states turned to Trump. Indeed, if the masses in the Democratic Party would have had their way (without the elite-class power of super-delegates), Bernie Sanders, another anti-elitist, might well be the president right now.
Two Different Elections
To the professional/elite classes this all made little sense. Accustomed by educational training and long years of seeking status in the world, the elite classes computed the election using the accepted tools of academia, career, and government. The masses had no such blockage. While the establishment shook its head in dismay, saying “he’ll bring chaos,” “he’s a blowhard,” “he’s so offensive,” “he’s spreading hatred,” and so on, many of the masses said, “He’s not one of them. He doesn’t talk like them. He doesn’t think like them. We need to stop them.”
The elite class voted based largely on the issues. They emphasized facts, figures, policies, and specifics. That’s what all politicians do—at least those who appeal to the elite classes (including most of the mainstream media).
In contrast, the masses voted to reduce the increasing power of elites.
Read that last sentence again. That’s what happened in the 2016 election. The masses wanted someone to fight against elites. They chose a Jackson. Hated by the establishment. Hated even, perhaps, by a majority of the masses. But seen as one who hopefully might be able to stand for the majority of people in the majority of states—against any more power to the elite class.
Elite culture wanted someone who appealed to them, their standards, their values, their tone, their club—a Gore, a Bush even, a McCain, Romney, Biden, Kerry, Rubio, or Clinton. Someone who played the establishment game—universityism, careerism, professionalism. Put very simply: They wanted someone who believed in and trusted experts.
According to all their metrics, Trump wasn’t even qualified to run for president. But to the winning voters, only one qualification mattered: Can he stop or slow the increasing power of elites? Not all voters articulated their feelings this way, but it was the pivot-point of the election.
First, however, such voters wanted to be sure he wasn’t actually one of them, one of the elites. He was a billionaire, after all. How could they be sure he wasn’t just pretending to be against elite rule? They found their answer in his speeches, in his language. Where the elite classes hated Trump’s imprecise language (his penchant for ignoring the facts and even stating wrong facts as long as they supported his narrative), this very approach convinced the masses that he isn’t one of the elites. Not for more elite rule. Rich, yes. But not one of them.
The more the media railed against him for his imprecise language, “tenuous connection to the facts”, and “outlandish claims and attacks”, the more secure the masses became. “He’s not one of them, he’s on our side,” they said. This continues long after the election, and most of the elite media still seem to have no idea it is happening.
The People’s Goals
A lot of voters hoped Trump could stop the power of elites, including many who disliked his personality or disagreed with him on the issues, or worried that he might turn authoritarian. Truly effective CEOs, Peter Drucker taught, are selected not on the basis of their overall strengths (the “impressive” candidate) or for their lack of weaknesses or personal flaws (the “affable” candidate), but because they are the most likely to accomplish the one biggest thing the organization most desperately needs.
Many American voters saw Trump in this light: Stop or slow the spread of elite power.
This changed the whole equation—but in ways the professional/elite/expert-loving class couldn’t even fathom. It was so far outside of their training that they laughed when Trump’s name came up, from the beginning of his campaign right up until late evening on election night. Even then, they refused to believe what they were witnessing.
Once he won, their laughter turned to anger. But they still didn’t understand. The American people elected Trump precisely because these laughing elites and professionals wouldn’t like it. He was elected to reduce their power and influence, to keep them from becoming any more powerful. To block them, thwart them, weaken them. To give the economy and our national destiny back to the masses, not leave it to the whims of the few in elite conclaves of power and influence.
The masses want change. They want to remake the economy into a nation for all, not just a nation for elites or those who play the education/career game outlined by elites (mainly for the benefit of elites).
As the establishment slowly figures this out, the more enraged and extreme their reaction becomes. The election was a referendum on them! Thus their angry opposition in the media will continue.
“Did the masses even understand candidate Trump’s position on the issues?” elites ask. Answer: Yes. They understood that his take on the issues was mostly the opposite of what the elites stand for. That was enough.
Questions and Answers
But there is more. What exactly is it that the masses understand in their non-establishment-style assessments of the election? What wisdom do they have that the elites simply can’t grasp—and that isn’t being reported in the media? What are those who put Trump into office actually seeking? On the one hand, it’s simple: reduce the power of elites. On the other hand, now that the election is over, what the masses want from Trump is deeper than the elite classes realize. What is it?
The answer to this question will be discussed in Part II of this Article, out next week.
For now, the glaring reality of the election stands, and there are those who know what it is, and those who don’t. To repeat: Voters elected Trump to reduce the power of elites.
Those who understand this, understand the election. They also understand why the media is so extreme and angry right now, and why this extremism will continue. Those who don’t understand this don’t understand the election—or current politics in Washington and around the nation.
Those who understand this also know that the elite media will do everything in its ability to get back its power. Everything. We no longer have anything resembling an objective mainstream media—it is now the leading arm of elites on the warpath. We need to see everything coming from the elite media in this light.
March 7th, 2017 // 8:27 pm @ Oliver DeMille
Three Five Ring Circus
It’s true. When the mainstream media says “chaos” or “chaotic”, it means conservative. When the media says “divisive” or “unAmerican”, it means conservative. When the media says “crisis” or “out of control”, it means conservatives are getting things done. If the mainstream media communicates that everything in Washington is tainted by conflict and tumult, and the leaders are terrible people who want to destroy our nation, it means that conservatives are making headway.
To understand this, let’s begin by taking a broader look at modern politics in general. Today there are 5 (not the traditional 3) major de facto branches of government, each with significant influence, and each exerting power over the American people. Much has changed since the Constitution of 1787. Today’s five branches include:
- federal agencies and bureaucracies (now much bigger than the rest of the executive, legislative, and judicial combined, both in numbers of government employees and organizational budgets)
- media and the parties (which act as major influencers on everything the government does, both in terms of policy and elections)
Each of these five branches acts differently in our time than originally intended by the framers. But the biggest problem in this new governmental arrangement is the federal bureaucracy. Agencies are seldom checked or balanced by the other branches of government, and they routinely get away with numerous unconstitutional or extra-constitutional actions.
Biased Commentary and Unused Powers
Federal agencies now produce a great deal more “law” and policy than Congress, and they mete out more rulings, fines, and regulations than Congress, the White House and the Court combined. Again, they face few checks and balances except budgetary constraints. Note that because of this, their goal is always to grow in budget and power. They are by nature liberal, never conservative, because their objective is to grow and then grow.
The fifth branch of government, encompassing the media, a large part of academia, and the two major political parties, is closely aligned with the federal bureaucracy. Conservatives have a few national media supporters, including many on talk radio and some from Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, for example, but the Democratic Party and the mainstream media, including most television networks and most major newspapers, have a near monopoly on American media. Make no mistake, the mainstream media (including Hollywood) is an integral part of the liberal movement in the United States—as it proves whenever it covers politics.
This is a bad arrangement for the American people because it is heavily weighted. While the nation is split roughly in half between conservatives and liberals, and independents who lean Right or Left are almost evenly divided, the media is strongly liberal. In the famous pre-election survey of 2016, 97 percent of national media professionals were liberal.
This means that media attacks on Republicans in office aren’t going to diminish any time soon. In fact, they’re likely going to get worse. Most of the mainstream news media is no longer trying to be objective—it is openly part of the liberal movement. It does whatever it can to keep its power, and increase its power. This includes lying or skewing the facts if it thinks this will further its agenda.
To summarize: Whether you like or dislike President Trump (and a lot of conservatives are troubled by his style, words, and some policies), the idea that Republicans now control the government because they hold the White House, Congress, and soon the Court, is inaccurate. Even with the executive, legislative and judicial branches in Republican control, the government is deeply split. The majority of those who work for the government in the federal bureaucracy are liberals, and even among those who vote conservative on a personal level, the natural desire to see their agency increase in power and resources means they act like liberals at work.
Also, as mentioned, the media is overwhelmingly liberal. Republicans in Congress hold the purse strings, but they’ve proven afraid to use this power in recent decades. At the same time, the liberal media and bureaucracy have no such fear. They use their power as strongly as they can, and their boldness is escalating.
He Said, She Said
Here’s what to expect in the months and years just ahead: conservatives will try to reduce the power of the bureaucracy and K Street lobbyists (President Trump called this “draining the swamp”), but the media will cry foul—and it will be up to Congress to decide which direction we’ll take. If Congress backs major deregulation and defunding of the bureaucracy, we’ll see economic boom and a rebirth of American freedoms. If not, we won’t.
Whether you like Trump or not, and whether he’s doing things for the right reasons or more authoritarian goals, the current push for deregulation and defunding of the entrenched bureaucracy is good for America. If only Congress will follow through and make it happen.
But make no mistake: The media will fight this at every turn. The more successful Republicans are at deregulating and defunding, the worse the media will react. Remember, the mainstream media and others on the Left compared Reagan and Bush with Hitler and heaped upon them every negative they could muster, and Trump will be no exception.
In short, the conflict between media and conservatives is only going to escalate. If it slows down or weakens, it will mean that conservatives have backed down. Sadly, what we need is a lot more screaming and gnashing of teeth from the mainstream media—signaling that conservatism is making increased headway.
A lot of people don’t like this, but it’s true.
It Sounds Worse Than It Is
The biggest weapon on the media’s side is labeling everything conservatives do with terms like “chaos,” “chaotic,” “confused,” “divisive,” and “extreme”. As long as the media keeps saying this, conservatives know things are going well. Again, the media said similar things about Reagan before he helped reboot the U.S. economy and national security, and the media said similar things about Reagan before his leadership brought the Soviet Union to its knees and Berlin Wall to the ground.
The media said these kinds of things about the Tea Parties in 2010, just before conservatives took back the House. The media went on to say similar things about the GOP just before it took control of the Senate. The media said similar things about Republican candidates at all levels in the 2016 election, just before they kept both houses of Congress and took back the White House—and, by extension, the Court.
The media is saying these types of things about conservatives today, which signals that conservatives are making real progress. As mentioned, if the media ever stops accusing conservatives of “chaos”, “divisiveness”, “ineptitude”, “being unhinged’, and “causing upheaval”, it will be time to worry.
We are, today, witnessing the fight of our generation. Even conservatives and Right-of-center independents who don’t like Trump, Trump’s style, or Trump’s policies have to admit that under a Hillary presidency things would have gotten very, very bad—starting with the Court, and then spreading through government and society at all levels.
We need conservatism to win this battle—to deregulate our nation and economy in numerous important ways, and to significantly defund the federal bureaucracy. This is going to be decided in Congress, and we need Congress to do the right thing. If this doesn’t occur, we may never have another chance in our life times.
So keep an eye on the mainstream media. As long as it is loudly opposed to the White House and Congress, conservatives are making progress. If the mainstream media ever starts praising the government or its leaders, citizens will know that something is going terribly wrong.
February 27th, 2017 // 7:44 am @ Oliver DeMille
(The Reality of Today’s Political Protestors)
Thought vs. Feeling
No doubt about it. Symbols matter. The flag. The national anthem. Stories about great heroes from history, such as Paul Revere or George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr. In short, symbols move us. They take on a life of their own—above the historical facts, more important to peoples’ hearts and minds than mere reality. “Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story,” as Samuel Clemens put it.
Symbol has power. But not as much power as truth. The simple, genuine truth is even more formidable than symbol. Not always as influential, or persuasive, in the short term—but more important. Compare two views of the world:
Symbol over Substance: “Perception is reality.”
Substance over Symbol: “The truth shall set you free.”
The truth is that perception isn’t reality; reality is reality. Period. But perception, or symbol, does have great power. That’s why the arts are often more influential than science or logic: symbols make us feel, and feel deeply, and when our feelings are at high pitch our minds usually follow.
When politics is added to this mix, the results are interesting. Or, in more symbolic language: when our emotions take over politics, everything becomes larger than life–even overwhelming. The feelings are strong, tied to deeply emotional symbols: the White House, the media, election night agony or ecstasy. As a child I was always surprised at how much emotion adults exhibited when the names Nixon or Carter were mentioned. Immediate anger, or sadness, or a smile. Then came the name Ronald Reagan—a certain cause of sudden frowns or grins, depending on whom I was talking to at the time.
I wonder at today’s children. Say “Barack Obama” to them, or “Hillary Clinton,” and the immediate response is extreme. Happy or sad. Smiles or anger. Hardly ever anything in between. Say “Donald Trump” to our youth, and adults, and the response is pretty much never boring or uninterested. Anger, yes. Joy, yes. Sometimes mixed emotions. But seldom lukewarm.
Look Both Ways
But substance still matters. It is, in fact, vitally important. If we limit our understanding of politics to symbol, we’ve got a major national problem. Jon Stewart pointed this out very effectively when he noted that while many of his friends voted for Hillary Clinton, those who alternatively voted for Donald Trump didn’t do so because they support racism or calling people names, but because they tended to believe he’d be better for the economy.
In short, every top political figure is really two people: the symbol and the substance. To understand both is mature. To ignore both, thinking that the political leader is really only the symbol, or only the substance, is inaccurate and short-sighted.
The old adages “Focus on the issues” or “It’s the economy, stupid,” suggest that substance is king, that ultimately the voters choose based on the issues. But daily media spin and the words of celebrities, singers, actors (Oscars, Grammys, Music Awards, Hollywood, etc.) emphasize the other view—that symbolism is the real battle. One popular song says that we don’t want science, we want signs.
In the Information Age, the symbols frequently consume us. Wise citizens see through media spin that paints a leader as all symbol. But such citizens aren’t so fully swayed by substance that they think symbol doesn’t matter.
This is complex. It’s difficult for wise citizens, because they must weigh both the symbol and the substance of each political candidate, and decide which mix is best for the nation.
The two big political parties make it even more difficult, by constantly trying to put symbol above substance, trying to convince voters that their party is best and their candidate best—regardless of the details or the optics, how things really are, or how things look. “Just vote for us” the parties assure us. “We’re right; the other side is wrong. Always.”
Again, astute citizens see through the smokescreen. They identify each candidate’s substance, and symbols, and make the difficult choice. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had more candidates who were strong both on issues and symbols?
For some, President Obama met that standard. The symbols were strong: first black president in the United States. Wonderful! The American Dream is real, the symbol of Obama assures us. For those who like weaker national security, supporting Israel’s enemies, more government intervention in the economy, and further regulating peoples’ lives, Obama made sense. But for people who wanted to reduce governmental regulation and get the economy booming, while strengthening our national security, Obama’s tenure left much to be desired.
Neither McCain nor Romney offered something clearly different. The overwhelming symbol of both was “more of the same,” “a repeat of the status quo,” “a continuation of the Bush Administration.” Both candidates actually offered significant differences in their policies—but the symbol most voters experienced was still “the same old thing.”
Hillary had a similar problem. Her policies and symbols offered voters “more years like the Obama era.” For many Americans, particularly among those who were hurting economically, the idea of more Hillary/Obama policies was appalling. They wanted something drastically different. They yearned for change. In fact, it is very possible that if Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic nominee, with his powerful symbols of change, he would have won the White House.
This is the complexity of voting. Sanders and Trump both owned the symbol of “massive change”, while by 2016 the leading Hillary/Obama symbol was “no change, bad economy.” For some, Hillary symbolized “first woman president,” but the larger public view for many was “more of the same”. She found this symbol too deeply ingrained in the populace to overcome.
In other words, voters don’t just have to choose who to vote for in presidential elections, they also need to choose their personal voting criteria: for specific policies, or for the symbols. It can be even more challenging than this, in fact. Voters also have to choose between every candidate’s good and bad symbols, and good and bad policy promises.
For example, Trump lost a lot of votes because he too often symbolized “acting like a jerk, attacking people who disagree with him, being insensitive to women, minorities, the disabled, etc.” But he gained votes with citizens who believed he symbolized “truly big change in Washington” or who focused on the issues of “booming economy and stronger national security.” Many voters hated the first set of symbols, but liked the second.
In earlier elections, Obama supporters had to choose between the motivating symbols of “yes we can” or “breaking the glass ceiling of race” and the divisive symbols of “Americans cling to their religion and their guns,” as if personal faith and individual freedoms are somehow suspect. This lost him votes, but it gained him votes as well. No candidate’s take on the issues is perfect for a majority of voters.
Hamilton and Madison started the Federalist Papers with a discussion of this same reality. Specifically, Federalist 1 notes that a number of wise and good people opposed the new constitution, while a lot of wise and good people supported it. With any important issue, Hamilton assures us, there are wise and good people on both sides. How can this be? The answer, Hamilton explains, is that only bad people do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, but good people act in three ways:
- good people sometimes do the right thing for the right reason
- good people sometimes do the right thing for the wrong reason
- good people sometimes do the wrong thing for the right reason
In other words, in our day not everyone who voted for Hillary wanted the economy to get even worse or for public officials to be lax with national security emails, and not everyone who voted for Trump looks down on women and minorities or hates immigrants. The symbols and the substance aren’t in lock step. This makes attacking someone who wears a Trump hat or openly supports Hillary, for example, particularly disgusting kinds of physical abuse.
Indeed, while supporters of Hillary often downplay her use of emails as much less important than the media suggested, or note that her views on national security and trade were actually much stronger than Obama’s, even though the media refused to effectively show it, and Trump supporters will point out that he’s spoken widely of wanting more legal immigration (going against the Republican norm), symbols once ingrained in the public mind are hard to overcome. The reality is usually far deeper and more complex than the symbol.
Response and Responsibility
The truth is important: the symbols and the substance aren’t the same. The way the press portrayed Senator Clinton is only partially true, full of spin and falsehoods; same with President Trump. The reality has layers and levels. Wise citizens need to look deeper than party, media, and popular spin.
All this makes the violent protests of the Left even more ridiculous. Many on the Right hated President Obama’s policies and his perceived symbol of “bigger and bigger government” every bit as much as many on the Left now hate Trump’s approach. But instead of breaking windows, starting fires, looting, and violently assaulting those with a different view of things, they focused on working hard in their jobs, raising families, and serving in their communities.
They suffered under a president whose policies and perceived arrogance they deeply disliked, and with every Obama increase in regulation that made the Bush-era economy even worse. But they accepted the votes of those with a different view who put President Obama in office. They didn’t mob together to destroy property or physically assault people. Even the Tea Parties, as vocal as they were, didn’t make a national trend of out looting, burning, and assaulting. They focused instead of sharing ideas, seeking for a more favorable election outcome in the future.
Those on the Left who have chosen violence to protest the new president are entirely out of line. There violent acts are, in fact, illegal and immoral. Both the symbols and the substance of violent protest are wrong. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. stood loudly and effectively for peaceful protest, and left a powerful and noble legacy of standing up for change, for what they believed in, for what is right—the right way.
James Madison considered every election a “peaceful revolution”. There are ways to disagree in a civil society. Violence isn’t one of them.
In fact, the worst negative symbol of the Trump era is calling names and acting like a jerk to people who disagree with you. It’s often offensive, and sometimes extreme. Note that some of the talking heads on MSNBC and other networks have done the same thing for a long time. Still, two wrongs don’t make a right; both sides are to blame when they overstep the bounds of civil discourse.
But as bad as this is, at least it is done with words. The physical violence of those on the contemporary Left who loot and destroy in the name of political anger is a true tyranny in our time, a literal fascism in our midst—and the media who encourage this by portraying it as noble, or somehow blame it on the president or anyone else, or who refuse to condemn it in the strongest terms because the looters agree with their politics, are just as bad. This is precisely the wrong kind of symbol—and substance.
January 31st, 2017 // 10:36 am @ Oliver DeMille
Servant or Partner
There is a funny undertone right now in many media circles. For decades the national mainstream media has largely portrayed Congress as the little brother of the White House—existing mainly to support the president’s agenda. Since at least 1996 the level of independent action by Congress—directly tackling presidential action and shutting it down when necessary—has decreased. On a longer trajectory, this same pattern has been gaining momentum since 1861. Many have referred to it as the era of the Imperial Presidency.
Moreover, real use of power by Congress has become increasingly unacceptable in the eyes of the national media. Just consider the results when Congress tried to use the purse strings to check the president: the media called it “shutting down the government” and portrayed any who supported it as pariahs.
Now that Donald Trump controls the future of the Oval Office, however, the media is seeing things from a different perspective. Maybe the silver lining in Trump’s election, a number of journalists are suggesting, is that Congress can finally get back on track. It should be more of a partner with the president, less of the president’s support base.
Well…yes. On the one hand, this is patently true. Of course Congress should be a partner, independent, sometimes supporting and other times checking the White House and pruning the powers and budgets of the sprawling executive bureaucracy. On the other hand, it is ironic that the media is just now figuring this out. Thanks to Donald Trump, the media is suddenly concerned that we need a stronger, more independent Congress. But when Barack Obama was in charge, not so much.
This is a fundamental problem with liberalism/progressivism. It promotes what it wants, and changes its views on our system of government whenever such promotion would benefit its agenda. In the process, however, it creates confusion and chaos. “Follow the Constitution when it blocks something we don’t like, but just ignore or circumvent the Constitution when it makes what we want more difficult.”
The official name for this is “rule by men,” as opposed to “rule by law.” As one article suggested, “The arrival of President Donald Trump could revive Congress’ political will…” (Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017, 133) Many in the media seem to think this is a new idea. Indeed, Congress might actually start doing what the Constitution says it should do.
A wave of progressives sigh in relief. “Congress shouldn’t have blocked Obama, clearly. But it should block Trump. A lot.” The hypocrisy is poignant.
Or consider another suggestion: “…foreign policy leaders in Congress should take advantage of their positions to fight back against deception on the part of the executive branch.” (Ibid., 143) This is exactly right. What isn’t mentioned is that Congress should have been doing precisely the same thing a lot more effectively for the past eight years.
“Legislators often sense that the administration is not telling them the whole truth but do nothing to call it out.” (Ibid.) A serious problem. But why didn’t the national media call for a change while Obama was in office? Why did they in fact excoriate any Congressional committees that tried to do exactly this? Why the newfound popularity of the Constitution among media elites now?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m elated that more voices are now calling for Congress to step up and do its job. All I can say is: “Finally. It’s about time.” I support this trend, even if it is coming many years late. I can’t help but smile at the irony, however. Now that their candidates are out of office, many in the liberal media are suddenly noticing the importance and value of the Constitution.
The Lesser of Two…
As one writer put it, quoting Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: “History has shown that neither the Presidency nor the Congress was infallible, and that each needed the other—which may well be what the Founding Fathers were trying to tell us.” (Ibid., 145) Right on. Just as those of us who believe in the Constitution have been saying for the last three decades.
But this trend is bigger than first meets the eye. The sad reality is that the Constitution is more often lauded and promoted by those out of power than those in office. The real need is for it to be cherished and followed by those in authority.
Which brings us to the subject of President Trump. Many who voted for him didn’t do so because they believed he was the great champion of the Constitution, or even America. Indeed, many Trump voters weren’t at all sure what their vote would bring about in our nation and world. They cast their ballot for Trump largely because they were sure a vote for Hillary would bring more the same—more rule by career politicians and bloated bureaucracies, more economic stagnancy and empty promises from Washington, more business as usual politics, more blah, blah, blah from the mouth of politicians, more problems and few actual fixes.
They voted for change, hoping that it would actually come. Many—perhaps most—feared that the election wouldn’t actually change things very much at all. Politicians frequently promise change, and then don’t deliver. Why would Trump be any different? Many Americans are still skeptical that things will truly improve. They expect more bureaucratic double speak, more economic bad news.
They’re waiting, watching. Wondering what will happen. As one Trump voter told me: “Maybe Trump will make things better, maybe he’ll make things worse. But with Hillary we know what we’ll get: more of the same. No solutions. Just an endless stream of problems. If Trump can bring even a little bit of positive change, it’s worth it.”
Note the cynicism wrapped in a tiny husk of wistful hope. “If” he can bring “even a little bit of positive change…” The subtext is sobering: “It’s not likely anyone will bring any solutions. But if only we could get even a tiny bit of good news…”
Dusk or Dawn
We are now an America deeply in doubt. “No good news will come. Probably not even a little. But still, if only it would…”
The desperation is palpable, if we allow ourselves to notice. In short, America 2.0 is suffering from PTSD. We’re just waiting for “the other shoe to drop.” Too many Americans expect bad news. We expect tragedy. We are biding our time, assuming bad things will come. “This is the new normal,” the Obama Administration told us. We anticipate more that is negative.
Consider the following headlines:
“Officials hold firm, despite Trump’s skepticism” (USA Today, January 6-8, 2017).
“Department stores become endangered” (Ibid.) [More lost jobs, the end of the Mall Era that began in the Eighties and became synonymous with the postmodern American Dream.]
“Year Ahead: A partly sunny outlook for sales” (Ibid.) [We bide our time, trying to stay positive, largely sure that clouds are coming.]
“Sears watches its relevance fade in changing world” (Ibid.) [For many people, this sentence would be even more true with the word “America” inserted for “Sears”.]
“Macy’s and Sears, which owns K-Mart stores, announced more than 200 store closings on Wednesday and Thursday” (Ibid.)
All of these come from one page of the same national newspaper. They paint an emotional picture of a nation not in full-blown crisis but clearly expecting it. Or, maybe, it is in crisis already. Sadly, each day’s front page is similar. Another front page from a different national newspaper tells the same story:
“The retail property market is showing signs of a slowdown…” (The Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2017)
“Trump Creditors Are Many, Varied” [The article tells us the new president is deeply in debt, as is the norm for real estate developers, and this may weaken his ability to lead.]
“The Yuan surged, posting its largest-ever two-day gain against the dollar…” [China is still gaining ground on us, slowly but surely.]
“Trump blasted Toyota…” [Big government and big media are constantly in conflict.]
“Belgium’s Botched Hunt for ISIS Cell” [Danger everywhere…]
Look past page one, and the same newspaper adds the following:
- Young people are now renting more, buying fewer homes.
- “More older people carry student loans”
- Research shows that smartphones hurt children’s eyes.
- Sales at Barnes and Noble and other bookstores are way down, while liquor sales are up.
- Saudis cut oil production, so fuel prices are expected to rise.
- Macy’s, Kohl’s, and many other retailers’ sales are way down.
The news is endless. It’s more than “bad news sells,” there’s a distinct tone of worry, concern, even fear of what’s ahead. “What is coming next?,” Americans seem to be asking. The answers are generally cynical and a bit gloomy.
Again, in this environment, the Constitution is gaining “support” in many media outlets. No doubt President Trump will face many big battles with Congress, not just from Democrats but from those in his own party. (See The Wall Street Journal, January 7-8, A13) In fact, Trump probably won’t just face an attempt to set the national agenda from Chuck Schumer, but also from Paul Ryan. (Ibid.) Congress seems poised to reassert itself.
That’s a good thing. The Founders would have applauded. It’s way past time for Congress to do its Constitutional duty and stand up to the President as needed. Sadly, it didn’t do this very well during the Obama era—or the Bush era, or the Clinton era. It’s great that there is more support for such a resurgence today, even it makes us chuckle at the irony.
The fact is, the Constitution is still the best hope for good government. We should follow it. Congress should follow it. They should follow it with Trump in office, and with anyone and everyone else in the Oval—not just when it’s convenient, or popular in the media, but always.