Post-Mortem, Episode III

After every presidential election since the first one in which I got to vote, I have posted some thoughts on this blog or in various other places on the ‘net. You can read the 2004, 2008, and 2012 posts on this site; the 2000 post and a longer 2004 post have apparently been lost to the mists of time. This is my 2016 wrap-up.


Like most of the country, I was stunned by the candidates’ reversals of fortune over the course of the evening. Like many others, I sat and watched the live forecast by the New York Times update, amazed as the needles on the win-probability, popular-vote, and electoral-college gauges ticked slowly, inexorably to the right. And like many others, I am now exhausted physically from a late night and exhausted emotionally from witnessing what will surely be remembered as one of the most amazing political events in American history.

Beyond that, though? I really don’t have much to say. I’m not happy about many of the results that we saw last night, but it has been almost a year since I had much hope of that. My musings won’t add much to anyone’s ability to process what has happened.

So, instead of waxing on, I’ll point everyone to some essential reading material as we all try to move forward, to comprehend what just happened, and to continue to function as a people. Some of it addresses Christians, some the broader “right,” and some attempts to speak to everybody. Regardless of a particular piece’s target audience, if you want to understand what is motivating millions of Americans, including those you don’t know and don’t see everyday, I’d suggest reading everything below.

Required reading:

Please pray for America and all her leaders. They need it.

Votes and Prayers

I voted today, on the first day of early voting in Texas. Now, don’t worry; I’m not going to tell you in this post how I think you should vote. (I literally am not allowed to endorse candidates for any office because of my job.) I’m also not going to tell you how not to vote. Instead, I’m going to tell a little story. Actually, I’m going to preach a little sermon to myself. And I’m asking you to read it, so you can preach it back to me when I need it.

Continue reading “Votes and Prayers”

Election 2016: Why I Cannot Vote for Trump

I have mostly kept quiet this year about the election, for a variety of reasons. For those reasons and other reasons, this may well be my only election-related post during this presidential election. But, I have something to say and want to get it on the record now, before Super Tuesday and the Texas primary. So, here goes.

This year is likely to result in the most distressing lineup of general-election candidates to be President of the United States that we have seen during my lifetime. It seems highly likely that, come November, we will be asked to choose between two or more candidates who, apparently, either do not understand or do not take seriously the office of President and its duties and limitations as set out in the Constitution.

As Americans—regardless of where we fall on (or off) of the left-right spectrum—we should expect and demand that a President, or even a candidate for President, do certain things and uphold certain values. After all,

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, [the President] shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:—”I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

This is not a mere formality or afterthought. It’s a formal, explicit requirement in the Constitution, Article II, Section 1, Clause 8. In other words, it’s important.

And, as you know, the Constitution of the United States includes, among many other things, a Bill of Rights, consisting of the first ten Amendments to the Constitution. These Amendments protect and codify—but do not create—certain fundamental human rights, which any American government and any American President must—legally must and morally must—respect. These include the free choice and exercise of religion; freedom of speech; freedom of the press; freedom “peaceably to assemble;” freedom to petition the government to redress grievances; “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms;” security against unreasonable searches, seizures, and arrests; the right to a jury trial; the right not to testify when doing so would incriminate oneself; and many others.

In electing a President, only two things are of first importance to me (or should should be to anyone else): (1) God’s claim on my conscience and (2) the Constitution. For this reason, I look for candidates who respect free speech and freedom of religion, who are not afraid of a free citizenry, and who will, above all else, respect the sanctity and dignity of all human life, from the weakest and smallest to the strongest and more powerful among us. I certainly look for conservatives and people of faith, but even those criteria are secondary to respect for human life and the rule of law. I cannot and will not vote for any candidate who does not respect humanity or human liberty or whose personal history and moral character reveal that any such respect may be no more than a political and rhetorical device.

To put it simply: a candidate for President must respect human life, human dignity, the Constitution, and the rule of law as opposed to the rule of men. All else is secondary.

The most notable development in this election cycle is the meteoric rise of Donald Trump as a contender for the Republican nomination. Trump, however, has long been a liberal supporter of Democratic candidates, not a conservative. He has long had no regard for the lives of the unborn or the rights of individuals to enjoy their property if it interferes with his plans (whether here or abroad). His supposed conversion to a conservative mindset that respects human life and dignity is very recent and poorly explained. His defense of critical liberties protected by the First and Second Amendments is spotty, at best. He flaunts his misogynyclaims not to know enough about the Ku Klux Klan to disavow an endorsement from former KKK grand wizard David Duke, and engages in daily bullying and name-calling on the internet. (I’m simply linking to his entire Twitter feed because it contains plenty of examples.) In short, he consistently disrespects those he would lead, even after his purported conversion to conservatism, and he falls far short of being the kind of person I could vote for to be President.

Regardless of how Trump stacks up compared to any other candidate he might hypothetically face in November, he doesn’t measure up and has not demonstrated to me that he possesses the personal qualities, convictions, or moral compass necessary to do the job. So, if Trump is the Republican nominee, conservatives will not be tasked with choosing the “lesser of two evils” or the least ill-suited candidate. We will face a choice between one form of unqualified, irresponsible, unconstitutional governance and another. As a Christian, an American, a lawyer, and a citizen of this great nation, I cannot vote for anyone who lacks respect for human dignity or the law of the land simply because some opponent of his seems to share the same failings.

As any reader of this site over the 17 years I have run it will know, I am a conservative, in the sense that Burke, Kirk, and Reagan (among many others) were conservative. That does not mean I am a Republican. In fact, although I would have called myself a Republican in the past, I don’t consider myself one anymore. It’s one of those “I didn’t leave the party; the party left me” situations. I, like so many other people, am incredibly frustrated by both major parties, “politics as usual,” and the moral malleability of many career politicians. So while Republicans may often get my vote, they are not entitled to it simply because of the initial after their names. They, like anyone else, have to earn it on the merits of their convictions and their actions.

I will vote in the Texas primary elections tomorrow, and I will vote according to my conscience. When I vote in November, I will vote the same way, guided by the same conscience and the same principles. Therefore, I will not vote for Donald Trump tomorrow. He fails on the most basic criteria: respect for human life and dignity, and respect for the Constitution.

And if common sense fails and Trump is the Republican nominee, I will not vote for him in November, either. My conscience will not allow it. I would love to see a constitutionalist President who is conservative, reverent, humble, good, fair, and courageous. Simply electing a Republican because he obtained the Republican nomination, however, does not guarantee any of those things.

If your state has not yet held its primary or caucus, I hope you will take seriously your civic responsibility to vote. I hope that you will vote, and that you will vote according to your conscience. And I hope that, when you do so but before you cast your ballot, you ask yourself: “Does this person respect human life at all ages, in all conditions, and in all times and places, and will this person preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States?”

Please vote for someone who loves life and loves the Constitution. We are all counting on you.

Experience and Reason

The following is Madison’s summary of a truly excellent speech by John Dickenson, a delegate from Delaware to the Constitutional Convention:

Experience must be our only guide. Reason may mislead us. It was not Reason that discovered the singular & admirable mechanism of the English Constitution. It was not Reason that discovered or ever could have discovered the odd & in the eye of those who are governed by reason, the absurd mode of trial by Jury. Accidents probably produced these discoveries, and experience has given a sanction to them. This is then our guide. And has not experience verified the utility of restraining money bills to the immediate representatives of the people. Whence the effect may have proceeded he could not say; whether from the respect with which this privilege inspired the other branches of Govt. to the H. of Commons, or from the turn of thinking it gave to the people at large with regard to their rights, but the effect was visible & could not be doubted-Shall we oppose to this long experience, the short experience of 11 Years which we had ourselves, on this subject. As to disputes, they could not be avoided any way. If both Houses should originate, each would have a different bill to which it would be attached, and for which it would contend. -He observed that all the prejudices of the people would be offended by refusing this exclusive privilege to the H. of Repress. and these prejudices shd. never be disregarded by us when no essential purpose was to be served. When this plan goes forth it will be attacked by the popular leaders. Aristocracy will be the watchword; the Shibboleth among its adversaries. Eight States have inserted in their Constitutions the exclusive right of originating money bills in favor of the popular branch of the Legislature. Most of them however allowed the other branch to amend. This he thought would be proper for us to do.

This is so excellent that I simply had to share it.  You can read Madison’s journal of the debates online in a number of places; this particular speech can be found at Yale’s Avalon Project – Madison Debates – August 13.

A Lesson in Constitutional Interpretation

In light of the current debate on Capitol Hill, the quotation of the day comes from the Supreme Court’s majority opinion in D.C. v. Heller:

Some have made the argument, bordering on the frivolous, that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment. We do not interpret constitutional rights that way. Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications, e.g., Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U. S. 844, 849 (1997), and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search, e.g., Kyllo v. United States, 533 U. S. 27, 35–36 (2001), the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.

h/t Aaron Spuler at Weapon Blog for reminding me of this passage.

Post-Mortem, Episode II

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

— Benjamin Franklin, upon leaving the Constitutional Convention in 1787

I do not want to say much about the election today, but I do want to share a few thoughts.

I will begin by referring the reader to my post-mortem of the 2008 election. When I wrote that post, much was still unknown: how Barack Obama and his Democratic colleagues in Congress would govern; whether they would unite us or divide us; whether the campaign-trail talk of bipartisanship was at all legitimate or just so much smoke; and so on. Now, four years later, we know the answers. Obviously, half of the people who voted in the last few weeks liked the answers they came up with.  Others — nearly as many, in fact — did not like the conclusions that they reached, and so we are even more bitterly divided than we were four years ago.

As those who know me well — or read this blog — already know, I think last night was a catastrophe. But it was a catastrophe in the sense that a heart attack is a catastrophe for a person who has smoked heavily and drunk too often and too deeply for the first seventy years of his life: terrible, frightening, but hardly unexpected to anyone paying attention. The election was only a symptom of the nation’s condition, not an unforeseeable landslide or a paradigm shift.  This is simply true, whether or not you were happy with the outcome. People went to the polls, and they voted for what they believed in; they did not suddenly reach some new and startling conclusions in the privacy of a voting booth. The results are a symptom: either that we are recovering from many of our maladies, or that we have taken a turn for the worse. Either way, our course of treatment is largely set for at least two more years and arguably far longer.

The good news today is that, as I observed after the 2008 election, we still are a nation, and we have again chosen new leaders with essentially no bloodshed or rioting and with minimal (but not zero) fraud and voter intimidation. The framework set out in the Constitution and its handful of amendments has survived, at least in this sense, for another four years.

As for the bad news, there is plenty of it.  We are a deeply divided nation in countless ways, a reality that only got worse, not better, in the last four years. We are mired in debt, bitter factionalism, and debates that involve more ad hominem attacks than reasoned arguments. There are very few topics that we can talk about without someone hurling (meaningless) epithets such as “one-percenter,” “____-phobic,” “anti-woman,” “anti-child,” and so on. Measured without accounting gimmicks, our deficits and our debt are soaring and are already well beyond levels that can be bridged even with punitive levels of taxation. Indeed, our country’s credit, once seen as the safest in the world, has been downgraded and is on multiple watch lists for further downgrades. Our military is weakening and faced with further, eminent, and debilitating cuts unless action is taken quickly. Our foes are emboldened, while some of our most faithful allies no longer even question whether we can be depended upon; we have proven all too often that, at least for now, we cannot. I pray that our leaders — all of them — can work together to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and the people governed by it.

Whether we can overcome the challenges ahead, only time will tell. A look at the history of nations with such deep debts and deep divisions does not bode well. If we are to overcome the tests ahead, it will be a remarkable feat, and it will take all of our effort. As a start, please pray for this nation and her people. They do sorely need our prayers.

Election 2012: Please Vote

I have been quiet about this year’s election, but not for lack of caring.  The last few months have been extremely busy for me; to my shame, my busy schedule has meant that I have been silent about what is likely the most important presidential election in more than 30 years, not to mention extremely important battles for control of Congress, many governorships, and thousands of other state and local elections.

The first and most important thing that I want to say is this: go vote.  Voting for our executive, legislative, and — at the local level, anyway — many judicial and administrative offices is a huge part of what makes this country special.  It made America unique at the time of her founding, and it still makes us unique today for the orderly, peaceful, and overwhelmingly honest and fair way in which we manage transitions of power.  So, vote.  Please.  If you don’t, you can’t complain when whomever we elect does things you don’t like.  Yes, you may still have the constitutional right to complain about it, but the choice not to vote is a choice to waive any moral right to whine about the outcome.  At the very least, it waives any chance of the rest of us taking you seriously.  If you care about how this country — or your state, or your city — is run, go vote.

As for my take on the election, well, I don’t expect to persuade anyone here and now, but I have to share my thoughts anyway, just in case.

I am a conservative first and foremost, in the tradition of Edmund Burke.  My heroes are people like Ronald Reagan and Russell Kirk.  In this post, if I can accomplish nothing else (beyond reminding you again to go vote), I hope to outline briefly why conservatism is the only safe choice for this election.  I am not going to delve into social issues such as abortion, not because they are not important, but because, realistically, how we vote in this election has little to no impact on these issues.

Our nation is at great risk, due to years of inattention to the federal budget, a military with aging equipment and little new materiel coming online, and a foreign policy that is naive at best and timid, even spineless, at worst.  Government increasingly intrudes upon the lives of average citizens, making it harder and harder to afford a good education; harder for our teachers, schools, and universities to pursue knowledge and learning rather than focusing first and foremost on the bottom line; harder to get and keep a good job; harder to start and run a business; and harder even to exercise everyday rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience.  Every new statute, rule, regulation, executive order, permit requirement, or other government action serves only to make government’s powers larger at the expense of the rights of the people.  More startling still, those powers are increasingly concentrated in a national — not federal — government, of which, as Reagan warned, the states are becoming mere administrative districts.  Our democratic federalism is dying, and it is being replaced by a monolithic, paternalistic government of bureaus, administrations, agencies, and czars.

The result is this: our official national debt is 16 trillion dollars — that’s $16,000,000,000,000 — and counting, or more than $51,000 per citizen.  But the real story is far, far worse.  By the standards that public companies must use (known as GAAP), the government has unfunded liabilities in excess of $120 trillion, or more than $1,058,000 per taxpayer.  And it only gets worse; every time the government passes a “stimulus” package which fails to stimulate, engages in quantitative easing, or even repairs a pothole, that number — and your share of it — gets bigger.  This is scary enough when we are only talking about legitimate functions of government, such as defense and administration of a justice system.  But that’s not all we’re talking about; we are also buying countless handouts to private parties, pork-barrel projects, and a reality in which more people than ever are on food stamps, even as it gets harder for employers to offer good jobs due to the crushing regulatory and tax burdens they face.

To fund all of this, we are borrowing trillions of dollars from China, Japan, Brazil, Russia, Taiwan, Switzerland, and so on.  Even worse: the single biggest creditor of the United States government is our own Social Security system, which, when combined with other federal pension systems, holds 5 trillion dollars in federal debt.  Who will be left holding the bag for that?  Our children and even my own generation, because the debt train will run out of track long before we reach retirement.  We need to spend less.  We need fiscal responsibility, but our elected officials don’t seem to have any.

Meanwhile, our military is weak.  Our navy and coast guard have aging ships, and fewer of them than anytime in the last decades.  The air force is flying old and increasingly obsolete planes, leaving us entirely dependent on drones to project air power; it’s not the same, and it’s not enough.  The army drives vehicles that are ill-equipped for a world of IEDs and fighting wars in which the enemy does not always do us the courtesy of wearing uniforms.  Our ever-faithful marines are underfunded, with all of the problems of the other forces.  Our elected officials seem to think the military is an obsolete relic of a dangerous world that no longer exists, which we can always “turn on” again if the world becomes dangerous.  Yet that same military is engaged in multiple undeclared wars and countless “peacekeeping” missions, even as our nation’s diplomatic representatives come under attack and die due to a lack of security.  We need to maintain a strong defense, but we are at risk of losing it.

We need a foreign policy that other nations respect, even if they do not find it pleasant.  There is a reason that President Obama has been endorsed for reelection by the likes of Putin, Chavez, and Castro, and it is not that they think he is strong.  We need a president who recalls that he is President of the United States of America, not of the world, and who bows to no one.

Our country was founded on a simple idea: the people, not their rulers, are supreme.  They have endowed the government with certain powers; the government has not bestowed upon the People the rights that they received from their Creator.  The Founding Fathers gave us an intricate system, balancing the need for unity with the demands of individualism, local needs with national interests, and the need for a strong government with the even more important need that it never be too powerful.  It’s time to reclaim their great idea, and restore a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, not of technocrats and career politicians, by the same, for the same.

It’s time for some real hope and change — hope for a stronger future, in which America is prosperous, strong, and free, and in which Americans do not fear their own government’s excesses.  It’s time for a real conservative.  Not a neoconservative who runs up our debt and needlessly engages in protracted wars, not a statist who sees government as the solution, but a Reaganite conservative who sees government for what it is: the problem, not the solution.

As in 2008, I am again endorsing Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates for office.  Governor Romney is a proven leader and strong conservative, as is his running mate, Paul Ryan.  They are merely men, with no pretensions to be more than men, but they are good men and proven leaders.  I honestly believe that this presidential ticket is the most genuinely conservative ticket this country has seen since Reagan proclaimed that “it’s morning in America.”  They are the right choice for America in this election cycle.  When you vote, please vote for these proven leaders and all of the others who want to get this country back on track by restoring the proper balance between the People and their government.

If you are so inclined, please consider donating to help Governor Romney and Representative Ryan bring real hope back to America.

The First Thing We Do…

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.
~ Dick, in Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2

I am always amused when I get campaign literature from various folks attempting to smear some candidate or another as “a trial lawyer.” Being a trial lawyer myself, I tend to have a flickering sense that I should be somewhat offended. But then I remember that this kind of campaign literature gives good insight into the candidates promoting it, who, hypocritically, are very often trial lawyers turned into politicians. I then get a good chuckle out of the whole thing as the literature in question enters the trash compactor (or paper shredder, depending on how strong that first reaction was).

More on Inequality

On the heels of my post on upward mobility comes an insightful post by Cato’s Michael Tanner. Two key quotations:

In the end, however, one has to ask a more basic question. Why do we care about inequality at all?

Poverty, of course, is a bad thing. But is inequality? After all, if we doubled everyone’s income tomorrow, we would eliminate an enormous amount of economic hardship. Yet, inequality would actually increase. As Margaret Thatcher said about those who obsess over inequality, “So long as the [income] gap is smaller, they would rather have the poor poorer.”

Another Nobel Prize winner, F. A. Hayek, concluded, “The rapid economic advance that we have come to expect seems to be in large measure a result of this inequality and to be impossible without it. Progress at such a fast rate cannot take place on a uniform front but must take place in an echelon fashion, with some far in front of the rest.”

We should all seek a prosperous, growing economy, with less poverty, and where everyone can rise as far as their talent and drive will take them. Equality? Who needs it?

Well put.