FightFireLight

A few days ago, a Facebook Friend asked those on his timeline to provide their opinions about Obamacare. So, you know, just a friendly discussion. I came somewhat late to the conversation, but with more than enough time to turn off anyone who disagreed with me. This was going to be brutal.

In my opening salvo, I said that the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, was a net negative for my family. That triggered a response from someone I had never heard of, saying how great Obamacare was. I countered that, no, it was bad, and that it didn’t solve the problem anyway, since high prices are often the result of supply and demand issues and overregulation. He replied that supply is not the problem—there are freaking doctors all over the place. And besides, healthcare is a human right. I said that, no, it’s not a right like life and liberty are rights, and provided the historical background on what a right is.

It was at this point that he was well within his rights to call me a racist or invoke Godwin’s Law. But then something unexpected happened. This friend-of-a-friend—the bloke calls himself “David”—responded with this: “You do make a compelling argument. Let me stew on this for a bit.”

What happened? Here was a great opportunity for him to slam me with misleading statistics or post an information-free political graphic. But instead, this David character said that he wanted to take time to think about the discussion. Frankly, it felt extremely un-American, and it left me with a good feeling that I just can’t seem to shake.

I spent some time reading through our short dialog, to see if there was anything I did that would stop this David from being a typical Facebook jerk. We were both strong in our opinions, so that wasn’t it. I made it clear more than once that I disagreed with him, and he did the same, so those were points in each of our favors. As I looked through the postings, I was sure that the conversation would end up in a yelling match. How did it all go so horribly wrong?

And then I saw it, in the discussion about whether healthcare was a natural right or a legal right. What I saw was enlightenment. Or more correctly, The Enlightenment. In discussing the source and nature of inalienable rights, I researched online articles that drew ideas from Thomas Jefferson and John Locke, among others. In doing so, I inadvertently invoked the same sound philosophical concepts that America’s Founders used as the basis for the American Experiment.

It seems that there is something inherent in the writings of figures like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, and Thomas Hobbes that trigger a different reaction than the unfriend-inducing bile one normally hopes to achieve on a forum like Facebook. By referencing centuries-old sources of wisdom, logic, and intelligence instead basing my arguments on whatever Safeway-quality luncheon meat happened to be floating around in my innards, I derailed the conversation into coherence and thoughtful pondering.

There is something to be said about the clarity and social stability that occurred through my misstep. Not only did I feel good about what this David guy said and did, I came away from the discussion thread believing that he possessed both wisdom and above-normal brain function. It’s not a caricature I normally apply to political ideologues on social media. Since this David is not my friend, I know nothing about him. And yet, in some strange way that stretches back past America’s founding, I know him quite well.

I might try more of this Enlightenment thinking. It’s not something I would recommend for everyone. I mean, if all Facebook users suddenly started behaving calmly and intelligently, where would the fun be in posting a controversial opinion? But for the Davids of the world, and perhaps even for the Tims, it might be just the thing.

[Image Credits: FreeImages.com/Erik Araujo]

This article was posted on August 1, 2016. Related articles: Commentary, Politics, , .

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LittleWarrior

I have a friend who claims to be an anarchist. He’s not at all like those anarchists I read about in school or in the news: Emma Goldman, the renowned anarchist who tried to assassinate financier Henry Clay Frick; Ted “Unibomber” Kaczynski, who killed three and severely injured nearly two dozen others; or Leon Czolgosz, who shot and killed President William McKinley. My friend doesn’t seem like the murderous type at all. Instead, he and his modern anarchist pals have dropped the whole assassination and maiming thing, it seems, and instead are carrying out the propaganda of the deed by posting anarchy things on the Internet.

According to my friend, all the trouble in the world stems from government, capitalism, and authority. The United States in particular is apparently little more than a police state, with its officials regularly engaging in the “assault, kidnapping, and murder” of ordinary citizens, and its merchant class scheming to steal your property. He let me know all of this on Facebook, a capitalist-engineered tool running on the military-designed Internet, which he is able to access from his home, purchased or rented thanks to enforceable contracts, likely located on a pleasant paved road built in part with my money.

The anarchist promise is that a world purged of authority and government is preferable to the one we have now. Violence, coercion, and greed are legacies of societal institutions, they claim, and when those authorities fall, individuals will return to a state of nature, one where people are free, independent, and “awake” to governmental lies. In short, anarchists are promising true happiness, peace, and contentment, the same guarantees offered by the very politicians they claim to loathe.

The trouble with modern anarchists is not that they dislike government. Even someone as mainstream as Ronald Reagan stated openly that “government is the problem.” Their main failure is in believing that mankind would enter a more idyllic, tranquil, and just state in the absence of any government or social compact. In my friend’s anarchic posts on social media, there are hints of a time when government will be no more, when individuals, freed from the control of their political slave-masters, will commune with one another, offering happily what they have to others, and sharing in the joy of man’s evolution to a higher plain of awesomeness. The human heart, in such a view, is a tabula rasa that remains pure in the absence of government control.

In other words, modern anarchists are religious fundamentalists. My friend speaks of love and sharing replacing murder and slavery. He believes in true peace, a peace that comes from the human heart, one uncorrupted by the systems of the world. He looks for a future paradise, a joyous time of happy stability when the oppression of this Dark Age is whisked away. And he is always imploring me to “wake up” from my lost condition, fervent in his evangelistic call.

As a religious person myself, I can’t fault anarchists for looking to a better life, or using religious terms to advocate for their cause. But what I found unusual was the ease with which their faith replaced truth and logic in areas where faith wasn’t required. I recall one particular discussion where a few of us pathetic capitalists tried to talk the converted off of the anarchist ledge. We would mention their use of logical fallacies and those Facebook graphic memes that contained inaccurate data or blatantly false statements. The meme that got the entire conversation started was one claiming that police in the United States will use unmarked cars, while police in other countries do not. Such a claim is easily proved false, yet the anarchists would not endure any response that removed even a speck from the American police-state mantra. If anarchy is as essential and correct as they claim it to be, it can certainly handle the admission that a poorly crafted meme might contain errors.

Christians, at least in theory, differentiate between the supernatural and the temporal. Faith isn’t required for mundane earthly things, but only for those beliefs that fall outside of natural experience: eternal salvation, miracles, the existence of a spiritual realm, and so on. For things in the Bible that aren’t supernatural—the presence of Roman guards in the Jerusalem of Jesus’ time, as an example—plain old historical research and common sense take the place of faith. Certainly there are Christians who extend faith into areas where it doesn’t belong, such as when some insist that a quick one-chapter summary of creation by Moses is detailed enough to automatically cancel out scientific research. But in general, faith is for faith-things, reason is for everything else.

But that division is becoming rarer in our modern world. Misplaced faith shows up in our political arguments, when excitement over a specific legislative policy overshadows hard data about whether the policy even works. It appears in our schools, when we replace the boring, difficult rigor of study with lessons in self-esteem, and then express shock when test scores lag. And perhaps the biggest faith pilgrimage takes place during the two-year run-up to the presidential election, when each candidate’s obviously impossible promises are accepted as gospel truth.

The effulgence of excess faith stems from a core human desire for utopia, a place of respite from the injustice and partisanship of this age. It’s an understandable drive, but one built on the false belief that human beings are easily perfectible, or will voluntarily empty themselves of their own ambitions. Faith is a commendable attribute, but its misapplication to untruths invariably leads to disillusionment, conflict, and anarchy, the bad kind of anarchy.

[Image Credits: Dan Colcer]

This article was posted on June 15, 2016. Related articles: Commentary, Politics, , .

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When people say that the US Constitution is a “living, breathing document,” what the really mean is that the amendments to the Constitution are pliable for modern use. But they often ignore the core document itself. The constitutional arguments for the right to privacy, abortion, and gay marriage, for example, come typically from the Bill of Rights and other amendments that followed the document’s initial ratification in 1788. When modern rights advocates play the Constitution card, they pull a Club instead of the Heart.

This snubbing of America’s core document has to end. The time has come for the One Thousand Senators Project. Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution defines the construction of the Senate this way: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.”

Such clear language worked in the days before flush toilets. At its founding, the entire nation had a mere 3.5 million citizens, fewer if you invoked the three-fifths clause from Article 1, Section 2. Virginia, the largest state at the time, had around 700,000 people in it. Today, even tiny, perfectly rectangular Wyoming has almost that many. At a modern population of around 323 million, the nation is practically bursting its seams. And yet, we still just get a paltry two senators per state.

The Founders certainly never intended for us to be saddled with such an archaic system. The “composed of two Senators from each state” clause is more than 200 years old, from an era before the Common Core standards. With our advanced technology and understanding of mathematics, it’s shameful that a nation as powerful as ours still interprets the “two” in this clause as “two.” And the “six years…one vote” part: what’s up with that? The country has moved on.

I propose that, beginning with the 115th Congress that will convene in January 2017, the number of senators per state be increased ten-fold, to twenty each. The nation has multiplied a hundred-fold since its founding, and some might ask why we don’t jump right to the 200-senator-per-state level. Calm down people, there’s no need to be silly.

This limit on the number of state senators isn’t the only place where the Constitution puts a straightjacket on America. The Strict Constructionist view of the Constitution also shackles us to these tired clauses.

  • The Oath of Office listed in Article 2, Section 1 is boring and, frankly, way too long. If Twitter has taught us anything, it’s that brevity is the soul of wit and intelligence. “Dibs” is really all the president-elect needs to say.
  • Article 4, Section 4 speaks of a “Republican Form of Government.” Concerns over GOP misuse aside, the short-sighted vision of America as a Republic has held down other expressions of governance for way too long. The Republican focus on the “Rule of Law” is a slap in the face to other legitimate and world-tested systems such as Communism, Anarchy, and pure Democracy. Why shouldn’t every citizen have a vote on absolutely every miniscule speck of governance?
  • Article 3, Section 3? Treason? Give me a break.

In time, we will apply flexible standards to these and other core constitutional matters. But the Senate is an essential place to start. The needs of the country are urgent, and increasing congressional membership to 1,000 elected individuals or casual drop-ins will allow us take on the legislative task with a renewed vigor. With so many more hands to do the work, Washington, DC will become the new focal point of power and patronage, virtually eliminating the need for ordinary citizens to be concerned with civic matters. It is certainly everything that the Founders envisioned.

This article was posted on May 24, 2016. Related articles: Commentary, Politics, , .

Footnotes for “Let a Thousand Senators Bloom”

  1. Nice work Tim, but shouldn’t you have published this post the evening of March 31?

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We all lie to ourselves. Some of these lies are harmless, almost humorous: “Is dinner ready? I’m starving!

Other lies carry a little more danger, such as saying to the barista, “Make it a grande. I worked out earlier today.”

Clearly, many of my own personal lies deal with food. But at this level, the consequences are mine to bear, and having a second helping of mashed potatoes doesn’t have that big of an impact on those around me.

But there is one lie we tell ourselves that has severe negative impacts on those around us. This lie is comforting at times, which is why we hold on to it so tightly. Every four years, we let this lie out of our heads and allow it to walk around in public, amidst our politicians, political parties, and fellow citizens.

The lie is that reality doesn’t apply to us.

This lie is a universal one, but Americans are especially prone to believe it. Repeated successes on the world stage have convinced us that things will always work out, no matter how many poor decisions we make, and no matter how many others have failed in the past.

The lie takes many forms, but increasingly it comes neatly packaged under the name of Socialism, or Democratic Socialism, if you prefer. A few years ago, a Gallup poll found that more than a third of Americans held favorable views toward Socialism, and the numbers have certainly risen with so many Feeling the Bern.

The allure is that Socialism is good for incomes, good for equality, and good for America. But it is not good, just as it hasn’t been good for the other nations that have run after it. We believe, against all evidence, that the benefits of Socialism will come to us without any of its problems. We believe that the reality of Socialism’s failings won’t apply to us. But it will apply, because humans are not interchangeable automatons that can be willfully programmed for perfection.

Socialism never results in true equality or satisfying incomes. In fact, it tends to make the divisions between rich and poor more stark, and institutionalizes the position of the powerful over the weak. A century of Socialist experiments across Europe and Latin America bear this out. It’s not because people aren’t trying hard enough to fix things. It’s because there are underlying realities that cannot be changed by brute force: people are not completely equal; life is not always fair; some people take advantage of others, and still others allow it.

Humans are complex bundles of conflicting abilities and desires, and attempts to “socialize” everyone to a specific pattern only tends to exacerbate the differences. Socialism says that, given the right leadership, it can make all things right, correct every wrong, and bring true equality and happiness to all. It’s a lie. A comforting lie, but still a lie.

Socialism is a lie primarily because everyone can never be equal within a human society. Even if you force everyone at gunpoint to behave equally, someone has to hold the gun.

Socialism does not hold a monopoly on the lie that reality doesn’t apply to us. There are plenty of proud Capitalists who believe that, if only the federal government will get out of the way, or if only we build a wall, riches and peace will come to these United States. Capitalism has certainly been good for America, and when configured well, is always preferable to Socialism. But just like Socialism, it is incapable of helping all members of a society because there is an underlying reality concerning the human condition that makes such goals impossible to achieve. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. But we should also be honest about the reality of human interactions.

Americans have attuned themselves to the siren song of utopian fantasies. Politicians prey on our hunger for security and peace, promising us that if we vote them into office, pain will cease, the haughty will be brought low, and life will be fair. The claim that “we will end poverty in our generation” is enticing, but it is a promise that cannot be fulfilled, because it doesn’t accurately reflect reality.

No matter how many times we raise the minimum wage, no matter how many colleges we make free to students, no matter how high we impose taxes on the rich, there will always be people in poverty. It’s a miserable, terrible truth. But it is truth nonetheless. It is within the context of this truth that we reach out and help those in need.

Until we come to terms with the truth about human nature, and understand that there will always be trouble among individuals and groups, we will keep voting for politicians who get elected by lying to us. That’s the reality.

[Image Credits: Fox Broadcasting Company]

This article was posted on May 10, 2016. Related articles: Commentary, Politics, , .

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If Donald Trump wins the 2016 presidential election, thank a Democrat.

Trump, of course, is running as a Republican, and his votes will come from those who align with the GOP. Yet it will still be a victory brought about by Democrats, especially left-leaning Democrats. This political group, more than any other in America, has spent the last seven decades building the conditions under which a Trump presidency becomes likely.

If the three branches of government—the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial—held a beauty contest among Democrats, the Executive would win every time. Democrats love the Executive branch and its elected official, the president. That’s because the Executive is charged with enforcing the laws of the land, and left-leaning political views—represented in America by moderate to leftist Democrats—require strong enforcement to be effective.

Although the three branches of government were designed to be co-equal, with checks and balances put in place to maintain this equality, those on the left have long viewed the Oval Office as the actual seat of power, with Congress and the Supreme Court doing the president’s bidding. This isn’t meant as an insult, but as an observation that in the Socialist-style Democratic worldview, enforcement of government mandates is seen as the most effective way to maintain the social order.

This view goes at least as far back as Franklin Roosevelt, who as president built the modern Democratic Party from its former regional splinter groups. When the Supreme Court ruled that some of FDR’s policies were unconstitutional, he attempted to pack the court by increasing its membership from nine to thirteen, adding four new justices who would vote in line with his policies. For Roosevelt, the Judicial Branch was meant to be subservient to the Executive.

Just last week, Chelsea Clinton confirmed this view, stating in a campaign speech in Maryland that her mother, as president, would direct the court’s decisions. In speaking of gun control issues before the court, Clinton said, “The next time the Court rules on gun control, it will make a definitive ruling,” implying that a President Hilary Clinton would make sure of it.

Democrats hold similar Executive-first views when it comes to Congress. It’s no mistake that the Affordable Care Act is commonly known as “Obamacare,” or that President Obama is proud of that moniker. Whether it is energy policy or healthcare or social concerns like gay marriage and gun ownership, Democrats look to the power of the presidency both to set the tone and to make things happen, through Executive Order if necessary. The current Democratic president, Barack Obama, boasted proudly of this power, the power of “fundamentally transforming the United States.”

Many Americans fear a President Donald Trump or a President Hilary Clinton because they believe, and rightly so, that the power available to such a president could bring real danger to the nation. If the power of the United States was still “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” or if that power was divided more evenly between the three federal branches, the fear of such abuse of power would not be as great. But the Democrats, especially in their more left-leaning moments, made sure that such populist views were pushed aside.

Today’s Republicans are no less to blame, seduced as they were by this same desire for easy power in a single political package. But it was the Democrats who long embodied this utopian ideal of a glorified, all-power Camelot. The Democratic Party successfully built up the image of the president in the eyes of the public, so that it is now the focus of nearly all electoral thought in America.

Donald Trump, as president, would be an Executive Branch-lovers dream, and although they will vote against him, he is also what Democrats have been hoping for in a president.

[Image Credits: Donald Trump photo by Michael Vadon, under a Creative Commons license.]

This article was posted on April 26, 2016. Related articles: Commentary, Politics, , .

Footnotes for “Democrats for Trump”

  1. So when did the “Well-Read Man” become the “Prolific Political Polemicist?” (Just poking you. Always good to hear from you.)

  2. This election season seems to be turning everyone into a polemicist, even when being the nicest person in the world!

  3. Tim, we have not spoken in such a long time, but I must take this opportunity to disagree. The obstructionists of the Republican Party created an atmosphere in which Donald Trump has been able to succeed. Karma.

  4. Hello Patricia. It’s great to chat with you again. In this election cycle, there is certainly plenty of blame to go around. The article focuses on one aspect that ties closely with how Democrats have approached national politics since the FDR era. But the Republicans have their own issues that, as you say, contributed to the rise of Trump. The American public also shares some of the blame, since a lot of fervent supporters of all the candidates do so without actually studying or understanding any of the policies uttered by each candidate.

    None of this is new. One need only look back to the Democratic National Convention of 1968 to see how crazy things can actually get. In that convention, Humphrey got the nomination without having won any primaries, a result that Cruz supporters now look at fondly. And as for bluster, there are some races back in the early nineteenth century that make this year’s race look like a gentlemanly hand of bridge.

  5. “…since a lot of fervent supporters of all the candidates do so without actually studying or understanding any of the policies uttered by each candidate.”
    Well put Tim. Zeal without knowledge can result in a lot of noise but makes for shaky ground under a polemicist.

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