This Is What the Founding Fathers Intended – Plodding Government, Compromise, Checks on Government Power

Right now I do not have the time for an in-depth response to President Donald Trump’s statements in the news Trump is now talking about consolidating his power. Hopefully someone with appropriate education and understanding will write one with due justice.

The populist revolt within the Republican Party has been built around a call for “a return” to the U.S. Constitution and the intents of our Founding Fathers.

Where the sentiments expressed in the article misses the bulls eye is that the processes complained about promotes exactly the governing and lawmaking dynamics that the Founding Fathers intended.

From their experience with England, the Fathers were wary of having tyrannical leaders and government. The Fathers did not want a head of state who could issue fiats without resistance or minority voices/interests quashed by the majority.

So they diffused centralized government power – creating checks and balances, spreading the political power around.

While many may complain about how difficult it is for our government to take decisive action, those who favor our cherished rights and limited government should celebrate that obstruction and other processes put into place to protect the people and their liberty from government subjugation do work.

The majority is not supposed to be able to simply impose their wishes – the minority may demand consensus or compromise, appeals may be made on the law or Constitutional principles.

This is what the Founding Fathers wanted in order to deter tyranny and protect liberty.

Revolutions and Stable Aftermaths

The following quote was taken from author Daniel Silva’s thriller The English Spy.  I think it is one of the more eloquent and representative laments over the major powers’ contemporary strategies and actions in the Middle East.

“The Arab Spring had turned into the Arab Calamity.  Radical Islam now controlled a swath of territory that stretched from Afghanistan to Nigeria, an accomplishment that even Bin Laden would have never dreamed possible.  It might have been funny were it not so dangerous  –  and so utterly predictable.  The American president had allowed the old order to topple without a viable alternative in place, a reckless act with no precedent in modern statecraft.”

If the West had managed the establishment of a new Iraqi government with much more local understanding and military might and much less corruption, perhaps Iraq would be a stable country today and ISIS would be a much less deadly shadow of its current self.

Nevertheless, I am not deluding myself that ISIS would not exist or would not have the strength to take over swaths of territory.  I am proposing simply that the region would be less volatile and less unsafe if the birth of ISIS occurred under more stable conditions.

From that, I would posit that while external parties (such as foreign governments) can and should provide guidance and support to the opposition of authoritarian regimes, it should be noted that democracy and capitalism is not always the goal of all opposition groups.  It is therefore better for the main revolutionary impetus to come locally as the people of the country would appreciate the revolutionary hardships more from their own purposes and be more invested in the movement.

It is good for the hardiness and health of a democracy for the locals to realize the value of democracy themselves and want this liberty in spite of the hardships of achieving it.

While guidance and support to minimize chaos and casualties is paramount and desired, the people will make the decision to overthrow if they have had enough of an authoritarian regime; and they should, preferably on the principle of democracy.  For the most part, it is not our place to decide the appropriate time for revolution against tyranny.  Advice, yes.  Decision, no.

The Arab Spring led to the dissolution of much order and the propagation of much violence and death in the Muslim world; but, if the West had invested more towards stability, then the chaos and violence might have been minimized in the wake of revolts and revolutions that were due to occur.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM VENEZUELA: HOW TO CULTURE JAM POPULISM

This is the most useful (and brilliant) advice I have read since the election.

Andrés Miguel Rondón is a scholar and Venezuelan native.  From his experiences during the Hugo Chavez years, he wrote a piece in response to Trump’s election in order to provide advice against repeating the Venezuelan failures in countering the populism that brought Chavez to power and kept his party there for two decades.

The issues with non-college educated Caucasian voters here in America reflect the troubles with populism.  While Venezuela and the U.S. are different in many ways, Rondon makes many good points about avoiding easy, knee-jerk responses to populism that ultimately backfired on the Venezuelan opposition – failures he cites as self-inflicted.  Americans should evaluate whether those lessons have value towards diffusing the lure of populism here.

The following is a distillation of Rondon’s column.

 

Trump and Chávez are masters of populism.  There’s something soothing in all that anger – though full of hatred, it promises redemption.

The populist recipe is universal:  find a wound common to many, someone to blame and a good story to tell.  Tell the wounded you know how they feel.  That you found the bad guys; label them: minorities, politicians, businessmen; cartoon them, as vermin, evil masterminds, hipsters, etc.  Then paint yourself as the savior.  Capture their imagination, one that starts in anger and ends in vengeance.  Populism can’t cure suffering, but it can build a satisfying narrative around it:  It is them. It’s been them all along.

Populism is built on the irresistible allure of simplicity.  The problem is now made simple, as opposed to complex and real.

The worst you can do is simplify the debate by bundling moderates and extremists together, or by condemning a group of persons as uneducated and gullible.  In Venezuela, the only one who benefited from such tactics was Chávez.

This does not have to be your fate in America with Trump.  Recognize that you’re the enemy Trump requires in order to succeed.

The problem is you.

 

Lessons Learned in Combating Populism:

  1. DON’T FORGET WHO THE ENEMY IS (YOU)
  • Populism can only survive amid polarization. Populism works through caricature, through the unending vilification of a cartoonish enemy.
  • Polarization means if you’re not among the victims, you’re among the culprits. In your case, you’re that modern bogeyman called the liberal urbanite hipster who thinks of the working-class disparagingly.
  • “But facts!”, you’ll say, missing the point entirely.
  • You care, but as long as you don´t recognize the problem is not the message, but the messenger, you will be wasting your time.
  • Your focus has to be on erasing the cartoon you’ve been drawn into.
  1. SHOW NO CONTEMPT
  • Your organizing principle is simple: don’t feed polarization, disarm it.
  • This means leaving the theater of injured decency behind. The Venezuelan opposition wouldn’t stop pontificating about how stupid it all was.  “Really, this guy?  Are you nuts?  You must be nuts.”
    • He will destroy the country.
    • He’s clearly not that smart.
    • He’s threatening to destroy the economy.
    • He clearly has no respect for democracy.
  • “Don’t listen to them, folks”, says the populist. “Stop letting them think they can school and fool you.  The only true fact is that the enemies are few and they lie.  Let’s show them they’re the ones who are wrong.  They think only about themselves.  Listen to me.”
  • Shaming has never been an effective method of persuasion. If you show contempt, you’ve lost the first battle.  Instead of fighting polarization (and by extension, populism), you’ve played into it.
  1. DON’T TRY TO FORCE HIM OUT
  • In Venezuela, we should have just kept pointing out how badly Chávez’s rule was hurting the very people he claimed to be serving.  Anything other than digging in to fight the agenda would just distract the public from the administration’s failed policies.
  • The Venezuelan opposition tried every single trick in the book, including a ruinous oil strike, to derail Chavez, but failed because they lost sight that a hissy-fit is not a strategy.
  • People on the other side of issues, and, crucially, independents, will rebel against you if you look like you’re losing your mind. Worst of all, you will have proved yourself to be the very thing you’re claiming to be fighting:  an enemy of democracy.
  • It’s taken many years for the Venezuelan opposition to wash away those stains. Those stains sapped the opposition’s effectiveness.
  • All non-democratic channels are counter-productive: you diminish your message, you give the populists rhetorical fuel.
  1. FIND A COUNTER-ARGUMENT
  • Don’t waste your time trying to prove that this grand idea is better than that one.
  • In Venezuela, we fell into the abstraction trap in a bad way. We wrote again and again about principles, about the separation of powers, about civil liberties, about the role of the military in politics, about corruption and economic policy.
  • Again, the problem is not the message but the messenger. It’s not that Trump supporters are too stupid to see right from wrong, it’s that you’re much more valuable to them as an enemy than as a compatriot.
  • The problem is tribal. Your challenge is to prove that you belong in the same tribe as them:  that you are American in exactly the same way they are.
  • It took our leaders ten years to figure out they needed to go to the slums and to the countryside; not for a speech, or a rally, but for games of dominoes or to dance salsa – to show they were Venezuelans too.
  • It’s deciding not to live in an echo chamber and to press pause on the siren song of polarization.

The chances are that the people getting it wrong will drown out those getting it right.

But, if you want to be part of the solution, the road ahead is clear:  

  • Recognize that the cartoon you is the enemy the populists need in order to be successful;
  • Show concern, not contempt, for the wounds of those that brought Trump to power; and,
  • Be patient with democracy and struggle relentlessly to free yourselves from the shackles of the caricatures the populists have drawn of you and which you may have played into.

The link to the full column:  https://www.caracaschronicles.com/2017/01/20/culturejam/

What Comes Next – Four-Year Span

A friend of mine predicts massive political battles that will have negative impacts for a generation.  I cannot disagree with him.

Both conservatives and progressives have decided to double down and dig in their heels.  The prevailing mindset is “that’s not what we want” and “we want to win it all”.

Those of us who have worked for steady and smooth societal developments and transitions (in my case, within the GOP) face deaf ears.  Here are broad thoughts as we work to save America from herself over the next four years.

  • Trump
    • Best case scenario:  he could exemplify the idea that “it takes Nixon to go to China”, implementing principled reforms and constructive policies such as the ban on appointees from lobbying after they leave his Administration.
    • He could effect through his brilliant use of the issues a political realignment where the GOP retains the non-college educated Caucasian voters that supported his election.  Such a realignment could slow down the Democratic advantages that are expected to come from demographic changes.
    • His political and management styles could lead to continued fierce political battles and national and international mistakes and crises.
    •  Congressional and judicial checks and balances restrain or head off the most aggressive initiatives.
  • The Political Parties
    • Being in control of all three branches of the federal government and the majority of the state governments, the GOP will be seen as being overall responsible for the state of America over at least the next two years – meaning that after campaigning to be given free rein to lead America, the GOP now has to produce responsible and effective results.
    • The Democrats have the challenge of organizing and activating their supporters without burning them out over the numerous issues likely to ignite; proffering reasonable and appealing alternative public policies; and, positioning themselves as more suitable to govern without allowing their more aggressive natures to be shrill and disaffecting to voters.
    • Though the party holding the White House normally loses seats in mid-term elections, as the 2016 presidential election was very close and competitive; realignment dynamics uncertain; and, Republican success over the next two years difficult to predict, the mid-term elections could be uncertain of success for the Democrats.  (Note that we have yet to ascertain whether the unexceptional Democratic gains in Congress from the 2016 election was due to increased favorability for the GOP, lower turnout among Democratic constituencies or swing voters wanting to balance an assumed Clinton presidency with a Republican Congress.)

As with the 2016 election, unpredictability.

Trump Supporters on Alternative Facts and World Views

In the fierce fight over “alternative facts” and non-college educated Caucasians’ world views, we may have partially misconstrued the public opinion landscape.

The public narrative has emphasized “non-college educated” and “conservative media” – implying lack of facts, conspiracy theories, and misinformation.

What seems to be not acknowledged or to be unrealized is that many Trump supporters do filter their knowledge for truth and do contextualize their political positions outside of their lives.

It can be argued that a 360 degree global view is necessary to appropriately address today’s American issues, and that hypothetically some of Trump’s supporters only understand these issues from perhaps a 180 degree view.

Nevertheless, as portrayed in the linked New York Times article below, some Trump supporters do realize the exaggeration of Trump’s rhetoric and do acknowledge the legitimacy of some of the issues raised by Trump opponents.  Trump supporters can filter and put issues into context.  Yet, they agree in basic principle with the president’s direction.

Perhaps, more information and explanation could persuade some of Trump’s supporters to change their minds.  On the other hand, fully-informed, they could still decide to hold their current positions as most satisfying their concerns.

The dangerous fallacies are dismissing Trump supporters from being persuaded because they do not have the intelligence for it or as inhuman and therefore without valid developed positions.  The opposition then loses the openings to work with and perhaps draw in support from these persons.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/27/us/trump-backers-like-his-first-draft-of-a-new-america.html

Will Democrats Be Responsive to the White Working Class?

Since the election, I’ve had discussions with various Democratic friends about the Caucasian non-college educated voter phenomenon.

While all have acknowledged non-college Caucasians’ grievances and no one has disparaged the demographic, it seems to me that even in the large shadow of the electoral impact, some have inadvertently blown off this group.  The false step is the view that all working class and poor people struggle, so why should the “white working class” (WWC) set themselves apart from similar minorities and demand that their issues be separately addressed?

Ironically, I think this is the crux of the WWC’s complaints and anger – being patronizingly ignored.  Frankly, the cultural issues could have been minor if the demographic felt economically secure or if government was working reasonably and steadily in advancing solutions to their concerns.

In the end, we talk about the black single mother experience, the unfairness to the Dreamers and their obstacles, the transgender challenges, now residual and even continuing discrimination and harassment of middle and upper class African Americans, and even salary discrepancies among young professional Caucasian women.

We have no problem with defining groups of people by race and accompanying characteristics when specifying public policy problems and seeking their solutions.  Why not with the WWC?  Especially as a group that is chafing under identity politics and struggling to be comfortable in today’s mainstream culture?

Aside from the minimum wage, on what issues for the WWC have either major party expressed the urgency and the substance in attention as with other demographic groups?  Disproportionately, the WWC has been negatively impacted and handicapped by issues such as globalization, shorter life spans, dislocation, aging of the local population, and the opioid epidemic.

There exists a distinct culture experience that warrants solutions attuned to those communities – not excluding ethnic minorities, but certainly considering the unique operating environment.  (I keep getting asked, if Trump is not proposing credible solutions or standing by ones favored by the WWC, why did that demographic support him so overwhelmingly?  My guess:  Trump spoke their language.)

Case in point, an elected Democrat in a rural area shared this:  HUD announced making all public housing “smoke free.”  In that rural area, drugs are the top issue.  Ostensibly, any drug is easier to break the habit of than tobacco.  The local head of public housing stated “there are bigger issues that face communities and public housing authorities around the country that should be the priority, such as poverty, homelessness, drug abuse and misuse issues …”

In a nutshell, DC imposes a mandate for their favored (“elitist”) issues rather than allow very limited resources to be allocated according to the needs of localities.  Not to say that eradicating smoking is not a worthy campaign, but comparably in terms of priorities where does it rank?  Especially considering our stereotypes of the white working class and the part smoking plays into their lifestyle.  (One of the reasons why I have been a Republican – block grants in many cases allow localities to better craft broad solutions that fit their communities.)

In any case, a fatal tragedy would be for the Democratic Party not to learn from this election and instead be more responsive and thus more competitive among their historical WWC base.

We Make Racial Issues Way Too Complicated

Simple, common-sense solutions to angst-curdled and fraught-with-antagonism race relations:

  • We should not treat someone of a specific race or ethnicity with any less dignity and respect than you treat persons of any other race or ethnicity – this applies to everyone.
  • We should limit our definition of racism to actions with malice towards a specific race or ethnicity or specifically meant to exclude based on race or ethnicity.
  • People are individuals who come from different backgrounds and have different worldviews of social engagement. If people are well-meaning, we should treat them as such in cases of social faux pas, mistakes and misunderstandings.  These can be worked out in the course of social interaction.  There is no need to make them a capital case if there is no intent to harm anyone.
  • You may have racial issues. But that does not mean others need to be part of them.  You should not take it out on others because of their race.  If someone means no disrespect and does not mean to cause harm in the course of actions that raise racial concerns, you should not judge, condemn and destroy.  Instead, if such incidents do not involve you, keep your feelings to yourself and work it out; if it does involve you, work it out with the other parties.

 

Below is a column that expands upon my thoughts and another that raises a salient angle on race relations today in America.

We Need A ‘PC’ That Includes White People  

Declining Status Leads to Resentment of Political Correctness

Resting on Our Country’s Laurels

The rise of US protectionism comes from more than growing economic anxieties.  I believe it is facilitated by a fallacious belief about America’s current role in the world.

For over 70 years since World War II, we have been the dominant nation in the free world or the dominant nation in the world, period.  In international affairs and in international trade, our dominance came from engagement.  Engagement in resolving foreign problems and in trade deals that opened up and invigorated markets for American goods and services.

The current American demagogic movements that reject free trade and the expenditure of American resources to enact a free world would diminish our stature and our influence to effect our vision and our interests.  Our leaders have not explained this well nor have they (both Republicans and Democrats) implemented transitions that are acceptable for dislocated American workers.  The latter being the linchpin of our failures here.

Many Americans are nostalgic about America’s influence and the strength of our economy in past decades.  Yet, circumstances change and we must adapt if we wish to maintain and grow our stature, our economic competitiveness and our way and quality of life.

Since World War II, America has worked to rebuild countries devastated in the war, encourage democracy across the global and encourage international policies that promote self-sufficient nations.  We did the right thing and have been successful in many areas.

But that also means countries that become increasingly less beholden to us and whose populations increasingly stand for their interests and positions not necessarily aligned with ours.

Our heritage is stellar, but we get little out of it if we rest on our laurels.  Our influence, stature and the economic prosperity which provide our optimal quality of life – to maintain it, we must continually engage with other nations and earn it.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, there are options to the Trans Pacific Partnership.  If not the TPP, we need to implement other free trade options.  Otherwise, China could become the center of economic power in the Asia/Pacific and the nations there will gravitate towards her for closer partnerships and relationships.  Shocked that Democratic nations would work with the Red Menace.  Negotiations already have begun.

If we are not in the game, others will take our place.  We cannot set ourselves aside and expect to dominate or win.

Wall Street Journal

China Picks Up the U.S. Trade Fumble

Beijing advances a deal to draw 15 countries further into its orbit.