After Occupy protester and registered Democrat James Hodgkinson targeted Republicans by opening fire on them as they practiced at a ballpark on 14 June, members of Congress quickly came out and called for national unity.
There was a time when that call was a compelling one. Hey, we’re all Americans here.
But it is apparent that that time has passed. Howard Portnoy had a nice post this morning on why.
He didn’t put it in these terms, but I will. It’s because there can be no unity with a faction that wants to hold other people at perpetual risk until it gets its way, by fair means or foul.
Nothing justifies doing that. It is an evil, vicious way to live. We owe no one any obligation of “unity” that would keep such a pattern going.
I had another nice post all prepared expounding on just why we don’t owe anyone unity on those terms. And I do think there are people who need to hear it.
But it is way past time to talk clearly of the terms on which unity would be possible, without positive, constructive people having to give up hope and future, and basically agree to be held at perpetual risk by the tantrum-throwing faction, and shaken down at regular intervals.
Let’s just be clear at the outset who is included in the tantrum-throwing faction.
It has become apparent – e.g., with the incessant string of quickly falsified “leaks” published by the Washington Post and New York Times – that a persistent faction in our government and media is determined to act in a lawless way in order to lawlessly, by falsehood and subterfuge, undo the 2016 election.
There can be no unity with that objective. We are under no obligation to compromise with the objective, or give ear to the lies.
These relentless, cynical attacks on the duly-elected president, through abuse of the law and the people’s trust, are on a continuum with unhinged attacks like James Hodgkinson’s on the Republicans at ball practice. This is all part of the same phenomenon.
Criticism of a president or political party is always legitimate – but that’s not what this is. The phenomenon we’re talking about is justifying a lawless abuse of government power, and misuse of citizens’ rights and privileges, in order to undo the outcomes achieved by the law-abiding through lawful means.
But what is the remedy? The only one in the hands of men is the rule of law. And to say that is to lay out the precise, unbridgeable difference between Americans today.
Where unity must start is with the premise of the rule of law. All shakedowns are a form of lawlessness. They become self-perpetuating, self-absorbed schemes. They actively attack the rule of law as soon as it gets in the way of their scheme. The relentless assault of multiple political factions in this country on lawful administration of our immigration laws is a good example, but there are many others.
A shakedown is a shakedown whether the Mafia is doing it, or the Russian mob, or MS-13, or a sue-and-settle enterprise like many left-wing legal activist groups, or the United States federal government. When a political group is shaking down the people through the mechanisms of government, it quickly forms a pattern of undermining the rule of law in order to keep hold of the levers for the shakedown. The Obama administration didn’t pioneer that phenomenon, by any means, but it made by far the most egregious use of it we’ve seen since FDR.
The best underlayment for the rule of law is keeping government limited. That’s what the restraints of the Bill of Rights are for: restraints on government to keep it from seeking too much power over the people. The basic incongruity of attempted “compromise” on this point was laid bare by the Obama years, when it became clear, even to the previously obtuse, that all compromise on the size of government merely creates new levers for shaking down the people.
Since some government is necessary, a key way to get the right balance is to take federalism seriously. In domestic policy, no kind of law that encroaches on the nearest interests of the people’s daily lives should originate in Washington, D.C. Washington’s local role, if any, is properly restricted to occasionally intervening against local law that encroaches on the people. And Congress may, and should, place limits on the scope of that power.
The states are the “laboratories of democracy,” but even the state capitals are too distant from the people for many matters. There are numerous things done by our federal government today that should not be done at a national level – or even necessarily done at all.
It is equally essential to take seriously the separation of powers among branches of government. The judiciary is not empowered to rule from the perspective of policy opinions, period. Policy opinions are the province of the other two branches. Yet this principle has been breached regularly for decades.
In domestic matters, our presidents have come to operate with far too much executive discretion, largely because of the proliferation of regulatory agencies and commissions, through which the levers for shakedown can be formed with little recognition by Congress or the public.
Presidents of both parties, and a long series of Democratic Congresses, have created that problem. Key figures prior to Obama were Wilson, Hoover, FDR, Eisenhower, LBJ, Nixon, and Clinton. Some of these presidents are revered today, but all of them played a major role in making government too big to restrain.
Speaking of restraints, constitutionalism in observing restraints on government is foundational. There cannot be unity between constitutionalism and anti-constitutionalism. The U.S. Constitution can be amended. It cannot be “reinterpreted” to accommodate political fashion.
Two other qualities in our thinking are necessary for national unity. One is an understanding of the limitations of law and government. This isn’t a reference to “limited government”; it’s one of the two big reasons why we ought to limit government. The first is outlined above. Government creates levers for extorting the people. The more of it there is, the more levers there are for extortion and shakedowns.
But the other reason is perhaps even more basic. Law and government are blunt tools that cannot fix for us what we don’t like about our world. They have a limited set of mechanisms and dynamics. They work through force, the threat of force, and crude incentives. Yet a high-quality human life is not made up mostly of elements for which these mechanisms and dynamics are appropriate.
Government literally can’t change or fix the things people always fall into a way of wanting it to. That’s why we should never adapt our whole idea of life to living by what government can do for us. Making us happy, fulfilling us, restoring us from the depths of our painful times – these and many other things are beyond the power of government or law.
So, for that matter, are hallucinatory projects like “erasing income inequality,” or any other equality-of-outcome scheme. The more we let government try for these goals, the worse the original “problem” always gets. This will never change, because human government can only work in certain ways. It cannot meet unrealistic expectations.
The second necessary quality in our thinking is the understanding that human government is not our source of moral legitimacy, rights, or hope. We don’t all have to agree on what is that source, although it certainly helps if most of us do. But we do all have to agree that government is Not It.
That’s why government can be properly treated as a public utility – a form of overhead, meriting measured respect but not reverence, which needs periodic tending and sensible management, but which has a limited and not terribly interesting place in our lives.
I pay the power company to keep resistance going at the proper level in the line to my house. I don’t pay it to have opinions on what I want to use electric power for, much less whom I want to marry, what I want to eat or drive, or what God wrote in a book. I assume the officials of the power company have their own opinions on such things, and it doesn’t hurt my feelings to hear them. But I don’t pay anyone, including them, to set institutional standards for what my opinions or practices should be. If I want an institutional standard set, I’ll let them know.
The idea of government should be more like that than not. If you don’t know the mental freedom and peace of seeing it that way, I can highly recommend it. Require government to do what you’re paying it for, but keep that list short, and reserve your hopes and dreams for God, love, friendship, family, children, vocations, entrepreneurship, and volunteering your own precious self among your fellow men and women.
If you don’t see it that way? Well, there can be no unity of political purpose between people who worship the power of government as a pagan god, and people who don’t. There is no a priori “right” for anyone to demand such unity.
The terms laid out here offer everyone hope and a future. The terms of the progressive left offer a narrow, particular path only to those who want to be on the lever-wielding end of a perpetual shakedown.
This is the divide we face, and there is no compromise to be had, nor should there be. The terms must be that we agree on government that is limited, constitutional, and federal, and that setting up ways to harass and extort the people – with tantrums, “resistance,” government-sponsored grievance-mongering – is inadmissible.