Monday, November 2, 2020

 Day 1: Vote your conscience


Over the past month, social media posts, tweets, chats, etc. have been replete with “vote as if…” admonitions.


Vote as if you are black or brown.

Vote as if you are a woman.

Vote as if you are gay.

Vote as if you do not have healthcare.

Vote as if you do not have education.

Vote as if you do not have affordable housing.


Naturally, the list of “as if’s” goes on and on.


Gentle reader, may I suggest an alternate list of “what if’s” for your kind consideration?


Vote as if our equality depends upon it.

Vote as if your pursuit of happiness depends upon it.

Vote as if your liberty depends upon it.

Vote as if your life depends upon it.


Equality, as conceived by the Founders and requisite to a free society is not an equality of outcomes but of opportunity. Equality that has as its end common outcomes can only be produced by force, taking from one or restricting one in order to give to another or to permit action by another. Equality of opportunity recognizes that any person who has and/or builds his or her knowledge, skills and abilities is free from government and quasi-government (e.g., unions supported with monopolistic protections from government) interference in pursuit of his or her own goals and objectives. When pursuing equality based on opportunity, each person has a self-interest to voluntarily engage with others, who, in pursuing their own interests, produce something of value to others and to society.


If person A is bigoted in any respect against person B, person A denies himself or herself the value produced by person B. In this case, the victim, which is a self-imposed victimization, is person A, because he or she may engage with person C, who may not necessarily provide value to the same degree of quality as person B. However, society today would have us believe that the victim is person B. If person B has a valuable contribution, there will always be a market for him or her.


A person will not recognize the value or worth of another just because the government orders it. In all likelihood, I suspect such government mandates have the opposite effect. Only through voluntary engagement with others will one person recognize – in a genuine and sustainable way – the value and worth of another. As you consider the candidates, which proposes the use of force (e.g., laws about who you can hire or to whom you can sell, required re-education, etc.), which is founded on an inherent (albeit unfounded) belief in inequality, to achieve equality. Consider, also, that such force has been attempted for decades with little to no success. Just turn on the nightly news for proof of this. Which candidate creates the environment for individuals to explore and appreciate the intrinsic value of others in a voluntary and mutually beneficial manner?


Happiness is described by Aristotle in “Nicomachean Ethics” in this way, “The good is the final end, and happiness is this.” But what is happiness? Charles M. Schulz answers this question in his book, “Happiness Is a Warm Puppy.” In the book, he provides a list of the many sources of happiness, from a friend showing up on your front porch to, of course, a warm puppy. The idea that Aristotle and Charles Schulz advance is that happiness is unique to each of us. Both Aristotle and Schulz recognize that various means (e.g., time, talent and treasure) may be useful in pursuing the end, which is happiness. For example, if happiness is a warm puppy, treasure is needed for the adoption fee, and time and talent are needed for the dog’s training and for the establishment of a sense of belonging.

In the pursuit of happiness, as you define it for yourself (for no one else can define if for you, especially not a stranger in a government bureau), what fosters your ability to achieve happiness? What hinders it? As you consider the candidates, which will free you and each citizen to the greatest extent to pursue those things that promote happiness?

Liberty is the freedom to act according to your will and in service of your own self-interest, insomuch as it does not adversely impact another person’s ability to do the same. This is the essential premise of our social contract. To assure each person of liberty, our form of government was designed in a way that is unique among the nations of the world, past or present. Our form of government was designed from a starting point that the individual citizen is sovereign and that We the People grant government its rights, and furthermore that we limit what those rights are.

Think about that for a moment. Unlike other forms of government, we are not subjects. We are not granted privileges by the state. We are not told what rights we have or do not have. At least, that was how our government was designed. That is why the characterization of American Exceptionalism as neo-fascist nationalism is flat out wrong. We are exceptional, because we are unique, and we are unique because we value each and every individual in a way no other form of government has done or does.

Over the course of our nation’s history, liberty, unencumbered by the government, has ebbed and flowed. In the times it has been allowed to flow, happiness and prosperity have flourished. When it has ebbed, always because of government intervention, economic and moral poverty and social disharmony have taken hold. In this matter, the record of history is clear. 

Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith showed that individuals, at liberty to pursue their own self-interests, will voluntarily and productively engage with one another and will thereby beneficially effect society’s interests. He called it the “invisible hand.” So-called intellectuals say this is simplistic and cannot be operationalized. Instead, they create Byzantine social orders and ever-failing regulatory schemes. And when those schemes fail, they plan more, saying they’ll get it right next time. All that is required more of our money and a greater sacrifice of individual liberty from you and me.

“Keep it simple, stupid,” is one of the great aphorisms. It’s stuck around, because it’s true. Since the early 20thcentury, government has taken an ever-increasing interest in and control over Americans’ lives, making complex the very act of living day-to-day. In so doing, we have a bloated government (at every level), and we are more restricted than ever in what we can and cannot do.

Ask yourself if the size, scope and cost of government secures your liberty and promotes your happiness. If not, might it be time for a simpler approach, one that dismantles the planners’ plans and allows us to breathe free? Consider the candidates and carefully weigh who is most likely to limit government and restore liberty.

Life, as Seneca observed, is short. It is essential that we pursue it with purpose and joy. He notes that laughter and lightheartedness are key ingredients to a good life. Yet look around. All we seem to see today is wailing and despair. Might it be because we are shackled in our pursuit of happiness and liberty? Might it be because we are hindered in engaging with one another as free agents, independent of the forces and coercion of government and of the Machiavellian perspectives on human nature espoused by the so-called intellectual elite, a perspective and worldview fraught with condescension and the repugnant sort of classism that is inherently antithetical to Americanism?

Seneca wrote, “We must therefore school ourselves to regard all commonly held vices as not hateful but ridiculous, and we should imitate Democritus rather than Heraclitus. For whenever these went out in public, the latter used to weep and the former to laugh; the latter thought all our activities sorrows, the former, follies. So, we should make light of all things and endure them with tolerance: it is more civilized to make fun of life than to bewail it. Bear in mind too that he deserves better of the human race as well who laughs at it than he who grieves over it; since the one allows it a fair prospect of hope, while the other stupidly laments over things he cannot hope will be put right.”

The French, of whose many philosophers inspired our own nation’s embarkation on the journey to a more perfect Union, speak of joie de vivre, the joy of living. Such living, by definition, must be based on happiness. As we discussed, happiness requires liberty. In considering the candidates tomorrow, who supports positions and policies that best promote your joie de vivre? Remember Smith and the fact that the pursuit of one’s self-interest and happiness also makes possible and advances the self-interests and happiness of others?

It really is astonishing to see how Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are connected and symbiotic, and it is through these three that equality is assured to us and to our posterity.

Our vote, dear friend – yours and mine – is our opportunity to say, “this is what equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness mean to me.” It is our natural right to pursue these things and to elect representatives who will act in accordance with the principle that government is here to serve our ends, which is to say our happiness. This can only be accomplished through simplicity and with the most limited use of force.

It is tempting, indeed, to game the system. It’s said that a vote for anyone other than Mr. Biden is a vote for Mr. Trump, and I’m sure the political calculus may be figured in the opposite direction, as well. If everyone, or even one, votes based on this sort of gamesmanship, as opposed to voting for the candidate who understands what equality, life, liberty and happiness truly mean in and to our republic, then and only then is that vote wasted.

May God bless you in the voting booth tomorrow, and may God bless America!



Sunday, November 1, 2020

 Day 2 Electoral College


Oliver Hardy first proclaimed on the silver screen to his friend Stan Laurel, “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!” in the 1929 film “Double Whoopee.” As the election draws near and people head to the polls, a lack of understanding about the Electoral College and how it operates imperils our republic.


The news is fraught with reports of cities preparing for riots in the wake of the election. Businesses are standing up emergency operation centers. Celebrities make empty threats to renounce their citizenship, depending on who wins. Hysteria abounds.


Additionally, and most ruthlessly and recklessly, people are told that in the popular election their votes are thrown away if they don’t vote for a particular candidate. I, myself, was told this a while back by an otherwise learned friend. I will address this most piteous charge in our final discussion tomorrow.


In devising our system of government, the Framers of the Constitution, exceedingly well-studied people to be sure, examined various forms of government from the annals of history. They considered the aspects of those governments that worked and those that led to eventual demise…or to the ongoing repression of the people. Painstakingly, they crafted a system that would mitigate the errors of the past and would most equitably represent the will of the people. 


The Electoral College was on part of this system.


Article II, Section 1, Clauses 2 and 3 of the Constitution state, “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress; but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States shall be appointed an Elector. The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”


In devising this system, the Framers sought to minimize chaos and corruption. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68, “It [the electoral college process, which included a careful deliberation of the qualities of presidential candidates] was also particularly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder.” Hamilton later continued, “nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.”


It is as if Hamilton was writing about today!


The Electoral College was originally envisioned as the collective of deliberative bodies in each state, elected by the states’ citizens in accordance with each state’s selection process. Remember that the Founders and Framers envisioned each state to be laboratory for promoting liberty and sound governance. Generally, citizens would select electors through popular vote and the electors would meet to choose the candidate who would get their state’s electoral votes. The electors would weight the popular vote results as well as the characteristics and qualities of the candidates. In doing so, electors were subject to the prescriptions and proscriptions of their respective state’s rules.


Over time, the processes in many states have removed that deliberative process in favor of more mechanistic approaches to allocating their electoral votes. The selection of electors still takes place, but it is veiled in most states in that selecting a candidate’s name on the popular ballot serves as a proxy for selecting electors.


At its heart, the Electoral College was designed to keep the selection of a President as local a decision as possible, thus minimizing the influence and corruption inherent in processes that are managed at the federal level. Over time, the hybrid approach that the Framers envisioned – one that relies on popular suffrage and includes informed deliberation, has lost the latter and its favorable effects. Maybe this is the cause of people’s true dissatisfaction with the college today.


In conceiving the Elector College, I wonder if the Framers were drawing on Cicero and “The Republic.” He suspected that a mixed constitution was desirable, meaning a combination of popular input with the deliberation of statesmen.


Despite being awash in information in our day and age, I venture to say that we are less informed than ever. Be it the fact that we consume information by reading headlines or tweets, or that we believe one perspective constitutes a sole source of truth and the other perspective is characterized as “fake news,” the American people have become dangerously uninformed.


Might it be the perfect time to breathe new life into this time-honored system that is the Elector College, before we get ourselves into another nice mess? That mess, of course, will be defined differently for each of us, based on the political philosophy to which we subscribe.


  Day 1: Vote your conscience   Over the past month, social media posts, tweets, chats, etc. have been replete with “vote as if…” admonition...