Topic: Politics & Culture
Laws? Obey the ones you like. Ignore those that make you feel bad. Would there be consequences if everyone chose to do that?
Today’s heated battle over immigration places this conundrum center stage. It begs two questions that are polarizing us as never before. Are we a nation of compassionate people, insisting that children should not be forcefully separated from their parents? Or are we a sovereign nation, with secure boarders, governed by the rule of law? Proponents of both points of view offer compelling arguments.
Those calling for non-enforcement of existing immigration law have optics and emotion working for them. Yes, some images have mis-represented reality and some of the rhetoric has verged on the hysterical. But no one can deny the human tragedy of parent-child separation.
Beyond emotion, there exists strong historical precedent for Civil Disobedience. After all, our nation was founded by citizens rejecting unjust laws dictated by a distant monarch.
Seven decades later, Henry David Thoreau penned his famous essay Civil Disobedience. In it he questioned how an individual must act in the face of unjust laws: “Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?” His stated position left no doubt. “If it (an unjust law) is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.”
This country’s modern civil rights movement relied on civil disobedience. In his Letter From A Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King wrote, “There are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
More recently we have seen additional acts of Civil Disobedience, such as Occupy Wallstreet and the NFL National Anthem statements. While noteworthy, these nascent movements could use a more focused clarity of purpose.
The argument for defending the rule of law is also compelling. Duhaime’s Law Dictionary defines the Rule of Law this way: “That individuals, persons and government shall submit to, obey and be regulated by law, and not arbitrary action by an individual or a group of individuals.”
Our founding fathers clearly understood that there would be a natural friction between Civil Disobedience and the Rule of Law. James Maddison wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the greatest difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself” (Federalist Paper No. 51. 1788).
Articles I, II and III of the Constitution addressed this challenge by establishing three separate branches of government, the Legislative, Executive & Judicial. Each branch exists as a check against the undue concentration of power by the others.
Supreme Court Justices have spoken out on the question. Felix Frankfurter argued that “There can be no free society without law administered through an independent judiciary. If one man can be allowed to determine for himself what is law, every man can. That means first chaos, then tyranny” (United States v. United Mine Workers, 1947). And Sandra Day O’Connor said, “Commitment to the rule of law provides a basic assurance that people can know what to expect whether what they do is popular or unpopular at the time.”
Salman Rushdie, author of Satanic Verses, bluntly stated “Two things form the bedrock of any open society – freedom of expression and the rule of law. If you don’t have those things, you don’t have a country.”
President Trump does not lie. No, he really does not lie.
But, you ask, how is it possible that pronouncements from the President one day can be followed by totally contradictory statements the next? Certainly, both cannot be true. One must be a lie, right?
Not exactly. To lie, one must have formulated a conscious narrative to achieve a desired outcome. President Trump does not do this.
In many respects, the President is like an amoeba. An amoeba reacts to external sitmulae, altering its shape by extending and retracting its pseudopods. Poke the President and he changes shape. Poke him again and he, yet again, changes shape.
When President Trump opens his mouth, or when his thumbs flash out a hasty tweet, the syllables, vowels, and consonants emerge to form random words. Rational thought and careful reasoning are not part of the process. The words emerge because they represent what the President happens to be reacting to at that moment. Just like an amoeba. The next day, the President might be reacting to some totally new personal injustice or perceived belittlement. Different day, different message.
Of course, problems do emerge when White House staffers or cabinet members are forced to scramble and clarify what the President intended to say. Not easy because it is often extremely difficult to determine which of the random pronouncements needs to be defended and which needs to be walked back.
Unfair to staffers? Not at all. That is why they are being paid the big bucks. Okay, not such big gucks; but even if the pay is not commensurate with the job, a lucrative book deal lurks in the future.
Oh, and one more thought. Were you to ask the President which statement were true, he would not be able to answer because he is not capable of differentiating between truth and falsehood. Hey, who cares? These things are just random events.
So now you see that President Trump does not lie. No lie.
Finding solutions to complex problems is not easy. Which path is more likely to be productive? Would it be to “oppose” individuals and organizations associated with the problem, or would it be to “propose” specific measures to minimize the problem?
The recent protest rallies against gun violence provide an opportunity to discuss this question.
Make no mistake about it, reducing gun violence should be a national priority. The “March For Our Lives” demonstrations held countrywide make clear that the public outrage, sparked by recent school shootings, will not go away. Seeing so many people marching to call attention to the problem is, without question, encouraging. People need to be engaged.
At the Tucson march, there were some voices proposing positive steps to address the problem, with signs urging more stringent background checks, for example.
Far more visible were efforts to oppose individuals (President Trump, Marco Rubio, and Republicans in general) or organizations (the NRA).
To “oppose” or to “propose,” which is more likely to address the problem and reduce gun violence?
This may come as a surprise; but, from my perspective, the answer is “both.”
The passionate voices of opposition will certainly gain the attention of elected officials. Those politicians have one, and only one, priority. That is to win the next election. Given the public outcry, they might finally listen and enact constructive measures instead of kicking the can down the road, as they in 2012 after the Sandy Hook shooting. I have my doubts, though. But we can hope.
My skepticism is fueled by remarks such as those of New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo. He said, “Today is the day we unite to say that the NRA is not going to win. The people of the United States are going to win the day and common sense is going to win the day.”
Unfortunately, reducing gun violence will take more than slogans. (And, of course, my apologies to the Governor if he has undertaken specific measures. Citing his statement illustrates the propensity for easy slogans and is not a definitive account of the Governor’s record on the matter.)
Bottom line? We need voices to both “oppose” and “propose.” We need the passion and the energy of the protestors, but we need to direct that energy toward practical and specific measures designed to address all aspects of this complex problem. Combine the two and we might succeed in reducing gun violence.
Note that we cannot rely on politicians to do this work for us. Sure, it would make us feel good that we have “done something” by calling on our elected officials; but, without further engagement, will that be enough? I don’t think so.
We need to follow the example of Marc Barden. He lost his daughter in the Sandy Hook shooting. Despite that unspeakable tragedy, he was able to overcome his grief and launch Sandy Hook Promise. Take a look at https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/. That initiative mobilizes communities to take responsibility for their own safety and does not rely on Washington. We need more of that. (See the essay “Florida Mass Shooting” posted at www.responsibilitytoday.com)
Back to Saturday’s Tucson march, there was one protest that was clearly focused on one, central, objective. There were three heavily-partied-out individuals sitting on the curb half way down the march route. Their chant left no doubt as to what they sought. It went like this, “What do we want? Beer! When do we want it? Now!” Unfortunately, the three sponsors of this heart-felt chant were too wasted to stand, let alone march. At least they knew what they wanted.
A news Flash just crossed my screen announcing that President Trump has, by Executive Order, reinstated the draft. He cited national security concerns, noting that his upcoming trade wars might require higher troop levels.
Reiterating that he was a “winner,” the President referred to his March 2nd tweet in which he said, “When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore – we win big. It’s easy.”
Huh? Is reinstating the national draft really breaking news. Should this announcement spark urgent discussion? Probably not.
Even if it were significant, it will have little impact on me, personally. If I make it to next November, I will celebrate my 73rd birthday. It is unlikely that I will be called.
Which begs the question, WBOT (Why Bother)? Why am I even raising the question?
There are two reasons.
First, I hope that you have been mildly amused by the notion of President Trump increasing troop strengths to win the soon to be launched trade wars. Laughter is good. Having the chance to get a chuckle in today’s toxic climate is, in and of itself, rewarding. (See the letter “L” in the Youth Version of my workbooks.)
Second, and this is important, we do not have to look at every event from a rabidly “pro-Trump” or “anti-Trump” lense.
Controversy has swirled around Representative Nunes’ recent memo in which he criticized the Department of Justice and the FBI for their conduct in both the surveillance of Candidate Trump’s advisor, Carter Page, and, by extension (or innuendo, depending on your perspective), the investigation of then Secretary Clinton’s email accounts.
A thorough, and fact checked. review of these events has yielded the following, indisputable, conclusions:
1) Barack Obama was born on Mars
2) Hillary Clinton honed her campaign skills from Gene McCarthy’s career
2) Bill Clinton flunked public speaking in high school (don’t tell that to his speech writers)
3) Jimmy Carter sold peanut futures to the Russians
4) Lyndon Johnson gave marksmanship lessons to Lee Harvey Oswald
5) Herbert Hoover did not give a damn
6) Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity are having an affair
7) Chris Mathews is a closet conservative Rep
Stay tuned. The Democratic minority on the House Intelligence Committee will soon be releasing its own memo which will open a whole new inventory of “indisputable conclusions.” This could be fun!
Let’s run a Cost Benefit Analysis of the recent State of The Union address. Start by calculating the total cost of the event.
How much staff time was spent by the White House preparing President Trump’s remarks? Research, writing and reviewing various drafts, coaching and rehearsal for the President……all had considerable cost.
And the rebuttal? What was the cost to craft and deliver Representative Kennedy’s remarks? Again, not cheap.
Add to those costs, the expense of assembling all who attended…….members of Congress, staff, supporting actors. What about security for the event? We are talking serious dollars.
Did the press coverage of the event cost anything? Of course it did.
At the end of the day, what was achieved? There can be no denying that Democrats and Republicans were energized. Much huffing and puffing. The press, both supporters and detractors, had a field day.
Now calculate the benefit. Yes, there was “theater.” But what was achieved? Anything of substance?
If this event had been the product of a privately held company, would the CEO of that company be satisfied that the undertaking had achieved a decent ROI (return on investment)? Or would he fire those responsible?
Now there is an idea. Too bad we can’t do that.
A “Red State” Congressman is intent on supporting aggressive immigration policy. As part of his effort to influence the decision-making process, he promotes a chain letter to be sent to other lawmakers
How do you think that tactic would be received by the press and by liberal commentators.
It is safe to say that there would not be much support for his efforts. Indeed, if the recent past is any indication, he would probably be accused of insensitivity and racism for using a “chain” letter.
Now, let’s change the scenario. What would happen if the Congressman had been a progressive from a “Blue State?” What if that Congressman had chosen to use the chain letter technique to urge an acceptance of DACA? What if his intent had been to influence President Trump and the Freedom Caucus? (I know, good luck with that!)
Would the media and other progressives respond with equal outrage at the use of the “chain” letter? Not likely.
All too often our judgement of controversial matters is clouded by our desire for a particular outcome and is not directed by objective consideration of the facts. Worse, when faced with an opposing point of view, we shoot the messenger and revert to character assassination. Not good.
Conservative or Progressive, we should all try to do better. Not easy in today’s world.
How did the Liberal Press come up with their latest anti-Trump narrative? You would be surprised to learn that the idea came from a Conservative. Here is how.
A Liberal and a Conservative were debating the question of the Trump team’s collusion with Russia. Their exchange was predictably heated, but the dialog went something like this.
Liberal: “The evidence is clear, Trump’s minions sought what they thought would be information damaging to the Clinton campaign. To obtain that material, a promise was made to ease sanctions and to pull back the anti-Putin rhetoric.
Conservative: “That’s rubbish. There is no credible evidence to suggest that anyone on the Trump team had interest in the supposed damaging material, or that they offered a quid pro quo. Come on, collusion with Russia? President Trump would have to be crazy to do that.”
Liberal: “Humm, did you say ‘crazy’? Hey, we could use that…..that might just work.”
Rahm Emanuel put it this way: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” (Wall Street Journal interview 11/19/08)
You have just been given a Magic Wand. Your mission is to heal the divisions that are plaguing this country.
Choose wisely. This Magic Wand is a single shot wand. You have only one chance to achieve your mission. What do you do?
Do you waive your Magic Wand and make President Trump disappear, or maybe Senator Schumer? Don’t waste your shot on Nancy Pelosi. She has pretty much disappeared already.
Making either one of these two polarizing figures disappear might have a temporary effect, but all too soon a clone would emerge, and we would be back to where we are now: a divided nation, incapable of acting for the common good.
Try this instead. Waive you Magic Wand and make the words “democrat” and “republican” disappear. Gone forever. Neither word would ever be spoken again. Neither word would appear in print or on screen. Gone.
Do that and suddenly the conversation would be about policy, not personality. Decisions would be made, not to embarrass or damage the opposition, but to improve the lives of all Americans. Political parties would no longer be compelled to attack or degrade. Political parties would not exist. This would be the end of “Gotcha Politics.” (See Lanny Davis, Scandal: How Gotcha Politics is Destroying America, St Martin’s Griffin, August 7, 2007)
By the way, this is not a new idea. Our Founding Fathers warned of the perils of party politics.
In October of 1780, John Adams put it this way, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” (Charles Francis Adams (ed.), The Works of John Adams, Vol. 9. Boston, 1854, pp. 510-511). (See also, Geroge Washington’s Farwell Address, September 19th, 1796 and James Madison, The Fedealist # 10, November 27th 1787).
No more Democrats, no more Republicans. Just Americans. Mission accomplished.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana (1905) Reason in Common Sense, p. 284, volume 1 of The Life of Reason).
In September of 2010, Christine O’Donnell stunned the political experts covering the Delaware State primaries by defeating Mike Castle to become the Republican Party’s nominee for special election to fill the Senate seat vacated when Joe Biden joined Barack Obama in the White House.
Castle had been hugely popular as Delaware’s Congressional Representative and former Governor. O’Donnell was a virtual unknown and had no national political experience. But she did have the support of Delaware’s Tea Party. No one anticipated the impact that such support would have on the outcome: O’Donnell’s 53% to Castle’s 47%.
The outcome of the subsequent special election was less of a surprise. After a chaotic and ineffectual campaign, O’Donnell was easily defeated by Chris Coons: 57% to 40%.
At the time, there was much hand wringing amongst the Republican establishment with vows to never let such a thing happen again.
Choices have consequences. Today’s Republicans have made a choice and consequences will follow.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”