Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Character Matters

Ordinarily, I try not to insert as much of my political bias into "milestakesonhistory" as I do in my other blog, "prostheticgod." However, I am compelled to recognize that we are in a historical moment, and political views are very much part of it.

Donald Trump has created the most profound divide in the conservative movement. I used to think that conservatives were likeminded allies regardless of whether I might disagree with them on a few issues or about their personalities, approach or demeanor. Now I am not sure how much if at all those little differences were warnings of some deeper divide. In some cases I do not think they were, but I fear that conservatives will never look at each other in the same way again.

I believe that the United States is in very dire straits. Over the past 150 years, the power of the federal government has increased, and, more significantly, the beliefs of American leadership have more and more embraced the potential growth of the size, power and scope of government. With the rise of the Progressive movement, in the years and decades following the Civil War, people like Woodrow Wilson, who would not have been given a seat at the dinner table by any of the Founding Fathers, came more and more within the tent of acceptability in political thinking. With World War I, Progressivism became acceptable to an elite that, though out of power during much of the 1920s, always stood in the wings, their policies toward banking, legislative and executive authority enshrined in law and practiced and held at bay without having been rolled back, ready to come back in 1928 and thereafter. Since then, no one has done any more than hold the wolf of tyranny at bay, leaving it alive to stalk our liberty at the next election of someone who is ready to unleash the wolf.
In the past several administrations—including for this entire century, so far—our presidents have very much championed an imperial presidency under which the executive branch and its bureaucratic departments have taken it on themselves to promulgate regulations that are indistinguishable from laws except that no elected person voted for them, and they have exercised the authority to enforce these regulations without control or oversight. Rule by executive order has been undertaken as if the executive has the right to pass laws, which right is constitutionally only ceded to the legislature. (This is sometimes a problem at the gubernatorial level as well as the presidential.)
I do not believe that any individual as president or senator or governor or any other office can be enough to make the vital difference of reviving the ethos that does make the United States of America exceptional. That exceptionalism has been so reduced by the  ridicule of the Democratic Party that it needs to be described now. This country is among the few nations that has ever been created according to an explicit philosophy, and the only one created so deliberately according to design that it took into account the balance of power between different interests. In this, the plan was not perfect, but it was good enough to leave a long lasting structure that could yet be improved upon according to the original philosophy behind it.

Ultimately, the renewal of the United States will depend on the renewal of its people, not its leaders, who have by and large been followers of the zeitgeist not, in the contemporary parlance, “thought leaders.” But it would help if we started by electing individuals to key positions who are “with it” in terms of understanding what needs to be done. Who understand where America’s greatness came from.

In the present crisis, I am impressed that those conservatives who support Donald Trump can just as passionately as I believe that we are both in a crisis and that it is at least of some importance to elect the right person as president of the United States. And some of them, at least, perhaps realize that the right person in the presidency is not sufficient even though it might be necessary. Even so, I confess to being dumbfounded to see that they think that Trump is the right man. To me, this cannot be conceivable. Donald Trump is so abrasive that he is burning bridges behind him wherever he goes. His knowledge of politics is woefully impractical, his understanding of the principles that make America great and successful are almost utterly lacking, and his empathy for his fellow human beings is breathtakingly absent. It is not that his opponents have actively rejected him so much as that his rejection of his opponents has met them more than half-way.

Ted Cruz cannot single-handedly save America, but his character is so far ahead of Donald Trump’s that his election to the presidency will make a true start in the sense that a compass that reliably points north and guides us according to our map is true. I have difficulty understanding the thinking of people who firmly believe that Trump can save America, make it “great again” and not only that but that he is the only one who can save America.

This was the judgment of our Founders when they made George Washington the first president because they saw that he had the character to lead the new nation in the spirit of the blueprint of the Constitution. This was even the judgment of Alexander Hamilton when he spent his political capital—and ultimately risked and lost his life—to promote the election of Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr. Hamilton detested Jefferson’s politics, but he regarded him as a man of character, whereas he saw Burr as a man of the lowest character. Burr went on to kill Hamilton in a duel and later to attempt to carve his own empire out of the western territories, for which he was subsequently convicted treason. Character matters. Only Ted Cruz has it.

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