As I post this, one President of the United States is in the last minutes of his second term. (Much of the chattering class said this as New Year’s Day approached, but now it’s literally true.) Another President will call this the first day of his first term. Yet I will finish the day much as I begin it: a citizen of a country whose chief executive’s political aspirations and principles, or personal qualities, or both, I expect to be more harmful than beneficial to the freedom and welfare of my nation and the world.
Ten and a half weeks have passed since Election Day; one day less has passed since I last blogged here. True, I’ve been caught up in personal, professional, and church obligations; I spent more than half that span at least slightly ill (due to nonpolitical causes); and there was a holiday season stuck in there somewhere. So I have plenty of excuses for not blogging here. But they are only excuses. Obviously, I had some time to write, as you can see at my non-political blog, Bendable Light. I just didn’t want to write about politics enough to finish anything I started. I’m not sure what that means.
But here we are. I propose to do four things during our time together here today. First, I’ll briefly mention most of the political topics on which I’ve considered writing in recent weeks. I don’t know what that will do for you – paint a picture of my current political thoughts, perhaps, without belaboring any of them – but it will probably make me feel better and help me move on. Second and third, I’ll try to lift my eyes and words above grim politics, mostly, to some hopes and some points of pride and gratitude we’re more likely to share. Fourth, I have three small gifts for you.
If you want to skip the first section, (a) I’ll never know, and (b) I won’t mind.
A Drawerful of Political Shorts (15 Things I Didn’t Blog About)
I developed thoughts on these themes, but didn’t post them:
- I enjoyed the Democrats’ fleeting concern for the integrity of our elections. But don’t worry; it’s over. Lately they dredged up an old case where the new president’s nominee for Attorney General prosecuted some folks for falsifying – stealing – African-American citizens’ votes. Yes, I mean that they claimed prosecuting the vote-stealers was racist. Some things, no matter how absurd, never change.
- The Mormon Tabernacle Choir isn’t the only musical group performing at the inaugural events today. (Check your programs; it’s not all Mormons from Utah, and you can bet there was controversy elsewhere too.) But let’s focus on “America’s Choir.” This is the twenty-first century, so it’s to be expected that (a) someone would resign from the Choir in protest, then (b) write an appropriate blog post about it, which then (c) hit the national news. I don’t know what I would have done, if I were in the Choir, but I suspect it’s this. I would have rejoiced that it wasn’t my decision and that they could only take about two-thirds of the Choir; I would have declined to apply to be among those who went; and if they still needed basses and asked me to go, I would have gone. Maybe I would have blogged about it, but in any case my going wouldn’t have been national news.
- I don’t recall Republicans committing violence or vandalism or threatening terroristic acts, like shutting down the DC subway, in protest of president-elects they (formerly we) thought would be bad for the country.
- Over the years I’ve called certain presidents “lawless” for seizing legislative authority which Article I, Section 1 of the United States Constitution clearly reserves to Congress. Over the years more than a handful of readers and friends have taken me to task for this word choice, despite – for example – the outgoing president’s public, systematic imposition of sweeping, invasive regulations without Congressional action, and his periodic crowing that, if Congress wouldn’t do his will, he would do it himself. It’s disappointing how many of those good people who didn’t like my “name-calling” have, within my vision or earshot, lately compared Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. They defend this on the basis of things he’s said, not done (so far) – as if a drawing of a mini-cupcake could reasonably be compared to the biggest actual sheet cake you ever saw. Granted, the period in which I can argue that he has committed no acts at all as president is nearly at an end, for good or ill, or both, and we shall soon begin to see what sort of administration he will lead.
- After the present administration modified key parts of the definitions used to calculate the unemployment rate, so the numbers would be lower, and manipulated the stock market through profligate monetary policy and borrowing, so the Dow Jones Industrial Average would maintain an artificially high altitude, it’s no surprise that the Big Media Acronyms just fudged the one number which arguably is politically more important than those other two. They egregiously manipulated their polling samples, so that they could report that President Obama’s approval rating reached 60 percent at the end.
- On one hand, I understand why Mr. Trump’s tweeting makes sense. It’s his way of reaching past the Big Media Acronyms, who now both decry “fake news” and produce some of it, to communicate directly with the people. (I cringe at the comparison, but President Reagan systematically did the same, through different means.) On the other hand, Mr. Trump is bad at tweeting – childish, pugilistic, insulting, easily distracted – so I wish he’d either stop or (sorry, Twitterverse, but this phrase gives me pause) start tweeting like an adult. Neither seems particularly likely.
- President Obama’s parting boast that his administration has been uniquely free of major scandal is delightfully imaginative and utterly unsurprising.
- Also unsurprising is the number of people who think one’s attitude toward ObamaCare is a good litmus test of one’s personal kindness and compassion. It’s bad, sloppy, sprawling law, which has mostly the opposite of its publicly intended effects, and at an irresponsible cost in freedom and treasure. I think it’s unkind to do things you know will increase costs, then penalize people for not buying insurance they already couldn’t afford. I think it’s unjust to flood Medicaid with able-bodied recipients, thereby reducing the care available to more needy, traditional Medicaid recipients. And the president’s boast the Affordable Care Act has given 20 million people insurance who couldn’t afford it before is deceptive. It’s based on survey data, not actually signups. The actual net gain in Americans with health insurance is about 14 million; about 84 percent of that came through Medicaid expansion. I think there are far better ways than ACA to help people — and I don’ t think that makes me cruel or selfish or unkind.
- Russia supposedly “hacked” our election, via all the WikiLeaks activity that made the Democrats look so bad, so manipulative, so hypocritical, so corrupt. In fact the leaks may have influenced the voters, but they weren’t an election hack. That would involve tampering with vote counts. Notably, the talking heads have managed to focus discussion on how wrong it was to reveal those communications, not how wrong it was to do and say the things described in those communications. Beyond that, I am skeptical. We were told that all umpteen US intelligence agencies confirmed the Russian role. But they all work for a Democratic president. And I wonder, is it common for them to agree quickly on anything substantive, if you can get them to talk at all? And it soon came out that not all of the agencies had even investigated the matter before the White House announced their unanimous conclusion. Moreover, the fact that the Russians are so obviously to blame makes me wonder if it really was someone else; I think the Russians are more clever than that. But even if they did it, it’s naive to suggest that their efforts to influence US elections are unprecedented. And shall we speak sometime of US intervention in others’ elections? Even millennials are old enough to have seen the Obama machine try to take down the Prime Minister of Israel. (I wonder if all their spending there was legal under US law.)
- For a brief period, as the year turned, the United States had no aircraft carrier deployed anywhere in the world – for the first time in my lifetime, I suspect, and that’s about half the history of aircraft carriers. It was a temporary condition, but I heard the news with unease. The outgoing administration’s policy was largely one of retreating from our established role in the modern world, while somehow remaining perpetually engaged in armed conflict. I believe we can already see the harm this has done at home and abroad, but I have no more faith in the incoming president’s mix of ego and isolationism than I had in the outgoing president’s combination of arrogance and America-as-world-villain ideology.
- It’s been briefly and mildly entertaining to watch the Left agonize over a Republican president-elect’s cabinet appointments, who in most cases seem to embrace Republican, not Democrat, views of major issues. What did they expect?
- The Democrats briefly flirted with fondness for the Electoral College, when they hoped it would undermine or at least embarrass Mr. Trump. Then more electors forsook Mrs. Clinton than Mr. Trump, and we’re back to the usual accusations that it overrides the will of the people. I have written at some length of the Electoral College and will not repeat myself here. Suffice it to say, I honor the Electoral College as a mechanism which does the will of the people of each state. As long as we are the United States, not the United People, of America, we need the Electoral College, even if we often dislike the results.
- The present, self-consoling Democratic fondness for federalism – the vertical division of sovereignty among national, state, and local governments – must be a healthy thing. If only they loved it when they’re in power. Federalism is an important safeguard of our liberties, besides allowing me to live in a state where policies help us to have a robust economy, when many others don’t. Long may it wave.
- Speaking of flirtations, I had a brief one years ago with the College Republicans. I thought it might be a good way to get involved, and I suppose it is for some. But the College Republicans at my school then were toxic. For example, when Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) cosponsored reasonable legislation with Senator Edward Kennedy, they were scandalized – not by the content of the legislation, but by the fact that Senator Hatch would do anything more friendly or cooperative than spit on the senator from Massachusetts, whenever he was in range. (You think that is hyperbole, but the CR rhetoric was quite unrestrained, especially in private. They thought that I, an intern, should have derided and embarrassed Senator Kennedy when I shared an elevator with him.) I quickly absented myself from the organization. Since then, on the basis of personal and political respect and a long-standing family association, I have defended and campaigned for Senator Hatch, including in 2012. However, I think his reported consideration of running for yet another term is ill-advised, and I’ll be difficult to convince otherwise in 2018.
- I don’t blame Generation Snowflake for being itself. I blame the two previous generations, including my own, for creating it and indulging it. And I hope it doesn’t take a world war to redeem them into responsible, industrious adulthood.
Nine Wishes for the Future
- I wish for the inaugural festivities to proceed peacefully, without violence or major interruption by the American Left, the various forces of nature, or those barbaric throwbacks to the Dark Ages who have bloody, oppressive designs on the modern world, and who have been our sworn enemies these many years.
- I wish my country well these next four years, as I have wished it well these past eight. To the extent that my country’s welfare constitutes or requires the new president’s personal success, I wish him success. To the extent that my country’s welfare requires the new president’s failure . . . I wish my country well. These sentiments are constant in me; they were the same toward the outgoing president and toward the presidents before him.
- I wish for the United States Congress to reassert its legislative authority. I think this is more likely with the new president than it would have been with his principal opponent, but I’m not sure that makes it a good bet.
- I wish for the last several months’ tempestuous civics lesson to settle in the minds and hearts of my fellow citizens and contribute to sustained engagement that is both greater and more enlightened.
- I wish I could believe that the new president will carry himself with the outward dignity modeled by his predecessor.
- I wish for broad, generous, sustained, legal immigration to the United States – an orderly welcoming of all who legitimately wish to live out their lives as decent Americans. (In this I probably wish in vain, as I have for years.)
- I wish that President Trump, in his first week of office, would offer Mrs. Clinton a full pardon for her violation of laws protecting classified materials while she was Secretary of State – which she could then accept, if she ever needed it. It would be a gracious act, if not implemented too clumsily, and would help us get on with the more important tasks of self-government.
- I wish that I thought both parties would be willing now to legislate in a responsible, transparent, reasonable, frugal manner.
- I wish for us all, from the top down, to understand that a nation is and must be greater than its leader.
Eight Causes for Gratitude and Pride
I begin today with a president I don’t like, in political and ideological terms. I will end the day with a president I don’t like, in political, ideological, and personal terms. But President Obama’s inauguration was not the Apocalypse, and President Trump’s won’t be. I’m dismayed and concerned at how many people have so little understanding of history and of American government that they think this must be the end of the world. Perhaps one cause for this alarmism is an insufficiency of gratitude.
That said, I note my gratitude and pride on these eight points, among many others:
- I am an American. My country has not always – perhaps not ever – fully lived up to our founding ideals, but I am proud of those ideals and of our ongoing struggles to embody them.
- I am grateful to be mostly free, despite modern attacks on the First, Second, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments, to name a few. I still get to worship as I please and to advocate my religion in peaceful ways. I still get to opine on politics, even in opposition to current administrations. And while I may occasionally incur the displeasure, disdain, or wrath of friends, neighbors, or strangers, I have yet to be censored by government, sent to jail, or sentenced to death for my words. This blessing is not even close to universal among humans, modern or otherwise.
- While my country’s activities abroad, even in my lifetime, have not always been honorable, wise, or faithful to our promises, I am proud of the fact that no nation in the world’s history has spilled more blood or spent more treasure in defense of other nations’ freedom, or asked so little in return.
- I am grateful for the mostly-peaceful transfer of political power in my country, state, and community, which calms our existence, no matter how tempestuous our politics.
- I am grateful for my cautious confidence that, because we inaugurate one president today and not another, for most of my remaining lifetime the US Supreme Court is likely to be a smaller threat to the US Constitution, and a greater defender of it, than it would otherwise have been. (I wish I thought that other good things would fare as well, such as the dignity of the Presidency and our historic national commitment to being a melting pot.)
- I am grateful to know and to live surrounded by good people of many political and religious persuasions and national origins, many of whom try earnestly to transcend the worst urges of partisanship and tribalism, and to work for the welfare of their neighbors, nations, and world. Granted, in some matters we work against each other, at least on the surface. But the long-term result is better government and better lives for more people.
- Almost finally, here is a blessing we ponder far too little. I will cast it in personal terms. I have never had to go to war. My sons and daughter have never been drafted and sent into battle. Yet there have always been others who were willing to go, including my father and my uncles. I have been conscious of this blessing since childhood. If anything, I grow more conscious of it as the years pass. God bless them all, and the families who send them.
- Finally, thank you for reading.
Three Small Gifts
- In case you missed it, and you shouldn’t, here’s Dave Barry’s 2016 Year in Review. It’s must reading.
- Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address was delightfully brief and is one of the greatest pieces of American writing. Here’s a link.
- And in case this really is the end of the world, we may as well enjoy it. Here’s “The Last Song in the World,” by Marion Call, a geeky folksinger I like. (Apologies for one foul word you may or may not notice – but now probably will, because I mentioned it.)
There. The slate is clean, or at least mostly so. Let’s see where tomorrow leads.[Note: I made a minor revision of this post after it went live, for the sake of readability and clarity. — DR]