On Inauguration Day: 15 Things I Didn’t Blog About Lately, 9 Wishes for Our Future, 8 Points of Gratitude and Pride, and 3 Gifts for You

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.

I Declare Amnesty (No, Not That Amnesty)

We’ve entered the post-Labor Day season, during which, by tradition, many voters will begin taking our presidential race seriously.

Meanwhile, many of us have already been paying attention, and we like what we see far less than usual. We’re doing things like leaving our political parties and wondering if our deluded country isn’t worth our political exertions any more.

It’s time for me to make an announcement.

My friends, I am neither God nor the government, so I don’t expect you to think this is earthshaking, but . . .

I hereby grant you amnesty.

Perhaps I should explain.

To Whom and for What?

Yes, amnesty.

To all of you.

No, not for everything you may have done lately. For example, some of you primary voters got us a choice between Trump and Clinton. I’m not presently offering amnesty for that.

Today’s amnesty is mostly preemptive. It’s for your vote or lack thereof in the presidential race this November — and for any reasons, opinions, or gut feelings you may have or offer in support of that vote (or nonvote).

Four Candidate Views of What Should Be Free

Why These Speeches?

National convention acceptance speeches are not perfect windows into candidates’ minds. But they pull in larger audiences than most other political speeches, so they’re crafted with unusual care. They’re a combination of what the candidate wants to say, what key advisors and benefactors want to hear, and what they all — candidate, advisors, donors, party officials, and pollsters alike — think the American people want to hear.

Precisely because they are a careful blend of so many things, they are interesting summaries of a party’s politics in a presidential election year. So this year’s speeches are not just old, pre-Olympic news. They’re useful portraits of our time.

trump and clinton speeched

SB 296, SB 297, Religious Freedom, and Nondiscrimination

My readers may know two things about me, based on statements in public meetings, private conversations, or what I wrote at this blog’s predecessor, LocalCommentary.com.

First, for a long time I have supported local and state legislation to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment based on actual or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation.

Second, the level of my confidence in the Utah legislature is perennially low.

These two themes came together last year at about this time, as the Utah legislature sat on its hands and refused even to debate last year’s version of a non-discrimination law (SB 100). I wrote:

It’s an extraordinarily discerning litmus test, where Mormon Utah Republicans are concerned. It tells us where people land on the freedom-versus-using-my-power-to-compel-universal-righteousness spectrum, which sometimes seems to be the primary axis of Utah politics.

Beyond the moral principles on which society generally agrees, and finds suitable for regulation by law, I believe that sinners as I define them and sinners as you define them deserve political, economic, and religious freedom. I believe that a person’s violation of someone else’s sectarian principles (or his own) should not jeopardize the roof over his head or his means of earning his daily bread, assuming he doesn’t work for an organization with a primary mission to promote those principles. . . .

I . . . believe that the greatest and most constant threat to free and healthy society and good government in Utah is the subset of Mormons who think the law is a suitable tool for imposing their principles on all people — and who think that this is somehow a proper exercise of their religious freedom. (“I Am Unfit for the Utah Legislature,” February 5, 2014. See also “Rights and Rites and Right and the Rights” and “Tonight in American Fork.”)

When the Utah Legislature took up the topics of nondiscrimination and religious freedom this year, I was skeptical of their competence to produce wise legislation on such a topic, and skeptical of their good will, too.

Marilynne Robinson: Capitalism or Freedom?

From Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books (New York: Picador –Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012)

Having just quoted Walt Whitman, she writes:

We now live in a political environment characterized by wolfishness and filled with blather. We have the passive pious, who feel they have proved their moral refinement in declaring the whole enterprise bankrupt, and we have the active pious, who agree with them, with the difference that they see some hope in a hastily arranged liquidation of cultural assets. (x)

The key words at the end are “the secondary consequences of the progress of freedom” (my italics) . . .

I know that there are numberless acts of generosity, moral as well as material, carried out among [America’s] people every hour of the day. But the language of public life has lost the character of generosity, and the largeness of spirit that has created and supported the best of our institutions and brought reform to the worst of them has been erased out of historical memory. On both sides the sole motive force in our past is now said to have been capitalism. On both sides capitalism is understood as grasping materialism that has somehow or other yielded the comforts and liberties of modern life. . . .

What if good institutions were in fact the product of good intentions? What if the cynicism that is supposed to be rigor and the acquisitiveness that is supposed to be realism are making us forget the origins of the greatness we lay claim to — power and wealth as secondary consequences of the progress of freedom? (xiv-xv, italics added)

(The link above is to the book at my Amazon store, where purchases support this site. However, libraries and fine local bookstores are also wonderful things. The chief thing is to read.)

Read Mike Lee’s Speech

In August 2009 I first heard Mike Lee speak; this was before he declared himself a candidate for US Senate. My blog post about the experience was entitled, “I Think I Found a Great Candidate.” I’ve thought this before, and I’ve probably said this before, but . . .

I told you so.

At the same time, I was in the middle of publishing three lengthy essays on freedom in America. The second was entitled, “I Am a Tocqueville Conservative.” (I’ve lately republished those posts here at Freedom Habit.com.) The connections here are not obvious, but if you read my Tocqueville piece, then read this recent speech by Mike Lee, you’ll see why I liked him so much in the beginning, to say nothing of now. And you might think he is a Tocqueville conservative.

His speech is important. Even if you don’t read anything of mine, read his speech. Please.

(This speech got a bit of attention in The Washington Post. See also Holly Richardson’s recent piece on “Senator Mike Lee’s Impressive Turnaround.”)

 

What Is a Democracy?

Author's Note

An American Thing?

In its simplest definition, democracy is rule by the people — in Greek, the demos. On the face of it, you’d think that this would be not only a very good thing, but also a very American thing. The famous first three words of the Preamble to the United States Constitution are a statement of the people’s authority to establish a government and its Constitution. “We the People” sounds very democratic.

Then there’s that short, most celebrated speech by President Abraham Lincoln. In the last sentence of the Gettysburg Address, delivered at the famous battlefield on November 19, 1863, he speaks of “a new birth of freedom,” and the desire “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” That sounds pretty democratic too, doesn’t it, especially the words “by the people”?

So democracy must be a good thing. Or maybe not . . .

Cheese, Sunroof, Freedom

Author's Note

This is the third in a three-part series of essays on freedom in America. The first was entitled, “The Gulf Which Divides Us.” The second was “I Am a Tocqueville Conservative.”

Cheese, Sunroof, Freedom

In a fit of dietary decadence a few weeks ago, I went to a Wendy’s drive-through and ordered a “single.” The Voice asked, “Would you like cheese on that?” I declined. I like cheese and cheeseburgers well enough, but I didn’t want to pay the extra quarter or whatever.

A couple of years ago I bought a well-used Honda Accord EX, which has a slightly peppier engine than the base model. It also has a sunroof. I wasn’t specifically shopping for an EX; that’s just what there was. The sunroof is fun, but I wouldn’t have chosen it as option at additional cost.

Freedom is like cheese and sunroofs. (I wonder if that sentence has ever been written in English before.) All else being equal, almost everyone loves freedom — and cheese and sunroofs, I suppose — but only some people are willing to pay any significant price for it.

You may have beaten me to two points. First, the word freedom is attached to so many concepts, including some which are mutually contradictory, that there’s little point it discussing it without a clear, specific definition of what it means in the present context. Second, when was “all else” ever equal?

I Am a Tocqueville Conservative

Author's Note

This is the second in a three-part series of essays on freedom in America. The first is entitled, “The Gulf Which Divides Us.” The third is called “Cheese, Sunroof, Freedom.”

I am and always have been a bookish fellow. (I do not wish to boast or drop names, but to make a point.) In the discipline of political theory I have read a lot of Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and the others. I’ve studied the debates at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. I have spent fascinating hours — sometimes months — reading and discussing Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Macchiavelli, Locke, Hobbes, Burke, Mill, Hegel, and . . . the list goes on.

I’ve also carefully studied some thinkers who particularly terrify a certain sort of conservative, the one who thinks that the safest intellectual course is never to wrestle with the words of those who disagree. As I write this, I’m about ten feet from a bookcase, one shelf of which is filled with well-marked writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Bakunin, Fourier, Saint-Simon and a number of other socialists and communists of whom most people never hear and never want to.

Some of these thinkers have influenced my own thought profoundly, as in many cases they influenced each other; some have merely challenged or informed, which is also useful.

You’re now thinking that it’s a wonder I can function at all in normal human society, or communicate plainly enough to buy a postage stamp. Perhaps it is.

There’s another thing that may surprise you about all this. I have not named the two individuals who I suspect have had the greatest influence on my political thought.