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The Fall of Kabul is a National Shame

For nations to preserve their sense of honor, they must not ignore their sense of shame.

“I will, therefore, begin by saying the most unpopular and most unwelcome thing. I will begin by saying what everybody would like to ignore or forget but which must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat…”

“All is over. Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness. She has suffered in every respect by her association with the Western democracies and with the League of Nations, of which she has always been an obedient servant.”

“…the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies: ‘Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.’” —Winston Churchill, in a speech to the House of Commons on October 5th, 1938.

The counterpart to honor is shame.[1] When a person who believes in honor does not act honorably, he or she must feel shame. And, as no honorable person is infallible, the only people who feel no shame are those who have no honor. So, too, is it with nations.

The Afghanistan War was an honorable endeavor, begun in response to an attack on these United States by a band of brutal zealots given aid and comfort by the Taliban. During the course of the war, the United States and its allies in NATO gave to the freedom-seeking class of Afghans an implicit—and, at times, explicit—assurance that they would not be delivered once more to the very same oppressors that our might had freed them from.

President Biden withdrew that assurance in April this year.[2] Within four months, the people of Afghanistan have once again been enslaved by the Taliban. Those men remain as totalitarian in their beliefs and barbaric in their deeds as they were two decades past; any restraint that they may display while consolidating their power is merely a temporary expedient in service of their self-interest, and cannot be presumed to last.

The manner in which this war has ended, therefore—whatever may be said of the calculations of interests and capabilities behind the decision to retreat from Afghanistan, with which I disagreed, or of the miscalculations about the speed and totality of the subsequent collapse, which I shared—is nothing but dishonorable.

If we are to restore our honor in the future, then we must now feel shame.

As the first step to restoring that honor, our shame ought to motivate us to give safe haven to all the Afghans who now crowd the Kabul airport, or who wait in neighboring countries, having been forced to flee upon pain of death or persecution because they believed in liberty for their homeland. We ought to welcome them as Americans and let them share in liberty as Americans.

It is difficult to write this, because I feel not only shame, but regret. I served in the U.S. Army, but not in Afghanistan—despite having dedicated much time as a cadet to learning its history and language in anticipation of doing so.[3] I could not have altered the war’s outcome, but I regret that I did not share personally in bearing its costs. Those who bore the battle should take solace at this moment in the fact that they did what was in their power to do.

Mr. Biden may not regret his decision, and perhaps he need not, if he truly believes it to have been unavoidable for the well-being of our Republic. But if he is an honorable man, as I believe him to be, he ought to feel shame for it nonetheless.

I love my country. It is built on noble principles, and it will find its way back to honor; I am not ashamed of it. But today, I bear shame with it.


[1] For an excellent, concise examination of the concept and history of honor and its relationship to shame, I recommend What Is Honor? And How to Revive It by Brett H. McKay, the founder and editor-in-chief of The Art of Manliness (AOM), an equally excellent blog. The work is available as an ebook and also as a series of articles on the AOM site.

[2] It is true that this assurance had been all but withdrawn by his predecessor. Yet it is Mr. Biden who made the final decision, and it is thus with Mr. Biden that final responsibility lies.

[3] This was partly an accident of timing and placement: I entered active duty after the “Afghan surge” of 2009-2012 had run its course and while the U.S. presence there was in the process of being substantially reduced. Consequently, my unit was not deployed. Yet it was also a byproduct of personal choice: I left the Army shortly after completing my obligated service. Had I remained an active-duty officer, I may have eventually been deployed there with another unit.

No. 11 – On Foreign Policy

Juneteenth, 2021

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.” —General Order No. 3, proclaimed in Galveston, Texas on June 19th, 1865.

In the spring of 1865, events moved quickly. On April 2nd, the Army of the Potomac went over the top and forced Robert E. Lee’s army from the trenches of Petersburg. On April 3rd, Richmond fell, and black soldiers were among the Union troops that entered it. On April 4th, the President of the United States walked the city’s streets and spoke to a newly freed man. On April 9th, Lee surrendered at Appomattox in the presence of Ulysses Grant and his staff, including Ely Parker, a Seneca Indian colonel. On April 14th, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. On April 23rd, Joseph Johnston surrendered to William Sherman in North Carolina. On May 10th, Jefferson Davis was captured and imprisoned in Georgia. On June 2nd, in Texas, Kirby Smith surrendered the last Confederate army. On June 19th, Union troops arrived in Galveston and brought word of freedom.

The pace of history slowed again afterwards, and, as so often occurs in the affairs of mankind, the peace was not won as thoroughly as the war. The occasion of June 19th became unknown to much of the nation, myself included. But it is with us all today, and so it shall remain, rightly so. Liberty for all, equality before the law, and the triumph of a Union built and preserved by the work and sacrifices of all its people; these are things well worth commemorating. Happy Juneteenth.

An early printed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Danger Is Not Yet Past

We shall only recognize virtue in our candidates for public office if we know and practice it ourselves.

I

“It is quite impossible to think of glory. Both mind and feelings are exhausted. I am wretched even at the moment of victory, and I always say that next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained.” —The Duke of Wellington, after the Battle of Waterloo

Mr. Trump has left the Presidency, and thus the most immediate and dire menace to our Republic has departed from the stage. But he leaves behind a broken scene.

The Capitol was overrun, and the city of Washington turned into a military camp; cities across the Union smolder after a summer of protest collapsed into the smoke of anarchy and reprisals; four hundred thousand lie dead from disease; and many millions more have been drawn into a sinister delusion that assails the very basis of republican government, confidence in a free and fair election.

Extremists, once obscure, have risen to prominence: on the right, depraved militants laying a false and perverted claim to the traditions and principles of these United States strive after civil war, seeking to intimidate elected officials and do violence to lawful government; on the left, would-be-revolutionaries inculcated with an unforgiving and absolutist ideology seek to purge from public life and private employment all those who fail to recite their slogans.

None of these calamities were present in such strength in 2016. They gathered force during the presidency of Mr. Trump, and in 2020 they crashed down upon us. His selfish malice drove those demons on as they danced in our Union’s fields and streets, until he himself, exposed as the tyrant he always wished to become, stood at the head of an insurrection against the elected representatives of these United States.

Yet our Republic still stands, and, as Mr. Trump fades, the Covid-19 epidemic recedes, and some measure of prosperity and competent governance returns, it may soon appear to recover.

However—

II

“For it [the Roman agrarian law] found the power of its adversaries redoubled, and because of this it inflamed so much hatred between the plebs and the Senate that they came to arms and bloodshed, beyond every civil mode and custom. So, since the public magistrates could not remedy it, and none of the factions could put hope in them, they had recourse to private remedies, and each one of the parties was thinking of how to make itself a head to defend it.”

“In this scandal and disorder the plebs came first and gave reputation to Marius, so that it made him consul four times; and he continued in his consulate, with a few intervals, so long that he was able to make himself consul three other times. As the nobility had no remedy against such a plague, it turned to favoring Sulla; and when he had been made head of its party, they came to civil wars. After much bloodshed and changing of fortune, the nobility was left on top.”

“Later, these humors were revived at the time of Caesar and Pompey; for after Caesar had made himself head of Marius’s party, and Pompey that of Sulla, in coming to grips Caesar was left on top. He was the first tyrant in Rome, such that never again was that city free.” —Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on Titus Livy

The Roman Republic did not fall in a day, nor upon the first attempt to overthrow it. It began to decay after its final triumph over Carthage, in 146 B.C. At that moment, Rome stood mighty and unchallenged, but its leaders grew arrogant and its people complacent. They quarreled more bitterly amongst themselves and became frightened whenever some passing foreign menace appeared on the horizon; thus, they began to disregard their customs in their search for safety or advantage.[1] In 91 B.C., unrest and revolt broke out across Italy amongst those Rome had neglected in its years of triumph, and the Romans only with difficulty suppressed them.[2]

But it was in the decade after 88 B.C. that the pillars of the Republic took the first of the blows that would fell them. Marius and Sulla, each at the head of a faction and each in their turn, briefly grasped at unchecked power and attempted the wholesale destruction of their enemies. The old traditions and customs that upheld the Roman constitution buckled under their ceaseless assaults. The law became a dead letter, discarded when it did not suit their purposes. They demanded absolute and abject loyalty from their fellow senators, the tribunes of the people, and other distinguished citizens; they purged those who did not give it.

Their rule did not last, but neither was held accountable. Marius died of old age while still clinging to power. Sulla, to the surprise of all, laid down his dictatorship, retired to his villa, and, after a year of debauchery, died in his bed. His fade from power and public life was swift, and for nearly twenty years the Republic appeared restored.

But two young men had witnessed his example, that selfishness and force opened a path to power. Caesar and Pompey were more intelligent, diligent, and disciplined than Marius and Sulla; and so, when they clashed, Rome shook even more violently. Caesar emerged victorious, but in 44 B.C. he was assassinated by a fallen Senate desperate to reclaim its lawful powers.

Yet two more young men were watching. Antony and Octavian rose to power and then came to blows. Octavian, like Caesar his uncle, was disciplined and brilliant; unlike Caesar, he was wholly ruthless. In 27 B.C., he became the Emperor Augustus and reigned for forty years. Only then did the Roman Republic cease finally to exist.

III

“…consider whether in a corrupt city one can maintain a free state, if there is one, or, if it has not been there, whether one can order it. On this thing I say that it is very difficult to do either the one or the other… For as good customs have need of laws to maintain themselves, so laws have need of good customs so as to be observed. Besides this, the orders and laws made in a republic at its birth, when men were good, are no longer to the purpose later, when they have become wicked.” —Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on Titus Livy

The politics of the Roman Republic were generally bloodier and more tumultuous than our own, and Rome had a much different constitution; thus, any comparison between the two is necessarily imperfect. Yet it would be foolhardy not to contemplate the possibility that Mr. Trump was our Sulla. He disregarded every law, custom, and tradition that stood in his path; he proscribed anyone who crossed him; and he recklessly stoked the violence of the mob. Then he left office, still living. And, most crucially, he has so far not been held to account.

Congress, had it any vigor or authority remaining to it, would have impeached and removed Mr. Trump on January 6th, immediately upon reclaiming the Capitol. The Senate may still limp to such a conclusion, months later; though it appears to me that each passing day makes this outcome less likely, as what little resolve was summoned on that night dissolves into cowardice and irresolution. Whichever young men and women would be our Caesar and Octavian, more diligent and ruthless than Mr. Trump, are watching this scene. They will take note of how it ends.

Yet the failures of the people’s representatives must ultimately be laid at the feet of the people themselves. We elect our leaders, and, if we wish to avert the fate that befell Rome, so must we be the ones to demand virtue from them and uphold it with our votes. And we shall only recognize virtue in our candidates for public office if we know and practice it ourselves. Do you? Do I?

IV

“A republic has need of new acts of foresight every day if one wishes to maintain it free.” —Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on Titus Livy

Although our national stage is battered, the inauguration of Mr. Biden, should he carry through the assurances of moderation that he has made on campaign, offers us citizens an opportunity to pause and take our eyes away from it. His actions there will neither save nor destroy the Republic. That will hinge on whether we, in this interim, can rediscover civic virtue.

The place to do so is in our towns, counties, cities, and States. In writing the series of essays that form the core of this website, I came to the theoretical conclusion that we as citizens can take part in and see our hand in the results of local government far more than we can the government of the Union.

Subsequent experience has, for me, confirmed the truth of that proposition. This website, which deals with national issues, is but a drop in the ocean; few have visited it, and few shall read what is here, because there exist thousands of other written works that, for good or ill, ponder the challenges of the United States. Yet in the span of little more than a year, and despite the obstacle of Covid-19, I have already found a modest place in the civic life of my adopted town.

It is there, at the level of government that is accessible to us, that we may take an active part in governing and so become reacquainted with, and practiced in, civic virtue: attachment, respect, duty, honor, foresight, patience, hard work, collaboration, persuasion, compromise, leadership. Once we have taught ourselves these qualities in the gymnasium of local government, then we may apply them to our national contests and so repair our Republic.

So, let us relax our minds during the next few weeks, as the tension of the past four years gradually unwinds. Then let us seize the opportunity now offered and begin to work.


“Nor is it out of place to mention such testimonies in the case of a man said to have been by nature so fond of raillery, that when he was still young and obscure he spent much time with actors and buffoons and shared their dissolute life; and when he had made himself supreme master, he would daily assemble the most reckless stage and theatre folk to drink and bandy jests with them, although men thought that he disgraced his years, and although he not only dishonoured his high office, but neglected much that required attention.”

“…In others he seems to have been of very uneven character, and at variance with himself; he robbed much, but gave more; bestowed his honours unexpectedly, as unexpectedly his insults; fawned on those he needed, but gave himself airs towards those who needed him; so that one cannot tell whether he was more inclined by nature to disdain or flattery.” —Plutarch, Parallel Lives of Famous Greeks and Romans, writing of Sulla.

[1] Such as when Marius was awarded four consecutive consulships when the Cimbri and the Teutones appeared to menace Italy.

[2] The Social War, from 91-87 B.C.

No. 1 – On Fundamental Liberties

No. 2 – On Federalism

No. 3 – On Representative Government

The Attempt on the Capitol

“Before he [the President] enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” —Article 2, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution

“The President of the Senate [the Vice President of the United States] shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted.” —Article 2, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution

This afternoon, a mob went to the Capitol at the instigation of the incumbent President. By forcibly entering that seat of government, it prevented Congress from carrying out a duty prescribed by the Constitution itself. With this action, Mr. Trump has demonstrated, explicitly, that he cannot be relied upon to ensure that the provisions of the Constitution of the United States are carried out. Instead, he has indicated a desire to actively obstruct them through the incitement of brute and unlawful force. While he remains in office, our Republic is in immediate and dire peril.

It is thus now my belief, as a private citizen, that, in order to preserve our Republic, the incumbent President ought at once to be impeached, again, and this time removed from office by the Congress that he has menaced through his actions today; and this action ought to be done immediately before or else directly after the counting of Electoral College votes is resumed and finished. The incumbent Vice President, it appears, may be relied upon to oversee the functions of government for the two weeks remaining before President-Elect Biden’s assumption of the responsibility to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, as the President is bound by oath to do.

I think, also, that it will now be necessary for ordinary, healthy Americans who are able to do so to attend the inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C., on January 20th, and by their presence—unarmed and peaceful—to present a barrier to those who might attempt to disrupt that necessary and vital function of the Constitution. Under present circumstances—the Covid-19 pandemic—it is unfortunate that this must be the case. But, to my regret, I believe that it has been forced on us.

A Republic cannot persevere unless its citizens stand up for it.

No. 1 – On Fundamental Liberties

No. 3 – On Representative Government

For more detail:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election/its-insurrection-biden-says-as-trump-supporters-storm-u-s-capitol-idUSKBN29B2PU

Update January 12, 2021: The Mayor of the District of Columbia and the Governors of Maryland and Virginia have discouraged citizens from coming to Washington, D.C. for the Inauguration in person. I fear that this may be an unwise course of action, but I hope nonetheless that they are correct in their assurance that “we will get through this period because American ideals are stronger than one extreme ideology.” Their statement:

Joint Statement from Bowser, Hogan and Northam on Planning for the 59th Presidential Inauguration | inauguration (dc.gov)

2020: An Election in Hindsight

Nearly all reelection campaigns ultimately boil down to a referendum on the incumbent, but few have seen such a clear divide between the individual and his party.

“Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge.” —George Washington, First Inaugural Address.

Two weeks ago, the United States of America held its 59th presidential election since George Washington won the office that the Framers of the Constitution designed for him in 1789. While one could well argue that none of his 45 successors thus far have been so well suited to the role as Washington was, it is nevertheless remarkable that nearly all of those successors, save Lincoln in 1860 and 1864, enjoyed the legal recognition, however grudging, of the entire country.

I do not believe this will change.

Our history is littered with occasional political has-beens who peddle partisan pablum about stolen or hacked elections, quenching the last embers from the smoldering wreckage of their ruined careers with the bitter vintage of sour grapes and tears of self-pity—particularly recently. In days past, they ran off to the West or went abroad. Now, they do book tours. The country can endure another one.

Even with ongoing legal battles over ballots in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Michigan, Biden’s margin in Pennsylvania alone is enough to ensure he reaches a majority of 270 electoral votes. Nevertheless, I expect those cases to play out with respect for due process and they should be allowed to do so, just as they did in the courts in 2000 for Florida, or the failed Congressional objection in 2004 over Ohio, or the numerous investigations into various aspects of the 2016 election—none of which ultimately altered the electoral outcome.  

America is exceptional in no small part because of our long unbroken history of lawful elections and peaceful transfers of power, which will continue when Joseph R. Biden, Jr. is inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States this January. While we should remain confident in the continuity of our governing institutions, this is not to say that poorly executed transitions are without cost or should be excused.

The 9/11 Commission Report specifically cited the delayed transfer of power from the Clinton White House to the incoming Bush Administration for growing gaps in national security on the eve of the worst terrorist attacks in US history. People may also still remember the Clintons departed with $190,000 in pilfered White House gifts and furnishings, of which $28,000 had to be returned and the balance paid for. One may also recall the petty and childish vandalism of office equipment adding insult to injury, but worse than these anecdotal lapses in judgement was the failure to bring new officials up to speed to avoid disruption or oversights.

The only silver lining from these unfortunate antics was that they have been the exception, not the rule; an interregnum in a line of generally good interparty transfers of power. George H.W. Bush penned a now-famous letter to Clinton and cooperated with his team in 1992, making the latter’s failure to reciprocate with his son eight years later all the more striking. George W. Bush vowed not to inflict the same experience on his successor Obama, and Obama to his credit fully cooperated with the incoming Trump team as well, despite immense pressure to behave otherwise. He could easily have gotten away with another partisan stunt, and been applauded for it, but he didn’t. 

It would be bad for the country if bruised egos and sticky fingers once again disrupted the Executive Branch, as appears possible. It was wrong when the Clintons did it, and it would be no less wrong for Trump to do it now. Nor, with the bar so exceptionally low, would it be terribly hard for Trump to acquit himself well enough in these final weeks to draw a contrast with his erstwhile rivals, but I have my doubts. Yet perhaps we may still be cautiously optimistic that the ill effects will be more limited than in 2000, given the passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 in the interim, as well as the unusual experience of the incoming Administration compared to most successful challengers. Biden is the first former Vice President to win the White House in his own right since George H.W. Bush in 1988, and the first non-consecutive vice presidential successor since Nixon in 1968.  

This was an unusual election in many ways. Biden scored a considerable 300-vote victory in the Electoral College, which is about as commanding as could be expected in such a polarized age. While pollsters predicted that much, they utterly failed to recognize how narrow his margins in crucial swing states would be, and overestimated Democrats’ performance at every other level of government. His campaign succeeded in many states where Republicans hold the edge in voter registration, voter turnout, and where Republicans won Congressional and state elections. Biden outperformed Congressional and state Democrats, including in the key swing states. The clear inference is that a significant number of voters backed Biden while still supporting down-ballot Republicans, indicating opposition to Trump within the GOP proved fatal to his reelection bid and Biden’s appeal to bipartisanship worked, even if it disappointed some on the Left—or perhaps it worked precisely because it disappointed the Left.  

This is only the third presidential election in 104 years where a Democrat has won the White House while Republicans gained seats in the House of Representatives; the others were 1916 and 1960. It will be the first such election in 136 years in which this occurred for a non-incumbent Democratic challenger with a Republican Senate, harkening back to the 1884 victory of New York Governor Grover Cleveland over Senator James G. Blaine (R-ME).  

Speaking of Republican Senators from Maine, one of the biggest surprises of the night was not only the reelection of Senator Susan Collins amidst an onslaught of out-of-state Democratic money flooding the state, but also her commanding margin of victory—she defeated Gideon by more than 9% in an election for which Democrats had been amassing funds and had been gunning to flip for the past two years. Illusory advantages in polling for Democrats likely contributed to this enormous financial advantage by enticing credulous donors eager to back a winner. It turns out votes matter more than money: Senate Democrats vastly outspent Republicans in several races that did not turn out to be terribly close, raising a collective $300 million only to go down in defeat by large margins in Maine (9%), Texas (10%), South Carolina (11%), and Kentucky (20%).

Donald Trump lost by nearly the same electoral margin by which he won in 2016. Nearly all reelection campaigns ultimately boil down to a referendum on the incumbent, but few have seen such a clear divide between the individual and his party. Republicans on every other level appear to have either retained control or actually made gains at Democrats’ expense, making the degree to which Trump himself has been rebuked impossible to conflate with cyclical trends and made all the more starkly personal by the fact he lacked the “negative coattails” of a Carter or a Goldwater with the rest of his party.

While Trump is certainly not without his supporters and actually made gains among African-American and Latino voters, it appears in this high turnout election that he aroused more opposition than support. His loss in Arizona in particular, where state Republicans appear to have retained control, seemed a direct rejoinder to his bitter feud with the late Senator John McCain and his family. This highlights the difficulty of Trump’s fraud claims; they depend on several Republican-controlled states being complicit, which makes even less sense than typical conspiracy theories do. It’s also hard to imagine that supposed Democratic plotters would inflict several embarrassing Congressional defeats on themselves in the process if they were somehow behind the result. 

Despite overheated rhetoric to the contrary, this election actually represented a notable decline in racial polarization; Biden increased the Democrats’ share of white voters over 2016, while Republicans attracted greater support from minorities. The latter proved decisive for Maria Elvira Salazar and Carlos Giménez flipping two Congressional seats in Florida. Salazar’s victory came in retaking Florida’s 27th District, represented for 30 years by Ilhena Ros-Lehtinen, the trailblazing Cuban-American Republican who was the first Latina ever elected to Congress.

Yet while Trump and House Democrats were both clear losers in this election, it cannot be overlooked that the biggest defeat may be for pollsters, who failed us yet again. Skepticism toward polling has shifted from the fringe to mainstream opinion for a good reason. Although their error wasn’t enough to predict the wrong outcome this time, they have evidently not learned from 2016. Only the fact that Biden ran a stronger campaign with even bigger leads for them to vastly inflate saved them from another reversal. The Democratic wave most pollsters predicted not only failed to appear, but proved to be more ebb than flow. Republicans increased their share of state legislatures under full control from 29 to 30 (to Democrats’ 19). State Republicans also increased their advantage in governorships from 26 to 27. Since 2020 is a decennial redistricting year, this gives Republicans the edge in drawing new House districts going into the 2022 midterms. (By way of comparison, the GOP controlled 29 statehouses at the last redistricting in 2010).  

There are numerous theories as to why pollsters got it wrong again; social desirability bias (AKA the “Shy Trump Voter” hypothesis), systematic sampling errors, asymmetric partisan trust in media impacting response rates, polls-as-wish-fulfillment (if driven by a desire for clicks from nervous Dems) or polls-as-propaganda (if intended to influence voter behavior, like encouraging donations or demoralizing opponents to depress turnout). Incompetence may be the simplest explanation, however.

I don’t know which if any of these is closest to the mark, but there’s clearly something very wrong and one worries the fact it didn’t make as much of a splash this time means they will be even less motivated to correct their mistake than they were after 2016, despite their clear failure to do so. How is it in an era of ever more intrusive and uncanny algorithms, predictive behavioral analysis, and pervasive surveillance that somehow we’re worse at polling than people were 50 years ago who had landlines, pencils, and graph paper? It fundamentally doesn’t make sense and we’ve yet to find a satisfactory explanation. 

Senate control will remain undecided until January, but with 50 Republicans to 48 Democrats currently, Republicans hold the edge if they win one or both of Georgia’s two special elections to retain control. This appears likely given the returns from last week; incumbent senior Senator David Perdue led his challenger by 1.7% or about 87,000 votes, even as Democratic turnout efforts helped Biden carry the state. Senator Perdue fell 0.3% short of the 50% threshold Georgia law requires in order to avoid a runoff. 

The special election to fill out the balance of Senator Johnny Isakson’s term is a bit more complicated. After Isakson resigned last year due to Parkinson’s disease, Kelly Loeffler was appointed in the interim and is now running as the incumbent. Georgia has so-called “jungle election” rules, so two Republicans faced off against two Democrats; the top spot went to Democrat Warnock with 32.9% to Loeffler’s 25.9%, but the two Republicans overall pulled in 45.9% of the vote to the two Democrats’ collective 35.7%. Even assuming similar or identical turnout to the presidential election, which was already extremely favorable for Democrats, it appears likely at this point that Republicans will retain Senate control by holding one or both Georgia seats. In the meantime, the parties will likely spend tens of millions of dollars more in the next two months before the runoff to try to budge those numbers or keep them steady.

God Bless America.

Outgoing President Bush’s note to incoming President Clinton, Inauguration Day 1993.

The 2020 Election: The Short Case

“There need not be much integrity for a monarchial or despotic government to maintain or sustain itself. The force of the laws in the one and the prince’s ever-raised arm in the other can rule or contain the whole. But in a popular state there must be an additional spring, which is VIRTUE.” —Charles de Secondat, Baron Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, 1748.

“‘Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free Government. Who that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?” —George Washington’s Farewell Address, 1796.

To maintain a republic, there must be virtue: among the people, and especially among their leaders. It must at least be outwardly displayed; but it is so much the better if it is held in those leaders’ hearts. Its importance infinitely exceeds that of policy. So long as both candidates in an electoral contest possess virtue, then we as citizens may decide the election on the basis of their particular plans or positions. But if only one possesses virtue, then the best interest of our Republic enjoins us to favor that candidate without equivocation, regardless of the flaws in their governing agenda.

Because, in the words of a philosopher well-acquainted with both good and bad men:

“Because the reordering of a city for a political way of life presupposes a good man, and becoming prince of a republic by violence presupposes a bad man, one will find that it very rarely happens that someone good wishes to become prince by bad ways, even though his end be good, and [it very rarely happens] that someone wicked, having become prince, wishes to work well, and that it will ever occur to his mind to use well the authority that he has acquired badly.” —Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on Titus Livy, 1517.

It may be asked, what is this virtue? It is, certainly, commitment to liberty and free government. Yet nobody can be truly committed to liberty who does not possess a deeper and more fundamental virtue. That virtue is decency; it is compassion; it is love. As it was articulated a long time ago:

“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.” —First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 13:1-8a.

Ask yourself, in full honesty: Do both candidates possess this virtue?

I have asked that question, and answered it. And so I will be for Mr. Biden, with all his faults. Because throughout his long life he has shown virtue, and his rival, only malice.

Postscript – The Past, The Present, and The Future

The 2020 Election: The Long Case

“The History of the present King of Great-Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World.” —The Declaration of Independence.

The impending Presidential election does not present an ideal choice to those whose foremost concern is the upkeep of our Republic’s might and liberty. But it does, in my view, present an easy choice.

The history of the incumbent President of the United States is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all tending in instinct toward—though not yet mature in execution—the establishment of a capricious tyranny over these States. To show this, let facts be submitted to our beleaguered nation:

He has shown contempt for the freedom of the press, of religion, and of peaceable assembly; and his professed support for free speech extends only to the freedom of his own speech and the speech of those who praise him;

He has openly voiced his desire to remain in office past the term limit imposed by the Constitution of the United States, and he has several times refused to say that he would accept the results of elections in which he is a candidate and commit to a peaceable transfer of power, should he emerge the loser;

He has repeatedly sought the prosecution or imprisonment of his political rivals;

He has inflamed lawless violence, and he has refused to condemn unaccountable militants, but rather called upon them and other irregular forces to wait in readiness to support his claims to power;

He has recklessly pardoned convicted war criminals and intervened in military discipline, and he has asserted an unlawful authority to order soldiers to commit such crimes, while he has displayed rank indifference and contempt toward those who served honorably;

He has, without warning, abandoned allies who have borne the battle against our Union’s foes, and he has extorted others with the sole purpose of gaining undue advantage in his own Presidential election contest;

He has, in brazen violation of the Constitution of the United States, removed funds from the Treasury without an appropriation for such purpose made by law and against the expressed will of Congress;

He has asserted a total authority over the state governments in matters that are reserved by the Constitution to the several States;

He has surrounded himself with an entourage of criminals, and he has fostered an environment of base corruption reaching to the highest levels of government;

He has cavorted with the most ruthless tyrants abroad, and he has preferred their counsel to that of the Government of the United States;

He has propagated outrageous conspiracy theories, which debase our Republic’s political discourses;

He has rendered his party and his administration into empty and sycophantic cults of personality;

He has not comported himself with any dignity, and he has demeaned the office of the President;

He has displayed gross incompetence in the actual practice of governance, he has been indifferent to the suffering of his fellow citizens in natural disasters, and he has recklessly endangered the health of the nation throughout the course of the plague that presently engulfs it;

He has repeatedly shown himself to be cruel and callous in his treatment of his fellow men, and of women especially, and even of small children;

He is, in sum, one of those base demagogues who embrace the dark contradiction of ‘illiberal democracy’ and see election to high public office not as a summons to serve, but as an invitation to rule. As Edmund Burke said of them: “Their liberty is not liberal. Their science is presumptuous ignorance. Their humanity is savage and brutal.”

And as such,

He does not deserve reelection. Indeed, to reward such an attempt at the chaotic establishment of personal rule would be to set our Republic, so dearly won and kept from 1776 until the present day, firmly if not irretrievably on the dim, dusty road to despotism.

Should the people of the several States, in accordance with the method prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, nonetheless choose to reelect Mr. Trump to the Presidency, then so be it. It would be a foolish choice, and I venture to say that all Americans would come to realize that before many years have passed. But a choice it is, and lawful.

If, however, the incumbent President refuses to yield upon defeat, or if he attempts to intervene in the conduct of the election, then his challenger shall be, or of right ought to be, the lawful President of the United States; and unlawful orders given by the incumbent ought rightly to be ignored by all of the officers of government.

Nonetheless,

The preceding argument ought not to be taken as an unqualified endorsement of the opposition party. Contained within its fold are some whose embrace of illiberal democracy is as fulsome as Mr. Trump’s. In the words of Burke:

“They have no respect for the wisdom of others; but they pay it off by a very full measure of confidence in their own. With them it is a sufficient motive to destroy an old scheme of things, because it is an old one. As to the new, they are in no sort of fear with regard to the duration of a building run up in haste; because duration is no object to those who think little or nothing has been done before their time, and who place all their hopes in discovery. They conceive, very systematically, that all things which give perpetuity are mischievous, and therefore they are at inexpiable war with all establishments. They think that government may vary like modes of dress, and with as little ill effect. That there needs no principle of attachment, except a sense of present conveniency, to any constitution of the state. …Their attachment to their country itself, is only so far as it agrees with some of their fleeting projects; it begins and ends with that scheme of polity which falls in with their momentary opinion.”

In due course, as these self-proclaimed revolutionaries, these purveyors of ‘cancel culture’ and ‘critical theory’ who seek to silence all voices but their own, aspire to power, it shall become the duty of all who wish to preserve our Republic to oppose them with the same steadfastness with which we now oppose Mr. Trump.

However,

Mr. Biden is no such menace. He is a decent man, moderate and conciliatory in his instincts, and committed to the perpetuation of our Union’s Constitutional order. Earlier this year, he took on the peddlers of illiberal democracy in his own party, and routed them. Should he go on to rout Mr. Trump in turn, as the best interest of the country demands, we as citizens may place our trust in him as President. He has shown his willingness to approach the task, as Abraham Lincoln once did, with malice toward none and charity for all; and he shall at least attempt, in good faith, to bind up our nation’s wounds.

Therefore,

I intend to vote for Mr. Biden, satisfied in my mind that his accession to the Presidency, though it would likely result in policies which I think are imprudent, is unequivocally the outcome most favorable to the preservation of the Constitution of the United States; and it is my first duty, and that of all citizens, to uphold that Constitution through the exercise of our civic rights. Mr. Biden’s election shall not in itself be enough to ensure our Republic’s future as a free and vigorous Union, but it makes such a bright future possible.

Some will disagree. So, let us, as a nation, bring this contest to decision. It is time to vote; to accept the result once all votes have been counted; and then to turn our attention to whatever events next year brings.

No. 1 – On Fundamental Liberties

No. 2 – On Federalism

Postscript – The Past, The Present, and The Future

A Well-Regulated Militia

Unaccountable ‘militias’ violate the Second Amendment by endangering the security of a free state.

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” —Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“The Congress shall have Power… To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” —Article 1, Section 8.

Logically, there exist three legitimate purposes, broadly defined, for ordinary citizens to keep and bear arms. These ends are, as follows:

1. The use of arms for recreational pursuits, which include but are not limited to hunting, sport, outdoorsmanship, and collecting. These may be considered general liberties, which, like any other ordinary freedom, ought not to be prohibited except when their exercise would do harm to others, and which may be regulated so as to avert conditions that would cause such harm.[1]

2. Self-defense and, under certain circumstances, defense of property. This is a natural right, which every person possesses inherently.[2]

And,

3. Providing for the security of a free state as part of a well-regulated militia. This is the purpose stated in and forming the basis for the Second Amendment. It is, under the laws of the United States, and in certain conditions specified therein, a duty.

From this third purpose, it follows that—

In order to provide for the security of a free state, which is ruled by the consent of the governed and is respectful of individual liberty, a militia must:

1. Be well regulated; i.e., be properly trained, disciplined, and equipped for the tasks it is to fulfill, and have clear standards defining what its members may and may not do.

2. Be accountable to the people.

Only an elected government can act on behalf of the people. As John Locke, whose thought guided our Republic’s Founders, wrote in his Second Treatise of Government:

“The constitution of the legislative is the first and fundamental act of society, whereby provision is made for the continuance of their union, under the direction of persons, and bonds of laws, made by persons authorized thereunto, by the consent and appointment of the people, without which no one man, or number of men, amongst them, can have authority of making laws that shall be binding to the rest.”

In the United States, the legislative power is vested in Congress and in state and local legislatures.

Furthermore, it does no good for a militia to be accountable to the elected government of one city or State, if it goes to operate in a different one without having been invited there by the elected government of that community. To do so would be tantamount to invasion, unless—and only unless—it is sent there by a higher government that is representative of the people of both places.

Thus, according to the Constitution, Congress prescribes regulations for the militia, and the state governments implement those regulations by training the militia and appointing its officers. State governments may call forth the militia and control its operations within their State, unless the militia is called into the service of the United States (federal service), wherein it is temporarily directed by the federal government and may be ordered anywhere in the Union.[2]

State legislatures, as they possess the general powers of government, may choose to delegate some authority to local governments to recruit, train, and direct a part of the militia. In the past, towns and cities would raise units which were then integrated into the state militia upon their acceptance by the state government.

However,

The militia has evolved over time.[4] The Militia Act of 1903 divided it into two bodies, which remain in existence today: the National Guard, known also as the organized militia and comprised of volunteers, and the Reserve Militia, known also as the unorganized militia and comprising all able-bodied male citizens between 17 and 45 years of age.

The National Guard fulfills most of the old militia’s former roles: namely, to augment the regular forces of the United States in times of war, to defend each State against internal violence, and to assist the civil authorities in the case of natural disaster.

Moreover, regular state and local police forces—which did not exist as such in the early days of our Republic—now hold primary responsibility for protecting their localities from internal violence, in addition to their ordinary duties of law enforcement.

As a result, there are few circumstances that would warrant calling forth the unorganized militia today. It is therefore unlikely that ordinary citizens shall be called on to provide for the security of their State.

Nonetheless,

That fact does not imply that the right to keep and bear arms is obsolete, nor that the concept of a militia is entirely archaic; it only means that there is not presently a great need for it. The logic of the Second Amendment, that there is value to a free state in having an armed populace from which to draw a broad-based militia, has dormant force. Under exceptionally dire circumstances, such as a foreign invasion or a prolonged breakdown of central authority, it may indeed become necessary to raise a militia that is accountable to the elected government of a State, or even a municipality.

Yet,

The preceding logic does mean, unequivocally, that Americans ought under no circumstances to form ‘militias’ that are not directly accountable to the elected legislature of a municipality, a State, or the Union. Self-proclaimed militias which answer only to themselves, even if they claim to represent some imagined idea of the popular will, are mere militant groups, not the militia defined by American tradition and the Constitution of the United States. Their multiplication today endangers the security of a free state. It is thus in direct violation of the Second Amendment.

This danger has been made clear by recent events. A young man crossed a state line to travel to Kenosha, Wisconsin, armed, at the behest of such a self-styled militia, and killed two people there. He may yet be acquitted of the narrow charge of murder, if reason can be given to show that his immediate act of killing was done in self-defense.

But his larger action, and that of the group he associated himself with, brazenly defied the spirit of the Constitution. He was not defending his own home, which as a private citizen he might claim a right to do. Indeed, he could not claim to have been defending his own city, or even his own state: for he was a resident of Illinois, not of Wisconsin. The ‘militia’ whose call he answered is in no way accountable to the elected governments of Wisconsin or Kenosha; indeed, the city authorities had expressly turned it away. Neither it nor he had any business pretending to provide ‘security’ there. In doing so, they defied the popular will.

The act that occurred soon thereafter in Portland, Oregon was similar in nature. An individual  traveled from his home in Washington state to Portland, where he fancied himself to be providing ‘security’ for protests, and there killed a man. He had no more business there than his counterpart did in Kenosha; nor is the group he associated with, the self-styled ‘antifa,’ any more accountable to the elected governments of Oregon or Portland than the ‘Kenosha Guard’ is to the elected government of that city.

That ‘antifa’ is more diffuse than the self-proclaimed militias of the extreme right does not make it fundamentally different in character. It is a militant group, unaccountable to the people, whose affiliates seek to ape the roles of a militia while assuming none of the obligations of one. Such groups, whether they profess political alignment with the left or the right, ought to be equally unwelcome in our Republic.

Furthermore, the argument that militants were justified in coming to Kenosha and Portland because they had to protect the people there who were, at that moment, in danger, is wholly unconvincing. That violent unrest was occurring, or had occurred, in both cities is undeniable. But if the people of those cities needed outside aid, their elected government—and only their elected government—had the authority to request it on their behalf.

Indeed, in Kenosha, an accountable response to the rioting soon unfolded. The city government requested that the State of Wisconsin send in the National Guard. The state government responded: the Wisconsin National Guard deployed, followed by National Guard units from other States, which the government of Wisconsin had itself requested. Within a week, they restored the peace.

Therefore,

Responsibility for securing a free state begins and ends with a freely elected government, and a well-regulated militia is only the latent force of that government, mobilized at its call and no other’s. Those Americans who aspire to militia service as a civic calling ought thus to consider joining the National Guard. Others ought merely to be ready to answer their government’s call, should it come, and be content with the fact that it may not come in their lifetime. None ought to associate with unaccountable militants.

In regard to the present situation in these United States, it is with local and state governments that responsibility for dealing with domestic unrest primarily lies, and those authorities ought now to concentrate their minds on securing their citizens’ lives and property. Riotous behavior, and the militancy that it attracts, has gone on long enough. Although the task at hand may be made more difficult by federal intervention, which, though broadly lawful, is at present largely unconstructive, the time for excuses has passed. The outcome of the general election this November, and the faith of the people in elected government generally, may hinge in large part on whether the streets are soon calmed. Discipline and perseverance are needed; the future of the Republic is at stake.


[1] When hunting is done for subsistence, it assumes the station of a natural right and carries greater moral weight.

[2] Locke articulates it well in his Second Treatise of Government:

“…it being reasonable and just, I should have right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction: for, by the fundamental law of nature, man being to be preserved as much as possible, when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred: and one may destroy a man who makes war upon him, or has discovered an enmity to his being, for the same reason that he may kill a wolf or a lion… that will be sure to destroy him whenever he falls into their power.”

In regards to defense of property, lethal means may be morally justified if the property concerned is necessary for the sustenance of life, such as food in a time of famine, or a vital medicine; and also if the attack on property is indistinguishable from an assault on one’s life, such as a mugging, or a burglary if the homeowner or his/her family is inside.

In the words of Locke:

“This makes it lawful for a man to kill a thief, who has not in the least hurt him, nor declared any design upon his life, any farther than, by the use of force, so to get him in his power, as to take away his money, or what he pleases, from him; because using force, where he has no right, to get me into his power, let his pretence be what it will, I have no reason to suppose, that he, who would take away my liberty, would not, when he had me in his power, take away everything else.”

It must be noted here that Locke, and I, speak only of moral right; the actual laws of the United States and the several States differ on the particular circumstances in which lethal self-defense is permissible.

[3] As occurred, for instance, when National Guard units from several States were deployed to New Orleans in response to Hurricane Katrina.

[4] For a more detailed accounting of this history, I recommend the excellent short piece at the following link:

No. 1 – On Fundamental Liberties

No. 2 – On Federalism

No. 3 – On Representative Government

September 11th, 2001

All who were old enough know where they were on 9/11.

I was in history class, in middle school. My teacher stepped into the hallway. When he came back, he turned on the TV, and we saw the Twin Towers billowing smoke. He did not tell us what it was, and the school’s televisions were old and grainy. Could it have been part of our lesson?

In my next class, the principal made an announcement on the intercom. She told us that the World Trade Center had been attacked. Shortly afterward, I was summoned to the main office by name. I did not understand why. They had not told us about the Pentagon.

My father worked in the Pentagon then. He had been on the other side of the building; he was unhurt. I learned that from the school secretary, even though she, too, was reluctant to tell me much more until my mother arrived to bring me home. It was understandable. Confusion reigned, and ours was a school in Montgomery County, Maryland—20 miles from Washington, D.C. Who else might have had a family member in the Pentagon that day?

My family was fortunate. Too many others were not.

Let us remember them. Let us remember 9/11. And let us remember that, then, these United States of America were united. United before our enemies; united before our friends; and, as the fallen may attest, united before our Creator.

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Governance by Executive Order

Congress ought to reexamine the authority that it has delegated by law to the executive branch.

“No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” —Article 1, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution.

“He [the President] shall take Care that the laws be faithfully executed.” —Article 2, Section 3.

That the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted severe harm in these United States is an unavoidable fact. Equally unavoidable is that this crisis shall require vast public expenditure before it subsides; and because the several States now stand at or beyond the limit of their fiscal capacity, it is inevitable that those funds shall have to be provided by the federal government. Congress has made one such provision already, but has thus far faltered on the second attempt. A large section of our Union’s citizens and residents await a resolution.

Yet,

Governance by decree is contrary to the preservation of our Republic. No republic may long survive without adhering to the separation of powers, and only Congress is vested by the Constitution with the power to make appropriations of public funds. The executive may not withdraw funds from the Treasury, nor deprive the Treasury of tax revenue, unless authorized by law. To attempt otherwise would be an unlawful assertion of absolute and thus tyrannical power.

However,

The series of executive actions taken on August 8th, purportedly with the aim of alleviating the personal economic injury caused by COVID-19, is not necessarily unlawful, for it makes use of authorities delegated by existing law to the executive branch.

Of these, the executive order supposedly extending a moratorium on residential evictions is an empty document, which merely directs the executive bureaucracy to “consider,” “identify,” and “review” various objects and is devoid of concrete measures.

The presidential memorandum ordering the deferment of student loan repayments invokes a discretionary authority that seems, with reasonable clarity, to have been delegated by Congress to the Secretary of Education for a purpose applicable to the present situation: “A borrower of a loan made under this part shall be eligible for a deferment during any period not in excess of 3 years during which the Secretary determines… that the borrower has experienced or will experience an economic hardship.”

The memorandum ordering a deferment in the collection of the federal payroll tax makes use of an authority delegated by law to the Secretary of the Treasury to disregard tax liability for up to a year “in the case of a taxpayer determined by the Secretary to be affected by a federally declared disaster.” The final action, involving the extension of special unemployment benefits, attempts to draw money from a fund previously appropriated by Congress to provide for disaster relief.

Whether the two latter actions are lawful depends on whether the laws governing federally declared disasters were intended to be used in such a way. That question shall sooner or later be settled by the courts.

Nonetheless,

The motive of the incumbent President in regard to these actions may justly be called into question. As often before, his use of executive orders appears to be primarily for the purpose of staging political theater. He could well have taken vigorous measures more clearly consistent with the lawful powers of his office earlier in the course of the virus’ spread, so as to mitigate the severity of the present crisis;[1] but he did not act earnestly then. Half-measures today, done with doubtful authority, shall bring less benefit to the people in comparison.

Furthermore, this President has attempted before to draw money from the Treasury in open defiance of the separation of powers. In 2019, he ordered the expenditure of additional public funds for the construction of barriers on our Union’s southern border after Congress had unambiguously declined to appropriate the sum he had requested for that purpose. This action, illustrative of his Presidency as a whole, showed a contemptuous disregard for the spirit of the Constitution, if not yet—for we still await the Supreme Court’s judgment—the letter of the law.

Therefore,

Rather than simply decry each new order, it is time for Congress to reexamine the authority that it has, over the past century, delegated by law to the executive branch. Such allowance has perhaps been made too generously in the expectation, hitherto mostly well-founded, that the President would take care that the laws be faithfully executed. Presented as we now are with a pattern of bad faith, itself the logical progression of an era in which successive Presidents reached too readily for the executive pen, the preservation of our Republic may best be ensured by the legislature again reserving to itself a greater part of its constitutional authority.

It may well be that the laws governing national disasters—which by their very nature require a flexible and timely response—are not those which most warrant such revision. But if their misuse awakens the public to the broader delegation of legislative authority that permeates myriad aspects of life, then it shall have done a public good. In the meantime, Congress, too, ought to do a public good: by reaching agreement and reinvigorating the federal response to COVID-19.

[1] Chief among these would have been coordinating the acquisition and distribution between the States, on a massive scale, of protective and testing equipment.

No. 4 – On Bureaucracy