“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.
We shall only recognize virtue in our candidates for public office if we know and practice it ourselves.
“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.
“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. 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.
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.
“…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?
“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.
 Such as when Marius was awarded four consecutive consulships when the Cimbri and the Teutones appeared to menace Italy.
“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.
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:
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.
“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
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
“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.
“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
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 rendered his party and his administration into empty
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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,
Logically, there exist three legitimate purposes, broadly
defined, for ordinary citizens to keep and bear arms. These ends are, as
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.
2. Self-defense and, under certain circumstances, defense of property. This is a natural right, which every person possesses inherently.
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 certainconditionsspecified 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
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.
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.
The militia has evolved over time. 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
 When hunting is done for subsistence, it assumes the station of a natural right and carries greater moral weight.
 Locke articulates it well in his Second Treatise of
“…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.
 As occurred, for instance, when National Guard units
from several States were deployed to New Orleans in response to Hurricane
 For a more detailed accounting of this history, I
recommend the excellent short piece at the following link:
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.
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
“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.
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.
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
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.
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; 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
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
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
 Chief among these would have been coordinating the acquisition
and distribution between the States, on a massive scale, of protective and
Caprice, like lawlessness and injustice, must be countered by responsibility, steadfastness, and duty.
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” —Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
On May 31st, I closed
my observations with the hope that, in places where rioting persisted, lawful
authorities would stop it only with proportionate means, without
vindictiveness, and without harm to peaceable protesters. In cities throughout
our Union, most violence soon subsided, due largely to the discipline of the
many who came to demonstrate peacefully.
Yet in Portland, Oregon, hazards to liberty have arisen from
the federal response to the few who persist with violence. That response, in
the whole, has been marked by excess, vindictiveness, and harm to peaceable
protesters. Grave principles are in play; but a shallow show is also being made
of them, which works insidiously to erode all sense of principle. It ought not
to be followed blindly.
The details of the events in Portland are complex,
conflicted, and best understood by those who are well-acquainted with that
city; I shall not attempt to establish them all. A few, however, do not appear
to be seriously disputed by the parties involved:
1. That crowds have regularly formed around a federal courthouse, and at various times, some individuals have shot fireworks at it, set fires around it, and attempted to break into it.
2. That federal agents from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and perhaps other agencies, have been deployed to Portland and have been operating from the courthouse.
3. That those federal agents have not been readily identifiable from their uniforms or vehicles.
4. That those federal agents apprehended at least one person beyond the courthouse grounds by forcing him into an unmarked vehicle, and then held him at another location without charge.
5. That the State of Oregon and the City of Portland opposed the abovementioned actions of those federal agents, and the State of Oregon filed a federal lawsuit to restrain them. The Mayor of Portland urged the federal agents to depart the city.
6. That the President of the United States has encouraged the actions of those federal agents and threatened publicly to deploy them to other cities across the Union. He subsequently ordered such a deployment, over the objections of some of those city governments.
With these facts in mind, I have a few new observations to
The act of unidentifiable agents apprehending a man on a
street at some distance from the scene of unrest, taking him to another
location in an unmarked vehicle, and holding him without charge, appears in
every way to be violation of the right of the people to be secure in their
persons against unreasonable searches and seizures. Whether it is in violation
of current law, the court will decide; but if it is found not to be, then
Congress ought to consider whether that law is in keeping with the Constitution’s
spirit, and modify it. Abductions do not befit a free government.
In considering the rights of the federal government to
deploy agents in a State or city without the consent of its government, two
portions of the Constitution come to mind:
“The Congress shall have Power… To provide for calling forth
the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel
Invasions;” —Article 1, Section 8.
“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this
Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against
Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the
Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.” —Article 4,
Here the founding intent is less clear. My layman’s view is
that Article 1, Section 8 grants the federal government full rights to send its
forces, without state or local consent, to enforce federal law and to suppress
rebellion. This view was established in the Insurrection
Act, which was passed
in 1807, within living memory of our Republic’s founding. Article 4, Section 4 of
the Constitution describes the Union’s obligations to the States; it therefore
renders the federal government duty-bound to respond to unrest in a State if
the state government requests aid, but does not expressly prohibit the federal
government from doing so if the state government does not request such aid.
The legal questions in relation to the events in Portland
are more numerous
and complex. I desire only to make the point that federalism in these
United States does not entirely preclude the exercise of federal authority when
State and local governments do not wish it. Indeed, in the past, that authority
has been used for good: federal agents, including Border Patrol officers, were deployed
to suppress riots against James Meredith’s admission to the University of
Mississippi in 1962.
Today, that same power is being exercised with a more capricious intent. Yet the misuse of it can be checked without challenging the power itself. The Constitution may vest in the federal government the power to deploy forces into the States to execute the laws of the Union, but the States may hold the Union to its laws: by bringing suit, as Oregon has done, against the agencies involved, and so ensuring that their actions are scrutinized in court.
That federal agents have, and ought to have, the legal
authority to protect a federal courthouse from attempts at looting and arson is
beyond reasonable dispute. The Constitution, as is clear from the passages
quoted above, grants no indulgence to lawless violence. If the City of Portland
desires federal agents to depart, the best way it may now achieve that end is
to show that it will not allow the courthouse to be damaged by those
individuals who still reject the dignity of peaceful protest.
This conclusion may seem unfair. The deployment of federal
agents provoked more unrest, the city authorities might say, after a period
was seemingly declining; why, then, must the city once again take on the
unenviable task of defusing it?
Because caprice, like lawlessness and injustice, cannot be overcome
with more of the same. It must be countered by responsibility, steadfastness,
and duty. The government of Portland is faced with a new opportunity to show
that, unlike the present federal administration, it can calm its streets
without excess, vindictiveness, or harm to peaceable protesters. It ought to
seize that chance, and the city’s residents ought to support their elected
government in doing so — thereby showing that they, in demanding justice, are
determined to uphold principle.
All citizens of these United States ought to recognize that
these events, as with so much else today, are being used in an act of
showmanship, and it is in following that act that the greatest danger lies.
Though the would-be arsonists in Portland may fancy themselves revolutionaries,
they on their own present no formidable rebellion; though Mr. Trump may be a
despot at heart, he does not yet — even now — possess the unrestrained power to
be one in practice. Lacking the ability to impose their will alone, these
actors’ scripts are meant to push Americans to extremism, and thus to their
support. Mr. Trump, in particular, has a nervous eye on the coming election.
Their common wish is to make citizens lose faith in the very idea of free and dignified government, and that is where tyranny begins. We must stand firm.