A Republic We Are in Danger of Losing

Has there ever been a July 4 other than during the Civil War or the Great Depression where the domestic prospects of our nation have been so dismal? No presidential contest has ever featured a choice that was as obviously dreadful as this one. I would be happy to hear of contrary claims from the annals of American history, but to me even Nixon v. McGovern falls short of our present plight. Nixon’s role in Watergate was not known at the time of the election, and McGovern at least was a man of good character.

But today we are about to elect someone with disabling character flaws and no commitment to the liberty that has been at the core of American ideals. On character, both Trump and Clinton have reputations for dishonesty unusual even for politicians. They also excel at dividing the American people, Trump with his outrageous remarks about ethnic groups, Clinton with her penchant for blaming her and her husband’s troubles of “vast conspiracies” of her political enemies even in instances where she has every reason to know the cause of these troubles is in her own home.

And these character flaws threaten to widen some of our most dangerous fault lines. Trust in government is at one of the lowest points ever. A President widely regarded as dishonest will exacerbate the trust deficit. Americans are more polarized than at any time since the Second World War. Polarizing figures making uncivil remarks about one group or the other are sure to lead to a more divided nation.

Both candidates threaten our economic and civil liberties even if in different ways. Trump wants to deprive our citizens of the right to collaborate and trade with others who happen be foreign. He will do nothing to reign in the entitlement state that will hold the young in thrall. He endangers free speech, threatening those who criticize him.

Clinton’s  impositions on economic liberties are largely typical of the left today, but her emphasis on comparable worth for female pay is particularly dangerous. It would make a critical move toward permitting bureaucrats rather than the market set wages and will deepen division between males and females. And she is little better on civil liberties as demonstrated by her litmus test for Supreme Court nominees: he or she must be comfortable with muzzling criticism of Clinton and other politicians at election time.

But of greater concern than the candidates themselves is that fact that Americans of both parties selected them. The Republican electorate’s performance was the more deplorable. The voters had plenty of decent choices for the GOP’s standard bearer. To be sure, none were perfect, but none were the illiberal inciter that is Donald Trump. Clinton was fortunate in that she was running against an avowed socialist, but her ability to otherwise clear the field reflected the power of gender politics in the Democratic party—a politics that has been pushed by its members for many years.

On our first independence day we created a republic by breaking from a foreign power. But we can keep it only by our own good judgment as a people about our domestic affairs. That has never been more in doubt.

Reader Discussion

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on July 03, 2016 at 12:12:13 pm

This post makes a good point -- the nomination of these people does say something bad about our country. But the damage that would result from a Hillary presidency is much worse than the plausible damage from a Trump presidency. Protectionism is not a violation of liberty, except from an ideological libertarian standpoint. As for Trump's attitude toward those who criticize him, it can certainly be crude and disgusting, but he would never have any ability to reduce free speech even if he really wanted to.

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David Frisk
on July 03, 2016 at 13:41:39 pm

What Professor McGinnis says is true, but it gives no insight into the source of the mischief. Here is a simple model, while perhaps not 100% applicable (as no models are) at least allows some room for analysis:

Right now Americans do not vote for a candidate based on the positive attributes of that candidate. We vote for the candidate whose election will be a thumb in the eye to people we do not like. We do not vote for practical policies, we vote against groups we want to stick it to; evangelicals, Wall Street fat cats, shrieking feminist harpies, gun owners, race hustlers, etc. We do not look primarily for executive competence, we look for the transient emotional satisfaction of vexing "The Koch brothers," the ACLU, the NRA, La Raza, Planned Parenthood, libertarians, Hobby Lobby and people who oppose affirmative action. Given this, divisiveness is not a drawback (although it is detrimental in the long term), it is the currency of our politics. If Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump rose to the top it is precisely because they were unambiguous about choosing sides, about identifying those they demonize and pandering to tribal instincts rather than sound policies and civic responsibility. We did not choose Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump because of what they will do for us, we did so based on what they will do to others who we see as smug, or greedy, or self-important, or bullies.

The conundrum for Professor McGinnis is that this is a result of a political market. The electorate is telling us what is important to it right now, and it is not reassuring. When economic times are good we splurge and indulge in luxuries. When political times are good, (no existential threats, no bread lines, no guerilla insurrections within our borders, our biggest public health problem being obesity, etc) we indulge in emotional and ultimately unwise political frolics. Of course the bill eventually comes due. Barack Obama, a charismatic doofus, did a great deal of damage both domestically and internationally by accommodating corruption, mistaking narcissism for insight, and shrugging off the inevitable results of his incompetence. Trump and Clinton are each as likely to be just as bad, but until we stop taking the benefits of a democratic republic for granted, we can expect that things may very well get worse.

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on July 03, 2016 at 15:40:15 pm

Based on past stonewalling, I doubt a citizen is deemed to have the propriety to respond to a scholarly professor such as McGinnis, but I offer Abraham Lincoln's 1860 candidacy to respond to the statement (not the professor), "I would be happy to hear of contrary claims from the annals of American history."

Abraham Lincoln, recognizing in 1857 against the Dred Scott decision, that the constitution for the USA gave no support for emancipating the slaves, revised the founding of the USA to 1776 and cited the phrase in the Declaration of Independence (DI), "all men are created equal," to, in effect, trump the constitution. This also gave credence to the concept that the USA is a factional-Protestant-god's country, even though the DI calls on "Nature and Nature's God," perhaps to inspire soldiers to defeat the British Trinity. Lincoln may have had other motives for his tyranny.

In proportion to the 2016 population of 320 million, the consequence of Lincoln's revisionist history would be seven million to eight million dead Americans. But that was not all.

With Nevada's application to become a state, Lincoln influenced Congress to require all new states to include in their state constitutions the essence, I think seven specific points, of the DI. Fifteen states have been admitted under this tyranny imposed on a willing Congress by Lincoln.

Almost no Americans are aware of the evil Lincoln wrought by using the DI to trump the preamble to the constitution for the USA. I doubt constitutional scholars and lawyers have the ability to understand my statement: they abdicate propriety as citizens--are in their elite place. Many Christians hold the DI in high esteem and care little for the constitution's words, some even thinking "we, the people," that fruitless phrase, refers to the DI.

In 1776, 40% of loyal, colonial British subjects declared war for independence as thirteen states in a confederation: not a nation. Sensing war losses, the confederacy of states asked for help from France, and the French treated Yorktown as a battle in their on-going war with England. Rochambeau and de Grasse placated Washington's wish to revenge continental army losses on Manhattan. In France, the victor's nation, England and France negotiated their treaty before the king of England named thirteen free and independent states in the 1783 Treaty of Paris. The treaty does not recognize a nation.

Recognizing that their thirteen independent states could not settle their differences and pay their war debts, the Continental Congress authorized a convention in Philadelphia to strengthen the Articles of Confederation. The Virginia delegation arrived with a plan to form a nation--one unimagined in history--not a monarchy and not a democracy, but a republic under the rule of law with provisions for slow, deliberate improvements by the people's representatives. Its preamble stated that the people in their states authorized a nation under the rule of law.

I doubt Trump could trump Lincoln's tyranny, and Clinton cannot out Obama Obama.

I'm hoping Americans will elect Trump and he will become interested in A Civic People (ACP).

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Phil Beaver
on July 03, 2016 at 16:18:13 pm

Agreed. McGinnis overstates the problem with Trump.. rudeness is not a threat to liberty or free speech.

What is more, to equate Hillary The Liar Clinton's demonstrated pattern of corruption with The Trumpster's oftentimes sleazy behavior and "working around the margins" is to mistake a *rational* course of action in business GIVEN the current bureaucratic load placed upon business with a penchant or predilection for quasi-criminal behavior in pursuit of one's political (and, clearly financial) ambitions. Why do we judge the cookie bandit on the same terms as Willie Sutton?

Also, as Z says below, some blame must go the the voters of both parties; after all, The Fat Lady and The Trumpster are clearly the voters preference with the former having attained a majority and the latter a plurality of the votes. Yet, one must also place blame upon the a) The Republican Party for not limiting the total number of candidates and b) for the vainglorious "candidates" such as Huckabee, (what his radio ratings were low?), Kasich, ( a pompous, self-important windbag whose ego needed some stroking), Senator Paul, and the good doctor, etc. etc. Not too difficult to see how one candidate with a focused message could garner a plurality. The Trumpster clearly stood out.
There was a time when it was thought that the purpose of *Party* was TO FOCUS and delineate positions / policies. It seems a pity that the only focusing that is performed nowadays is the focusing of anger.

AND BTW: With Hillary, one may observe a CLEAR AND PRESENT (recurring, perhaps) DANGER to liberty.
With The Trumpster, it is but simple speculation.

But yes, we are presented with an abysmal choice this election season. Perhaps, we can be relieved of the tension associated with such a dismal choice should the DOJ / FBI indict the Fat Lady in a Pantsuit - but I ain't betting on it!

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on July 03, 2016 at 20:24:48 pm

So one begins to see that a Civic People is one that would not tolerate the *tyranny* of the abolition of slavery.

How bloody "Civic" is that?

BTW: why not just give a call to The Trumpster and extend your invitation. Although much may be said of The Trumpster I have heard nothing that would indicate that he would be receptive to your *peculiar* (institution?) definition of a Civic People.

and this nonsense on the eve of the Fourth of July...!!!!!!

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on July 04, 2016 at 00:50:51 am

"So one begins to see that a Civic People is one that would not tolerate the *tyranny* of the abolition of slavery."

That's sophomoric straw man fallacy.

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Phil Beaver
on July 05, 2016 at 11:20:53 am

The problem is the primary system. It is constructed in such a way that a small minority of citizens, generally politically non-moderate, choose the candidates.

You fix the problem of bad candidates by fixing the electoral system. The current primary system does not work. The reality of the current candidates are proof.

If you don't fix the electoral system, you will continue to get bad candidates.

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Scott Amorian
on July 05, 2016 at 20:45:28 pm



To make matters worse, some states, (mostly under Democrat control) have determined that the Parties cannot limit who claims the Party affiliation - nor who can vote in the Party's primary.
Da ya think that this would benefit the dopey dems or what.
In Washington, we have had instances where no Repub appears on the ballot for the general election.

How many primaries did The Trumpster win that were *open* primaries.

As for me, I am all ready to go back to the "smoke filled rooms" of olden times. Plus, I would not get kicked out for lighting up a smoke along with a cold Peroni Lager.


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