Column: The enduring relevance of a tricky concept
Long before the onset of the pandemic, some of the journalists and politicians on the American right began speaking of the “common good.” Back in 2005, Rick Santorum titled one of his books, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good. More recently, last October Sohrab Ahmari wrote that the common good should replace individual autonomy—i.e., freedom—as the touchstone of a new conservatism. The following month, Marco Rubio told an audience at Catholic University that a “common-good capitalism” would promote dignified work for all and incentivize businesses to reinvest “enough” of their profits to create jobs in the United States.
Reaction to the upsurge of interest in the common good was divided into predictable camps. Social conservatives applauded the introduction of another concept from Catholic social thought into conservative discourse. They hoped that the common good would be added to solidarity, subsidiarity, and the preferential option for the poor as a guidepost to political action and public policy. Economic conservatives rejected the term as meaningless at best and authoritarian at worst. The other day, during a discussion of trends on the intellectual right, a young person asked me in earnest, “And, what is the common good?” It was the right question. There is no easy answer.
The coronavirus prompts us to think about this question a little more seriously. The mounting toll of the disease and the extreme measures governments around the world have imposed to contain it suggest that there really is something called the “common good” after all. It is the flourishing of communities, from family to neighborhood to locality to state to nation, that the virus endangers, and that the authorities hope to preserve. This good both includes and transcends the flourishing of individual persons within the community. A functioning system of public health, then, contributes to the common good. So does the rule of law, and an economy where households do not go bankrupt because of social distancing.
The common good exists. It ought to be recognized. Dismissing the idea would be an error. But it also would be a mistake to deny that the concept is vague and slippery, that in a context of religious diversity it will mean different things to different people, and that American proponents of the common good operate within a system in which popular sovereignty coexists with constitutionally protected individual rights. “How one can square the common good with personal liberty and cultural pluralism,” wrote Michael Novak in 1986, “is most unclear.” He spent a lot of time trying.
Indeed, one of the most dispiriting aspects of the common good revival is its neglect and even derision of Novak (1933-2017). He faced a set of economic, social, and cultural issues similar to the ones that confront us today. And while one might not agree with the answers provided in his more than 50 books, one cannot pretend that those books do not exist, or do not contain at least partial truths. “The economic order of the United States tested a proposition,” he wrote in Free Persons and the Common Good (1989), “viz; whether an economy may raise the common good of all through granting unparalleled economic liberties to free persons. Such an economy is dedicated both to the general welfare and to the freedom of persons.”
As the pandemic reorders society, reorganizes the economy, and diminishes individual liberty, the sustainability of the U.S. proposition has come into question. And so some, like Adrian Vermeule of Harvard University, believe it is time to abandon a jurisprudence of original intent for a “common-good constitutionalism” whose “main aim” is “to ensure that the ruler has the power needed to rule well.” (It is noteworthy that the words “Bill of Rights” and “Amendment” do not appear in this essay on the Constitution.)
Novak acknowledged that references to the common good strike a jarring note in modern rhetoric. The very notion of a “common good” hails from an epoch when there was no distinction between state and society, between public and private. For centuries, liberal writers have defined themselves against authorities to which everyone is subject. Nor has there been a settled consensus as to what the common good actually is. “Catholic writers, one will find, not only frequently disagree about the meaning of the term but make significant errors in discussing it,” he wrote. Still, Novak continued, the common good is located somewhere in the space between individualistic self-obsession and totalitarian mass control. Why? Because both of these systems deny the dignity of the human person.
Critics accuse liberal democracy of being purely individualistic and procedural. Novak pointed to the social-cultural sphere as the potential site of robust communal activity. “The liberal society has its own methods for giving preeminence to the common good—above all, in actually achieving and in progressively raising the levels of the common good,” he wrote. “It does so, to be sure, by taking care to include within the definition of the common good the securing of human rights: that is, the rights of free persons and free associations.”
Associations are key. Under a regime in which government is limited to secure the unalienable rights men and women possess because they each were created in the image of God, society is as important as the state. “The chief and most potent instrument of achieving the common good—in such a novus ordo—is not the state but the society at large, in its full range of social institutions,” Novak wrote. “These include families, churches, schools, workers’ associations, private enterprises, and so forth. Whereas in some earlier systems or social orders, the government was believed to be the chief agent of the common good, in the novus ordo a larger and more various set of social institutions would rightfully become the primary agents of the common good.” Novak often cited the following line from Tocqueville: “If men are to remain civilized or to become civilized, the art of association must develop and improve among them at the same speed as equality of condition spreads.”
So, government is not the only means by which the common good can be pursued. Equally if not more important to human flourishing are the mediating structures of family, religion, community, vocation, and voluntary association. Yes, law, economy, society, and individual character are connected. But social causation does not follow a straight line. And just as the structure of our economic institutions might be traced to political decisions, so might the strength and weaknesses of our social institutions. From Burke to Tocqueville to Robert Nisbet, conservative social thought has catalogued the ways in which the expansive state pushes through the mediating structures by assuming their functions. Then the solitary individual is left to face the Leviathan alone. The common good and the art of association are not separate phenomena. They are linked.
A post-corona politics of the common good that recognizes freedom must be exercised within the constraints of a moral tradition; that encourages able-bodied men and women to work and form families; that makes it easier to enter a profession, buy a home, raise children; that preserves the independence of religious institutions from state interference and resists the separation of religion from society; that protects communities from lawlessness, epidemics, and external threats; and that builds the capacity of public institutions to promote transportation, health, education, research and development, and the defense industrial base would fit comfortably in the American political tradition of “freedom and justice for all.” A politics that pursues a sectarian definition of “the common good”; that models its ideal government after a religious bureaucracy with a decidedly imperfect history; and that imperiously and rather impishly rejects longstanding indigenous norms of liberty and conscience does not.
“It is my hope,” Novak concluded, “that during the next two hundred years, the Catholic tradition and the liberal tradition will work as allies rather than enemies, each correcting the other from its own proper viewpoint. They have different purposes—one focused on the City of God, the other on the City of Man—and operate within two different perspectives. But the free persons that both address, and the common good that both are called upon to serve, dwell under the light of both Cities simultaneously. Both are called upon to promote the common good of free persons. Would that they do so together!” The time of coronavirus is an opportunity to answer Michael Novak’s call.
Congress just passed an economic package designed to inoculate the American economy from the devastating impacts of the coronavirus. At the same time, medical experts are working around the clock to develop treatments to help people recover from the virus as well as vaccines to prevent it from infecting people in the future.
There is some concern that once the current emergency has passed the coronavirus could make a comeback each year like the flu itself. Developing a vaccine therefore will likely be a key part of preventing the future spread of this virus.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, now famous for his role in the daily White House COVID-19 briefings, has been the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. Dr. Fauci has overseen research during his tenure to prevent infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, Ebola, Zika, and now the Coronavirus. He recently emphasized how critical safety is when developing new medicines noting:
“The issue of safety is something I want to make sure the American public understands…Does the vaccine make you worse? You can get a good feel for that in animal [testing].”
Dr. Fauci makes the important point — science, medical ethics and human decency require animal testing for safety so that in our attempt to help, we don’t accidentally make things worse.
But there are voices that oppose Dr. Fauci. They oppose sound science. They oppose medical ethics. And they oppose basic human decency. One such group, the poorly named “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” (PETA), oppose any and all animal testing and have tried to shut down testing and testing facilities.
PETA has mounted a pressure campaign to get airlines to not transport medical research animals. Unfortunately that means they are standing in the way of ethical and legally required research that will stop the coronavirus (and other diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease) from killing those we love.
PETA’s president and co-founder, Ingrid Newkirk, admitted: “Even if animal research resulted in a cure for AIDS [or cancer or other horrible diseases], we’d be against it.” PETA’s supporters have filed comments with the Department of Transportation hoping to shut down any medical research with animals by blocking their transportation. One representative comment said: “Stop experimenting on animals. Experiment on your children and mothers instead.” Then the commenter called those who reject the idea of mothers and children being used in medical testing “a bunch of barbarians.” Let that sink in for a moment. These people are unhinged extremists and their political agenda is dangerous!
Rather than stand up to these radicals some U.S. airlines, like United, have willingly accepted their demands hoping to avoid social media attacks on their brand. They now refuse to assist American research companies – the very companies we now are relying on to develop a cure for COVID-19 – in transporting badly needed research animals.
This comes despite PETA’s own horrible track record on animals. For example, in Virginia, PETA activists were charged with criminal animal abuse. It turns out that animals that were intended for adoptions were abused and then killed in 95.3% of cases— for an entire decade! Simply put, PETA’s moral compass is broken. Whether you’re talking about human lives or animal lives, PETA cannot be trusted.
Now, America needs reliable, ethical medical research more than ever before. We need to ensure that we have the desperately needed medical treatments to cure those suffering with coronavirus, and in the near future safe, effective vaccines to provide immunity. PETA stands in the way and hopes to prevent this important progress. And the airlines that have caved to PETA’s pressure campaigns unwittingly harm America and put us all at greater risk.
Given that Americans have just provided billions in financial relief to the airlines, it isn’t too much to ask that the airlines help those doctors and scientists working to find cures by not caving in to PETA’s pressure campaigns. And for the record, the airlines aren’t asked to deliver medical animals for free. Medical research facilities pay top dollar and the airlines can collect hundreds of millions of dollars transporting medical animals to research facilities. So, not only could airlines make some additional money at a challenging time, but they could help America find the cures that we desperately need.
America’s best research facilities are racing to find cures, vaccines, and treatments to combat the Coronavirus. But if researchers cannot test these cures — in a supervised and ethical way — tens of thousands of people could die. And long after the coronavirus is gone, the need to find other cures will persist.
Therefore, we must stand up to the extremists at PETA. And we must demand that airlines stop caving to PETA’s pressure campaigns. Americans have helped the airlines — and now it is their turn to show that they want to help America by facilitating the transportation of medical research animals.
The Jones Act Webinar is part of WJLA-TV’s Government Matters series on “Sea-Air-Space 2020 Virtual Edition.” It will include Frontiers of Freedom Senior Fellow, the Honorable Ernest Istook, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2007 and is currently teaching at Brigham Young University.
The Host will be Francis Rose. Topics will include: What is the Jones Act? Why is it both a commercial and national security issue? What are common misconceptions about the Jones Act? How does it work? How does China and its “One Belt, One Road” plan play into this issue?
If you are in the Washington DC metro area, you can watch the program on WJLA 24/7 News (formerly NewsChannel 8). If you are anywhere else you can watch it at FedInsider.com.
It will be broadcast on Tuesday, April 7, 2020 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.
Former Vice President Joe Biden continues his presidential campaign from Delaware in the era of the Wuhan coronavirus by conducting remote interviews from a home studio.
Biden however, whose candidacy has survived slip-ups seemingly every month on the trail still appears forgetful and frail from the comfort of his own home. While the pressures of on-the-ground campaigning are temporarily gone, the same Biden we’ve seen for much of the last year is not.
On Monday, Biden once again refreshed concerns about the Democratic frontrunner’s age and aptitude at 77 years old to win the White House in November, offering a nonsensical jumbled word salad on MSNBC with notes in his lap.
Here’s what Biden said:
Boy those very high numbers have to do at least several things. One, we have to depend on what the president’s going to do right now, and first of all he has to… tell… wait til the cases before anything happens. Look, the whole idea is, he’s got to get in place things that were shortages of.
Biden’s Monday clip comes just a week after Biden seemed to have thrown in the towel on being articulate as he has become the likely Democratic nominee.
During an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday, Biden trailed off and looked defeated after mixing up his words again prompting an awkward silence on air.
“We have never, never, never, failed to respond to a crisis as a people, and I tell you what, I’m so darn proud. Those poor people who have…” Biden said before realizing what he actually said. “Anyway…”
Last week, Biden was also caught coughing while denying he had any symptoms of the Wuhan virus.
At one point on CNN, Jake Tapper directed Biden to cough into his arm as advised by public health officials.
“You know, you’re supposed to cough into your elbow… I learned that actually covering your White House,” Tapper said.
“Fortunately I’m alone in my home, but that’s okay,” Biden said.
In the last Democratic debate between Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who remains the final major competitor in the race, Biden also opened up with a cough to answer a question about the Wuhan virus.
So what is going on with Joe Biden?
Since the election of Donald John Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America on November 8, 2016, the political culture in the country has gone from mildly insane to absolutely idiotic. Before his election, the constitutional principle that the majority of the electors legitimizes the choice of the citizenry was never seriously challenged. Yet, his opponent’s followers, which included the overwhelming majority of the grossly overrated academia, the self-serving media, the Democrat-installed and ideologically blinded bureaucracy and judiciary, have had a different interpretation of the constitution. In their boundless arrogance they decided that their fellow citizens were politically and intellectually not mature enough to bring about the promised “fundamental transformation of society”, promised by their idol, former President Barack Hussein Obama. Infatuated also by the mirage of political correctness, identity politics, and the “glass ceiling”, they concluded that only a revolutionary minority could lead and bring about the desired Obamaesque political, social, economic, and cultural revolution. What they clearly overlooked was the not so negligible fact that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s disagreeable personality, her past activities and campaign themes were way outside the constraints of the majority’s political and moral beliefs and, more importantly, ran against almost all the cherished traditions of the people.
To add insult to the already existing injurious situation, the midterm elections of 2018, have cemented a broken political system in Washington, D.C., and beyond. The Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosy, aided by the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, have behaved as though they were the majority within the federal government. Moreover, supported by the ubiquitously and fiercely biased media on behalf of the Democrat Party, the President’s and the Senate Majority Leader’s utterances and statements have been systematically misstated, misinterpreted, taken out of context, and even altered, in order to serve the opposition’s nefarious political objectives. A case in point is the titles of lead articles in the Washington Post’s March 23, 2020 edition, in which the authors praised the warlike attitude of European governments in light of shortages of ventilators, beds and other essential medical equipment to fight the coronavirus, while condemned the President for his alleged “ lagging response” to desperate demands for assistance by state, municipal, and city leaders across the nation.
Meanwhile, because they could not directly attack the electoral college enshrined in the constitution, they embarked on inventing perhaps the most absurd lie of American political history, the so-called “Russian interference in the American elections on behalf of the Trump campaign.” Having been aided by the written and electronic media that for many decades have been constitutionally incapable of grasping the fundamental difference between strict adherence to the facts and the capricious presentation of purely subjective, irresponsible, and even maliciously disseminated falsehoods, the overwhelming majority of media personalities have turned into despicable liars par excellence. Having realized that their ideas are not winnable, these ruthless political operatives and extremist propagandists have come to the conclusion that the only way for them to regain their lost political powers enjoyed under the eight years of the Obama administration is to overthrow the legitimately elected President and his administration by outrageously false narratives, defamation of characters, and blatantly illegal or pseudo-legal manipulations. In order to round up this vicious circle of anti-American conspirators, these two groups enlisted the politically corrupt bureaucrats of the government, in particular the leaders of the various intelligence agencies, the upper echelons of the Department of Justice, and its investigative arm the FBI.
The resulting crimes committed by these groups and connected individuals then led to the totally groundless Mueller investigation, the multitude of laughable House proceedings, and finally to the pathetic impeachment trial in the Senate. What has been remarkable in all these political charades that in the name of maliciously invented human rights, worn off Marxist social justice slogans, self-serving and inverted racial discrimination grievances, misguided notions of multiculturalism, disrespectful anti-religiosity, and savage anti-Americanism, they have attempted to convince the majority of Americans that society shall not save all the praiseworthy characteristics that made their country great, but that they must at all cost to annihilate greatness itself. This compendium of destructive rants against the United States of America, its history, and its constitutional principles, has been packaged in the poisonous wrapping of senseless irreverence.
The charge for this kind of irreverence was led from its inception by none other than President Barack Hussein Obama, the most incompetent, yet the most overrated pseuedo-politician in the annals of American history. Having talked about American exceptionalism often and as usual from both sides of his mouth, he has only succeeded to unsettle both himself and everybody else. As a result, his inherent intellectual confusion culminated in total chaos in the minds of his clueless adherents. Out of this intellectual confusion was born the notion of the Obamaesque Democrats that finality does not exist in society, and that permanent chaos is like Trotsky’s permanent revolution, assuredly beneficial to humanity. Again, what they have clearly overlooked is that the United States of America and the rest of the world foremost needed stability. The era of experimenting with dogmas, ideologies, and extremist intellectual ideas was over. While the history of the 20th century was littered with the failures of the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Arab Socialism, African Socialism, Chinese Maoism, etc., the United States of America’s Constitution-and-Bible-based political, legal, and spiritual realms have survived without major interruptions or upheavals.
Thus, the reason President Donald John Trump beat Hillary Rodham Clinton decisively on November 8, 2016, is simple. The former understood better what motivates the American people than the latter. Moreover, the President understood the rest of the world better than his defeated opponent. Therefore, the President has embarked on a whale of a job, namely, to restore and preserve the proven foundations of the Republic, specifically American democracy. In order to accomplish these objectives, the President has spoken truth to the extremist minority. His fighting spirit on behalf of the country has attempted to recreate a feeling of confidence in the institutions of government across the land.
Presently, under the guise of initially blaming the outbreak of the coronavirus on the President, even calling it the “Trump Virus”, and since then vehemently criticizing almost his every decision, the Democrat opposition is hell bent to repeat the outrageous abuse of the rule of law of the last three years, in the hope that they can ride the coronavirus horses of apocalypse to absolute power on November 3, 2020. As recently as last weekend, the Speaker of the House again raised the specter of impeachment against the President for failing to prepare for the pandemic, saying “while the president fiddles, people are dying.” In the same vein, perhaps the most stupid television personality among all the blooming idiots in the American media, NBC’s own Chuck Todd asked Joe Biden whether he believes that the President “has blood on his hands.” This scurrilous and destructive opposition, which is a minority, remains utterly stupefied intellectually by the discredited ultra revolutionary socialist and 19th century syndicalist nonsense. Yet, if it would be successful, it will only accomplish one objective: the total destruction of the Republic, democracy, and the rule of law.
Thus, in today’s health emergency situation the most important task of every government should be to preserve a prudent balance between well-defined legislation enacted by Congress and the strict implementation of the laws by the executive branch. This requirement is important because in the last five decades Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Courts have not performed well in preserving this delicate balance. Particularly, under the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama legislation often suffered from vagueness. Glaring examples of recent congressional sloppiness are the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Massachusetts Senator Elisabeth Warren inspired Consumer Protection Act. In both cases, Congress’s intent was to fundamentally reform major segments of the American economy. In reality, Congress has created significant loopholes in both the meaning of definitions and the interpretation of key provisions. The resulting legal uncertainties have often contributed to bureaucratic overreach and abuses of the Executive Branch’s discretionary powers as well as the inviolability of the principle of the rule of law.
Giving universal value to the rule of law is the responsibility of the judiciary. Decisions handed down by the courts affect individuals in the present, but also will have a more enduring impact on the life of future generations. Thus, judges must be ideologically independent, politically impartial, and therefore not concerned with the politics of the present. For these reasons, judicial activism can be as threatening to the rule of law as the broad discretionary powers granted by the legislature for the executive.
Regrettably, in the present political climate, everybody believes that his or her ideas have the blessings of the future and for this reason rejects out of hand any contradictory arguments. And when these arguments have no or merely miniscule chance to be adapted by the majority, their adherents will try to utilize the powers of the news media and unelected law enforcement and intelligence agencies, as well as the politically and ideologically biased members of the judiciary. In this political tower of Babel the future of the American Republic, democracy, and the rule of law becomes less predictable.
The moral decline and the resulting ideologically misguided politicization of the nation’s political realm is best illustrated by the Democrats’ insistence on pushing their so-called politically correct agenda during the debate about the stimulus package. Spurned by Majority Whip James Clyburn, third in line within the House Democrat leadership, who opined that the Coronavirus crisis provides the Democrats with “…a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision,” the Speaker of the House deemed it appropriate to held up the stimulus package already agreed upon by both parties in the Senate. In this manner, realizing that their outlandish ideas have no chance to be approved by the majority of the voters in the upcoming elections, Nancy Pelosi wanted to blackmail the President and the Republican Party into accepting her and her Party’s takeover of corporate America. Termed by the Heritage Foundation as a “veritable pork barrel for programs that would force corporations receiving government aid to implement diversity and inclusion initiatives that have nothing to do with combating COVID-19,” Pelosi’s alternative stimulus bill pushed social policies that are outrightly destructive to democracy and the free market economy. This is clearly malicious politics.
Conversely, the guarantee of good politics resides in the characters of the policymakers too. Attempting to promote a dictatorial version of Socialism is tantamount to placing an already discredited political agenda, namely government takeover of the national economy with the goal of establishing a classless society, ahead of the well-being of the American people, is by definition against the national interests. In the same token, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s advocacy of Communism in the guise of “Social Democracy” is equally bad, because of its irrationality and its practices of concluding bad compromises. His revolutionary fantasies amount to an idiotic hoax. What his intellectually blinded followers do not understand is that Senator Bernie Sanders’s call for “revolution” means the violent overthrow of the political, legal, economic, and social order of the Republic. In politics, one can traffic in contradictory ideas, but cannot play with contradictory emotions. In essence, the Democrats have declared war against the unity of the nation, the cohesion of the family, and the Judeo-Christian religion, the three enduring pillars of the American Republic.
It looks more and more like the President clearly understands what is transpiring in the United States of America. His opponents appear to dig in deeper and deeper in their destructive tactics. To provide practical solutions to challenges in general and to the present pandemic crisis in particular are what the overwhelming majority of the people want. Telling Americans how to think and how to live, when they mostly disagree with the Democrats’ prescribed impractical cures, is not conducive of national unity and individual happiness.
History, in its dealings with great nations, has in many instances played havoc with their destinies exactly when they have been at the apex of their powers. However, what has distinguished a great nation from a mediocre or a bad one has been its superior ability to manage crises. Ultimately, the character of a nation and the qualities of its leaders is defined by the manner they triumph over a crisis situation.
Now, the origin of the Coronavirus pandemic is not the primary matter. This question can be researched and analyzed later by the experts. What is presently important, however, is the fact that the entire world is in a biological warfare situation. As in the aftermath of every war in the past, the world has had to adjust to the changes brought about by those extraordinary events. In this respect, two fundamental questions must be answered: Will the solution or solutions contain the lessons learned during the crisis? What kind of changes will happen in the future in the various societies as a result of the crisis?
Clearly, the world is in a turmoil. The member states of the European Union are on the verge of deep recessions and possibly a ubiquitous depression. Politically, the disunity between the western and the eastern parts of the Union is threatening the very survival of the organization. Instead of having shrunk, the economic and cultural differences between these two poles have been growing exponentially.
Russia has historically been the sick nation of Europe. With the exception of its military might, Russia is a political, financial, and economic basket case. President Vladimir Putin is a gambler. His obsession with reintegrating Belorussia and the Ukraine into Russia, his incompetent handling of his country’s economy, and his adventurism across the globe, do not bod well for the future stability of his dictatorship, and the general well-being of Russia itself.
Contrary to all the optimistic predictions, the People’s Republic of China has been in a steady decline politically, economically, and financially since 2012. The rigid dictatorship that President Xi Jingpin has cobbled together with blood and extreme coercion has also been detrimental to China’s continual progress. Under his limitless rule, his country will regress toward the state of stagnation and even the deterioration of the Mao era. Adding insult to injury, China’s over-extension internationally, will only accelerate its ongoing domestic and global decline.
Japan’s economy, once the envy of the world has been stagnating since the end of the 1980s. With its demographic challenges, it will never regain its status as an economic powerhouse. Politically, Japan cannot stand up to the Chinese challenge without the help of other Asian states and the United States of America.
India is growing, but so does its population. Multi- ethnic and multi-religious, it will face enormous problems and challenges to its tenuous democracy in the future. Its economic progress has been slow. The current global crisis will only make growth more difficult.
The greater Middle East is a powder keg. It is only a question of time before the entire region will explode in a protracted and extremely violent combination of civil wars and wars among all the Arab nations. In Iran, the Mullahcracy will collapse and the ensuing chaos will break up the country. Africa will also fall back to tribalism, civil wars, and ubiquitous decline.
The overall picture does not look better in Central and South America. Bloody upheavals, senseless revolutions, self-serving dictatorships will destroy progress in most countries. Experimentation with Marxist, pseudo-Marxist, Chinese, and even local revolutionary models will follow. The result will be enduring chaos and extreme poverty.
The restrictions that have been introduced in the United States of America and in many other countries across the world to combat the spread of the coronavirus have negatively affected their economies. As the number of coronavirus cases here in America surpassed 160,000 as of Monday – the dilemma facing policymakers has already been raised by a Wall Street Journal editorial on March 19, 2020, concerning the safeguarding of public health versus the shutdown’s effects on the health of the economy. This dilemma of the “cure is worse than the disease,” and the President’s musing about it, has again awoke the worst political instincts of his opponents. Pointing triumphantly at the President’s statement, in which he said that “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” while omitting the second part that added the following caveat: “At the end the 15 day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go,” they have declared that the President would prefer to kill Americans rather than let the economy further deteriorate.
To bolster their claim of questionable accuracy, they have quoted Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the CDC, who said that it might take several more weeks until people can start going about their lives in a more normal fashion. In reality, the President has already extended the CDC guidelines until the end of April.
Politicizing a life and death challenge for each individual as well as for the society at large is clearly counterproductive to support national unity and well-intentioned cooperation in a global crisis situation. In the same vein, the major national television stations, with the exception of the Fox Network, have threatened to stop broadcasting the President’s and the Coronavirus Task Force’s daily briefing because of its alleged inaccuracies and even outright lies. As a result, instead of a direct broadcasting of the President’s and the Task Force members’ statements, the viewers might be confronted with the interpretations of the extremely biased and mostly incompetent commentators about the briefings. That much about the mainstream media’s commitment to free speech and democracy.
A more cynical interpretation might point to the latest poll numbers, according to which the President’s approval rating shot up to 60%, exactly as a result of his daily communication with the nation and his competent handling of the coronavirus crisis. Complaints from the anti-Trump media about “completely ruling the news cycle” by the President and thus eclipsing Joe Biden are abound. Thus, it appears that for the anti-Trump crowd, defeating the President in November is more important than fulfilling their responsibilities of providing the public with up to date and objective information. While the President has demonstrated leadership, his opponents have managed to reveal to the nation their small-minded and contemptuous disposition.
No doubt that this crisis created by the coronavirus is both political and economic. The historic stimulus package officially named the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or “CARES” Act, will inject in the American economy a staggering $2.2 trillion to support businesses, public institutions, and individuals affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 880-page legislation is not perfect. It suffers from vagueness and is replete with the provisions of the usual “pork barrel” politics. Yet, for the first time from the beginning of the crisis, it is the product of a broad bipartisan consensus. Its expanded unemployment benefits will surely help even those who are not employed full time, such as gig workers, contract workers, and freelancers. The Act also includes an additional $600 per week on top of the already existing state benefits to support the jobless to survive the crisis. These benefits are time-limited and will run out after four months.
Small businesses are helped with $350 billion, up to $10 million per individual business. In addition, a separate $10 billion in emergency small business grants of up to $10,000 is also set aside by the Small Business Administration.
Larger businesses will be bailed out, when needed, from a pool of $500 billion. The Act also sets aside $100 billion for hospitals and health providers.
One of the most significant parts of the Act are the direct cash payments to most Americans. These cash payments include $1,200 for adults and $500 for children. Over an adjusted gross income of 75,000 for single filers and 150,000 for couples filing jointly the payment phases out by $5 for every $100 in extra income. Single filers without children earning $198,000 will not receive any benefits.
The coronavirus pandemic has also generated global fear. Fear of the barely understood disease, fear of economic collapse, fear of government overreach, fear of any other already existing and future, real and imaginary threats and dangers. Such all encompassing and often unpredictable fears in many instances threaten relations between and among states. The more a government perceives the danger of losing power through elections or by being overthrown, the more willing they become to reach for emergency powers. Such developments can increase the danger of misinterpretation or even misunderstanding of foreign intentions, thus raising the possibility of different levels of confrontations between and among states. The ensuing mistrust and insecurity can ultimately result in war and global anarchy. Clearly, the world in general and humanity in particular need global leadership. The only country that can provide it is the United States of America. Consequently, as soon as this pandemic will subside domestically, we must ready ourselves to assist others. The quality as well as the quantity of this assistance will determine the future of America’s position in the world. Equally importantly, our international policies will also define the future direction of freedom across the globe. Upon the fulfilment of these responsibilities will depend the fate of America as well as the future of the entire world.
The last Democratic debate was a snooze fest. Aside from the pro forma Trump-bashing, this time over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the only memorable moments were former Vice President Joe Biden’s promise to pick a woman as his running mate and appoint a black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court nomination is blatant pandering to a key Democratic constituency. One might prefer he commit to considering candidates on their merits and legal experience rather than gender or skin color, but that would go against what it means to be a member of his party these days.
Of much greater interest is his plan for the vice presidency, an office he held for eight years under former President Barack Obama. Even though some will say otherwise, it’s not at all ghoulish to point out how, to put it subtly, the former vice president is bumping up against the upper ranges of the actuarial tables. If victorious, Biden’s ticket mate may end up occupying the Oval Office sooner than anyone voting Democrat in November might think.
The vice presidential candidate always comes under scrutiny, especially when the media starts probing for weaknesses that could hurt the top of the ticket. George McGovern’s chances in 1972, which were already slim to none, weren’t helped when the public learned his original running mate, Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, had at one time undergone electroshock therapy. Walter Mondale’s 1984 campaign against Ronald Reagan was hurt by ethical issues concerning the business affairs of his running mate’s spouse. And it’s generally agreed former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin did more to drag John McCain’s 2008 campaign down than she ever did to boost it up.Ads by scrollerads.com
Vice presidential choices matter, even if running against them is a nonstarter. Michael Dukakis found that out in 1988, when he warned about the possibility of “President Quayle” instead of focusing on George H.W. Bush’s vulnerabilities. Picking Al Gore helped Bill Clinton “pick the GOP lock” on the Electoral College in 1992, and eight years later, Gore was almost lifted into the White House by Florida voters who backed his selection of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman for the No. 2 slot on his ticket.
Many political analysts are predicting that Biden’s pick will come from among the women who ran against him in the primary, most likely Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren or Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. Both, after all, were endorsed by The New York Times, and neither hit him too hard during any of the debates. They haven’t said anything particularly damaging that the media and GOP could exploit, and both have won office on their own.
Nevertheless, these analysts are wrong. Neither Warren nor Klobuchar helps Biden get any closer to the White House than he is now. The most important thing a running mate can do is deliver a state to the ticket that may be out of reach. Providing an ideological balance is nice but not usually helpful. Winning in a state you’re not expected to, as both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton found out in 2016, can be everything.
The Democrats have Massachusetts. And the progressives who bow to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on every issue aren’t going to be any more persuaded to vote for Biden with Warren on the ticket. The one thing that unites most Democratic primary voters is the desire, some might call it an aching wish, to see Trump kicked out of office.
If the Biden campaign’s main theme is the need for a change at the top, ideology doesn’t matter. He’ll have the Democrats he needs. This is why Klobuchar, while she makes more sense than Warren, isn’t the right pick either.
Trump almost won Minnesota in 2016, but it hasn’t gone Republican since Richard Nixon’s re-election in 1972. It may be on the bubble; indeed, many GOP election experts think it is, but Klobuchar on the bottom of the ticket isn’t enough to guarantee it stays in the Democratic column. It’s a high risk–low reward pick that’s probably not persuasive enough, especially since African Americans, a key Biden constituency, have a problem with her that the GOP can exploit.
The Democrats also have California and, as Biden all but promised the next Supreme Court seat to Senator Kamala Harris, she won’t be the pick. Neither will Tulsi Gabbard, who endorsed him when she quit the race last week. He’s got Hawaii in his pocket.
Who does that leave? The smart pick, the one that helps Biden most and causes the most trouble for Trump is Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, whom most Americans met when she gave one of the more impressive responses to the president’s State of the Union address in recent memory.
Whitmer is a former prosecutor and former state legislator and, as a state chief executive, has vital leadership experience Biden lacks.
Biden has never been in charge of anything larger than a committee of the U.S. Senate. He can tout his experience with Obama all he wants, but he can’t get past the fact he worked for him, that the ultimate authority was always vested with someone else. Moreover, as someone who defeated her opponent in the general election, the statewide elected GOP attorney general, by 10 points she’s a proven vote winner in a state Trump needs to win re-election. And, as a bonus, her presence on the ticket would probably help keep Democrat Gary Peters, who is facing a stiff challenge from Republican John James that many expect him to lose, in the U.S. Senate.
Biden’s choice of running mate is the first major decision he’ll make. If he makes the right one, he may get to live in the White House. If he makes the wrong one, he hands his opponent an unexpected advantage that might lead to defeat.
By Red State•
After returning to Washington from a week away in San Francisco, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brought her caucus’ new demands for passing a coronavirus relief bill. While the focus of the bill is supposed to be helping the American people through this pandemic, the Speaker’s bill is filled with special handouts to her political supporters, donors and well-connected California friends.
Pelosi is following the advice of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, who argued that the rush to enact legislation to assist the American people is a political opportunity to “restructure things to fit out vision.”
Take the solar subsidies section of the House bill. While they do little to help the hospitals and families that are supposed to be a focus of these efforts, they do help Pelosi’s well-connected California cronies like Elon Musk and his corporations.
This wouldn’t be the first time Musk received hefty payments from federal coffers. Under President Obama, Musk was able to secure billions for his solar operation, even though his company still nearly went bankrupt. It was only after merging with Tesla that SolarCity’s insolvency came to light. After that merger, the company also had to settle with the Department of Justice for nearly $30 million because of allegations that it cheated the government, including by deliberately overstating the cost of its installations to receive inflated government grants off the taxpayers’ backs.
Tesla’s go at solar has been equally as abysmal as SolarCity’s. Reports earlier this month showed that Tesla’s energy partner was pulling out of their agreement because of the company’s failing (and heavily subsidized) solar factory in New York. The company is struggling to meet the terms of its current subsidies with the state of New York, and now, with sales dropping, Elon could apparently use another bailout.
Pelosi coming to the aid of Musk, her home state business interest whose companies have a history of misleading the government and investors to receive more aid, with government subsidies and corporate giveaways, is par for the course. In the past, when electric vehicle tax credits were phasing out, the Speaker singled out electric vehicle manufactures like Tesla for renewed subsidies. These EV subsidies benefit no one other than Musk and the overwhelmingly wealthy Americans who make six figures or more a year that purchase his cars. It’s money that could’ve went to vulnerable Americans instead. Then again, Pelosi has a history of putting her political interests above those of the American people, so her cozy relationship with Musk shouldn’t surprise anyone.
If these direct bailouts to “green” energy interests within the Democrats’ COVID-19 relief demands aren’t enough, they’re also adamant about passing other radical parts of the Green New Deal within this package. They’re tying relief loans to the airline industry to new, stricter emission standards. It’s only a matter of time before more significant automotive restrictions enter the arena as automakers rush to deal with shuttered factories and tapering sales.
By playing along with Pelosi’s shameful D.C. insider games, House Democrats this time around have shown they’ve learned nothing from past mistakes and want to take needed funding away from struggling small businesses and give it to the protected billionaire class.
Whether it’s expanding unrelated subsides or putting burdensome regulations in place, these so-called “lawmakers” are making it clear the only interests they represent are of those who fill their pockets and fall in line. As our country faces a once in a generation crisis, we must hope that our representatives use their place of power to advance the best societal interests, not for those of the already well-off. As the corona aid enters the final stage, lets’ hope Congress takes a stand for the hard-working American people and passes a clean relief bill. The nation is watching.
President Donald John Trump, 45th president of the United States of America, has just made the biggest gamble of his career.
On the unanimous recommendation of the public health professionals, he decided to close down the US economy in a manner more severe than any other measure ever taken by a U.S. president, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln’s declaration of martial law on September 15, 1863.
Clearly, no one can reasonably disapprove of the need to save American lives by containing the deadly coronavirus. If the next few weeks occur as expected by the public health experts, the virus will peak and begin to recede, allowing normality to return. If that sequence of events is delayed much longer than a total of 30 days or so, the country risks falling into a recession that could rival the Great Depression of the 1930’s – 25% unemployment, long bread lines, starvation staring out of the hallow eyes of children.
The President is fully aware of this danger. He knows he is risking becoming another Herbert Hoover, who was unjustly blamed for the Depression and lost the presidency by a landslide in 1932. One big difference is that Hoover was a victim of circumstances, whereas Trump’s fate will be seen as the inevitable result of his own decision.
Closing down the economy was not the only choice that could have been made. Woodrow Wilson did nothing to affect the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-20, and the result was the Depression of 1920. Wilson was in his second term and could not run again (although this did not stop Franklin Roosevelt in 1940 and 1944). Wilson’s Democrat party lost the 1920 election in a landslide.
George Bush did invoke a few measures to mitigate the immediate effects of the 9-11-2001 attack but concentrated his primary efforts on foreign policy actions. He survived the temporary shutdown and won re-election in 2004. Barak Obama did very little to fight the outbreak of West Africa Ebola of 2013-16, which ultimately killed 11,310 victims but was not a candidate in 2016.
President Trump could have followed any of these strategies. Instead, he gave the public health experts full reign over the nation’s response to the threat of the new virus. Their prescription for countermeasures has had temporarily catastrophic effects on the economy. These people have dedicated their lives and talents to saving and enriching all our lives by seeking effective cures for the diseases which threaten us and identifying the best preventative measures to mitigate the ones that cannot be cured. These are truly noble goals.
However, that perspective has its limitations. It emphasizes one dimension of human life, namely, physical health — often to the exclusion of all other factors. Among those other factors are the economic and social needs which are also shared by all people. The compromise we are now living out is “Let’s follow the public health scientists until we beat the virus, and then we will revert to normal life.” The gamble is: “Will normal life still be possible after we beat the virus?”
For President Trump, the stakes are very high. If he wins, he will be the Savior who rescued the nation from disaster. If he loses, he will lose everything, including his second term, the destruction of all his innovations, as well as his reputation. His legacy will be remembered as either victory or tragedy.
For the American people, the stakes are even higher. Never before have we faced the near shutdown of the economy, even for a day, let alone a month. The closest we have come is the Great Depression, when things were so desperate that Russian communism was openly advocated. We don’t know if the damage will be permanent, overcome quickly, slowly, this year, or if it will take years to regain our momentum.
What we have to remember, especially in this perilous time, is that we Americans have survived many other crises in our history. We have flourished throughout the ages no matter the obstacles. In fact, America’s history is the story of crises happening and crises overcome.
Our greatest crisis was the Civil War, when we fought ourselves and lost an estimated 650,000 lives, a whole generation of young men. But the newly reunited nation came roaring back in the Gilded Age (c.1870 – 1900), a period of extraordinary growth in all areas of American life, including technology, manufacturing, transportation, and higher learning, among many other areas.
In the 1930’s, the Great Depression nearly destroyed America’s will to survive. Yet the country rallied out of the Depression when the Japanese Navy destroyed the Pearl Harbor naval base in 1942, proving that the American spirit was not only not dead but so filled with vitality that we won both the war with Japan and saved Europe from the Nazis – at the same time! And it took us only three years to go from a dead stop to overdrive.
We are seeing much of the same spirit of unity in the “war”, as was evidenced in WWII, as political opponents join forces (except the Governor of Michigan) with companies and whole industries to shore up scarce supplies and bring supply chains back home. Likewise, stories of outstanding generosity and kindness on the part of individuals and local businesses are beginning to surface. This generation is proving that the American spirit of our forebears is still alive as we rally to save our country from disaster.
The moral of the American story is that Americans can overcome every threat we have ever faced, and we will overcome this one – whichever way it goes!
The change would ensure that the business of Congress could go on during crises such as the coronavirus pandemic.
Multiple members of the House have reported positive tests or exposure to the coronavirus, the worst being 45-year-old Utah Democrat Ben McAdams, who was hospitalized with breathing troubles over the weekend. In the Senate, Rand Paul has tested positive, and Amy Klobuchar reported that her husband is hospitalized and receiving oxygen.
It’s time for Congress to follow the rest of the country and work remotely. That means taking unprecedented steps that both houses have resisted for years. While it would be a good thing to expand remote voting capacity permanently, now is not the time to leverage a crisis into long-term reforms; short-term measures that prove workable can be assessed later for their long-term viability. Remote voting should be passed immediately as a short-term emergency measure and reevaluated after the present crisis has passed.
Remote voting could never be a full substitute for the presence of Congress in Washington. Our representatives frequently need to meet with each other and their staffs and receive briefings, many of them involving information that is more securely delivered in person in the Capitol than over any network. Public hearings require physical presence. But much of Congress’s staff work could already be done outside of D.C., and the challenges of security for 535 people voting on bills are not significant. If necessary, each member could still have a (younger, D.C.-resident) staff proxy on site to verify the vote cast. Remote voting would ensure that the business of Congress could go on without large physical gatherings of infected or vulnerable representatives. If it proves workable, it could also lengthen the amount of time members of Congress could spend in their home states and districts without ignoring their core duties.
The need is bipartisan, but it would prevent the vagaries of illness from unsettling the partisan balance of power. President Trump has supported the idea, and Dick Durbin and Rob Portman have proposed a resolution:
Durbin called for establishing “a verifiable technology and procedure so members do not have to be physically present.” “Five of our Senate colleagues were unable to come to the floor of the Senate and vote because they’re in self-quarantine at this moment,” he said. “The numbers could grow to the point it could reach an extreme where there’s a question of an actual quorum on the floor of the Senate.”
Portman and Durbin’s resolution would give the Senate majority and minority leaders joint authority to allow secure remote voting for up to 30 days during emergency situations such as the current pandemic. Under the measure, the Senate could vote to extend the initial authority in additional 30-day increments.
The need in the case of the Senate should be particularly obvious: Five Senators are between the ages of 83 and 86, and more than a quarter of the chamber is age 70 or over. Senate traditionalists such as Mitch McConnell and Roy Blunt have thus far proven resistant, given their hesitance to open broader questions about changing the rules, but they should reconsider given the exigencies of the situation.
The Constitution should not be an insuperable obstacle, although it might preclude either House from going to remote voting without the other. Article I, Sections 4-5 provide:
The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day [which they have]. [In each House], a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide. Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings. . . . Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal. Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.
Obviously, when the Framers wrote the requirements that Congress “assemble” and do so in the same “Place,” and that various rules be determined by those “present,” they anticipated physically assembling in the same location. But nobody in 1787 would have thought that this excludedpresence by telecommunication, as no such thing was possible at the time. The best methods of long-distance communication in America in 1787 were crude tools such as smoke signals. Samuel Morse’s telegraph would not be invented for another half a century; its French predecessor was not publicly demonstrated until 1793. Constitutional interpretation typically tries to apply old rules to new technology by finding analogous Founding-era practices, but there is really no contemporary analogue to being present in a legislative chamber by remote technology. The best answer is instead to leave interpretation of these requirements to the House and Senate themselves.
The Supreme Court, in its 2014 decision in NLRB v. Noel Canning, ruled that President Obama could not make recess appointments during pro forma sessions. Those pro forma sessions, at which no Senate business was conducted, were held precisely to prevent short recesses in the Senate’s calendar from giving Obama an excuse to make recess appointments. Calling short recesses and interrupting them with pro forma sessions were practices unknown at the Founding, when it was not practical for senators to travel to and from the capital in a few days.1
The Court gave strong weight to the Senate’s determination that it was not in recess during the pro forma sessions, notwithstanding the fact that it was transparently engaged in a legalistic interpretation of a “session” in order to thwart the president. The Court stressed “the Constitution’s broad delegation of authority to the Senate to determine how and when to conduct its business”:
The Constitution . . . gives the Senate wide latitude to determine whether and when to have a session, as well as how to conduct the session . . . when the Journal of the Senate indicates that a quorum was present, under a valid Senate rule, at the time the Senate passed a bill, we will not consider an argument that a quorum was not, in fact, present.
The Court emphasized that its deference may not be absolute in every case, but in Noel Canning, it considered the question closed so long as the Senate was sufficiently present to be capable of doing business. If both chambers changed their rules to consider remotely present members to be present and able to vote, that standard would be satisfied.
The business of the nation requires Congress to remain on duty during a crisis such as this one. Changing the rules to ensure the functioning of the national legislature is the responsible thing to do.
Column: Is American society ready for the coronavirus pandemic?
A few months after September 11, 2001, David Brooks went back and looked at coverage of Pearl Harbor for an article in the Weekly Standard (“After Pearl Harbor,” December 10, 2001). What he saw intrigued him. A sense of unity and patriotism followed both surprise attacks. But media after Pearl Harbor had none of the sorrow, sensitivity, and angst that filled the news, with reason, after 9/11. Recognizing the inevitable costs of war, Americans on the home front at the outset of World War II were nonetheless eager to carry on as usual. They did not apologize or second-guess. They soldiered on. “When you step back and contemplate the range of post-Pearl Harbor media,” Brooks wrote, “you are struck by how extraordinarily proud of itself America then was.”
I revisited Brooks’s article this week while thinking about the differences between America during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 and America during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic today. Some of the distinctions are self-evident. America is far more wealthy, free, and technologically advanced than it was then. We enjoy the benefits of incorporating half the population into our economy and society, of ending de jure anti-black racism, of attracting the best and most ambitious talent from across the globe. We are no longer a rising power but a reluctant hegemon. A raw deal awaits any American who trades places with a doppelgänger from midway through Woodrow Wilson’s second term.
What changed is the American ethos. Expressive individualism replaced self-restraint. Narcissism and the therapeutic sensibility triumphed over the reticence and sense of tragedy that comes from living in places and times where there is no safety net and death is a constant presence. The culture of debunking, revisionism, and repudiation informs education, entertainment, art, and occasionally sport.
The size, scope, and ambition of the federal government and its managers is far greater now than it was then. So are the public’s expectations of government capabilities and performance. The institutions that stand between the individual and state have weakened where they have not crumbled. Family, community, religion, and voluntary association attenuate as modernity deprives them of their traditional functions.
The United States is beginning to shut down and self-isolate. Its G7 partners range from states of quarantine (Italy) to lockdown (France) to closed borders (Germany). Countries do not make such decisions on a lark. Nor is the reason for these extraordinary measures a secret. What terrifies the authorities is the prospect of surges in infection that would push public health systems beyond capacity and result in mass death. To prevent a medical catastrophe, the authorities guarantee an economic one.
The social capacity of America has received less attention. The worst-case scenarios anticipate an epidemic that lasts until a vaccine can be mass produced 18 months from now. Do we believe that American society could withstand until then the additional pressures that have been put on it over the past week?
The typical discussion of how coronavirus will change your life focuses on a specific practice or sector of industry. You hear a lot about telework, home schooling, vote by mail, or movies released on Video on Demand rather than in theaters. This piecemeal approach is understandable. Perhaps the problem is so complex, the potential extent of the disruption so massive, that the way to approach it is to study one aspect at a time.
But an extended lockdown will affect more than activities. It will warp institutions. There is a debate over how Congress might operate under social distancing. What about churches, synagogues, and mosques? Church attendance was falling before the virus. Even if the pandemic were to revive the religious impulse, would-be prodigal sons won’t be able to attend services. Church finances—nonprofits in general—will be harmed. In some cases, the damage will be irreparable.
The family enters this crisis beleaguered. My American Enterprise Institute colleague Nicholas Eberstadt writes in National Affairs of “the collapse of work for adult men, and the retreat from the world of work of growing numbers of men of conventional working age.” The recent improvements in the overall labor force participation rate will disappear if the economic fallout of the pandemic is large and enduring. Long-term joblessness and lack of prospects are barriers to marriage and to family formation. And the two-parent family is the seedbed for the character formation of young people. The social costs are enormous. And they are mounting.
Bill de Blasio’s indecision over whether to close New York City schools revealed that these institutions perform parental functions as much as educational ones. The school has become much more than a place of instruction. It is the site of feeding, caring, and supervision (if not disciplining) of children. Deprived of the shelter of the local school, children and young adults will have to look to parents for meals, instruction, and surveillance. Are parents ready to fulfill the responsibilities assumed by the state? What will happen when parents return to work or look for new employment? Will teenagers obey a guidance or curfew that is not enforced under penalty of law?
Large pools of nonworking or truant males are not associated with social or political stability. But they loom large in our future. The economic self-isolation of America can continue only for so long as American society permits. And if Americans, as they have tended to do, revolt against strictures from above, how will authorities respond? None of the answers are comforting. If the coronavirus overwhelms America’s social capacity, our government won’t be in a position to choose between an economic crisis or a pandemic. It will have both.
No, the federal government shouldn’t 'take over the supply chain' for medical equipment, and yes, states can in fact govern themselves.
Watching the media react to federal and state government responses to the Wuhan coronavirus over the past few days, you would think they secretly wished we had an executive branch with unlimited powers—their hatred of President Trump notwithstanding. You would also think they have only a vague idea of what federalism is and how it’s supposed to work.
Many reporters and pundits, for example, seem to think states are almost entirely dependent on the federal government in emergency situations like this. CNN’s Jim Sciutto mused about whether the president will soon be pushing for a national curfew, seemingly unaware that the president has no power to impose such a thing.
But governors do. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday stopped just short of issuing a curfew on businesses, instead signing an executive order that strongly urges all non-essential businesses to close at 8 p.m. every night. He also activated the New Jersey National Guard to help carry out his order.
Local governments are going one step further. Portland’s city manager announced an emergency curfew on Monday, shutting down restaurants, bars, clubs, movie theaters, and any other establishments where people gather. Six counties in the San Francisco Bay area announced a “shelter in place” order for all residents—a population of some 6.7 million people—to remain in effect until April 7. It wasn’t exactly clear how the order would be enforced, but it did call on sheriffs and chiefs of police to “ensure compliance.”
Similar measures have gone into effect across the country in recent days. In New Orleans, police cleared crowds on Bourbon Street, ordering people back to their homes and hotels via loudspeaker. Lockdowns of various sorts were ordered in cities from Florida to Washington state, mostly affecting bars, restaurants, and other places crowds gather.
But here’s the thing: the president of the United States doesn’t have the power to order these things. For as much as we might think of the federal government as all-powerful, it really isn’t. The founders wisely chose a federal republic for our form of government, which means sovereignty is divided between states and the federal government.
The powers of the federal government are limited and enumerated, while all powers not granted to the feds are reserved for the states, including emergency police powers of the kind we’re seeing states and localities use now. Local governments, as creations of the states, can exercise state police powers as well.
Much of the media seems wholly unaware of this basic feature of our system of government. Exemplifying the ignorance was a widely panned tweet from an editor at The Daily Beast who seemed to think states can’t “govern themselves” without permission or direction from the president.
So the states are basically governing themselves because our president doesn’t know how to president at all?
After the Trump administration’s announcement on Monday of new, stricter guidelines to stop the spread of the virus, a media chorus arose that it wasn’t enough. “Ok. Someone finally talked some sense into the President two months into this. That’s good. But we need huge amounts of coordinated federal *action* *assistance* and *mobilization* along with the shift in rhetoric,” tweeted MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.
An attitude of shock and outrage pervaded The New York Times’ coverage—as well as misleading tweets from some NYT editors—of a conference call in which Trump told governors that they should try to get ventilators and respirators for themselves. Many of the tweets left out the full context of what Trump said: “We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”
Asked about the Times report later in the day at the press conference, Trump explained that many governors might have a more direct line on this equipment and if so they should go ahead and acquire it themselves, no need to wait on Washington, D.C.
This is of course exactly the way federalism is supposed to work. Besides the media not getting it, many Democrats don’t seem to grasp federalism, either. A group of House Democrats on Monday urged Trump to invoke war powers to order the production of more facemasks and ventilators. New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio went on cable news and declared that the federal government needs to “take over the supply chain right now” for needed medical supplies.
As the coronavirus get worse, we’re going to see a lot more actions being taken by cities, counties, and states—many more than we’ll see from the feds, in fact. That’s as it should be. We should expect the government power that’s closest to affected communities to be the most active, while Washington, D.C., concern itself with larger problems, like developing a vaccine and controlling our borders and ports of entry.
To put it another way, President Xi Jinping of China can order every Chinese citizen to stay in his or her home under threat of arrest. He can shutter every business in China by fiat. He can “take over the supply chain” of any industry whenever he wants. President Trump can’t do any of that. You’d think Democrats and the media would be relieved about that—and they might be, if they knew the first thing about federalism.
The Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
Through most of human history, there have been two ways by which humans have organized themselves: tribal and totalitarian. Tribes were based on families which came together to form clans, which combined to create tribes. In the end, what united the various clans into a tribe was the culture they all shared – language, values, customs and religion.
The primary driving factor in this move toward greater numbers was the greater power -and defense – afforded by greater numbers and the greater accumulation of wealth made possible by a greater variety of skills and a heightened group ability to take on ever larger projects, such as cities, roads, dwellings, and monuments. These factors eventually resulted in cities and nations. And empires. It was called “civilization”.
Nevertheless, the original loyalties to families and tribes have remained forceful elements in all societies.
As the more advanced “civilizations” grew in power and wealth, they grew also in territory, mostly by conquest of other countries. The management of the conquered territories was solved by the creation of a hierarchy of different classes of inhabitants: the ruler, his direct followers (usually military), the wealthy who provided financial resources, and the poor who were the vast majority of the population, whether slaves, peasants, serfs or servants, who supplied the labor on which the entire nation depended.
The average life span of mankind was about 35 years. This pattern, with a few exceptions, endured for most of human history. Until the 18th century. Then human life began a radical series of changes. Between 1700 and 2020 human life span grew from 35 years to over 70. The average annual income grew from a few dollars a year to $10,000 a year. (Gallup 2012) And world population grew from an average 1% annual increase for 1000’s of years to about 610 million in 1700 and nearly 8 billion in 2020 (Source: Worldometer).
It started with one of the exceptions to totalitarianism mentioned above. Beginning in the early Middle Ages (c. 11th century), some European merchants began to form caravans to travel from place to place buying and selling merchandise. Since merchants in general were discriminated against in Medieval Europe, they were not subject to any specific prince, and they were freemen. They soon banded together for defense against outlaws and princes alike forming the Great Caravans of Europe. In time, many began to accumulate wealth and became bankers as well as traders. They were the first middle class, instrumental in the formation of the guilds of tradesmen which consolidated the identity of a middle class — neither nobility, peasants nor clergy – all of whom opposed them. [Note: trade routes and caravans existed throughout the ancient world from time immemorial but were not “free” of any jurisdiction.]
There had been numerous intellectuals who taught the separation of Church and State (including Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century) and limited government (e.g. John Wycliff in the 14th century), but none had the political and financial strength to effect cultural changes. In the 18th century, however, these ideas combined with an emerging middle class to begin the most radical change in history. A new movement came into being and caused the revolutions which characterized the next two centuries, from the American Revolution (1776) to the Russian Revolution (1917).
This movement yielded three major views of how a country should be run: socialism and democracy as political systems and capitalism as an economic system. All involved the overthrow of the totalitarian government. The difference was in who led the revolt: the Europeans (and later the South Americans and others) were led by the poor people; the Americans by the middle class. The poor people had no experience of handling money or building an economy. They considered the wealth of the nobility a bottomless pit and they invented socialism. The Americans were led by wealthy middle class lawyers, plantation owners and merchants. They feared the power of governments and invented democratic capitalism.
The different types of socialism will be discussed next week. But first, let’s look at America’s democratic capitalism.
The American Way
The United States of America was a land controlled by people who had escaped both the walls and the comforts of the Old World and had survived in an environment which rewarded courage, skill and endurance, rather than birth and privilege. Their bias was against rather than favorable to government. They saw government as a greedy king out to take away their liberty. They therefore fashioned a government which was limited in every way by competing forces: the federal government by the states, the president by the legislature, each House of Congress was limited by the other, everybody by the courts – and so on down the line to the local dogcatcher.
The purpose behind this design was to keep government officials from ascending to the powers of that old king. They understood intuitively the saying of John Lord Acton a century later: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
What they have left us is the American version of a capitalist society. It is dynamic, constantly changing. The poor may not always be poor; the rich may not always be rich. In fact, most Americans (58.5 percent) will spend at least one year below the poverty line at some point between ages 25 and 75 according to Yale University’s Jacob S. Hacker (The Great Risk Shift, New York, 2006). The wealth of the society is expected to grow constantly through the creation of new opportunities, new products and services, new jobs, new skills, and new technologies, leading to new and expanding wealth.
For Americans, the fundamental error of socialism is that it does not account for the creation of that wealth in the first place. Government cannot confiscate what isn’t there. Socialists foresee the proverbial pie of underclass income being cut into more and more pieces; Americans keep creating a bigger pie.
America’s Democratic Capitalism
The United States of America has brought together economic capitalism and political democracy in a dynamic tension which we call democratic capitalism, and which has produced the most prosperous nation in the history of the world. Its greater attribute is that it provides hope – hope that the poor may be able to escape the bonds of poverty as so many Americans have done in the past. This hope is the shining city on the hill which still attracts the envy of millions.
It has taken Americans most of our history as a nation to achieve the balance by which capitalism is accountable to democracy, and there are still many problems to be solved. Nevertheless, Americans are always optimistic.
The motivation for individual Americans to persevere in pursuit of their personal goals is provided by the real and potential ownership of private property. No other motivator – not coercion, not slavery, not charity, not communal property – not even religion – has ever been found which can impel vast numbers of individuals in a society to be hard working and creative. Providing a good life for oneself and one’s family is a motivator above all others.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – the American Way
Our history has proven that personal freedom is a necessary prerequisite for the success of this system. An oppressive government – even if well-intentioned – sucks out the initiative required to make an ever-better life for all of us. Personal freedom without economic freedom is no freedom at all. Capitalism, in a refined and mature linkage with democracy, provides the economic power which makes freedom possible.
The challenge to Americans is not to change an evil system; it is to live up to the ideals which are required for that system to succeed.