The newest cluster of mass shootings finally shows a ray of light. I’ve stopped writing about these premeditated acts of mass murder with my summer of 2017 post about what I call the hush of Charlottesville. I think the status quo on mass shootings is wrong and the level and quality of discourse is low to none and getting worse fast.
Nevertheless, when FBI agent Christopher Combs described the Odessa, Texas, shooter, Seth Ator, as one who’d reached out to police in advance of his attack and rambled about his “perceived life’s tragedies” adding that the 36-year-old “was on a long spiral of going down”, I saw a spark of intelligence in the currently prevalent approach to mass American murder.
“[The mass murderer] was on a long spiral of going down,” the FBI agent had said. It’s a crucial statement. His judgment bears repeating, thinking about and contemplating, even examining. Combs went on about Ator’s act of evil: “He didn’t wake up Saturday morning and go into his company and then it happened. He went to that company in trouble and had probably been in trouble for a while.”
As someone who has conducted a kind of cultural study of these mass murders since a mentally disturbed woman went on a shooting rampage on Chicago’s North Shore in the late 1980s, after having been in and out of mental health institutions and the judiciary for crimes against her husband for decades, with the complicity of many in the health care and judicial systems but especially her parents, I’ve come to the conclusion that the predominant voices on mass shootings are fundamentally wrong. With the current atmosphere so highly charged, it’s nearly impossible to have a reasonable discussion of these events.
Combs makes progress, however, by emphasizing — really stressing — the shooter’s death spiral. The policeman is, as America’s president has been trying to do, shifting the focus from residual or secondary issues such as access to guns, safety precautions, etc., to more fundamental issues such as mental health. In the case in Chicagoland, the murderess Laurie Dann could have been prevented from slaughtering and maiming the innocent including her children victims had her parents and others held Dann to account for her mental illness, crime and wrongdoing. Policeman Combs is saying the same thing about the Odessa, Texas, killer.
In fact, nearly every act of mass American murder in recent years, from the Islamic terrorists who gunned down gays in Orlando and athletes in Boston to the gambler who gunned down concert-goers in Las Vegas, sent multiple messages in advance of each siege. In some cases, such as the Boston and Orlando jihadist assaults, police had been warned in advance by the family or intelligence. In others, such as the Las Vegas massacre, women knew something was wrong in advance. But in each case, clear signs of evil, mental distress or impending breakdown were demonstrated, often in repetition. Yet warnings and signs went ignored, denied or evaded.
Why? I’ll leave that to historians and scholars. It’s clear to me, however, that the nation’s in a mass delusion about the philosophical rot eroding us from within, which is why the FBI agent’s comment is somewhat encouraging in today’s context. Few are able or want to acknowledge the reality that bad ideas, such as altruism, also collectivism, are accepted and practiced with consistency in these murderous attacks. These are at least contributing causal factors in most of these mass shootings. It’s not just white men doing the killing. From the Beltway sniper and his partner in crime at the turn of the century to foreigners, women such as Dann, Susan Smith and lesbians driving off cliffs with their children, among others in Santa Barbara and Virginia Tech, the rot spreads and claims countless lives. No one should be shocked to find that those who accept our era’s basic thesis that selfishness is a vice practice this rotten ideal.
Will Americans ever learn that those trained to seek to annihilate themselves are more likely to annihilate others? The ethics of selflessness breeds mass death, damage and disability.
As Fred Rogers once said:
“Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.”
For all their professions of civility, compassion, nuance, intelligence and decency, those who consider themselves to be liberal in my experience are often the most damaged, deficient and disabled in this regard. Again, what the FBI agent says about the spiraling down of the man who shot police and civilians in Texas is that he needed help for himself, cried out and sought help to some extent and ended up going down without help. People should pay more attention to the disaffected, the dejected, the maligned — anyone who’s being ridiculed, persecuted and confused by living in the divisive, strident, hostile society America has become. Especially, though not exclusively, the white male.
Twenty years ago, I wrote an op-ed for newspapers arguing that so-called hate crime legislation pushed by religious conservatives and leftists alike would lead to total suppression of speech, more hatred and total contempt and disregard for thought, as such, as a crime. Read my essay, reprinted in publications such as the Los Angeles Daily News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Casper Star-Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle, here.
Hate crimes became law anyway and, sadly, my forecast became reality. Hate crimes, which are tantamount to thought crimes, evoking Orwell’s dystopian literature, led to the asinine, anti-conceptual term hate speech, which poisons American society with suppression of thought, ideas and civil discourse. With now-daily mass murder coupled with calls for total government control of speech, media, guns, medicine and life, as the troubled individual about whom the FBI’s Christopher Combs spoke sacrifices himself as instructed, each American should challenge and reject the idea that hatred is bad, wrong and toxic.
After 20 years of nonstop, incessant preaching against hate, as such, distorting a perfectly legitimate emotion by extrapolating it universally as inherently and always wrong, bad and evil, the nation is utterly consumed by Americans’ hatred of one another. The hatred manifests in mass death as lonely, troubled people lash out against anyone who seems responsible for the nation’s or their real or perceived downward spiral.
The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not preclude steps toward laws governing guns, as Trump and some in Congress support.
But America’s epidemic of daily mass murder can only be causally mitigated by listening, not sniveling, to others. The snide, hostile, vitriolic quips, memes and digs substituting for discourse destroy one’s ability to project a better, happier future. Every time a leftist, an anarchist or a conservative hurls invective, the otherwise decent human is dehumanized, demoralized and more susceptible to bad ideals, especially self-abnegation as an alleviating solution to his — or her — pain, suffering and agony.
This is compounded by the confusion, experienced as causeless among generations taught not to think but instead to go scoreless, refuse to judge and instead prattle slogans to reduce, conserve and recycle or just blank out, feel, gaze at one’s navel and go toward God, “the light” and whatever rave, idiotic video challenge or drug-induced mania is trending. Self-denial and confusion are a volatile mix for mass death.
The solution? Listening, really listening, and speaking in turn but with civility, strength, purpose, benevolence and, above all, rationality. This means knowing, understanding and loving the First, before the Second, Amendment. And this means hating — really having contempt for — those who seek to wipe it out and replace it with government control.
Friday night’s Frontline episode on Harvey Weinstein, titled “Weinstein”, adds to the discourse over the movie mogul’s downfall. This is an excellent program with a distinguished history in broadcast journalism. Unlike the New York Times, however, in this first serious televised report on the Harvey Weinstein assertions, Frontline reports primarily based on facts, not insinuation, uncorroborated claims and innuendo. Contrary to reports last fall in the Times and the New Yorker, Frontline reports with an abiding regard for proof. The upshot is that the episode demonstrates that Harvey Weinstein may be and probably is or has been predatory, vulgar and improper, though not conclusively guilty of sex crimes, which is pretty much what he’s said all along.
In fact, to this day, despite the air of inevitability perpetuated by anti-Hollywood conservatives and anti-male, anti-sex or anti-capitalist Puritans, feminists and others of all types since last fall, not a single criminal charge has been brought against Weinstein. Frontline‘s episode is flawed, though it is superior to most of what you’ve probably read.
The worst part of Friday night’s “Weinstein” episode is the appearance by an attorney general (New York’s) who literally just finished commandeering the sale of the private company Harvey Weinstein co-founded — itself an impropriety because the state should have nothing to do with economics — with The Weinstein Company’s proposed new owners. The attorney general’s actions amount to a multi-million dollar shakedown. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s participation as it aired on Friday night is a stain on Frontline‘s sterling reputation because the PBS program did not disclose his intervention in and threat to the company’s existence. This is a glaring mistake because, without the disclosure, the appearance makes no sense and conceals his conflict of interest; Schneiderman has every reason to gain from prejudging Harvey Weinstein as guilty in order to remake the company for political advancement. Frontline should note and disclose this inherent conflict, observing the zeal with which the Empire State attorney general conspired or sought to dictate whether and how The Weinstein Company operates. Future airings should correct this error and disclose the context.
But “Weinstein” deepens one’s grasp of the claims and circumstances beyond mere repetition of the most salacious claims. Patterns emerge. Three persons interviewed assert that Weinstein cried when presented with an assertion of sexual wrongdoing. This is significant because, whatever the truth of the claims, this response is consistent with known tactics or patterns associated with potentially intimidating or abusive behavior. In this sense, one gets a clearer picture of Harvey Weinstein and his toxic or damaged way of thinking, something more complicated than a social media phrase or few lines. If these assertions are true, he appears to be anguished and conflicted about being predatory. In the context of industry complicity, it’s easier to see why Weinstein never saw some of what he’s accused of doing as wrong.
This goes to the other strong point in Frontline‘s report. The preponderance of assertions, as presented, add up to a subculture which, by the speakers’ own admissions, is entirely permissive and accepting of a wide spectrum of sexual conduct in Hollywood. Time and again, Weinstein’s allegedly boorish behavior is accepted. Every sexual impropriety claimant on Friday’s Frontline appears to also claim that they successfully rejected the sexual assault or advance. Frontline rightly repeats several times that Weinstein was contacted for comment and refused to appear while also asserting through statements his version and innocence of any crime. Weinstein admits wrongdoing and apologizes, as he did last fall. He also denies key assertions.
Some claims have gaps or discrepancies as reported. One woman explained that she had been invited by Weinstein to attend a “screening”. It soon becomes clear that by “screening” she expected to attend a party or premiere, though she gave no indication that either was promised by Weinstein. Then, she admits that she consented to go to his hotel room. It goes on from there with the woman’s consent. As far as I can tell, Weinstein’s alleged transgression appears to be a vulgar and improper sexual advancement, which she apparently (by her admission) declined. Two women who worked with Weinstein on his first movie, The Burning, appear on “Weinstein” making similar claims. Both also describe rejecting the advances.
Nearly halfway into “Weinstein”, Frontline introduces a woman who claims she was wronged by Weinstein at the Cannes Film Festival who also says No to his advances. She says she got up and ran into the bathroom — she says Weinstein cried when she called out his crude behavior and said he cried that she didn’t like him “because he’s fat”. Blade Runner‘s Sean Young adds that she, too, was horrified by Weinstein’s alleged variation on the bathrobe-and-massage-request routine and adds that she turned him down flat. Young goes on to claim without substantiation that Weinstein and two other powerful Hollywood men ruined her career — she names only Weinstein, however — for rejecting sexual advances.
The women claiming sexual impropriety or misconduct settled out of court, declined to go to police or press charges and refused to talk to the media. But Frontline apparently didn’t ask why. But when, in turn, Harvey Weinstein points out that one claimant “never complained to anyone” — she says she told her agent about his impropriety, though her “agent denies that she told him” — and that she’s promoting a lawsuit against him, Frontline sidesteps the discrepancy, making reference to the volume of claims against Weinstein and citing a general industry agency apology.
So, there’s a contradiction in versions of what happened. However, taking the victims’ claims as fact, there’s no corroboration, evidence or proof. A couple of former Miramax executives appear, but neither addressed the facts of what happened, except to say that they had no direct knowledge of wrongdoing. One of them confesses that he thinks “we were all complicit” which supports Weinstein’s earlier quoted contention that Hollywood’s promiscuous sex culture contributed to his acting out. Of the guilt by implication associated with out of court settlements, which Frontline and most in the media apply exclusively to the accused, Weinstein responds to Frontline that, in 30 years of moviemaking, “there were less than 10 settlements and none of those women were precluded from going to police.”
That no one who’d settled ever did leads Frontline into the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), now a target of Time’s Up and Me, Too feminist movements lead by Disney’s Kathleen Kennedy, Anita Hill and Miss America’s Gretchen Carlson, all of whom seek a ban on NDAs. Frontline doesn’t examine government bans on consensual contracts, so the ranting against NDAs comes off as empty. Frontline‘s secondary sources, which include a person referred to as a “gossip writer” who admits accepting money to spike stories, include the model whose audio recording of Weinstein’s advances for New York police failed to persuade the district attorney to press charges. She apparently later accepted a million dollar settlement.
For his part, Harvey Weinstein comes off as the pathetic boor he’s widely accused of being. Though Frontline omits his initial statement of acknowledgement, wrongdoing and apology, which Harvey Weinstein made within hours of the New York Times’ unsubstantiated claims, it airs a clip of Weinstein apologizing for wrongdoing again after the first claims went wide. The New Yorker‘s Ronan Farrow appears in short, disparate clips making sweeping statements and assertions, oddly without emphasis on his own articles against Weinstein and without providing the context that Farrow has an interest in vilifying moviemakers over sexual impropriety claims.
Frontline interviews the New Yorker‘s Ken Auletta, who claims that he “could’ve nailed [Harvey Weinstein] in 2002 — the problem was I couldn’t prove it.”
Auletta’s choice of words are an admission of the media seeking to attack an individual without proof. Rather than ask why, Frontline lets Auletta do what he apparently considers his mea culpa but proving claims against Weinstein is a persistent problem which Frontline does not solve. Many of those who appear on camera, including those who have something to gain from denouncing Harvey Weinstein (and, in today’s lynch mob atmosphere, who doesn’t?) and his most hostile detractors, admit that they neither heard nor knew anything about sexual misconduct. For talk about how “everyone knew”, and it seems clear from this relatively sobering report that Hollywood, including the Walt Disney Company, which bought Miramax, had heard or knew about Harvey Weinstein’s vulgar behavior, neither evidence nor proof emerge in Frontline‘s “Weinstein”.
Except for a brief segment on the mogul’s origins in Buffalo as a concert promoter, Frontline skims and skips to his studio’s success in the 1990s, downplaying, but at least admitting or not denying, the scope of his artistic achievement. This is not how Bill Cosby was treated when he was widely and voluminously accused of what amounts to serial premeditated rape. Cosby’s career achievements were a cornerstone of reporting while Weinstein’s arguably more enduring legacy affords no such context and reporting. It is bad or flimsy to omit the fact of Harvey Weinstein’s exemplary record of making the best motion pictures. I find it interesting that media spectacles surrounding the downfalls of Cosby, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, O.J. Simpson and, more recently, Tom Petty, take great effort to consider the context of their alleged crimes and transgressions. Readers can judge for themselves what differentiates Harvey Weinstein from those other prominent persons, though the phrase “because I’m fat” and, I would add, Jewish and, in particular, creatively and commercially successful as a businessman, come to mind.
Frontline doesn’t evade Weinstein’s success or, worse, distort it to smear or prejudge him as guilty. Instead, in reporting what seems crucial to understanding and untangling the mess that Weinstein appears to have made, by his own admission, Frontline does what it does best; “Weinstein” accounts both for the victims’ impacts and varying versions of what happened. It gets to why and it pulls back for a bigger picture. Frontline can improve — a Vanity Fair writer claims without challenge or evidence that Weinstein “would ruin” anyone who spoke up — but its “Weinstein” is a start.
I was excited to happen upon the final scheduled tour stop of an exhibit titled “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” at Pittsburgh’s Heinz History Center in the strip district last week. I had seen the PBS documentary on Prohibition’s history, which is very good. With resurgent Puritanism in today’s Me, Too hysteria and emotional calls for government-controlled drugs and drug addiction treatment, I was ready for an account of how America had fallen for, and ultimately rejected, a band of hysterical women and preachers railing against consumption of alcohol.
The exhibit is clear, concise and comprehensive. It flows from an area designed to resemble a church in which the hysterical pleas, denunciations and propaganda of America’s thugs and religionists, and some were both, are excerpted and displayed to sections detailing passage of the Constitutional amendment to ban alcohol. The exhibit moves from there to a replicated speakeasy, followed by an area devoted to exploring the criminalization of alcohol and its impact, turning gangs, thugs and mobs into sources for pleasure, release and self-medication, and the Roosevelt administration’s push for total government control. “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” concludes with the triumphant effort to repeal the amendment and restore sanity, justice and individual rights to American law, reminding those of us opposed to the surveillance state, ObamaCare and the TSA that bad laws, contrary to the Trump administration’s pathetic excuses for not draining the swamp, have been and can be overturned. Repeal is part of our history.
Indeed, “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” demonstrates how. But it begins with an extensive display examining the very real problem of alcohol consumption in America at the turn of the previous century. The Industrial Revolution cannot be understated in terms of liberating and enlightening the world. By then, alcohol consumption was high; Americans were already drinking to excess. Accordingly, the most productive single period of history exacerbated the downsides of a magnificent leap in human progress. One of them is alcoholism. This exhibit tells the truth about what went on; like today’s rampant hedonism and drug abuse, drunkenness infected the young nation:
By 1830…[o]n average, Americans over the age of 15 were guzzling seven gallons of pure alcohol each year. This was the equivalent of 90 bottles of 80-proof liquor – or about four shots every day. Three times greater than current levels, it remains the highest measured volume of consumption in U.S. history. The consequences of this national binge would be severe.”
Enter the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which became a 250,000-women army led by Frances Willard whose wooden gavel with white ribbon, with white symbolizing purity, was used to run the group’s meetings. Exhibit materials report that religious denominations that forbade alcohol consumption, such as Baptists and Methodists, led the siege and, in 1893, in Oberlin, Ohio, the Anti-Saloon League (ASL), led entirely by Protestant ministers, was born. As with today’s Me, Too harridans, religionists exploited the problem and distorted facts, grafting themselves onto the scourge of alcoholism while leading a religious crusade for Puritanism in the American republic.
Again, “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” shows how. With an accelerated campaign of lies, smears and insinuations, fringe figures, such as WCTU chieftain Frances Willard, war veteran Richmond P. Hobson, who became an Alabama congressman, Democrat populist and Christian fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan, a Trump-like figure who’d testified against teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in the Scopes monkey trial and became Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of state, and the nation’s most famous religious evangelist, Reverend Billy Sunday, gained power through guilt and intimidation. Railing against the undeniable problem of alcohol consumption and public drunkenness, including fights, absent fathers and husbands and moral decline, they spoke, wrote and organized the campaign based on faith, half-truths, commandments and raw, unfiltered emotions. Reading their pledges, speeches and posters, it is clearly emotionalism. Americans took what they ranted on faith.
The religionists attacked private property. They indoctrinated youths with distortions of medical and scientific data in textbooks distributed through public schools. They invoked sobriety pledges. In fact, the WCTU succeeded in getting every state in the U.S. to require “temperance education in public schools”. The Woman’s Christian pressure group created a Department of Scientific Instruction which produced textbooks and instruction manuals and asked teachers to fill out report cards on how they encouraged temperance in their classrooms. A WCTU textbook, report card, and temperance lesson manual are on display in the exhibit, which reports that an estimated 50 percent of American schools carried the false and misleading religious propaganda. Scientists and doctors cited in the children’s textbooks altered the facts to suit Woman’s Christian Temperance Union dictates.
Visitors can read, listen and re-create excerpts from the anti-American speeches, including Reverend Billy Sunday’s 1916 “booze speech” (“The saloonkeeper is worse than a thief and a murderer…the saloon is an infidel”). A copy of the sermon with handwritten notes appears under his portrait, which hangs above the recreated wooden pulpit. Reverend Sunday believed that liquor was “God’s worst enemy” and “Hell’s best friend.” Willard invoked militant opposition to alcohol. William Jennings Bryan comes off as easily the most persuasive, reasonable evangelist, talking about the downsides of alcohol consumption and downplaying the hellfire and damnation in this particular excerpt. According to the exhibit, Bryan believed:
that Prohibition could improve the lives of ordinary Americans. He also was a supporter of the amendments to establish the income tax, provide for the direct election of senators, and grant the vote to women. Bryan ran for president three times on the Democratic ticket, but lost each time…Later, while serving as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, he lived out his temperance beliefs by serving grape juice instead of wine at formal functions.
Carrie Nation’s weapon to destroy private property
If Bryan was one of the more convincing Prohibition advocates, the most belligerent leader was a religious thug named Carrie Nation, who mostly went by ‘Carry Nation’ for publicity purposes. Beneath this crusading woman’s portrait, a glass case displays the oak and steel hatchet she wielded when she broke into a bar to smash a wall mirror during one of her infamous raids. On her picture, which shows the miserable-looking woman posed for battle, exhibitors report that:
Carrie Amelia Nation was six feet tall, with the biceps of a stevedore, the face of a prison warden, and the persistence of a toothache. Using these assets to promote her cause, Nation became famous when she strode into a saloon in Topeka, Kansas, and pulled out a hatchet, smashing all the bottles and the mirror behind the bar. Nation called her raids on saloons “hatchetations.”
The rest of “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” bears out the truth about America’s alcohol ban, though this central question of how a civilized nation elected to impose an applied, total government control on itself remains the most pressing, relevant and timely. This also makes the first section on pre-Prohibition quietly disturbing. As if to underscore this point, the exhibit in this area includes an iPad questionnaire to determine whether you’re what was then referred to as either a wet or a dry. By judging answers to questions about the proper role of government, for instance, including the emerging and rising welfare state, visitors might be surprised to see which side they end up on.
The “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” exhibition, which includes a full accounting of the horrors of this wicked law and its impact, from state-sponsored alcohol spies to the many Americans who died because the ban existed, is presented by the Bognar Family and sponsored by Robert J. and Bonnie Cindrich and Latasha Wilson Batch; with support from local government, the Heinz Endowments and Richard King Mellon Foundation. Pittsburgh is the last scheduled stop on the tour for this exhibit, which runs until June of this year. With a fresh dusting of snow after a winter storm, downtown Pittsburgh was wet, cold and icy during my stay at the Fairmont Pittsburgh, though the weather had warmed to the low forties by Saturday, so I took the bellman up on his suggestion to walk along Penn to Heinz History Center. It’s interesting that the city of bridges is the Prohibition exhibit’s last stop because Pittsburgh is packed with Catholics who drink … a lot. And they’re still saddled with Prohibition’s outrageous regulations.
“Pennsylvania was one of many states where it ultimately became harder to buy alcohol after Repeal than during the 1920s, thanks to laws and controls put in place in 1933,” the exhibit’s lead curator, Leslie Przybylek, told the museum’s communications director in an interview. “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” was originally curated by Daniel Okrent, a Pulitzer Prizefinalist and author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. These final months are the last call for an outstanding exhibition about an American injustice.
The author proves his thesis. It’s worth mentioning the book’s problems, however, which, in general, are to be found with works by most right-wing, libertarian intellectuals: the intended audience appears to be fellow libertarians and conservatives, so the assumed context of knowledge may not apply to the leftist, liberal or general reader. Also, given the dense material, certain sections are uneven. Barnett writes like the legal scholar he is, so the back and forth can be exhausting. And, as he did in our interview about ObamaCare, Barnett declines to name the correct moral premise of his argument.
With the republic urgently at stake, though, Our Republican Constitution is extremely informative and Randy Barnett makes a powerfully important case for activism in order to save the American republic. He accomplishes this by reducing multiple ideas, if circuitously, to the rights of the individual.
As he observes in the introduction:
At its core, this debate is about the meaning of the first three words of the Constitution: “We the People.” those who favor the Democratic Constitution view We the People as a group, as a body, as a collective entity. Those who favor the Republican Constitution view We the People as individuals.”
From here, incorporating the ideas of John Locke, Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Barnett tells stories based on facts, quotes and history, of American government in decline, from major mistakes during the nation’s founding to the suspicious Supreme Court decision to uphold ObamaCare, in which he notes that “it was reliably reported” that the nation’s Chief Justice—conservative John Roberts—switched his vote on the individual insurance mandate, possibly due to intimidation.
The central conflict in Our Republican Constitution is between these two opposing views, the Democratic Constitution—”first comes government, then come rights”—tied to Rousseau’s notion of the General Will, which Barnett eviscerates, and the premise of the Republican Constitution: “first come rights and then comes government.” After outlining his case with ample historical sourcing and documentary evidence, the author sets it up, asking the reader: “Were the founders really against democracy? You bet. They blamed the problems in the states under the Articles of Confederation on an excess of democracy.”
Differentiating between both sides’ views of popular sovereignty, which he acknowledges are both consistent with the idea of representative government, Barnett breaks down the story of slavery in the United States, which he develops throughout the book. He points out that Democrats defended slavery as a form of socialism, as against capitalism, because, Democrats argued, slaves are cared for from cradle to grave. He digs into details and aspects of whether, “given the sovereignty of the people as individuals, the people cannot be ‘presumed’ or ‘supposed’ to have confided in their legislature any power to violate their fundamental rights.” The answer is No.
Not according to Democrats, of course, who believe that a majority of the people gets to speak for everyone (President Martin Van Buren’s idea of democracy, he writes, was close to Rousseau’s: “He ‘seems to have conceived of the democracy almost as a unified body with a single true will’). Barnett adds: “And the majority, if it wishes, can even authorize the enslavement of the minority!”
Along the journey, which is in turns jaw-dropping, illuminating and, given today’s political context, terribly depressing, the reader learns about an Ohio senator who, in 1854, demanded to know “[w]hat kind of popular sovereignty is that which allows one portion of the people to enslave another portion? Is that the doctrine of equal rights? Is that exact justice? Is that the teaching of enlightened, liberal, progressive Democracy? No, sir; no! There can be no real democracy which does not fully maintain the rights of man, as man.” Or that the Civil Rights act of 1866 granted that:
citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude…shall have the same right…to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens…any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, to the contrary notwithstanding.
Midway through Our Republican Constitution, it is evident that that’s not the civil rights act that today’s students learn about in state-controlled U.S. history classes (to the extent American history is taught in government schools) and the state of the union today might be very different, which is to say better, if they did!
Piling on shocking tales of early American acts of anti-capitalism, Barnett goes on. Democratic Constitution proponents include Democrats, Rousseau and Oliver Wendell Holmes, whom Barnett demonstrates believed that “if there exists anyone who is rational and fair who thinks that a measure is constitutional, then it is.” Other arch-opponents to a republican Constitution were Woodrow Wilson, who sought to subject America to parliamentary rule, and Theodore Roosevelt who once said of the judiciary: “our prime concern is that in dealing with the fundamental law of the land, and assuming finally to interpret it, and therefore finally to make it, the acts of the courts should be subject to and not above the final control of the people as a whole.”
After establishing the arguments for and against and setting the contrast, the Georgetown University professor sums up the cold, hard truth that America’s “system of voting does not [in fact] allow the sovereign people to ‘rule,’ and it is a pernicious myth to claim that they do.”
Though he never fundamentally, philosophically challenges “the social compact” or General Will, it’s easy to apply the detailed, persuasive points of Barnett’s thesis to today’s ominous possibilities. The prospect of Donald Trump‘s proposed strongman rule comes to mind as Barnett quotes Montesquieu, who explained that: “There is no liberty if the judiciary power be not separated from the legislative and executive. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control; for the judge would be then the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with violence and oppression.”
Barnett delivers a good explanation of the rise of the omnipotent state, closing the loop with an excellent summary and warning from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas:
we have too long abrogated our duty to enforce the separation of powers required by our Constitution. We have overseen and sanctioned the growth of an administrative system that concentrates the power to make laws and the power to enforce them in the hands of a vast and unaccountable administrative apparatus that finds no comfortable home in our constitutional structure. The end result may be trains that run on time (although I doubt it), but the cost is to our Constitution and the individual liberty it protects.”
To his credit, Barnett, who has written several Constitutional volumes and whose new book includes a foreword by George Will, is aware that this thoughtful, timely and intelligent book isn’t exactly what you’d buy for reading at the beach—after one section, he admits that “perhaps you had difficulty even following it”—but he doesn’t identify the ends where we’re heading, merely referring to “whatever progressive political agenda may be at any given time”. Our Republican Constitution would benefit from stronger connecting of the dots, as Barnett himself seems to grasp. For instance, perhaps sensing that an outright socialist such as Bernie Sanders might follow the disaster of a Trump or Clinton presidency, he rightly observes that “[f]or our modern-day progressives, what matters is the end, not the means. Social justice, not democracy.”
Though he does not spell out what this really means in practice, let alone demonstrate why socialism is evil, a chronic libertarian deficiency, and in the following chapter, he magnifies the minutiae, Randy Barnett leaves the reader with an abundance of historical facts and useful intellectual weapons with which to fight for Our Republican Constitution, all but daring the reader to use it or lose it with the words of President Calvin Coolidge: “We live in an age of science and abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them.”
And, while his defense manual for “securing the liberty and sovereignty of We the People” was undoubtedly written before the rise of the orange-haired, state-bred crony and the impending end of the Republican Party, Barnett clearly anticipates danger ahead. Referring to Coolidge’s above quote on freedom as the precondition for progress, Barnett boldly concludes that “we need a Republican Party that can say this, understand this, and truly believe this once again – and, if not the existing Republican Party, then a new one to replace it.”
With an index, extensive notes and a poignant acknowledgment of his father, a victim of Alzheimer’s—”this book is dedicated to the memory of the man who had the greatest influence on my political convictions: my father and personal hero, Ronald Evan Barnett — who was a true “Republican” as I am defining the term”—Our Republican Constitution is a thoughtful Father’s Day present and an eye-opening self-defense for the rational American which offers historical enlightenment about America’s true origins.
Today’s edition of the New York Times reports that if Apple is forced by the Obama administration to make a government-dictated operating system, its key employees and software engineers may quit the company (read the article here). Apple refused comment for the article in the Times, which often sides with the Obama administration and rarely risks incurring the government’s wrath.
Will Atlas shrug? That’s what Lavabit, a company cited in the Times piece which was also ordered by the Obama administration to act against Lavabit’s rights and self-interest, did when its founder chose to exterminate his company rather than submit to statist oppression. Apple, led by heroic CEO Tim Cook, is challenging the United States government in a court battle which may end up in the Supreme Court (read about Apple’s case here).
Whatever Apple workers choose to do if and when faced with the threat of force by the FBI, this report should be seen as part of the epic contest between Apple and the U.S. government. The Democratic Party’s leading candidate for president and presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton, presumably would mimic the unconstitutional policy of Barack Obama, who went before SXSW last week to impose unearned guilt and shame on Apple and its customers, whom he complained “fetishize their cell phones” at the expense of national defense. Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, running as a Republican, supports the Obama administration and opposes the rights of Apple, which Trump said he would “boycott”. Unfortunately, Texas Senator Ted Cruz also rejects Apple’s argument, though not as unequivocally as Clinton and Trump.
Apple, however, is unyielding in the commitment to its products, customers and rights and is winning the argument, gaining support from Silicon Valley businesses such as Google, Twitter and Microsoft, key policy groups such as the Cato Institute and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Rep. Justin Amash, a leading opponent of Obama’s surveillance statism. In a recent judicial filing, Apple rightly argued that America’s founders “would be appalled” by Obama’s dictate. Tim Cook told ABC News in an interview that Apple’s defiance against the order is a “matter of principle”.
That may also be true for Apple’s men of the mind, according to the report. Will Obama force Apple employees to work under executive order in their current positions and effectively seize operational control and nationalize the Cupertino, California-based company? Do not be surprised if he does—and count on the fact that Trump, whose candidacy is predicated on the promise to use physical force against the individual at his whim, will not hesitate to do the same or worse. The same goes for Hillary Clinton, who once proposed outlawing divorce for couples with children. The notion that Americans may again be physically forced by the government to work—slavery—is a distinct possibility. As the terrible Obama presidency comes to a climactic end, and the reality of a more diabolical presidency looms, the thinking man knows that tyranny not only can happen here—it is, in fact, happening here and now.
Whether Apple in whatever form goes on strike may prove crucial in this major battle between America’s worst big government and America’s best big business. In this sense, what the state does to Apple—and what Apple does in its self-defense—foretells America’s immediate future.
I did not fully appreciate the heroism of Apple’s principled stand against the state until I watched the full, extended interview with CEO Tim Cook (watch it here).
Though ABC News should have disclosed its parent company Disney’s historically close relationship with Apple and the interviewer’s questions are generally slanted toward Obama’s administration or uninformed and often hostile, with no regard for individual rights, the interview only underscores Mr. Cook’s outstanding communication skills. He’s unequivocal, he answers each question, raising the stakes here and there and challenging the interviewer. It’s apparent from the interview that Apple, its leadership and Mr. Cook, who persistently and powerfully emphasizes that Apple’s refusal to comply with the government’s order to make new software in violation of Apple’s and its customer’s rights is a stand on principle, has studied, examined and contemplated the deepest issues and context of the false dichotomy between national defense and individual liberty. Tim Cook concisely, slowly and fundamentally gives Apple’s position clarity. One may dispute a word choice or phrasing but I can’t recall another recent example of a businessman so prominently, bravely and historically refusing to be persecuted by the state.
Bravo to Tim Cook for standing up for individual rights—his company’s and his customer’s—and to Apple for earning its status as the greatest American business. Whatever the outcome in this climactic conflict between the inalienable rights of the individual and the ominous role of the American state (read my thoughts on “Apple vs. the State“), the fact is that, while presidential candidates rage against Big Business and fraudulently pose as rebels for positive reform, a big business in California led by one man honors the proud American practice—from the Boston Tea Party to Rosa Parks and Edward Snowden—of rebelling against the omnipotent state and fighting for one’s rights.