I have written several postings related to Various topics including the military, Voting, the economy, religion and etc in America. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address additional issues in these topics.
Table of Contents
-What is HR 127? It’s Worse Than You Think
– Would Mass Student Loan Forgiveness Result In A Tax Nightmare For Borrowers?
– Who is Ron Klain, Joe Biden’s new White House chief of staff?
– The Intellectual Foundations of Cultural Decline: An Inquiry
– Our Divided Country
– Should the United States Return to a Gold Standard?
– Ron Klain: What to know about Biden’s chief of staff
I have been working on this blog since June of 2020, and I have posted over 250 articles in this time. I also have 7 listings which include short postings that I have made on Facebook and other social media sites. At one time I thought I would run out of topics to write about, however ideas keep popping up. There are so many topics , that I have even posted extra articles in the last few weeks, and now I find myself contemplating on writing an article discussing multiple topics. Many of these topics just don’t warrant a full length discussion and analysis, so they will be covered in this my Randy’s musings 2.0.
To help the reader to understand what is being done to take away are 2nd Amendment rights, I have included the most recent bill in its entirety below. I have discussed this subject in passing in several of my postings. I am sure that I will devote an article to the subject in the near future, as the attack becomes more fervid.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the “Sabika Sheikh Firearm Licensing and Registration Act”.
SEC. 2. LICENSING OF FIREARM AND AMMUNITION POSSESSION; REGISTRATION OF FIREARMS.
(a) Firearm Licensing And Registration System.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—Chapter 44 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
“§ 932. Licensing of firearm and ammunition possession; registration of firearms
“(a) In General.—The Attorney General, through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, shall establish a system for licensing the possession of firearms or ammunition in the United States, and for the registration with the Bureau of each firearm present in the United States.
“(b) Firearm Registration System.—
“(1) REQUIRED INFORMATION.—Under the firearm registration system, the owner of a firearm shall transmit to the Bureau—
“(A) the make, model, and serial number of the firearm, the identity of the owner of the firearm, the date the firearm was acquired by the owner, and where the firearm is or will be stored; and
“(B) a notice specifying the identity of any person to whom, and any period of time during which, the firearm will be loaned to the person.
“(2) DEADLINE FOR SUPPLYING INFORMATION.—The transmission required by paragraph (1) shall be made—
“(A) in the case of a firearm acquired before the effective date of this section, within 3 months after the effective date of this section; or
“(B) in the case of a firearm acquired on or after the effective date, on the date the owner acquires the firearm.
“(A) IN GENERAL.—The Attorney General shall establish and maintain a database of all firearms registered pursuant to this subsection.
“(B) ACCESS.—The Attorney General shall make the contents of the database accessible to all members of the public, all Federal, State, and local law enforcement authorities, all branches of the United States Armed Forces, and all State and local governments, as defined by the Bureau.
“(c) Licensing System.—
“(A) GENERAL LICENSE.—Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, the Attorney General shall issue to an individual a license to possess a firearm and ammunition if the individual—
“(i) has attained 21 years of age;
“(ii) after applying for the license—
“(I) undergoes a criminal background check conducted by the national instant criminal background check system established under section 103 of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, and the check does not indicate that possession of a firearm by the individual would violate subsection (g) or (n) of section 922 or State law;
“(II) undergoes a psychological evaluation conducted in accordance with paragraph (2), and the evaluation does not indicate that the individual is psychologically unsuited to possess a firearm; and
“(III) successfully completes a training course, certified by the Attorney General, in the use, safety, and storage of firearms, that includes at least 24 hours of training; and
“(iii) demonstrates that, on issuance of the license, the individual will have in effect an insurance policy issued under subsection (d).
“(B) ANTIQUE FIREARM DISPLAY LICENSE.—The Attorney General shall issue to an individual a license to display an antique firearm in a residence of the individual if the individual—
“(i) is the holder of a license issued under subparagraph (A);
“(ii) supplies proof that the individual owns an antique firearm;
“(iii) describes the manner in which the firearm will be displayed in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Attorney General, and certifies that the firearm will be so displayed; and
“(iv) demonstrates that the individual has provided for storage of the firearm in a safe or facility approved by the Attorney General for the storage of firearms.
“(C) MILITARY-STYLE WEAPONS LICENSE.—The Attorney General shall issue to an individual a license to own and possess a military-style weapon if the individual—
“(i) is the holder of a license issued under subparagraph (A); and
“(ii) after applying for a license under this subparagraph, successfully completes a training course, certified by the Attorney General, in the use, safety, and storage of the weapon, that includes at least 24 hours of training and live fire training.
“(2) PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION.—A psychological evaluation is conducted in accordance with this paragraph if—
“(A) the evaluation is conducted in compliance with such standards as shall be established by the Attorney General;
“(B) the evaluation is conducted by a licensed psychologist approved by the Attorney General;
“(C) as deemed necessary by the licensed psychologist involved, the evaluation included a psychological evaluation of other members of the household in which the individual resides; and
“(D) as part of the psychological evaluation, the licensed psychologist interviewed any spouse of the individual, any former spouse of the individual, and at least 2 other persons who are a member of the family of, or an associate of, the individual to further determine the state of the mental, emotional, and relational stability of the individual in relation to firearms.
“(3) DENIAL OF LICENSE.—
“(A) REQUIRED.—The Attorney General shall deny such a license to an individual if—
“(i) the individual is prohibited by Federal law from possessing a firearm; or
“(ii) the individual has been hospitalized—
“(I) with a mental illness, disturbance, or diagnosis (including depression, homicidal ideation, suicidal ideation, attempted suicide, or addiction to a controlled substance (within the meaning of the Controlled Substances Act) or alcohol), or a brain disease (including dementia or Alzheimer’s); or
“(II) on account of conduct that endangers self or others.
“(B) AUTHORIZED.—The Attorney General may deny such a license to an individual if—
“(i) the psychological evaluation referred to in paragraph (2) indicates that the individual—
“(I) has a chronic mental illness or disturbance, or a brain disease, referred to in subparagraph (A)(ii)(I);
“(II) is addicted to a controlled substance (within the meaning of the Controlled Substances Act) or alcohol; or
“(III) has attempted to commit suicide; or
“(ii) prior psychological treatment or evaluation of the individual indicated that the individual engaged in conduct that posed a danger to self or others.
“(4) SUSPENSION OF LICENSE.—
“(A) IN GENERAL.—A license issued under this subsection to an individual who is under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year is hereby suspended.
“(B) AUTHORIZED FOR LACK OF FIREARM INSURANCE.—The Attorney General may suspend a license issued under this subsection to an individual who has violated section 922(dd) in the most recent 12-month period.
“(5) REVOCATION OF LICENSE.—A license issued under this subsection to an individual who is or becomes prohibited by Federal or State law from possessing a firearm is hereby revoked. Such an individual shall immediately return the license, and surrender all firearms and ammunition owned or possessed by the individual, to the Attorney General.
“(6) EXPIRATION OF LICENSE.—A license issued to an individual under this subsection shall expire—
“(A) in the case of a license that has been in effect for less than 5 years, 1 year after issuance or renewal, as the case may be; or
“(B) in the case of a license that has been in effect for at least 5 years, 3 years after the most recent date the license is renewed.
“(7) RENEWAL OF LICENSE.—The Attorney General shall renew a license issued to an individual under this subsection if the individual—
“(A) requests the renewal by the end of the 60-day period that begins with the date the license expires;
“(B) in the 3-year period ending with the date the renewal is requested—
“(i) has met the requirement of paragraph (1)(A)(ii)(II); and
“(ii) has successfully completed a training course, certified by the Attorney General, in the use, safety, and storage of firearms, that includes at least 8 hours of training;
“(C) meets the requirement of paragraph (1)(A)(iii); and
“(D) in the case of a license issued under paragraph (1)(C), in the 2-year period ending with the date the renewal is requested, has successfully completed a training course, certified by the Attorney General, that includes at least 8 hours of training in the use of the weapon subject to the license.
“(d) Firearm Insurance.—
“(1) IN GENERAL.—The Attorney General shall issue to any person who has applied for a license pursuant to subsection (c) and has paid to the Attorney General the fee specified in paragraph (2) of this subsection a policy that insures the person against liability for losses and damages resulting from the use of any firearm by the person during the 1-year period that begins with the date the policy is issued.
“(2) FEE.—The fee specified in this paragraph is $800.”.
(2) MILITARY-STYLE WEAPON DEFINED.—Section 921(a) of such title is amended by inserting after paragraph (29) the following:
“(30) The term ‘military-style weapon’ means—
“(A) any of the firearms, or copies or duplicates of the firearms in any caliber, known as—
“(i) Norinco, Mitchell, and Poly Technologies Avtomat Kalashnikovs (all models);
“(ii) Action Arms Israeli Military Industries UZI and Galil;
“(iii) Beretta Ar70 (SC–70);
“(iv) Colt AR–15;
“(v) Fabrique National FN/FAL, FN/LAR, and FNC;
“(vi) SWD M–10, M–11, M–11/9, and M–12;
“(vii) Steyr AUG;
“(viii) INTRATEC TEC–9, TEC–DC9 and TEC–22; and
“(ix) revolving cylinder shotguns, such as (or similar to) the Street Sweeper and Striker 12;
“(B) a semiautomatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of—
“(i) a folding or telescoping stock;
“(ii) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
“(iii) a bayonet mount;
“(iv) a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor; and
“(v) a grenade launcher;
“(C) a semiautomatic pistol that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of—
“(i) an ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip;
“(ii) a threaded barrel capable of accepting a barrel extender, flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer;
“(iii) a shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel and that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the nontrigger hand without being burned;
“(iv) a manufactured weight of 50 ounces or more when the pistol is unloaded; and
“(v) a semiautomatic version of an automatic firearm; and
“(D) a semiautomatic shotgun that has at least 2 of—
“(i) a folding or telescoping stock;
“(ii) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
“(iii) a fixed magazine capacity in excess of 5 rounds; and
“(iv) an ability to accept a detachable magazine.”.
(3) CLERICAL AMENDMENT.—The table of sections for such chapter is amended by adding at the end the following:
“932. Licensing of firearm and ammunition possession; registration of firearms.”.
(4) DEADLINE FOR ESTABLISHMENT.—Within 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Attorney General shall prescribe final regulations to implement the amendments made by this subsection.
(b) Prohibitions; Penalties.—
(1) PROHIBITIONS.—Section 922 of such title is amended by adding at the end the following:
“(aa) It shall be unlawful for a person to possess a firearm or ammunition, unless—
“(1) the person is carrying a valid license issued under section 932(c)(1); and
“(2)(A) in the case of a firearm owned by the person, the firearm is registered to the person under section 932(b); or
“(B) in the case of a firearm owned by another person—
“(i) the firearm is so registered to such other person; and
“(ii) such other person has notified the Attorney General that the firearm has been loaned to the person, and the possession is during the loan period specified in the notice.
“(bb)(1) It shall be unlawful for a person to transfer a firearm or ammunition to a person who is not licensed under section 932(c)(1).
“(2) It shall be unlawful for a person to sell or give a firearm or ammunition to another person unless the person has notified the Attorney General of the sale or gift.
“(3) It shall be unlawful for a person to loan a firearm or ammunition to another person unless the person has notified the Attorney General of the loan, including the identity of such other person and the period for which the loan is made.
“(4) It shall be unlawful for a person holding a valid license issued under section 932(c)(1) to transfer a firearm to an individual who has not attained 18 years of age.
“(cc) A person who possesses a firearm or to whom a license is issued under section 932(c)(1) shall have in effect an insurance policy issued under section 932(d).”.
(2) PENALTIES.—Section 924(a) of such title is amended by adding at the end the following:
“(8) Whoever knowingly violates section 922(aa) shall be fined not less than $75,000 and not more than $150,000, imprisoned not less than 15 years and not more than 25 years, or both.
“(9)(A) Whoever knowingly violates section 922(bb)(1) shall be fined not less than $50,000 and not more than $75,000, imprisoned not less than 10 years and not more than 15 years, or both.
“(B) Whoever knowingly violates section 922(bb)(2) shall be fined not less than $30,000 and not more than $50,000, imprisoned not less than 5 years and not more than 10 years, or both.
“(C) Whoever knowingly violates section 922(bb)(3) shall be fined not less than $5,000 and not more than $10,000.
“(D) Whoever knowingly violates section 922(bb)(4) shall be fined not less than $75,000 and not more than $100,000, imprisoned not less than 15 years and not more than 25 years, or both, except that if the transferee of the firearm possess or uses the firearm during or in relation to a crime, an unintentional shooting, or suicide, the transferor shall be fined not less than $100,000 and not more than $150,000, imprisoned not less than 25 years and not more than 40 years, or both.
“(10) Whoever knowingly violates section 922(cc) shall be fined not less than $50,000 and not more than $100,000, imprisoned not less than 10 years and not more than 20 years, or both.”.
(3) CONFORMING AMENDMENTS.—
(A) ELIMINATION OF PROHIBITION ON ESTABLISHMENT OF CENTRALIZED FIREARM REGISTRATION SYSTEM.—Section 926(a) of such title is amended by striking the 2nd sentence.
(B) APPLICABILITY TO GOVERNMENTAL AND MILITARY FIREARMS AND AMMUNITION.—Section 925(a) of such title is amended in each of paragraphs (1) and (2), by inserting “and except for section 932,” after the 2nd comma.
(4) EFFECTIVE DATE.—The amendments made by this subsection shall take effect on the date final regulations are prescribed under subsection (a)(4).
SEC. 3. PROHIBITION ON POSSESSION OF CERTAIN AMMUNITION.
(a) In General.—Section 922 of title 18, United States Code, as amended by section 2 of this Act, is amended by adding at the end the following:
“(dd)(1) It shall be unlawful for any person to possess ammunition that is 0.50 caliber or greater.
“(2)(A) It shall be unlawful for any person to possess a large capacity ammunition feeding device.
“(B) Subparagraph (A) shall not apply to—
“(i) the manufacture for, or possession by, the United States or a department or agency of the United States or a State or a department, agency, or political subdivision of a State, or the possession by a law enforcement officer employed by such an entity for purposes of law enforcement (whether on or off duty);
“(ii) the possession by an employee or contractor of a licensee under title I of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 on-site for purposes of establishing and maintaining an on-site physical protection system and security organization required by Federal law, or off-site for purposes of licensee-authorized training or transportation of nuclear materials;
“(iii) the manufacture or possession by a licensed manufacturer or licensed importer for the purposes of testing or experimentation authorized by the Attorney General; or
“(iv) the manufacture for, or possession by, an organization that provides firearm training and that is registered with the Attorney General, or the possession by an individual to whom such an organization is providing firearm training during and at the location of the training.”.
(b) Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Defined.—Section 921(a) of such title, as amended by section 1 of this Act, is amended by inserting after paragraph (30) the following:
“(31) The term ‘large capacity ammunition feeding device’ means a magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device that has a capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition, but does not include an attached tubular device designed to accept, and capable of operating only with, .22 caliber rimfire ammunition.”.
(c) Penalties.—Section 924(a) of such title, as amended by section 2 of this Act, is amended by adding at the end the following:
“(11)(A) Whoever knowingly violates section 922(dd)(1) shall be fined not less than $50,000 and not more than $100,000, imprisoned not less than 10 years and not more than 20 years, or both.
“(B) Whoever knowingly violates section 922(dd)(2) shall be fined not less than $10,000 and not more than $25,000, imprisoned not less than 1 year and not more than 5 years, or both.”.
Would Mass Student Loan Forgiveness Result In A Tax Nightmare For Borrowers?
As President Biden continues working on his transition, advocates for student loan borrowers are pressing him to enact broad student loan forgiveness as one of his early acts — even if it means bypassing Congress.
“Student loan debt is holding back a whole generation from buying homes, starting small businesses, and saving for retirement – all things we rely on to grow our economy,” said Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a strong proponent of broad student loan forgiveness. “Executive action to cancel student debt would be a huge economic stimulus during and after this crisis.” Warren has called for up to $50,000 in student loan forgiveness for every borrower.
“We agree,” said the Project on Predatory Student Lending in a Tweet in response to Warren, calling on Biden to “cancel billions” in federal student loan debt “on day one” through an executive order.
“The Biden-Harris ticket campaigned on meaningful student debt relief,” said Student Debt Crisis in a statement last week. “We’re looking forward to partnering with the Biden Administration to deliver not only the reforms included in their platform, but to push for even more sweeping reform – including debt cancellation for all borrowers.”
Biden has so far declined to say whether he would pursue broad student loan forgiveness through executive action.
But critics of mass student loan forgiveness have questioned the legality of enacting sweeping debt cancellation without Congressional involvement. And they point to a potentially serious downside — the possible taxability of student loan forgiveness. Could borrowers be facing a tax nightmare if their student loans are forgiven?
Debt Cancellation Is Often Taxable, But Not Always
The issue is that debt cancellation — including partial cancellation — can come back to the borrower as taxable “income.” In other words, the debtor or borrower may have to pay income taxes on the balance of the cancelled debt, as if they “earned” it in income. Borrowers in these situations still often come out ahead in that they would pay significantly less overall by getting their debt cancelled than they otherwise would through its full repayment, even with the tax bill. But because the cancelled debt can be a taxable event, borrowers could owe substantial taxes, which would be due all at once. And if the borrower doesn’t pay immediately by the tax deadline, there can be substantial penalties.
By way of example, let’s say a borrower has $75,000 in outstanding debt. And $50,000 of that debt gets cancelled or waived. If that $50,000 gets taxed as “income,” the actual tax cost to the borrower would depend on a variety of factors including the tax bracket that the borrower falls into, and whether there is a state income tax. But assuming an overall effective tax rate of 30%, the borrower in this example may have to pay $15,000 in taxes. This is far cheaper than paying off the $50,000 balance in full, particularly if it would have been paid in installments over time with interest. But coming up with $15,000 all at once could prove challenging for some borrowers, and impossible for many.
The IRS does have exemptions that allow borrowers in certain situations to avoid any tax liability on cancelled debt. For example, there is a carve-out for borrowers who get their student loans forgiven through Public Service Loan Forgiveness and other profession-based student loan forgiveness programs, and for borrowers who obtain student loan forgiveness due to a disability. Borrowers can also claim insolvency if their total debts exceed their total assets at the time that a debt is cancelled (this often requires that borrowers complete additional paperwork with their tax return).
Broad student loan forgiveness does not necessarily fall cleanly within these exceptions, however. Congress could pass legislation that specifically exempts mass cancellation of student debt from taxation, but if Biden would be acting unilaterally to cancel student debt via executive order, he is unlikely to be getting Congressional support. Critics of mass student debt forgiveness are thus worried about the possible tax implications.
Student Loan Forgiveness Proponents Argue Against Taxation
Advocates for student loan borrowers suggest that critics’ concerns are overblown, and that broad student loan forgiveness does not have to result in a tax nightmare for borrowers.
Proponents argue that both the U.S. Department of Education and the IRS have some discretion about the tax treatment of cancelled debts. Consumer advocates point to the Borrower Defense to Repayment program, which provides student loan forgiveness to borrowers who can show they were defrauded by their schools. Student loan forgiveness through this program is not treated as a taxable event, despite the fact that it does not clearly fall within one of the exemptions in the tax code. The IRS made a discretionary decision to assume that most borrowers getting their student loans cancelled via that program would likely be insolvent, and thus fall within the insolvency exemption, or they would otherwise have had a legal defense to repayment based on fraud or misrepresentation. Supporters of broad student loan forgiveness argue that federal agencies could make a similar generalized determination, particularly if student loan forgiveness is restricted or means-tested based on the borrower’s income or financial hardship status.
Some advocates also argue that mass student loan forgiveness in response to the COVID-19 pandemic could be characterized as a “disaster relief payment” under the IRS code. A “disaster relief payment” is “any amount paid to or for the benefit of an individual to reimburse or pay reasonable and necessary personal, family, living, or funeral expenses incurred as a result of a qualified disaster.” Such payments would not be taxable.
In addition, the government could characterize broad student loan forgiveness as a program for “general welfare,” which the IRS defines as, “Payments made under social benefit programs for promotion of general welfare.” Such payments “are excludable from gross income under a concept known as the general welfare doctrine,” and therefore are not generally taxable. It might be a stretch to argue that this doctrine applies if Congress does not expressly establish student loan forgiveness as a general welfare program, but the Biden administration could point to the broad authority granted by the Higher Education Act to modify or compromise federal student loans.
The easiest way to avoid a student loan forgiveness tax nightmare for borrowers would be for Congress to pass legislation that expressly exempts broad cancellation of student debt from taxation. If that does not happen, and Biden goes forward with an executive order to cancel student debt (something that is far from guaranteed at this point), his administration would likely have some viable legal arguments to exempt it from taxation.
However, these legal theories have never really been challenged or tested in court in the context of mass student loan forgiveness. If Biden does wind up issuing an executive order to cancel student loans, and that executive action is challenged through litigation, it may ultimately be up to the courts to decide whether or not student loan borrowers will be hit with massive tax bills.
Who is Ron Klain, Joe Biden’s new White House chief of staff?
President-elect Joe Biden’s choice of Ron Klain as his White House chief of staff signals a homecoming, as both men have worked together for more than three decades. Klain, 59, has experience as a senior adviser to Democratic presidents, vice presidents, candidates and senators, The Washington Post reported. His appointment marks a political homecoming since Klain served in the late 1980s as a top aide to Biden when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and ran Biden’s office when he first became vice president.
“Ron has been invaluable to me over the many years that we have worked together, including as we rescued the American economy from one of the worst downturns in our history in 2009 and later overcame a daunting public health emergency in 2014,” Biden said in a statement. “His deep, varied experience and capacity to work with people all across the political spectrum is precisely what I need in a White House chief of staff as we confront this moment of crisis and bring our country together again.”
“It’s the honor of a lifetime to serve President-elect Biden in this role, and I am humbled by his confidence,” Klain said in a statement. “I look forward to helping him and the Vice President-elect assemble a talented and diverse team to work in the White House, as we tackle their ambitious agenda.”
Klain has a long history in Washington, working behind the scenes during the Ebola outbreak and was involved in the Senate confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas in 1991.
“This town is brimming with smart people and high school valedictorians,” Jared Bernstein, an economic adviser to Biden when he was vice president, told the Post. “Ron brings something extra to the table, which is an ability to quickly process complex, conflicting streams of information and zero in on the optimal solution.”
A 1987 graduate of Harvard Law School in 1987, Klain was the editor of the Harvard Law Review, CNN reported. He later served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Byron R. “Whizzer” White.
Klain was appointed by then-Sen. Biden to serve as chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1989 to 1992.
He worked with President Bill Clinton in several different roles, including the chief of staff for Vice President Al Gore, CNN reported.
Klain also worked for Gore during his failed presidential bid in 2000 and served as general counsel in Florida during Gore’s recount effort, CNN reported. Actor Kevin Spacey played him in the 2008 movie “Recount,” according to the Post.
“People frequently tell me that I should ‘get over’ the 2000 election and the recount,” Klain tweeted in 2019. “I haven’t, and I don’t think I ever will.”
Klain also served as a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton during her 2016 campaign and focused on preparing the candidate for the debates during the campaign.
Klain also worked on debate preparations for Bill Clinton in 1992 and Gore in 2000, and he has led the debate prep for John Kerry, Barack Obama and Biden.
Klain was an adviser on Biden’s unsuccessful 1988 and 2008 presidential campaigns, NPR reported.
“He is the logical choice and brings the complete package — universally acknowledged ability, a broad range of experience, chemistry with the president-elect — and he is a strategic thinker that brings results,” Pete Rouse, a top aide to Obama, told the Post.
Klain is known for his sharp wit and steady nerves and has frequently been a critic of President Donald Trump on Twitter, The New York Times reported.
Klain directed much of his criticism at Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. A video of Klain lecturing Trump about the pandemic was widely viewed during this year’s presidential campaign, the Times reported.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, praised Klain on Twitter, calling him “a superb choice.” Warren added that Klain “understands the magnitude of the health and economic crisis and he has the experience to lead this next administration through it.”
Klain served on the executive council of TechNet — a firm that promotes the interests of Silicon Valley’s tech corporations in Washington, D.C. Klain served on the council alongside executives from the Oracle Corporation, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Google, Visa, Apple, and Microsoft. TechNet, most recently, joined a lawsuit against President Trump’s reforms to the H-1B visa program that sought to prioritize unemployed Americans for jobs rather than allowing businesses to continue importing foreign workers.
Trump’s seeking to force businesses to hire Americans over importing foreign visa workers is an affront to Silicon Valley’s tech corporations, those represented by TechNet, who advocate for an endless flow of H-1B foreign visa workers.
There are about 650,000 H-1B visa workers in the U.S. at any given moment. Americans are often laid off and forced to train their foreign replacements, as highlighted by Breitbart News. More than 85,000 Americans annually potentially lose their jobs to foreign labor through the H-1B visa program.
Analysis conducted in 2018 discovered that 71 percent of tech workers in Silicon Valley, California, are foreign-born, while the tech industry in the San Francisco, Oakland, and Hayward area is made up of 50 percent foreign-born tech workers. Up to 99 percent of H-1B visa workers imported by the top eight outsourcing firms are from India.
TechNet’s listed immigration goals include allowing corporations to dictate the annual level of legal immigration to the United States and the elimination of per-country caps that would effectively let India and China monopolize the U.S. green card system.
The group’s goals on trade are in direct opposition to President Trump’s economic nationalist agenda that has imposed tariffs on foreign imports from China, Canada, Europe, and other parts of the globe.
TechNet’s trade goals include reducing “tariff and non-tariff barriers to information, communications, and advanced energy technology products, services, and investments” as well as “protections for the free flow of data across borders…”
While Biden has vowed to flood the U.S. labor market with more foreign workers to compete against Americans for jobs, he has shied away from questions on whether he will eliminate tariffs on foreign imports that were imposed by Trump. Such elimination of tariffs would be a boon to multinational corporations that offshore their production and jobs overseas only to import their products back into the U.S. market, often with no penalties for doing so.
The Intellectual Foundations of Cultural Decline: An Inquiry
A powerful, corrosive force has been at work in American culture since the mid-1960s. Its origins predate that decade but its power is a contemporary phenomenon. As the civil rights movement changed course from seeking equality of individual opportunity in a color-blind society and grew, instead, into a new program advocating equality of results for individuals emancipated from traditional normative constraint and responsibility, an American tradition of freedom and liberty under law lost out to a new social code of personal license under a protective mantle of moral relativism.
Our society has not gained from this experiment with deconstruction of traditional norms and institutions.
Our Center of the American Experiment has published many papers describing the decline. And William Bennett, among others, has written of the consequences following upon the loss of faith in core American beliefs.
In 1965, America began a cultural war between its founding conceptions of knowledge, education and politics which derived from an English ethic — and rival conceptions sired by an ethic imported from France and Germany. The battle over which intellectual framework would govern America opened first in academia and related institutions of intellectual commentary and then spread to politics. The protagonists of change were Hippies of the Woodstock generation, student protesters of SDS, leaders of the effort to demonize the war in Vietnam as immoral and impossible to win, and the Robert Kennedy-Eugene McCarthy-George McGovern faction of the Democratic Party. They popularized a Bohemian ethic of earlier decades.
That Bohemian ethic had emerged in New York City’s Greenwich Village as a meeting place of the avant garde in art, those who rejected bourgeois social conventions, and the socialist left in politics. The American-Bohemian creed may be summarized, as literary critic Malcolm Cowley has suggested, in a few articles of belief:
- The idea of self-expression: Each man’s and woman’s purpose in life is fully to express himself, to realize his full individuality.
- The idea of living for the moment, the rejection of the puritan ethos of deferred gratification: One should burn one’s candle at both ends.
- The idea of female equality: Women should be the economic and moral equals of men and should have the same opportunities for making a living, smoking, drinking, and taking or dismissing lovers.
- The idea of psychological adjustment: We are maladjusted because we are repressed; the removal of repression liberates the true man.
- The idea of salvation by the child: If children are encouraged by new educational methods to realize their full personalities, they will bring forth a new and freer world.
- The idea of liberty: All laws and conventions that hamper free expression should be abolished, for puritanism is the great enemy.
- And the idea of cosmopolitanism: The rejection of American cultural provincialism.
The opening salvo in our current culture war was fired by the 1964 Free Speech Movement at the University of California-Berkeley, where Mario Savio and students exposed the older, white, male administrators as hollow authority figures. After student takeovers of university administration offices at Columbia and Harvard in 1968 and 1969, the power structure of American colleges and universities was fragmented. Trustees, presidents, deans, senior professors capitulated to the new counterculture without serious resistance.
By the early 1970s colleges and universities became institutions without authority, but filled with jealous internal competition over individual status, power, and money. Faculties, protected by tenure, successfully asserted the power to define the ideals and priorities for their institutions. Presidents, deans, and boards of trustees were reduced to a subservient role of finding the funding necessary for higher salaries and better facilities for tenured faculties and for transfer payments among students via student aid from wealthier students to less advantaged ones. Presidents and deans fell as well into the complementary role of facilitating interaction among the fractious parts of the university for allocation of resources and coordination of instructional programs.
Minnesota’s colleges and universities did not escape this trend.
Access to the establishment for African-Americans as the civil rights movement won its victory in 1965 grew into race-based preferences in admissions and hiring under the doctrine of affirmative action, later expanding to include women, Hispanics, Native Americans, and, grudgingly, Asian-Americans. A vision of the individual as victim and America as guilty gained notoriety.
An important goal of education after 1968 became promotion of “self-esteem” for all students, accomplished by providing them with a “feel-good” environment. Colleges and universities no longer enforced traditional moral standards. Dorms became co-educational. Contraceptives were freely dispensed. Drug use was not stigmatized. This desire to indulge students was designed to cure the “victimization” felt by psychologically alienated individuals.
This desire to promote self-esteem combined with affirmative action then evolved into an invidious kind of “multiculturalism.”
Grade inflation set in as professors no longer felt secure in holding to standards of achievement. Differences in achievement were considered to be social inequalities. Pass-fail grading had many supporters. The standardized admission tests such as the SAT could be used to argue that grades had no meaning for students with previously demonstrated abilities.
In politics, the emerging counter-culture of the left broke into the mainstream with convulsions over the Vietnam War at the 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago. Earlier that year, protest had already driven Lyndon Johnson to abandon his re-election campaign in an abdication of leadership. Murders of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King had further eroded faith in America’s traditional political habits and structures.
The Vietnam War serendipitously served nicely as the weapon of cultural aggression undermining America’s traditional ethic. The anti-war movement began in 1965 with campus teach-ins. Leaders of the anti-war movement were first and foremost professors and intellectuals, not laborers or farmers. The media became the instrument for dissemination of anti-war critique. Walter Cronkite with his unjustified pessimism of 1968 about the war turned more Americans against the war in Vietnam than anyone else. James Reston of The New York Times wrote that, in the last analysis, it had been the press which had caused the United States to fail in its promise of protection to the peoples of Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam.
Support for the War had been justified by the old English ethic of faith in liberal bourgeois democratic prospects, even in Vietnam, and opposition to totalitarian coercion, even of Vietnamese. College-educated American males of the Baby Boom generation had no wish to be drafted to fight in such a cause; they and their sympathetic parents constituted the social base for a political movement of protest opposing the founding ethic of this country. The protesters looked for a political philosophy with which to oppose traditional claims of the American state.
They found it in a French ethic set forth by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century, which ethic first taught that conventional structures of authority did not reflect a true General Will, promoted illegitimate hierarchy, and did not deserve respect. Thanks to this French perspective, for the first time in our history, America was painted as an inherently bad, guilty, undeserving society. Its claim on the loyalty of its youth was portrayed as bogus. Past sins against Blacks, Native Americans, the environment, and women, along with the asserted evils of capitalism, were seized upon with fervor by the counter-culture as evidence of this newly perceived truth of America as unjust.
When Martin Luther King joined in this anti-war critique of America as impure and undeserving, the legitimate righteousness of the civil rights movement under moral constructs of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution was grafted onto the inconsistent ambitions of the French ethic. The tradition of the European left, which had been shaped by Rousseau and which had emerged in the French Revolution, now stripped respectability from American ideals.
Hollywood and New York provided homes to a media elite which used popular entertainment of movies and television to promote — particularly through sex and sexuality — self-indulgent and hedonistic themes of personal liberty and freedom from responsibility.
A drug practice added reality to a counter-culture of alienation from authority. Self-expression in this way was illegal, generating more disrespect for law.
Feminism found voice in the counter-culture and added to the cultural war its critique of all conventional authority structures, even the family, as unjustly supportive of men as against women. The feminist critique, as had the claims for equality of African-Americans, quickly achieved legal protection through federal laws on affirmative action, no discrimination in hiring and promotion, and protection against sexual harassment.
Subsequently, the demands of gays and lesbians for protection and validation of their subcultures followed feminism in seeking social rules consistent with their cultural preferences.
The dominant theme of the new American culture of the left has become the will to power of perspectives freed from past conventions by the exercise of allegedly rational thought and by genuine romantic selfishness. The expansion of the French ethic in American culture has led to actualization of the will to power by an increasing number of groups under the banner of “multiculturalism.”
Consequences of following the wrong ethic
With the rise to cultural power of the French ethic, educational quality has deteriorated. Undergraduate education has been dumbed down. A commitment to excellence no longer inspires either faculties or students. There is no canon of greatness. The college or university serves above all else to give students professional credentials and faculty members professional recognition. As a result, graduates lack skills for leadership at a time when we need leaders of genuine quality.
With educational achievement in decline, it is little wonder that incomes for the average American have stagnated. Incomes reflect the value that workers can add to the economy. Poorly educated persons add little value to a highly technological and service-oriented economy.
But the damage done by the cultural left has spread beyond colleges and universities to the society at large. This originally French ethic has promoted a cult of victimization in America. Students starting in elementary school are socialized to see the guilt that allegedly is America and to feel no pride in their heritage as Americans. The emphasis on self-esteem won without rigorous achievement leaves students without self-confidence. The irrelevance of grades to most achievement compounds this state of mind among students. Women and minorities are given grounds to assert claims based on group identity, not individual achievement, so works of individual achievement have less salience. Persons are encouraged to find oppressors. Even the new men’s movement sees white males as an oppressed group.
People without self-confidence and looking for others to blame are mistrustful, selfish without a moral counter-balance, and suffer from a social distemper. Public life has become divorced from spirituality. Is it any wonder that the public is cynical, turns on its political leaders, and has little faith in America’s future?
The basis of social policy under the French ethic tends to stress the guilt of those who benefit from social advantages and distinctions and the need for remedial subsidy of these less privileged. An alternative moral ethic of responsibility based upon individual character regardless of social status is not often employed. Social policy therefore exists more to assuage the guilt of the elite than to empower the poor, who, naturally remain dependent and angry.
The rise of the French ethic has undermined the work ethic. The focus of liberty and equality tends to be on immediate ends. It takes more of a concern for social duties and interests to focus on self in the long term. Yet the present justification for savings and hard work is future reward. With less value placed on the future, consumption takes center stage. In any given moment, consumption is more gratifying than saving and enjoyment more fulfilling than sacrifice.
The French ethic, with its embrace of self-victimhood, has accelerated the break up of family structures. Broken families lead to more children living in poverty. Challenges to conventional authority limit the satisfactions of being a parent, adding to intergenerational antagonism and divorces. Advocacy of male-female gender sameness and non-heterosexual marriages have blurred once clear obligations of family responsibilities. The attention given to spouse abuse, usually of the wife by the husband, incest, other forms of child abuse bring traditional family ideals into disrepute. When families become weak or dysfunctional, they fail in their primary function of socialization. Children are permitted to reach adulthood more alienated from society than ever before. Rousseau’s vision of the human as victim is thus given increasing credence. The French ethic has set us on a path of cultural decay and systemic decline as a nation.
Our intellectual elite, the product of our best colleges and universities, has lost faith in the culture and institutions of the English ethic which made America successful and the envy of other peoples. In Minnesota, reporters and editorial writers frequently beat the drum for self-victimization, “multiculturalism,” and enlightened bureaucratic rule.
Charles Colson has referred to these consequences as a crisis of character: A loss of those inner restraints and virtues that prevent civilization from pondering its own darker instincts. We have lost the values of citizenship, valor, honor, duty, responsibility, compassion, and civility.
Robert Bellah’s survey of American values, Habits of the Heart, revealed that, as of the 1970s, most Americans had two overriding goals: vivid personal feelings and personal success. What has happened to the dedication required for excellence?
What explains the polluting power of the left? Where did it come from? What can we do about its detrimental consequences?
As argued at the start, two different traditions, one arising in England and the other in France, have each offered an ethic to inform the goals and ideals of law and public power. The original American ethic was the English one. After the Civil War, the rival French ethic, however, began to provide a basis for modernized and professionalized colleges and universities. After 1968, the French vision finally overthrew its English antagonist and came to dominate our culture.
From institutions of higher education and from intellectuals, the French vision reached out to convert others and so accumulate political power.
I believe that the post-modern vision of culture, derived from the French tradition, is dehumanizing and destructive of the best in civil society. Accordingly, I value the older, English alternative. As justification for a program of cultural reform, this paper will proceed to summarily trace the intellectual origins and evolutions of both traditions. This will permit thoughtful reflection on the advantages and disadvantages of each ethic and so open a dialogue as to which ethic should govern what Minnesota will do in public higher education. If the English ethic can recapture citadels of higher education, a better balance of cultural patterns can be established.
Origins of the two ethics
The two traditions developed separately from the two forms of human knowledge posited by Aristotle, who distinguished scientific knowledge from practical wisdom. The English ethic valued practical wisdom while the French ethic asserted the claims of pure reason, of scientific knowledge.
Scientific knowledge unfolded from the operations of a pure reason, a unique human capacity. Aristotle preferred this form of knowledge, as had Plato before him, as the best, most complete, most infallible form of human knowing. The metaphor for this kind of knowledge is mathematics, especially geometry, where absolute proof (so it was believed) could be had of a proposition; proof so inerrant that the proposition would be true under all conditions of time and space. Western philosophy since Plato and Aristotle has been an effort to infuse this pure reason into the real world; to bring the certainty of scientific knowledge to the contingent experiences of living. Many philosophers (“lovers of wisdom”) and famous thinkers have sought the certainty promised by this Holy Grail of human reason.
But sensibly, Aristotle also recognized that such scientific knowledge was ethereal. It existed in an unreal ether in the sense that only reason within the mind could comprehend such knowledge. Such reason did not exist in physical things which had contingent existences, presences true today but not necessarily tomorrow; such scientific knowledge existed only in words and concepts manipulated by the mind. In an important way, the pure reason supporting scientific knowledge lives and works outside of time and space, outside of what we think of as reality.
Human knowledge of what is contingent, of what is sensuous reality, Aristotle called practical wisdom. This was an alternate form of human knowledge. Pure reason and deductive logic did not apply to this realm of knowing. Statements incorporating practical wisdom, propositions about politics and other human affairs, for example, could not be proved, only argued about.
The process of argument used for practical wisdom was rhetoric — slippery, and susceptible to crass manipulation. On the contrary, rigorous logic existed to prove or disprove the truths of scientific knowledge.
After the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation challenged the thought patterns of medieval Catholicism, the English developed an ethic of knowledge distinct from simultaneous trends arising in France and the European continent.
To oversimplify but without distorting the record, it can be said that the English kept education and culture within the scope of practical wisdom while thinkers on the continent, such as Descartes, aspired to obey the dictates of scientific knowledge.
The English ethic of practical wisdom
The English style was pragmatic, as many historians have noted. The great modern thinkers of England — Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, John Locke, Adam Smith, David Hume — were empiricists, looking to facts measurable in the real world to support intellectual conclusions. Such facts were contingent; therefore, English investigations into the substance of knowledge required experimentation with tangible substances. Reason alone was an insufficient guide to truth. Legend has it that it took a falling apple to provoke Newton’s mind into formulating a proposition about gravity.
In this English approach to knowledge, reason was an aid to reflection, but reflection could not be contained exclusively within the ambit of abstract ratiocination. This English approach elevated the process of accepting or formulating a hypothesis for subsequent experimental verification. What worked in practice was often accepted as having sufficient truth value. As a result, the English tradition left room for ideas drawn from intuition and custom regarding how reality worked.
This tradition from the British Isles also left a prominent role for faith and religion in the search for meaningful beliefs, a role for the emotive side of human nature. Such dispositions, unscientific and unprovable, were nonetheless part of an existing practical reality. They, too, could give rise to testable hypotheses.
Reason did not replace religion for the English. Political thinkers tempered their optimism about human potential with a belief in the operative, existential fact of original sin.
On the optimistic side, Francis Hutcheson and his student Adam Smith could believe in the capacity of persons spontaneously to have moral sentiments. This capacity made them trustworthy.
This fusion of experimental science, Old Testament religion, and Roman republicanism gave birth, first, to the English Whig political movement favoring democracy and, later, to its American revolutionary progeny. A Whig constitutional scheme emerged of checks and balances and of government as a public trust and not as a personal dominion. People could be trusted to rule, but not too much.
From this tradition arose constitutional government under law, economic well-being achieved by free markets, freedom of religion, private property regulated by the common law, judges held apart from political machinations, and legal rights protecting individuals and minorities from any tyranny of the majority and fleeting mob passions. This pattern of political organization was institutionalized in the American Constitution and elaborated upon with wisdom and eloquence in the Federalist Papers written by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay. This tradition resonates in the writings of Washington and, later, in the speeches of Lincoln.
This empirical English ethic was not afraid of self-interest. As a practical fact, individual self-interest was an unquestioned, empirical given. So John Locke spoke of the ends of government as promoting the life, liberty and property of individuals. Such acceptance of individual interest was the understanding of David Hume, William Blackstone, and Edmund Burke, great thinkers who shaped the modern British commonwealth. Nor was Adam Smith put off by the selfish aspects of his free-market economic theory, Wealth of Nations. Not only did Smith see how the self-interests of individuals magically interacted (through a market as if moved by an invisible hand) to produce a common good, he also wrote in his companion work, Theory of the Moral Sentiments, how in a free society a moral capacity would be at work to counter-balance the excesses of selfish individualism.
The doctrine of character, of the mastery of self-interest, became important to the education of English citizens. Locke’s theory of education stressed character and common sense as the goals of parents for their children.
For Locke, the true foundation of future ability and happiness is a mastery over inclinations, a temper to resist the importunity of present pleasure or pain. Education was therefore, above all, to inculcate virtue as an incentive to the mind. “Virtue is harder to get than a knowledge of the world,” said Locke in the 1690s. Character, not abstract analytical ability, was the aim of this practical vision of human achievement. “Long discourses and philosophical reasonings, at best, amaze and confound but do not instruct children,” said Locke.
Emphasis on moral character provided Whig political institutions with another important benefit — religious tolerance and an end to sectarian wars between rival theologies. Moral character provided a common ethic for persons of different faiths through which they could enjoy mutually respectful joint participation in public affairs. Respecting each other’s moral characters permitted each to have comfort in the other’s reliability and reduced society’s need to rest social cohesion on a common theological doctrine or creed. John Locke therefore could write an important essay of Christian theology on toleration, which later justified the religious freedom clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
This ethic of knowledge as practical wisdom resting in good character was the guiding light of English colleges and of the preparatory schools training young men for such colleges. The deans, tutors, and readers of Oxford and Cambridge and the dons of Eton all understood knowledge in this practical tradition and provided a general education in the liberal arts to shape a student’s character as much as his faculty of reason. Skills in rhetoric, use of good judgment, and common sense kept the graduate in touch with his society and grounded in practical wisdom. The student in this tradition was tolerant, responsible, and part of a larger social order.
The first professors of Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, and Princeton and the founders of Exeter and Groton built similar educational institutions in America.
The English ethic directly informed Minnesota’s first institution of higher learning: Hamline University. Founded by the Methodist Church in Red Wing in 1854, Hamline taught its students in keeping with (Methodism’s founder) John Wesley’s vision of reason united with the vital piety. This was Wesley’s formulation of the mingled fields of reason and moral character. His standard was the sensible English one of “reasonableness” in using either the mind or the heart.
Out of similar religious traditions, Carleton, Macalester, St. Olaf, Gustavus Adolphus, Augsburg, Bethel, and the Concordia colleges were founded by different ethnic and religious collectivities.
The Catholic Church founded the colleges of St. John’s, St. Benedict’s, St. Thomas, St. Catherine’s, St. Scholastica, and St. Mary’s in the tradition of Catholic teaching that the play of reason was subordinate to revelation and church doctrine. Again, though not of the English educational enlightenment tradition, Minnesota’s Catholic colleges had a religious orientation in keeping with the mixed character of the English preference for practical wisdom.
In its early years, though publicly funded, the University of Minnesota took its standard of excellence from such universities as Harvard and Yale. The University of Minnesota then grew to prestige and earned world-wide respect with its rigorous research and high standards of scholarship. It was neither provincial or irrelevant to its times.
The French ethic of scientific knowledge
Between the work of Plato and his student Aristotle and the much later rise of the French ethic of knowledge was the majestic intellectual effort of Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas did not renovate Aristotle’s concept of practical wisdom. Aquinas strove rather to bring the revealed religious truth of his Holy Roman Catholic Church within the bounds of scientific knowledge. Reason, pure reason, uncontaminated by contingent empiricism, was his tool for vindicating the truth of his religion in the eyes of all persons. Aquinas’s thought provided a guide for subsequent European philosophers.
The exciting actual progenitor of the French ethic in education was Descartes, who, as he said in an aphorism, was because he thought. Catholic priest as well as a mathematician, Descartes used formal propositions of symbolic logic and language, both disconnected from experimentation, to establish truth.
What followed from this technique was a belief in the perfectibility of the human, a rejection of original sin, and an idealism regarding human circumstances constructed out of faith in the power of scientific knowledge. With faith in reason, mystery drained from the experience of living. The cosmos became a predictable machine; religion became useless obscurantism, fit only for undeveloped minds. The great project of humanity became a vigorous campaign to enlighten all persons with the power of reason.
Rousseau, in my judgment, then set in motion the intellectual effort which over two centuries turned Descartes’s faith in reason step-by-step into the pernicious doctrines of cultural deconstruction and the wrong kind of “multiculturalism” which vex us this day. Rousseau’s intellectual descendants now dominate the counterculture of left-liberalism which has undermined so effectively our national self-confidence.
For politics, Rousseau banished self-interest and called for all to live according to the dictates of the General Will. Rousseau’s General Will was only the stuff of linguistic definition, possessed of no more substance than any other construct of words. Reason thought its way to the General Will and then the state, according to Rousseau, had the duty of imposing the General Will on individual particular wills. In his Social Contract, Rousseau wrote that the more common mores differed from the General Will, the greater the force was required to repress common mores. Sic Semper Tyrannis. Thus did Rousseau invent the modern totalitarian state and cloak it with the superior claims of scientific knowledge.
Rousseau not only gave hope to a vicious political tradition of coercive bureaucratic tyranny, he gave prominence to a divisive scheme of education. In his Confessions and in Emile, Rousseau blended a naive vision of persons as inherently simple, pure, and good prior to socialization with an intense belief in the individual as victim looking for oppressors to blame. For Rousseau, society was the enemy of the individual.
Rousseau’s scheme of education was permissive — to let innate potential grow in individuals and to minimize their socialization. Reason, he believed, would prevent distortions from arising within people and reason would make all things well in a better world to be built by governments guided by the General Will.
Rousseau wrote that people are born free yet everywhere society keeps them in chains. With pure reason as their guide, Rousseau thought that men and women would break the chains of social convention and revolt against inequalities of status and opportunity. There was no authority recognized by Rousseau for God, the King, the Church, fathers, families, or any social position not justified by the General Will. Only distinctions justified by reason would stand as part of the General Will. Persons were free, equal, and only bound together through fraternal ties of one free individual voluntarily associated with another.
Sadly, since individuals always come to be through, and live in, social situations, individuals are always in a condition of Rousseauist victimization under social pressures, a sorry state demanding, from Rousseau’s perspective, constant vexation of mind and spirit. Rousseau’s bleak vision prevents its adherents from acquiring much self-confidence. They are constantly seeking to undo the damage inflicted on them by society.
Rousseau himself lived with a guilty conscience, caused by his mother’s death while giving him birth. He then spent his life at odds with those more fortunate than he.
From Rousseau came the vaunting ambitions of the French Revolution, not a modest contest to modify absolute monarchy with constitutional restraints, but a grandiose project to build a just society according to the dictates of reason. The French Revolution’s creed was “liberte, egalite, and fraternite”: the triumph of reason over social authority. Religion was to be replaced with the worship of Reason; every aspect of the ancient regime, legitimated by no more than custom and convention, was replaced by a centralized state bureaucracy governing according to rational civil and criminal codes, using metric measurements of universal application.
Under Rousseau’s disciples, the Jacobins, the guillotine stood tall to enforce revolutionary truth on unbelievers and eliminate those whose past had defiled them in revolutionary eyes. Many aristocrats followed their king and queen to a speedy death.
Napoleon then took this new French system by arms to other nations of Europe.
Over in England, Edmund Burke saw the underlying evil in the turmoil and pretension of revolutionary change in France. Burke’s book Reflections on the Revolution in France sharpens — perhaps better than any work except Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies or Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions — the differences between the rival approaches to truth of Britain and France.
On the other hand, the French ethic had some impact in Great Britain. Jeremy Bentham rejected the conventions of the common law as glamorized by Blackstone and promoted law reform based upon rational analysis. Government, argued Bentham, could improve society by using its powers to order relationships as reason requires. William Godwin, taking up French Enlightenment ideals, wrote for the emancipation of women and advocated other radical rejections of traditional British social order. His daughter married the romantic poet Shelley and wrote Frankenstein, blending the French ethic with English artistic romanticism.
Unfortunately, over in the newly independent United States, Thomas Jefferson was more credulous of French theories than was Burke. Jefferson (who was not a founder of our constitutional structure) lent dignity to the claims of reason alone as the foundation of justice and to reason’s insistence on leveling social conventions and distinctions. Jefferson, a Deist, argued for a thick wall between church and state. Also, it is not coincidence that Jefferson wanted to be remembered most as the founder of the University of Virginia, a state university and a temple to reason.
With Jefferson the French ethic gained a foothold in American political culture. Where Washington, Hamilton, John Marshall, and the Federalists felt sympathy for the English ethic, Jefferson and his rising Democratic Party stood for emancipated France and against privilege of any sort. The Jeffersonian approach led to the War of 1812 against England.
On its side of the Atlantic, the French ethic rejected two capable French thinkers inspired by the British/American alternative. In the early months of the French Revolution, Lafayette, influenced by Washington and the American Revolution, attempted to craft for France a moderate course of pragmatic constitutionalism, but he was passed over as those more radical pressed for the execution of the king and abolition of old ways. Forty years later the wise observations of Alexis de Tocqueville on American democracy and the excesses of the French Revolution were similarly ignored by his compatriots.
German development of the French ethic
The cause of scientific knowledge and the superiority of reason picked up impressive advocates in Germany. Following on after Rousseau, Immanuel Kant wrote on pure reason and practical reason. His formulation of the General Will had individuals separately will to do that which could be of universal, that is non-contingent, application. But since reason was taken by Kant as a transcendent universal, in exercising their wills, all individuals would end up in agreement on the same coercive principles of right conduct. Reason would democratically lead to moral order, believed Kant.
Following Kant, Hegel took reason to great complexities of analysis. He looked at the mind and its ability to comprehend reality. By creating concepts, what Hegel called “begrift,” the mind, according to Hegel, could be master of its empirical surroundings. Thus arose from Hegel’s influence the modern German university where conceptual classification and specialization brought studies of various disciplines to professional exactitude.
Karl Marx used dialectical materialism to ground reason in the real world and so save its title to intellectual stature. Max Weber blended a practical Hegelian faith in reason with prescriptions for bureaucratic rationalization of economic and political organizations. The arguments of Marx and Weber have guided the creation of the modern, bureaucratic, welfare state.
The French ethic grows in America with help from Germany
After the American Civil War, the tradition of reason as elevated by Kant and Hegel, but not yet challenged by Nietzsche, came to the United States. The German vision of the professional university was imported to train a cadre of experts to modernize and improve everything in America. The first university with departments and specialized teaching was Johns Hopkins. Then Harvard under Eliot followed. Reason and the application of reason to society defined the nineteenth-century culture of progress. Social engineering, the deployment of expertise to remedy social ills, the creation of bureaucracies with public funding to step in where the free market stabilized at a less than optimal equilibrium were made possible by the new confidence in rational planning.
The new university was to find through thoughtful analysis a common good, a public interest arrived at dispassionately through expert study. Sciences of human nature, law, politics, and society were thought possible as well. Schools for the scientific study of law and medicine were started.
The mission of the new professional, rational, and scientific university was to serve society by changing it for the better. As Karl Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto, “Up to now philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it.” The results of this intellectual effort then had to be transferred to daily life through the medium of government and learned professions, often working in tandem.
In the 1880s and 1890s, professional associations were started to improve systematically the standards of professional fields. Lawyers, doctors, nurses, historians, and social workers formed the unions which, ever since, have monitored knowledge-based occupations.
While professionalism grounded its self-confidence in good measure on the French faith in reason, the personal codes and habits of professors and the new professionals still drew inspiration from the undergraduate colleges following the English approach to knowledge. But a tension had been introduced between the new graduate schools with their vision of professional education and the older English ethic residing in liberal arts colleges.
The University of Minnesota grew to prominence in this era of confidence in scientific study from 1870 to the 1950s. It built graduate schools of law and medicine. Its graduate faculties in many fields became nationally known. Its scientific research in agriculture had worldwide implications. The University and its supporters in the Legislature believed more and more in the power of scientific knowledge to guide, benevolently and rationally, organized society to even higher levels of prosperity and happiness through planning, regulation, and bureaucracy.
Carleton and Macalester Colleges broke away from their denominational orientation to follow the new ethic of higher education.
Preconditions for the final triumph of the French ethic in American higher education were laid during this rise of professionalism. The professionalism of university graduate schools and departments increasingly became a narrow pursuit of sub-specialization and technical achievement. Granting of Nobel Prizes, peer recognition, journals for publication of investigations and research results combined to create a career structure rewarding focused technical accomplishment. As the number of professionals increased, the areas of their individual expertise multiplied in total but shrunk in scope of individual attainment.
Having large views on culture, religion, history did not lead to advancement. Being a teacher was less important than being a published scholar. As a result, those successful in higher education increasingly lost capacity for moral leadership. They became technicians, qualified for advancement only by a limited expertise. Professors each knew more and more about less and less. Vision evaporated as higher education became ever more bureaucratized. This, however, was inevitable under the hopeful French/German model of rationalism as the apex of human achievement.
This evolution of universities towards a narrow professionalism swept over the University of Minnesota as well. Recruitment and advancement of professors fell in with the norms of the professional establishments governing the different educational disciplines and related academic societies. Publish or perish became the rule for professional achievement.
After World War II, the United States entered an era of rule by experts as government and corporate bureaucracies grew to deploy the talent pool of professionals provided now in increasing numbers, thanks to the GI Bill, by institutions of higher education. As part of the professionalism of higher education, recruitment into the expert professional elite was changed to emphasize mental ability rather than any social criterion of preference such as wealth, religion, or family status. Admitting students into college and university became rationalized with the use of the SAT, a formalistic device to measure all students on a common scale of intellectual ability. Only the best and the brightest would be selected for professional training as experts. By the 1960s colleges and universities were filled with young men and women selected on these rational, meritocratic grounds.
Reason becomes anti-reason
Ironically, reason has produced limitations on itself. Reason is a murderer of other thoughts, killing its own creations with new twists and turns of conceptual manipulations. It turns out that Aristotle’s scientific knowledge is something of a plaything for agile minds, and not an unyielding ultimate truth.
Nietzsche challenged the optimism of Kant and Hegel, and used aesthetics to expose reason. Nietzsche saw, and asserted without using formal, logical argument, that reason was both cannibalistic and capable of infanticide. Reason could be turned against itself and could destroy its own certainties. The inevitable end result of reason, Nietzsche believed, was not truth but rather uncertainty — nihilism. Reason can be an acid, corrosive of confidence and conviction. Far from being a source of ultimate truth, reason was destined to continuous manipulation of concepts, a constant shifting of understanding and meaning with no basis in empirical reality or moral values. The intellectual harvest to be gathered from the fields of reason is radical indeterminacy, not scientific knowledge, argued Nietzsche.
The hope, kept alive since Aristotle, of scientific knowledge leading to truth was thus dashed by Nietzsche, who first formulated the intellectual techniques now called post-modernism and deconstruction.
Nietzsche proposed that individuals assert their will to power, to construct meaning as they want it to be without providing compelling proof for their propositions. Truth-making thus becomes an art form guided by aesthetic principles of pleasure, form, and proportion. But Nietzsche’s new philosophic project contained the same thrust as Rousseau’s vision: Society is to be attacked in order to free the individual. Only Nietzsche was certain that the will of the individual was to find free expression; it was not a rational faculty which would blend a free individual with others voluntarily through acceptance of the transcendent truth of the General Will.
Some of Nietzsche’s insights were taken over by racists and the Nazis, thus discrediting his brutal but unrefutable delegitimization of the superiority of scientific knowledge.
Martin Heidegger, a Nazi to some degree, reformulated the French and Hegelian traditions of scientific knowledge, without, however, rejecting Nietzsche. But it took subsequent non-Nazi French scholars — Jacques Derrida, Michael Foucault, Pierre Bourdreau, and Jacques Lacan — to restore intellectual prominence to the nihilistic consequences of reason, having first washed Nietzsche’s insights clean of fascist perversion. These post-World War II French thinkers produced the school of deconstruction or post-modernism which now dominates academic American thinking about education. But, ironically, what has triumphed is not the scientific knowledge of Aristotle, but its unfilial descendant — reason attacking reason.
A program of reform
While we should encourage a revival of religiosity and spirituality, the post-modern world will not permit a complete return to the credulous certainties of traditional faiths. Reason is here to stay; it has accomplished its work of deconstruction. Damage to our culture has been done. Like Humpty Dumpty, a culture, once broken, is impossible to reassemble as it once was.
We should supplement a new respect for religions with a return to primacy of the English ethic as our guide to education, culture, and politics. Practical wisdom, not scientific knowledge, should once again govern our understanding of what is best in life.
In the post-modern society, as described by Charles Murray and Richard Hernstein in The Bell Curve, those educated in formal institutions will constitute our elite. They will manipulate the values, beliefs, and images which drive our culture. Their ethos will have more power over our public policy than other subcultures will. We will not regain a culture of common sense until we tame the power of the French ethic in our educational institutions.
Little can be done to improve our culture if we leave higher education to its own devices under the influence of the French ethic. True leadership has become impossible in universities and colleges. Power has been dispersed too widely. Faculties are no longer guided by a common vision of the good. Professionalism has divided and sub-divided faculties into interest groups and cliques. Claims of preference and position based on gender, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation further complicate decision making. Ideals are most noted for their absence. A circle of opposition to authority based upon principles of deconstruction and “multiculturalism” forces deans and presidents to administer even details through broad-based participation of constituencies and consensus-building. This political structure, often useful to be sure, gives the power of veto to everyone in the institution. The result is a species of lethargy and an inability to rise above a comfortable mediocrity.
With this leadership mode reigning in colleges and universities, including Minnesota’s public institutions of higher education, little can be done to assert standards of cognitive excellence. Only a return to the English tradition of practical wisdom can foster a pattern of leadership which will get results and improve the stature of our universities and colleges.
The effort to improve the University of Minnesota has dragged on for a decade with no signs of significant success. What other conclusion can be drawn from the controversy over pay equity between men’s and women’s basketball coaches of the University of Minnesota than that fealty is owed to gender preferences over other standards and values? Even a new procedure for electing regents to govern the University has succumbed to the politics of special interests and the political correctness of “multiculturalism.” A suitable candidate for provost was nearly rejected by the Regents because he was of an inappropriate gender and race.
Those outside the university must assert leadership by imposing on the university accountability to the wider society. Citizens must not be intimidated by claims of professional expertise asserted by the professional faculty to legitimate its autonomy and self-interest. The arguments of the English ethic of knowledge stand ready to rebut the pretensions of deconstruction and divisive “multiculturalism.”
The current establishment thinking in higher education, with its adherence to the French ethic of abstract reason and with its influence reaching down through high schools and even in elementary education, is ripe for dis-establishment and deconstruction.
From its own perspective of deconstruction, we can insist that the French ethic is a relative intellectual construction, not an absolute truth. There is nothing in the French ethic of scientific knowledge which compels our obedience from the standpoint of pure reason, once we manipulate reason as suggested by deconstruction theory.
Consider as an example of deconstructing the French ethic the following observation: reason as conceived by the French ethic ends up as anti-reason — dismantling rigorous intellectual effort in order to advance standards based, not on reason, but on race and gender.
Deconstruction of divisive multiculturalism can be carried a step further: The construct of race was intellectually created. If persons of two different races marry, what race is their child? Should not our standards be those which embrace and affirm all persons regardless of race? Is that not the best of the American aspiration as a multi-national community? One can therefore inquire under the rules of deconstruction logic as to whose interests are being served when the race construct is employed in argument. If multiculturalism advances interests defined by race, which clique benefits and who is hurt?
Should our universities and colleges be breeding grounds for partisans of this power struggle asserting self-imposed, divisive constructs of the mind?
With special regard to publicly funded institutions of higher education, those whom higher education purports to serve should inquire if they are, indeed, being well-served. The proponents of the French ethic of scientific knowledge should be asked to defend their ethic using the arguments of practical wisdom. Since their social roles are part of contingent reality, the techniques of argument appropriate to such reality — practical wisdom — may be called upon for justification of their academic enterprise: What is the social worth of the French ethic?
John Cooper, formerly of the James Madison Institute in Florida, argues that we should (1) assess higher education curricula for developing civil literacy; (2) examine the value system of universities and colleges; (3) prevent politicization of education by political correctness; and (4) reconceptualize universities and colleges as civic institutions. Cooper argues that colleges and universities play a central role in the processes of “social construction” and “social maintenance” of reality. What social reality is it best to construct and to maintain? In Minnesota it is time to evaluate what good is accomplished by public higher education.
If, in fact, the education enterprise comes up short of justification, we may ask its members and advocates to resign their positions of educational leadership to others found to be more suitable for our times.
As citizens, we have a right to demand that graduates of our expensive, publicly financed, educational endeavors will be fit and worthy. We have a right to know what motives and goals direct these educational enterprises and, we have a collateral right to question those motives and goals if they fall short of doing justice to our future.
We, as citizens, should insist that the University of Minnesota and other public universities and colleges not be organized under the banner of deconstruction and unjust “multiculturalism.” If those ideologies prevail in our public institutions, we should reduce public funding and force such facilities to compete in the marketplace for the tuition dollars of individual students. Those who like the education provided by deconstruction and our contemporary “multiculturalism” will seek it out and pay for it.
Individual academics who believe in and justify deconstruction and the form of multiculturalism I object to will still have full academic freedom for debate to argue the merits of their position. But as the price of admission to a publicly paid position of great power, professors must demonstrate competence in cognitive excellence in addition to whatever views they hold on deconstruction and multiculturalism of any kind. Talent, regardless of race, culture, or creed, is to be sought out and rewarded. Minnesota should draw here from around the world the best minds and the strongest characters so that we may compete with the best in the world economy. No ideology of group preferences should stand in the way of this objective.
Reform should begin at the root of the problem. If our difficulties arise from misunderstandings and incorrect perceptions of what is truly important, then we must change our understandings and perceptions. Intellectual leadership must precede changes to political, social and economic institutions.
Our Divided Country
It Took Decades for America to Become This Divided
Political polarization has become so familiar and entrenched that we barely think how it came about. The backstory is more than a half-century long, involving race, media and a diverging economy.
In November, there will be stark splits along racial, gender and geographic lines. College-educated residents of Atlanta and its major suburbs will vote in clear contrast to the results in rural areas.
By now, this is such a familiar scenario that it almost doesn’t seem worth commenting on. But these divides – and the way they add up to near-even splits in some states and at the national level – are the main driving forces of contemporary politics.
Throughout this century so far, America has been a “49 percent nation.” Both parties enjoy support that is tantalizingly close to a majority, but never congeals into stable control for long. The fact that victory always seems near at hand for the other side helps explain the vicious politics of our time.
The two parties are engaged in a seemingly endless feud – the political equivalent of the Hatfields and McCoys. “As there is no sort of long-term winner, the fighting gets fiercer,” says Lara Brown, a political scientist at George Washington University.
Politics today is clannish. It has always been negative, but for a full quarter-century, warnings that the other side was corrupt or dangerous or radical or a threat to American values have been constants. During the Georgia runoffs, hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on ads that were less about ideas and more about attacking candidates. “Win Georgia, save America” was not just subtext but an open call to arms.
“Very simply, you will decide whether your children will grow up in a socialist country or whether they will grow up in a free country,” President Trump told a crowd in Valdosta, Ga., last month.
There’s no middle ground. Where once there were Republicans who supported abortion rights and gun control, as well as Democrats who took the opposite positions, now the parties have sorted themselves on seemingly every issue (including attitudes about Trump himself). There’s no real reason for a person who leans one way to believe the other party will have his or her interests and wishes at heart. “We have two ideologically distinct parties,” says Republican consultant Whit Ayres, “and the gulf between the two has grown wider over time.”
It’s not just ideology that divides Americans. With the decline of trust in many institutions, politics has become a “mega-identity,” a way for people to find like-minded people who look like them and live like them and worship like them (or don’t) and have similar educational and economic opportunities.
Partisans are literally living apart from each other. During the 1976 presidential election, just over a quarter of the country lived in landslide counties, carried by one party or the other by 20 percentage points or more. In November, the number was 58.2 percent, according to Bill Bishop, author of The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. More than half the nation’s counties were carried by a landslide.
The two parties dominate separate worlds enjoying separate fortunes. Joe Biden carried fewer counties than any presidential winner in history – 520, or less than one in six – but they represented 71 percent of the nation’s GDP, according to the Brookings Institution. “Biden-voting counties accounted for 83 percent of new firms started over the last decade, 73 percent of employment growth and 67 percent of the population growth,” says John Lettieri, president of the Economic Innovation Group, a research group focused partly on geographic inequality.
What EIG calls the “dynamism divide” might be enough to explain the polarity of politics today. But then there’s race. And the changing media landscape. And social media, which amplifies the loudest, crudest, most divisive voices. And the incentives of the parties themselves, which work against compromise and reward confrontation.
“Everything has become aligned: Your religion, food, entertainment, location, idea of what a good neighborhood looks like, clothes, notion of family, music, job and much more are all aligned with your politics,” Bishop says. “Or rather, your voting choice once every two years is aligned with all those other things.”
With the start of the new year and the prospect of a new presidential administration, it’s worth stepping back and asking a simple question with some complicated, intertwined answers: How did the country end up this way?
Party Alignment and Civil Rights
It’s almost hard to believe now, but at one time the parties were seen as being too much alike. Back in 1950, a committee of the American Political Science Association published a lengthy report calling for “a more responsible two-party system.” Its basic argument was that it was too hard to tell the parties apart. They should become more nationalized, more centralized and offer voters more of a clear choice on issues, the committee argued.
“They bemoaned the fact that the parties were too heterogenous and argued that what we really needed were European-style parties that were ideologically distinct,” says Ayres. “The subtext was so liberals in the Democratic Party could force the Southern Democrats to conform.”
For a century following the Civil War, the South voted strictly for Democrats. That started to shift during the civil rights era of the 1960s. When he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Democratic President Lyndon Johnson said, “We have lost the South for a generation.”
Actually, he didn’t say that. The famous quote is apocryphal but still points to a central political reality. That year, Barry Goldwater became the first Republican in decades to carry several Southern states, even as he got trounced nationwide. In 1968, Republican Richard Nixon won the presidency in part due to his “Southern strategy,” appealing to Southern whites by criticizing affirmative action and other programs promoted by liberal Democrats. Johnson himself turned out to be the last Democratic presidential candidate able to carry a majority of white voters.
“When Richard Nixon moved forward on a Southern strategy, the parties swapped regions and constituents,” says Brown, the George Washington University professor. “African Americans who had been Republican prior to that moved into the Democratic Party and, obviously, the white conservative Democrats moved into the Republican Party.”
Race has always divided Americans and has always been used to divide Americans. Low-income minorities and white members of the working class might have a lot in common economically but they occupy separate political territory.
“Race has historically been a means to divide white working class people from other working class people of color in this country, despite the fact that we share very similar interests,” says Arisha Hatch, vice president of Color of Change, a civil rights group. “Oftentimes, it feels like people are less divided than our politics would suggest, and yet we don’t seem to be engaged in a real conversation on the things that we agree on.”
“The Republican Party is not a very comfortable place for non-white Americans,” says Will Wilkinson, vice president for research at the Niskanen Center, a center-right think tank.
The Politics of Personal Attack
Republicans began to dominate presidential voting in the South, then started winning Senate seats, but didn’t capture a majority of Southern seats in the U.S. House until 1994. Not coincidentally, that was the year they were led to their first House majority in 40 years by a congressman from Georgia named Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich emerged as a national figure by managing to bring down Jim Wright, a Democratic House speaker who had enriched himself through a shady book deal. Gingrich traded on the sense in the country after Vietnam and Watergate that government couldn’t be trusted, knocking Democrats for their role in forgotten scandals such as overdrafts at the House bank.
Over the course of their long time in the wilderness, House Republicans had learned to go along to get along, essentially accepting their minority status in hopes of getting some crumbs for their districts from the Democratic majority. Gingrich upended all that. He not only attacked Democrats relentlessly, but recruited and trained a generation of candidates to do so, through a political action committee known as GOPAC. “The GOPAC tapes were designed to develop a vocabulary of positive words to use to describe Republican initiatives — liberty, freedom, truth, opportunity — while using ‘bad’ words to label the Democrats — decay, corrupt, permissive and pathetic,” notes historian Steve Gillon.
Gingrich would last only four years as speaker, kicked to the curb after House Republicans lost seats in the 1998 midterms largely due to their decision to impeach Democratic President Bill Clinton. The tone he set in Washington, however, has endured, the political volume set at 11 ever since.
“There were the culture wars all throughout the ‘90s, and the Republicans realized they actually could win Congress if they fought on those grounds,” Brown says. “That began an era of competition that essentially has not ceased.”
The Pleasures of Hating
We can fast-forward from there. It’s enough to point out that the presidents since Clinton – George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Trump – have all been despised by roughly half the country. Whatever their intent, they ruled as dividers, not uniters.
Much of that has to do with the changed media landscape. Part of Gingrich’s genius for politics was understanding that the truest media bias is always toward covering conflict. Making noise became a premium job skill for politicians. The mid-1990s saw not only a resurgent Republican Party but the birth of Fox News, along with Web browsers that opened up the Internet to mass appeal. National syndication of conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh dates back to 1988. In the years since, Democrats have sought to match conservative media mastery, with mixed success.
Nonetheless, people are now fully able to pick the news they want, along with the friends they choose to associate with. People receive positive reinforcement through likes, while those who might disagree with them choose to unfollow. “Information flow is all generated by who you select to be around,” says GOP consultant David Carney. “Very few people like controversy and they don’t want to be confronted with angry people on the left or right. That’s the biggest problem – you don’t have to hear anything you disagree with.”
What unites people on social media more than anything, Carney suggests, is joining together to hate those on the other side. Adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory are seen as representing the true face of conservatism by Democrats, while Republicans warn that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other members of the progressive Democratic “Squad” in the House will be calling the shots during the Biden administration.
“Those are our choices now,” says Ayres. “Their tweets get picked up, each side uses the tweets on the other side, and that in turn feeds polarization.”
This environment goes a long way to explaining the toxic partisanship of our culture. But media and social media are ultimately just platforms. Why are they so filled with hate?
‘The Politics of Resentment’
Disdain for cities has always had a racial element. “Urban” became code for racial stereotypes by the late 20th century. But now cities are also resented in other terms.
As noted earlier, the economic fortunes of blue and red America have diverged over the past decade. Trump’s election in 2016 and his enduring appeal in less populace parts of the country have been partly an expression of discontent in less-successful places. Trump ran on a promise of restoring coal jobs and steel jobs and all the factory jobs he said were lost to foreign competition and unfair trade deals.
While Obama was the first person from a big city to be elected president in nearly a century, Trump railed against cities throughout his presidency, describing them variously as dirty, disgusting and rat-infested, finally labeling several of them formally as “anarchist jurisdictions.”
“In our rural areas, what I have learned is that there are many people who feel that neither party represents them, and many have a strong resentment toward the cities and urban elites,” University of Wisconsin political scientist Katherine Cramer said after Trump’s election. “They feel as though they are not getting their fair share of power… They are not getting their fair share of taxpayer dollars — the money goes to the cities — and also they are not getting their fair share of respect.”
Remember when Obama described residents of small towns as “bitter” at a San Francisco fundraiser? “They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” he said.
This feeds what Cramer calls “the politics of resentment.” Many rural and small-town Americans believe that coastal and urban elites look down upon them and certainly don’t share the wealth. Where once farmers felt displaced and perhaps no longer important, now the same is true of people in communities that once benefited from manufacturing. “You see the cities prospering,” Wilkinson says, “and it seems they took something from you.”
One of the themes of the post-election complaint among Trump and his supporters has been that Biden’s margin, earned in a fraction of counties, somehow isn’t legitimate. Last month, Eric Trump tweeted out an image that suggested Trump enjoyed wider support due to the number of counties he carried, along with the size of his rallies.
Meanwhile, city dwellers are frustrated that rural voters enjoy disproportionate power in both the Senate and the Electoral College. In response to complaints about Biden’s small share of counties, Democratic commentators have noted that the population of Los Angeles County alone is more than 41 states. In all, Biden won 91 of the nation’s 100 largest counties.
The Politics of Place
It’s not new for cities to vote Democratic, but why was Biden’s metropolitan advantage so overwhelming?
The economic divergence between metros and rural America continued throughout Trump’s presidency, at least prior to the pandemic. Maybe now technology really will allow Americans (or at least office workers) to work from anywhere, but over the past decade they’ve clustered heavily in tech centers. “The pull of cities is so strong because of the concentration of the economy in cities,” says Wilkinson, the Niskanen Center vice president.
But overall migration has slowed considerably in recent years. Not everyone is packing up to seek their fortune in places like Seattle and Austin.
People who are willing to pick up stakes have a greater openness to experience, Wilkinson says, meaning they’re intrinsically more willing to pursue higher education. They also tend to be less ethnocentric. “You get all the white liberals moving to the city for reasons of personality and education,” he says.
Educational attainment has emerged as one of the key divides in American politics. Trump dominated white male voters without college degrees, according to exit polls, while Biden took 55 percent of the vote among college educated voters in total.
“I certainly worry about the idea that you have such a significant chunk of the country that feels disconnected from the national growth story,” says the Economic Innovation Group’s Lettieri.
Where Does This Leave Us?
The two parties at this point represent people of separate and distinct ideologies, economic and educational backgrounds, cultural and religious values, attitudes toward science and higher education, and ideas about gender, race and identity. Given all this, maybe it’s not surprising that American politics have become polarized and toxic.
Then there’s the political structure itself. America’s plurality voting system means there’s no real chance for a competitive third-party to emerge, no matter how many voters feel politically homeless as the two parties appear to grow more extreme. In any election, the worst outcome is not that the candidate you favor might lose, but that the one you hate could win.
Politicians play up such fears, known as negative partisanship. Only one side can win. The fact that the other side might well plot a quick comeback and win power in the next election only accelerates this dynamic.
Trump became the first one-term president since 1992, but neither party has been able to win a third presidential term since 1988. Control of the House, so long solidly Democratic, now shifts fairly regularly – three times since 2006, with Republicans looking to have a very good chance of erasing the Democrats’ slim majority in 2022. Most people, meanwhile, vote along strict party lines, with the small share of persuadable voters in each election essentially determining the outcome.
This gives national politicians little incentive to cooperate with the other side. Compromise is seen as consorting with the enemy. Better to block the current majority as best you can, while waiting for power to return your way. Polarization has become almost the default mode.
The story is entirely different at the state level, where majorities are mostly dug in. In 2020, only one legislative chamber changed hands, the lowest number in decades. But that, too, is part of the story of competition between red and blue America.
Americans are separated by race, place and platform. Lines are drawn between them by politicians and people’s media diets, with partisans convinced that the other side is the enemy.
More than a century ago, Henry Adams defined politics as “the systematic organization of hatreds.” That’s no less true today.
“There are no cross-cutting issues, places or policies,” Bill Bishop says. “So there is always conflict. And the ‘other’ is always clearly identifiable.”
Our Divided Country
“Until the nationality of the immigrant and his descendants has been melted and recast, he is still at heart a foreigner; he is an element of weakness and disunion.”
During the first century and a third of our existence as a nation, it was the policy of the United States to encourage the settlement of our vast public domain as rapidly as possible, and we urgently invited immigration from every European country. In order to hasten the Americanization of the millions accepting our invitation we invented the theory, then perhaps new in the world, that every man has a natural right to throw off his old allegiance upon emigrating from his native land, and to accept citizenship in any country he may please to choose for his domicile. Every enterprising politician understood the advantage of bidding for the support of the new citizens by being most warm in welcome, most active in conferring the rights of citizenship upon them, and most eloquent in explaining how the European peasant, who never enjoyed the slightest participation in the government of his native country and was therefore utterly inexperienced and as ignorant as a child of the principles of civil government, was nevertheless abundantly qualified to exercise all the prerogatives of popular sovereignty. Now that we have a population of a hundred millions, so dense that migration to Canada on a large scale has been going on for years, so dense that Iowa in the last decennial census period lost so much population as to cut down her representation in Congress, the question of immigration and naturalization takes on a different aspect; especially so when we turn from an anxious study of a world at war to consider the resources upon which we can rely for defense, in the event that the conflagration should ultimately reach us.
It is becoming every day more and more clear that, in time of war, that state is relatively strongest which has the most homogenous population, and that state is weakest whose population is most heterogeneous. When it comes to marshaling the energies of a country for attack or defense, the spiritual forces to be mobilized are at least as important as the material, perhaps more so; and whatever influences are at work to disintegrate the unity of the state must be taken into account in making an inventory of its available strength. Few nations suffer so much from divisive influences as the United States. Its citizenry is a mixture of all the races of the earth; and there is increasing evidence that, as respects many of the elements which compose the mass, they are imperfectly assimilated, and as respects many others, they have not undergone the slightest change in being transported to our shores. Allegiance to one’s country is not a matter of words or declarations. It cannot be put on and off at will. If a Mongolian were permitted to be naturalized in the United States, he would be as much a Mongolian after naturalization as before; and he would continue to be a Mongolian in his sympathies, his instincts, his political and social conceptions, until he had lived here through generations enough to take the Mongolian character out of him and his descendants. His declaration on oath that he was attached to the principles of the Constitution, and that he renounced allegiance to any other prince, potentate, or sovereignty, and particularly to the Republic of China, would have only the slightest effect upon him when his adopted country came into conflict with the land of his nativity. The United States is unquestionably wise in refusing naturalization to Oriental races, whose allegiance in the nature of things could only be skin deep. Naturalization should be the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual transformation—not merely a vaccination-mark to be carried by the wearer as a proof of his immunity from foreign military service
There are not enough citizens of Mongolian descent in the United States to make the question from their standpoint interesting; but if there are nine millions of German birth or descent, three millions of Scandinavian, one and a half of French, more than two of Italian, ten of English, the extent to which their presence weakens the country becomes a matter of the first magnitude. The strength of the tie of allegiance to the United States as against the country of their origin, in case of life-and-death struggle between the two, is something which the individuals themselves are wholly incapable of estimating in advance. It depends upon the extent to which the old ties have been weakened and new ties formed here. It depends upon the extent to which the German, French, Russian, Italian, English characters have been erased and American traits developed in their place. It is measured by their unconscious recognition of the claims of family relations in the old country, the claims of the church which for centuries has exercised dominion over them and their ancestors, and the claims of the government of the country which still asserts its sovereignty over its subjects in whatever part of the world they may have their domicile. Allegiance is a matter of psychology, quite as much as of law. In short, it is simply a question of the thoroughness with which the melting-pot has done its work. Until the nationality of the immigrant and his descendants has been melted and recast, he is still at heart a foreigner; he is an element of weakness and disunion, and to that extent he will be a traitor to his adopted country whenever that country comes to death-grips with the land of his birth. The instinct of nationality, which it has taken centuries of suffering and sacrifice for his native land to breed into him, cannot be obliterated by a superficial ceremony of naturalization and a few years’ residence here. The only patriotism that is worth anything, or that can be relied on to give its life to save the life of the state, is one that has been mellowed by time and wrought into the spiritual fibre.
Just now the German-American part of our population is glorying in its Germanism, and is organizing itself in all sorts of ways to resist as stubbornly as possible the process of Americanization and to preserve as perfectly as possible its national characteristics. This is not mentioned as a fault, but merely as a fact. It is the more interesting because it is not true of any other section of our naturalized citizenship to the same degree. There are organizations of Danish, Bohemian, Welsh, and other nationalities, the purpose of each of which is to keep alive among its members and their children the memory of their native land, its history, language, art, and literature, and a just pride in their ancestry; but it is among the German-American preëminently that societies are being formed to promote in this country the interests of their fatherland, and to intensify and perpetuate the sense of an undying fidelity to it. The invincibility of the German instinct is one of the chief proofs of the depth and strength of the German character. But the feeling is strong in varying degrees among our naturalized citizens of many European nationalities.
The intensity of this feeling among their subjects at home is the mightiest factor in the strength of most of the states now at war; it is the source of that indomitable fortitude which places every drop of blood and every dollar at the disposal of the state. But it is precisely this sense of indelible allegiance among our citizens of foreign birth, this recognition of an allegiance which survives naturalization, that is one of the most alarming sources of weakness in our own country.
A state’s claim to the obedience of its subjects after their naturalization in a foreign country goes only one step beyond the claim, made by nearly all countries, of criminal jurisdiction over their subjects wherever in the world they may happen to be. The United States, almost alone among the nations, disclaims any right to punish American citizens for crimes committed within the dominions of other independent states. This right of a state, in the exercise of its sovereignty, to take jurisdiction of crimes of its subjects committed in foreign countries, and to inflict such punishment as it may think fit, is quite generally recognized; some states even go to the length, in certain cases, of asserting the right to punish the subjects of other countries for crimes committed abroad against its own subjects. This is an assertion of criminal jurisdiction by a state, not only within its own territorial boundaries and upon the high seas and in uncivilized places where there is no law adequate to punishment of crime; it is an assertion of criminal jurisdiction within the boundaries of other independent sovereignties. Speaking broadly, this pretension is denied in the United States, and all right to so extensive a jurisdiction is denied here.
The position of the United States is briefly stated: the penal laws of a country have no extra-territorial effect. Jurisdiction is founded upon the idea that every state is supreme within its territorial boundaries, and the correlative doctrine that beyond those boundaries its penal laws have no force. Hence, if an American citizen should murder another American citizen while traveling in Europe, he could be punished by the government of the country where the crime was committed; but if it should for any reason neglect to proceed against him, he could not be punished upon his return home. Porter Charlton, who has been convicted in the Italian courts of murdering his wife, returned to America after the crime and was sent back to Italy upon request of the Italian government, notwithstanding the fact that that government would not have surrendered an Italian subject upon the request of the United States in a similar case. But if Italy had not demanded him, or if the government of the United States had refused to extradite him, there is no law in the United States under which he could be tried here.
This disclaimer by the United States of extra-territorial jurisdiction over its citizens is not an element of weakness, because comparatively few Americans permanently emigrate to foreign countries, and fewer still become naturalized there. But the steadfast assertion of such jurisdiction by foreign governments over their subjects domiciled here has a very marked effect in delaying the process of Americanization, and in weakening the sense of American citizenship even after naturalization here. If an Austrian knows that, while residing in Ohio, he may, by working in a factory, commit a crime against the laws of Austria for which he may be executed if he should ever return to his native land, or for which his inheritance there will be forfeited even if he never returns, he is made to realize very vividly the ties that bind him to the fatherland. The act may be perfectly innocent in the United States, but treasonable in the eyes of Austrian law. After committing such a crime, should he go through the solemn rite of naturalization, and thereby become theoretically entitled to the protection of his adopted country, the knowledge that the United States neither can nor will try to protect him must sadly weaken the force of his new allegiance.
The newspapers on September 26 printed an account of the proceedings at Youngstown Ohio, in which one Ciepelowski, an Austrian subject, was brought into a court to answer questions propounded to him at the instance of the Austrian government, regarding alleged treasonable utterances here. It was stated that he refused to answer the questions, and proposed to resist any attempt to extradite him to Austria, and that the depositions taken were to be forwarded to the Austrian consul at Cleveland. The Dumba incident clearly showed the purpose of the Austrian government to notify its subjects working in American munitions factories that such acts would be considered as treason, and would render them liable to prosecution in Austria. Whether that government would try them in their absence, find them guilty, confiscate any property of theirs which could be found, forfeit their rights of inheritance, persecute their relatives, — or exactly what steps it would take to punish them, — is not disclosed. Once guilty of such a crime, it is clear that no subsequent naturalization in this country could save them from the appropriate penalties.
The following advertisement is said to have been published in many Austro-Hungarian newspapers in the United States: ‘The Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Embassy, acting under orders from the home government, gives notice by the announcement to all Austrian and Hungarian citizens, including the men from Bosnia and Herzegovina, in conformity with Paragraph 327 of the Austrian Military Criminal Law, that all workmen who are employed in factories in this country which are making either arms or ammunition for the enemies of your country are guilty of a crime against the military safety of your fatherland. This crime is punishable by from ten to twenty years’ imprisonment and, in especially aggravating circumstances, by the penalty of death. Against those who violate this order, the whole force of the law will be invoked in the event of their return hereafter to their own country.’
In the case of the more ignorant foreigners, imbued with a deep sense of the ability and willingness of their native country to punish relentlessly any violation of its laws, even when committed in this country, it is not likely that the ceremony of naturalization, whose significance is but feebly grasped and whose legal effect is at the best obscure and doubtful, can emancipate them from the dominion of a sovereignty which claims the right to follow them to the ends of the earth.
Lately a number of applicants for citizenship in the courts at Minneapolis were examined by an officer of the United States Naturalization Bureau. He put to each of them this question: ‘I have been told that Germany and some of the other nations of Europe have passed laws permitting their native-born to enlist in their armies and enjoy all the privileges of full citizenship even though such native-born may be naturalized citizens of the United States. I have also been told that there are laws in those countries aiming to affect the actions of the native-born even while they are in the United States, and aiming also to hold them to observance of the laws of the European countries. Now I want to know, if such laws exist, whether you intend to obey them or be governed by them in any way?’ The applicants are said to have answered that they would pay no attention to any such laws, an all said that they did not know that the laws had been passed.
They were also asked: ‘You may some time be called upon to pass the supreme test of citizenship and loyalty; you may be asked to bear arms against the land of your birth. Will you do it if you are called?’ And they answered that they would take up arms against their native land if called.
Those promises may or may not have been sincere; the questions may or may not have been clearly understood. The applicants may believe to-day that they would fight against their native land if called upon; but when the crucial time comes, and the summons of his adopted country sounds in his ears while the call of his ancestral country rings in his heart, nobody knows which call the German-American will answer.
This assertion by European states of jurisdiction to punish crimes committed by their subjects abroad, though recently brought home to us and having a sound of novelty, is not new. The English courts have repeatedly tried, convicted, and executed men for murders committed in foreign countries—in Sweden, Spain, Portugal, and elsewhere. There is nothing surprising in a state’s assertion of the right to punish its own subjects for treason or other crimes striking directly at the safety of the state, though committed within the jurisdiction of a foreign power. Nearly every country punishes such crimes if the offender can be caught, no matter where they were committed.
In a few countries the right is claimed to punish the subjects of foreign states for ordinary crimes committed abroad, if the victims are the subjects of the punishing state; but most European countries disclaim so extensive a jurisdiction. No self-respecting government could tolerate the prosecution of its own citizens in the courts of a foreign country for a crime alleged to have been committed at home. It would amount to an invasion of the territorial sovereignty, and very few countries would at the present day venture upon so offensive a course unless prepared to affront the country whose citizens were endangered by it. There are such laws in Russia and Greece, and such jurisdiction is provided for to a limited extent in Norway, Sweden, Austria, and Italy; but cases involving the question must be of very rare occurrence. But many foreign nations would punish American citizens for acts injurious to the safety of the foreign state, though they were committed here and the citizens were innocent under our laws; and it is very certain that they would punish their own subjects, though naturalized in the United States, for such offenses committed before naturalization; that is, they would not admit that naturalization could purge the crime, any more than it could relieve the immigrant of the obligation to perform military service to which he became liable before he left his native country. Their definition of acts against the safety of the state would be whatever they chose to make it. Working in munitions factories, failure to return to the army upon call, persuading another not to return, and many other acts or omissions might easily come within a carefully worded definition.
The right of a state to punish its citizens for crimes committed in foreign countries is well recognized by the authorities in international law, and is a right with the exercise of which, in strictness, other states have nothing to do. It is founded in the right of sovereignty, which in many countries has a personal as well as territorial character. Continental Europe not only asserts exclusive jurisdiction within its own territory, but also claims a right to hold its subject within the grip of its laws wherever he may go, and to enforce them against him when he returns. This doctrine is not peculiar to the states whose system is founded upon the Roman law. The doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction and the corresponding doctrine that the penal laws of a state have no extra-territorial force, must therefore be taken with this important qualification. The personal jurisdiction of a state over its subjects may follow them abroad and expose them to the possibility of being doubly punished for the same offence, or to the risk of being punished when they return home for an act which was innocent where it was performed; and if the laws of their native country provide for trials in absentia, their estates there may be confiscated and their rights of inheritance forfeited in any manner the sovereign pleases.
Even the United States recognizes the possibility of crimes being committed by its citizens in foreign countries and punishable in our courts. According to section 5335 of the Revised Statutes, ‘Every citizen of the United States, whether actually resident or abiding within the same, or in any foreign country, who without the permission or authority of the government directly or indirectly commences or carries on any verbal or written correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government, or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the government of the United States,’ and so forth, shall be fined not more than $5000 and imprisoned. Section 1750 provides for the punishment of the crime of perjury when committed by a person making a false oath, affidavit, or deposition in a foreign country before a secretary of legation or consul of the United States residing there; the person is to be tried, convicted, and punished in the United States courts in the same manner as if the act were committed here. Both of these statutes, however, concern the functions of United States diplomatic and consular officers, and are designed to protect those functionaries and the government against any acts which might impair their efficiency. They strengthen the fiction of ex-territoriality, according to which persons in the diplomatic service of their country carry its territory with them.
That the claim of European nations to control the actions of their subjects while residing in foreign countries is not a mere theory, is illustrated by the action of the German government in acting a law on October 21, 1915, by which every German subject owning or having a share in any merchant vessel was forbidden to sell or in any way dispose of his interest, this law applying to German subjects residing in foreign countries. The principle is not different form that under which Germany and Austria hold their subjects, working in American munitions factories, to be criminals or even traitors. In view of the fact that any person violating such a law will never dare go back to his native land, it would be a waste of breath to explain to him that the penal laws of a country have no extra-territorial effect.
Thus the United States is in the unfortunate position of having conferred all the privileges and immunities of citizenship upon multitudes of persons who, in spite of a perfunctory and often farcical renunciation of their foreign allegiance, are bound to their home land by ties of blood, of language, of religion, of law, of sentiment, all woven together into character and rooted in the deepest facts of human nature. And we face the possibility of confronting a nation whose perfect unity has been cemented by the blood of a hundred battles, while our own citizenship is diluted with millions whose allegiance is a legal fiction. Had they not been clothed with citizenship, we could in the hour of need expel them or confine them in concentration camps; but as citizens, until they commit some overt act of treason they are entitled to all the rights of the native-born.
It is most unlikely that any considerable part of our naturalized population would in the event of war take up arms for our enemies; beyond a doubt the vast majority to-day think that in such an event they would fight for their adopted country; but in a state governed by public opinion there are a thousand ways in which the arm of the state may be paralyzed without the use of actual force. It is reported in the papers that the Russian government has caused the execution of two hundred German officers in the Russian army, whose presence there, while they were nominally fighting for Russia, was an element of weakness rather than of strength. The fact that Austria has been obliged to mix Bohemian and other partially disaffected troops in her armies with those of Hungarian and German blood, is doubtless one of the reasons for the poor showing Austria has made in this war.
It would be interesting to speculate on the influence which would be exerted on the conduct of the war if there were in Germany millions of naturalized men and women of English birth, owning their fair share of the wealth, holding many of the most important posts in church and state, in schools and universities, constantly preaching the superiority of everything British over everything German, denouncing the government, prophesying disaster, dissuading men from enlistment, maintaining secret correspondence with the enemy, doing their best to infect the army with locomotor ataxia and neurasthenia. But (one hastens to add) it is unthinkable that Germany would ever be guilty of the imbecility of allowing so dangerous an element to intrench itself so near the sources of power and authority. Our danger is the natural concomitant of a loose democracy, of a political philosophy which refuses to take thought for the morrow, and of an unheard-of prosperity, so widespread and long-continued as to breed an individualism utterly blind to the deeper interests of society as a whole.
The weakness of the United States as compared with other countries in the mobilizing of its spiritual forces, is further shown by the different views taken here and abroad of the right of voluntary expatriation. The attitude of the American government, at least of the legislative department, was expressed in the Act of Congress in 1868 declaring it ‘an inherent right of all people,’ and declaring that any ‘declaration, instruction, opinion, order, or decision of any officer of this government which denies, restricts, impairs, or questions the right of expatriation’ is ‘inconsistent with the fundamental principles of this government’; and that all naturalized citizens should, while abroad, be entitled to receive from the United States the same protection of person and property that is according to native-born citizens in like circumstances and conditions.
This idea of the inherent right of expatriation, however, is not generally recognized, and it requires something more than an act of Congress to give a subject of a European state the right to divest himself of his native allegiance on becoming an American citizen. The government of the United States has not, as a matter of fact, attempted to extend its full protection to naturalized citizens who have gone back to their native countries have there been seized and compelled to perform military service. The completeness of the exemption from foreign allegiance depends entirely upon the consent of the foreign government to the expatriation of its subjects, and European governments have generally not consented to the emancipation of their subjects from obligations incurred before emigration. The extent to which these obligations still hang over the naturalized American is vague and difficult to state in anything like intelligible form; and even highly educated and intelligent naturalized citizens have often been caught in the meshes of European military rules on their return to their native land. It is altogether probable that over the vast majority of the uneducated the old allegiance hangs like a huge shadow, incapable of statement in definite rules, portentous by reason of its very indefiniteness, and exercising a dominion over the imagination from which no process of naturalization can absolve them. Our government in actual practice recognizes the possibility that a naturalized American may owe military duties to his native state whose fulfillment it is very likely to demand in case of his return; and it has repeatedly endeavored in vain to extricate such citizens from the clutches of their former governments.
A naturalized citizen who realizes that his adopted country cannot and will not protect him against the claims of his native government, and whose heart still yearns for the land of his birth, is only half a citizen; he is as useless to his country in its hour of need as a sword with a steel blade and a hilt of clay.
Our country furnishes many examples of that curious phenomenon, double allegiance. All persons born within the United States and subject to its jurisdiction are declared by the Constitution to be citizens. This is true of the children of non-naturalized aliens domiciled here. But the children of aliens have the same nationality as their parents, according to the laws of nearly all foreign countries, and such children are therefore subject to a double allegiance. In this way, if a German living in this country chooses not to accept the citizenship which we so generously urge upon him, his children born here may, when they grow up, disclaim their American citizenship. A young man born here of alien parents may, if he goes to Europe for study, be forced into the army, and the United States will be powerless to protect him, even though he intends to return and reside here. Even if the alien father be naturalized here, the minor son born here before the father’s naturalization, if he returns to his father’s native country, is liable to be seized and compelled to perform military service, and his American citizenship will prove to be a mere fiction. If a German domiciled here is so attached to the memories of the fatherland as to refuse the proffer of American citizenship, and his children while growing up are diligently nurtured in the same sentiments of loyalty, they cannot be relied on by the United States in time of war as Germany and France are now relying on their subjects at home. If in addition to this consciousness of divided allegiance, there are family ties and expectations of inheritance in the old country, it is clear that the Americanism of such persons, considered as an asset in time of war with Germany, must be charged off as worthless, if it be not an actual liability.
Heretofore, most of the questions arising under the naturalization laws have had reference to the duty of the United States to extricate its newly made citizens from difficulties into which they get themselves upon returning to their native land, or in other countries; but the great European war is forcing us to look with some anxiety upon the millions whom we have thus invested with the privileges of citizenship, to see whether their duties and their privileges are reciprocal. We find that many of them seem to think they have conferred a favor upon the United States by accepting its citizenship, with little or no conception of its obligations. They have now two countries instead of one, and are at liberty to evade the burdens of one by seeking shelter under the wing of the other, or to respond to that call which on the whole is most appealing. Germany and France are not fighting this war with soldiers of that kind. Their armies are filled with men whose patriotism is at white heat. So long as all is peaceful the quality of patriotism is not strained; but when the cannon’s roar calls every man to his duty, no man can love two countries: for either he will love the one and hate the other, or else he will cleave to the one and despise the other. A country that will not protect its citizens abroad and on the high seas is certain to be despised. A man may have two citizenships in law, but not in his heart of hearts.
Roman citizenship commanded respect wherever in the world it was asserted; American citizenship seems to mean little either to the great Republic which lightly bestows it or to him who casually accepts it. When St. Paul declared himself a Roman citizen and appealed to Cæsar, it created something of a sensation among his persecutors. When the American flag was displayed during the shelling of the Ancona, to inform the Austrians that there were American citizens on board entitled to protection, it was quite naturally disregarded.
Aside from that large number of naturalized citizens who have taken the oath of allegiance honestly, and who fully believe they have cast off the old ties, there is evidently a considerable number who treat their naturalization as a mere convenience, glory in their loyalty to some foreign country, and would embrace the first opportunity to betray us. Warmed at our hearth, accorded all the privileges and opportunities of a free and too generous republic, they would rejoice at a chance to sting us. We trust they are few in number, but we have no means of knowing. We have conferred the boon of citizenship with such undiscriminating recklessness, we have so neglected the culture of the spirit of patriotism, we have so dulled the sense of duty to the state, that the number of those ready to betray us may be larger than we think.
The Supreme Court of Minnesota, as late as 1909, held a man fit for citizenship who, though forty-six years of age, did not know whether the President of the United States was George Washington or Theodore Roosevelt, but thought it was Washington; did not know where the capital of the state was located, but thought it was probably Minneapolis or Duluth; did not know who was governor of Minnesota, the state in which he had lived for twenty-four years, or where the laws of Minnesota are made, or who makes them, but guessed it was the governor; did not know what it means to take the oath of allegiance to this country; did not know anything whatever about the Constitution, although he had heard of it; admitted that if he took the oath to support the Constitution of the United States he would not know what it meant. The court, with these facts in mind, considered that this man was ‘attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States.’ With courts of last resort holding such views respecting the sacredness of citizenship; with presidents vetoing every proposal of Congress to adopt a literacy test for immigration; with every corrupt political machine eager to increase the mass of stupid, ignorant, purchasable, criminal, and generally indigestible electors, it is high time we began to look at the matter with a different eye.
In some countries, patriotism has become almost a disease; in the United States, since the inflated Fourth-of-July oration went out of fashion, love of country has become almost a jest: any one who uses the phrase is suspected of spouting. There, its abnormal growth has made it the instrument of a monstrous militarism; here, its neglect has exposed us naked to the depredations of any nation which makes war the supreme science.
It is the spiritual resources of a nation that give value to its material resources; of the two, the spiritual are the most important. There never was a moment during our Revolution when England could not have crushed the Colonies had she been united and determined; what made the outcomes of our Civil War dubious was the presence in the North of a vast number of Southern sympathizers, pouring cold water on the national enthusiasm and declaring the war a failure. Success in our next war may be jeopardized by the presence of a large foreign unassimilated element, which, though finding freedom and prosperity among us, is anything but American.
Two lessons seem very plain. The first is that we must reverse our policy in regard to naturalization. Instead of thrusting it upon reluctant immigrants before they have shown any appreciation of its meaning or any desire to become genuine Americans, we should withhold it from the unfit, ad when it is mistakenly granted, we should cancel it as having been fraudulently obtained. In the era that may be approaching, we dare not leave the keys to our house in the hands of persons who, while taking advantage of our hospitality, are meditating how to let in the enemy. We must begin to treat American citizenship as a boon, to be conferred only upon those fit to receive it, capable of appreciating it, and willing to assume the sacred obligations that attend it. Hitherto we have degraded it and rendered it contemptible by bestowing it upon multitudes who had no conception of its meaning; and we have made it seem cheap and worthless by hesitating to afford protection to those entitled to claim its shelter. Having bestowed it as a precious thing upon the deserving, instead of timorously and penuriously shirking its national obligations, and counting the cost of making good its promises, we must make it respectable in the eyes of the whole world.
The second great lesson is that the government, state and national, and every person connected in any way with education, should strive by every means to mould the youth of foreign ancestry into true Americans as fast as possible; to stimulate in them the spirit of nationality, to inspire them with intelligent pride in our history and political institutions; above all, to implant in their deepest consciousness the truth that their country may justly demand of them the supreme sacrifice, and that patriotism is the noblest of the virtues.
A Divided Nation Asks: What’s Holding Our Country Together?
Elections are meant to resolve arguments. This one inflamed them.
Weeks after the votes have been counted and the winners declared, many Americans remain angry, defiant and despairing. Millions now harbor new grievances borne of President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. Many Democrats are saddened by results that revealed the opposition to be far more powerful than they imagined.
And in both groups there are those grappling with larger, more disquieting realizations: The foundations of the American experiment have been shaken — by partisan rancor, disinformation, a president’s assault on democracy and a deadly coronavirus pandemic.
There is a sense of loss.
It burdens even the winners. In North Carolina, a soon-to-be state lawmaker whose victory made history says he is struck by how little feels changed. In Michigan, a suburban woman found her feminism in the Trump era only to see her family torn by the election outcome.
In a Pennsylvania town, the simple things still feel fraught. Plans for a small-town Christmas market spiraled into a bruising fight over public health and politics.
“What is holding our country together?” wonders Charisse Davis, a school board member in the Atlanta suburbs, where the election has not ended. A pair of Senate runoffs on Jan. 5 will decide which party controls the U.S. Senate.
Davis may get her answer soon. A vaccine has brought hope and a chance for a nation to prove it can do big things again. New leadership in Washington may change the tone.
But now, at the end of 2020, many Americans say the experiences of the past four years have made them look at their neighbors — and their country — in a different light.
It’s been a tumultuous few months for Ricky Hurtado. The 32-year-old son of Salvadoran immigrant won a seat in the North Carolina state legislature as a Democrat representing a suburban slice of Alamance County.
Hurtado’s wife, Yazmin Garcia, earned her U.S. citizenship six days before the election. The couple drove directly from the immigration office where she became a citizen to the nearest early voting site, so she could register on the spot and cast a ballot for her husband.
But Hurtado still can’t shake the feeling that, despite all this, little changed. He’d hoped to be part of a Democratic wave that took back his state legislature, hold seats on the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Senate. Instead, Democrats fell short in all those efforts. Trump won North Carolina just as he did in 2016.
“The election certainly makes it feel like Alamance and North Carolina voted for the status quo,” Hurtado said. “It feels like we haven’t moved in any given direction.”
“I won, but as a citizen of North Carolina who’s deeply invested in North Carolina, I feel like I lost.”
The win made Hurtado the first Latino Democrat ever elected to the state legislature.
After the election, he was flooded with texts and in-person congratulations from well-wishers, including one immigrant mother at an event who told him: “For you to win here, in Alamance County, is so important for my children.”
Still, Hurtado is struggling to understand how there was a shift among Latinos toward Trump in the election. The president’s strong performance with Cuban Americans in South Florida narrowed the traditional Democratic edge in Miami-Dade County and helped put Florida in Trump’s column. In Texas, Trump won tens of thousands of new supporters in predominantly Mexican American communities along the border.
It didn’t shock Hurtado. Political opinions are shaped by more than family heritage, race or gender or political party.
“It shows you, your identities are complex,” he said.
In the Pennsylvania college town of Slippery Rock, population 3,600, the annual Christmas market was supposed to be the bright spot in a dismal year.
Republican Mayor Jondavid Longo donated his salary — $88 a month after taxes — to help pay for the market that drew 25 vendors and 500 people. He hoped the outdoor event would bring holiday cheer and a much-needed injection of cash to the town’s struggling businesses. Perhaps, he figured, a cozy event would also drown out any bitter feelings about the presidential election and the pandemic.
But neither politics nor the pandemic could be escaped.
Things began to devolve on Twitter. Photos surfaced showing few people in masks, leading to criticism that the event might have spread the novel coronavirus.
The mayor said his critics were Democrats and that he believed the market did little in terms of infection. Critics could note that the death toll from the pandemic in rural Butler County has jumped more than four-fold since the Nov. 3 election to roughly 170 people.
“We were outside so I thought things were reasonable,” Longo said. “COVID was only an issue for individuals who were trying to stoke the flames of fear and discontent.”
Trump won Butler County handily in November, evidence of his campaign to supercharge turnout in rural, conservative places as he cedes ground in the cities and suburbs. It wasn’t enough to win Pennsylvania — or other industrial swing states — as President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign also managed to motivate even more hard-to-reach voters. But the strategy will have a lasting impact as the physical distance between Democratic areas and Republican areas grows wider.
Longo says the election has changed politics in his town, surfacing resentments from voters on both sides. The lingering tensions now overshadow issues once considered local — such as funding the police and libraries.
“Party politics from the national stage have seeped down into the cracks and crevices of small towns like Slippery Rock,” Longo said. “It’s really difficult to close the gap and bridge the divide.”
In Cobb County, Georgia, Davis popped a bottle of champagne, despite a nagging sense of sadness, then packed the family into the car to head into downtown Atlanta and join thousands dancing in the street.
She decided to just enjoy victory on the Saturday that news organizations called the presidential race for Biden.
“We’ll go back to worrying about humanity tomorrow,” she said to her family as they climbed in the car. And then tomorrow arrived, and the worry roared back.
Davis, who serves on the school board in suburban Cobb County, was part of a wave of Black women elected to public office in recent years. Women like her led the charge that ushered Biden to an unlikely victory in Georgia.
“We won, but it doesn’t really feel like we did,” she said.
Trump immediately began sowing doubts about the vote, tossing out specious claims of fraud. Tens of millions of Americans — 36 percent of Republicans in a recent Fox News poll — now believe the claims that the election was rigged and he was the rightful winner.
“I think the election was totally paid for and rigged by the Democrats. I believe there was huge amounts of fraud and representation and illegal processing,” said Pamela Allen, a 72-year-old retiree from Holiday, Florida, who has supported Trump since he came down the escalator in Trump Tower in 2015 to announce his candidacy.
Allen, who worked as a poll watcher in Pasco County, said she saw no problems on Election Day.
“Here in Pasco I have to admit it was very well done,” she said. But she believes things she’s seen on the conservative Trump-favored Newsmax about alleged voter fraud in other states. She is “baffled” as to why Attorney General William Barr didn’t arrest anyone, and “amazed” that the Supreme Court didn’t rule in Trump’s favor. Barr, viewed by Democrats as a staunch Trump loyalist, instead made clear before leaving his job that he had seen no evidence of widespread fraud.
Allen believes that if Biden takes office, he will retire quickly, leaving the presidency to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. She also thinks House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become vice president. However, Allen hopes Trump will prevail prior to Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.
“I would support martial law if that is what he believes he needs to do,” she said. “I would support absolutely anything Donald Trump proposes to keep the government going in the direction we were going in. As opposed to Biden running the country, absolutely.”
Trump’s efforts to toss out votes came in heavily Black cities, which to Davis represents an ugly history of trying to repress Black voices. She watched a recent debate, when Kelly Loeffler, one of the two Republican senators in runoffs to retain their seats, refused to say Trump lost.
How, Davis worries, can a country recover from that?
“Do we have a democracy or do we not?” she asked.
In her county, formerly a Republican stronghold, the election marked an extraordinary transition: Democrats won victories in most countywide offices, including sheriff, district attorney and a majority on the Board of Commissioners, which is now governed solely by women, most of them Black.
But that blue wave stopped short of flipping the seven-member school board. Davis, one of three Democrats, will remain in the minority. The impact of those results quickly made itself clear to her: Just after the election, the school board split along party and racial lines to vote to disband a committee it had created to review the names of its schools. Some of the schools are named after a Confederate general and a member of a slave-owning family.
“If Democrats say something, then the other side has to be against it,” Davis said. “That’s just where we are. I don’t know how we get past this.”
In suburban Michigan, a coalition of suburban women achieved what it set out to do — help evict Trump from the White House. But Lori Goldman, in Oakland County, Michigan, who runs the group Fems for Dems, can’t shake the sense that the mission now is more critical than it’s ever been.
“We got rid of this blight, this cancer,” said Goldman, 61. “We cut him out. But we know that cancer has spread, it’s spread to soft tissue, other organs. And now we have to save the rest of the body.”
Trump isn’t gone, not really, she said. She is horrified at the number of Americans who believe his unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud.
“That’s a dangerous, dangerous place to be in,” she said. “This country is in a lot of trouble.”
It feels to her that the United States is caught in a period of great transition. The bright, progressive future she longs for seems inevitable. But she thinks a large portion of America would prefer to turn back the clock.
Trump called people like her the “suburban housewives of America,” and tried to appeal to them by spreading fear about Black Lives Matter protesters, crime and low-income housing. Still, Biden won 54% of suburban voters, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of the electorate.
Goldman can’t understand why 74 million Americans voted for Trump. She went on national television and said she was ashamed that most of her own relatives were among them. Now some of her siblings don’t want to talk to her anymore.
To her, this is a microcosm of one of the greatest challenges this country has faced: that tribalized politics has pitted people against each other in a way far more profound than ever before. It is no longer Republicans versus Democrats. It has splintered families and friends.
She weeps when she talks about the rift.
Should the United States Return to a Gold Standard?
Prior to 1971, the United States was on various forms of a gold standard where the value of the dollar was backed by gold reserves and paper money could be redeemed for gold upon demand. Since 1971, the United States dollar has had a fiat currency backed by the “full faith and credit” of the government and not backed by, valued in, or convertible into gold.
Proponents of the gold standard argue that gold retains a stable value that reduces the risk of economic crises, limits government power, would reduce the US trade deficit, and could prevent unnecessary wars by limiting defense spending.
Opponents of the gold standard argue that gold is volatile and would destabilize the economy while disallowing government economic and military intervention, and increasing environmental and cultural harms via mining.
In an international gold-standard system, gold or a currency that is convertible into gold at a fixed price is used as a medium of international payments. Under such a system, exchange rates between countries are fixed; if exchange rates rise above or fall below the fixed mint rate by more than the cost of shipping gold from one country to another, large gold inflows or outflows occur until the rates return to the official level. These “trigger” prices are known as gold points.
Advantages And Disadvantages
The advantages of the gold standard are that (1) it limits the power of governments or banks to cause price inflation by excessive issue of paper currency, although there is evidence that even before World War I monetary authorities did not contract the supply of money when the country incurred a gold outflow, and (2) it creates certainty in international trade by providing a fixed pattern of exchange rates.
The disadvantages are that (1) it may not provide sufficient flexibility in the supply of money, because the supply of newly mined gold is not closely related to the growing needs of the world economy for a commensurate supply of money, (2) a country may not be able to isolate its economy from depression or inflation in the rest of the world, and (3) the process of adjustment for a country with a payments deficit can be long and painful whenever an increase in unemployment or a decline in the rate of economic expansion occurs.
- Fixed assets back the money’s value
- Provides a self-regulating and stabilizing effect on the economy
- Discourages inflation
- Discourages government budget deficits and debt
- Rewards productive nations
- A country’s economy is dependent upon its supply of gold
- Countries fixate on keeping their gold
- Actions to protect gold reserves caused significant fluctuations in the economy
The benefit of a gold standard is that a fixed asset backs the money’s value. Proponents of a gold standard say it provides a self-regulating and stabilizing effect on the economy. Under the gold standard, the government can only print as much money as its country has in gold. That discourages inflation, which happens when too much money chases too few goods. It also discourages government budget deficits and debt, which can’t exceed the supply of gold.
A gold standard rewards the more productive nations. For example, they receive gold when they export. With more gold in their reserves, they can print more money. That boosts investment in their profitable export businesses.
The gold standard spurred exploration. It’s why Spain and other European countries discovered the New World in the 1500s. They needed to get more gold to increase their prosperity. It also prompted the Gold Rush in California and Alaska during the 1800s.
One problem with a gold standard is that the size and health of a country’s economy are dependent upon its supply of gold. The economy is not reliant on the resourcefulness of its people and businesses. Countries without any gold are at a competitive disadvantage.
The United States never had that problem. It was the world’s second-largest gold mining country after Australia. Most gold mining in the United States occurs on federally owned lands in 12 western states. According to the National Mining Association, Nevada is the primary source. Many developing countries are also major gold producers.
The gold standard makes countries obsessed with keeping their gold. They ignore the more important task of improving the business climate. During the Great Depression, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. It wanted to make dollars more valuable and prevent people from demanding gold, but it should have been lowering rates to stimulate the economy.
Government actions to protect their gold reserves caused significant fluctuations in the economy. In fact, between 1890 and 1905, the U.S. economy suffered five major recessions for this reason. Edward M. Gramlich mentioned these facts in his remarks at the 24th Annual Conference of the Eastern Economic Association on February 27, 1998. Gramlich was a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.
History of the Gold Standard
Why the Dollar Was Backed by Gold
Gold has been used as the currency of choice throughout history. The earliest known use was in 600 B.C. in Lydia, which is in present-day Turkey.
Gold was part of a naturally occurring compound known as electrum, which the Lydians used to make coins. By 560 B.C., the Lydians had figured out how to separate the gold from the silver, and so created the first truly gold coin. The first king to use gold for coins was named Croesus, and his name lives on in the phrase “rich as Croesus.”
In those days, the value of the coin was based solely on the value of the metal within, and the country with the most gold had the most wealth. As a result, Spain, Portugal, and England sent Columbus and other explorers to the New World. They needed more gold so they could be wealthier than each other.
Introduction of the Gold Standard
When gold was found at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, it inspired the California Gold Rush the following year, which helped unify western America. At the time, it resulted in inflation because the United States was already on a de facto gold standard since 1834, so the flood of new gold led to rising prices.
In 1861, Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase printed the first U.S. paper currency. The Gold Standard Act of 1900 established gold as the only metal for redeeming paper currency. It set the value of gold at $20.67 an ounce.
European countries wanted to standardize transactions in the booming world trade market, so they adopted the gold standard by the 1870s. It guaranteed that the government would redeem any amount of paper money for its value in gold, and meant transactions no longer had to be done with heavy gold bullion or coins, since paper currency now had guaranteed valued tied to something real.
This huge change also increased the trust needed for successful global trade, and it came with its own risks: gold prices and currency values dropped every time miners found large new gold deposits.
In 1913, Congress created the Federal Reserve to stabilize gold and currency values in the United States. When World War I broke out, the United States and European countries suspended the gold standard so they could print enough money to pay for their military involvement.
The Great War proved to be the first nail in the coffin for the international gold standard.
After the war, countries realized they didn’t need to tie their currency to gold, and that it may in fact be harming the world economy to do so. Countries quickly returned to a modified gold standard after the war, including the United States in 1919. But the gold exchange standard was causing deflation and unemployment to run rampant in the world economy, and so countries began leaving the gold standard en masse by the 1930s as the Great Depression reached its peak. The United States finally abandoned the gold standard entirely in 1933.
The Gold Standard and the Great Depression
Once the Great Depression hit with full force, countries had to abandon the gold standard. When the stock market crashed in 1929, investors began trading in currencies and commodities. As the price of gold rose, people exchanged their dollars for gold. It worsened when banks began failing, as people began hoarding gold because they didn’t trust any financial institution.
The Federal Reserve kept raising interest rates in an attempt to make dollars more valuable and dissuade people from further depleting the U.S. gold reserves, but it made the cost of doing business more expensive. Many companies went bankrupt, creating record levels of unemployment.
On March 6, 1933, the newly-elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt closed the banks in response to a run on the gold reserves at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. By the time banks re-opened on March 13, they had turned in all their gold to the Federal Reserve. They could no longer redeem dollars for gold, and no one could export gold.
On April 20, FDR ordered Americans to turn in their gold in exchange for dollars to prohibit the hoarding of gold and the redemption of gold by other countries. This created the gold reserves at Fort Knox. The United States soon held the world’s largest supply of gold.
On January 30, 1934, the Gold Reserve Act prohibited the private ownership of gold except under license. It allowed the government to pay its debts in dollars, not gold, and authorized FDR to increase the price of gold from $20.67 per ounce to $35 per ounce (which consequently devalued the dollar).
1944 Bretton Woods Agreement
The 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement set the exchange value for all currencies in terms of gold. It obligated member countries to convert foreign official holdings of their currencies into gold at these par values.
The United States held the majority of the world’s gold. As a result, most countries simply pegged the value of their currency to the dollar instead of gold. Central banks maintained fixed exchange rates between their currencies and the dollar by buying their own country’s currency in foreign exchange markets if their currency became too low relative to the dollar. If it became too high, they’d print more of their currency and sell it. It became more convenient for countries to trade when they peg to the dollar. As a result, most countries no longer needed to exchange their currency for gold, as the dollar had replaced it.
End of the Gold Standard
In 1960, the United States held $19.4 billion in gold reserves, including $1.6 billion in the International Monetary Fund. That was enough to cover the $18.7 billion in foreign dollars outstanding.
As the U.S. economy prospered, Americans bought more imported goods and paid in dollars. This large balance of payments deficit worried foreign governments that the United States would no longer back up the dollar in gold.
Also, the Soviet Union had become a large oil producer. It was accumulating U.S. dollars in its foreign reserves since oil is priced in dollars due to fears that the United States would seize its bank accounts as a tactic in the Cold War. The Soviet Union deposited its dollar reserves in European banks, and these became known as eurodollars.
By the 1970s, the United States stockpile of gold continued to decline as President Nixon’s economic policies created stagflation. Double-digit inflation reduced the eurodollar’s value, and more and more banks started redeeming their holdings for gold. The United States could no longer meet this growing obligation.
That’s when Nixon changed the dollar/gold relationship to $38 per ounce. He no longer allowed the Fed to redeem dollars with gold, which made the gold standard meaningless. The U.S. government repriced gold to $42.22 per ounce in 1973 and then decoupled the value of the dollar from gold altogether in 1976. The price of gold quickly shot up to $124.84.
The Legacy of Gold
Once the gold standard was dropped, countries began printing more of their own currency, which resulted in inflation but also more economic growth. Although there are advocates for a return to the gold standard, it appears unlikely that those days will return. Economists regard the gold standard as necessary during its time, but no longer applicable in the modern world economy.
Gold continues to have appeal as an asset of real value. Whenever a recession or inflation looms, investors return to gold as a safe haven. It reached its record high of $1,895 an ounce on September 5, 2011.
Can America Return to a Gold Standard?
How would a return to the gold standard affect the U.S. economy? First, it would constrict the government’s ability to manage the economy. The Fed would no longer be able to reduce the money supply by raising interest rates in times of inflation. Nor could it increase the money supply by lowering rates in times of recession. In fact, this is why many advocate a return to the gold standard. It would enforce fiscal discipline, balance the budget, and limit government intervention. The Cato Institute’s policy analysis, ”The Gold Standard: An Analysis of Some Recent Proposals,” presents an evaluation of methods for returning to the gold standard.
A fixed money supply, dependent on gold reserves, would limit economic growth. Many businesses would not get funded because of a lack of capital. Furthermore, the United States could not unilaterally convert to a gold standard if the rest of the world didn’t. If it did, everyone in the world could demand that the United States redeem their dollars with gold. American reserves would be quickly depleted. Defense of the United States’ supply of gold helped cause the Great Depression. The Great Depression ended when Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the New Deal.
The U.S. no longer has enough gold at current rates to pay off its debt owed to foreign investors. Even when gold hit its peak price of $1,896 an ounce in September 2011, there wasn’t enough gold for the United States to pay off its debt. At that time, China, Japan, and other countries owned $4.7 trillion in U.S. Treasury debt.
Today, the U.S. economy is an important partner in an integrated global economy. Central banks work together throughout the world to manage monetary policy. It’s too late for the United States to adopt an isolationist economic stance.
In my opinion the economy of the world has outgrown the gold standard. It is estimated that the total amount of gold in the world is around 244,000 metric tons. That is the gold that has been mined and the gold reserves left in the earth. Each metric ton of gold is worth 64.3 million dollars. This amounts to approximately 15.7 trillion dollars. In 2019 the global GDP amounted to 87.55 trillion US dollars. As you can see that the economies of the world have simply outgrown the availability of gold. Countries over the years have found more flexible forms guaranteeing their monetary systems. Gold simply isn’t able to keep up with modern economies.
Ron Klain: What to know about Biden’s chief of staff
President Biden has chosen longtime confidant and Democratic operative Ron Klain to serve as his chief of staff, and Klain is already making waves in Washington.
On Day One in office, Klain issued a blanket freeze on new regulatory actions to stop any last-minute changes by the Trump administration until the Biden administration has had a chance to review them.
Klain previously served as Biden’s chief of staff when he was vice president during the Obama-Biden administration and is a lawyer with extensive experience across Capitol Hill.
President Biden said this experience will make him an “invaluable” part of his administration.
“His deep, varied experience and capacity to work with people all across the political spectrum is precisely what I need in a White House chief of staff as we confront this moment of crisis and bring our country together again,” Biden said in a statement.
As a recent graduate of Harvard Law School, Klain started working for the then senator from Delaware. In the late 1980s, when Biden led the Senate Judiciary Committee, Klain served as the committee’s chief counsel. Furthermore, he was an adviser and speechwriter for Biden’s unsuccessful 1988 and 2008 White House campaigns.
He was also involved in both of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns and served as a presidential debate coach for Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton in addition to President Biden.
Klain was a senior White House aide to Barack Obama and chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore. Klain is played by Kevin Spacey in the HBO drama “Recount,” based on the election of 2000 and the Bush v. Gore case when George W. Bush ultimately won the election.
Over the years, Klain has become adept in understanding the powers of the legislative and executive branches, a fundamental quality for this role.
The chief of staff is one of the most important White House appointments, managing the president’s daily schedule. This position does not require a Senate confirmation.
Klain described his appointment to chief of staff in a statement as “the honor of a lifetime.”
The Biden team plans to focus on tackling two of the nation’s most pressing crises: the coronavirus pandemic and the economic recovery. And Klain has the experience for tackling both, having helped with the 2009 Recovery Act as Biden’s chief of staff and acting as the Obama administration’s Ebola czar in 2014.
“Ron has been invaluable to me over the many years that we have worked together, including as we rescued the American economy from one of the worst downturns in our history in 2009 and later overcame a daunting public health emergency in 2014,” Biden said in a statement.
Klain said he looks forward to helping President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris assemble an expert team “as we tackle their ambitious agenda for change, and seek to heal the divides of our country.”
There has been talk about who is pulling the strings in the Whitehouse. Well since Klain controls Biden’s schedule, it can be argued that he has control of those strings. He basically decides whether or not he does a press conference, so he controls what the country sees of Biden. It is obvious that Biden is not in control. While Klain has quite a bit of influence over Biden, I think ultimately, it his his spouse Dr. Jill Biden who tells him what to say. Only time will tell on who is right. However, I do know one thing, Kamala Harris won’t be held back much longer.
kiro7.com, “Who is Ron Klain, Joe Biden’s new White House chief of staff?” By Bob D’Angelo; forbes.com, “Would Mass Student Loan Forgiveness Result In A Tax Nightmare For Borrowers?” By Adam S. Minsky; gold-standard.procon.org, “Should the United States Return to a Gold Standard?” By Procon.org; britannica.com, “Gold Standard Monetary System,” By Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica; positivemoney.org, ” ‘FIAT MONEY’ OR GOLD STANDARD?” By David A. Jones; americanexperiment.org, “The Intellectual Foundations of Cultural Decline: An Inquiry,” By Stephen B. Young; governing.com, “It Took Decades for America to Become This Divided,’ By Alan Greenblatt; theatlantic.com, “Our Divided Country,” By Henry J. Fletcher; apnews.com, “A divided nation asks: What’s holding our country together?” By TAMARA LUSH, JOSH BOAK, NICHOLAS RICCARDI and CLAIRE GALOFARO; foxnews.com, “Ron Klain: What to know about Biden’s chief of staff,” By Bryn McCarthy;
‘FIAT MONEY’ OR GOLD STANDARD?
Many people, upon first learning about ‘Fractional Reserve’ Banking, are drawn to the idea of the Gold Standard. They find out that ‘Fractional Reserve’ Banking leads to an inflating money supply, moreover one plagued by cycles of boom and bust due to its elasticity. They dislike this – they want money to work as a safe store of value by fixing its total supply. The Gold Standard is one way of doing this.
Before we embark on a discussion of the pros and cons of a Gold Standard, I’d like to dispatch two monetary misconceptions commonly encountered on the internet:
1: I have put the words ‘fractional reserve’ in inverted commas because, like so many terms used in banking, it is a misnomer. Banks do not require reserves to issue ‘loans’! (to see why I put ‘loans’ in inverted commas, read this!). The ‘money multiplier effect’ is a myth of modern banking.
2: The Gold Standard is fiat money! One often finds (especially on the internet!) paper money described pejoratively as ‘fiat money’. ‘Fiat’ is used as a scare-word to silence critical thought (like the way ‘socialism’ is used in the U.S. as in “Policy X is socialism!”). But ‘fiat’ currency – ‘fiat’ is Latin for ‘let it be done’ – simply means a currency declared by law as legal tender. “Money exists not by nature, but by law” as Aristotle put it. A nation adopts gold as the basis for its currency by fiat – by government decree.
With that out of the way, let’s proceed! The idea of the Gold Standard is to fix the quantity of money by pegging its issue to a scarce resource – gold. Money has been pegged this way in the past, as coins made of precious metals, or as receipts exchangeable for a fixed measure of the metal. For example, the name “dollar” comes from the silver coins called talers, originally minted in the Czech Republic. The U.S. dollar began its life as a silver coin – according to Wikipedia:
“The first United States dollar was minted in 1794. Known as the Flowing Hair Dollar, it contained 416 grains of “standard silver” (89.25% silver and 10.75% copper), as specified by Section 13  of the Coinage Act of 1792. It was designated by Section 9 of that Act as having “the value of a Spanish milled dollar“.
Why do supporters of the Gold Standard – sometimes referred to as ‘gold-bugs’ for short – want this kind of money? Let’s ask what money is for in general. Economists identify three main economic functions served by money:
1 – As a means of exchange / deference of payment
2 – As a store of value
3 – As a unit of account
‘Gold-bugs’ argue that since ‘paper money’ can be increased at will by government and banks it is inflationary and so will not perform the second function of money properly. In today’s banking system, the term ‘paper money’ can be taken to mean all notes, coins and digital bank deposits which are not backed by any commodity. Most ‘paper’ money is in fact numbers in a computer and not paper at all. ‘Gold-bugs’ are quite right that this modern ‘paper’ money supply is inflationary – in creating our national money supply digitally, as interest-bearing debt in the form of bank deposits, commercial banks (aided and abetted by our government) cause a great deal of inflation. They are also right that it is excessively elastic. When commercial banks make a lot of new ‘loans’ the money supply expands, When a lot of old ‘loans’ are repaid the money supply contracts. This leads to boom and bust.
Let’s imagine we lived instead in a ‘Gold-bug Utopia’ where the Gold Standard is used. Say everyone were exchanging a fixed supply of gold coins, which are initially distributed equitably amongst the citizenry. If the supply of goods and services these citizens provide increases, then the supply of money they exchange cannot increase in tandem -it is fixed by the supply of gold in existence. This naturally leads to deflation.
Deflation means that the same amount of money buys more goods and services than before, since these have increased whereas money (gold) is fixed. This sounds like a fine thing – it’s as if society were investing in its own productive company and the increased goods money can buy us via deflation were a deserved return on our “investment” – the hard work we put in to run our economy. Gold Standard money seems to perform admirably as a store of value. A recent defense of the Gold Standard from the Mises institute makes these points in its favour.
There is a problem within today’s economy however – with all of us up to our eyeballs in debt due to the mess left by ‘Fractional Reserve’ banking, deflation would be a disaster. Companies and governments would need to exchange ever more goods and services for the money to pay down their fixed debts – meaning if the Gold Standard were implemented wholesale tomorrow, it would probably cause a gigantic debt deflationary crash! So just as with the Positive Money system, anyone advocating the Gold Standard should have a gradual, stable transition to a largely debt-free economy in mind.
Assuming we have a sensible plan to get there, is there a more fundamental problem with the ‘gold-bug utopia’ I have just described? I think there is and this problem leads me to discount the Gold Standard as a good idea. The problem is one pointed out in detail by Silvio Gesell in his book “The Natural Economic Order” – that there is a potential conflict between using money as both a store of value and a means of exchange.
To make money function as a good store of value, ‘gold-bugs’ would have us tie it to the fixed supply of a scarce commodity which does not degrade over time – gold does not rust. The problem is that money then enjoys privileges that no mere commodity can. Gesell argues persuasively that by making money – that which is exchanged for goods – immune to the devaluation those goods are subject to (bread molds, cloth wears, pots and pans rust etc) we are favouring the user of goods and discriminating against the producer of them. Drawing inspiration from the ideas of French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Gesell lays out his solution of “freigeld” – free money – in the book’s introduction:
“Must money always remain what it is at present ? Must money, as a commodity, be superior to the commodities which, as medium of exchange, it is meant to serve ? In case of fire, flood, crisis, war, changes of fashion and so forth, is money alone to be immune from damage ? Why must money be superior to the goods which it is to serve ? And is not the superiority of money to goods the privilege which we found to be the cause of surplus-value, the privilege which Proudhon endeavoured to abolish?
Let us, then, make an end of the privileges of money. Nobody, not even savers, speculators, or capitalists, must find money, as a commodity, preferable to the contents of the markets, shops, and warehouses. If money is not to hold sway over goods, it must deteriorate, as they do. Let it be attacked by moth and rust, let it sicken, let it run away; and when it comes to die let its possessor pay to have the carcass flayed and buried. Then, and not till then, shall we be able to say that money and goods are on an equal footing and perfect equivalents – as Proudhon aimed at making them.”
When money does not rust, those with money have a store of value immune to deterioration, while those holding goods do not. Hence those with money will have superior bargaining power to those with goods. They can wield this advantage in every market exchange, exploiting it to accumulate more and more money for themselves. Over time then, the “gold-bug utopia” goes bad – almost all the gold coins end up in the possession of a few people (the 1% you might call them!), who can then exploit their gold monopoly to trap everyone else into peonage. Producers still require a temporary means of exchange, but this has been monopolized by the holders of gold to serve as their incorruptible store of ever accumulating value. So gold must be borrowed at almost any rate of interest demanded by its lenders. Ironically enough, the Gold Standard advocated by Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek can itself be “the road to serfdom”!
Gesell’s solution to this problem was to issue money as a paper note legislated to devalue over time, thus putting money on par with the goods and services it was to serve in exchanges. The note would have to be stamped each month to remain valid for exchanges, with each stamp incurring a fee to represent the gradual devaluation of the note. This system is known as demurrage and is the basis for many local currencies today. The system was famously implemented successfully to revitalise the town of Worgl during the Great Depression. Here is a Worgl note – you can see on the right twelve boxes for the monthly stamps:
Paper money, such as the note above, is sometimes criticized by ‘commodity money’ theorists on the grounds that it has no intrinsic value. But is there really such thing as ‘intrinsic value’? I would say that people will value goods and services differently, depending upon each person’s character and circumstances. Gold may in fact be quite value-less to the producer of goods, a point Gesell makes in his book:
“But must the medium of exchange be made of gold? Does a peasant who has grown cabbages and wishes to sell them to pay a dentist, need gold ? Is it not, on the contrary, a matter of complete indifference to him, for the short time during which, as a rule, he retains the money, of what substance the money consists ? Has he, as a rule, even time to look at the money ? And can one not use this circumstance to make money out of paper ? Would not the necessity of offering the products of the division of labour, namely the wares, in exchange for money still exist, if we substituted cellulose for gold in the manufacture of money ? Would such a transition cause the abandonment of the division of labour, would the population prefer to starve rather than recognise cellulose-money as the instrument of exchange?”
Value is always subjective, never ‘intrinsic’. When people make market exchanges, each gives the other something they value less at the time in exchange for something they value more. Gesell argues it is solely its utility in the act of exchange that should give money its value and that attempting instead to give money an ‘intrinsic value’ is attempting to conjure a phantom.
In “Where Does Money Come from?” (chapter 2) the role of money is described as that of recording “a social relationship between creditor and debtor”. In Gesell’s example quoted above, the creditor was the peasant seller of cabbages, the debtor the cabbage buyer who gives a deferred payment (i.e. money, whether gold or paper) in exchange. Later, the peasant becomes a debtor to the dentist, by exchanging this money for the credit of dental treatment. And society, embodied in the dentist, has just honoured the original debt from the sold cabbage. Money represents a social relationship then – a social agreement to accept deferral of payments over direct barter – not a store of value. I say we should think of value being stored in the people we care for, the communities we live in and the beauty of the natural world – not in bars of gold.
Two famous economists of the day – Irving Fisher and John Maynard Keynes – were impressed by the ideas of the ‘amateur economist’ Gesell. Fisher commented that:
“Free money may turn out to be the best regulator of the velocity of circulation of money, which is the most confusing element in the stabilization of the price level. Applied correctly it could in fact haul us out of the crisis in a few weeks … I am a humble servant of the merchant Gesell.”
and Keynes that:
“Gesell’s chief work is written in cool and scientific terms, although it is run through by a more passionate and charged devotion to social justice than many think fit for a scholar. I believe that the future will learn more from Gesell’s than from Marx’s spirit.”
In his highly influential book “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” Keynes identifies a second privilege money enjoys over goods and services, one he regarded as even more important and termed “liquidity preference”. He also disagreed with Gesell’s solution of demurrage and proposed instead using steady inflation as a means to make money “rust”, thus placing it on par with the goods and services it is exchanged for. The choice between Gesell’s or Keynes’ proposed solution can be up for debate. Perhaps various money systems can operate at different scales (community, county, nation state etc) with different choices (demurrage or inflation) being appropriate in different cases?
I wrote this piece for everyone who thinks that the current banking system is socially harmful, because I think it is important that of the many alternatives available we choose the best one. I don’t think the Gold Standard is a good idea because it tends to increase even further the privileges of those with money, allowing them to accumulate for themselves even more excessive wealth. Inequality has already reached staggering levels – moving to the Gold Standard, a system likely to further exacerbate inequality, could tear society apart.
I urge those who are critics of “Fractional Reserve” Banking and advocates of the Gold Standard to consider instead Positive Money’s proposals. These would also stabilise the money supply, but allow the use of demurrage or inflation as desired, to check increasing inequality and help the producers of what we really value – the goods and services desired by society. The power of money would be placed more in the hands of people and communities – “the best shots” – rather than governments and banks – “the big battalions”.
While I sympathise with ‘gold-bugs’ fears that ‘paper money’ is vulnerable to manipulation and therefore too risky, I think that with proper checks and balances in place the benefits of ‘paper money’ over gold outweigh the risks. The U.S. constitution, for instance, separates the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. Add a monetary branch explicitly – as Positive Money advocates via the Monetary Policy Committee – and I think manipulation of currency and conflicts of interest can be held in check. As Ben Dyson argues in this podcast:
“…there is this magic box out there and anybody who has this magic box can just pull money out of it. Over the centuries kings and private banks fought for control over this “Magic box”. Now it is in the hands of private banks. But, if we would give it to the hands of governments, they probably would abuse it for their own benefit as well.
“So, the best solution is to put this box in the centre of the society, so that everybody knows where it is and how exactly it is being used.
“In practical terms it means giving the power to create money to an accountable and transparent body, such as the Monetary Policy Committee at the Bank of England …and make sure that we know exactly what they are doing, how much money they have created in any moment and where that money is going…”
In conclusion then, ‘fiat’ money can accomplish the aims of the Gold Standard (stabilizing the money supply) without its drawbacks, providing it is made accountable to the public. ‘Gold-bugs’ everywhere should consider a change of heart: I think that the system Positive Money advocates would deliver us a more stable, equitable, accountable and sustainable economy.
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