American Exceptionalism

What American Exceptionalism Meant, What Destroyed It, and How we can Re-establish our Heritage

While listening to the September 10th episode of the Adam Carolla Show (Warning and apologies!!! Not Safe for Family Setting or Work! I love ACS, but he’s rough. Not for those averse to cursing and VERY blue humor!) I was pleased to hear Adam’s continued collaboration with Dennis Prager. The discussion they had inspired me to write about the decline of the very spirit that drove the first Americans to fight tooth and nail, risking annihilation, to defend the liberty they believed was their right as a matter of natural law.

Our Nation’s Founding was an Anomaly

The Constitutional ConventionOur Nation’s Founders belief that their rights were not given to them as a result of their government’s benevolence, but were instead theirs simply as a result of the citizen’s existence, was a foreign concept in all of the world. Furthermore, that the government didn’t derive its status as the overseer of these natural rights from some other source, but that the right to govern was bestowed upon the government by the citizenry, was the most revolutionary idea ever implemented up to that point, or since. This seemingly complex, but in reality, very simple concept is the primary reason why America is Exceptional. This is why people who believe in the Constitutional Republic our Founders created as the “most perfect” form of governance also firmly believe in American Exceptionalism.

Dennis Prager spent a large portion of his life studying Russian history, philosophy and political culture. You could say he’s something of an expert in the subject, both in terms of what the Soviet Union was like before the Iron Curtain fell, and afterward in a post-Soviet Russia. His understanding of the gestalt of Russian society is profound, and can be summed up thusly:
Russians want very little out of life. They want their vodka, they want their housing and their heating in the winter. They want their health care, and they want to be left alone.

Simply put, Russians are content to be taken care of as long as that which they have been promised continues to come to them unbidden. Entitlement is a way of life in Russia, and has been for generations. The people know very little of the more noble aspects of human nature, that which drives us to achieve more than previous generations in an effort to better the self, and through self-improvement, better society. That isn’t to say that Russian society is absent these aspects; there is simply no reason to better the self when one’s needs are seen to absent effort beyond what is asked for by the government. The effect is a muting of aspiration and the desire to excel.

Human Nature is What Drives Us to Excel

Typical American Residential Housing
Typical American Residential Housing

Human nature is, at its very core, selfish. The betterment of society is never really the goal while the individual is pursuing betterment of the self; more importantly, self-improvement has the very catalytic side effect of the bettering of the society in which one lives. When you mow your lawn and care for the upkeep of your home your neighborhood is improved by the aesthetics of your home’s facade. Your neighbors see your property, and, through the mechanics of human nature’s more basic trait of jealousy, more often than not will endeavor to emulate or improve upon the conditions your home’s facade presents, thus spreading the improvement you have made of yourself throughout your neighborhood. This cascading of competitive behavior and outcomes is what shapes positive societal evolution. This all, of course, depends heavily on the preservation of personal property rights. Absent ownership, the desire to improve one’s material conditions loses meaning. If your home is yours, but your neighbor’s home isn’t theirs, well, they may very well not care a whit about the attention you pay to the aesthetics of your home’s facade. Therein lies a fundamental problem. Without empowerment through the ability to possess property obtained through one’s efforts above and beyond that which sustains the self and the family, one finds no need to excel. Excellence garners rewards. In Russia, there have been no rewards for excellence for quite some time.

Typical Russian Apartment Housing
Typical Russian Apartment Housing

Russia is far from a utopian society. However, Russians having their simple needs fulfilled by an all-powerful centralized government, and in such a manner and for so long so as to render desire for more pointless, had a grand purpose. A pliable and uncomplaining workforce focused toward the sustainment of the status quo created a means for continued control of the populace to support the avarice of the ruling elite. There is no equivalency between those who “serve” in Russian Government and the citizen. There never has been. To allow for the citizen to hold the same status under the law as the ruling class allows for the ruling class to be pulled from their towers to be judged by the same laws and regulations that were created to control the citizenry by that same ruling class.

What Exceptionalism Created, Progressivism Attempted to Destroy

President Woodrow WilsonAmerica, in similar fashion, has lost her way. We’ve begun wholesale emulation of what the Russian Government has been doing to its citizenry, albeit in a much more benevolent manner. Starting in 1913, the Progressive Movement, with several wellaimed strokes, weakened the constraints which, until that time, had prevented direct Federal interaction with the citizen in fundamental ways. The passage of the 16th Amendment created a means with which the Federal Government could interact directly with the individual as a “taxable person”. Never before in American History was the Federal Government able to impact the individual so fundamentally. The scope of this Amendment has been considered the catalyst that created a cascade of Statism through American society; a society which, until that time, had never seen direct interaction between the Federal Government and the individual in any regard. Following the passage of both the 16th Amendment and the Revenue Act of 1913, the relationship between the individual and the Government whose power was derived from said individual had become radically altered. From 1913 on, individuals were expected to provide proof of their income from all sources, under penalty of law, so as to provide revenue to the Federal Government. This revenue was to be used to fund such activities as were to be apportioned by the Congress. For the first time in American history, save for the years preceding the Revolutionary War, Americans were forced by a Government to pay a tax to said Government; a tax that didn’t have a direct defined purpose. 126 years earlier the Founders of the United States had just finished ratifying a Constitution that was birthed from the ashes of a war fought for, among other things, the very purpose of casting off the shackles of taxation without purpose or representation. In two very clear examples of Progressive Statism, Woodrow Wilson and the Democrats who controlled the House and Senate at the time did to America what Americans had bled to defend against at our Nation’s Founding. While it can be argued that the Revenue Act of 1913 lowered tariffs in such a way so as to encourage commerce, the development of the individual income tax created a means through which the Federal Government was able to, in six short years, eclipse the entirety of all tariff revenue which, up to that point, had been the bulk of the Federal Government’s revenue stream. The direct confiscation of income from the American Citizen was to become the proverbial golden goose, and, it was thought, she would never stop laying eggs.

As if to add insult to injury, and, quite possibly in defense of the Progressive Movement’s steam-rolling of individual sovereignty with the 16th Amendment and the Revenue Act of 1913, Congress passed, and the States ratified, the 17th Amendment, decoupling the State’s only influence over the legislative activities of Congress. Prior to 1913, Congressional Senatorial Seats were filled by an electoral process governed by the individual State Legislatures. The States had a means of controlling the Senator they sent to serve in Congress, and therein the States retained a measure of sovereignty, and through that measure a means of influencing Federal legislative outcomes. Because the House of Representatives was elected directly via popular vote, the Founders saw the Senate as being a means for the States to have the ability to counter pure majoritarianism in Congress by allowing for the States to place Senators chosen by their legislatures as opposed to chosen by the same electoral process as elected the House Congressional Representatives. This was seen as a means of divesting power from those states that enjoyed a large population, such as New York and New Jersey, when compared to the Southern States such as Georgia and the Carolinas. With each state only having two Senators, the legislatures in the various states selecting those Senators allowed for the states to check the House of Representatives’ population based representation; Two Senators for every state as opposed to a Representative for every 647,000, giving each state an equal ability to counter legislation by more populous states, should a counter be desired or warranted.

Following the ratification of the 17th Amendment, the Progressive Movement had established a means of controlling outcomes in the Legislative Branch of the Federal Government by effectively institutionalizing majoritarian rule. This single act flew in the face of 126 years of Federalism, having the crippling effect of creating a democracy where a republican form of government had been established. From this point forward the will of the people in population centers would wash over the land, flooding over the banks of Federalism and effectively eliminating the boundaries created by the 10th Amendment by establishing an all-powerful centralized government absent the ability for individual states to redress their grievances through legislative action in the Senate. The 17th Amendment, though seemingly simple in language, decoupled the states from the legislative process, and thereby destroyed over a century’s worth of Federalism. Following its ratification, the 17th Amendment created a Congress whose power derived directly from the popular vote in totality, and, as such, the political power of population centers such as New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and San Francisco became the means through which Congress’s power was expanded. As Statists were elected to more and more seats for more and more terms, the representation of the states waned, and eventually became irrelevant.

What had made America exceptional on the world stage in terms of governance was supplanted with Federal entitlement and the empowerment of sloth. Exceptionalism in America stemmed from the most admirable aspects of human nature that drove human beings to better themselves and the lives of their loved ones through self-improvement, innovation and delayed gratification in hopes of improved outcomes. The Progressive Movement saw in these seemingly self-serving character traits the supposed roots of evil, and sought to disarm those who had built, as a matter of pursuing their dreams, independence; Independence, even, from the need to be governed. The Progressives thought they had a better way.

Progressives saw government, and the pursuit of the power that it grants, as a means to an Utopian end. Their goal was a society where no one need want for anything. The core failing in this pursuit, however, is that key aspects of human nature that our Founders sought to empower so as to encourage America to thrive were entirely ignored. Aspiration is not an evil. Aspiration is what drives the Progressive Movement, at least in terms of its leadership’s aspirations of power of their fellow man. However, as is common in many progressive legislative measures, even to this day, the ends always justify any means, even the subversion of individual liberty, so as to create an equality of outcomes instead of an equality of opportunities. This phenomenon has, over the course of the ensuing century, created an entitlement mentality that has stymied the American Spirit, and thus undermines the Exceptionalism America used to be recognized for – both within and outside her borders.

American Exceptionalism, or that which drove Americans at our Founding to fight, knowing failure guaranteed annihilation, to establish “…a more perfect union…” that would endure all tests, so as to protect, defend and empower the futures of their progeny into perpetuity, had, in one short year, and the century that followed, been effectively dismantled and replaced with a form of governance very much like that which the Founders had cast off only 126 years prior. America, during World War 1 and World War 2 showed, for two brief moments in history, that she could be Exceptional again, but, as with many moments, these were fleeting, and the damage that had been done by the Progressive Movement dragged society back to the baser aspects of socialistic rule.

Welfare, a “social safety net”, Medicare; wealth redistribution methods made possible expressly by the 16th Amendment and Supreme Court decisions upholding their Constitutionality, allowed for ever more direct control over the citizenry by the Federal Government. Where the government used to derive its authority to govern from the people it was sworn to defend, now the people derive their subsistence in order to survive from the ability for the Government to tax their neighbors and the rest of society, or the benevolence of that Government to not tax all of their income to provide for the State’s, and thus the citizen’s neighbor’s, needs. These entitlements have been more destructive to society than we can ever truly know. As people find they are not truly responsible for their livelihoods they also find that they do not have a desire to see that their lives are improved through their ability to excel. The individual’s needs met, society declined due to the weakening of the will of the individual having been very softly, but thoroughly, broken. Through effective propaganda campaigns developed around the premise that those who have obviously gathered their wealth at the expense of those who have not, the poor, near poor and the “middle class” were lulled into an acceptance that Government would see justice served, and, as long as the entitlements continued to flow, the population was accepting of this fallacy.

There is Hope

National EnsignOur fates are not sealed. American Exceptionalism does not have to die in the annals of history, a forgotten relic of an age that may never be realized again. There are those Conservatives who understand the words I have written here, and who feel within themselves the desire and drive to excel. Perhaps that drive is due to the indomitable human spirit and the more noble aspects of human nature. If this is the case, perhaps, then, there is hope.

Liberty’s Torch still burns. Her torch burns in the hearts of men and women across this great nation, once great for casting off her shackles of tyranny, and perhaps great again for the same act. I implore you to take the opportunity to read a book that has educated and inspired me to express my desire to see America restored to her now nearly forgotten greatness. “The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic”, by Mark Levin, is a clearly written plan to use the mechanisms established in the Constitution to begin a process of proposing Constitutional Amendments that, if ratified, have the potential of undoing the damage that has been wrought upon the American Republic by the Progressive Movement over the course of the last century. The course is suggested, and it is long, and not without hazard. The course cannot be set without action, and that action starts with the States. The 17th Amendment didn’t completely destroy Federalism, but its impacts have made it seem as though our Federal form of governance had been mortally wounded and left for dead. Article V of the Constitution, crafted specifically by our Founders as a bulwark against an out of control tyrannical Federal Leviathan, created a means through which an organized effort of and by the States can bypass Congress in the creation and ratification of Amendments to the Constitution.

Do not lose hope. America shall not die in the ashes of the fires of socialism and tyranny so long as Patriots are willing to fight to defend her honor. We are stronger than what Statism has seen us show ourselves to be. We have been before, and we shall be again.

Why Hatred is Such a Useful Tool for the Left

A very clear difference between the Left and Conservatism is that the Left has shown itself to be very adept in the use of hatred as a political motivator. In polite conversation most Americans would happily acknowledge that racism, sexism, and all of the other -isms that are active components of discrimination and prejudice are very dark parts of humanity’s collective gestalt, and would very much like for these aspects of human nature to cease to exist.

What won’t be discussed in polite conversation, however, is the application of the emotional response to publicized hatred as a means of control of a political point of view. Take, for instance, the over the top coverage of the George Zimmerman murder trial. If an analyst were to take apart my words here today I’d be accused of being a racist because I didn’t refer to the case as the “Trayvon Martin murder trial”. Well, while that attitude wouldn’t have a lot of merit even while the trial was still in progress, the audience receptive to that sort of dangerous rhetoric would be incited to call me down for my racism, and it is entirely possible I would be the target of some of the death threats Zimmerman faces even to this day.

The fact of the matter is Zimmerman is not a racist, as evidenced by the FBI’s admission that they were not able to find any sort of racially charged motivations for his following Martin the night of the incident. That, however, isn’t critical to the core of the message from the hate-baiters that Zimmerman is a racist, that hatred fueled his murder of Trayvon, regardless of the facts being found to prove no murder took place in a court of law, and that anyone who supports Zimmerman is a racist just as guilty of spreading hatred and danger to the communities of America as those very lynch mobs who murdered so many black Americans in decades passed.

The Left doesn’t even try to square their use of hatred as a tool against the realities presented to the public they’re trying to drive toward their goals. The general theory on the Left is that the public either isn’t paying enough attention to reality, or that the public will listen to the Left’s version of reality before thinking for themselves. Sadly, this directed use of hatred as a political motivator has shown itself to be extremely effective throughout humanity’s history.

Conservatism doesn’t allow for hate to be a component of our psyche because hate is damaging to the soul. Of course we all feel hate from time to time, and Conservatives engaged in politics often feel it most when battling Statists, or when confronting infringements on individual sovereignty by an ever strengthening government. We simply know how to shunt that emotion out and channel the adrenaline rush it gives us into a productive avenue. For a Conservative, to give into an emotional response generated by a stimulus and allow for that emotion to motivate our discourse is anathema to our moral core. There are those who allow emotion to control their actions, but one of the planks of Conservatism is to address negative stimulus with a rational, measured response.

The Left truly knows how to channel hate. They know how to enrage a populace to action using hate as the progenitor to violence, all while sitting back and allowing for the incited rage to be blamed on the people and not the politician or media figure. A mob is a very effective tool because it substitutes the will of the individual for the will of the mob, thereby eliminating rational thought about the motivations of the mob by any of the individuals that make up its numbers. Because mob mentality can be so very successful in accomplishing a goal, regardless of the moral efficacy of that goal, the Left has seen fit to use hatred as a driving force for much of their rhetoric. Think about the “war on women”, the “war on poverty”, the “war X”… The Left paints their opposition as waging wars against everything the Left is for because it galvanizes their constituencies into joining up against the oppressive opposition.

A prime example would be the “war on women” rhetoric during the Sandra Fluke fifteen minutes of fame. Conservatives do not want to prevent women from being able to obtain contraception. That has rarely been the case, and most certainly isn’t the case in the modern era. The Left, however, neatly painted Sandra Fluke as being oppressed and that the Right was denying her access to free contraception because the argument at the time was that forcing religious organizations who provide private health coverage for their members and employees to fund the purchase of contraception violates the religious organizations freedom to practice their religion as they see fit, even if that practice denys insurance funding for contraception. This isn’t a stance grounded in hate, as the Left would purport, but a stance grounded in faith and the religious interpretation of the Bible by Catholics and other organizations. This doesn’t deny contraception; individuals are entirely capable of obtaining low cost contraception absent funding from their employer’s health care coverage. The opposing view is that contraception is a civil right to women, and that the college Fluke was attending owed it to her to provide it free of charge based on this premise. The stance that free contraception is a civil right for women is an untenable stance to hold, as there is no language in the Constitution or the Civil Rights Act that protects a woman’s right to free contraception. The Left’s rhetoric, though, was very effective in making it seem like the Right hates women because of their defending of religious organization’s First Amendment rights.

Of note, this issue has yet to be adequately resolved. Instead of addressing the issue head on, the Administration and Congress has deigned to delay the potential issues this creates until after the Affordable Care Act is actually stood up, since the potential of infringement of a protected right is not an actual infringement, and thus the religious organizations suing the Government to resolve this issue have been found to not have standing due to their rights not currently being infringed.

The Right doesn’t see hate as an avenue to success because hate is dangerous. There is no way to prevent it from being felt by humanity, but there is a way to stymie the effects it has on rational thought. Conservatism’s goal is to empower the individual. A single individual consumed by hate isn’t dangerous to society as a whole. Plainly put, a group of individuals seeking a common goal will focus on the goal because the accomplishment of that goal is the motivator for the individuals making up the group, not the emotional response their hatred may have on their state of mind. Groups of individuals are also self policing. If the goal is shared by all in the group those who harbor hatred as a motivator within the group will be quelled or removed based on the damage their hatred causes to the goal’s odds of accomplishment.

The Left, on the other hand, wants to focus hate because hate clouds the rational responses of human beings. Without rational responses to stimuli people tend to be very malleable when grouped together and focused, lending themselves to a mob mentality. The Left will do everything it can to subsume the individual in order to create a mob mentality that will be driven by hate toward a common goal, absent rational thought about that goal within the mob, and thus more likely to accomplish the intended goal without resistance to the methodology by which that goal is accomplished. This is especially true when that methodology is detestable, as most hate-baiting is seen to be when addressed in polite discussion.

This is one of the many diametrically opposing characteristics that separates Leftism, or Statism, from Conservatism.

Why don’t we Link Spending and Revenue

Google Plus user +Paul Clayton Smith asked a fundamental question yesterday, which I’ll paraphrase here: “Are the dollar figures we see coming out of Washington DC taking into account the nature of the wealthy to avoid taxes, or do the assumptions of revenue gained by tax take into account only present day figures of GDP, incomes, taxes and other inputs into the economy?”

Budget
The question is key because to understand the way politicians and the Beltway play with our money is to understand the fundamental disconnect between the amount of that money they take from us and how much they spend on things that benefit only portions of society. For instance, the current “budget” for the Federal Government is over $3.79T, while current revenues only make up around $2.47T. Simple math would indicate the nearly $1.32T in deficit spending the Government takes out of hide based on these numbers. With all the talk in DC about the deficit and how it is a potentially crippling black hole that must be dealt with at some point, one would think that meant there should be a mechanism that would force Congress to keep spending to within a manageable range compared to revenue, but if you take our current “budget” numbers into consideration you’d find there isn’t much in a way of a link between taxes and spending at all.

What is the problem?
Why should there be a correlation between spending and revenue? What difference does it make whether or not the Federal Government balances its budget? Can’t the Treasury just print the money it doesn’t have to make up the difference, or borrow against the credit of the United States in order to keep the bills paid?

Technically, the Federal Government can’t ever “run out of money”. The Treasury can simply print every dollar that is required to fund the Government above and beyond tax revenues, or the Federal Reserve can borrow the money. Many Liberals believe this is acceptable as a course of action, and in fact, a combination of printing and borrowing has been the make-up of over $0.40 of every dollar the US Government has spent for the majority of the last four years.

Printing devalues the currency because it increases supply when there is not a corresponding increase in demand. Demand, in this case, is the productivity of the economy creating money out of products and services. The US Government requiring funding to accomplish its agenda doesn’t constitute demand for the dollar because there is no corresponding product or service created by the Government when the money is created.

Borrowing is expensive, and, if uncontrolled, as it has been for decades, can put the Government in a situation where its interest liability is so high that the revenues brought in by taxes are not enough to cover both spending goals and the mandatory servicing of the debt. Servicing the debt is the primary concern in every budget because to default is to damage the full faith and credit of the US Government on the world stage. If we don’t pay our bills no one will want to continue lending to us. What we’ve done, though, instead of paying our bills, is effectively taking out a loan to pay down only the interest on another loan. This is not a sustainable track.

Whats the solution?
We borrow and print over half the value of revenues into the Treasury every year (in the present budget model, which isn’t actually a budget, but a continuing resolution). In order to solve the fiscal problems the Government has this funding activity must be reversed. Currently the budget is set up so that safety net entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, which politicians have convinced voters are the Government’s responsibility, are considered mandatory spending. Items the Federal Government is actually Constitutionally charged with providing for its citizenry, for example, a strong defense, are considered discretionary spending. In order to reverse the overspending we’ve seen over the course of the last several decades there must be a concerted effort by all in Washington DC to stop spending more money than the Government can generate in tax revenue. To do this our politicians must come to terms with what the Government is required to provide for its citizenry and what it can afford to provide for its citizenry.

Why not just raise taxes?
Over the course of our Nation’s history there have been attempts in both local and Federal Government to increase revenues through higher taxation as a means of reducing deficit spending. The idea is that the increased taxes will bring more money into the coffers, and the spending can continue at its present rate, unabated. One major problem with tax rate increases is that the individual is free to make choices that will impact the overall revenue generated by the increased taxes. A prime example of this is the exodus of wealthy individuals from California following the recently passed Proposition 30 tax increases. The State decided to increase income tax rates for individuals with incomes over $250k/yr, up one percent to 10.3% (the increase is retroactive all the way back to January, 2012, due in April, 2013), while those making over $1M/yr will see their tax rates increase to 13.3% (again, retroactive to January 1st, 2012). These tax increases on the wealthiest in the state have made many consider taking action that will reduce or eliminate their tax liability in this regard. There are also considerations that need to be taken into account in terms of property taxes and other, locally generated government revenues, which are not able to be voted on directly by the citizens under the local government.

Human beings will all avoid pain, given the opportunity to do so and no motivations to do otherwise. As noted in the linked article, the financial planner being interviewed commented that until the tax rates reset down in seven years he will make sure his clients incomes are less than $1M/yr. Those who can shelter their incomes from the tax man will do so. Those who cannot may have no choice but to leave the state.

What about at the Federal level? The Federal Government has a captive audience when it comes to tax increases because its much more difficult to simply leave the country to avoid taxes than it is for Californians to go to South Dakota or Texas, right?

Well, when taxes, an inversely proportional input into the overall economy, are increased, overall economic growth decreases. This stems from the fact that when an individual or entity is forced into a liability that is payable before their income is realized that liability is taken into account when the individual or entity budgets their remaining income for a period of spending. For the micro scale, simply put, if the tax man takes X from individual Y based on income Z, net income Zn is the remaining spending power of the entity. If X is increased there is an inversely proportional decrease in Zn.

For the macro scale, when the economy sees a collective decrease in Zn, across all entities and individuals, the entire economy stalls. Since taxes are a function of a percentage of the Nation’s GDP, if GDP growth stalls so does tax revenue.

Conversely, when taxes are decreased, Zn increases, causing entities to purchase more, which causes producers to produce more, sell more, and the engine runs faster. When the engine runs faster tax revenue increases because the overall number of entities with tax liabilities increases along with GDP. As indicated before, tax rates being a function of a percentage of the Nation’s GDP, when GDP grows quickly Federal revenues grow quickly.

Coupling lower taxes with decreased spending will solve our Nation’s fiscal problems. The path to this lies in
the hands of the politicians we vote for. They won’t do it on their own, though. Once most politicians find themselves enjoying life in the Beltway they learn quickly that they need only give their constituents gifts from the public trust in order to continue their employment. Every dollar they earmark or bring home to their district is a dollar spent by the Federal Government on something that benefits a few, but is paid for by everyone.

To claw our way back from the brink of fiscal collapse we Americans must hold our elected officials accountable for not only their responsibilities to their constituents, but also their responsibilities in being proper stewards of the public trust. Until this happens, we’re going to repeat recent history every year until it is no longer sustainable to do so. Once it is no longer sustainable, we will find out very quickly what government services are luxuries and what services are necessary. We’ll also find out very quickly how to live with neither.