Free cities–what would change?

How would American politics change if our largest cities became separate states?

This month I’ve been reading the Federalist Papers. I didn’t exactly plan to read these important political documents just before the election; they are part of a multi-year chronological reading through my library of philosophers, and they just happened to land in this summer’s reading. This weekend I covered the chapters where James Madison compares the new republic of thirteen states to some of the republics of earlier history (chiefly in Greece and Rome) and some of those that existed at the time in Europe (including Switzerland and the Netherlands). Speaking about what was then the Holy Roman Empire, Madison referred to “free cities” within the empire. That sent my mind down a rabbit hole, wondering what would happen in the largest cities in the United States became “free cities,” separated from the states to which they now are attached and treated as distinct states.

We know that a massive political divide exists between rural votes and urban voters. Many of the former prefer Donald Trump and the Republican Party; many of the latter prefer Joseph Biden and the Democratic Party.  I asked myself, would the national electoral and political scene be much different if the largest cities were “free cities” in the sense that they became their own states?

Before looking at any maps or population numbers, I arbitrarily chose the round number of one million residents for separating cities from their states. As a result, nine cities became free states: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, and Dallas. Texas, then, would lose three cities, California would lose two, and New York, Illinois, Arizona, and Pennsylvania would each lose one city.

Legislatively, the House of Representatives would remain largely unchanged, although redrawing congressional maps to keep them inside or outside these nine cities would be a major project. Meanwhile, the United States Senate would gain eighteen new Senators, nine from each city. The electoral college would also increase by eighteen voters. New York City would have fourteen electoral votes; Los Angeles and Chicago would each have six; Phoenix, San Diego, Philadelphia, and Houston would have four; and Dallas and San Antonio would have three.

I then studied the electoral map for the 2016 presidential election. Hillary Clinton would have won eight of the nine free cities, losing only Phoenix; however, Donald Trump would have gained fourteen electoral votes from non-Chicago Illinois. The final result of the election would be unchanged.

I also looked at the electoral map for the 2000 presidential election. Al Gore won the largest cities—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia—but he trailed in the other five. Moreover George W. Bush would have gained electoral votes in both Illinois and Pennsylvania, making the cliff-hanging results in Florida far less significant.

I also looked at Senatorial elections for the past three cycles. The Senate appears to be evenly split in this new arrangement, with a slight advantage to the Democratic Party—sixty Senators to fifty-eight for the Republican Party.

Clearly election campaigning would be different under this system. Presidential candidates would have to refocus their attention; campaigns for the Senate would be very different in these nine cities and in the six affected states. Altogether, though, I was surprised to discover how little the outcomes changed with this major reshaping of the political system. My weekend in the rabbit hole did not turn the country upside down. J.

The “what if?” game

Every four years, they tell us that the upcoming election is vital—that the future of the nation and of the world depends upon the choices made by the voters. Every year a choice is made, and “time keeps on slipping into the future.” But, while historians tell us what happened and why and what it means, greater fun comes from finding answers to the question, “What if?” What if some of the key elections of the recent past had gone the other way? How would our nation and our world be different today?

What if Thomas Dewey had been elected President in 1948 instead of Harry Truman? What different courses might the Cold War have taken under Dewey’s leadership? How would Dewey have handled Korea? Would the 1950s economy have been robust with Dewey in the White House at the beginning of the 1950s? Would television have developed differently in the Dewey administration? What about rock and roll?

What if Richard Nixon had been elected President in 1960 instead of John Kennedy? How would Nixon have handled Cuba and Vietnam? Would civil rights have been approached differently by the Nixon administration? How would Nixon’s personality as President have been different if he had not been shaped by losses to President Kennedy and Governor Brown, let alone by the turbulence of the 1960s?

If Albert Gore had been elected President in 2000, how would he have handled the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001? What kind of war on terror would Gore’s administration have pursued? What national policies would Gore have stressed that were not stressed or contemplated under President Bush?

If Hillary Clinton had been elected President in 2016, would the economy have done as well in 2018 and 2019? How would her administration have handled the virus crisis of 2020? Would the mood of the nation be more calm, less calm, or about the same this summer with President Hillary Clinton in the White House seeking reelection?

How many international events would have been exactly the same under any President? How many presidential responses, beginning with the same events, have taken different paths? Is there a “deep state” that oversees national policies and decisions no matter who is said to be in charge of the country? Or does divine power speak through the voice of the people, raising certain leaders to power at particular times to handle the circumstances that God foreknows?

Historians study and describe the things that have happened. That information is exhausting already; it does not provide much left-over time to play “what if?” Trying to imagine the divergent paths of recent history, though, helps the rest of us to see the significance of the choices that voters face this year. Assuming that two roads diverge, and we can only travel one of them, does the path we choose really make all the difference? J.

Eponine and Irony, part 2

This is the second half of a post which begins here:

Tolstoy and Hugo did not leave much place for God in their survey of human history. Tolstoy acknowledged a god who gives standards of goodness to guide people, but other than that, both writers pretty much focused on human endeavor apart from spiritual powers. The contemporary Illuminati is much the same. As many setbacks as they have survived, they still view themselves as benevolent powers steering humanity by their own efforts. For a glimpse of how they view themselves, one might read the Foundation novels by Isaac Asimov. The Illuminati greatly resembles Asimov’s Foundation.

A Christian can suggest that the Illuminati are dupes of the devil, doing his work without realizing what they are about. Seen through spiritual eyes, that is (of course) true, and the outcome of that battle is not in doubt. But the Illuminati say that they have no illusions about spiritual powers—which means, of course, that they have blinded themselves to the spiritual world.

The Illuminati hopes to convince the world that all religions are the same, that no religion holds any genuine hope for an end to evil and suffering, and that religions should violently compete with one another and seek to destroy one another. Their attack on Christianity is two-fold. One arm has converted most traditional denominational structures into political entities that focus on worldly struggles for justice. These so-called churches reject any idea of doctrine; they redefine family values to undermine the traditional family, and they further the Illuminati’s goal of eliminating individuals for the sake of humanity as a whole. The other arm of the same attack has established megachurches: organizations that claim to uphold traditional doctrines and traditional values, but that teach little doctrine, turn their backs on historic expressions of Christian faith and its expression, and again eliminate individuals for the sake of humanity as a whole.

The Great Depression and the two World Wars helped to build a modern world in which the Illuminati could flourish. Fear was rampart; trust in the government as “the only organization big enough to handle our problems” was unprecedented. Public schools taught children how to view the world. True, children in the 1950s were still given heroes such as Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford; but the podiums of their statues were already being undermined so their greatness would collapse in a generation or two. More and more, history was described as movements among people; heroes and geniuses were devalued. The Illuminati did not arrange to kill President Kennedy. He was suiting their plans admirably. But his assassination made President Johnson fearful enough to dance to their every command. The Illuminati promoted conspiracy theories for two reasons: to cause the few people aware of their existence to fear them more, and to cause the average population to scoff more at the idea that they exist. Every American leader who seemed capable of greatness was undermined: Nixon with Watergate, Reagan with Iran/contra-gate, Clinton with his own personal faults and weaknesses, and so on. (Presidents before their time survived far greater scandals without losing power, as have kings and emperors in most of the world for most of history.) The Illuminati effectively used the Cold War and its balance of fear for their own purposes. They did not expect the Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain, or the Soviet Union to crumble; but, when they did crumble, other international crises could be found to fill the gap. Moving into the twenty-first century, the Illuminati did not expect any threat to disturb their system.

The Illuminati did not expect Donald Trump. He stepped from their own world, an entertainer who understands scripts and deep-laid plans. Although morally he is no better than the worst of the Illuminati, he emerged as a defender of the traditional family and traditional Christianity. Trump personally had nothing to do with the fall of Weinstein and Epstein; if anything, he was too closely connected with both men and their organizations. His personal popularity and the evident success of his economic and political plans stymied opposition from his political opponents, who were battling to overturn his presidency through scandal and impeachment even before he took the oath of office.

The Illuminati also did not expect COVID-19. They have used fear of other diseases—AIDS, Ebola, and Zika—to promote their causes in recent years, but the timing of the current epidemic generates “the perfect storm.” Blending fearful discussions of the pandemic, racial differences and confrontations, and the upcoming election, the Illuminati are able to transfer fear (and other strong emotions) from one issue to another. They are able to sustain ongoing fear, dread, and hopelessness in the general population. They are able to call attention to ongoing differences in society, promoting unrest with potential for a class war.

Moreover, the Illuminati have been inching to change education—elementary, secondary, and higher levels—wanting it to take place through online courses rather than in classrooms. Online sources of information and interpretation are far easier for the Illuminati to control. The current pandemic has sped society toward the latest revolution in education. First children were taken from their families and put into schools; now they are taken out of schools and put in front of computer screens. So long as a few decision makers can control information on the Internet, they will continue their effort to shape society, guiding mass movements that share the Illuminati’s reverence for science, education, and equity of all people while sharing also the Illuminati’s rejection of individualism, traditional Christianity, and the traditional family.

Their timing is not flawless. They may not be able to continue stoking fear for three more months (between now and the election). They may have already peaked generating support for a party-chosen bland candidate in preference to a people-chosen heroic candidate. As the weeks pass, voters might become increasingly aware of the plot that is working to shape and change the national direction. In November, the powers of the Illuminati may suffer a stinging rejection from those citizens they have tried to herd into their pens. Like Tolstoy and Hugo, today’s Illuminati may underestimate the ability of individuals to think for themselves and to overcome the current of mass movements. History is not in the hands of the faceless elite; history belongs to all of us. And, in the end, history is in the Lord’s hands and must serve his plans. J.

“Why is populism growing?”

In the fall of 2013 I conducted an unscientific poll in my neighborhood. I asked one question: “If two people were running for Congress, and the only significant difference between them was that one had never been in politics before and the other had been in politics for years, who would get your vote?” The most common answer was, “the one who had never been in politics.” In fact, that position earned some seventy-five to eighty percent of the responses, while the second-most common response was, “I would examine their positions to decide my vote; I wouldn’t pay any attention to whether or not they had been in politics before.”

I was conducting this poll to see whether or not I had a shot at getting elected to Congress. My banker urged me to run; she wanted to vote for me. My barber urged me to run; he wanted to vote for me. The police officer getting his hair cut—a man I had not met until that conversation—wanted to vote for me. One store clerk told me that he would vote for me in the next election, but then he would vote for someone else the next election. “You’ll have been corrupted by then,” he said. Only when I began looking into fundraising did I learn that the wealthy donors in the party had already committed their donations and their votes to “my good friend” (as they described him), a businessman who had been involved in politics for years, although this was the first time his name would appear on a ballot.

Because of this brief experience with populism, I was less surprised than most Americans by Donald Trump’s success in last year’s elections. American voters are increasingly disgusted by the way government goes about its business, and they blame Democrats and Republicans equally for the problems they see. The campaign of Bernie Sanders also drew strength from populism. Both the Tea Party Movement and the Occupy Movement were populist expressions of displeasure over the decisions and actions of those in power. For that matter, the Brexit movement in the United Kingdom is equally a populist expression of distrust in government and in those serving in the government. The more recent losses by the Conservative Party are part of the very same package of populism.

Populists distrust the government. They also distrust the news media, although they generally describe their distrust in terms of conservative or liberal biases in various media organizations. Populism is not new—in the twentieth century it led to the direct election of Senators (rather than United States Senators being chosen by state governments) and to laws allowing referenda created by citizens to be placed on the ballot, giving voters power to decide matters usually left to elected officials.

Populism scares the elite. “Why is populism growing?” they ask. The answer is simple: people no longer trust the elite to make decisions for everyone. People increasingly believe that the elite make decisions that serve themselves without regard to whether those decisions help or harm the rest of the people in the country.

Consider this: between the 1952 Presidential election (Eisenhower-Stevenson) and the 2008 election (Obama-McCain), twelve elections were held in which one of the two major candidates was either the incumbent President or the incumbent Vice President. In each case, the opponent was either a Governor, a Senator, or a former Vice President. If that doesn’t sound like government by the elite, I don’t know what does. Campaigners regularly presented themselves as outsiders who were going to fix the government, but somehow the government never seemed to be fixed. Symptoms of populist revolt were felt in the late twentieth century—the campaigns of Ross Perot, for example. Tax protests in the 1980s used the tea party theme well before the official Tea Party movement was organized. Americans have long considered themselves to be populists, even though they generally reelect the same leaders or replace them with extremely similar leaders.

The presidency of Donald Trump has been sponsored by populism. Democrats and members of the media are astonished by the continuing power of populism to support the President. Efforts to maintain a spirit of crisis, efforts to mock and disparage the President, and efforts to show that he is rejected by a majority of Americans all fail to shake his true support. They wanted an outsider in the White House, and they are delighted that President Trump continues to speak and to act as an outsider in Washington.

Talk of impeaching the President is terribly premature. Any attempt to impeach Donald Trump for something less than a blatant and obvious crime will fail, and such an attempt would end the political careers of those who participate in it. Insulting the President’s supporters—calling them racist, out-of-touch, and deplorable—only sharpens the divide between the elite and the populists. As they demonstrated last summer and fall, when challenged and inspired, America’s populists can be a powerful force in politics. J.

A government of our peers

The foundation of American democracy is the belief that, when a government is not working, citizens have the right to change their government. The time has come to consider such a change. My proposal would require a constitutional convention whose decisions would have to be ratified by the various states, but I think approval will happen, given the problems with our current system of choosing leaders.

I propose that we choose our President and members of Congress in the same way we choose our juries, providing a government of our peers rather than a government of expert politicians.
The best leaders are those who do not seek power. In ancient Athens, governing officials were selected by lot for one-year terms. In the early Christian Church, new leaders were selected by those already in office—often the best of them declined their nomination, since they did not feel qualified to lead. They just wanted to learn more about Jesus. They were forced into office against their will, and they proved to be qualified all the same.

Imagine that in each Congressional district of the United States, the names of all registered voters are placed into a pool, and twelve names are randomly selected. A board of attorneys (consisting of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents) reviews the twelve citizens, researching their lives and removing the names of those who are not qualified for a place in Congress, but leaving a list of five nominees for the position (even if a further drawing of names is needed after the first twelve are exhausted). During the summer, information on the five candidates is sent to all voters at public expense. They debate one another in public, but privately funded campaigning is discouraged. On the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, voters choose from among the five. If none of them receives more than half the votes, the two who received the most votes are placed on a second ballot which is presented to voters on the third or fourth Tuesday of November.

The members of Congress would meet in Washington as is done now. They would be guaranteed the right to return to their former jobs after their time in office has ended, just as jurors and reserve military personnel are guaranteed now. A provision could be made for incumbent Representatives to be reelected if the voters so choose, although they would not run unopposed. Once the system proves itself in the House of Representatives, we will begin selecting Senators in the same way. Eventually, the President of the United States will also be chosen in this manner.

The writers of the Constitution did not trust voters to make good decisions about their leaders. The Constitution allowed voters to select Representatives, but it had state governments choose Senators. (An amendment to the Constitution changed that in 1913.) The Constitution still does not allow voters to choose a President, but only to choose electors who will choose a President. (Electors promise in advance who they will choose, so voters have confidence that they are choosing their President.) The Constitution says nothing about political parties, because the writers of the Constitution were opposed to the idea of political parties. For most of American history, party conventions chose candidates for office with little participation from the average voter. Often candidates were chosen by compromise in “smoke-filled rooms.” When Hubert Humphrey was nominated by the Democrats in 1968 without having won a single caucus or primary election, both major parties changed their rules to hold caucuses or primary elections in each of the fifty states. Both parties still seat additional delegates not chosen by the voters, and these so-called “super delegates” can still swing a nomination away from the choice of the voters.

Perhaps this idea should be tested in several states before a constitutional convention meets to propose this change for the entire nation. If four or five states selected their legislators and state-wide officials in the same way that juries are selected, we would see whether or not this idea works. The final change would be many years away, but the pain of this year’s presidential election might be remembered long enough to fuel a drive toward this change.

Our form of government is designed to change, responsive to the will of the people. Changes have succeeded in the past, so changes can succeed in the near future. Surely we can do better than we are doing this year. J.

President Trump?

I have not posted much about the current election cycle in the United States. However, my most-read post in the first year of this blog asked and answered the question, “Is Donald Trump the Antichrist?” My statement that Trump is not the Antichrist is probably the nicest thing I have said about him this year. I do not want Donald Trump to be Commander in Chief of the nation’s armed forces. I do not want him to represent the American people in the eyes of the rest of the world. I do not want him to have one more success for which he can boast.

But I can imagine worse things happening than Donald Trump being elected President this November. If Trump wins enough delegates in primary elections to be nominated by the Republican Party, but then is denied the nomination through legal procedures by the party’s leaders, the Republicans will bring severe trouble upon themselves. Whether Trump runs as a third-party candidate or not, the people who have voted for Trump in the primaries are unlikely to support the Republicans in the general election. Some of them might not vote at all in November, but others are likely to vote—and probably not for Republicans, especially not for incumbent Republicans. Even if Trump falls slightly short of the necessary 1,237 delegates in Cleveland, his failure to win the nomination will confirm the beliefs of those who voted for him—and beliefs of many who did not vote for him—that American democracy is a sham and that the American government is no longer (in the words of Abraham Lincoln), “of the people, for the people, and by the people.”

I do not want Donald Trump to be the next President, but I would prefer him in the White House over the disillusionment and anger of his supporters should he lose the nomination. Indeed, if Donald Trump is nominated by the convention delegates, supporters of Trump are more likely to vote for other Republicans, granting the party control of the Senate and the House of Representatives as well as the White House. Control of Congress for the next several years might be worth the headache of President Trump.

I do not fear a President Trump because I still believe in the Constitution of the United States. Its system of checks and balances can prevent a bad President from causing much harm to the country. The President cannot create legislation (except when his proposals are adopted and proposed by members of Congress). The President can only approve or veto legislation, and a supermajority of Congress can override the President’s veto. Even the officers appointed by the President to serve in his Cabinet of advisors must be approved by Congress. Only Congress can declare war, and treaties made by the executive branch of government must be approved by the Senate. If the President tries to use his authority to work against the will of the Congress, the court system exists to correct the imbalance. Perhaps because of Donald Trump the practice of issuing executive orders that counter legislation passed by Congress will finally be challenged; then this aspect of executive authority will be clarified for present and future leaders.

Past Presidents have learned that they cannot even control their own branch of government. Thousands of career government workers fill offices in the executive branch; they continue doing what they believe is best no matter who sits in the Oval Office. Cabinet secretaries and sub-secretaries change, but the department workers continue in their jobs, often doing the same things no matter who is supposed to be in charge. The inertia of bureaucracy will stifle any President’s efforts to make large changes to government—even if that President is named Donald Trump.

Of course Christians do not put their trust in kings and princes. No President can save the world, and no President can destroy the world, no matter what is said in political debates. All authority comes from Above, and all who gain power must ultimately answer to the Source of their power. Meanwhile, godly people respect those with authority in this world because of the Source of their power; we respect them even when we disagree with their opinions, and we respect them even when we dislike their personalities.

We live in interesting times. I realized this weekend that, when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton debate one another this fall, they are likely to sound like a political debate between Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd in an early episode of Saturday Night Live. Perhaps the prayer of every American Christian needs to be: “May God not grant our land the leaders we deserve.” J.

Looking at an election

The success of Donald Trump and Ben Carson in the early presidential polls does not surprise me. In fact, the enthusiasm shown for these non-politicians matches what I felt in my brief foray into politics two years ago.

I was at the dentist’s office getting my teeth cleaned when I heard a news item on the television related to the United States Congress. The thought entered my mind that someone like me would do as good a job as the current members of Congress are doing. The thought did not merely cross my mind; it remained embedded there for the rest of the day. I would certainly vote for someone like me rather than vote for a career politician, but how many people are like me? For the rest of the day I pondered that thought, and at the dinner table I asked my family how they felt about the possibility that I might run for Congress.

Since the family’s reaction was generally positive, I decided to ask a few other people who didn’t know me as well as my family does. I started at the barber shop. While waiting my turn for a haircut, I asked this question: If two candidates are running for Congress, and the biggest difference between them is that one is a career politician and the other has never held a political job, who would get your vote? Both the barber and the police officer getting a haircut said they would vote for the newcomer. I told them that I was thinking about running, and they both approved and promised their support. Over the following days, I had similar conversations at the grocery store, at the bank, and at church. The most common answer was that people would vote for the newcomer. A few people said they would consider only the issues and not care about experience. One man said he would vote for me once, but he would vote for someone else next time–he figured two years in Congress would be enough to corrupt anyone. No one said to me that they would vote for an experienced politician rather than a newcomer.

Thus prepared, I contacted several officials of one political party. Several of them ignored me, and one made it plain to me that he considered me a nobody, not someone to take seriously. Others were cordial, though, and I was invited to address a meeting of county officials of the party, along with any other candidates that were interested. By the time of that meeting, three candidates had announced that they were running for the party’s nomination to serve in Congress. Two of the three were at the same meeting. One of them was a member of the state legislature. Like me, she showed up early to meet people and stayed for the entire meeting. The other was a wealthy man who had been appointed to various political positions but had never run for office. He came late, made his statement (taking considerably more than the three minutes we each were allotted), and left soon afterward. In my three minutes, I explained that I was still thinking about running, introduced myself, and commented that my barber and my banker both thought I should run. I made it plain to them that my political positions match those of the party, but that I would run a unique campaign, one designed to draw independent voters as well as the party faithful. The reactions during and after the meeting were generally positive, with just one woman phoning to recommend that I not run, because she felt that the other work I was doing was more important than serving in Congress.

During the following weeks I attended several diverse events, some directly sponsored by the political party, and others more removed from the party. I met the party’s eventual nominee for the United States Senate at the opening of his campaign headquarters I even attended a tea party meeting. Sometimes I spoke to the entire group, but other times I merely mingled and met people. These weeks were my peek behind the curtain, my chance to see how politics are really run.

The next step was to see if I could raise money to support my campaign. I began contacting the wealthy people I know who are connected to the party. This was the stumble of my campaign, as potential donor after potential donor said, “Well, J., I’ve already promised my support to my dear friend,” who turned out to be the wealthy man who was running. I had hoped to run a campaign painting him as the ultimate insider, with me as the true outsider to politics. On the other hand, as the ultimate insider, he had captured the financial and personal support of the people who meant the difference between a viable campaign and a campaign that would be ignored.

By Christmas I knew that I was not running for Congress. Some people in the party urged me to seek a more local position, as they had an opening on the ballot they wanted to fill. I looked into the position, spoke to a few more people, and thought and prayed for a while. Then I had to admit I just wasn’t interested in that job. I thought I could win the campaign if I put my heart into it, but getting my heart into it was not easy. When some of the people supporting me began fighting with other people supporting me over a state-wide issue, I decided not to get involved in any campaign. Since I had strong feelings about the state-wide issue, I gave my support to those people in the legislature that felt as I did. This meant drawing further away from those who supported the opposite position. I heard one of a pair of good friends say that their friendship had ended as a result of this dispute. I knew that if I was heading into a career where friendships are torn apart by professional disagreements, I would not be happy there.

Donald Trump and Ben Carson may be outsiders to the political process, but they enter their campaign without the financial handicap that I faced. One year before the general election, I am not surprised they are doing well in the polls. Voters in this country are hungry for new leadership, for a new approach to politics and government. Whether Mr. Trump or Mr. Carson would be able to keep their promise to change the system, Americans are glad to hear of someone, anyone, who is willing to try to change things. If enough people like me chose to become involved during some election cycle, things could begin to change. As long as no one tries to make any changes, things will stay the same.

I tried once. I’m not ready yet to try again. But I do agree with the many who say that the system can be improved; it can be made workable again. Anything else I can do to bring that change closer, I will do. J.