Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

A friend and colleague of mine just sent me a NY Times article by Robert Reich in which the latter contends that the Republicans are acting “unconstitutionally” by refusing hearings to any of Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees. I replied—admittedly, a bit too abruptly—that the Democrats feign concern about abiding by the Constitution only when it suits their purposes.

I stand by this position. But I know that the same can be said for Republicans.

Brion McClanahan’s latest book underscores in spades this bipartisan disregard of the Constitution. His 9 Presidents Who Screwed Up America and Four Who Tried to Save Her (Regnery: 2016) is a tailor-made book for the lover of American political history. Moreover, though a piece of scholarship of the first order, it is, refreshingly, written in prose that is accessible to any remotely curious reader.

Another welcoming feature of McClanahan’s analysis is its indisputably non-partisan tone. Unlike Robert Reich, McClanahan’s repulsion from unconstitutional governance is not selectively determined by ideological prejudice and political gain. It is principled. That this is so becomes obvious as soon as one begins thumbing one’s way through 9 Presidents.

McClanahan notes that the concerns of the anti-Federalists began to materialize as early on as George Washington’s tenure in office.

While “Washington’s first administration was a model for the constitutional exercise of the presidential powers,” his second administration was not. For starters, though he was constitutionally required to seek the “advice and consent” of Congress when it came to issues of war and treaties, in 1793, in the wake of the bloody French Revolution, Washington acted unilaterally by essentially breaking America’s treaty with France by issuing his “Proclamation of Neutrality.” James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were among those who viewed this move as the stuff of, not presidents of Constitutional Republics, but monarchs.

Washington also crushed the so-called “Whiskey Rebellion,” a move that was unconstitutional on multiple grounds.

Yet Washington is not among the cast of characters that McClanahan charges with having “screwed up America,” of having grossly, routinely undermined the Constitution. This ignominious distinction the author endows upon such worthies as Andrew Jackson; Abraham Lincoln; Theodore Roosevelt; Woodrow Wilson; Franklin D. Roosevelt; Harry Truman; Lyndon Johnson; Richard Nixon; and Barack Obama.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that McClanahan treats this list as exhaustive. Like Washington, there are several presidents—George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush are three notable examples—who don’t have chapters reserved for them, but whose flagrant abuses of the Constitution the author meticulously documents.

McClanahan knows that by including Lincoln in his list of presidents who “screwed up America,” he will shock the contemporary sensibilities of many readers. Yet he also makes a compelling case that any such list that omitted “Honest Abe” would be downright dishonest, for Lincoln, “more than any president who came before him, created the blueprint for the modern presidency.”

If ever there was a “fundamentally transformative” president, it was Lincoln, the man who presided over the transformation of the American political system from “a federal republic to a consolidated nation.”

Through a chain of the most cogent reasoning, McClanahan reveals how and why the Southern states that formed the Confederacy were indeed justified, constitutionally speaking, in seceding from the Union. Lincoln, thus, acted unconstitutionally in treating secession as a “rebellion.” Yet even conceding, for argument’s sake, that Lincoln was right about this matter, he was, from the standpoint of the Constitution, terribly wrong in how he proceeded to address it.

“Lincoln,” McClanahan explains, “violated the Constitution and his oath by unilaterally calling up the ‘militia’ to subdue ‘combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings or by the powers vested in the marshals by law.” The problem, here, is that the Constitution authorizes Congress—not the Executive branch—to do such things.

However, McClanahan remarks, “these violations of the Constitution were only the beginning.” The 16th president, he continues, “presided over the most oppressive and lawless general government in American history to that point, one that has only been surpassed by the imperial presidencies of the twentieth century.” Lincoln’s “unilateral suspension of habeas corpus was ruled unconstitutional by Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney”—and yet “Lincoln ignored the ruling [.]” His administration “arrested over ten thousand Northern Americans for their opposition to the war, mostly newspaper editors and politically well-connected citizens” (emphases original) [.]

There are many more violations of the Constitution of which Lincoln was guilty, but space constraints preclude enumeration of them here.

“Progressive” Republican President Teddy Roosevelt, given “his belief that…the Constitution was an outdated piece of parchment subject to elastic interpretation and the will of the executive,” was the first of the 20th century imperial presidents. Even some of his fellow Republicans in Congress objected to his blatant subversion of the Constitution in executing his “Square Deal” agenda.

While Roosevelt was the first of the last century’s imperial presidents, he was far from the last. Woodrow Wilson, who “lamented that the founding generation did not have the foresight to call for a closer link between the executive and legislative branches” and who, to remedy this alleged weakness, regarded the Constitution as “organic,” “was a…pioneer in unconstitutional executive authority.”

Then, of course, Franklin Delano Roosevelt ratcheted things up considerably by ramming his “New Deal” “through Congress with a personal zeal unmatched by anyone who had held the office before him.” Yet FDR’s successor, Harry Truman, “had become the most progressive president in American history” by the time his nearly eight years in office had come to a close.

The four presidents who tried to “save” America by exercising admirable, if imperfect, constitutional constraint are Jefferson, John Tyler, Grover Cleveland, and Calvin Coolidge. Not unsurprisingly, though, and with the exception of that of Jefferson’s, the presidencies of these last three are ordinarily regarded by historians as either unremarkable or even failed. This, however, reveals more about the extent to which these same historians subscribe to the model of the imperial—to repeat, the unconstitutional—presidency than it speaks to these forgotten presidents themselves.

By the measure of the Constitution-as-ratified, Tyler, Cleveland, and Coolidge join Jefferson as among the best presidents in American history.

Brion McClanahan’s Nine Presidents Who Screwed Up America and the Four Who Tried to Save Her is must reading for everyone who is more interested in preserving the Constitution than in preserving their respective parties.

During this heated election season, it is also timelier than ever.

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Dear Trump supporters,

A recent ABC/Washington Post poll of “registered voters” purports to show that Donald Trump lags 12 points behind Hillary Clinton in a national head-to-head contest. In case you’re inclined to accept this at face value—don’t.

First, this poll does indeed purport to gauge preferences nationally. Ultimately, what’s going to matter is how the candidates fare in the battleground states. For example, a Pew Poll from just last week showed Trump beating Clinton by two points in North Carolina (a state that Barack Obama won in 2008).

Secondly, it is June. The election isn’t until November.

Thirdly, this poll focuses on how “registered voters,” not likely voters, say they would vote if the election was held today. There are lots more registered voters than there are people who will actually come out to vote.

Fourthly, as the pollsters themselves admit, this poll is heavily stacked in favor of Democrats: the latter constitute 37% of registered voters while only 27% of Republicans count for the same.

Fifthly, ABC and the Post acknowledge that had they used the same party division numbers that they used in their poll from last month, Clinton would be up a full one-third less (8%) than this poll shows her leading now.

Sixthly (and isn’t this interesting?), a Wall Street/NBC News—a poll, that is, taken at the same time as the ABC/Post poll—shows Clinton with a five point lead in a national head-to-head matchup (46%-41%). However, when third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are thrown into the mix, Clinton and Trump are in a virtual dead-heat with 39% and 38%, respectively.

The ABC/Post poll questioned 836 registered voters. The Wall Street/NBC poll questioned 1,000 such voters.

Both surveys were conducted during the week of June 19-23, a week during which Trump fired his campaign manager. And Trump’s had a bad June. Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who conducted the Journal poll with Democrat Fred Yang, summed up their findings well: “Donald Trump has had the worst month one can imagine, but Clinton’s negatives are so high the net impact on the ballot is almost invisible.” Yang added: “The fact that Donald Trump had a really bad period and he went down just a few points indicates that it will be difficult for either candidate to break out given the hard-set division in the electorate.”

In other words, contrary to what ABC and the Washington Post would have us think, Clinton does not have a 12 point lead over Trump. This election isn’t close to coinciding with the impression that they’re working so hard at conveying.

Think about this: There are two polls of registered voters taken in the same period of time by well-known media outlets. The one proclaims that the Democrat nominee leads the Republican by twelve points. The other declares that her lead is only five points, but even then notes that with the third party candidates thrown into the mix, the two are tied!

And by the way, the NBC poll shows Trump leading Clinton with the much coveted “independent” vote by double digits.

Seventh, other than as a mechanism by which to manipulate voters into voting for those candidates that the pollsters and media favor, and other than as a means by which pollsters can earn a living and the media can increase their profits, there is absolutely no reason why anyone needs to learn five months in advance how a select sample of people claim they would vote in a hypothetical contest.

Five months is an eternity in politics—and these pollsters and “journalists” know it.

Eighthly, Trump brought millions of otherwise disenchanted people back into politics, and he garnered more votes in the GOP primaries than did any other Republican in American history. And yet now we are expected to believe that millions more have turned against him?!

This is crucial: Not only Trump, but his supporters, have not only been demonized by both the Democrat-friendly media and Republican NeverTrumpers; they have been the objects of physical intimidation and assault. It has become dangerous to be a Trump supporter. There is no such danger to being an Obama, a Clinton, or a Sanders supporter, for Republicans generally and Trump supporters specifically just don’t unleash violence upon those of their fellow Americans with whom they disagree. It doesn’t happen.

But as for left-wing thugs—not “protesters,” but cowardly, criminal punk-thugs—violence is the air that they breathe. And they’ve been visiting this violence upon attendees at Trump rallies and anyone else who they suspect of being a Trump backer.

It’s not at all implausible to think that many are fearful of expressing publicly their support for the Republican nominee. They may not necessarily fear being beaten up. But they most definitely fear for their livelihood, reputation, and property, for they know that once they admit that Donald Trump is their man, their opponents will seek to brand them as “racists” and “fascists.”

Finally, the polls found that Trump is losing to Clinton because while 90% of Democrats back their nominee, only 77% of Republicans are backing theirs.

The GOP NeverTrumpers, the very same folks who chastised Trump for his initial refusal last August to pledge to support the GOP nominee, could now imperil his victory because of their refusal to do the same.

If so; if their fantasy comes true and Trump loses, they should be mindful that the millions who back Trump will not forget. NeverTrump could very well give way to NeverGOP—and the neocon establishment Republicans will lose power for a generation.

Sincerely,

A Citizen for Truth

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Are (Republican) NeverTrumpers “pro-Hillary,” as some of their critics are now claiming?

Not necessarily.

It’s true that if the NeverTrumper gets his wish and Donald Trump’s candidacy fails, then the outcome will be a Hillary Clinton presidency.   Yet just because the outcome of not voting for Trump is exactly the same as that of actually voting for Hillary Clinton, these may still be two distinct acts, for consequences alone do not an act make.

Abortion, for instance, is regarded by many as an immoral act. No one, however, regards as immoral surgery meant to save the life of a woman with an ectopic pregnancy. The consequence of the one act is exactly that of the other—the death of the unborn child. Yet these are still two distinct acts.

Obviously, it is not the consequence of each act that differentiates them—there is no difference in the consequences. It is, rather, the intentions informing these actions that distinguish them from one another.

An abortionist intends the death of the unborn child. The doctor who removes the fallopian tubes of the woman with an ectopic pregnancy, though he foresees that in so doing he will bring about the death of the child, does not intend any such thing.

That one act is considered wrong by many but the other wrong by virtually no one makes sense in light of the Christian moral doctrine of “double effect.” According to this doctrine, if a person foresees that his action will bring about an otherwise immoral outcome, it may still be permissible for him to perform it as long as he doesn’t intend this outcome.

Now, “intentions,” it’s crucial to recognize, are not subjective psychological processes. If some acts, as most of us seem to think, are right or wrong regardless of context, irrespectively of their outcomes—if some acts are just right or just wrong—then it must be the case that the acts embody as well their own intentionality, their own internal logic.

Abortion is, essentially, by design, the intentional killing of an unborn child. A procedure aimed at saving a mother’s life from an ectopic pregnancy embodies no such intention.

Take another example. Suppose I shoot a gun in a crowded place and strike down innocents. That I may not have been motivated by any desire to harm anyone, that I didn’t mean to harm anyone, doesn’t’ get me off the hook, for the act that I performed is designed, as it were, to jeopardize others. This is what is implied by such common manner of speaking as, “It just so happened that, thankfully, no one got hurt.”

Now, if the NeverTrumper is simply one who refuses to vote for Trump, then—in light of the doctrine of double effect—it doesn’t seem right to say that he is “pro-Hillary,” for the act of refusing to vote for Trump has as its essential aim the prevention of a Trump presidency. Granted, the NeverTrumper foresees that if enough people think as he does, then a Hillary presidency will be inevitable. But he does not intend for Hillary to win. Theoretically, he may object to her just as much, if not more so, than he objects to Trump.

If the NeverTrumper, from an informed conscience, judges that voting for Trump is itself an evil act, then it would indeed be immoral for him to vote for the GOP nominee. And it would remain immoral for him to vote for Trump even if, from that same informed conscience, he believed that voting for Hillary is the greater of the two evils and that only by voting for Trump could he preclude the greater evil of a Hillary presidency.

As the Scriptures say, we must never do evil so that good may come from it.

Still, in point of fact, it is highly doubtful that the NeverTrumper objects to Trump from conscience. Although the typical NeverTrumper would have us think that it is his commitment to “limited government” and/or “Constitutional conservatism” that prevents him from voting for Trump, this is immediately seen for the lie that it is the moment we realize that these same NeverTrumpers have been enthusiastically advancing the interests of just those Republican politicians who for decades have been at least as wedded to Big Government as is Trump.

These NeverTrumpers have enthusiastically been supporting a party that, culturally, socially, economically, and politically, has facilitated America’s movement to the left. They have happily endorsed such faux conservatives as John McCain, Mitt Romney, and George W. Bush—all of whom have, if not always in rhetoric, in effect, advocated on behalf of policies that, from a conservative perspective, are often even more objectionable than some of Trump’s more objectionable stances.

The truth of the matter is that NeverTrumpers will never support him because Trump threatens the status quo. He threatens them professionally and, inasmuch as his foreign policy vision is at odds with the failed neoconservative vision that they’ve peddled all throughout the Bush II years to the present, he threatens them ideologically as well.

The NeverTrumpers actually would prefer Hillary to Trump.

From the juxtaposition of the relentlessness with which they attack Trump and their relative silence on Hillary, it is hard to infer any other conclusion.

 

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It’s no wonder that the Obama administration wants to rewrite the present by excising from the transcripts of Omar Mateen’s exchange with police the former’s Islamic-centered reasons for the massacre in Orlando that was about to occur.

Better instead, as far as the Democrats’ political fortunes are concerned, to assimilate the second deadliest terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11 into narratives about “guns” and “homophobia.”

The left’s agenda is well-served by both lines. Consider, first, the benefits of focusing on guns:

(1) If Orlando is a manifestation of a gun problem, then “gun-control” can be proposed as the “solution.”

(2) If this attack on American soil is ultimately nothing more or less than a problem with guns, then it is America’s problem with guns. In other words, in the final analysis, it would be Americans, particularly those white, Christian, Second Amendment-loving, bitter gun “clingers”—NRA-types, say, and not the son of radical Afghan Islamic immigrants—who must shoulder the lion’s share of the blame for the bloodshed.

(3) In this heated election year, if the Orlando massacre can be made over into a gun problem, then Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and their fellow Democrats can escape being saddled with the burden of having presided over not just a terrorist attack on American soil, but the worst case of Islamic terror in 15 years. Let’s call it “6/12.”

The gay angle is no less empowering to the left:

(1)The Orlando massacre can now be transformed into the classic textbook case of the most virulent “homophobia.”

(2)Since the “homophobe” is American-born and, presumably, a “self-hating” gay man himself, the mass assault against an exclusively gay population can be explained as a function of American-style “homophobia,” i.e. Americans’ horrific mistreatment of gays.

(3)If the problem is American “homophobia,” then the “solution” can be depicted as but more legislation of precisely the sort of which Republicans and Christians have been skeptical.

Thus, it is the Democrats’ enemies—Republicans and traditional Christians—on whose shoulders the blame for 6/12 can now be placed.

(4)If the problem is “homophobia,” then Obama, Clinton, and Democrats can dodge the ignominious distinction of having presided over 6/12—the deadliest Islamic terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11.

But we must call things for what they are, for unless “language is…correct,” as Confucius taught, “morals and art will deteriorate” and “justice” will go “astray [.]”

It isn’t just leftist Democrats who need to be reminded of this. Whenever Republicans and others refer to 6/12 as “the largest ‘mass shooting’” in American history, they lend legitimacy to the left’s spin on things. The same effect is realized when the left’s opponents insist upon focusing on the homosexuality of Mateen’s victims, or when they repeatedly stress the inhumane treatment to which Islamic governments throughout the world subject gays.

First, whether 6/12 really was the largest mass shooting is both morally and metaphysically irrelevant. From the time of Plato and Aristotle through the middle Ages to the Catholic Church in the present, a distinction has been made between the “essence” of things and their “accidents.”

It is of the essence of a knife, for example, to cut. That a knife can be used to pick locks; that it can come in handy as a paper weight; that it is six inches, eight ounces, black, white, manufactured by this company or that—these are accidental features or characteristics of a knife.

The Orlando massacre was a mass murder. That is, it was, essentially, a mass murder. It was, though, only accidentally a mass shooting. Guns happened to have been the means by which the murderer pursued his end—and acts are defined by their ends.

To see that this is so, consider, say, 9/11. The latter was a mass murder, the murder of 3,000 innocent Americans. No one has ever so much as thought to describe 9/11 as a “mass airplane” or “mass box cutter” attack. No one ever tried explaining—explaining away—9/11 in terms of a problem with planes or box cutters.

And this is because—besides the fact that no political program is served by personifying and demonizing planes and box cutters—it’s recognized that these inanimate objects are the mere means by which terrorists chose to wreak the destruction that they did.

They are, though, no more essential to the mass murder of 9/11 than guns were essential to the mass murder of 6/12.

Secondly, while 6/12 was essentially a mass murder, though not a mass shooting, it was a particular type of mass murder. It was terrorism:

(a)The mass murderer was a non-state actor (he was not acting on behalf of any government);

(b)Insofar as he explicitly identified the United States’ government’s intrusions into the Islamic world as his reason for murdering en masse, Mateen disclosed his aim: He wanted to affect changes in government policy;

(c)The mass murderer indiscriminately slaughtered non-combatant civilians in the private sector as the means by which he sought to retaliate against and change American policy.

These are the conditions that must be met for a murderous act to become a terrorist act.

Mateen met them in spades.

Thirdly, this terrorist attack is an Islamic terrorist attack. Yet it isn’t Islamic terror just because Mateen was a Muslim. If he was an anarchist or communist, but happened to have had an Islamic background, 6/12 would not have been an instance of Islamic terror.

That Mateen was an Islamic terrorist, and that 6/12 was an Islamic terrorist attack, is borne out by the following facts:

(a)The terrorist followed jihadi protocol and informed the police that he pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS);

(b)The terrorist did indeed pledge his allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS);

(c)The terrorist shouted praises to Allah as he shed the blood of civilians.

Finally, from what we can gather at the moment, the sexual orientation of this Islamic terrorist’s victims is as irrelevant or non-essential to the act itself as is the sexual orientation of the victims of 9/11 is irrelevant or non-essential to that day of infamy.

In fact, Mateen, besides being a homosexual himself, left behind no evidence indicating that he chose his victims because they were gay. To repeat, all psychologizing aside, there is zero evidence that Mateen had anything against gays per se.

All of the available evidence is clear as to his motives: Mateen committed mass murder in a crowded nightclub—a nightclub with which he was intimately familiar (and a gun-free zone at that)—in response to an American foreign policy that he believed was unjust toward Muslims, his brethren in the faith.

 

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