Who are We as Americans?

Are people the problem with our democratic system?

Most of you are all familiar with the famous quote by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg address ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’.  President Lincoln delivered this speech in the middle of the bloodiest war our country has ever endured.   In this speech, he was lamenting the loss of so many lives in the battle of Gettysburg.  Although the Union had won the Gettysburg battle, Lincoln knew he had a much greater task of uniting a split country if the United States were to survive.

Lincoln was killed before the Civil War ended and never saw the United States reunite.  Frankly, I don’t think we have fully healed the scars of the Civil War to this day.  Today, we have another split.  The split we have today can be argued to be along party lines; but it is much more complicated than that.  I can show up to a perfectly peaceful gathering of my friends.  If I start a political discussion, my once peaceful friends can become heated and almost come to blows in minutes.  Some of us like the intellectual fervor of a good political fight.  However, our polarization has resulted in a government that simply doesn’t work.

Our founders designed our government to have checks & balances; and a separation of powers that seems quite ingenious.  Our system of government has been copied by many nations attempting to institute a Democratic Republic just like ours.  However, when people are divided in their thinking, our government turns into a blob that is incapable of acting.

Here are the symptoms of a gridlocked government.

  1. Supreme court justice nominees are blocked for ideological reasons.  They are either too liberal or too conservative for the Senate that happens to be in power at the time.
  2. Presidential Executive Orders are used to run the government because the congress will not act on important legislative matters.
  3. The Supreme Court makes judgments of right and wrong; instead of interpreting existing laws because the legislature is not acting before a case makes it to the highest court in the land.
  4. Congress withholds federal funding in an effort to control a popular president’s agenda.
  5. The president unilaterally starts wars because he/she knows that congress will not declare the war they want to fight.
  6. The president threatens to veto popular legislation offered by congressional representatives.

On one hand, our founders built into our government such resistance to change.  The separation of powers is one thing.  However, we have a bigger problem.  Like most things, it’s a ‘people problem’.  In every gridlock element I have described above, we have a general population that is prompting both sides of this fight.  It just so happens, that we have an almost equal amount of our population pushing their political representatives to block the opposition.

As is evidenced by our 2016 primary presidential elections, we have a clear divide between socialism and Laissez-faire capitalism . Sanders and Clinton are working up campaign followers into a frenzy over the idea that government can provide free-college, free-health care, free-food, free-shelter, and balance the scales of income inequality.  The Trump, Rubio and Cruz campaigns are simply brawling over the most ridiculous topics, its hard to understand what the Republicans stand for in this race.  However, most Republicans seem to rally around stricter enforcement of blocking illegal immigrants; and a sizable build-up of the military.

If you can sense a little sarcasm in my writing, you’d be right.  I clearly think both adherents are not leading our country in the right direction.

Instead of analytically looking at political issues, we emotionally embrace a concept and then refuse to listen to any competing opinions.  We then objectify our opponents into crazy people who must be stupid to disagree with our obvious political position.  When our founders wrote the constitution, they were concerned about two competing ideas: 1) the government would become too powerful and rob people of their liberty; and 2) uneducated people would get confused and force stupid decisions on the masses.  If you see how our system of government is set up, it is designed to take varying viewpoints; and gain a type of consensus.

For instance, look at our electoral college.  A presidential candidate can actually win a popular vote, but lose the electoral vote.  The electoral college is designed to consolidate a state’s popular vote into a single vote solidly behind that state’s winning candidate.  This system was designed to declare a clear winner in a presidential race.  Although our founder’s intentions were good, this system has created a type of pandering to swing states that’s quite odd; and has become part of our messed up political process.

As I have stated in previous blog posts, I believe we need to overhaul our system of government.  However, I think we have a bigger problem.  As people who want self-government, we have to become educated on political issues.  Not indoctrinated by the left or right; but truly knowledgeable about how a free-market economy works; and how we want to be governed.  If we have half our electorate dedicated to socialism; and the other half dedicated to capitalism; we are destined for another Civil War that will make our first Civil War look like a tea party.

We really need to define what it means to be American; and understand why that position is the best.  Getting worked up emotionally about our own needs has to be secondary to redeveloping a system of government that works for us all.

What Can We Do?

Liberty.  The foundation of a republic has to respect the individual liberty of people.  Our founders have placed this condition in our constitution, but it is being ignored by almost all citizens who feel like they know better how to run another’s life.  This topic could not have been more apparent than the battle over gay marriage.  The idea that our government is controlling marriage at all ought to give us pause.  On one side of this debate are the people who want government to act as a defender of religion and define marriage as it is defined by those religious adherents.  On the other side of this debate are people who want government to endorse their non-traditional beliefs about marriage.  My question is, “How on earth did we ever think that government ought to arbitrate this debate one way or the other?”  If a gay couple wants to marry, who ought to care?  If a baker wants to not participate in a gay wedding, they ought to have that right as well.  Why do we think we should tell people of conscience what they ought to do as long as their action doesn’t harm the other?

Finances.  Our monetary system allows and even encourages our government to spend more than it takes in.  At first, this was convenient when the U.S. reluctantly wanted to wage a necessary war.  However, our deficit spending has now become commonplace.  This has allowed both sides to win budget battles without the necessity to prioritize spending.  We have amassed a staggering debt that has now reached $19 Trillion and growing; and there is scant mention of this fact by either political party in their primary elections.  We have got to force fiscal discipline on our government’s use of our money.

Socialism vs Capitalism.  We currently have a combined socialistic and capitalistic economy.  As Americans, we need to resolve what portions of our economy will be run by the government and which portions of our economy are open to the private sector.  With our current combined system, we have large companies like banks, insurance companies, and even large auto-makers like General Motors so closely aligned with our government, they are considered oligarchs.  A Democratic Republic cannot operate when such large players in these industries have such sway over a government that is supposed to be run ‘by the people’.  We need much more than campaign finance reform to fix this problem.  We need to define clear distinctions between government and private sector functions… and then enforce these divisions.  If we do, we will eliminate private sector bailouts, we will eliminate unfair regulations, and we will eliminate sweetheart deals given to large companies.

Which 2016 Presidential Candidate can Accomplish These Things?

Hillary Clinton:  If you review Hillary Clinton’s position on issues, you will find that she wants to integrate government and the private sector more than ever before.  This will further confuse the lines between the private and public sector and lend even more power to the oligarchs that are funding her campaign currently.

Bernie Sanders:  Although I disagree with Bernie on many issues, he is the one candidate that has at least defined a socialistic path forward.  His flaws will be apparent, once he understands how he has permanently weakened the economic engine that has been responsible for America’s economic prowess; and all of the free stuff he has promised will fall flat.

Donald Trump:  Who really knows what Donald Trump will or will not do.  He has been good at not defining his platform.  He does have a few nuggets of wisdom in his prognostication about ending free-trade deals (as does Sanders); and controlling immigration.  However, it may help Trump to know that immigrants (legal or not) could contribute to our economy, if our entitlement programs could be corrected.  No mention of this in his campaign speeches.

Marco Rubio:  Rubio is quite a lot like Hillary Clinton in many respects in mixing public and private sector up into a jumble that will be almost impossible to sort out.  He very much would like to be everything to everyone; which often means that he will not be strong in any position he advocates.  I admire the fact that he would like to balance the budget in 10-years.  Great to set a goal that expires before you are around to see it happen.  He also wants to somehow continue to expand our already bloated military which is counter to his claim to reign in spending.

Ted Cruz:  Is so dedicated to promoting Christian values that he seems to be forgetting that there are many non-Christian American citizens who could lose their liberty at the expense of Christians always winning their desires.  In full disclosure, I happen to be a Christian, and feel like God’s ‘prime directive’ is to allow people to make up their own minds on how they will live their lives.  Cruz has failed to be pliable in his ideals in the past which has contributed to and not detracted from the current gridlock we see in our nation’s capital.

John Kasich:  Kasich has about as much of a chance of winning the Republican nomination as Ben Carson.  However, Kasich comes as close as possible to the ideal presidential candidate who can approach budget concerns; while also respecting personal liberty.

Conclusion

As you can guess, I don’t have all of the answers.  However, the one answer I am sure is right, is that we need to have meaningful political discussions that allow citizens to become educated about the issues; and then define who we are as Americans.  Otherwise, prepare yourselves for the next Civil War.

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