Choose Your President Like You’d Choose a Governess

America’s choice 2020

Governess: a woman employed to teach children in a private household.

President: a term deriving from the Latin prae, before, and sedere, to sit. Thus, “to sit before.” A public sitter, if you will; a head of state or symbolic embodiment of a nation. A man, or woman, who sets the moral tone for a country. By no definition a redeemer or savior, and certainly no silver-tongue demagogue who promises to single-handedly restore a nation’s power and glory. Germany once elected a guy like that. Didn’t work out too well.

So what exactly does a president do?

Although constitutionally ambiguous, the presidency of the United States is inherently dual in character. The president serves as the nation’s head of state and as its chief administrator.

Under Article II of the Constitution, the president’s administrative duties are limited to:

1. Serve as commander in chief of the armed forces.

2. Grant reprieves and pardons for federal offenses (except impeachment).

3. Ensure laws are faithfully executed.

4. With consent of the Senate, nominate and appoint ambassadors, public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States.

5. Make treaties, by, and with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Note these duties do not include issuing laws, creating jobs, fueling stock markets, declaring wars, or imposing immigration, monetary, industrial, and environmental policy. Having freed the colonies from the yoke of monarchy, the founding fathers made damn sure not to grant their leader overreaching powers.

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. — Excerpt from the ‘Declaration of Independence’

The constitutional constraints on presidential power thus gave immediate rise to the practice of issuing executive orders to achieve policy goals, manage the executive branch, or outline a view intended to influence the behavior of private citizens. Bear in mind the U.S. Constitution does not define these presidential instruments nor explicitly vests the president with the authority to issue them.

One of the first executive proclamations was George Washington’s call for a Thanksgiving holiday, something I suspect most of us are grateful for.

However, there have been others who have used the ambiguous characterization of executive power to issue directives contravening the Constitution and/or Bill of Rights. Such was Roosevelt’s 1942 directive ordering the removal and internment of all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Over one hundred thousand people — 70,000 of whom were American by birth — were imprisoned in a network of camps across the Southwest. The government made no charges against them nor could they appeal their incarceration. All lost personal liberties; most lost their homes and property.

The 5th Amendment states no person shall be deprived of liberty without due process of law.

Desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures, I get it. I also get that Congress and the Supreme Court backed Roosevelt’s draconian order, making it lawful.

My precise point is that the founding fathers could not cross all the t’s nor dot all the i’s while writing up the instructions on what a president can and cannot do. They could not foresee all the exceptional circumstances which a changing world would bring about. To wit, the assassination of foreign nationals, like the Jan 3rd drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani.

“No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in assassination.” — Executive Order 12333 issued by President Ronald Reagan.

“What constitutes assassination, however, is left undefined, writes Scott R. Anderson for Lawfare. “Subsequent presidential administrations have reportedly interpreted it to mean unlawful killings, which would not necessarily [include] targeting decisions during armed conflicts. Notably, while most of these interpretations are not public, we know that the Obama administration concluded that killings in self-defense are not assassinations in the context of drone strikes against al-Qaeda-affiliated targets in Yemen — a conclusion that likely bears on the decision to kill Soleimani.”

Things are certainly more complicated than they were in 1787. Leading the most powerful country on earth in an increasingly messy and complex world, is, well, messy.

Think back, for example, to the Cold War (1947–1991) between the United States and the Soviet Union. A time when the U.S. was in the grip of mass hysteria about the spread of communism across the world. Any foreign leader who dared espouse progressive ideals was labeled red and a potential enemy of U.S. interests.

In 1954, President Eisenhower directed the CIA to launch a covert operation in my country that toppled a popularly-elected, progressive president, ushering-in a civil war lasting over thirty years that cost the lives of close to two hundred thousand people and forced me into exile.

Depending on which side you were on, the event was either justified to contain the spread of communism, or an unconscionable overreach of American presidential power that left a shameful stain on the country’s moral fabric and snuffed my country’s democratic aspirations. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover that the true motive behind the CIA-led coup was to protect the interests and profits of corporate America.

Eisenhower made a mockery of the principles of liberty and self-determination upon which the United States was founded. A president faithful to his vow to preserve, protect, and defend those principles upon taking office would’ve never given the order to oust a democratically-elected government in a foreign country. “Do as I say and not as I do” is a sure way to sow distrust, cynicism, and anger, at home and abroad. By the same token, “profit over principle” is a slippery road to a nation’s moral bankruptcy.

Don’t misjudge me. I am not that naive to think that everything is black or white. Geopolitics is a messy affair which often forces a leader to do what’s necessary and expedient even if it forces him or her to temporarily compromise on what is right. It is precisely when a dilemma arises where the end justifies the means that a nation needs a decisive and pragmatic leader but with a steady moral compass. Experience can be hired. A moral compass, however, cannot be purchased.

Which brings me to the governess.

In Victorian England, the governess was not hired to manage a household or to cook or clean. Her primary function was to educate children.

Depending on the age of her pupils, the governess could find herself teaching ‘the three Rs’ (reading, writing and arithmetic) to the youngest, while coaching the older in French conversation, history and geography. If her pupils were teen girls, the governess was expected to instruct them in drawing, playing piano, dancing, and deportment, i.e., how to conduct oneself properly. The governess might also be in charge of small boys up to the age of eight, before they were sent away to school.

The governess was expected to look after her pupils’ moral education too. As well as reading the Bible and leading them in prayer, she was to set a good example of moral behavior. For that reason, employers put great emphasis on hiring a governess who shared their beliefs.

If you were choosing a governess for your children, what would you focus on? Her superb writing skills and knowledge of the world, or her moral character? If forced to choose, say, between a math wizard, previously convicted of child molestation, and a dunce with high moral standards, a clean record and impeccable references, whom would you entrust to guide and edify your children?

How about this guy for president of the United States?

· Four terms in a state legislature, one fairly disappointing term in the House of Representatives, and two unsuccessful attempts to win election to the United States Senate.

· No administrative experience. Never been a cabinet member, a governor, or even mayor of his hometown.

· Has filed for bankruptcy several times.

· Has never been abroad and knows no foreign languages. His education, he admits, is imperfect. The total time he spent in elementary school was less than one year. Not a great reader. Never finished a novel.

· By his own admission, the humblest of all individuals; a man without a name. Perhaps, he says, without a reason why he should even have a name.

His name was Abraham Lincoln, and while far from perfect, is considered one the great presidents by scholars and historians. Good luck trying to find the “perfect” candidate. We are all a little stained. Perfection often precludes the possible, and in my ledger, if forced to choose, values trump experience.

Of course experience is welcome, but not at the expense of virtuous and wise leadership, especially in a Republic, like the United States, with its sound system of checks and balances and judicious — albeit partly ambiguous — limitations on presidential power. Focus on experience when choosing your state’s representatives, governors, mayors, and city council members — the people charged with getting things done — but not when choosing your president.

The president is not only the leader of a party, he is the president of the whole people. He must interpret the conscience of America. He must guide his conduct by the idealism of our people. — President Herbert Hoover

Come November, Americans will choose their next head of state. The man or woman who will become the symbolic embodiment of their nation’s conscience. They will do so at a time when their country, its rule of law and the ideals for which it stands are being torn asunder amid a messy world that seems poised on the brink. Not a good time to focus on rigid ideologies or vote one’s pocketbook, in my mind. Not a good time either to allow fear, hatred, bigotry, or prejudice to mark the ballot. Default to any of these and you’ll soon end up with a tyrant.

When choosing, I suggest you check your emotions at the entrance of the polling station and walk clear-headed into the booth. Then, elect the person to whom you would entrust your children in your absence and further base that choice on the ideals which once made the United States the world’s beacon of hope and shining city upon the hill.


Read this related piece: Making America Whole Again

 

 

Beware of Silver-Tongued Villains

A wise warning from an old baboon.

“Stick with me and you’ll never go hungry again!”

With that promise, Scar rallies a pack of bloodthirsty hyenas, topples the Lion King from power, upsets the Prideland’s order and turns it into a wasteland.

This is not the stuff of Disney movies alone. History is filled with such ruinous examples which we are doomed to repeat if we don’t learn from its lessons, as cautioned philosopher George Santayana.

The world has paid a heavy price for falling for the empty promises, demagoguery, and calls for unity and identity on the basis of race, blood, and soil, thundered by silver-tongued villains.

“The main plank in the National Socialist program is to abolish the liberalist concept of the individual and the Marxist concept of humanity and to substitute therefore the folk community, rooted in the soil, and bound together by the bond of its common blood.” — Adolf Hitler 1930s

Fifteen years before Hitler’s rise to power, Irish poet W.B.Yeats saw the writing on the wall and wrote his prophecy in ‘The Second Coming’:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

And everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

By the time Yeats penned those words, Italian strongman Benito Mussolini had unleashed the scourge of fascism onto the world by hypnotizing his compatriots with his passionate intensity.

Back in the Prideland, while Scar and his slavish minions unleash their anarchy, the hoped-for savior, Simba, lacking all conviction, wastes his days singing ‘Hakuna Matata’ with his feckless buddies, Timon and Pumbaa.

By luck, Simba finds Rafiki, the old and wise baboon.

 

When Simba tells Rafiki that his father, Mufasa, is dead, the wise baboon says, “I know your father… he’s alive, and I’ll show him to you. Follow old Rafiki… he knows the way!”

Rafiki leads Simba to the edge of a waterhole and makes him look at his reflection. Simba looks hard, sighs, and says, “That’s not my father, it’s just my reflection.”

The wise baboon stirs the water’s surface with his finger and says, “Nooo, look harder… you’ll see he lives in you!” When Simba takes a second look, he sees Mufasa’s face, then hears his voice coming from above. Simba looks up and sees the ghost of his father breaking through a dense cloud.

“You have forgotten who you are,” says Mufasa in a deep voice. “Look inside yourself, Simba, you are more than what you have become.”

Like Simba, the American people have forgotten who they are.

Once a nation held together by a shared story under the motto “Out of many, one,” it is rapidly becoming a splintered patchwork of squabbling tribes laying waste to the ideals which their forefathers brought forth to give birth to the greatest country on earth; a country that appears to have forgotten Lincoln’s warning that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

“Divide and Conquer” has been a tool of tyrants since the dawn of time, along with their keen understanding and cunning manipulation of people’s fears, anger, greed, prejudices, ignorance, and insecurities. Most often, these scoundrels are not interested in the wellbeing of the people but consider them as halfwit pawns in their megalomaniac quest for absolute power and control.

“I never thought hyenas essential. They’re crude and unspeakably plain. But maybe they’ve a glimmer of potential if allied to my vision and brain.” — Scar

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” as Yeats said, so long as a group lacks a unifying story.

Rafiki had to remind Simba of his roots and his father’s legacy to wake him up from his self-centered existence. Armed with renewed courage and conviction, Simba returned to reclaim the Prideland and assumed his rightful place.

Americans have lost their center. They either ignore, or disdain the legacy of their forefathers. Like Simba, they stand aloof while the ideals enshrined in their Constitution are increasingly desecrated. Profit over principle is now the people’s maxim. Lacking a higher conviction, they stand on loose sediment. Thus unanchored, the American people are bewildered and afraid; easy prey for crowd-pleasers and opportunists — the Scars and hyenas of this world.

To Scar’s rallying cry of, ‘Stick with me and you’ll never go hungry again!’ I counter with Jesus’ warning: ‘For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world but lose his soul?

Wake up America! The soul of your country is in peril. Look inside yourself, you’re more than what you’ve become.

Wake up, before your once, proudful land becomes a wasteland.

Making America Whole Again

This band aid might work.

Tattered American Flag

Back in September of last year, I claimed Americans had lost sight of the ideals that once held the country together and were dangerously fracturing into warring tribes. I went on to suggest that the demise of old ideas is not necessarily a bad thing if we replace them with better ones. Caught up in my stubborn idealism, I went as far as proposing a new narrative for humankind, one transcending country, race, and religion.

I was right, wrong, somewhat right, and ahead of my time.

Right, because I maintain Americans have lost sight of their shared ideals. In fact, I suspect most don’t even know what those are.

Wrong, in claiming the country is fracturing. It just feels that way. I have since confirmed that the noisy extremes are the reason why. Between progressive activists (8% of the population) and devoted conservatives (6%), there is an “exhausted majority” desperate to have these extremists shut the hell up. It is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease and the loudmouths that dominate airtime. Those who compromise and calmly propose working solutions are drowned out by their rage.

Somewhat right, in calling for better ideas, but wrong in saying that the demise of old ones is not necessarily a bad thing. I was guilty of suggesting we throw out the baby with the bathwater.

That baby is the glue that once held this nation together: The Constitution.

A set of simple, revolutionary ideas which forged a national identity out of a group of people who looked different, spoke different languages, and practiced religion in varied ways — a true melting pot. There is a good reason the preamble to the Constitution begins with the words: “We the People” and the country’s motto is ‘E pluribus unum’ — Out of many, one.

I know, I know… Jefferson was a slave owner, women and African-Americans were denied the right to vote, and most, if not all of the 39 delegates who signed the Constitution were white men of property. It is the principle I am praising here, like I would still praise love even if some cheat.

Let us never forget that the American Revolution and its promise was won on the backs of both men and women, black, white, brown and red, enslaved and free, privileged and unfortunate. The Founders just knew how to write better, and in 7591 words — about thirty four pages including twenty seven amendments — they gave us a blueprint for how to keep the fabric from unraveling:

Federal Republic: a federation of states with a central government devoid of a monarchy or hereditary aristocracy.

Separation of Powers: checks and balances between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches.

Rule of Law.

Civil rights: to property, religion, speech, press, assembly, petition, voting, citizenship by birth, and to bear arms (no cherry-picking allowed).

Federal Taxation (if you don’t like this one, move to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait which have none).

Simple, although imperfect, like all foundational documents, with room for improvement.

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. — Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson was in favor of revisiting the Constitution every twenty years or so.

It was last tweaked in 1992.

I say time’s up.

I’d start with clarifying freedom of speech, which some believe gives them license to say whatever is on their mind regardless of the consequences. I’d then propose amending the right to bear arms to keep them away from the mentally ill and add health care as another right.

Still, as it currently stands, the Constitution is the only glue that can keep this country together. Not race, religion, or political or economic ideology.

The extremes, however, are determined to tear it up.

In their article for The Atlantic, Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld report troubling trends:

“Many progressives have turned against what were once sacrosanct American principles. Freedom of speech is [now considered by them] an instrument of the dehumanization of women and minorities. Religious liberty, an engine of discrimination. Property rights, a shield for structural injustice and white supremacy. In a recent poll, two-thirds of college-age Democrats said that a diverse and inclusive society is more important than protecting free speech. Only 30 percent of Americans born in the 1980s believe that living in a democracy is essential, compared with 72 percent of Americans born in the 1930s.

From the [extreme] right, there have been calls to define America’s national identity in racial, ethnic, or religious terms, whether as white, European, or Judeo-Christian. President Trump routinely calls the [press] “the enemy of the American people.” In a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, less than half of Republicans said that the freedom of the press to criticize politicians was very important to maintaining a strong democracy in the United States.”

And not too long ago, Trump announced his plan to end birthright citizenship by executive order.

This is flag-burning at its worst, and those in the exhausted majority better do something before it’s too late.

Like deciding if they share the Constitution’s core principles. If so, they must recommit to their defense as they would defend their house and family if attacked by barbarians. Otherwise move.

Like kicking out the barbarians by voting for people whose express priority is defending those principles regardless of party affiliation.

Like advocating for changes to the Constitution they believe are necessary to adapt to the times.

Or calling for the return of civics education at public schools focused on those principles.

How about petitioning the Department of Homeland Security to make fundamental changes in the Naturalization Test, prioritizing knowledge of the principles which gave birth to the country, instead of asking inane questions like “What ocean is on the West Coast of the United States?”

And, finally, let us stop wasting our precious time and brains listening to the loudmouths on both extremes and start thinking for ourselves!

As for the extremes, Chua and Rubenfeld say “the right needs to recognize that making good on the Constitution’s promises requires much more than flag-waving. For its part, the left needs to rethink its scorched-earth approach to American history and ideals. Exposing injustice, past and present, is important, but there’s a world of difference between saying America has repeatedly failed to live up to its constitutional principles and saying those principles are lies or smoke screens for oppression.”  


The Bison was the glue that held American Indians together. Once gone, their culture unraveled.

History appears to be repeating itself in 21st Century America.

I still hope that, one day, humanity will come together under one flag, and that’s where I am ahead of my time. But I’m afraid the time has not yet come and might require an existential threat for it to happen.

 

For now, groups who wish to remain cohesive require local glue — a set of norms, traditions, institutions, and ideals, sacralized, shared and defended against those who wish to break them apart.

For the United States, that glue is “constitutional patriotism.”

Such lofty idea, however, will remain pie-in-the-sky if not preceded by civility. And the first step towards civility is for us to get off our self-righteous horses and sit together with our proclaimed “enemies” and listen.

Not everyone who doesn’t think like you is a bloodthirsty zombie or an idiot…ok, some probably are.

Moral indignation is the standard strategy for endowing the idiot with dignity. — Alain de Botton

When I said before we should stop listening to the loudmouths on both extremes and think for ourselves, I was referring only to those whose opinions are so calcified they border on fanaticism, which is just an overcompensation for doubt as psychologist Carl Jung suggested. For if these jokers were truly convinced of their ideas, there’d be no need to shout.

Is there an art to listening?

There is, and, to me, it starts with humility (Dubito ergo sum) and intellectual integrity. Nothing is more difficult, said economist E.F. Schumacher, than to become critically aware of the presuppositions of one’s thought.

True listening, says radio host Celeste Headlee, begins with presence. “Don’t be half-in and half-out of a conversation,” she recommends in her instructive Ted Talk in which she lists these other tips for a rewarding conversation:

  • Set yourself aside. If you want to pontificate, write a blog. Enter each conversation assuming you have something to learn. Be curious. Bill Nye rightly said “everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”
  • Use open-ended questions.
  • If you don’t know, say so.
  • Don’t equate your experiences with them.
  • Keep your mind open and your mouth shut. If your mouth is open, you are not listening. “Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand,” said Steven Covey, “we listen with the intent to reply.”

Judging from the ongoing Democratic debates, it is progressives, in my opinion, who most need to learn how to listen, particularly to rural white America. Once they do, they need to speak to its gut, not just its frontal brain lobe (conservatives are masters at this). While they must be honest in letting this large electorate know the country they fear lost will never return (because it never really existed), I believe most would rally behind a commitment to the Republic’s collective interest, i.e., “We the people,” instead of a warring patchwork of ‘Us-versus-Them.’

There is enough credible research out there proving that exalting differences among groups of people only serves to create prejudice, but I am not suggesting we suppress the rich cultural expressions the United States is fortunate to have. That would only leave a bland, white canvas. I’m suggesting we invert our identity markers and start calling ourselves: American-Africans, American-Hispanics, American-Muslims, American-Asians, etc.

I’m proposing the canvas be placed before the paint.

That canvas is the Constitution.

Get yourself a copy.


Then join my mailing list for more bold ideas for a saner world.

Making America Whole Again

Two band-aids which might work

In my Sept 14 post, Now that the Buffalo are Gone, I said Americans had lost sight of the ideals that once held the country together and were dangerously fracturing into warring tribes. I then suggested that the demise of old ideas was not necessarily a bad thing if we replaced them with better ones. Caught up in my stubborn idealism and inspired by the image of our little blue planet, I went as far as proposing a new narrative for humankind, transcending country, race, and religion.

I was right, wrong, somewhat right, and ahead of my time…


Read my two simple solutions for how to make America whole again in this exclusive post.

For more bold ideas for a saner world, join my mailing list.