A principle-driven political approach

The liberal, progressive wing of the United States came out in force during the first ten days of President Trump’s term in office. We have seen marches, protests, and Democratic Senators standing up and being counted amongst those who will not submit to President Trump’s and his advisors’ ignorance, xenophobia, and alternative facts. The critical question is how do we sustain political power, and most importantly grow it into a platform for moral, ethical, fiscal, and responsible progress. We cannot just be against President Trump and his policies, we must be for progress.

First the tenants by which we can define “progress”. Progress must be based on principles, not dogma, and those principles must be based on the best wisdom of our day, accumulated over the centuries. It must be based on a strong ethical foundation — modeled on temperance in the pursuit of power; courage in the face of power; and wisdom in the exercise of power. Progress must be modeled to support the lowest amongst us — the children in poverty, the refugees fleeing from wars of others’ making, the ill-educated, impoverished and elderly. It must also reward the successful, and encourage their engagement and support of progress — not just in their own interests, but through approaches which will lift society and in consequence lift their own success even higher. Finally it must be fiscally responsible, making difficult choices that encourage — based on the best economic facts and theories of the past 150 years — growth and stability in our own markets and in those around the world with whom we trade.

At present neither major party fits these ideals. Nor should we expect them to — they have been in power too long to advance modern ideas; have too much to lose by disrupting the status quo. This argument has been advanced by both left and right thinkers: the left hearkens back to the 1960s Valhalla of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations; the right back to the Reagan 1980’s focus on deregulation and gilded growth of the markets-⁠1.

These ideals are difficult, if not impossible, and require serious men and women who sacrifice to reach these ideals; men and women who could make fortunes through their own intellect and connections but choose instead to apply their talents to society. Men and women who pursue public office not through hope of gain, but through principled hope of advancing their fellow citizens’ lot in life.

Let’s examine each of these three principles in turn, and see how they may be applied to a political platform.

Temperance in the pursuit of power can be applied along multiple dimensions. First and foremost, it means the continued reinforcement of our checks and balances amongst different branches of government; but it also means acceptance and dignified engagement of the plurality of our society, and the different ideas and policies that brings forward. Progressivism cannot be for diversity and inclusion and then exclude deemed “heretics”; often the middle road, and engagement with either end of the political spectrum, will create longer-standing and more sustainable policies. In fact, the balance of powers demands such compromise, under the leadership of a strong, but not overarching executive. “Energy in the Executive,” said Hamilton in the 70th Federalist, “is a leading character in the definition of good government.” Jack Goldsmith writes, “The U.S. government cannot work well to respond to society’s many complex problems — many things that need to get done cannot get done — without a minimally staffed, well-organized, energetic, and competent Executive branch.”-⁠2

However there is a second check and balance enshrined into the constitution — that between State and Federal government: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” A tension which, with near immediacy upon signature, started the partisan rancor we know well today, between Federalists (Hamiltonians) and Republicans (Jeffersonians). This inherent tension between state government and federal continues today with Attorneys General regularly suing the federal government under the Obama Administration (Texas alone suing 48 times⁠-3). This check against federal overreach was elucidated by Jefferson in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions:

that whensoever the general government assumes un-delegated powers, its acts are un-authoritative, void, and of no force: That to this compact each State acceded as a State, and is an integral party, its co-States forming, as to itself, the other party….each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.

So I submit, on these brief examples, a platform of temperance shall include the following practical elements:

  1. A focus on reinforcing and strengthening a judiciary which shall enforce and protect, first and foremost, individual rights in the private sphere, while enforcing with vigor the establishment cuase in the public sphere; and a judciary which interprets the constitution in our modern context, and a strict rejection of originalism, which does not adhere to the basic premise of utilizing the best knowledge and facts of today. No constitution can define all the travails of present or the future and the judiciary is the best check against an over-active executive or congressional branch whihc is not bound by any such interpretive limits.
  2. Term limits of the congressional and judicial branch of government, and forbidding lobbying of former colleagues for not less than 5 years after holding office. To ensure the latest innovations, practicalities, and representation of government at the federal level, limit terms of congressional representatives to not more than 24 years (or, 12 terms for Representatives, and 4 terms for Senators, respectively). This length of time corresponds to the typical “S-curve” found in most industries in which innovation “jumps” forward. The judiciary should have a similar term of 25 years, to remove some of the rancor and “winner takes all” of Federal judicial appointments which characterize and politicize such appointments today.
  3. A reinforcement of states as sovereign entities, and minimization of reliance on the Federal Government by states. Hamilton knew that the assumption of state debt would bind the young union together; however since then Federal grants have grown to comprise nearly 31% of State budgets as of 2014⁠. Much of this is a redistribution of wealth for Healthcare (Medicaid) funding for lower-income families. This should be sequestered — guaranteed — to ensure the lowest amongst us have appropriate general healthcare access; all other state operations should be funded by local contributions (taxes etc), allowing each state to determine its orientation (low tax, low service, high tax, high service, or somewhere in between), and citizens and businesses to make consequent decisions on residence in those respective states.

To be continued…

1 Levin, Yuval. 2016. The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism.

2 Goldsmith, Jack, “The Real Constitutional Danger.” Lawfareblog. Accessed 14 February, 2017. https://www.lawfareblog.com/real-constitutional-danger

3 Texas Tribune, “Texas versus the feds” Accessed Feb 15 2017, https://www.texastribune.org/2017/01/17/texas-federal-government-lawsuits/

4 Pew Charitable Trusts “Share of States Budgets from Federal Grants Stabilise”. Accessed Feb 15 2017 http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/fact-sheets/2016/08/share-of-states-budgets-from-federal-grants-stabilizes