30 July 2020 – Over the last few days, I’ve engaged in a social-media exchange about events in Portland, OR involving protest demonstrations there, and camo-clad so-called “Federal agents.” So, it seems timely to point out why we have a First Amendment to our Constitution, and remind readers that the American Revolution started with a protest demonstration—the Boston Tea Party. Lest we forget, the Portland demonstrations were organized (if that word applies) by the Black Lives Matter movement to protest police brutality, especially the alleged murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis, MN police officer Derek Chauvin.
The social-media exchange I mentioned above devolved into a dispute about where protest demonstrations fit into the workings of a democracy. My position, which I get to explain in this essay because I pay for this space in the World Wide Web to post whatever I darn well please, is that protest demonstrations are a necessary part of a properly functioning democratic society. My opponent (who will remain unnamed, as will the social-media platform that carried the exchange) took the position that such demonstrations were not. Effective or not, he (There, I’ve narrowed his identity down to 49.1% of the U.S. population!) claimed that protest demonstrations were not part of the formal functioning of government, and were, thus, illegitimate. In rebuttal, I pointed him to the First Amendment, which guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” and to the history of the Boston Tea Party that effectively began the American Revolution.
In this essay, I’m not going to recite the history of the Boston Tea Party, which you can read for yourself by following the link above. It’s a pretty good account that agrees with the mass of American History texts I’ve read over the years. (It’s important to point that out these days, as an example of how we verify that something is not fake news.) Instead, I hope to point out parallels between Boston Tea Party events and public protest demonstrations in the 21st century.
The Revolutionary War in America is generally acknowledged to have started with what Ralph Waldo Emerson called “Shot Heard Round The World,” in Lexington, MA in 1775. The actual American Revolution, as an historical movement, began years earlier, however. A protest organization named “The Sons of Liberty,” which had by then been active for over a decade, was responsible for mounting a force of 100 protesters, who boarded the ships Dartmouth, Beaver, and Eleanor docked at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston, MA disguised as Native Americans. The Sons of Liberty, of course, are an exact parallel to today’s Black Lives Matter movement.
Once aboard the ships, the protesters dumped the ships’ cargoes of tea, belonging to the East India Trading Company and valued at $1 million today, into Boston Harbor. After dumping the tea, the protesters cleaned up the decks of the American-owned ships! This represents, of course, an ideal example of how a peaceful protest as envisioned by the First Amendment should be carried out
Protests this Summer in the streets of Portland, Minneapolis, and other cities have been far larger, involving hundreds of thousands of protesters. They have also sometimes devolved into violence. However, it should be noted that the 2020 demonstrations were in response to government actions (i.e., police brutality) that ended with loss of life, rather than just a tax on tea. It is reasonable to expect folks to get a bit more worked up after suffering homicidal attacks perpetrated by government agents (which policemen are)!
That said, the modern protest demonstrations have been predominantly peaceful. Most violence has occurred in situations where demonstrators have been met with armed resistance. The same thing happened in the American Revolution. Five years before the Boston Tea Party, British soldiers shot at demonstrators protesting the presence of armed troops in city streets, injuring six protesters and killing five. Called “The Boston Massacre, the moral of that story is that the surest way to make a demonstration turn violent is to send in armed troops.
To summarize my position on protest demonstrations’ place in a democracy, when government in a democratic society fails to function properly for any reason, the people have the duty to take to the streets in protest. It is every bit as important as having a free press, which is generally acknowledged as a requirement for proper functioning of a democracy. Far from being some kind of extra-legal activity, both are specifically written into the U.S. Constitution by the First Amendment. You can’t get more legal than that!
10 July 2019 – ‘Way back in the late 1960s I spent an entire day as a news hawker. That is, I stood on street corners shouting things at passersby intended to induce them to by copies of a newspaper I was selling. The newspaper was something called The L.A. Free Press. It was produced and sold in Los Angeles, and the street corners I stood on had names like “West Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset.”
I’d recently transplanted from Boston, Massachusetts to the Los Angeles, California area and had never heard of The L.A. Free Press before. A small gang I’d been hanging out with that morning heard that I had a driver’s license on me, and knew that we could use it as collateral to get a great whacking stack of those newspapers to sell at a profit.
Seemed like a good idea at the time.
I initially thought the newspaper copies were somehow free for the taking (as so many local papers are today). I was quickly disabused of that idea because I got pretty decent money for buying copies of it at a low price, then selling them on street corners for a higher price. It clearly wasn’t that kind of free!
Then, I imagined that was (like so many thin publications of the time) some hippy-dippy propaganda rag full of free-love manifestos and ads for beatnik-poetry venues. Being a veteran hippy-beatnik-biker, that was okay with me. I didn’t care as long as there was coin to be had. I wasn’t one of Donovan Leitch’s “beatniks out to make it rich,” but I was interested in coming up with lunch money!
The main headline on the first page of the copies we got in exchange for a mortgage on my driver’s license sounded like a local-interest story that I was not embarrased to wave at potential newsprint buyers, so it didn’t seem to be some hippy-dippy propaganda rag, either. The papers actually sold pretty well!
I needed the money (being dead broke at the time), so I swallowed my pride and did the job. I kept the last copy from my stack, however, to read when I got back to wherever I was sleeping that night.
By the time I’d finished reading the thing I’d realized why the publication was called The L.A. Free Press. It was an independent newspaper founded by a small group dedicated to investigative journalism with nobody to answer to but their readers. I became proud to be working with them.
If I’d been smart and ambitious I would have tried to get a job with them writing copy. After all, part of my reason for relocating was to find some kind of writing gig. But, as is typical with homeless eighteen-year-olds living on the streets, I was more frightened and depressed than smart and ambitious. The next day I moved on to doing something that turned out to be another stupid career move.
Sometimes depression is not a sign of mental illness, but a rational response to the way your life is going.
What I learned from that episode of my misspent youth (What’s the point of misspending your youth if you’re not going to learn something from it?) was what intellectuals mean when they talk about “the Free Press.” It’s not just some empty slogan you hear once in a while on CNN. It’s how we, as citizens of a free country, keep track of what’s going on outside of our individual hovels.
The difference between we citizens of a free country and downtrodden medieval serfs slaving to feed their “betters,” is that we have some say in what goes on outside our hovels. We can’t affect things in a way that’s good for us and the people we care about unless we find out what’s actually going on out there. For that we hire independent journalists who have at least half a brain and make it their business to find out for us.
We pay them a living wage and (if we’ve got at least half a brain ourselves) listen to what they tell us is happening. The Free Press is not, as some dishonest demagogues try to tell us, “the enemy of the people,” but a necessary part of a free democratic society.
For this reason, the journalistic profession has been called “The Fourth Estate” since the Enlightenment. Originally, the term was meant to indicate that a Free Press was available – in addition to the three original estates of clergy, aristocracy and commoners – whose writ was to frame the debate upon which society made common decisions. Later political systems still had (usually) three competing authorities explicitly charged with governing, along with a Free Press implicitly charged with framing the debate about what to do next.
In the United States, our Constitution explicitly delineates a government made up of three co-equal branches: Legislature, Court System, and Executive. The Founding Fathers (If that’s not a sexist term, I don’t know what is!) realized they’d forgotten the Free Press in the original document when they couldn’t get anybody to ratify (agree to) the thing without immediately amending it to include a Free Press (as well as the rest of the Bill of Rights).
The Free Press was considered so important that it was included in the first amendment.
Before anybody gets the idea that I’m criticizing the Founding Fathers as incompetent, I want to point out that this error just goes to prove that those guys were human, and humans make mistakes. Specifically, they were exceedingly bright guys to whom the need for a vibrant Free Press was so obvious that they forgot to mention it. The first ten Amendments – the Bill of Rights – should be seen as an “Oh, Shit!” moment.
“How could we have left that out?”
Having a Free Press, and making good use of it, is the first thing you have to have to set up a democracy. In a sense, it’s not the “fourth” estate, but the first. All the rest is afterthought. It’s bells and whistles designed to be the mechanical parts of a democracy. They’re of no value whatsoever without a Free Press.
On the other hand, once you have a functioning Free Press and a society that makes good use of it, the rest of the bells and whistles will inevitably follow. In that sense, the Free Press is not an afterthought or a result of democracy. Instead, it’s the essence of democracy. That’s why the first thing would-be authoritarians seek to eliminate is the Free Press.
22 May 2019 – I grew up believing in the myth of the rugged individualist.
As did most boys in the 1950s, I looked up to Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone and their ilk. Being fond of developing grand theories, I even worked out an hypothesis that the wisdom of any group’s decisions was inversely proportional to the group’s size (number of members) because in order to develop consensus, the decision had to be acceptable to even the stupidest member of the group.
With this background, I used to think that democracy’s main value was that it protected the rights of individuals – especially those rugged individuals I so respected – so they could scout the path to the future for everyone else to follow.
I’ve since learned better.
There were, of course, a lot of holes in this philosophy, not the least of which was that it matched up so well with the fevered imaginings I saw going on in the minds of authoritarian figures and those who wanted to cozy up to authoritarian figures. Happily, I recognized those philosophical holes and wisely kept on the lookout for better ideas.
First, I realized that no single individual, no matter how accomplished, could do much of anything on their own. Even Albert Einstein, that heroic misfit scientist, was only able to develop his special theory of relativity by abandoning some outdated assumptions that made interpreting results of experiments by other scientists problematic. Without a thorough immersion in the work of his peers, he wouldn’t have even known there was a problem to be solved!
Similarly, that arrogant genius, Sir Isaac Newton recognized his debt to his peers in a letter to Robert Hooke on 5 February 1676 by saying: “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
For all of his hubris, Newton was well known to immerse himself in the society of his fellows.
Of course, my childhood heros, Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and Captain Blood, only started out as rugged individuals. They then went on to gather followers and ended up as community leaders of one sort or another. As children, we used to forget that!
My original admiration of rugged individualists was surely an elitist view, but it was tempered with the understanding that predicting in advance who was going to be part of that elite was an exercise in futility. I’d already seen too many counterexamples of people who imagined that they, or somebody they felt inferior to, would eventually turn out to be one of the elite. In, for example, high school, I’d run into lots of idiots (in my estimation) who strutted around thinking they were superior to others because of (usually) family background or social position.
We called that “being a legend in their own mind.”
Eventually, I realized what ancient Athenians had at least a glimmer of, and the framers of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution certainly had a clear idea of, and what modern management theorists harp on today: the more diverse a group is, the better its decisions tend to be.
This is, of course, the exact reverse of my earlier rugged-individualist hypothesis.
As one might suspect, diversity is measurable, and there are numerous diversity indices one might choose from to quantify the diversity within a group. Here I’m using the word “group” in the mathematical sense that such a group is a set whose members (elements) are identifiable by sharing specific characteristics.
For example, “boys” forms a group of juvenile male human beings. “Girls” forms another similar, but mutually exclusive group. “Boys” and “girls” are both subsets of multiple larger groups, one of which is “young people.”
“Diversity” seeks to measure the number of separate subgroups one can find within a given group. So, you can (at least) divide “young people” into two subgroups “boys” and “girls.”
The importance of this analysis is that the different characteristics common within subgroups lead to different life experiences, which, the diversity theory posits, provide different points of view and (likely) different suggestions to be considered for solutions to any given problem.
So, the theory goes, the more diverse the group, the more different solutions to the problem can be generated, and the more likely a superior choice will be presented. With more superior choices available and a more diverse set (There’s that word again!) of backgrounds that can be used to compare the choices, the odds are that the more diversity in a group, the better will be the solution it finally chooses.
Yeah, this is a pretty sketchy description of the theory, but Steven Johnson spends 216 pages laying it out in his book Farsighted, and I don’t have 216 pages here. The sketch presented here is the best I can do with the space available. If you want more explanation, buy the book and read it.
Here I’m going to seize on the Gini–Simpson diversity index, which uses the probability that two randomly selected members of a group are members of the same subgroup (λ), then subtracts it from unity. In other words in a group of, say, young people containing equal numbers of boys and girls, the probability that any pair of members selected at random will be either both boys or both girls is 0.5 (50%). The Gini-Simpson index is 1-λ = 1 – 0.5 = 0.5.
A more diverse group (one with three subgroups, for example) would have a lower probability of any pair being exactly matched, and a higher Gini-Simpson diversity index (closer to 1.0). Thus, the diversity theory would have it that such a group would have a better chance of making a superior decision.
Authoritarians Don’t Rule!
Assuming I’ve convinced you that diversity makes groups smarter, where does that leave our authoritarian?
Let’s look at the rugged-individualist/authoritarian situation from a diversity-index viewpoint. There, the number of subgroups in the decision-making group is one, ‘cause there’s only one member to begin with. Randomly selecting twice always comes up with identically the same member, so the probability of getting the same one twice is exactly one. That is, it’s guaranteed.
That makes the diversity score of an individualist/authoritarian exactly zero. In other words, according to the diversity decision-making theory, authoritarians are the worst possible decision makers!
And, don’t try to tell me individualist/authoritarians can cheat the system by having wide-ranging experiences and understanding different cultures. I’ve consciously done exactly that for seven decades. What it’s done is to give me an appreciation of different cultures, lifestyles, philosophies, etc.
It did not, however, make me more diverse. I’m still one person with one brain and one viewpoint. It only gave me the wisdom(?) to ask others for their opinions, and listen to what they say. It didn’t give me the wisdom to answer for them because I’m only the one person with the one viewpoint.
So, why do authoritarian regimes even exist?
What folks often imagine as “human nature” provides the answer. I’m qualifying “human nature” because, while this particular phenomenon is natural for humans, it’s also natural for all living things. It’s a corollary that follows from Darwin’s natural-selection hypothesis.
Imagine you’re a scrap of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Your job is to produce copies of yourself. If you’re going to be successful, you’ll have to code for ways to make lots of copies of yourself. The more copies you can make, the more successful you’ll be.
Over the past four billion years that life is estimated to have been infesting the surface of Earth, a gazillion tricks and strategies have been hit upon by various scraps of DNA to promote reproductions of themselves.
While some DNA has found that promoting reproduction of other scraps of DNA is helpful under some circumstances, your success comes down to promoting reproduction of scraps of DNA like you.
For example, human DNA has found that coding for creatures that help each other survive helps them survive. Thus, human beings tend to cluster in groups, or tribes of related individuals – with similar DNA. We’re all tribal, and (necessarily) proud of it!
Anyway, another strategy that DNA uses for better survival is to prefer creatures similar to us. That helps DNA evolve into more successful forms.
In the end, the priority system that necessarily evolves is:
Identical copies first (thus, the bond between identical twins is especially strong);
Closely related copies next;
More distantly related copies have lower priority.
We also pretty much all like pets because pets are unrelated creatures that somehow help us survive to make scads of copies of our own DNA. But, we prefer mammals as pets because mammals’ DNA is very much like our own. More people keep cats and dogs as pets, than snakes or bugs. See the pattern?
We prefer our children to our brothers (and sisters).
We prefer our brothers and sisters to our neighbors.
We prefer our neighbors to our pets. (Here the priority systems is getting pretty weak!)
And, so forth.
In other words, all living things prefer other living things that are like them.
Birds of a feather flock together.
That is the basis of all discrimination phenomena, from racial bias to how we choose our friends.
How Authoritarians Rule, Anyway.
What has that to do with authoritarianism?
Well, it has a lot to do with authoritarianism! Authoritarians only survive if they’re supported by populations who prefer them enough to cede decision-making power to them. Otherwise, they’d just turn and walk away.
So authoritarian societies require populations with low diversity who generally are very much like the leaders they select. If you want to be an authoritarian leader, go find a low-diversity population and convince them you’re just like them. Tell ‘em they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread because they’re so much like you, and that everyone else – those who are not part of your selected population – are inferior scum simply because they’re not like your selected population. The your followers will love you for it, and hate everyone else.
That’s why authoritarian regimes mainly thrive in low-diversity, xenophobic populations.
That despite (or maybe because of) the fact that such populations are likely to make the poorest decisions.
Beside having a writing style that’s easy to follow and pleasant to read, Levy’s book provides a look at world events from an unusual perspective and lots and lots of details that I could never have known otherwise. Whenever I can learn something new, I count the time well spent. Learning so much in 250 pages (I didn’t read the Index that takes up the last 11 pages) counts as time very well spent!
I do have to say, however, that Levy trots out words even I have to look up! His delight in his massive vocabulary I have to forgive, though. After all, I long ago decided not to coddle my readers with restricted word choices. If they have trouble puzzling out words that I use, they can just bloody well go look ‘em up!
Levy does not make the mistake Henry Miller was so notorious for: delighting so much in his facility with various European languages that he left his readers puzzling over long passages in French or German. If you haven’t traveled extensively in mid-twentieth-century Europe and lived there long enough to be steeped in the languages, you’re left wondering what he’s on about, and whether you’re missing something important to the story.
Levy no doubt is equally fluent in a long list of languages, but mercifully avoids tormenting us with them. The book is very definitely presented in more-or-less standard English.
To quote Levy’s bio on the back flap inside his book’s the dust cover: “Bernard-Henri Levy is a philosopher, activist, filmmaker, and author of more than thirty books …. His writing has appeared extensively in publications throughout Europe and the United States. … Levy is cofounder of the antiracist group SOS Racisme and has served on diplomatic missions for the French government.”
Joan Juliet Buck, former editor of French Vogue, writing in Vanity Fair called him “an action-driven intellectual who moves fast, writes fast, and is listened to with respect.”
“What is an ‘action-driven intellectual,’” you ask?
That is an important – arguably dominant – part of Levy’s character. Action-driven intellectuals are, as Levy admiringly describes in his preface, the “type of writer that a great French resistance fighter, Roger Stephane, called ‘the adventurer’ …” Levy lists among his admired adventurers, T.E. Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Andre Malraux and writer-mercenaries like Xenophon. He seems proud to count himself among their fellows.
From someone with fewer war stories to tell, that would sound like hubris. From Levy, however, it seems (in the immortal words of Walter Brennan in the first episode of the TV series The Guns of Will Sonnett) “No brag. Just fact.”
So, what does this action-driven intellectual have to say? Especially, what is he indicating by his title, The Empire and the Five Kings?
It is a little difficult to be sure whether his volume is a salutation to the embattled resistance warriors of the world fighting against the rise of autocratic dictators (especially the Kurdish Peshmerga resisting threatened genocide by Turkish President and would-be dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan), or a cry of warning about the chaos threatening Western democracy from all sides, or even a shout of hope for democracy’s future. Perhaps it’s best seen as all of the above.
The Empire, of course, is how Levy sees the United States. He sees it, however, as the best kind of empire: a reluctant one dragged to the center of the World’s stage by universal acclaim.
The United States never wanted to be an empire, he opines. Instead, after the double World War of the early twentieth century, the victorious allied western democracies desperately needed a leader; a standard bearer to head their parade into the glorious – and hopefully peaceful – future they were yearning for. And, there was nobody else around that was up to the job. So, the United States put on a sheepish grin and, channeling their inner Fess Parker, said: “Well, shucks, folks. If ya really want me to, I guess I could give it a lash.”
That’s how Levy sees America in the latter half of the twentieth and the first decade of the twenty-first century.
Then something happened.
Levy offers no blame or even critical analysis. I, however, am willing to venture an opinion.
Imagine Fess Parker standing up there with his folksy grin, pushed unwillingly into standing up to do his level best – only to be pelted by tomatoes.
It was bad enough to see angry crowds shouting “Yankee Go Home!” in the ‘50s and ‘60s. They’d all been through Hell, and were, in the immortal words of Arlo Guthrie: “Hung down, brung down, hung up, and all kinds of mean, nasty, ugly things.”
They’d been just havin’ a tough time.
It was reasonable that the world’s people would be feeling pretty awful and might take it out on the one who’d come through the whole experience looking like the Champion of the World.
That was the United States, so we could overlook a few over-ripe tomatoes and shouts for us to go home.
But, when a bunch of towel-headed Saudi Arabian expats from Afghanistan flew airliners into a few of our most iconic buildings, killing thousands of our friends and neighbors (not to mention relatives), that proved a bit too much.
Fess Parker decided to do what those ingrates told him to do: “Go Home!”
“You don’t like the way I’m policing the World?” he said. “Well, then, you can just go do it yourselves. I’ll just go home and mow my own grass. You can clean up your own darn messes.”
That, Levy sees in horror, leaves the field open for the Five Kings – the autocrats jostling to beat up everyone else in the schoolyard – to do their worst.
Putin wants to be crime boss in Russia and reconstitute the failed U.S.S.R. as a secular kleptocracy. Ali Khameni and his Revolutionary Guards want to bring back the theocracy that kept the Sultan’s subjects abjectly subjugated in twelfth-century Iran. Erdogan yearns for the glories of the Byzantine Empire. Mohammad Bin Salman wants the wealth and power he sees as his birthright “owning” a Saudi Arabia that dominates the oil wealth of the Middle East. Xi Jinping wants to rule China as a commercial empire dominating the Far East (at least).
They all want autocratic power sans censure, sans limit, and sans end.
Levy rightly surmises that the other seven-and-a-half billion of us living on this planet might object to being told what to do by those five.
At least, he suggests, we should!
I happen to agree.
Where Levy and I disagree is in his diagnosis of what’s going on in America.
Levy gets into minor difficulty when he tries to follow the footsteps of De Toqueville by explaining America to Americans. Like many of today’s observers (and especially rehabilitated Marxists like Levy) he fails to recognize how close rabid love of democracy is to rabid populism, and how short the fall is from there to that most virulent form of authoritarianism – fascism.
Levy is not the first cultural transplant who’s made critical misapprehensions about American character. Alistair Cook, embarrassingly blurted out an opinion to the effect that “Americans yearn for an aristocracy” on national television. He’d mistaken Americans’ yearning for material success (especially among ‘50s-era suburbanites) for an unmet desire to fawn over wealthy aristocrats.
America is not England. We remember suffering the birth pangs of the Revolutionary War to, as Tom Selleck’s “Mathew Quigley” character intoned: “… Run the misfits out of our country. We sent ‘em back to England.”
I especially censured rehabilitated Marxists above because the journey from Marxist to Stalinist is so short that it generally happens in the blink of an eye. It happens so fast that hardly anyone recognizes the change. It’s like a jump cut mid-sentence in a movie to catch a reaction shot. Above all, Marxists never seem to see it coming. But, that’s a rant for another day.
Lacking a view of that slippery slope from democracy to fascism, Levy seems at a loss to understand the Trump phenomenon. While Levy laments America seeming to lose its way on the world stage, what’s actually happened is that we’re in the middle of making the transition from democracy to fascism. While most of us are scratching our heads, trying to figure out why our democracy seems to have stopped working, large swaths of our leadership – led from behind by Donald Trump – are busy reconstructing our democratic government into the Fourth Reich!
I say “led from behind by Donald Trump” because, unlike Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco, it seems that Trump does not have a clear idea of what he is doing. Old-time (twentieth-century) fascists were quite sure of what they wanted and how to get it.
Trump does not seem to know that. It is unclear whether he has any coherent ideas at all. It’s like he’s suffering Wernicke’s aphasia: unable to understand or compose coherent language. He seems more like a cat reacting to movement of a laser pointer – all reaction and no thought. Others on the Far Right, however, do have a clear idea what they want and what they’re doing, and they are attempting to herd Trump’s scattered thoughts into their preferred direction.
Of course, when they stop needing him (specifically, his Reality-TV “charm”) as a front man, he’ll be gone in a heartbeat! See what what happened to Leon Trotsky.
24 April 2019 – Pundits supporting the Democratic Party would have you believe that a vote for anyone other than whomever their party nominates for President in 2020 will be a vote for a second term for Donald Trump. I have been arguing that this is an extremely short sighted view that only serves the Democratic National Committee’s long-term purpose of maintaining the status quo.
Americans need a third party to break the political polarization gripping our national government under the two-party system and, at minimum, keep the existing parties focused on what matters to the American People right now instead of on partisan bickering.
The following is an invited guest post by Honor (Mimi) Robson, chair of the Libertarian Party of California that makes the case that the Libertarian Party is poised to provide that third alternative. Nearly all she says with reference to her home state of California can be said verbatim about politics in the rest of our country.
The Republican Party is finally realizing what the Libertarian Party has known for decades: California is best when the voters have options. Jessica Millan Patterson, Chair of the California Republican Party, recently wrote, “Republicans have both an opportunity and a responsibility to stand up and offer a viable alternative to the Democrats and give voters a real choice.”
However, other Republican leaders feel that the GOP isn’t the option Californians are looking for.
Soon after last year’s general election, Kristin Olsen, former Assembly Republican leader and current Stanislaus County Supervisor, wrote “the California Republican Party isn’t salvageable at this time. The Grand Old Party is dead.” So which is it?
What has been the cause of the Republican Party’s apparent demise in the state?
Perhaps it is because they concentrate on issues that are either irrelevant for or antithetical to Californians.
Perhaps it is because the party seems to have abandoned its former regard for limited government in order to appease a president that is wildly unpopular in this state.
Perhaps it is because they also seem to be doing a good job of identifying problems in the state but aren’t coming up with solutions.
The middle class is struggling in the state as they are burdened with the highest taxes and most stringent regulations in the country.
As a result businesses are fleeing the state and taking with them high paying jobs that could benefit many Californians.
In addition to jobs leaving the state, living here has become more expensive; we have a huge shortage of affordable housing.
And last, but certainly not least, we have an out of control public employee pension system; these pension liabilities are unsustainable and will ultimately bankrupt local municipalities and the state itself.
To solve the problems of California, we need to stop the unsustainable spending.
California legislators need to learn to spend within the state’s means rather than raising taxes on the top income earners who will continue to leave the state and take with them their tax dollars.
The Libertarian Party believes the first step is to reduce the many regulations that have forced so many businesses to find a more business-friendly environment.
The housing crisis could be alleviated by reducing the hurdles in place to build affordable housing.
A few simple steps we can take could help millions of people in the state.
And finally, the first step to handling the state’s pension debt is to renegotiate the contracts with the public employee unions.
As an example, when Jeff Hewitt was mayor of Calimesa, his city withdrew from their contract with CalFire and instead created their own fire department whose employees are enrolled in a traditional 401(k) retirement system; this simple step will keep the city from ultimate bankruptcy. This approach needs to be taken throughout the state.
In the last election season California Republicans lost seats in both state houses as well as representation in Washington. Between January 2018 and February 2019 the number of registered Republicans decreased by 2.5 percent while registered Libertarians increased 9.5 percent. Libertarians had a huge win in Riverside County when Jeff Hewitt was elected 5th District Supervisor over the Republican candidate, Russ Bogh, a former state assembly person with the deep pockets of the public employee unions behind him.
The Libertarian Party also ran candidates for state assembly seats in districts where Republicans didn’t even field a candidate. I was one of those candidates; in the 70th Assembly District I was the first Libertarian candidate to progress to the general election in a contested primary coming in ahead of Democratic and Green Party candidates to face off against the Democratic incumbent.
All of the Libertarian candidates running against incumbents in those seats were able to garner a significant percentage of the vote, with one of our candidates receiving approximately 40 percent of the vote in some of the counties in his district.
What does this mean? It means that Californians are looking for real change in the state. I think that the Libertarian Party offers much of this change, but I also believe in working with others when there’s common ground.
When I ran for office I said the beauty of electing a Libertarian is there are often times we can work with people on both sides of the traditional “aisle,” and I believe this more now than ever.
Honor (Mimi) Robson Bio
Honor (Mimi) Robson has been a registered Libertarian for over 3 decades and ran as the Libertarian Candidate for the 33rd District California State Senate in the 2016 General Election. In that election, with very little time or campaign funds she was able to attract support from her community, ultimately garnering almost 50,000 votes (22%). During the election cycle she became more involved in the California Libertarian Party, becoming Secretary for the party in February 2017 when the previous Secretary Resigned. She was unanimously elected secretary at the 2017 state convention; was elected chair at the 2018 state convention; and re-elected chair in April 2019. Honor ran as the Libertarian State Assembly candidate (70th District) in the top-two run-off election in November 2018.
Honor grew up in Southern California and has been a resident of Long Beach for the past 28 years. She is a Licensed Professional Civil Engineer and has worked at a small Structural Engineering Consulting firm since 1994 until recently resigning that position to become an independent engineering consultant, which will afford her more time to devote to the Libertarian Party of California. She has been involved with many charitable organizations such as AIDS Walk LA, The Alzheimer’s Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation however Honor’s main passion is animal rescue and has been involved at every level for many years.
13 February 2019 – The following is an invited guest post by Nicholas Sarwark, Chairman of the Libertarian National Committee
Republicans and Democrats often have a stranglehold on the U.S. political process, but Americans are ready for that to change.
According to a Morning Consult–Politico poll conducted in early February, more than half of all voters in the United States believe a third party is needed, and one third of all voters would be willing to vote for a third-party candidate in the 2020 presidential election. A Gallup poll from October showed that 57 percent of Americans think a strong third party is needed.
It’s no wonder why. Another Gallup poll from January revealed that only 35 percent of Americans trust the U.S. government to handle domestic problems, a number that increases to only 41 percent for international troubles. Those are the lowest figures in more than 20 years. A running Gallup poll showed that in January, 29 percent of Americans view government itself as the biggest problem facing the country.
This widespread dissatisfaction with U.S. government is consistent with the increasing prevalence of libertarian views among the general public. Polling shows that more than a quarter of Americans have political views that can be characterized as libertarian.
All of this suggests that the Libertarian Party should be winning more and bigger electoral races than ever. In fact, that’s exactly what’s happening. Out of the 833 Libertarian candidates who ran in 2018, 55 were elected to public office in 11 states.
One of those officials elected is Jeff Hewitt, who in November won a seat on the board of supervisors in Riverside County, Calif. while finishing up eight years on the Calimesa city council—three as mayor. Before being elected to the city council, he had served six years on the city’s planning commission. Hewitt recently gave the Libertarian Party’s 2019 State of the Union address, explaining how Libertarians would restrain runaway government spending, withdraw from never-ending wars abroad, end the surveillance state, protect privacy and property rights, end mass incarceration and the destructive “war on drugs,” and welcome immigrants who expand our economy and enrich our culture.
Journalist Gustavo Arellano attended Hewitt’s swearing-in ceremony on January 8. In his feature story for the Los Angeles Times, he remarked, “Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Hewitt just might be the strangest Libertarian of them all: a politician capable of winning elections who could move the party from the fringes into the mainstream.”
During Hewitt’s time as mayor of Calimesa, he severed ties with the bloated pensions and overstaffing of the state-run fire department. He replaced it with a local alternative that costs far less and has been much more effective at protecting endangered property. This simple change also eliminated two layers of administrative costs at the county and state levels.
Now Hewitt is poised to bring libertarian solutions to an even larger region, in his new position with Riverside County, which has more residents than the populations of 15 different states. This rise from local success is a model that can be replicated around the country, suggested Fullerton College political science professor Jodi Balma, quoted in the L.A. Times article as saying that Hewitt’s success shows how Libertarian candidates can “build a pipeline to higher office” with successful local races that show the practical value of Libertarian Party ideas on a small scale, then parlaying those experiences into winning state and federal office.
That practical value is immense, as Libertarian Laura Ebke showed when, as a Nebraska state legislator, she almost single-handedly brought statewide occupational-licensure reform to nearly unanimous 45-to-1, tri-partisan approval. This legislation has cleared the way for countless Nebraskans to build careers in fields that were once closed off from effective competition behind mountains of regulatory red tape.
The American people have the third party they’re looking for. The Libertarian Party is already the third-largest political party in the United States, and it shares the public’s values of fiscal responsibility and social tolerance — the same values that drive the public’s disdain for American politicians and wasteful, destructive, ineffective government programs.
The Libertarian Party is also the only alternative party that routinely appears on ballots in every state.
As of December 17 we had secured ballot access for our 2020 Presidential ticket in 33 states and the District of Columbia — the best starting position since 1914 for any alternative party at this point in the election cycle. This will substantially reduce the burden for achieving nationwide ballot access that we have so often borne. After the 1992 midterm election, for example, we had ballot access in only 17 states — half as many as today. Full ballot access for the Libertarian Party means that voters of every state will have more choice.
The climate is ripe for Libertarian progress. The pieces are all here, ready to be assembled. All it requires is building awareness of the Libertarian Party — our ideas, our values, our practical reforms, and our electoral successes — in the minds and hearts of the American public.
Nicholas Sarwark is serving his third term as chair of the Libertarian National Committee, having first been elected in 2014. Prior to that, he has served as chair of the Libertarian Party of Maryland and as vice chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado, where he played a key role in recruiting the state’s 42 Libertarian candidates in 2014 and supported the passage of Colorado’s historic marijuana legalization initiative in 2012. In 2018, he ran for mayor of Phoenix, Ariz.
14 September 2018 – This is an extra edition of my usual weekly post on this blog. I’m writing it to tell you about an online event called “Open Future” put on by The Economist weekly newsmagazine and to encourage you to participate by visiting the URL www.economist.com/openfuture. The event is scheduled for tomorrow, 15 September 2018, but the website is already up, and some parts of the event are already live.
The newsmagazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Zanny Minton Beddoes, describes the event as “an initiative to remake the case for liberal values and policies in the 21st century.”
Now, don’t get put off by the use of the word “liberal.” These folks are Brits and, as I’ve often quipped: “The British invented the language, but they still can’t spell it or pronounce it.” They also sometimes use words to mean different things.
What The Economist calls “liberal” is not what we in the U.S. usually think of as liberal. You can get a clear idea of what The Economist refers to as “liberal” by perusing the list of seminal works in their article “The literature of liberalism.”
We in the U.S. are confused by typically hearing the word “liberal” used to describe leftist policies classed as Liberal with a capital L. Big-L Liberals have co-opted the word to refer to the agenda of the Democratic Party, which, as I’ll explain below, isn’t quite what The Economist refers to as small-L liberal.
The Economist‘s idea of liberal is more like what we usually call “libertarian.” Libertarians tend to take some ideas usually reserved for the left, and some from the right. Their main tenet, however, which is best expressed as “think for yourself,” is anathema to both ends of the political spectrum.
But, those of us in the habit of thinking for ourselves like it.
Unfortunately (or maybe not) small-L libertarianism is in danger of being similarly co-opted in the U.S. by the current big-L Libertarian Party. But, that’s a rant for another day!
What’s more important today is understanding a different way of dividing up political ideologies.
Left vs. Right
Two-hundred twenty-nine years ago, political discourse invented the terms “The Left” and “The Right” as a means of classifying political parties along ideological lines. The terms arose at the start of the French Revolution when delegates to the National Constituent Assembly still included foes of the revolution as well as its supporters.
As the ancient Greek proverb says, “birds of a feather flock together,” so supporters of revolution tended to pick seats near each other, and those against it sat together as well. Those supporting the revolution happened to sit on the left side of the hall, so those of more conservative bent gathered on the right. The terminology became institutionalized, so we now divide the political spectrum between a liberal/progressive Left and a conservative Right.
While the Left/Right-dichotomy works for describing what happened during the first meeting of the French National Constituent Assembly, it poorly reflects the concepts humans actually use to manage governments. In the real world, there is an equally simple, but far more relevant way of dividing up political views: authoritarianism versus democracy.
Authoritarians are all those people (and there’s a whole bunch of them) who want to tell everybody else what to do. It includes most religious leaders, most alpha males (and females), and, in fact, just about everyone who wants to lead anything from teenage gangs to the U.N. General Assembly. Patriarchal and matriarchal families are run on authoritarian principles.
Experience, by the way, shows that authoritarianism is a lousy way to run a railroad, despite the fact that virtually every business on the Planet is organized that way. Managment consultants and organizational-behavior researchers pretty much universally agree that spreading decision making throughout the organization, even down to the lowest levels, makes for the most robust, healthiest companies.
If you want your factory’s floors to be clean, make sure the janitors have a say in what mops and buckets to use!
The opposite of authoritarianism is democracy. Little-D democracy is the antithesis of authoritarianism. Small-D democrats don’t tell people what to do, they ask them what they (the people) want to do, and try to make it possible for them to do it. It takes a lot more savvy to balance all the conflicting desires of all those people than to petulently insist on things being done your way, but, if you can make it work, you get better results.
Now, political discourse based on the Left/Right dichotomy is simple and easy for political parties to espouse. Big-D Democrats have a laundry list of causes they champion. Similarly, Republicans have a laundry list of what they want to promote.
Those lists, however, absolutely do not fit the democracy/authoratarianism picture. And, there’s no reason to expect them to.
Politicians, generally, want to tell other people what to do. If they didn’t, they’d go do something else. That’s the very nature of politics. Thus, by and large, politicians are authoritarians.
They dress their plans up in terms that sound like democracy because most people don’t like being told what to do. In America, we’ve institutionalized the notion that people don’t like being told what to do, so bald-faced authoritarianism is a non-starter.
It started in England with the Magna Carta, in which the English nobles told King John “enough is enough.”
Yeah, King John is the same guy as the “Prince John” who was cast as the arch-enemy of fictional hero Robin Hood. See, we don’t like authoritarians, and generally cast them as the villains in our favorite stories.
Not wanting to be told what to do was imported to North America by the English colonists, who extended the concept (eventually) to everyone regardless of socio-economic status. From there, it was picked up by the French revolutionaries, then spread throughout Europe and parts East.
So, generally, nobody wants authoritarians telling them what to do, which is why they have to point guns at us to get us to do it.
The fact that most people would simultaneously like to be the authoritarian pointing the gun and doing the telling, and a fair fraction (probably about 25%) aren’t smart enough to see the incongruity involved, gives fascist populists a ready supply of people willing to hold the guns. Nazi Germany worked (for a while) because of this phenomenon. With a population North of 60 million, those statistics gave Hitler some 15 million gun holders to work with.
In the modern U.S.A., with a population over 300 million, the same statistical analysis gives modern fascists 75 million potential recruits. And, they’re walking around with more than their fair share of the guns!
Luckily, the rest of us have guns, too.
More importantly, we all have votes.
So, what’s an American who really doesn’t want any authoritarian telling them what to do … to do?
The first thing to do is open your eyes to the flim-flim represented by the Left/Right dichotomy. As long as you buy that drivel, you’ll never see what’s really going on. It’s set up as a sporting event where you’re required to back one of two teams: the Reds or the Blues.
Either one you pick, you’ll end up being told what to do by either the Red-team authoritarians or the Blue-team authoritarians. Because it’s treated as a sporting event, the object is to win, and there’s nothing at stake beyond winning. There isn’t even a trophy!
The next thing to do is look for people who would like to help, but don’t actually want to tell anyone what to do. When you find them, talk them into running for office.
Since you’ve picked on people who don’t really want to tell other people what to do, you’ll have to promise you won’t make them do it forever. After a while, you promise, you’ll let them off the hook so they can go do something else. That means putting term limits on elected officials.
The authoritarians, who get their jollies by telling other people what to do, won’t like that. The ones who just want to help out will be happy they can do their part for a while, then go home.