Interview With James Madison

 You hear a lot from conservatives these days about the "original meaning of the Constitution," which they claim to know. So I decided to ask the guy who knows more about the Constitution than anyone living or (in his case) dead, James Madison. Madison more than anyone is responsible for the final document. Our dialogue went something like this.                  -So Mr. Madison -James please -Okay James. Let me start by asking you about the Supreme Court decision from about 10 years ago, Citizens United. Congress put limits on the ability of corporations to give to political campaigns. -Corporations? Giving money to political campaigns? -Yeah. That’s a thing nowadays -Do political campaigns really need a lot of money? -Are you kidding? Money for TV advertising -TV? -Microtargeted internet ads … -Are you even speaking English? -Look take my word for it. Politicians need boat loads of money these days. And corporations have a lot of money they’re willing t

Trump and the Libertarian Authoritarians

 A recent article in Vox asked whether the F word, “fascist,” should be applied to Trump. The scholarly consensus is that it shouldn’t. (D. Mathews , The F. Word,, Jan. 14, 2021) While it’s widely acknowledged that Trump is an authoritarian, contemptuous of democracy, the Constitution, and the rule of law, he and his movement are missing a few key fascistic ingredients. The article quotes Stanley Payne, a University of Wisconsin historian and author of A History of Fascism 1914-1945: Trump“[n]ever founded a new fascist party, never embraced a coherent new revolutionary ideology, never announced a radical new doctrine but introduced a noninterventionist foreign military policy . . . Not even a poor man’s fascist. Ever an incoherent nationalist-populist with sometimes destructive tendencies.”   I agree he’s not a fascist, and would go so far as to say that labeling him as such misses what is uniquely awful about Trump and Trumpism. Fascism had an abiding faith in government. I

Our Civil War About Nothing

 With the most divisive president in our history receiving 74 million votes, about 47% of the voting population, and with some portion of those voters ready to rise up in violent insurrection, we seem to be a hopelessly divided nation. It appears we can’t resolve our differences the way constitutional democracies are supposed to: by legislative compromise or judicial decision. Our time has been compared to the period just before the Civil War, when the country was on the verge of breaking apart.   But it’s not the same at all. Then, there were real differences based on a tangible clash of interests. Today, we are on the brink of the Civil War about nothing.   At the time of the Civil War in 1861, the plantation owners who controlled Southern politics wanted to expand their economic model, based on slave labor, to the rest of the country, convinced that they needed new territory to continue their way of life. Lincoln came into power in 1861 with no intention to abolish slavery, even

Back from the Brink

In our most recent Presidential election Americans chose democracy over tyranny. There are two essential views of democracy. Elements of both views clashed in this election more than at any time in memory. Our clash in essential values has become louder over the years, resulting in our democracy coming more severely under threat. One view of democracy is that for any of us to remain under the rule of law rather than rule by oligarchs or autocrats, laws must apply equally to all. This means that we sacrifice privilege for some if all are to be treated equally. The tradeoff is that we live in a society where our rights are respected the same as everyone else. The other view of democracy is that we each try to use the system to prioritize our own rights – or those of our group – over others. From this perspective the rights of others are not as important as our own. When taken to its extreme, this view has moved democracies in the direction of autocracy, as is happening in many nati