“Progressives” and the Constitution

My son-in-law pleasantly surprised me this morning with a “Share a memory” on Facebook with the comment, “Thought provoking comment.” The memory was something I published on Facebook a year ago yesterday. I appreciate him doing that.

Inasmuch as it elaborates on some of the issues I am discussing in my series on Steve Roth’s article, I thought it would be useful to include it in my blog. I hope you too find it to be thought provoking.


I finally found a statement by Hillary that I believe expresses her honest feelings and is true. [That is noteworthy in and of itself, but I digress.] For those two or three of you who read my posts, the statement illustrates why I keep saying Trump would be terrible, but Hillary would be worse.

Hillary’s statement was in response to this question: “And would you use [“liberal”] to describe yourself?” Her response was: “. . . . I prefer the word ‘progressive,’ which has a real American meaning, going back to the progressive era at the beginning of the 20th century. . . .” Then she went on to describe what she called “beliefs” of “early 20th progressives” that were really only the aspirational talking points they used. She did not actually describe their beliefs or the key feature of their agenda.

To understand the beliefs and the key feature of early 20th “progressives” one must first understand the “genius of the Constitution” (to borrow a phrase my cousin used yesterday). In Federalist #51[i] James Madison summed up the situation being addressed by the drafters of the Constitution: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” The founders came up with an ingenious way to deal with this timeless situation that both the governed and the governors are fallible and flawed.

Through extensive study and wisdom, the founders concluded that freedom is the best elixir to induce human flourishing. They understood that individual freedom would not lead to a Nirvana in which every citizen is wealthy and happy—because such a society was not possible on Earth—far from it. Rather they believed maximum feasible individual freedom would create more wealth and happiness than any other government scheme that afforded citizens less freedom. They also believed that government was necessary to maintain enough law, order and national defense to allow people to enjoy their freedoms and the fruits of their labors that also was essential to human flourishing. But they also knew that rulers of any sort tend to use whatever power they have first and foremost to serve their own interests and satisfy their desires to achieve a sense of superiority by taxing and bossing people around. Consequently, rulers tend to limit people’s freedoms and accumulate power for themselves over time. At the end of this process you get Cuba, the Soviet Union, North Korea, Nazi Germany, Venezuela, and the like.

The founders’ ingenious solution (the Constitution[ii]) deals with these human foibles with three key features: 1) the rulers were granted only very limited powers, i.e., the rulers were not given authority to take away the peoples’ inalienable rights and fundamental freedoms; 2) in order to keep the rulers in check, three branches of government were created, each of which had the power and incentive to keep the other two branches in check; and 3) it set up a gauntlet through which any bill to enact a new law would have to pass that was so tough that there would be gridlock unless the law was so good that it would be widely accepted. Ideas contained in bills that could not endure the gauntlet could be tried in the states to be proven meritorious[iii] or worthy of the graveyard of bad ideas, or they could be generally accepted and practiced by society such that no law is needed.

Enter the early 20th “progressives.” They believed both technological and political science had advanced so much since the founding that politicians, bureaucrats and their experts could achieve better results than would be achieved by society via the free exchange of ideas, free trade, entrepreneurial innovation and state-by-state experimentation,[iv] i.e., cultural evolution. They generally viewed citizens and state and local governments as too uneducated and/or dumb to take care of themselves. They honestly believed (as do today’s “progressives”), that government knows enough, is smart enough and effective enough to run our lives better than we could, and that politicians will put the best interest of the citizens ahead of what is in the politicians’ own interest (retaining and growing their own power, wealth and prestige), i.e., that they are near enough to angels to do the job. [This general belief by rulers that they can run things better than “The People” has been around since the beginning of time— it is a fallacious belief of which the founders were fully aware. If the belief were true, surely everyone would now (after over 100 years of much “progressive” government action) behold the wonders of government running everything—and the Soviet Union would be ruling the world by now. History has shown time and again that these beliefs are invalid—but I digress again.]

The Constitution prevented the early 20th century “progressive” geniuses from doing what they wanted to and believed they should do. “Progressives” had a problem, however. The vast majority of the voting public loved the Constitution.[v] It had propelled America from an insignificant group of colonies to an economic powerhouse and a major world power in an amazingly short period of time. The only way “progressives” could gain the power they so savored was to undermine the legitimacy of the Constitution. This has been the common denominator of all “progressive” presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to BHO. The most effective demolition of the Constitution’s legitimacy has been done by Woodrow Wilson, FDR, LBJ, WJC and BHO. No slouches in this enterprise were Hoover, Nixon and GWB. Hillary, by her own admission and by what she says and does, wants to carry on in this grand enterprise of abandoning individual freedom in favor of collectivism and unlimited government. Hillary and her “progressive” predecessors occasionally mention the Constitution, but it is with no reverence [did you see there were no embarrassing and divisive American flags at the Dem convention yesterday?] and only when it happens to say something with which they happen to agree. Otherwise the Constitution [and it looks like the flag is next] is considered a relic. See the recently published book: “Relic: How Our Constitution Undermines Effective Government–and Why We Need a More Powerful Presidency.” Right on cue for Hillary’s run for the White House.

Have “progressives” been successful? Richard Posner, a renowned and influential progressive federal appeals court judge, reflecting the sentiments of most other progressives, said recently, “I see absolutely no value to a judge of spending decades, years, months, weeks, day, hours, minutes, or seconds studying the Constitution, the history of its enactment, its amendments, and its implementation. . . .”[vi] By and large this statement was positively received, when it was noticed at all by the “liberal” main-stream media. When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was asked to site the provision of the Constitution that authorized Congress to force citizens to buy health insurance under Obamacare, Pelosi responded, “Are you kidding? Are you kidding?”[vii] Next question.

By contrast, there is no sign that Trump knows anything about the Constitution. He would know more about it if he were out to tank it. I’ve heard him more than I can stand, but I’ve never heard him rely on the Constitution’s precepts to support his positions (he appears to rely only on his own instincts). Some of the things he says he will do appear to violate the Constitution and its precepts. On the other hand, while he may violate the Constitution from time to time (all presidents do that), there is no apparent reason to believe that he will actively seek to further undermine the Constitution as BHO has and Hillary would. Hillary would love nothing more than to be the person who ultimately fulfills the dreams of “early 20th progressives.” It is for these reasons that I say, Trump is terrible, but Hillary would be worse.

BTW: I put the term “progressive” in quotes because “progressives” want to regress back to something akin to the divine right of kings rather than to continue to progress with the ideas the founders had in mind.

[Edited July 27, 2017 to eliminate some grammatical errors in the original. The grammatical errors that remain are in the original and to add some reference material. None of the endnotes, some of which elaborate on certain points, were not in the original version.]


[i] The Federalist Papers No. 51.

[ii] The United States Constitution

[iii] A kind comment to this Facebook post a year ago advised me that the verbalization of the idea that states are the nation’s laboratories of political and economic science experiments is first found in the 19th century—not the 18th century in which the Constitution was devised. While we cannot exclude the possibility that some of the founders had this idea in mind, I do not have a specific references that can be attribute this notion to the founders. I apologize to my readers for that possible error in what I said.

[iv] By the time the “progressives” came along, the idea of states being the nation’s laboratories was well understood by political scientists.

[v] Back then when the federal government was vastly less involved in education, teaching children the value of the Constitution and its ideals, and reverence for the founders was commonplace. Those teachings are nearly the opposite of predominate teachings with respect to the Constitution and founders that we find in government run or subsidized schools and universities today. This is all a testament to the effectiveness of the “progressive’s” strategies and plans to rewrite history—and a confirmation that the winners write the history.

[vi]Judge Richard Posner: ‘No value’ in studying the U.S. Constitution.” (I am aware that Posner wrote a follow up op-ed in which he mischaracterized the substance the criticism of his original piece. In that op-ed he doubled-down on what is wrong about his position. He said, “constitutional law is and must and maybe should be entirely a judicial creation, like fields of common law.” Common law is the law that emerges as judges exercise their authority to decide how controversies should be resolved in light of what the courts have said before and statutes on the books.  Unlike common law, judges do not create constitutions. The primary purposes of constitutions is to authorize the executive, legislative and judicial branches to do things and to limit specify the limits of that power.  Consequently, unlike the common law which is created by judges, the constitution is created by the people to limit what judges can create. Posner’s claim is that judges should not feel constrained by the limits the antiquated constitution would dare to place on them.

[vii] This too contained an error. She actually replied to a question about the constitutional authority for her action, “Are you serious? Are you serious?” Thankfully, I had the substance correct.

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