Independence Day has come and gone in its usual grand fashion. Fireworks were launched, hot dogs were eaten, baseball was played, songs were sung, friends and families came together in celebration. A national “Salute to America” was even held at the National Mall, armored vehicles and all (unfortunately so).
But, during all of that, I question how many Americans can recite the Declaration of Independence or have even read it in full. I am curious as to how many Americans understand that our country was founded in a state of dissent, political and philosophical. I wonder aloud how many Americans are aware that our Founding Fathers fought bitterly over virtually every aspect of their newly founded nation, from declaring independence and war to the new laws of the land.
In truth, I do not believe that many Americans consider these things. I see images of flags filling social media feeds. I see thousands of comments on tweets that are nothing more than mindless taunting that is meant to be antagonistic. America is not divided because we do not agree on anything and that the views of one person to another are polar opposites.
We only feel divided because we are distracted by political and social theater. We are distracted only because we allow ourselves to be distracted. It is time to stop focusing on the minutia and start focusing on true issues that can actually be rectified.
Lions and Tigers and Flags, Oh My
As our country ramped up for its 243rd birthday, we were forced to witness two more flag-related issues. On Flag Day, conveniently, Senator Steve Daines announced that he was introducing a Constitutional Amendment that would effectively ban desecration of the American flag. After a day or two of grumbling by pundits and apparent outrage on social media, it hasn’t been discussed (sorry to bring it up again).
But for a brief moment, the people of this nation were squarely looking at the hand puppets of a senator running for reelection in 2020. Such a law has been introduced repeatedly for decades and has failed to be ratified every time. The purpose of such a law being introduced is to generate buzz, rally voters, be a line on campaign mailers, and generate whimsical speeches in town hall meetings. It does not guarantee reelection, but it will do its job well. I won’t go further on Senator Daines, as I’ve already given my thoughts.
Only a few days shy of the Fourth, Nike announced that it was pulling its new “Betsy Ross-themed” sneakers before the official release. The shoes were red, white, and blue, featuring the American flag as designed by Betsy Ross (thirteen stars).
It was quickly reported that the decision was made because Colin Kaepernick, the polarizing quarterback who knelt during the National Anthem prior to NFL games as a form of peaceful protest, suggested that the design could be offensive to some. As with all things related to Kaepernick, social media was aflame with calls for the shoes to be released, for unamerican ingrates to leave the country, and the nonsensical grandstanding that drives video views, profile clicks, and rating spikes. I can honestly say that my disinterest in such an announcement stems primarily from the fact that I have worn the same pair of Chucks for nearly a decade.
Perhaps my favorite response was by the governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey. Nike had plans to open a new plant in the City of Goodyear, my current home, in 2020. The deal was announced the same day that Nike announced it was pulling the sneakers. In order to secure such a deal, Arizona promised tax incentives to entice the company. In response to Nike’s announcement, Ducey blasted the company on social media and issued a directive to have the incentives withdrawn. While I am fundamentally opposed to special incentives given to businesses by any level of government (“Cronyism”), the move to withdraw incentives is remarkably feckless.
Ultimately, all of this adds up to opportunism by all parties. Nike and Kaepernick have been fairly quiet since the “Just Do It” revival and the timing seems at least somewhat convenient. Ducey, being a consummate politician who I have heard speak numerous times of the further development of business and industry in the West Valley of Phoenix, saw an opportunity to grandstand and rally his base, while grabbing some national attention. It is also worth noting that there is a significant chance that the decision to remove incentives over political and ideological expression will result in a court date, with plenty of precedent to favor Nike.
At the end of the day, Nike is a private business and can do what it likes with its products and public persona, regardless of the reasons. If you no longer wish to wear Nike’s products, you are free to do so. Boycotts have a wonderfully rich history in America. Encourage others to stop buying their products as well. Nike has made a conscious business decision and they are banking on the idea that for every one customer they lose, they will gain another, who will purchase more than average in a show of consumer support.
Regardless of your feelings, Nike’s decision is not an affront to your liberties. In fact, Nike and its decision makers exercised their own rights with the intention of making money and attention. Smells like apple pie. And whether you ate it or pushed it off the windowsill, your attention was far from where it needs to be.
My God, We’re Arguing Over Mermaids
My mom is a great fan of The Little Mermaid. Not the rosy, cheerful, trigger-free Disney version, but the hard-hitting, tragic tale originally written by Hans Christian Anderson, which prompted me to read the tale myself. Like most media companies, Disney turned the tale into a far more loving and cheerful story, ignoring the graphic details. Anderson’s “fairytale ending” is far different from Disney’s version and far more beautiful.
It was recently announced that Disney had cast Halle Bailey as Ariel in the live-action remake of the delightfully tame cartoon musical. And suddenly, the world stopped turning. Many were outraged over the decision to change the race of a mythical creature in an adulterated version of one of the most beautiful tales ever written. But I can say with confidence as a lifelong redhead, that it does not matter. Outside of Carson Wentz and Prince Harry, redheads in the media are tough to find. Growing up, Ariel and Simba were the only redheads I could find who were admired, not mocked. And now these two wonderful characters are being remade without red hair. And I feel fine.
If it feels like I am mocking the situation, it’s because I am. With a full beard and two published books, I have full confidence in my hair color. I’ve even been mistaken for Prince Harry in the airport; they were very disappointed. So why am I mocking this situation? Because it deserves to be mocked. We are willfully allowing our attention to be diverted by a mythical character in a remake of a movie that was a twisted version of a fairytale.
To those who are outraged over the race of such a character, I find you to be weak and not worth engaging. To those who are ferociously defending Disney’s decision, I do not find you to be weak, but I do find your efforts to be somewhat counterproductive. By attacking those who would attack Disney and Halle Bailey, you are legitimizing their point by making it worthy of discussion (unstructured and rambling as it may be). Instead, show your support by attending the movie when it is released, encourage your friends and family to see it as well. Share positivity with Disney and their actors.
Unfortunately, we live in a time where race is still an issue in our country, as much as we would like to pretend that it isn’t. And it is a positive thing to see a young woman of color earn an incredible opportunity, but it is worth noting that she earned such a role through her talents, not because of her race. Over time, we will eventually reach a point where it is no longer a polarizing issue, but this can only happen if we choose not to be distracted by the nonsensical issues and focus on the underlying problems that persist in our communities and truly look at each other as individuals. The color of the drapes does not matter if the foundation is crumbling.
Can’t We Just Watch Soccer
As the Women’s World Cup began, Megan Rapinoe, star midfielder for the Seattle Reign and US National Team, was asked if she would visit the White House, should the US team win the World Cup. Rapinoe responded simply, “I’m not going to the fucking White House.” True to form, Donald Trump, conservative pundits, and Twitter went to work on the comment.
Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, eternally brand-conscious, also jumped into the fray, extending an invitation to visit Congress to the US team. While the gesture alone is admirable, my cynicism towards politics and skepticism towards elected officials makes it hard to ignore the opportunity this presents to Democrats prior to an election year.
I have given my thoughts before on athletes declining invitations to the White House or being disinvited, so I’ll be brief on this particular issue. Rapinoe criticized the highest authority in our country on one of the biggest stages in the world. As with my previous comment, this is apple pie. We are a nation of dissidents whose founding was predicated on the criticism and rejection of the highest authority in the world. You are more than welcome to be offended on behalf of the president, although he seems highly capable of being offended on his own.
But I find the offense that people take on behalf of public figures to be nothing more than a blind obsession. I don’t consider it allegiance as allegiances can be questioned, changed, or broken. I find the offense that people take on behalf of an office, agency, institution, or party to be nothing more than cultish worship coupled with a failure to understand the true nature of liberty or our nation’s institutions and purpose.
As I write this, the US National Team has won their fourth World Cup, establishing our country as a powerhouse in a sport that most Americans cannot bear to watch. Perhaps we can just revel in the fact that our women’s team has been, once again, proven to be the best in the world, inspiring young athletes everywhere. If you cannot enjoy a game without politics, please, read a book.
What Deserves Your Focus
When you step outside your political, national, and personal bubble of identity for even just a moment, you will be confronted with the true problems that face our nation. Amazingly, addressing these issues could help to address the cosmetic problems that are forced down our throats. Journey with me, if you are willing, into the maelstrom that is America.
We Are Shamefully in Debt
Currently, our nation has accrued a national debt totaling more than $22 Trillion, held by foreign nations. Debt is nothing new for the United States, but the last two decades have seen an explosion of borrowing to help sustain endless wars, increasing domestic programs, and gutless compromises. To help put this into a little more perspective, visit our National Debt Clock for a jolt.
Neither the Republicans or Democrats have been willing to solve this growing problem or even address it. Virtually every Democratic nominee has promised policies that will only increase our debt and Trump, who promised to bring the debt under control, has only added to it. A balanced budget with a legal commitment to paying down our debt is our only solution. If we wait too much longer, it will lead to catastrophe.
Our Drug Policy is an Embarrassment
As a country, we have funneled close to two trillion dollars into our war chest for combatting drugs. The result has been law enforcement unions and agencies that have lined their coffers and established themselves as an indispensable force that cannot be questioned; private prisons have profited from the largest prison population in the world; thousands of lives, particularly minorities, destroyed by unjust minimum sentencing laws; a growing militarization of law enforcement; the continued rise of the cartels.
The simple solution is to end the War on Drugs. It has been a losing effort that has benefitted a chosen few while punishing millions with rising crime in response to growing black markets and unjust incarceration. The reality of prohibition has been seen many times by the United States, as well as the rest of the world. Legalization and decriminalization, coupled with a pivot to treatment, will serve to help all communities and cut crime almost immediately, while also allowing the public and law enforcement to repair their relationship.
Education and Healthcare are Broken
When we look at the marvelous innovations that individuals in our country have brought to our world, creating products and services that have made our world better, providing jobs and an increase in wealth to more Americans while improving quality of life, we can easily be filled with awe. And yet, the two industries that have not improved have been healthcare and education.
We have become beholden to special interests who benefit from preventing common-sense reforms, particularly allowing for a truly free marketplace and giving parents, students, and patients full control over their education and healthcare. We have seen incredible success with charter schools and progress with Direct Primary Care (I am a DPC patient), but we are stonewalled by insurance companies, the American Medical Association, and teacher unions. The answer does not lie in greater government control of these industries but driving government out with a torch and letting innovators disrupt these industries for the better.
Neither Party Understands Immigration
Immigration is approached in only two ways in American politics: from a sovereignty stance or from and humanity stance. These are powerful arguments but lead to poor policies that either exacerbate the problem or act as Band-Aids that eventually become bloated and fail. They make for fantastic stump speeches, however.
Immigration must be viewed from an economic standpoint. Our policies have become so restrictive, long before Trump took office, that we are looking at a black market on a human level. Wait times are so long to gain legal entry that it acts as a prohibition on desperate people. From a simple analysis, the decision has become, by many, to enter illegally and live off the grid, rather than wait. The risk of deportation or arrest, along with the dangers in crossing the border, is considered worth the ability to live and work in the United States immediately, rather than waiting up to twenty years to gain legal entry. Reform does not lie in hackneyed programs or border walls, but in a complete overhaul of our system with a focus on human economics, ending the War on Drugs, and ending our interventionist foreign policies.
Barriers to Escaping Poverty
There is no denying that the world’s population continues to improve in quality of life and that rate is growing exponentially. This is not because of government intervention, but because of the continued expansion of free market capitalism. The countries that place highest on the Human Freedom Index generally place quite well on the Economic Freedom Index.
In June, I had the pleasure of attending FEEcon, an annual conference hosted by the Foundation for Economic Education. During the conference, I had the privilege of hearing Magatte Wade speak on the main stage, nearly bringing me to tears. Magatte Wade is an entrepreneur and an advocate of social and economic freedom. During her speech, she referred to the greatest solution to the poverty of an individual as, simply, “a job.” By allowing individuals to explore and innovate, unimpeded by bureaucratic nonsense, we create value for ourselves and for our communities in the form of new products and services, jobs, and ultimately, wealth.
There are many barriers in place that have been created in the name of “safety,” “consumer protection,” and many other bizarre excuses. Occupational licensing protects established businesses and corporations and prevents those of lower income and former convicts from achieving new employment, establishing new businesses, or reacquiring former vocations. Capital gains taxes act as disincentives for new investments. Minimum wage laws result in less available jobs and force businesses to close their doors. Strict zoning laws prevent the expansion of businesses and housing. Harsh housing regulations prevent new developments, leading to a shortage of available housing, ultimately increasing the costs to the consumer and leading to homelessness or mass exoduses from urban areas.
There are simple solutions to these problems that lead to poverty and homelessness, some at the federal level and others at the state and local level. But these solutions require a complete rejection of cronyism and special interests.
Declare Your Independence
As many people know, Congressman Justin Amash, a conservative Libertarian within the Republican Party, announced that he was leaving the GOP on the Fourth of July. He referred to this decision as “declaring [his] independence.” Prior to that moment in his Op-ed for the Washington Post, Amash explained his reasoning, pointing out the “hyperpartisan environment” in Washington and lambasting both parties for “exploiting wedge issues and waging pointless messaging wars.”
Congressman Amash is not the most popular person in DC right now. Republicans dislike him because he has voted against the GOP on key issues championed by Trump and has openly supported the president’s impeachment. Democrats dislike him because he is a conservative Libertarian committed to the Constitution and favors free markets over government intervention.
If you have not yet read the Congressman’s article in the Washington Post, I highly encourage you to do so. Whether or not you support or agree with the Congressman and regardless of your personal politics, it is a beautiful summation of the current state of our government, which must be consciously addressed with a reasoned ferociousness that is not possible within the two-party system. You may call this a naked endorsement of the Congressman, but as he has not declared for anything other than continuing to serve his district in Michigan, I can only continue to support him ideologically. Read into that as you will.
A Lesson from The Fourth of July
An interesting fact that one generally learns in sixth grade history (hopefully) is that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both passed away on the same day, July 4th, 1826, fifty years after they helped to declare their country’s independence from tyranny. What may be less known is that they were fierce rivals who differed greatly on the role and structure of the new government.
Adams, a Federalist, was in favor of a strong, centralized government with broad powers. Jefferson, an Anti-Federalist, feared that such a strong government would return the new nation to tyrannical rule. They discussed and debated fiercely. Ultimately, it was the compromise between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists that led to the ratification of our Constitution, with a Bill of Rights to ensure the protection of liberty from the eventual usurpation of power by politicians.
On Adams, Jefferson wrote, “you and I differ; but we differ as rational friends, using the free exercise of our own reason, and mutually indulging its errors.” Such respectful disagreements, no matter how great they may be, can be resolved through peaceful discord. Respect and civility are all but lost on our nation and we must do all that we can to reclaim them, if not for our country, then for our sanity. Learn from Jefferson and Adams.
Rise Above the Noise
Perhaps I am a cynic who would rather look at the forest than the trees. Perhaps I am bitter because I generally support candidates that are barred by the RNC and DNC from participating in debates or even being on the ballot. Perhaps my general distrust and dislike of politics and government have given me such a thick skin that I have become unfeeling. Or perhaps I truly believe, more than most, in the power and beauty of liberty and peace. Perhaps I truly believe, more than most, in our Constitution and the rule of law. Perhaps I truly believe, more than most, in what our institutions and founding principles stand for, today more than ever. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. We may never know.
But what I do know, more than anything, is that we genuinely have the power to bring about positive change in our lives. We can rise above the noise and divisive nonsense that we seem drawn to and affect positive change in our communities. We can change our mindsets in elections and consider all options, not just the simple-minded platforms that are designed to pander and control, not help. We can mend relationships and create dialogues. We can stop the inane chattering and feckless feuding. In the end, your decision to move beyond the babble will decide what our future looks like. If we do not rise, we can only fall. And we are all responsible.
An Exhausted American