Baby and Bathwater

I played football in high school, and to a limited extent, in college. As such, I am a fan. I actually watched the Trump speech that led to today’s NFL national anthem upheaval, and as I usually do, I have tried to understand the cause and effect loop.

I have heard it said that the players who have been sitting out the national anthem are protesting, but I have yet to see a cogent explanation of what the protest is actually intended to say. The word ‘injustice’ seems to be a common highlight, but I still can’t quite grasp what they are trying to say. Is it about cops shooting black people? If someone could point me to the definition of the protest, I would appreciate it. It seems that the bulk of protests these days escape me, and I can’t help but conclude that I am missing something, or I am just getting old. Get off my lawn!

Up until today, I would have said that there are technicalities of the protest that were problematic. In other words, if you are being paid by someone and decide to protest on the clock, you are forcing the organization in question to adopt your position, and that doing so is a fire-able offense. Apparently, the coaches, owners, and perhaps the NFL itself is in support of the point of view of the players who are protesting by sitting out the national anthem, all of which adds up to throwing the technical argument out the window.

That leaves us with a number of ideological arguments, most of which I will ignore for brevity’s sake.

First up is Trump’s point of view. As the long-time boss of a large private organization, it’s not too surprising that he would have problems with the idea of employees taking advantage of the NFL platform to make an ideological or political protest. If someone forced his own business into a corner in that way, he would be forced to fire people to avoid having an individual’s opinion form the opinion of the entire business. As usual, I do think he could have said it much better. He could have avoided the SOB label on those NFL Players, and he could have avoided the general insult of talking about why the NFL is losing viewership. What is the NFL position on America?

Second is the follow-on to Colin Kaepernick’s protest. As far as I can gather his point of view from news reports, he is making an argument for which he is the worst spokesperson. He has had every advantage in life and to claim an aggrieved status is not within his experience. To take it further and extend it into the point of view of other players is baffling to me. NFL players live at the top of the socioeconomic pyramid. Don’t get me wrong. I have no doubt, having been a minor part of the process, that NFL players have worked amazingly hard for their position in life. They are the best of the best, and they work at a level that most of us would never even imagine. However, no matter how good they are, NFL players are part of an entertainment industry. Case in point: I am watching Washington vs. Oakland right now. I am entertained by Marshawn Lynch.

Third is that we have culturally imbued our entertainment icons with some kind of authority that they are not qualified to deserve. As a rule, I would rather give authority to a top level athlete than say… a Kardashian, but the fact of the matter is that we live in world where the authority we give to our entertainment icons has gone to their heads. This is not to say that entertainment figures cannot think. It is more about our lending of credibility to them and the power that they apply to themselves. Does J-Law’s position on the world matter? No. Hopefully she spends her time improving her craft rather than trying to solve the world’s problems. The same applies to political figures. If political leaders do not understand that they have thrown their moral authority out the window at this point, than we are truly lost from a top down perspective, and it falls to you and I to re-inject some reality into the equation.

But back to the NFL… If you are an NFL player, you have a huge platform in America. You also have a disproportionate amount of financial power to make your point. If you feel that there is an overriding injustice in this country, you have the ability to speak to the press, to start a foundation in your cause, to spend a lot of well financed off-clock hours, and to make your position clear to a very large audience. You don’t need to take it to the level of sitting out the national anthem.

Why is it a problem for me? The simple fact is that as an NFL player, you are taking massive advantage of the same ideals that the national anthem symbolizes. If so many people had not sacrificed for those ideals, the framework for your multi-million-dollar lifestyle wouldn’t even exist. Your ability to convert that advantage into a political message wouldn’t exist. By protesting against the larger picture that America represents, and how the sacrifice made by countless Americans confers to you, you are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If you want to say something, fine. Say it within the bounds of what your employers will abide, but please don’t lose sight of the fact that your right to say it was paid for by countless people who gave undying allegiance to the flag and the anthem that you are grinding beneath your heels, in front of a paying national audience that would not be possible without the advantages bought by those who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to an ideal that allows you to disrespect it.

Is America perfect? Hell, no! Anyone who would make that argument would not only lose, but would happily ignore human nature to their own detriment. The American experiment is simply the best that we as flawed humans have been able to make to this point. However, without it, none of us would even have the freedom to form an opinion, much less express it. If you have point to make, then by all means make it, but do not throw out the ability and liberty to make it. Do not throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

The Founding Fathers Were Smart

Thomas Jefferson clearly spend a great deal of time considering the wisdom of the self governed. Google his quotes to see what I mean.

I live in a strongly Hillary part of the country. I fully understand how people can take the headlines of Hillary’s campaign and conclude the Trump is the anti-Christ of social development. Many of those, including people I know to be good and earnest people, are feeling betrayed by the half of the country who voted for Trump. After all, Trump has been consistently portrayed as the personification of racism, sexism, bigotry, and intolerance. If that’s true or not, we shall see. For myself, every vote I’ve cast has been a lesser of two evils proposition.

The fact is that he was smarter than the entire democratic machine. He understood how the American people felt better than the media, the Democrats, the Republican establishment, and pretty much everyone else. If you look back over the history of the campaign, Trump was quite accurate in his prognostication. He generally said it poorly, crudely, but in the current environment, perhaps that rough talk was one of his smartest accomplishments. We have listened to smooth, calculated noise from the political elite for most of our lives, watched the results, and concluded that politics was no longer a decent representation of our personal goals as Americans.

The Hillary rhetoric sniff test has been demonstrably refuted. She has behaved in way that should clearly indicate that she has lost her connection to the average woman. Every time she declares herself as the champion of women, I look to her acceptance of money from the worst examples of women’s rights in the entire world. I look to the salaries she pays to her female employees. I look the her record, which either represents a compromised version of women’s rights, or an outright version of “she is greater than thee”. In other words, you are a lesser class to her and her entire inner circle. At the most generous, she is disconnected, at the least,  and at the most, she is the logical conclusion of a an elite political class who thinks it’s entirely legitimate to manipulate you into thinking they know better for you than you do yourself.

In a country designed for “by the people” this is a problem.

For me, the results of the election are less about a “For Trump” ideal, than a “Listen to us” mandate. Trump is a guilty pleasure. He was smart enough to talk about the forgotten men and women of America, who were cast aside with the passing of NAFTA.  The bottom line is that the light of America is about being foundationally solid enough to say that our model for the world is authoritative. That authority is under attack everywhere and we can feel it right down to our wallets.

Trump speaks to that, frequently very poorly. The man could have articulated almost everything he said much more clearly and smoothly.  Hillary failed for a variety of reasons. But probably the most is that she  showed a disdain for the people she proposed to represent. Did she feel a strong role to represent women, to pass her message forward into the body politic? Probably not. As a result, she never carried her message with the ring of truth. We all understand that electing a woman president is a big deal. She just wasn’t the woman to elect. It seems likely that if she managed to win, the mess she dragged with her would have made it harder to elect a woman in the future. The right woman. I fully understand the argument that she lost because of sexism, but I don’t buy it. I think it has more to do with the confluence of anger with the whole political process along with her mounting piles of evidence of corruption, with is the essential source of that anger. Part of that may have been her entitled expectation that she had earned it. Part of it may have been her own personal history and decisions, which does not support her position. Full credit to her for her gracious concession. More speeches like that would have gone a long way to establish her authenticity. She also spoke eloquently about the power of women to break the ultimate glass ceiling and all the other ceilings that women face in this world. I respect the message and I have no doubt that there will be a woman president in my lifetime. If we can turn all the corners that we need to turn in this country, there will come a time when an honest woman will handle the growth of this nation better than any man.

And let’s be clear: We must grow. There is nothing about the concept of this nation that allows us to rest on our laurels. We must grow culturally, and lose all the labels that we slap on everyone. I could write another post on this one subject, but given the words I’ve read today, no one needs help with this definition. Here’s the main issue, though, one that Trump seems to see but never articulates well. If we don’t grow economically first, then none of the rest of it works. It’s simple human nature that when we have enough to live our own lives, we are automatically more generous to others’ views. It’s also human nature that those who have struggled are more inclined to help when their own situation improves. In the big game, the survival of the whole American ideal, an economically strong middle class is the key. If we retain enough power to have our voice, then America rests on a broad base. If we don’t, then we live on a knife edge that can be destroyed easily. My personal belief is that there has been a long term concerted effort to destroy the American middle class. I don’t know who wants it, but I know that it’s a model that fits the patterns of our lives. I have hope that Trump is willing to fly a finger in that general direction, even if his motivation is to preserve his own business legacy.

One of the great ironies of the result is that Trump was successful enough that he had better walk the walk. He, with the support of both houses, has no excuse for failing to clean up the mess we find ourselves in, no excuse for failing to drain the swamp. With his full mandate, he must support all of it on his shoulders. For those of you who have only heard the headlines of Hillary’s campaign, he’s not a sexist demon. He runs a radical meritocracy and pays his women the same as men for similar levels of responsibility. If a woman can do the job better, he puts one in the job. Check Hillary’s foundation for the contrast in women’s pay. He’s not a racist, although I can see how he has made it easy to apply that brush to him. His equation is not based on race; it’s based on good for America, versus not good for America. The caveat is that as a businessman, it is also good for his business versus not good for his business. He uses the tools available to get result. He’s had 18 solid months transition his own model of business from that of the Trump brand to that of America, and get ready because he will use every tool available to make America succeed. He doesn’t know any other way to approach it. If you think it’s about sexism, racism, anti-gay or anything else, I suspect you are going to find that it’s simply about the success of every American within his concept of a larger American system that must succeed.

What happens if he turns the corner on our economic success? What happens if he’s right and we can actually collect more taxes from lower tax rates? What happens if he can actually drain the swamp, which we all know is filled with the stickiest, most virulent mud imaginable. What happens if companies want to be in America again? What happens if he rebuilds our manufacturing base? What happens if he destroys medical monopolies and medical price fixing, which by the way is the real reason we can’t afford decent health coverage in this country? What happens if he redirects resources to fixing our problems instead of trying to shore up a web of influence over the rest of the world? What happens if he manages to create enough money to begin paying down our stupendous debt? How does that single action affect our children and grandchildren? What if he fights wars to win, instead of fighting limited actions that only enrich the contractors while degrading the readiness of our military? For that matter, what if he builds a military that no one would even consider engaging on the world stage?

I’ll leave you to answer. Meanwhile, the riots have started.



The Big Pattern

Since 1996, I have observed a pattern.

In 1996, I heard the subtext. I was watching Peter Jennings on ABC and it dawned on me that the subtext was the same no matter what the story. To simplify, the subtext was this: Don’t worry, the government will handle it for you. Not a decade later, George W. was asking for donations to save New Orleans after Katrina, because for the first time ever, we did not have the resources or skills as a nation to deal with a hurricane.

Some people would find “let the government handle it” comforting, but the reality is that the whole concept of our nation is that the government gets out of the way so that you can handle it yourself. The more we allow the government to handle our problems, the more freedom and independence we give away to a government we can’t control.

They are either complete idiots, or they are working for someone else.

For 20 years, I have watched the pattern, and the trends point to a place we don’t want to go. Culturally, economically, conceptually… To sum up in a metaphor, we are the mythical frog in boiling water. If those who are working for someone else move too fast, we feel the heat and want to jump. If they go slowly enough, we won’t feel it until too late. I saw the end of what we call America long ago. What I never saw coming was Trump. It’s not hard to argue that the entire Trump phenomenon is a result of Obama moving too fast, thus making “We the Frog” uncomfortable.

Along comes Trump, who represents a somewhat crude reality check.

He says many uncomfortable things. Many of them are things I would have said, and did say, long before he announced his candidacy. I’ve never been a celebrity, so I wouldn’t have said anything about getting away with anything with women, and if I did, my mother would have reached down from heaven and smacked me in the head. She taught me respect for women, and yet just like all of us, women need care. No one can define that care in total, because women are individuals and each one needs different forms of care. The point is that we take care of each other, and don’t need some template from the government to define what that means.

In the big pattern, Trump is a singular phenomenon. He is certainly not even remotely perfect, but I believe he is the last chance at saving the American experiment of self government without a full-on, torches-and-pitchforks revolution. I think that Hillary can end what we know as America in a single a term. And yes, she can do it quite skillfully. You see, Hillary has vast intelligence, woefully pointed in the wrong direction. The American middle class is the single biggest impediment to a one world government. We still have the education and economic power to resist it, and there are plenty of forces in play trying to remove both of those advantages. Once they reduce us to a point that we will accept more government as the grand solution, they win and any semblance of independence goes with it. In other words, America ends.

Of course, that’s only one scenario. We can end on the most historically prevalent pattern. We can simply water down our culture until the country fractures along cultural lines. Given Obama’s seemingly concerted effort to demean our culture on every foreign stage, it’s not hard to conclude that the powers-that-be are aware that cultural destruction is an expedient way to destroy the independence of the middle class. After an American fracture, any authoritative voice in the world has a valid voice for taking over.

That begs the question; what’s wrong with a one world concept? Surely humanity can achieve more if we are all on the same page, right? Well, it depends on the page. I once interviewed the chairman of a prominent company who said we will never get on the same page until the aliens attack. If we are to take the current reasons for being on the same page, the only vision is for those with the most power to have ALL the power. It’s not a utopian, Star Trek vision. As an American, be aware that balancing the playing field means that we have to give up a great deal to balance with the rest of the world. We have lived a long time under the concept under the reality of American supremacy. That means we have to be okay with American supremacy, no matter the liberal concept of balancing the playing field with open borders and completely free trade, or we have to be willing to balance our quality of life with the rest of the world. There is no way to make that equation work without giving up a great deal of our quality of life.

Well, being selfishly unwilling to give up quality of life, I say that the way we should define America, given that we can historically establish that a strong America equals a stable world, as a concept of an American exceptionalism. In a practical sense, what does that mean? That means we extract our own resources, so that no world situation deprives us of the ability to win. I suspect the whole plan has been to use up other country’s resources so that we are the last ones with the ability to wage war. It means that we manufacture our own products, so that no communist regime can deprive us of what we regard as important. If China stopped sending us iPhones tomorrow, how do we respond? It means that we stop sending billions to other countries in a failing attempt at peaceful economic empire building, while our own country is crumbing. All it does is build anti-American resentment in the countries in question, and gives rise to terrorism in populations that fully understand that we are manipulating them. Could we build the strongest America possible and accomplish the same thing without a web of hidden agendas?

You can argue any way you want, but there is no way to hang on to our way of life without a basic foundation of deciding that American values matter and supersede global concerns. Fairness on a global scale is invalid unless we are willing to live in a third world reality. That is your choice.

Hillary is the path to expedient implementation of a global values system. Trump is the path to maintaining our way of life. Hillary is speaking of an alternate reality, which incidentally cribs extensively  from Trump’s talking points. And yes, I find it hilarious every time Hillary “borrows” Trump. As of tomorrow, we will find out the intelligence of Americans and their ability to rise above the bullshit, which amounts to an endorsement of manipulation of middle class American perception, or the endorsement of our way of life. Take your pick and live with results.



It’s What’s in Your Head

You can blame pocofish for this one. He started it. 🙂

Let’s say someone was stalking you, casing your home, preparing to take something valuable to you. You went to work that day, like every day. Your kids went to school, and your wife went to her job, or went out to do the myriad things that stay-at-home spouses do. Not long after the house was empty, a young man walked up and rang your doorbell. He waited, got no answer, and rang again. If you had answered, he would have apologized for choosing the wrong address and departed your home with a friendly smile. He listened carefully whole time he stood on your front porch, verifying that no one was home.

He walked away, and two minutes later he was dialing his prepaid cell phone to alert the crew in the van that the coast was clear. When you arrived back at home that night, ready for  some tasty meatloaf, you discovered that your home had been robbed. Everything of value was gone. You called the police. They made the report. All the feelings of fear for your family and violation of your personal life rolled through your head for days afterward. The insurance company cut you a check, and you replaced everything you could. Technically, life was back to normal, but something had changed.

What about a bigger change? What if forces beyond your control came into play? You lost your job at the company you had given your entire adult life to support. The retirement you had worked for disappeared in a corporate scandal. No one helped because too many others in your situation had already been helped and the limping economy just couldn’t support any more. Your house fell inevitably into foreclosure. Your possessions began to disappear to any place that could provide a few dollars in exchange, but the pattern was set, and the trend led to the point at which you would take any job to keep your family in a tiny apartment with bargain food on the table. The apartment was not the nice kind. It was the kind that was scraping by with the rest of the country, and was willing to forget things like credit checks in return for the prospect of rent. The new neighbors’ only positive attribute was the hard life lessons they were about to provide your children in the ugliness of the world on the wrong side of the tracks.

At that point, a point you never imagined could happen, what can you do? If you had chosen one of the few careers that always need workers, you would never see that situation in the first place. If, like most of us, you chose a career based on the house of cards we call an economy, you could be in serious trouble. The more money you had before, the more likely you lived near the top of the house of cards. Any slight breeze of economic pain could blow you right off the top. If, like many Americans, you had focused all your time and effort on developing the high level of specialized skill that it took to get to the top, then whatever skills you had gained would be nearly useless down at the gritty foundation of our economy.

You would be less qualified to work at the fast food joint than the kid who had been running to the dumpster and pushing a mop. See, that kid was a known quantity in FoodFAST(tm) number 1317. He showed up for work, and he even occasionally covered the fryer during lunch rushes. You are less qualified for entry level retail because you haven’t worked retail for many years – if ever, and frankly, your salary history scares the hell out of potential employers. They don’t want to hire another cook for their kitchen, figuratively speaking; they want someone with no expectations, no potential for disrupting the work environment, and certainly someone who is happy to make thirty cents over minimum wage. On top of that, you just don’t look as good in the uniform as that fresh faced twenty-something, old man/woman.

Even if you could talk your way into a low level position, it doesn’t solve the real problem, which is keeping your family in some semblance of the manner to which they have become accustomed. Not even close. Many good people cover this shortfall by working three jobs, spending literally every waking minute scrambling for a third of what they had while working a single job with long lunches and no time clock. Many good people, through bad luck, bad location, or lack of will, never find a combination that works.

What do you do in that situation?

Instead of bending all your energy into one focused skill set, maybe you went out of your way to broaden your own personal foundation. Maybe you can fix a bike, throw great parties, hot rod a car, alter clothing, build a greenhouse, make the cake that everyone remembers, wire up electronics. Maybe your garden is the talk of your neighborhood, maybe you’re the geek who everyone asks all the techie questions, or maybe you can teach one of the things – like karate – that doesn’t require a federal security clearance and a blood sample – like basic math. Who knows what you could do?

But know this: Every skill you have is a potential door to open if life doesn’t work out just the way you planned. Every skill is a potential job, livelihood, or way of life. You could even find that your own version of change drives you straight into the arms of a better, more fulfilling life. Every skill is pure opportunity when opportunity seems lost.

Even better, that skill lives in your head. It can’t be stolen by burglars, it can’t be repossessed by the bank, and it can’t be driven out by the most sweeping changes in life. Barring massive head injury, it’s in there forever, waiting to grow, waiting to offer something back to you and those you love, no matter what comes your way. It’s what’s in your head. Now go out and fill it with great stuff!

And Back to the Question of Our Country

A week or two ago, I posted some questions about America. One about our patriotic vision, another about what an ideal America would look like, and for the control freaks among us, one about what you would personally do if you were given the reigns with the authority to make it stick. The ideas behind the questions have been swirling rapidly around in my cranium, and that leads me to offer fair warning that this may be another rambling post.

It occurs to me that we are in a strangely guilty and apologetic time in our social history. The purpose of my question about the patriotic image of our nation was intended to dig into the thinking behind our hesitant march into the future. It almost seems, at times, that we are a nation divided between those people who think that we are not good enough, and those that do. This is a completely arbitrary split, only good for the purposes of this discussion. I didn’t read it from a poll, although if such a poll exists, I’m sure that would be interesting.

We are conditioned for two things. One is to feel inadequate as individuals, probably so we will feel compelled to buy things that will make us live up to the cultural standard. Then, completely illogically, we are being taught that someone else exists to provide the means for us to make up the shortfall in our lives. You can’t put those two ideas together and make it last. From the perspective of those who stand to gain from our “don’t be a loser, buy a bigger TV” mentality, it makes no sense that we would develop into a nation of people looking to retire on the proceeds of a lawsuit or a government program.

I’m not pointing fingers. I suspect than anyone who has found their way to my humble blog has already rejected this nonsense. I’m talking about the cultural game that creates mass response, either systematically or as a completely unintended consequence. Whether it is deliberately imposed on us or purely the outcome of simpler responses, the effect is not an explicit thing. It’s a subtext. I first heard it on the ABC Evening News in the mid-90’s. Peter Jennings was  reporting several stories in rapid succession, and in each story, it was there. “The government will handle it.”

Yes, there are plenty of things that the government absolutely should handle, but if we want to live in a free country, that list should be far shorter than it is. The recent regional news stories in the wake of our ice storm carried the tradition right along. Each report was bundled up with a list of things we shouldn’t do. For every item on the list, we were told to call 911, the power company, or to hire a tree service. God help anyone who might consider cutting their own damaged trees. Of this lengthy list, the only part that made sense to me was a reminder that live wires are indeed highly dangerous and beyond the skill of any common homeowner. Everything else should fall in the realm of common sense. If am dumb enough, for example, to wheel a charcoal grill into my house and then light it up, I’m not really sure that public resources should be wasted on saving me from carbon monoxide death.

The point, and the large logical leap, is that we did not become the greatest nation on earth by following the principle that someone else will fix it, particularly the government. Now for the intuitive leap. What does our shared, collective image of America have to say about personal liberty, independence, self sufficiency, and the culture that is grown from those basic notions? I understand that most of you are operating on some level of independent thought. What is your perception of those people you know who base every decision on the blind faith that everything that exists will never change, those whose lives will fall apart if bread stops appearing on store shelves for three days? Do we have any obligation to tell these people that things could change, that the government they trust (more or less) is already way over its head, that relatively small disturbances can create economic chaos? If we call ourselves a culture worth preserving, surely there is some level of obligation.

And if we are a culture worthy of the name, what does it look like? Where did it arise? Which parts should stay and which parts should go? That’s the basis of my inquiry into your patriotic images.

For the second question, I would say this:

Let’s start with integrity. It’s the toughest part. Who here believes that our leaders and their moneyed pals are being honest with us? Who thinks that there’s a good chance that almost everything we know about what’s happening is serving a purpose that has nothing to do with the quality of our lives and liberty? While we’re at it, who thinks that the nations themselves deal honestly with each other?

If you believe those things, then I’m happy for you. Your life is automatically less stressful than mine. Don’t worry, I’m not about to deny human nature, which guarantees that for every opportunity to abuse a system, there will be people more than happy to abuse it. In the larger scheme, honesty is hard. Integrity is hard. All that means is that as long as we have a say in this grand experiment of democracy, we should fight to deny the natural human tendency to hide in the corners, to take advantage of others.

How? Simple. Let’s simplify. Let’s strive for elegance in the way our world operates. Since our political leaders have given us more than enough proof of their willingness to leap down the rabbit hole of greed, we should simplify the system. Term limits, campaign finance reform, insist that they play by the same rules as everyone else.

If we are on the teetering edge of economic meltdown through insanely complex financial instruments and staggering national debt, we should insist on simplicity. I know this is a can-of-worms topic. I can save the details for another time, but does anyone really think it’s okay that our banking system can cut your mortgage into eight zillion pieces and let it be traded like any other computational financial instrument? What’s wrong with a balanced budget amendment, other than the fact that it takes power out of the hands of people who are using the sheer complexity of the system in their own best interests? In the cause of simplicity, I’d say that our leaders can’t handle our money without some controls, and the concept of living within our budgetary means is a very simple concept indeed.

Raise your hand if you personally know the US tax code… Anyone? Don’t feel bad. You’d have a much easier time memorizing the Bible – verbatim. Come on, government! There are only two reasons to justify the overwhelming complexity of our tax code. One, create plenty of advantages for those with the means to use them. Fairness be damned! Two, the tax code provides a surprising degree of control over our behavior. So, other than the assault on integrity that our tax nightmare represents, I say it’s also a heavy and unnecessary burden on every one of us. It cost billions of dollars to prepare tax returns every year, it cost billions to enforce, and it has an even more insidious effect. The fact that you and I can’t do a bit of math on a napkin and constantly know what we owe in taxes means that there’s a psychological burden as well. Until we actually do the tax return dance each year, there’s a mysterious, stressful burden hanging over each and every American. Simplify.

Litigation… No. We all know why this is out of control.

While I fully recognize that the Constitution could not possibly anticipate every condition, I do believe that it does a magnificent job of establishing a framework, an acid test for everything we do. Plus it has the benefit of being a relatively simple document that covers an incredibly broad range of potential threats to our liberty. It’s being trampled hard these days, while it should be the final arbiter of the laws we pass.

As a high school football player, I was strong. Progress in my strength training was important to me. I was fortunate enough to attend Vanderbilt University’s summer football camp when I was 17, and I got to meet Doc Kries, who was legendary in the field of strength training. I asked him what to do when I hit a plateau, that point when I wasn’t gaining any strength from my workouts. He said something that stuck with me. He said, “If you hit a plateau, back up 50 pounds and work your way back up.” I did as he suggested, and cruised right past my former limits.

I think we should, as a nation, back up closer to simplicity, elegance, and constitutionality, and try again.

Another piece of the integrity puzzle is being honest with ourselves about who we are. Are we the police for the world? Why? Does a large chunk of the world’s population resent us for it? Are we actually an imperialist power pretending that our only goal is to spread the love of democracy throughout the world? Are we comfortable with the warm and fuzzy future of the global economy when we are literally allowing the global village to kick dust on us as they race past? Did we of European ancestry steal this nation from the native Americans? Yeah. Is it any different from every other establishment of a nation in the history of the world? Nope. Did we keep slaves? Did we force the descendants of those slaves to fight tooth and nail for equality? Yep. Have we learned our lesson yet? More or less – maybe. Do we seem to generate a ridiculous number of aberrant criminals? Yep. Do we waste tons of resources jailing people who probably would never do any real harm? In fact, do we treat our criminals excessively well, while we tend to demonize victims? Do we subvert due process in the rights of criminals on the basis of executive orders, which are probably unconstitutional in the first place? Yes, we do.

My point is that, like any alcoholic, we are a nation that needs to admit our problems before we can start to heal. Alcoholics tend to clean up only after they destroy their own lives and hit bottom, with no place to go but up. Maybe if we can be honest with each other before we hit bottom, we can avoid an unknowable level of pain and suffering.

Ok… Integrity, check.

My other definition for a great America is completeness. In the span of my life, we have given up far too much of our foundational greatness. Where once we held the lead in research, manufacturing, energy, education, innovation, and so much more, I’ve spent my adult life watching us literally giving those advantages way. Even twenty years ago, I could jokingly argue that the only thing we still led was the entertainment industry. Anyone who has paid attention knows exactly where it all went, and why. To vastly oversimplify, the advantages of the powerful took precedence over the health of our nation, which means that there are far too many people in control who are able to look at all of us normal American citizens as nothing more than replaceable money batteries. The interesting part for me is that they found the replaceable batteries superior to rechargeable ones. If you look at the whole picture, there are apparently plenty of heavy hitters who are more willing to run us dry than to build a system which keeps us ever ready (pun intended) to keep paying the bills. Who do they, the mysterious they, intend to deplete next? Either it’s better to draw a sustainable level from us indefinitely, or it’s better to suck us dry as quickly as possible and move on. Who here likes to be referred to as consumers?

We once made our wealth from making things. Great things, better things than anyone else. Now, it seems as if the key to wealth in America is to find a way to sit on a stream of revenue and parasitically suck from the stream as it flows by. The better you suck, the more successful you become. We do far too much sucking. I would never deny the right of a venture capitalist to build and destroy as he sees fit just for the pleasure a tasty slurp of green, but the balance is way off. If people read the simplicity argument and scream loudly because their lifeblood is flowing through the vessels of hyper-complexity, I would say, shut up and create something of value instead. It was good enough for your grandparents. It’s good enough for you.

To me, the key to the future is to make America complete. Anything we need comes from here. More than we need gets traded globally on reasonable terms. Then, instead of ramming our priorities down the throats of other countries at the cost of lives and trillions of dollars, we simply show them how it should be done and let the example of America do the job. Meanwhile, back at home we can revel in the prosperity of being independent and productive under the safety of our non-overextended military. As a bonus, I suspect being the best feels pretty darn good.

So, the final question. I’ve already answered what I would do with my brief burst of total authority, but to sum up… Taxes simplified to the extreme. Terms limits in place. Special perks and rules for congress revoked. Campaign finance reduced to individual donations put into a public, traceable fund, and each electable office has a set piece of that fund. If nine people run for that office the funds are split nine ways, so the parties better get their candidates sorted before the race. No laws may be passed with more than one unified purpose. Hidden provisions that have nothing to do with the face of the law must go. I don’t care if our representatives spend their terms duct taped to the vote buttons. If they want to pass laws for a million things, they should get ready to vote a million times. While I’m at it, Congress members are require to vote unless they have a note from the surgeon general. Lobbyists, if they remain, must fully disclose all revenues and publicly state their purpose. The last 40 years of banking and monetary policy would probably get axed. Every law would get vetted for constitutionality and thrown out if there’s even a question of its basis. A large portion of executive authority would be abolished. Every president since the Great Depression has abused executive orders. American corporations would lose every advantage to foreign dealings beyond the customer relationship with foreign buyers. After they make their sacrifice to bring jobs back to America, only then would I look at creating specific benefits for doing the right thing. I’m sure I could come up with more, once I get my hands on the secret playbook.

In general, I believe there is a price to be paid for what we have been doing as a nation. It doesn’t take a great deal of study to discover that, historically, it’s absurd to expect that we can keep what we’ve got without paying for it. I’d rather pay it now, while it’s still (barely) possible than to have our descendants paying forever. In short, let’s clean up this mess if we want our American house to stand.