Retired Judge Andrew Napolitano explains why neither the Democratic nor Republican candidates on your ballot for president by asking some questions:
What if the most remarkable aspect of this presidential election is not how much the two principal candidates disagree with each other but how much they actually agree?
What if they are both statists? What if they both believe that the government’s first duty is to take care of itself? What if they both believe in the primacy of the state over the individual?
What if, in clashes between the state and individuals, they both would use the power of the state to trample the rights of individuals?
What if the first priority of both is not to decrease the size and scope of government but to expand it? What if they both believe that the federal government may lawfully and constitutionally right any wrong, tax any behavior and regulate any event? What if they both want to add a few thousand new employees to the federal payroll, give them badges and guns and black shirts, and engage them as federal police to insulate the federal government further from the people and the states?
What if, when James Madison wrote the Constitution, he took great pains to reserve powers to the people and the states that were not delegated away to the feds? What if both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump couldn’t care less about that?
What if both of them reject the Madisonian principle that the federal government is limited in scope to the 16 unique and discrete powers given to it by the Constitution? What if they even reject the corollary to that principle, which is that the balance of governmental powers — those not delegated by the Constitution to the feds — resides in the states? What if they both reject the Madisonian principle that in areas of governmental power retained by the states, the states should be free from federal interference?
What if this principle of a limited federal government depends upon the principle of natural rights — areas of human behavior and choice stemming from our humanity and immune from government interference? What if the Declaration of Independence and the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution define our natural rights as inalienable? What if both Trump and Clinton reject that? What if she believes in killing innocents by drone and he believes in torturing innocents at Gitmo?
What if both Clinton and Trump accept the principle that the federal government can address any problem for which there is a national political consensus? What if this idea — championed by Woodrow Wilson, who hated the values of Madison — is the opposite of what the Framers wrote and intended?
What if this Wilsonian principle has unleashed the federal government to regulate nearly all aspects of personal behavior and to enhance immeasurably the powers of an unelected, unseen, and unaccountable federal bureaucracy, which never seems to shrink or change?
What if both Trump and Clinton embrace the idea that federal power, rather than being limited by the Constitution, is limited only by what the feds can’t get away with politically? What if this concept was expressly rejected by the Framers but both Trump and Clinton don’t care? What if neither of them believes that a limited federal government must reside and remain within the confines of the Constitution?
What if Trump wants the police to be able to stop anyone they wish based on just a hunch that the person is armed or possessing contraband? What if the Fourth Amendment — which requires the police to have individual articulable suspicion, not just hunches and not judgments based on race, in order to stop a person — was expressly written to prohibit just what Trump wants? What if Trump doesn’t care because he prefers votes to constitutional fidelity?
What if Clinton wants free higher education for all in America who go to community colleges, all of which are government-owned? What if the Constitution does not delegate regulatory or spending authority over education to the feds? What if there is no such thing as “free” college? What if someone somewhere will need to pay for it?
What if all federal revenue is already committed to wealth transfers (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, welfare), interest payments on the federal government’s debt (now north of $400 billion annually), and the Pentagon (which spends crazily so its budget won’t be reduced in the future)? What if the Clinton “free” college deal would mean the feds would need to tax more or borrow more or both?
What if more taxation means less money for the productive aspects of society? What if more borrowing produces a decrease in the value of what you already own? What if a dollar spent by the feds produces far less wealth — jobs, income, productivity — than a dollar invested in the private sector? What if Clinton doesn’t care because she prefers votes to economic productivity?
What if both Trump and Clinton believe they can use the federal government to bribe the poor with handouts, the middle class with tax breaks, the rich with bailouts and write-offs, and the states with block grants? What if Trump himself has benefited enormously from federal write-offs available only to the very rich?
What if neither talks about personal liberty in a free society? What if they both talk about the government’s duty to keep us safe? What if neither talks about the government’s first duty, which is to keep us free? What if neither believes that the government works for us? What if they both really believe that we work for the government?
What if Mark Twain was right when he said that the reason we get to vote is it doesn’t make much difference?
Jeff Jacoby adds more questions:
Would you hire a babysitter who lied with impunity? Would you choose a therapist who was a compulsive braggart? Would you want as your accountant or financial adviser someone who trailed the reek of corruption and bottomless avarice? Would you list your home with a real estate agent who routinely played fast and loose with rules that others must abide by? Would you attend the church of a pastor who spewed insults and threats and trafficked in delusional conspiracy theories?
If so, you’ll have no trouble supporting Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president.
But if you wouldn’t entrust your personal affairs to someone manifestly devoid of ethics and good character, how can you think of entrusting the nation’s highest office to either of the major-party candidates?
Over and over this year, Trump and Clinton have been described as the two worst presidential nominees in living memory — perhaps the worst matchup in US history. Both candidates espouse bad ideas and destructive policies, but that isn’t why they are so widely regarded as appalling choices for the White House. It is the candidates’ lack of integrity that makes so many Americans despair when they think of the upcoming election.
Opinion polls have consistently reflected Americans’ terrible opinion of the nominees’ character. In a USA Today/Suffok University poll taken just before Labor Day, 59 percent of likely voters said they don’t think Clinton is honest and trustworthy — and that included nearly one-fourth of her own supporters. An even larger majority, 61 percent, don’t regard Trump as honest and trustworthy, including one-fifth of his supporters.
The public’s misgivings about Trump and Clinton are well founded. To elect either one would be a moral disaster.
I plan to cast a ballot for the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson. I don’t agree with every position Johnson endorses (though I certainly share the libertarian tropism for smaller government, lower taxes, free trade, robust immigration, and individual autonomy). Nor, to be fair, do I disagree with every proposal and priority of the Trump and Clinton campaigns.
But I’m not voting for president this year on the basis of traditional issues. I’m basing my vote on character. Johnson’s is acceptable — he appears to be honest, friendly, capable of self-criticism, and not egomaniacal. That puts him miles ahead of Trump and Clinton, incorrigibly mendacious self-aggrandizers for whom personal ambition always supersedes ethical standards or the national interest.
This isn’t to suggest that what the presidential candidates’ say about the economy and foreign policy and national defense and criminal justice isn’t important. Of course it is, and if this were a typical election I’d be voting for the candidate whose political outlook came closest to my own.
Unfortunately, this election isn’t typical. The major parties have coughed up nominees so tainted that to vote for either one would amount to a betrayal. Our generation inherited a democratic republic that, despite all its flaws and weaknesses, was grounded in the conviction that a basic level of civic virtue is indispensable to the survival of American freedom. A vote for a candidate as dishonorable as Trump or Clinton is a vote to trash that inheritance. I can’t bring myself to do that.
The founders of the American system warned at every turn that without moral and civic virtues to navigate by, no democracy can endure. The character of government, they stressed, is inseparable from human character. “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence,” wrote James Madison at the very end of Federalist No. 55. “Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.” In short, once good character and integrity no longer matter, government of the people is doomed.
Politicians aren’t expected to be saints, and political campaigns aren’t church socials. Campaigns get nasty. Deals get cut. Promises get broken. Voters are deceived and disappointed by elected officials all the time. But it’s one thing to understand that candidates sometimes lie after winning office, as Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has written. “It’s another thing entirely to conclude in advance that they are both liars, and simply shrug and elect them anyway. That does something to the national soul that tears at the fabric of who we are.”
In 2008, The Economist titled a cover story about that year’s US presidential contest “America at its best.” The article hailed Republican John McCain for his political courage. It applauded the qualities that enabled Democrat Barack Obama to vanquish the Clinton machine and become the first black presidential nominee. “The doughty but sometimes cranky old warrior makes a fine contrast with the inspirational but sometimes vaporous young visionary,” the magazine concluded. “This is the most impressive choice America has had for a very long time.”
Alas, there is nothing remotely impressive about America’s choice this year. Obama and McCain both had their shortcomings, but Clinton and Trump are practically defined by their cupidity, deceit, and self-righteousness. For Americans to elevate anyone so reprehensible to the presidency would be to humiliate themselves before the world. It would also be a sign that the great American experiment in republican self-government may have run its course.
At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, as Benjamin Franklin was leaving Independence Hall, a woman approached him with a question.
“Well, Doctor,” she asked, “what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?”
Franklin’s famous answer: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Well, we kept our republic for 225 years. Whether it survives the 45th president of the United States is an open question.