The Real Trouble With Trent

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Harry S Lott

Why is LewRockwell.com thriving? Why has it surpassed virtually all other political opinion sites, including many with much larger budgets and staffs? For one thing, you get the feeling that the writers are telling it like it is, not holding back for reasons of political calculation, hidden agendas, career-mindedness, or political correctness. Think about it. How often do you get that feeling elsewhere? Additionally, or perhaps because of the factors listed above, the political establishment and the media establishment can’t seem to get the big stories right. For example, on the little story known as 9/11, it took LewRockwell.com and affiliated sites to point out that 9/11 was the result of a deadly interplay between an inherent federal incompetence and federal foreign intervention over 100 years.

The establishment liberal media, including those liberals who now call themselves neoconservatives to cover up their prior errors, have also flubbed the Trent Lott story. As usual, the usual suspects have it all balled up. Ironically, Lott is being shown the door because his recent remarks appear to repudiate Truman’s election in 1948. In his raucous speech to the Democratic nominating convention in 1948, the first policy position endorsed by Truman was his and FDR’s ridiculous farm subsidy policy. Currently, farm subsidies are concentrated in states like Mississippi which have powerful members of Congress like former Democrat Trent Lott. Lott voted for the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, which solidifies Truman’s farm policies for the foreseeable future.

Here is a senator who supports Trumanesque policies — big government at home and abroad, the welfare/warfare state, a big, all-powerful, clumsy, incompetent, and corrupt federal empire — and who is now excoriated for insulting Truman’s election in 1948! The establishment fails to point out Trent Lott’s biggest mistake — hypocrisy and phoniness. I do not accept the explanation that Lott was merely buttering up the old man. Nor, as is bloody obvious, was he stating his own views. Those views are clear from a long congressional career with hardly a whimper of protest against the Trumanesque status quo. It is silly to suggest that Lott was speaking of the "problem" of not enough blacks at the back of public buses. Lott hasn’t traveled in anything but a limousine in years.

I do believe that on some level of consciousness, Lott was appealing to many voters back in Mississippi, not about a return to Jim Crow, but about a general disgust with the seemingly uncontrollable growth of the federal Leviathan. In that regard, Lott is nothing but a phony. What exactly has Lott done to shrink the federal government and return money and power to the people of the states? The federal government has been growing steadily in size, scope and power throughout his career, even under Republican Administrations and congressional majorities. So Lott didn’t mean what he said; nor did he mean what Strom said in 1948. Rather, he vaguely alluded to the belief of many in his home state and elsewhere that big government is what ails us, though he has done virtually nothing about it.

Now, let’s look at the underlying issue of federalism, the system of government established by the framers, destroyed to a large extent by the Civil War, but as resistant to dying as the monster in a horror movie. The establishment botched this issue also. After all, this issue actually requires thought, not mere emotional ejaculation and repetition of rote-memorized clichés and historical fallacies.

There are basically three possible political forms: a world state, no state, and many states, some of which may divide authority between different levels of government. The framers, working about 100 years before statelessness was seriously proposed, settled on federalism as opposed to unifying all power in a national state. They did this because they believed that men tended to abuse power and the more that power could be divided, the less abuse would result. Dividing power would create centers of power that could check other power centers. They also divided power inside the federal government for similar reasons.

The conundrum of course is: what happens if local units of power abuse their authority and violate people’s rights? For one thing, these people can leave, unless they are slaves. Even in that event, they can at least attempt to escape to better locales. Also, places where people are treated better will tend to have stronger economies and cultures. They will grow and prosper and provide a model for other locales that will either copy their methods or be left behind. Now, we have to ask, what if the federal government abuses its powers? That is a tougher nut to crack. The feds are more likely to crack your nut.

The framers believed that the states, as independent power centers, could check overreaching federal power. Further, they recognized the right of the people of the states to form militias and bear arms. They were skeptical of large standing armies, fearing they could overwhelm militias and armed citizens. Lincoln proved their concerns valid as he formed a huge standing army to subdue the South in 1861. Since then, the answer to the question, what can we do when the feds abuse their power is, nothing!

Unless your shotgun can defeat the federal army, you simply submit to whatever abuse the feds want to heap upon you, and using your tax dollars, heap upon other victims around the world. I love it when leftists, who worship Lincoln, futilely protest the federal expenditure of massive amounts of their tax money on weapons of mass destruction, oblivious to the fact that this is all done pursuant to the Lincolnian principle of federal supremacy over states and persons. Act like clowns, people? That’s okay. I was a leftist too when I was a teenager.

Did the states, in their brief run, 1788 to 1865, abuse people’s rights? They sure did. Lincolnian Illinois would not let blacks move into the state. Throughout the North, blacks were denied basic legal rights such as suffrage and access to the courts. Southern states allowed slavery. However, as Henry David Thoreau noted, that peculiar institution was buttressed by the federal government with its Fugitive Slave Laws and protection against insurrection and invasion. When Robert E. Lee vanquished John Brown, guess what uniform he was wearing.

Thoreau hated the feds and their circa 1848 pro-slavery constitution:

How does it become a man to behave toward the American [federal] government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave’s government also.

Thoreau was one of the few Americans who understood, in 1848, the correct relationship between slavery, secession, and the Constitution. Slavery is wrong; slavery is supported by the Constitution and its Union, of which Massachusetts is “its representative”; by all means, let us fight slavery by individually seceding from Massachusetts, a pillar of the pro-slavery Union.

Some are petitioning the State to dissolve the Union, to disregard the requisitions of the President. Why do they not dissolve it themselves — the union between themselves and the State — and refuse to pay their quota into its treasury? Do not they stand in the same relation to the State that the State does to the Union? And have not the same reasons prevented the State from resisting the Union which have prevented them from resisting the State?

I do not hesitate to say, that those who call themselves Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a majority of one, before they suffer the right to prevail through them. I think that it is enough if they have God on their side, without waiting for that other one. Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.

So slaves would try to escape, but that was much tougher because the federal government — the liberals’ beloved federal government — protected slavery everywhere. Nevertheless, escapes did occur and these raised the cost of slavery. Further, the North was growing faster, creating pressures to end slavery.

After the states abolished slavery in 1865, hundreds of thousands of blacks moved out of the South, to avoid legal discrimination and to seek better jobs and economic opportunities. This illustrates one of the great benefits of federalism: voting with your feet. This vote is magnitudes more valuable than that other form of voting.

Since the states do and have violated people’s rights, should we give all authority to the federal government? (The same logic would have us strip the Congress and Supreme Court of their powers when they abuse them.) Theory and history answer no. Theoretically, rights-violating personalities will tend to gravitate to the federal government for the same reason they gravitate towards state governments: for power. Sociologically, one can say that, while elites will tend to gravitate toward federal power, more populist-minded politicians will tend to dominate state political machines. Yet, the political record of the elite in the last 100 years is terrible.

In the last 100 years, elites abandoned classical liberalism for socialism of various kinds, giving us a system that is inefficient at producing wealth, but extremely efficient at causing wars and engaging in mass murder. Elites tend to confuse their formal intellectual superiority over the masses with an ability to run their lives they do not possess. In a word, hubris. State pols are actually better than the "best and the brightest" — all they want is graft for themselves and their friends; they eschew grand, martial, utopian schemes favored by elitists like Wilson and FDR.

To make matters worse, federal politicians have, thanks to St. Abraham, much more power at their disposal: money, laws, bureaus, armies, and intelligence agencies. Individual citizens have even less influence over the federal government than the tiny amount they have over state governments. Finally, to escape federal tyranny, they cannot move to the next town or next state. They have to move out of country to be free, a bizarre inversion of the original idea that America was where you went to be free.

Thus, on the level of theory, we can conclude that, while states’ rights produces imperfect results, federal supremacy will be even worse. Guess what? History illustrates this truth. Woodrow Wilson, using the conscription idea he learned from Lincoln, got the United States unnecessarily involved in World War I, tipped the scales toward England and France, and set the stage for most of the disasters of the disastrous 20th Century. World War I created the conditions for the rise of Hitler and Lenin, which led to World War II, which strengthened Russian and Chinese Communism, which led to the Cold War and the arms race, which, now out of control, is used by the present feds as a rationale for moving toward a police state at home and an expansion of the American Empire abroad. This expansion threatens our very civilization.

So, tell me, liberal liberals and neoconservative liberals. What do we do about abuses of federal power? Create a world government? I hear silence. So let’s sum up. Liberals say that when state governments abuse their power, we transfer that authority to the federal government. However, when the federal government abuses its powers, they refuse to follow the same logic and strip their beloved federal government of its powers. LewRockwell.com has no such qualms, sophomoric confusions or blind spots.

Federalism was a good idea for its time, but it didn’t work. Like the mixed economy, it is an inherently unstable regime. The problem is that political power tends to centralize, from lower to higher and geographically larger units and toward the executive branch of those units. Constitutions are worth the paper they are written on. Executives execute.

That being the case, the solution to the problem of power is to go, with Thoreau, in the other direction: to break down the dangerous power centers run by isolated, megalomaniacal bureaucrats that have the world on the edge of destruction, and shift authority and power, past the elitist federal politicians with their dangerous utopian schemes; past the state pols with their corrupt and self-serving political machines; past even the pathetic local hacks, and always and everywhere and ever closer to rights-bearing individual persons and the families, communities, institutions and markets they spontaneously create.

So I am forced to agree with George Bush, Bill Kristol, and the rest of the neocon, Lincoln-worshipping establishment — Trent Lott must go. But consider that a true conclusion can follow false premises (Logic 101). Why in my view should Lott go? Because he’s a Trumanesque phony who must bear his pro rata share of the blame for the disastrous state of our world in which millions of people hate Americans and want to kill us.

December 17, 2002

James Ostrowski is an attorney practicing at 984 Ellicott Square, Buffalo, New York 14203; (716) 854-1440; FAX 853-1303. See his website at http://jimostrowski.com.

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