Inevitably people ask why I wrote Restoring Our Republic: well first, of course, as a response to the aggressive push of socialism that we see today that is deeply unAmerican and antithetical to the founding of this country. But it was more about that: it was written so that we might really know what we’re fighting for. What does it mean to be a republic? We see, over the last few years especially, the problematic nature of the Administrative State and powerful bureaucrats thinking they are in charge, not the President of the United States. As with all history, there are threads that connect events separated by centuries, actions that set things in motion that are sometimes not fully realized until generations later.
Let me take you several hundred years back in time. On the morning the Declaration of Independence was to be signed, the Rev. John Witherspoon, the President of the College of New Jersey, now Princeton, and a representative of the state of New Jersey, rose to speak to the other delegates gathered in Independence Hall. That morning Witherspoon said:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, a nick of time. We perceive it now before us. To hesitate is to consent to our own slavery. That noble instrument upon your table, which ensures immortality to its author, should be subscribed this very morning by every pen in this house. He that will not respond to its accents and strain every nerve to carry into effect its provisions is unworthy the name of freeman. For my own part, of property I have some, of reputation more. That reputation is staked, that property is pledged, on the issue of this contest; and although these gray hairs must soon descend into the sepulcher, I would infinitely rather that they descend thither by the hand of the executioner than desert at this crisis the sacred cause of my country.”
It feels very much like that today, that we are at a moment in time, a nick of time, as Witherspoon would say, in which we must decide what we actually believe and which direction we will go as a country. Will we restore our republic, or will accept decline?
We have strayed from our beginnings, both intentionally and through ignorance; there can be no doubting of that. As Yeats wrote, “The falcon does not hear the falconer.” But my hope in writing Restoring Our Republic is that perhaps, just maybe, people will hear that call and realize where we have come from as a people and how we might have a restoration of the republic.
What we see today in Washington DC would be almost unrecognizable to the Founders of our republic: a massive Administrative State of over 430 departments, agencies and sub agencies, filled with millions of career government employees, a bifurcated legal system being used as a political weapon: for some with the right political connections or last name, the law is more a series of suggestions while for others with the wrong connections, the law is now used to destroy peoples’ lives for doing the exact same thing the politically connected walked away scot free. There is a Ruling Class in Washington DC, which has rigged our system of government to benefit itself through trade deals, perpetual war, a broken immigration system, treating the American people more as an ATM to fund its priorities rather than the People’s. Which is immoral: it is immoral to take the people’s money, by force, and fund things that have nothing to do advancing the priorities and interests of the American people.
It struck me in May of 2018 sitting at the WH Correspondents dinner, my first and probably only time to attend that event, that DC has a whiff of Versailles about it. In the decades before the French Revolution, the French ruling class abused the people of France, were physically detached from them, rigged the system to benefit themselves. So detached were they that no doubt many of the French ruling class was still confused as to what was happening as they were trundled off to the guillotine.
Today we have a rigged system of government in DC, one that is detached from the people, one that is rigged to benefit the Ruling Class. This didn’t just happen: what we are seeing in Washington DC today has been building for over a hundred years. You see our Founders never intended for DC to become what it has become, this massive leviathan that pervades almost every aspect of life. Theirs was a far different vision for this republic.
So what was their vision for the republic? People ask me, why should we care about what these white men in wigs thought or believed several hundred years ago? Their ideas still matter today because they knew what they got one thing very right: human nature. They believed and knew human nature is imperfect. It always has been and always will be. To quote James Madison, we are no angels. While we are all capable of great good, we are incapable of sustained good. We many times do what we can, not what we should. So how do you take this imperfection and create a form of government in an imperfect world that will protect and be a steward of all of our God given rights of life, liberty, property, the pursuit of happiness and the myriad rights that every created human being has been endowed with by their Creator? This is why they were optimistic realists: they believed that even working with imperfect human nature in an imperfect world that could create a government that would protect these rights and take none of them away. They intended, and which it became, for the American republic be the very pinnacle of western civilization.
The American Republic is founded upon this belief that imperfect human nature, with all of its God given rights, should never be trusted with consolidated power, thus the diffusion of power built into the republic, from the separation of powers at the federal level to the idea of federalism and the diffusion of power down into the states and as local a level as possible.
But a great drifting away from the Founders’ vision occurred in the late 19th and early 20th century when the utopian statists, otherwise known as Progressives, arrived on the scene. This movement and philosophy, embraced by both Republicans and Democrats, was utopian in that it got completely wrong what the Founders got right: the essence of human nature. In a benighted belief that the State must be empowered to advance progress, the Progressives believed in and advocated for consolidated power in the hands of imperfect human nature. Thus the beginnings of the Administrative State we see today, a governing philosophy incompatible with our constitutional republic: this is in fact is the great tension today, one that was bound to break into the open from the moment the Progressives dropped an Administrative State into our Constitutional Republic.
And this tension, a hundred years in the making, simmering below the surface, finally broke into the open with the election of one Donald J. Trump. President Trump, elected by the process laid out in the Constitution, by the will of the people, who showed up in Washington DC and said, “I’m the duly elected President of the United States. As the representative of the people, I have been entrusted by them to make the decisions inside the Executive Branch on foreign and domestic policy.” And the Administrative State actors said, “We don’t think so. We think we are the ones who decide.” If you were to sum up the last three years or so, it’s all about this: who decides. And in the republic laid out by our Founders, all power flows from the people to their duly elected representatives who they entrust to be stewards of both the power and the monies entrusted to them. The President of the United States decides, not the unelected bureaucrats who fill the various institutions, many of which, by the way, are not needed while others forget that the institutions are founded up the Constitution: institutions detached from and not advancing the fundamental tenets of the Constitution and Bill of Rights have no place in our republic.
The Founders made very intentional decisions at the beginning of the republic. In the age of the divine right of kings, where in many ways the king was law, they chose a different path where the law would be king and all would stand equal before it. One of the basic principles of our republic is the equal application of the law, not what we see today. And if there is no equal application of the law, if it becomes more a series of suggestions for some, people begin to lose faith in institutions. This is a moment in our history in which we must set things right, there must be consequences for abuses of power.
We have enabled this abuse of power by allowing power to consolidate in Washington DC over the course of the last century. Let me highlight something to you: the Founders did not trust themselves. In Philadelphia that summer of 1787 as they were debating this new government, they knew that should it come into existence, they would be the Presidents, the Vice Presidents, Representatives, Senators and Judges. Yet they did not create a system to benefit themselves. In fact they created a system that would make it more difficult for any faction to gain too much power.
You see that throughout the building of the republic; consider even the Electoral College. There was a very intentional point to this concept: there would be no regionalism, no dominant power base inside this new republic. Consider even the fact on how they originally constructed the Legislative branch: the House was to be the People’s House, with two year terms, closely aligning itself and directly responsive to the people. But the Senate? That was to be the State’s House. For the first 123 years of our republic, US Senators would be appointed by the various state legislators to moor the Senators to their states, to anchor them to their state’s interests while in Washington DC. But with the passage of the 17th Amendment, Senators became unmoored from eerie states, becoming the little kings walking around DC today. This amendment of course undermined the concept of federalism and consolidated power into DC even more. The amendment is one of the most pernicious poison pills that the Progressives placed into our republic: In a perfect world, the 17th amendment would be repealed.
The passage of the 17th Amendment was yet again another Progressive triumph in knocking down the various pieces of the machinery of the republic the Founders put in place, putting even more power into the hands of the National State. Which is what troubled many of the anti-Federalists during the entire debate surrounding the Constitution: what would happen should the national government become too powerful? What would be a safeguard for citizens and their natural rights?
In chapter nine of this book, I deal with the bill of rights and the debate over whether there should be an enumerated bill of rights or not. George Mason was determined to have one; Madison and Hamilton thought it unnecessary as the machinery of the republic would be the greatest defender of the American people’s natural rights. What did they mean by the machinery of the republic? The separation of powers, the diffusion of power, the setting of self-interest against self-interest so that power would never be consolidated. As Madison described it, the way to confine political power is by “contriving the interior structure of the government” so that one branch or entity could never gain too much power as to then encroach upon and abuse natural rights. Yet Progressives and the Left have wanted to break apart this machinery of the republic for the last century, consolidate power, grow the Administrative State. The dangers that arise is that you might eventually get to where we are today: powerful bureaucrats, thinking they are in charge, given immense power, who use the power of the state to target and attack political enemies over policy differences, civil liberties and the 4th amendment be damned. We see even today that two of the FBI’s FISA applications did not have the required evidence to continue spying on a private citizen. What will be the consequences for those actions? Again, a large, powerful Administrative State, given incredible power, thinking it decides, that it is in charge, that it will play by its own rules, even suspending the Constitution and Bill of Rights if they so choose. This is what happens when power is consolidated in the hands of imperfect human beings: they do what they can, not what they should.
While I appreciate George Mason and Patrick Henry and the other anti-federalists insisting upon a bill of rights for the Constitution to be ratified, the Bill of Rights is a parchment barrier against the power of the state. It is one thing to declare rights in theory. It is another to actually practice them in reality.
Which leads us to yet another question: who do we believe gives us our rights? This is another fundamental question. I would hope we would all agree that of course government does not. But there was a real shift in the post-Civil War era into the beginnings of the 20th century about our rights. In the past, Americans had viewed their rights as the boundary line against government intrusion. God had given us rights, government was a necessary evil, but was enacted in just and voluntary association to protect and be a steward of that association’s rights. Government was meant to be a steward, not a giver. But that thinking began to change in which rights were treated as claims on the government, as the things that government was supposed to give us. Another dangerous turning point in American history: now government became the giver of rights. Which calls into question what rights even mean today. Are they arbitrary or are they transcendent?
Look back at John Locke: he believed that the chief purpose of government was to protect the property of its citizens. But property is not just physical things, like houses or lands, but also everything unique to an individual, including our natural God given rights: as Madison wrote, “There are rights in property and property in rights.” Private property is our rights, our physical property, our personal data: government is to protect those things and take none of them away. This is why we must decide what we fundamentally believe about our rights, who grants them and what government’s role is in protecting those rights. This will lead us to making the right decisions in regards to mass automation, big tech and data sovereignty, singularity, the power and boundaries of the surveillance state and law enforcement in regards to Americans’ civil liberties and the consequences for violating these rights.
As we stand here in the 21st century, several centuries since the founding of the republic, we have to decide what do we still believe. This constitutional republic was founded on a Judeo-Christian, Anglo-American belief system. Those beliefs were encapsulated and codified in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. But these are the framework within which people are to govern and operate; ultimately its what do the people involved actually believe and how do they live out those beliefs? Clinton Rossiter wrote in the Seedtime of the Republic that American democracy rests squarely on the assumption of a pious, honest, self-disciplined moral people. Part of that belief system accepts and believes that we are imperfect and should never be trusted with too much power.
This all to say that our self-governing republic is just a reflection of individual morality. The more people self-govern themselves as individuals the greater freedom there will be. Yet the question is, why govern oneself unless there is a belief in transcendent laws and internal rewards and punishments? To quote Rossiter yet again, “The men of 1776 believed that the good state would rise on the rock of private and public morality, that morality was in the case of most men and all states the product of religion, and that the earthly mission of religion was to set men free.”
So what does this mean in the practical, real world. It’s one thing to theorize but what does this mean for the here and now? First we must rid ourselves of the Administrative State philosophy. A massive bureaucracy was mistakenly thought of by the Progressive as a sign of health in society. I view it as a sign of sickness: a massive bureaucracy is needed to govern society only if human beings will not govern themselves. It is self-governance that leads to a healthy society that enjoys the most freedom and prosperity.
So if Trump has said we must drain the swamp, we must recognize that the very foundation of the swamp is the Administrative State. The only way we can restore the American Republic is to break apart the Administrative State. In his second term, Trump must cut and devolve government. He must break it apart, shut down departments and agencies, migrate the 800,000 non-essential government employees out of government and into the private sector. He must declare that he will no longer fund the Swamp and that he will veto any other omnibus’ sent to him from Congress. There must also be a move to repeal the 17th Amendment so that the 10th Amendment actually means something.
People will say to all of these ideas that we are too far gone. I don’t believe that: look what one man, Trump, has done in standing up and challenging the status quo and how much that has changed the debate on so many different topics from immigration to trade deals to China in such a short time. What if dozens joined him? Hundreds? Thousands? What if enough us simply find the courage to say we will not accept the status quo, we will not accept this trajectory. On the fifth anniversary of the Boston Massacre, Dr. Joseph Warren, that great son of liberty, was chosen to give the oration that day. Warren looked out at the citizen of Boston and said, “Our country is in danger but not to be despaired of. Our enemies are numerous and powerful – but we have many friends. Determine to be free and Heaven and earth will aid the resolution. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.”
Those words still hold true today: we must decide that restoring the republic is worth the fight, the struggle; we must act worthy of ourselves as Americans. While others say we must manage our decline, we will not accept that thinking. Decline is a choice: we choose not to decline. We choose to be great.
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