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November 2020

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Arlington’s Agenda for the Texas Legislature: Protecting Autonomy

OPINION AND COMMENT

Editorials and other opinion content offer viewpoints on issues important to our community and are independent of the work of our newsroom reporters.

Even before the next president is sworn in, the future of Texans’ power to shape their lives and their communities will begin to be decided by their representatives in Austin.

As the Legislative Assembly convenes on January 12, this is an important issue for all of us. The state agenda, already in preparation, will unfold, and we should make our desires known to those whom we have sent there to carry out our will.

Critical decisions that affect us all will have been made by the time the adjournment arrives some 140 days later, and we don’t want to look back on what happened and wish it had been something more to our liking.

The Greater Arlington Chamber of Commerce has been working for months, surveying its members and meeting with legislators and their staff, to develop its preference on the issues and possibly the most comprehensive examination in the city of the concerns we all face.

The resulting position paper, which represents the vast majority of House members, was approved by its board of directors and provided to area representatives in the Texas House and Senate.

For the sake of transparency, I recently served on this board and on the House Public Policy Committee.

“Our program,” the report outline reads, “aims to continue the economic success currently enjoyed by our state and region by creating sound policies that ensure we have the tools, talents, infrastructure and health systems necessary for economic and community prosperity. ”

Supporting a strong local economy results in benefits for all citizens through job creation and business investment that shifts the property tax burden from residents to the commercial sector.

The centerpiece of this goal is to leave the decisions about how to shape cities in the hands of their citizens. In recent sessions of the Legislative Assembly, there have been foolish efforts to transfer this power to the state.

Such proposals are contrary to the fundamental principle of self-government. The self-governing form of government has helped make Texas cities the fastest growing in the nation.

This is why economic development strategies are at the top of the priority list in favor of well-paying jobs in very poor areas and support for the retraining of displaced workers using a combination of community colleges, labor commissions. labor and private employers.

Then there are strong positions on health care, calling for maximizing federal matching funds to expand coverage to the working poor, the self-employed and uninsured Texans through public and private markets.

In the area of ​​public education, the chamber is calling for emergency funds to make the adjustments required by the global pandemic and the elimination of unfunded mandates resulting in higher property taxes.

There is support for dual-credit courses, junior high schools, and advanced-levels testing to reduce the number of credit hours required after high school and make college more affordable.

Community and state infrastructure needs are identified, including advocacy for the use of public-private partnerships to leverage public funds for transportation needs and broadband expansion in each county providing basic access to distance education and telemedicine.

You can see from this sample of initiatives that the purpose of the chamber is to improve the quality of life for the entire community through the rising tide of economic prosperity. It’s a great demonstration of how it lifts all boats.

This is especially important for ordinary citizens in these boats, and it suggests ways for all of them to contribute to the high calling of demanding that our legislators protect our powers to decide for ourselves how we want to be governed and how to shape our hometowns.

Richard Greene is a former mayor of Arlington, was appointed by President George W. Bush as Regional Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and teaches at UT Arlington.

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Sovereignty

NOTICE | DANA KELLEY: Safeguarding Self-Government

As we approach next week’s holiday celebrating the high virtue of gratitude, it’s good to remember the one enduring thing for which we, the people of the United States, should all be eternally grateful.

It is the same as the very first Thanksgiving Proclamation, recommended by a joint committee of both houses of Congress and signed by the very first president, naming in its opening paragraph that the people should be grateful to God for:” an opportunity to peacefully establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Thank God for the blessing of self-government, in short.

All these decades, generations, and election cycles later, America’s singular form of self-government remains the rare exception among nations.

The Washington proclamation called on Americans to “come together in rendering … our sincere and humble thanks” and to “offer our prayers and supplications” to God, who surely knows that we urgently need more unity.

A good dose of gratitude and meditation for national autonomy could be a good starting point.

Except for one thing.

Perhaps the main source of our immense disunity goes back to the main root of a definition. In other words, before we can unite in gratitude for our “selves”

government”, we must agree on the meaning of this word.

Newly independent Americans attached to the word “government” a meaning quite different from that of their British counterparts. For the English, the main connotation of government was political, as evidenced by Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the 10th Revised Edition published in 1810. The definition there was: “1. Form of a community in relation to the disposition of the ultimate authority ; 2. An established state of supreme authority.”

But Noah Webster’s First American English Dictionary (1828) defined “government” as follows: “1. Direction, regulation… 2. Control, restraint. The use of Webster’s words in the sample sentences indicated primarily personal definition on individual terms.

Where the stalwart Tory Johnson assumed a top-down source of social order—the primacy of sovereign authority over a community—the patriot Webster’s colonial source was fundamental, emanating from the individuals who make up societies and communities.

The people governed themselves through civil society, which is distinct from civic government. Thomas Paine deeply contrasted the two in “Common Sense” as not only being different, but also of different backgrounds. “[T]The first promotes happiness positively by uniting our affections, the second negatively by repressing our vices. … The former is a patron, the latter a punisher.”

When “self-government” first appeared as a noun in dictionaries, its meaning was entirely personal: “The government of oneself” (1854).

This entry reflected, even a century after the first rumblings of revolution and independence, the American notion that self-government applied primarily to the myriad non-political ways in which people instituted order in their life. The self-governing order seethed through various streams, including customs and faith, and was carried by a tenacious spirit of self-reliance.

Indeed, several similarly prefixed terms contribute to successful self-government: self-sacrifice, self-discipline, self-sufficiency, and self-control.

Fortunately, Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary sticks to its original first definition of self-government as “self-control.” This is not the case with other popular online peers, however.

Collins, Wiktionary, and Google all list the political definition first and label the meaning of “self-control” as archaic, dated, and old-fashioned, respectively. Macmillan and Cambridge list political significance as the only one, without any reference to “self-control”; Dictionary.com relegates this to its third definition.

This division of mentalities was a fundamental driving force of American independence. Parliament assumed that the strength of the social order was its supremacy. Revolutionary Americans understood that the source of strength in society was “we the people”.

The colonists never flinched from the threat of impending “anarchy” of England if they continued to oppose empire taxation because they had full faith in self-government.

This fundamental difference is why our ancestors fought, bled and died. Yet it now appears that around half of our citizens have returned to the perspective of the UK Parliament. They share Samuel Johnson’s view that a sovereign “supreme power” is needed to impose order on a community. “In sovereignty there are no gradations”, he wrote in 1775, “…there can be no limited government”.

Few in Britain could comprehend Americans’ fierce allegiance – including taking up arms – to self-government madness, fueled by freedom as a birthright.

Fewer still believed it could ever work. And it would not have been the case if early Americans had not understood that democratic self-reliance begins with, is sustained by, and depends on individual self-control.

Do you remember Julia, the hypothetical faceless woman from the 2012 Obama campaign? Her success in life has been attributed to what government authority has done for her. There was a federal program or grant for all his needs, from education and family planning to small business and retirement security.

The 18th century Julias were not on America’s side. It is more than a little alarming that in the 21st century we struggle to recognize the subtle enemies of our precious self-government and the many threats to it.

It is appropriate to be grateful over dinner next Thursday for self-government. But it is more important to protect it.

––––––v––––––

Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.

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Sovereignty

Threatening violence against elected officials undermines our self-government

Making threats of violence against our governor’s family just shouldn’t happen in Illinois.

Unfortunately, these threats are becoming more common across the country. It is up to all of us to quell any suggestion of violence whenever we encounter it.

On Tuesday, Gov. JB Pritzker said his family received a series of “hateful and threatening” messages after a debunked photo went viral claiming to show his daughter eating at a Chicago restaurant. Pritzker said the threats affected his family’s Thanksgiving plans.

“Hateful and threatening” messages? For something that didn’t even happen? Such threats erode the cohesion that unites our city, our state and our nation.

It’s not just Illinois. Across the country, store workers are being threatened when they ask customers to wear masks. Healthcare workers are at risk when promoting pandemic safety measures.

On Wednesday, it was reported that Arizona law enforcement officers were investigating an apparent death threat against Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. On Tuesday, it was announced that Milwaukee police officers, due to a death threat, will accompany city health inspectors to check for COVID-19 safety violations. Last month, in what was deemed a credible threat, a city police officer allegedly threatened to shoot and kill Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. The officer denied.

As election officials and scrutineers worked to make this election safe and accurate, Benjamin Hovland, chairman of the Election Assistance Commission, said they had received an “abnormal” number of threats. On November 11, the Detroit Free Press reported that someone had threatened to rape and commit acts of violence against the mothers of the canvassers. Georgia’s secretary of state said he received death threats while his office handled the recount in that state. Immunologist Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who is just trying to save our lives from COVID-19, said he and his family have received threats.

In the scariest incident, the FBI revealed an alleged plot to kidnap and execute Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and possibly Virginia Governor Ralph Northam as well. Last month, police reported an alleged threat to kidnap Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.

Threats of violence, even those that are never carried out, are corrosive and divisive. They seek to make us a land ruled by fear rather than public discourse. No one should ignore them under any circumstances.

Let us remember – and remind those who need to hear – that we are better than that.

Send letters to [email protected].

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Sovereignty

Is America virtuous enough for self-reliance?

When President Donald Trump’s lead in several key states began to dwindle in the days after the election, some suggested a grand conspiracy was to blame. As on so many other issues, Americans could do much worse than turn to the author of the Federalist.

Towards the end of Federalist 10, Publius writes: “Besides other impediments, it may be observed that where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonourable ends, communication is always checked by mistrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary.

Publius explains here why a widened republic will not necessarily fall victim to the worst tendencies of republics in history, namely the majority faction and the evils it brings. But I always think of this line when I hear about conspiracies.

In popular government, the twin possibilities built into human nature are often magnified – both the best and the worst – and Publius’ thought attempts to account for both. In this passage, he admits the likelihood, under the Constitution or any government, of attempts by the incumbents to “go after” the public, mislead for personal gain or even to conspire against the good of the country. Although he is not an abject cynic, his general views would suggest that, if there is any advantage in lying, you can count on such a lie (“If impulse and opportunity must coincide, we well know that neither morality nor religious motives can be considered an adequate control.”). But in his point about communicating the conspirators, he also argues that, to the extent that they are aware of their own dishonor, there is a built-in natural and human control. The more people you have “in” a plot, the more likely it is to be discovered. Its discovery means it is likely to fail. Why is it?

For conspiracies to succeed, you need to keep them secret – it’s built into the business itself. If the infamous task undertaken is large in scale, its success is more difficult in that it requires co-conspirators. The plot relies, in the chest of each of them, on the discipline necessary to maintain secrecy. There will probably be an inner battle between the desire to to be powerful, on the one hand, and the desire to be seen as powerful, on the other hand. The first comes from dominant libido. The latter comes from vanity. But if this is true, then Publius suggests that vanity can undermine an ill-intentioned person’s ability to dominate others. Remember that Publius speaks of plots involving “awareness of unjust or dishonorable goals”, suggesting that we are already in the realm of characters who may be unable to resist the temptation to gloat and not possess a strong moral fiber. The desire to be perceived so powerful can lead to the temptation to overthrow everything.

There is also an unstated premise in this narrative that has to do with the basic decency or, dare I say, virtue of the American people. Publius argues in part that “daylight is the best disinfectant”. Whether this is scientifically true or not, it is certainly a view that drives some of the ways we have chosen to govern ourselves. The move toward an open primary system and public committee hearings in Congress—the general move away from “smoke-filled rooms”—is a manifestation of this. The ultimate wisdom of such moves is perhaps debatable. If they make sense, it’s because, to some extent, you can trust the sound judgment of the American people. If a group of politicians or fellow citizens are found to be organizing for their personal benefit and against the public good, then this would be objectionable to American citizens. It would presumably be reprehensible enough for people to act on these objections to stop the newly uncovered plot. I guess even those who are now asking for a collective stay of judgment on the Trump-Biden election wouldn’t dispute it. For them, perhaps, there are higher order considerations which I have not yet named.

I don’t think Publius would think a conspiracy quite elaborate to succeed could succeed under these circumstances. That doesn’t mean he’s naïve. He understands the darker side of human nature and the human capacity for vice and lies. Yet he is convinced that this is only part of the story:

“As there is a degree of depravity in humanity which demands a degree of circumspection and distrust, there are other qualities in human nature which warrant a certain amount of esteem and trust. The Republican Government presupposes the existence of these qualities to a higher degree than any other form. If the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some of us faithfully resembled human character, the inference would be that there is no there is not enough virtue among men to govern themselves; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can prevent them from destroying and devouring one another.

Is there enough virtue in human nature general-for autonomy? As Willmoore Kendall and George Carey observed fifty years ago, the American political order is based on the self-reliance of a “virtuous people.” If this is true, then a deterioration in the moral quality of society as a whole could be said to justify a number of drastic measures (like loading the cockpit). This seems to be where disputes are now justified. Under this conviction, working to restore a healthy public order – to restore the law – becomes the priority; mere procedural concerns (governing laws) or prior standards and commitments (concerning decency and honest dealings with others) are discarded. Such a line of thought, however, seems to dissociate the necessary moral connection between means and ends. It raises, in other words, the possibility of a dangerous consequentialism. In the hands of someone who is corruptible or already corrupted (presumably all of us mortals), that thought is dangerous. Taken to its extreme, the argument could justify a move away from popular government itself.

It is true that nowadays, the personalities who advocate an exit from republicanism are multiplying, even if they will say that this is not necessarily synonymous with arbitrary despotism. Whatever the premises, the implication is that Americans no longer have the capacity for self-government on which Publius relies and which may be needed more than ever. Add to all this the conscious minority status that contemporary conservatives tend to carry with them (whether justified or not), and you have a recipe for conspiracy theories coming from the right.

Conspiracy thinking animates too much public discourse around the election. If we are to be guided by Publius, we must reject it.

For this to be true, perhaps hundreds of election workers in multiple states would have to be “in” the plot (or be its dupes). Counting and declaring votes is a process involving many hands and eyes. It is by design. It involves comptrollers and judges from across our political spectrum and around the world. Seeing a conspiracy in the presidential election outcome can be unpleasant for a number of reasons, but a very important one is what it necessarily suggests about all ordinary people involved in the process. They are either stupid dupes or horrible criminals. I don’t know many people like that. And I don’t think there are enough of them for such a gargantuan task as “stealing” this election. Many of us are people of good will. And I still think there’s enough to have confidence in the process even if the results, at every level, are different from what we ourselves would prefer.

Conservatives must always bring to public discourse an awareness of the duality of human nature. I have no objection to pursuing leads, ironing out inconsistencies, or following red flags. No one should. People are capable of both nobility and lowliness and there is no reason to assume that either is missing from the process.

But if there really is a conspiracy going on, then those who work in polls every few years, or buy voting systems in between, or administer updates to them, order supplies, or tabulate results, should be particularly terrible examples of vice, deficient either in intellectual insight or in moral virtue. Unless their infamy is so deep, their cunning so well-developed, their “unjust or dishonorable purposes” so deep-seated, and their skill in executing their aims so honed that a nationwide conspiracy can succeed, then it would just be ‘it works.

I don’t think Publius would buy it. And neither do you.

Justin B. Litke is an assistant professor in the Department of Politics and a member of the Center for the Study of Statesmanship at the Catholic University of America.

Image: Reuters

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