A Modest Proposal for Making America, and the World, Great Again - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
A Modest Proposal for Making America, and the World, Great Again

Hello, Tim Draper. Break California up into three States? High time!

What might be the larger implications of tugging on a loose thread of the sweater that is the Megastates that dominate the world? They weave a garment that has for centuries engulfed the world in war and which lingers on, making the world gratuitously sweat.

So, let us place Draper’s scheme to divide California in three into the Grand Scheme of Things: the decline and fall of the Megastate. Where to begin?

Back in High School civics, I — you, too, probably — was taught that the first president of the United States of America was George Washington. Not quite true. The first president of the United States of America was John Hanson, of Port Tobacco Parish, Maryland.

Once upon a time Hanson was recognized as one of America’s greatest statesman. There is still a highway named for him. But there’s a catch. He was president under the original charter for the United States of America, called the Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union.

I was, and probably you were, also taught that the Articles were defective. How so? They provided insufficient power to the federal government. The States thus supplanted the Articles, in 1789, by ratification of the Constitution of the United States.

The Constitution, which, as amended, still endures created USA 2.0 as it were. General Washington became the first president, not of the United States of America but under the U.S. Constitution, and the leader of the executive branch of government.

The Articles promised:

The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever.

The better to secure and perpetuate mutual friendship and intercourse among the people of the different States in this Union, the free inhabitants of each of these States, paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice excepted, shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several States; and the people of each State shall free ingress and regress to and from any other State, and shall enjoy therein all the privileges of trade and commerce, subject to the same duties, impositions, and restrictions as the inhabitants thereof respectively, provided that such restrictions shall not extend so far as to prevent the removal of property imported into any State, to any other State, of which the owner is an inhabitant; provided also that no imposition, duties or restriction shall be laid by any State, on the property of the United States, or either of them.

Even though I myself am somewhat of a pauper and a vagabond, I like the sound of this. Still, the consensus of historians about the Articles is summarized succinctly by History.com:

Stemming from wartime urgency, its progress was slowed by fears of central authority and extensive land claims by states before was it was ratified on March 1, 1781. Under these articles, the states remained sovereign and independent, with Congress serving as the last resort on appeal of disputes. Congress was also given the authority to make treaties and alliances, maintain armed forces and coin money.

However, the central government lacked the ability to levy taxes and regulate commerce, issues that led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 for the creation of new federal laws.”

Hmm. A limited central government without the power to tax or to regulate?

These lacunae sound to this card-carrying archconservative and minor leader of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy more like a feature than a bug. Yes, back in the Days of Yore the 13 colonies and their successor states — and their first attempted union — were weak.

Small, and vulnerable, America was at risk of being a plaything of foreign Emperors.

The Canadians could have swooped in and burned down the Capitol! The British, in fact, did. Every few blocks in the grand avenues of our capital city one encounters a traffic circle. Apocryphal lore has it that these were originally designed as gun emplacements to keep the Redcoats from sweeping in too easily and doing it again. Although this is mere lore, it reflects the sense of young America’s vulnerability.

How times change! In return for our beating Nazi Germany in World War II America dismantled the British empire, the last of the “Big Five” Empires that persisted into the 20th century. Now the USA is the world’s only hyperpower.

As a hyperpower, the power to tax, notoriously involving the power to destroy, and the power to regulate commerce have devolved from blessings into curses against which most conservatives volubly complain.

But, wait a moment! Is it true that America is the world’s only hyperpower? Well, yes, in point of fact, it is true both economically and militarily.

The economy of our currently greatest imaginary hobgoblin, the Russian Federation, is less than one-tenth the size of the USA’s. Russia’s economy is only a little more than half the size of California’s. Russia’s economy is smaller than that of Canada or South Korea, neither of which are perceived as existential threats.

America has 14,612 military aircraft to the Russian Federation’s 4,827. America has ten aircraft supercarriers (and two on order). Russia has one balky antique carrier, accompanied by an oceangoing tugboat to tow it back to port when it breaks down.

Russia has nine (rather small) foreign military bases, ten if one disputes Crimea as under Russian sovereignty. Most of these are in former constituent republics.

Notwithstanding nostalgia for the USSR, Russia is no hyperpower.

Nuclear, yes. Hyper, no. Nor can it afford to become one.

Meanwhile, the United States has 800 foreign bases.

I realize that Angela Merkel was born in communist East Germany. Still, do we really need to keep 34,805 troops stationed in Germany? Germany, while formidable, is no longer a frightening nihilistic state. Annoyingly officious, yes. Scary, no.

One could go on. The United States military budget dwarfs that of any other nation. Ours is, by some accounts, as big as that of the next 14 counties, 12 of whom are allies, combined. Our two putative rivals among those 14 — Russia and China — have ethnically complicated continental-sized territories of their own to defend. Their militaries are stretched perilously thin.

China’s economy, while notionally approaching that of the United States, is something of a Fata Morgana when looked at on a per capita basis. The average income in the People’s Republic of China is around $8,100 a year. That’s about one-seventh that of an average American’s at $57,000. Yes, a citizen of China’s income is higher when calculated in purchasing power parity. But it nowhere near rivals that of the average American.

Notwithstanding its magnificent growth thanks to the policies put in place by the greatest supply-side leader in modern history, Chairman Deng “To Get Rich Is Glorious” Xiaoping, and nobly advanced by its current President Xi Jinping, it will be a long, long time, if ever, before the Middle Kingdom catches up with America, Meiguo, the “Beautiful Land.” China cannot afford to rival us militarily.

Militarily, China has demonstrated 6,000 years of keen disinterest in projecting military force outside its borders, other than the occasional punitive strike against an insubordinate neighbor. And as Peter Drucker once observed, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Sustained force projection runs directly counter to China’s settled military doctrine. China prevails by assimilation, not confrontation. Consult Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. China, notwithstanding its ambitions, is no hyperpower. She might, with good governance and good fortune, become an economic one in the 22nd century. Let’s wish her well. The comparison between the U.S. and China is one between apples and mandarin oranges.

So, yes, America is the world’s sole hyperpower. And so no, an America without a strong central government would not be particularly vulnerable. The prevailing condition — American vulnerability — that in the 18th and 19th centuries argued for a strong national government now, as we are the 21st century’s hyperpower, argues for a modest national government.

How best to accomplish that?

Human beings, of which Americans are an admirable version, are natively “localitarian.” Consider what I presented elsewhere as “the kind of common sense wisdom shown by Alexander Hamilton, who during the debates of the Convention of the State of New York on the adoption of the federal Constitution, said:

‘There are certain social principles in human nature, from which we may draw the most solid conclusion with respect to the conduct of individuals and of communities. We love our families more than our neighbors; we love our neighbors more than our countrymen in general. The human affections, like the solar heat, lose their intensity as they depart from the centre, and become languid in proportion to the expansion of the circle in which they act.’”

So, the fascinating larger implications of Tim Draper’s proposal to break up California begin to come into view.

President William Jefferson Clinton famously said in his 1996 State of the Union address, “the era of big government is over.” This was prophetic.

And yet…

The conservative movement has long been thwarted in its noble efforts to seriously downsize the federal government. Why? I contend that this failure was because conservatives failed to think Big — meaning Small — enough.

Over the years I’ve watched many of my friends launch astute yet ineffectual efforts to cut the government of the United States down to size.

I thank my libertarian friends at Cato, who share my passion for smaller government, for helping to shrink federal spending from a disgusting $400 billion a year, at Cato’s founding, to a mere $4 trillion/year today.

I am a staunch, enthusiastic, supporter of my friend Grover Norquist’s pledge to keep officials from raising tax rates or eliminating deductions except to reduce rates. I’d turn it into a Constitutional Amendment if I could. That said, it seems to have shifted Uncle Sam’s funding mechanism rather than shrinking him down to bathtub size.

My dear friend Steve Moore founded, and my dear friend David McIntosh capably leads, the Club for Growth in an effort to elect small-government conservatives to Congress. It worked! However, there is some evidence that once small-government conservatives get elected, most, in practice, stop being small-government conservatives.

I was on the Tea Party barricades when Mark Meckler and Jennie Beth Martin were choreographing the torches and pitchforks of the Tea Party Patriots. We created a Red Wave in the 2010 election, which, however, was followed by a wave of red ink.

More recently I’ve watched Mark Meckler’s revving up a beau geste of convening an “Article V” gathering to make a litany of rather shopworn changes to the U.S. Constitution. I observe my progressive populist friend Larry Lessig attempting to get Big Money out of Big Politics. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. In short:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix….

I suggest that this futility shows that we have failed to think Small enough. That may be changing.

Over the past few years we have seen movements of states pushing against the structure of Megastate authority. Britain voted to exit the European Union. There is a well-grounded fear that other nations might.

Now we observe the spectacle of the thwarted Catalan independence movement. (Count me among the Catalonia Libre crowd. Long live the Crown of Aragon!)

And now, Cal3!

Let’s take a look in the rear-view mirror to see where we are coming from in an effort to know where we ought to be going to.

In the 16thcentury Ivan the Formidable (formerly, and still by the Novgorodians, known as the Terrible), in successful resistance to the Mongol occupation, united the many Russian-speaking principalities into Russia, elevating himself from the Grand Prince of Moscow to the Tsar (the title itself derived from Caesar) of all the Rus.

In the last couple of centuries, the twenty-five German Kingdoms, Grand Duchies, Duchies, Principalities, and Cities were unified into one nation-state. This occurred after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and, fittingly enough, was accomplished in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.

Accuse me of Prussian collusion but I say: Time to exit the Hall of Mirrors. Thanks, but no thanks, Otto von Bismarck. Give us back Prussia and the lost 24 principalities!

Seventeen sister republics of the Apennine Peninsula during Napoleonic times make up what is now Italy. The irredentist among us — like me — might take a stand for restoring the yet earlier thirty-one States, Kingdoms, Grand Duchy, Duchies, Prince-Bishoprics, Principalities, Marquisates, and Republics. Giuseppe Garibaldi, the world is poorer by the extinction of Marquisates. Give them back!

With the rising populist tide, one can more easily imagine the European Union dissolving itself, à la the USSR (and Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia), returning to its constituent republics, than one can imagine the EU hanging together.

Adieu Brussels.

Hail Fredonia?

All this time, Switzerland has been pointing the way to the future. Yes, Switzerland, chocolate-and-watch-making, secret-numbered-bank-account-holding, army-knife-wielding, gun-toting, crossbow-apple-from-head shooting Switzerland.

Switzerland is a loose federation of 26 cantons. Per Wikipedia:

Spanning the intersection of Germanic and Romance Europe, Switzerland comprises four main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Although the majority of the population are German speaking, Swiss national identity is rooted in a common historical background, shared values such as federalism and direct democracy and Alpine symbolism. Due to its linguistic diversity, Switzerland is known by a variety of native names: Schweiz [ˈʃvaɪts] (German); Suisse [sɥis(ə)] (French); Svizzera [ˈzvittsera] (Italian); vand Svizra [ˈʒviːtsrɐ] or [ˈʒviːtsʁːɐ] (Romansh). On coins and stamps, Latin (frequently shortened to “Helvetia“) is used instead of the four living languages.

Switzerland is one of the most developed countries in the world, with the highest nominal wealth per adult and the eighth-highest per capita gross domestic product according to the IMF.

Switzerland ranks at or near the top globally in several metrics of national performance, including government transparency, civil liberties, quality of life, economic competitiveness, and human development. Zürich and Geneva have each been ranked among the top cities in the world in terms of quality of life….

Why? I contend that the economic and social blessings enjoyed by the Swiss derive in part from its status as a loose confederation of cantons, i.e. microstates. How is Switzerland governed? Wikipedia teaches:

The President of the Confederation, colloquially known as the President of Switzerland or Federal President, is the head of Switzerland‘s seven-member Federal Council, the country’s executive branch. Elected by the Federal Assembly for one year, the president chairs the meetings of the Federal Council and undertakes special representational duties. First among equals, the president has no powers over and above the other six councillors and continues to head her/his department. Traditionally the duty rotates among the members in order of seniority and the previous year’s vice-president becomes president. The president is not the Swiss head of state; the entire Federal Council is the collective head of state.

When traveling abroad, the president does so only in their capacity as head of their department. Visiting heads of state are received by the seven members of the Federal Council together, rather than by the President of the Confederation. Treaties are signed on behalf of the full Council, with all Federal Council members signing letters of credence and other documents of the kind.

And let it be noted that the president of Switzerland typically takes public transit to work. Now, that’s my kind of president.

As Emma Lazarus wrote (about the Statue of Liberty):

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips.

Storied pomp? Forget Air Force One. Let the president fly coach.

Enough with the Imperial presidency. Switzerland points the way.

I’m an old-line archconservative who was a virulent anticommunist back when there were communists outside of academe, who disdained fluoridated water long before bottled water became a thing, served as a Tea Party leader (Co-Emcee of the Boston Tea Party rally on July 4 2009), is a friend of the House Freedom Caucus, and remains a True Believer in Smaller Government.

So, now?

Time to think Big by thinking Small.

Really, really Small.

Time to disaggregate the Megastates assembled during the latter half of the Second Millennium, a consolidation which gained critical mass over the past couple of centuries leading to epic 20th century world wars. Replace them with confederations.

Mikhail Gorbachev, a true visionary, set a marvelous precedent in dissolving the USSR into its constituent republics. I have seen the future, and it works!

Let the USA now up the ante by emulating the noble example of Gorbachev and dissolve our union, reconstituting ourselves as a confederation. Reassemble the United States into its 50 constituent Republics (56 including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) loosely affiliated under the revived Articles of Confederation.

I recommend that we append the Bill of Rights to the Articles. This may be redundant. Better safe than sorry. Perhaps, add some measures inspired by the constitution of the high-functioning Switzerland.

Then, let Steve Bannon encourage Europe, Germany and Italy to follow suit. The Russian Federation most likely will quickly realize how much better life will be as the Russian Confederation when the Kievan Rus no longer live under the hegemony of the Grand Duchy of Moscow (and its successors). Let the new United States of America — strictly by the power of example conjoined with liberal amounts of vodka — encourage a return to the loose Slavic federation of yore.

If not, no worries. Russia has been the perpetual subject, not the source, of invasions. Were Moscow, weirdly, to invade us, surely the Texas Air Force and Texas Rangers can handle it. Contrariwise, California (as currently constituted at least) likely would welcome liberation by invading Russian troops with cries of Comrade! If so, so be it. Let L.A. and San Francisco become Moscow’s headache, not ours.

Really, no grounds for geopolitical anxiety about the Bear. Russia is the Grand Opera of nations. She can be overbearing but overall trends affectionate.

China surely will prove nonbelligerent and might be quick to emulate America’s, Europe’s, Germany’s, Italy’s, and Russia’s splendid example. The wisdom of Lao Tzu is embedded in the DNA of the Chinese. As Old Long Ears observed in that great spiritual, political and social classic, the Tao Te Ching, in Chapter 80:

A small country has fewer people.
Though there are machines that can work ten to a hundred times faster
than man, they are not needed.
The people take death seriously and do not travel far.
Though they have boats and carriages, no on uses them.
Though they have armor and weapons, no one displays them.
Men return to the knotting of rope in place of writing.
Their food is plain and good, their clothes fine but simple,
their homes secure;
They are happy in their ways.
Though they live within sight of their neighbors,
And crowing cocks and barking dogs are heard across the way,
Yet they leave each other in peace while they grow old and die.

“Leave each other in peace….”

Time to Think Big.


Think Small.

Make America (and the world) Great Again by restoring nations to loose but loyal confederations of small states.

Let’s think small so that the natural power of affection for our families and our neighbors will work as a force to keep our governments good.

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