An old man’s learned sense about politics and today’s threats to individual freedom

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By Ronald Trowbridge

I have never written a piece like this one—about “my sense is.”   I have published hundreds of articles on political thought, and my format has always been:  state a thesis, then let the facts do the talking.  I have been a student of cerebral political thought since my junior year in college, then as an elected Ann Arbor, Michigan City Councilman; then as an appointee by President Reagan in his administration in Washington, D. C.; then as chief of staff for Chief Justice Warren Burger working in his chambers at the Supreme Court; then as a vice president at Hillsdale College in charge of the college’s publications and the external politics of those publications.  I worked in Washington, D. C. with Congress for ten years.  I know how sausage is made.

Here are my cumulative senses today, as a result of decades of political thought and experience.  Growing old enables this perception of a continuum:

One, the United States has less freedom than it has ever had, and it’s only getting worse.

Two, there is greater redistribution of income in this country than there has ever been, and it’s only getting more so.  Governments do not make money; they only take it from citizens and spread it around arbitrarily to others.  Such is coerced charity.  What makes this difficult to resolve easily or fairly is that such charity usually, though to be sure not always, goes to good causes.

Three, government laws continue unabated to increase in number, especially administrative rules– which are not laws but have the force of law by dint of denial of government funds for non compliance. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “Since l993, the agencies of the administrative state have issued more than 100,000 rules, and never fewer than 3,000 in a year.”  It is, instead, the “necessary and proper” clause of the Constitution that is charged to set laws:  Congress is charged in Article 1, Section 8 “To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers [enumerated in Section 8] and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States or in any department or officer thereof.”

Four, even members of Congress are impassioned to write too many laws.  C. S. Lewis pointed out brilliantly this driven mindset: 

“On the modern theory of sovereignty . . . total freedom to make what laws it pleases, superiority to law because it is the source of law, is the characteristic of every state; of democratic states no less than of monarchical.  That doctrine has proved so popular that it now seems to many a mere tautology.  We conceive with difficulty that it was ever new because we imagine with difficulty how political life can ever have gone on without it.  We take it for granted that the highest power in the State, whether that is a despot or a democratically elected assembly, will be wholly free to legislate and incessantly engage in legislation.”

I have sometimes thought in my Walter Mitty world, wouldn’t it be refreshing to have a candidate for Congress announce in his or her campaign:  “If elected, I promise not to introduce a single law”?

Five, my concluding sense is that the best hope for freedom in the country remains at the level of the states and the 10th Amendment.  I myself will give money, and have, at the state level, but not federal—the devouring behemoth seeking to pass only more laws and gain greater control.

Postscript:  I moved from Texas to the Bay Area in California four months ago to live near my daughter.  This area is consumed by redistribution of income and identity politics with a passionate intensity.  It’s even risky at times for me to report that I worked for President Reagan, especially when speaking in academic circles.  Education here—in succumbing to identity politics—has done so at the expense of free speech.

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