The Need To Pay Attention

In a speech in Dublin, Ireland, on July 10, 1790, John Philpot Curran stated, “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.” The quote has been changed slightly and attributed to other people, but that is the original quote. That quote is particularly applicable right now as there are those (some in our government) who are blatantly attacking one of the pillars of our representative republic.

On July 6th, I posted an article about the Supreme Court decision regarding the requirement that electors in the Electoral College vote for their state’s popular vote winner. That decision was a win for the Constitution. However, that decision is not the last we will hear on the subject.

Yesterday The New York Sun posted an editorial noting the next attack on the Electoral College. Understand that the Electoral College is what stands between the representative republic we now have and mob rule. If you believe that New York, California, and a few other populous states are well run, then abolishing the Electoral College would allow those states to run the entire country. That is a scary thought.

The editorial notes:

Now that the Supreme Court has vouchsafed the power of a state to require its presidential electors to vote in line with their state’s popular vote, a new question glimmers in the constitutional mist: Could a state require its electors to vote against the wishes of the state’s own voters? That might seem a ridiculous question. Feature, though, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

It’s a workaround designed to commit the states to use the Electoral College to deliver the presidency to the winner of the national popular vote. It’s the first thing that came to mind when the Supreme Court today unanimously concluded that states have the power to punish faithless electors. Most justices credited the language in Article 2, which grants states the power to appoint electors.

The key phrase is that each state shall appoint its electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” The court, in an opinion by Justice Kagan, reckons this gives the states the power to attach conditions to the electors it appoints, such as the requirement that they vote for the candidate their home-state voters prefer. It can punish them if they don’t.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, though, is a scheme under which states agree to instruct their electors to ignore what their own state’s voters want and, instead, vote for the winner of the national popular vote. The compact goes into effect when it has been ratified by states whose combined electoral vote count is 270, i.e., enough to choose a president.

The editorial concludes:

The Cancel Culture Is Beginning To Cancel Their Former Heroes

The New York Sun posted an article yesterday about Princeton University’s decision to remove the name of Woodrow Wilson from its school of public affairs. This reverses a decision made four years ago when the topic was also brought up.

The article reports:

…That was in 2016, when Princeton’s trustees, reacting to concerns within the school community and given impetus by Black Lives Matter, appointed a committee to appraise the 28th president of America, decided to continue to honor him.

At issue then was “the position he took as Princeton’s president to prevent the enrollment of black students and the policies he instituted as U.S. president that resulted in the re-segregation of the federal civil service.” Wilson’s name was on not only the School of Public & International Affairs but also a residential college. The board followed the committee’s recommendation to keep Wilson’s name. It issued what seemed to be an important statement.

“Contextualization is imperative,” it said. “Princeton must openly and candidly recognize that Wilson, like other historical figures, leaves behind a complex legacy with both positive and negative repercussions, and that the use of his name implies no endorsement of views and actions that conflict with the values and aspirations of our times.” As the cancel movement spreads today, that plea for context seems even more important.

The article concludes:

So where does that leave us? Writing in 2016 of Wilson’s views on race, scholar David Kennedy said that “We can wish that he had possessed qualities of imagination and empathy that would have liberated him from those views, but he did not.” Kennedy concluded that “In a world where there is no shortage of evil, it surely seems perverse to highlight the imperfections, rather than the positive accomplishments, of those who tried to do their best.”

Four years after echoing Professor Kennedy’s judgment, Princeton has suddenly zeroed in on Wilson’s imperfections. Whether that will serve the cause of racial understanding at the university remains to be seen. How sad it would be were one of two Princeton graduates to lead America and Princeton’s only Nobel laureate in peace — not to mention the coiner of the motto “Princeton in the Nation’s Service” — confined to the margin of the university’s institutional memory.

We seem to have lost the concept of viewing history in its context. Slavery and racism are part of America’s past, but slavery is gone and racism is not the acceptable order of the day, as it once was. Renaming things and tearing down statues will not change what was. It is time instead to deal with what is and work to make it better.

The Search For Significance

This article has two sources–a New York Sun editorial posted today and an article by Scott Johnson posted at Power Line Blog today. Both articles deal with the ‘surprise’ overwhelming victory of Boris Johnson in the British election yesterday.

The New York Sun notes:

It’s hard to overstate how wonderful is the news that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has won a mandate to, after all these years of struggle, lead a restoration of British sovereignty and independence. We may have been in that fight from the early days, but we don’t mind saying that we’ve had moments of doubt, particularly during the past year, that Britain would prevail. All the sweeter the results being tallied this evening.

This is only partly in respect of Brexit. It was, certainly, the overriding issue in the election. It is the very reason why the election was called when it was. Once again, the polls got it wrong. On the eve of the vote, the gods of polling were predicting that the race had become too close to call. A hung parliament couldn’t be ruled out. Some hazarded that Labor’s Jeremy Corbyn might end up at 10 Downing Street.

In the event, the British people delivered a resounding “no” to all that Mr. Corbyn stood for — the resentment of Jews and Israel, the embrace of socialism, and another Brexit referendum. The result is that Labor’s drubbing stands as its worst since 1935. No less than Jonathan Chait rushed out a column to mark that American leftists thought Corbyn’s inevitable victory would be their model against Trumpism.

Which is one way to mark a phenomenon that has been glimpsed throughout this battle since 2016. The phenomenon can be put this way: “As goes Brexit, so goes Trump.” In a way, the Brexit referendum turned out to be a predictor, or even a precursor, of Mr. Trump’s triumph in the election. The victory by Mr. Johnson and the Conservative Party today could well be a precursor of Mr. Trump in 2020. On verra.

Scott Johnson at Power Line Blog notes:

The election has already produced a ruling cliche to describe the results: Labour’s “red wall” crumbled. (In the UK, the colors are reversed: blue represents the Tories, red Labour.) Among the many seats in its “red wall” that has now crumbled, for example, is Tony Blair’s Sedgefield constituency. The Tories picked up a shocking number of seats that historically belonged to Labour in the industrial and rural north. It overstates the results to observe that Labour is contracting to a metropolitan party, but the tendency seems to be implicit in the outcome.

From a distance, at least, Boris proved himself an ebullient and optimistic campaigner, and not just by contrast with the dour and deceitful Corbyn. Boris staked the election campaign on the theme of getting Brexit done. His performance made me think of Steve Hayward’s observation in Churchill on Leadership: “[F]rom time to time, and especially in a crisis, the genuine leader must simply exert his personal force and summon up his willfulness.” Boris seems to me to have met the moment with some part of this quality in leading his party to its remarkable victory yesterday.

The British people voted for Brexit years ago. The ruling elite chose to ignore that vote. The people removed the blockage. I suspect we are going to see similar things in America next year–those who have blocked the immigration and economic policies of President Trump might find themselves on the unemployment line.