My Soul Arises Indignant

“My soul arises indignant at the avaricious and immoral turpitude which so vile a conduct displays” so thundered James Jackson right after Alexander Hamilton released his “Report on Public Credit”. Did you know finances could be so heart-pounding, moral, and well thunderous? I didn’t. Mr. Jackson also invoked “rapacious wolves” in one sentence. Modern day politicians have a thing or two to learn: their vocabularies are tiny, and one tenth as interesting as their forebears.

But what is “turpitude”? I am told: depravity, wickedness. And “rapacious”? Aggressively greedy or grasping. The first word just makes me think turpentine. I imagine I just demonstrated the smallness of my own vocabulary.

I am making great progress in “Alexander Hamilton” by Chernow, but terrible progress in writing about it. What can I say? Chernow has definitely taken a side, and he did that practically from page one. Yes, the author has an opinion and it is that Hamilton is a spectacular human being. Currently I’m prone to agree. But let’s consider my evidence: all of one book where the author’s personal persuasion is relatively clear.

I’ll close on this interesting note. “For Hamilton, Madison’s apostasy was a painful personal betrayal. [Madison fought parts of “Report on Public Credit”.] … This falling-out was to be more than personal, for the rift between Hamilton and Madison precipitated the start of the two-party system in America.” Who knew?

Alexander Hamilton, Episode 1

Being a good Chicagoan, I have seen and loved “Alexander Hamilton”, the play. Being a nerd, I have started the book which inspired the play. And being a person of drama, I must rank them: the book wins.

Reading Ron Chernow’s Hamilton is like drinking from a fire hose of good words, none wasted. His lack of waste produces force, weight, power. I am even tired sometimes reading his work, but it is a delirious, happy tired. The West Indies are glowing – I can feel their heat – the colonies are barely formed, fractured, confused, and yet I see current American culture nascent in them, and Hamilton is America: young, passionate, unconventional, loud, calculating, risky, informed, and pulsating with confidence (and a host of bad things which can be left for a later post).

Here are the words that piqued my interest, that I simply didn’t know, or that I had once known and am so happy to remember.

purblind
“Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton–purblind and deaf but gallant to the end–was a stoic woman who never yielded to self-pity.”
– having impaired or defective vision

bombazine, de rigueur, bespoke
“Wrapped in shawls and garbed in the black bombazine dresses that were de rigueur for widows, she wore a starched white ruff and frilly white cap that bespoke a simpler era in American life.
– a twill fabric constructed of a silk or rayon warp and worsted filling, often dyed black for mourning wear.
– required by etiquette or current fashion
– dealing in or producing custom-made articles (especially clothing)

betokened
“The dark eyes that gleamed behind large metal-rimmed glasses–those same dark eyes that had once enchanted a young officer on General George Washington’s staff–betokened a sharp intelligence, a fiercely indomitable spirit, and a memory that refused to surrender the past.”
– to give evidence of

disgorged
“Almost by default, the giant enterprise fell to her fourth son, John Church Hamilton, who belatedly disgorged a seven-volume history of his father’s exploits.”
– to discharge or let go of rapidly or forcefully

hagiographic
“Before this hagiographic tribute was completed, however, Eliza Hamilton died at ninety-seven on November 9, 1854.”
– the writing of the lives of saints; idealizing biography

I’m only to page 4 so I will close with this (from the prologue):

In all probability, Alexander Hamilton is the foremost political figure in American history who never attained the presidency, yet he probably had a much deeper and more lasting impact than many who did. Hamilton was the supreme double threat among the founding fathers, at once thinker and doer, sparkling theoretician and masterful executive… As the first treasury secretary and principal architect of the new government, Hamilton took constitutional principles and infused them with expansive life, turning abstractions into institutional realities. He had a pragmatic mind that minted comprehensive programs. In contriving the smoothly running machinery of a modern nation-state–including a budget system, a funded debt, a tax system, a central bank, a customs service, and a coast guard–and justifying them in some of America’s most influential state papers, he set a high-water mark for administrative competence that has never been equaled. If Jefferson provided the essential poetry of American political discourse, Hamilton established the prose of American statecraft. No other founder articulated such a clear and prescient vision of America’s future political, military, and economic strength or crafted such ingenious mechanisms to bind the nation together.

The Difference Between Morality and Policy

Faced with the following dilemma, what do you do: vote for a good man with bad policy, or a bad man with good policy?

Obviously my question is inspired by the 2016 US Presidential race.

Obama is a good man, but his policies may not be ones I agree with.

Trump is a bad man, but (if we knew his policies) I may agree with them.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine I actually know Trump’s policies and agree with them.

And, because Barack is a bit more interesting to me than Hillary, let’s say Trump is running against Barack Obama.

Do you vote for a leader primarily because of their policies? Or do you vote for them primarily because of who they are?

Let’s put this another way. Which factor carries more weight: a leader’s intended policy or his character?

This is unfortunately impossible to measure so the answer is ultimately personal, subjective, and eternally nebulous in value.

But it’s still a good thought exercise.

I can see a party, The Republican Party, ushering in a man who verbally and physically mistreats women, yet as Obama said: “You claim the mantle of the party of family values, and this is the guy you nominate,”. A better point I couldn’t have made myself.

I don’t know how individuals get chosen by a party, in great detail, so I can’t say exactly how this inconsistency was given life. Perhaps the Republican Party was never the party of family values? Or perhaps, like all individuals on earth, the party is trying to achieve a goal and isn’t always succeeding.

Here’s the deal with a head of a democracy: they are only a head. The 535 congressmen, judicial system, and millions serving in government agencies limit his power by having power of their own. This ultimately makes the answer easy: you vote for a good man with bad policy.

Why? The effects of his policy will be limited by all the other parts of government, but no one can stop the affects of his image, his person, his attitude, his style of thinking. And, unfortunately, this is the hardest to measure. But we are less rational creatures than we’d like to think. Therefore, I think the policy intentions of one limited man mean far less than the content of his character. Which of the things your parents told you do you remember? Practically nothing. What of who they are do you remember? Basically all of it. What we remember, and therefore what we are compelled by, is the character of a person.

Is Barak Obama inspiring? You bet. The husband of one wife, molester of none, and who can put together a sentence. Is Trump inspiring? Only to tears. The husband of three, molester of some, and who has difficulty constructing a sentence of any sophistication (let alone depth).

Also character affects policy. A bad man can’t be trusted. But a good man (please forgive the over simplicity) first can be trusted and is aware of his own frailty, which in turn means open to change. So, if push comes to shove, prioritizing morality over policy makes sense. In theory.

In reality, we have a bad man (of sorts) heading a good country (of sorts) down a path invisible to nearly all of us (because, again, what are his policies?!?). I distinctly think the primary reason we don’t know his policies is that he doesn’t either.

May God Bless America.

Abuse of Power

Abuse of power is one of the worst things. And when you love democracy and the noble things it theoretically stands for, it’s hard to watch when that democracy becomes the thing it’s built to stop: exploitation, the powerful silencing the weak, a government ruining its people. This is corruption. And you wouldn’t imagine seeing it in Canada.

But there it is.

When my friend first told me about his situation, I was stunned, wasn’t sure how much was true, and thought “isn’t this the kind of thing that happens in Russia?” Second thought: how much of this happens in the good old US of A? Likely more than we’d like, but even more than that: it’s likely more than we want to know.

If you’re still reading, I’m going to force you to know one thing: on Thursday, the Canadian government will likely destroy a family business for its own profit. Again, Russia, right? This doesn’t happen to our cuddly, maple-syrupy, Justin Bieber-producing, friends. Aren’t they a democracy? Reasonable folk? It would seem all people are corruptible.

This 50-year-old business does something very boring but extremely well: it produces electrical guidebooks. The books explain the laws on electrical wiring, so it quotes part of the law. And the family business, P.S. Knight company, is the nation’s largest producer of this book. But a single Canadian agency (the Canadian Standards Association) recently decided they wanted to make money. So what do they do? Produce electrical guidebooks and charge P.S. Knight with violating copyright law. And if you’re the government, and you want to make even more money, just put P.S. Knight out of business, right? Especially in Russia.

But this is Canada! Here are the rules being violated: the government does not exist to make a profit and should not participate in commerce (this is an obvious conflict of interest, since the government makes the rules governing commerce), the law is public meaning the government can not charge for reprinting the law, and (possibly most importantly) this government officially declared full approval of all uses of this text to P.S. Knight decades ago. This boring little company has been doing the same thing for 50 years, doing it so well it became the leader in the industry, and now the Canadian government has decided it wants a piece of that money pie.

There’s only one way to do this: put that family business out of business.

They might do that Thursday, and if they win, that business will go under, the family will lose its entire fortune, that same family will go into debt because of punishing fines from CSA and the related law suit, everybody at the business will lose their jobs, the country will lose a half-century old, preferred, and time-tested product, the corrupt parts of Canadian government will know the victory of how far they can “stretch the rules” and will be emboldened to take it even farther, and Canada will lose part of its democracy.

This is abuse of power. This is the government ruining its people. And this is not democracy.

Full story here: http://www.restorecsa.com/news/article/january-12th-court-hearing