America on the Precipice: Why 2020 Truly is a Seminal Election

“This is the most important election of your lives!” This claim has been repeated almost ad nauseam, to the point of being nearly meaningless. How many times have you heard this in the span of the average election cycle? Perhaps even more revealing is the number of elections you have heard this said about. Because of its frequent usage, this claim likely elicits a skeptical response from anyone with common sense as, yet again, it is bandied about in the run up to November 3, 2020. Yet this election appears to be a special case — when one examines the policies of Joe Biden’s Democratic Party, one finds the most hostile agenda to Americanism and The Founding since 1860. This may seem to be an outlandish claim, but this essay will demonstrate it to be the case.

The Democratic Party in the Election of 1860 was fractured between several camps. Even when many Southern states seceded from the Union after the election of Abraham Lincoln, they didn’t completely agree on the reasoning for doing so. But, beginning in the 1830s,  John C. Calhoun and others had begun to put forth the “positive good” argument in favor of slavery, claiming that slavery was beneficial to all parties involved. Rather than being considered a necessary evil, slavery was practiced out of Christian paternalism on behalf of the slaves, who could not govern themsleves. This was clearly evident in the thinking of at least some of the leaders of the seceding states. While certainly not the view of all of those in the Confederacy, Alexander Hamilton Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech” made it all too clear how far some in the Confederacy took this position. He said in part: “The prevailing ideas entertained by him [Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen of at the time of formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. … Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error.” Alexander Hamilton Stephens himself was not a fringe figure in the Confederacy, but its vice president. The Confederacy’s vice president explicitly rejected the idea espoused in the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal,” in favor of race based conceptions of natural rights and the ability to self govern. Stephens and those of the “positive good” school rejected one of the most central tenets of our republic, that each man has been “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” by claiming instead that only the superior race, his own, had such God-given qualities. 

The Civil War resulting from secession and the formation of the Confederacy is to this day the most deadly in this country’s history. An estimated 620,000 men died in combat, roughly 2% of the entire population at the time. That number exceeds all U.S. battle field deaths in the entire 20th century. Contextualized another way, if the Civil War were to occur today,  that would be roughly 6 million killed in battle. This toll does not even include those who died of disease while serving in the armies, which likely numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Nevertheless, this substantial carnage ended with the reunification of the United States of America, and, eventually, the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. Clearly, the Confederacy’s rejection of the Founding had staggering consequences in both real and abstract terms.

Until recently, the greatest rejection of the Founding, and the greatest threat to its principles since the Civil War came from the Progressive Movement. They claimed that the Founders were men of their time, and that the ideas they had held to be transcendent were, in fact, only relevant within that time period. Instead, the Progressives claimed that the country had changed fundamentally, to the degree that the Constitution, and our entire system of governance, must also change, in order to fit the new times in which they said the world had arrived. Instead of a limited government, they advocated for a strong centralized government staffed by specially trained bureaucrats. Yet while they rejected the Founders’ methods, Progressives at least claimed to be pursuing and upholding the Founders’ ideals. As Woodrow Wilson would put it: “The Declaration of Independence did not mention the questions of our day. It is of no consequence to us unless we can translate its general terms into examples of the present day…” By discarding the document itself as outdated, Progressives were able to disregard the concrete principles explicitly set out in it, instead substituting their own “translation”, which could be tailored to suit their own ends. Those ends, a transformation of limited government into centralized management, are seen now most clearly in the so-called fourth “branch” of government, the administrative state. Progressives grew the government far beyond any limit envisaged by the Founders, and conservatives would argue that they did so at great detriment to the Republic, the Constitution, and individual liberty. However, the Progressives at least claimed to be acting in the interest of furthering the Founders’ aims.

Today’s Democratic Party is not nearly as delicate as the Progressives of the 20th century. While the almost nightly protests and, in many cases, riots that have stretched throughout the summer have ostensibly been a reaction to the death of George Floyd while in police custody, it has become evident that those still demonstrating, sometimes violently, are not just fixated on alleged police brutality in Mr. Floyd’s case or others, but something much greater. It has been reported that at some of these protests, chants of “Death to America” have been heard, something which previously was only commonplace in Iran. Federal courthouses have been assaulted, police officers driven over and shot at, many buildings have been burned to the ground, countless stores looted, and American flags burned, all in the name of “social justice.” 

These rioters and demonstrators are at least ignored by Democrats, and oftentimes encouraged. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, one of the members of the so-called “Squad”, the group of Progressive freshmen congresswomen, said in an interview that “there needs to be unrest in the streets for as long as there’s unrest in our lives,” almost calling for this violence to continue. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, when asked about the tearing down of statues, said “people will do what people do,” hardly opposing it. Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris called for people to support the “Minnesota Freedom Fund,” which was used to pay the bail of those arrested in the rioting in Minnesota in the days following the death of George Floyd. It has been reported that several of Joe Biden’s campaign staffers made contributions to this fund. These riots lasted for several days, and resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of damage, widespread looting, and the abandonment and subsequent arson of a police precinct.

What is more revealing than this embrace by many prominent Democrats of rioters is the reasons why they support them. Rep. Ilhan Omar, another member of “The Squad,” whose home district encompasses much of Minneapolis, said that “We cannot stop at [the] criminal justice system. We must begin the work of dismantling the whole system of oppression wherever we find it.” Bear in mind that Nancy Pelosi endorsed Omar in her primary race to be re-elected to the House of Representatives. This endorsement would seem to be at least an implicit endorsement of such a stance as well. It is the belief of Democrats like Rep. Omar that the United States is a “systemically racist” country, and must be purged of its hateful roots. Revisionist history popular with the Left, particularly the (thoroughly debunked) “1619 Project” of the New York Times claim that this country was founded on racism and white supremacy.  Today’s Left conveniently forgets the fact that it was their forebears who founded the Confederacy, which explicitly rejected the Declaration’s statement that all men are created equal, instead claiming that it was only whites who had natural, God-given rights. Many on the Left even seek to erase the Founding Fathers from our memory, solely on the grounds that they were slaveholders, removing their statues and renaming buildings. As far as they are concerned, this country is rotten to its core, and all vestiges of its past failings must be wiped away.

Such an explicit rejection of the Founding, as well as the apparatus of government, healthcare, education, and the like as “systemically racist” is problematic enough, but the ways by which the Democratic Party means to rectify the alleged “systemic racism” and wider “injustice” are just as damaging to this republic in real terms as their rejection of the Founding is in abstract terms. The specific policies of the Democratic Party are not frequently discussed, but the overwhelmingly deleterious effect that these policies would have upon liberty, in the realms of the free market, self governance, federalism, religious liberty, and national security are all still very real. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, very nearly the Democratic nominee for President and a self-described “democratic socialist” had a significant role in the creation of the policy platforms for the Democratic Party, which as a whole is sometimes referred to as the Biden-Sanders unity plan. This seemingly collaborative party platform name belies its true nature; it is almost entirely the Sanders agenda. Sen. Sanders himself has said that Joe Biden, if these policies are implemented, “will become the most progressive president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.” 

The policies in this document are incredibly destructive to the United States, but they cannot all be addressed in this space. A few, however, ought to be mentioned to give an idea of their destructive  scopes. The Democratic Party agenda embraces the central components of the Green New Deal, and Joe Biden has already announced that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York, the Green New Deal’s original sponsor, would be his climate czar. This plan would call for all buildings to be retrofitted to be “carbon neutral,” mandates that all school buses become zero emissions, and regulate fossil fuel production and usage to a degree never seen before. The widespread blackouts and brownouts in California are a testament to how detrimental the restrictions on fossil fuel are to many, as California has already implemented many of those same restrictions. Furthermore, the cost of this plan is absolutely prohibitive. The Green New Deal’s price tag is estimated to be as high as $93 trillion over a decade, which would equate to roughly $65,000 per household per year, which happens to be higher than the median income.

Another policy that would be tremendously harmful is the reimplementation of the “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” policy (AFFH) first implemented by the Obama administration. AFFH is the interpretation of a single sentence in the 1968 Fair Housing Act that would allow the Department of Housing and Urban Development to assess whether a given municipality is racially diverse enough, and whether its various roads, parks, schools, etc. are distributed in a manner that is representative of its population as a whole based on its demographics (race, income, and others) as compared to nearby municipalities. If it is not, HUD is able to take over the zoning of the area and even determine what buildings are built. AFFH would send control over zoning decisions, normally made at the local level, to an unelected bureaucrat in HUD headquarters in DC, a gross violation of federalism’s separation of powers. 

One final policy position that should be discussed is the Democratic Party’s position on criminal justice, which is in large part injustice. To come full circle, they have embraced many of the positions that the protestors have been demanding: the near elimination of pretrial detention, the end of cash bail, the eradication of imprisonment for failure to pay fines, and the lowering of the standard for prosecution of police. Even the “Defund the Police” movement, while not completely endorsed by Biden, has also not been outright rejected, as he has stated that he would be in favor of “redirecting” some of the funding that would otherwise be given to police departments to other governmental programs. The result of all of this would be less safety and order for the average American citizen, as has been seen most vividly in New York City’s massive increase in crime since the beginning of this year, when the controversial new bail laws, completely ending all pretrial detention for all but the most heinous felonies, went into effect.

The Democratic Party has embraced the voice of those who call this country “systemically racist” and dismissed the Founding. The policies they embrace would be destructive to the Constitution, limited government, and individual liberty. These policies, if implemented, would render the nation unrecognizable in just a few short years. President Trump’s reelection alone would not be an end to these policies, just their defeat at the national level for a single presidential election. The sources of this cancer on the body politic, chiefly academia, would still exist, and the defeat of Joe Biden in November will be nothing more than a forestalling if these ideas are not vigorously confronted and defeated, and the institutions which promote them corrected. But the victory of Joe Biden would certainly mean the implementation of as many of these policies as possible, along with the official party position of the President of the United States being that the Founding must be rejected, as the Founding Fathers were systemically racist. In a more true sense than any time since 1860, the very idea of the United States of America as a country with a limited government constrained by the Constitution, where all men are created equal and possess unalienable rights from God, is on the ballot in this election. One party believes in those things, although imperfectly, the other rejects them. The future of America as such is truly at stake in 2020.

Gabriel Powell is a sophomore intending to study Politics.

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