Of Compromises and Congresses

The beginning days of 2015 have brought the convening of a new American Congress. It is fair to say that expectations and skepticism are high.

Both are merited. Our Constitution was inaugurated with high expectations, not that the end to all problems was at the door but that the means were available to deal effectively with the problems of government for the new nation. The people who wrote the Constitution and those involved with implementing it (many the same people) were also deeply skeptical of government, including the one that they had just created. Memorable and personal experiences had shaped their skepticism. For that reason, the adoption of the Constitution had been a close thing, the opposition coming chiefly from those who thought that it imposed too much government on the people. There may have been some contemporary views that the proposed national government would be too weak and light, but I have not found any examples.

No surprise, then, that an early use of the new Constitution was to adopt the Bill of Rights—a set of fundamental rights to protect individual people from their government. If this new government were really self-government (a misconception reflected today in such bromides as, “Don’t worry about the national debt, we owe it to ourselves,” and “we should not fear the government because we are the government,” as well as much similar foolishness), then these first ten amendments would all be unnecessary. They have since proven to be very necessary, sometimes breached by our government, but more often employed to preserve and protect us from government offense.

Much as with the convening of the First Congress in 1789, the 114th Congress convenes after a troubled period of bad government. Hopes and wishes abound that errors can be corrected, freedoms restored, troubles addressed. As then, so today patience is in order.

A great virtue of our Constitution, an intentional feature, is that no one person can do much, for good or ill, in the federal government. It takes a lot of people cooperating together to get things done. Both Houses of Congress, usually with significant majorities, must agree to identical—word for word identical—legislation for it to be sent to the President, who must agree enough to add his signature to make it law. And then the President and his colleagues in the executive branch must actually execute the law, which as we are seeing with this President is no sure thing, despite a solemn oath to do so.

All of that coming together of many people, with varying ideas and backgrounds and interests, seldom happens quickly. For a people who do not need a lot of laws and direction from government to know how to live their lives, that is a fact to be celebrated. As the Founders envisioned, making law requires compromise and accommodation of the many interests of the many who compose our great nation. That takes time, as it should.

It is a mistake to banish the use of compromise from republican government. Those who would eschew compromise in our Republic would doom us to the fate of the Roman Republic. The members of the Roman Senate lost the ability or willingness to compromise. In so doing, they were doomed to inaction—not just slow deliberation—in the face of crisis, followed by reliance upon dictators, whom they fancied they could limit if not control. They sometimes chose wise men, sometimes they trusted their liberties to demagogues, invested with nearly unilateral authority for an entire year. The Republic and Roman freedom regressively devolved into the rule of the Caesars.

I understand the impatience that many have with compromise, people who would wish bold and decisive action in response to the would-be Caesar currently in the White House. To these I would say, do not despair of the strength of the Constitution, even as the chief executive seeks to violate it. In such times strengthening the Constitution and reinforcement of its checks and balances are the orders of the day, not further erosion of accommodation and compromise that have held our nation together (even through a Civil War) for two hundred years and more. It is true that some compromises are bad; despotisms or anarchies are not much good.

One of the most important compromises involves idealism and realism. American legislation requires a marriage of idealism and realism. Idealism can offer the vision of a free and prosperous nation and the inspiration to action to protect and promote our liberties. Realism, when operating in the light of idealism, focuses our work on what can be achieved now, without exhausting our energies and resources on quixotic quests that may do little more than tear the national fabric. Realism would teach that much of the policy errors of years will take years to unravel. With idealism and realism together, we can know what can and should be done today to make things better and get national policy moving in the right direction.

While a realistic view of the doable is essential to good legislating in a Congress of free men and women, the key and fundamental principles of our idealism help us discern a good compromise—one that makes things better and enables further progress—from a compromise that walks us closer to the abyss. President Reagan made many compromises, but he had a vision and knew where he was going, each compromise uniting our nation for more prosperity, greater freedom, and stronger security.

We should rejoice that no one in the Republic by himself can bring about much change, however well meaning. That virtue of our Constitution is why it has taken many steps and many mistakes to come to the many calamities our nation now confronts. In the same way, because of this Constitution, it will take seemingly many steps along the way to optimal answers. Every reason to be about the work and not tire of it.

Of Demagogues and Big Problems

One of the common tricks of demagogues, as cheap as it is common, is to denounce in high dander something for being “Big,”—“bad” because it is “Big.” Some of the recent targets have been Big Banks, Big Pharma (the drug companies), Big Oil, Big Insurance, and Big Business in general. The target is apparently chosen for its relation to the prescription that the demagogue already has in mind. Invariably the prescription involves granting more power to the demagogue, sometimes ceded from the freedoms of the targeted Big, but not infrequently taken from the liberty of the people who are somehow harmed by the Big, who are to be somehow made better by being less free.

Obamacare is one example, Big Insurance, Big Pharma, and Big Medicine all denounced to some degree in the effort to generate popular support to pass the legislation. In the end, as more and more people are recognizing, it is individual choice that has been lost, personal freedoms to choose doctors, medical plans, and available treatments (along with substantial sums of money) that have been taken, passed on to big bureaucracies identified by the demagogues.

Demagogues on left and right and even in the middle resort to this device of denouncing Big Bad, because it resonates with many people who do not consider themselves “Big” anything. We all can feel intimidated by something in our lives and experiences bigger than ourselves, making us all potentially susceptible to the demagogue’s pandering. It is also a favorite device of demagogues, because it does not require much thought or creativity to make the anti-Big speech. It seems almost required that the demagogue at some point refer to the Big Target as “Goliath” and modestly identify himself or herself with “David.” That tired jape is now getting to be about 3,000 years old, but demagogues think that their audiences just cannot get enough of it.

To be sure, there are some cases where being big is a good thing and some things that can be too big to be good. It all has to do with why they are big and perhaps how they got that way. Big savings are usually good. The Grand Canyon is big and magnificent, and I would say that the Empire StateBuilding is, too, at least as I behold it. On the other hand, big debts are to be avoided, big pits can be dangerous, and the L Tower in Toronto is an eyesore in my estimation (though I will acknowledge that others could be fond of it).

Government can be too big or too small, depending on what it does with our rights and freedoms. There are governments too small to promote and protect freedom, while there are many—most—that are too big, and ever increasing at the expense of individual rights, freedoms, and opportunities. That includes governments that are big enough to help their cronies become bigger by robbing the competition and the public. Businesses that are big because of government favor would be better for everyone if they lost the government favor and let competition, efficiency, and customer choices determine how big they should be.

Some are just big because they grew that way. Is Microsoft or Apple too big? I do not know, and neither do you. Exposed to the full discipline of the free market they will be the right size, and so will their competitors. What is the right size for banks in the United States? I do not know, and again neither do you nor does anyone else. The more that they are exposed to market forces, the sooner we will get the best answer, which I expect will be along the lines of “many sizes and shapes” in order to match the many sizes and shapes and needs of businesses, families, and individuals who rely on banks for financial services. Free competition in open markets has the power to right size commercial enterprises.

A word of caution. Part of the success of the war on Big consists in making the listeners feel small and helpless—unless rescued and led by the fearless demagogue. Besides belittling most people, the demagogue’s device diverts attention from the fact that just about everyone is part of something Big, a Big that may eventually be the demagogue’s next target. Maybe your church will one day be considered too “Big.” Or maybe the industry in which you happen to work will become a “Big” target, the town or region where you live, your race or your ethnic group, your savings and investments, the cars or trucks that you drive, your appetite, your use of water, the size of the lot of your house, the wealth of your nation. All of these, and many others, have already been used by demagogues in their Big harangues. The demagogue’s insatiable appetite for power never has enough targets. He or she is always looking for more.

Sometimes there is a kernel of something genuinely amiss in the demagogue’s Big complaint. Often, when you boil down the genuine substance of any of the complaints to the hard facts, it is hard to discover what is the Big Deal—at least in the problem. The Big Deal is to be found in the solution, which is what the demagogue is really after. Were the Popes in Rome really controlling the lives and governments of England in the time of Henry VIII? No, but the solution of confiscating Catholic Church properties and awarding them to the King’s cronies was a very Big Deal. The Nazi demagogues in Germany played the same game with their own people, the German Jews, and with their property and possessions.

The demagogue’s solutions, resting upon emotion and panic, seldom solve anything and often lead to more problems. The Climate Wars—one year the coming ice age, the next year global warming, today just climate “change”—is an example we have all seen unfold, inflicting untold billions of dollars of costs while enriching favored cronies, but which in even the most enthusiastic promises of the demagogues will do little to affect the climate in reality in our lifetimes.

The next time you hear a public figure fume about something being Big, carefully inquire into and focus upon what he or she is after. You may be a target just Big enough.

Of Personality and Order

While making no personal claims to psychological insight, I have found great value in the Jung-Myers approach to understanding human personalities. Part of that approach identifies four major personality temperaments toward which each of us gravitates to one degree or another. The work of Carl Jung and Isabel Myers—and many others building on that work—has elaborated the theory that in the world of people there is a variety of personalities all interacting and contributing to the social richness of humanity. None of these four temperaments is “right” or “wrong.” They are just different, and that difference is valuable and, moreover, worthy of understanding so that we can get along better in our interactions with each other.

I have seen all four of these temperaments in my small family of a mere 7 souls. I consider the variety enriching to our family more than frustrating. This insight has helped me understand where my children are coming from when I might otherwise think that any one of them has been replaced by a space alien.

Using that framework and watching my fellow travelers through life over decades of interaction, I have personally found it useful to describe the four temperaments in the following way, with regard to each person’s approach to his environment, or the world around us.

• First (in no order of priority or relative value), there are those who come to grips with their world by seeking to be in harmony with their environment. My wife is in this category.

• Second, there are those who primarily seek to enjoy their environment. I believe that two of my daughters are in this group.

• Third are those who seek to organize their environment. I think that I would consider myself as being in this group, along with perhaps a son and a daughter.

• And a fourth group would be those who seek to protect themselves from their environment. I believe that one of my sons would be found here.

Again, I emphasize that no temperament is better than the other. They are just different. And we need them all. Moreover, some of each can be found in the attitudes of any one of us from time to time. The point is which approach is dominant in the way we each live our lives. Together, they all contribute to the success of our society. That is to say, that whatever our temperament, we rely upon our brothers and sisters who have different temperaments to help make us and our society complete.

I do not consider this to be an accidental development but an essential element of God’s plan for the society of His children. In several places in the scriptures God reminds us of the variety of gifts that He has given, emphasizing that we can and need to embrace and profit from each gift, all taken together. “For the body is not one member, but many,” the Apostle Paul explained, and no part of the body can say to the other, “I have no need of thee” (see 1 Corinthians 12:14-21).

But does not all of this difference lead to disunity and perhaps even chaos? It can, and has, but it does not need to. Any personality trait, any temperament, any gift, if taken to the extreme or out of balance can result in harm to others. There are plenty of examples in the long history of mankind of one taking advantage over another, either into anarchy or tyranny. This is one of the structural failings of absolute monarchy or dictatorship, where too much of the society is guided by one person and his or her approach to the world. The temptation to fit all of the people into that mold is natural and hard for the dictator to resist (if he even recognizes it). On the other hand, there would be chaos if all had full license to live their preferences in disregard of others.

Many of the commandments of God are intended to help us to keep our differences in balance and to maintain the close society that allows us to be fully enriched by one another. One of the chapters in The Book of Mormon explains this process as being the establishment of order by means of the ordinances of God (see Alma chapter 13). The similarity in the words is not accidental.

Entering into the kingdom of God is nothing more nor less than making a solemn covenant—pledged and witnessed by the physical ordinance of baptism by immersion—to accept God’s commandments for a society of order as defined by God, an order that accommodates all human gifts and temperaments and organizes them into an harmonious whole. The two greatest commandments of the kingdom of God are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (see Matthew 22:37-39). In this system there are universal standards to bind us to one another by binding ourselves to our Savior Jesus Christ, who sacrificed to give us all the freedom to choose and be what those choices make us.

This verse from Alma chapter 13 describes the matter this way:

Now these ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a type of his order, or it being his order, and this that they might look forward to him for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord. (Alma 13:16)

Within the Savior’s order of peace there is full room to be at harmony with one’s environment, to enjoy it, in a well organized whole, where all are safe and at rest from fear. Indeed, in the Kingdom of God is the one place where we all can have it all. There is nowhere else like it for any of us.

(First published April 27, 2013)