Citizens United and the Forgotten America

Congressman Brent Spence standing on the bridge bearing his name – in 1963. Back in an era when Congressmen delivered tangible results for the people they represent.

Two years ago I was at the Metropolitan Club (next to the White House) having dinner with two Congressional Leaders – a female Democrat from California and male Republican from Ohio. It was clear they liked each other and agreed on many more things than they disagreed on. When I asked why nothing gets done in Washington, they spoke in almost perfect unison, “If we voted based on our conscience or the interests of our constituents, we would never have the money to get reelected.”

This is the legacy of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing wealthy people to make unlimited polical campaign contributions. Either you tow the party line or the Super Pacs find someone else who will. The result is an Un-Representative Democracy, the antithesis of American values. This graph explains the stage set for the 2016 Presidential election.

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Take a breath. I have never heard anyone say this election was about Trump, nationalism or rejection of America’s role in the world. America did NOT give Donald Trump a mandate. Voter turnout was lower than the last three elections and Clinton got 2 million more votes than Trump.

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Citizens United needs to be overturned, but that won’t happen quickly. But what has happened is a reawakening to 3 realities of America.

#1) Americans remain distrustful of distant, centralized government.

The American Revolution was about 13 separate Colonies fighting for freedom from being taxed and controlled from a distant capital – London. The Articles of Confederation drafted at the start of Revolutionary War in 1776 contemplated 13 independent Colonies, not an American State. It was only after 8 years of independence when the Colonies recognized the need for a Navy and common currency, that the US Constitution was approved giving limited powers to the Federal government.

The US Constitution was designed to maintain most government authority at the State and Local level. The National Government was to provide services that are too large for a local government. Europeans call this concept “Subsidiarity”.

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The principle is still sound. It is much easier to hold local government accountable for providing quality services for our tax dollars than Washington. We still have major cultural differences amidst the vast landmass of America. We are the still the United States of America, not the American State.

2) The Middle of America matters

Most the “Elites” in America (in business, entertainment, education and poltics) live on the coasts and know little about life in American other than what they see outside their airplane windows traveling from California to the Boston/New York/Washington macrobubble.

Despite voting for Clinton and being horried how Trump has lived his life over the past 50 years, I still trust the American voters more than our politcal leadership. The political instincts of Americans are not formed by TV debates, statistics, bar charts or the benefits of globalization. They are formed by simple things that touch everyday life. Like our infrastructure.

Everyday, the people in San Francisco see the new $6.5 billion Bay bridge carrying 270,000 cars a day. It is a beautiful, sound investment for the San Francisco Bay Area.
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Everyday, the people in Cincinnati see the crumbling edifice of the 53 year old Brent Spence Bridge on Interstate 75. It carries 155,000 vehicles a day, which includes 50,000 trucks. It is a major roadblock to economic development.

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In 2002 the Federal Government labeled the bridge as ‘functionally obsolete’. In 2016, The Hill, a Washington DC newspaper called the Brent Spence “the No. 1 “infrastructure emergency in the United States threatening both the economy and public safety.” Still nothing gets done !

Interstate 75 is one of America’s busiest highways, carrying the families and freight from Michigan to Florida. Trump won every state along Interstate 75. A message that the “Elite” can’t forget the Middle of America.

3) Morality should not be legislated in Washington

We can learn alot when we get off the highway and drive on local roads. For example, when I drove up the El Camino Real from Menlo Park to San Francisco, I can’t remember seeing a church. When I drive to visit my daughter, crossing through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina, I see more churches than gas stations.

There are different points of view on moral issues. America has historically given states and even counties, the authority to make their own laws. For example, 33 of the 50 states in America have laws that give individual countries the right to limit alcohol sales. The red in this map are counties where the citizens have banned alcohol sales. Yellow indicates the counties with alcohol restictions.

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Gun laws in Dallas are different than New York. Four states have legalized marijuana, 24 states have legalized medical marijuana, and marijuana is illegal in the remaining 26 states. This is how the divergent cultures of America have legislated morale issues and dealt with the process of change for over two centuries.

This brings us to the issue of same sex toilets in public schools. I have never heard more political hatred, than I heard on this issue. Obama went too fast for the majority of Americans, by using federal funding and court systems to force the people in North Carolina to see things the same way as Oregon.

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All politics is local. America thrives as nation of patriotic flag wavers because of the freedom we have to sort things out in our homes and communities, not have them sorted by the “Elite” in distant places.

These are tough times for the self-image of Americans. But I believe ten years from now we will see that America needed to take a few steps backward in order to take a big leap forward. Our flag still stands for the principles of individual freedom and overwhelming force to protect these freedoms.

One thing the people in the Middle of America do the very well is pray. Many of us are praying for Mr Trump. He is an old man and as he confronts his own mortality, he would do well to remember the 1989 funeral of the last Habsburg Empress.

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At the Capuchin Church, the pallbearers knocked on the door asking for entrance. When pallbearers said they were carrying the Empress, twice the church wardens said “I do not know this person”. On the third knock, the pallbearers said they were bringing “a sinful mortal”. Then the wardens opened the church door.

As America navigates these trying times, let us pray that Donald Trump becomes a mortal we can respect.

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