This post was previously written by A. H. Green and has been published with his permission.
Brother Green earned a PhD (UCLA, 1973) in Mid-East History/Arabic and has chaired the Arabic Studies Department (American University in Cairo, 1982-85), directed the BYU Jerusalem Center (2000-02), and chaired BYU’s History Department (2005-07). He served a mission in France (1960-63), presided over the LDS Cairo Egypt Branch (1977-80) and the Israel District (2000-02); he and his wife have served two post-retirement missions.
NBC’s “Mormon in America” special (23 Aug 2012) noted that Mitt Romney’s fellow Latter-day Saints supported his two presidential bids (2008 and 2012). Addressing other voters suspicious of his faith, Romney rightly argued in a 6 Dec 2007 speech at College Station, TX, that a candidate’s religion shouldn’t matter. It had mattered to Al Smith, whose being Catholic likely abetted his loss to Hoover in 1928; it hadn’t mattered to Eisenhower, whose being raised a Jehovah’s Witness never became a campaign issue. Romney’s speech cited the U.S. Constitution (VI:3): “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” He might have also quoted LDS scripture: “We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government” (Doctrine & Covenants 134: 9). The coin’s other side is that no U.S. citizen is obligated to favor a coreligionist at the polls.
Like Romney I’m an “active” Mormon who served a mission in France, and who has shepherded a congregation and a set of them. Yet I voted twice for Barack Obama and plan to vote for Hillary Clinton—not despite being a Mormon but partly because of it. Elaborated below are some of my reasons, about which I speak for myself only.
With LDS scripture I believe that government is necessary and essentially beneficial: “governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man” (D&C 134:1), and, but for government and laws, “peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy” (134:6). The word “government” comes from a Greek term (kyberman) [see the Greek text of 1 Corinthians 12:28] for the rudder-helm steering mechanism, without which a ship and its passengers would experience nautical anarchy. Grover Norquist’s quip—“I don't want to abolish government.
I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub”—while humorous, suggests to me that many U.S. ultra-conservatives harbor a naive longing for anarchy. [“The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all” (G. K. Chesterton).]
ON LIMITED GOVERNMENT
John Locke called anarchy “the state of nature,” a group version of “natural man” (I Cor. 2:14; Mosiah 3:19) and a virtual situation featuring unlimited individual liberty sans government. But in that virtual situation the aggressive exploited and harmed others with impunity, and justice consisted of personal defense and retaliation.
So humans ceded iotas of personal liberty while contracting to enter “civil society” so that government might protect all citizens’ “life, liberty, and property” (Second Treatise of Civil Government, 1690). Of course, Locke wrote that treatise to justify the “Glorious Revolution,” whereby Parliament deposed absolutist King James II (r. 1685-88), replacing him with his daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William of Orange. William and Mary agreed to be “constitutional monarchs” who conceded that ultimate power is vested in the people and wielded by the people’s elected representatives. Although ubiquitous then throughout Europe, James II’s despotic regime was treated by Locke as a dire aberration, which triggered the people’s inherent right to change their government. For Locke, protecting citizens’ “life, liberty, and property” entailed defining government per se in terms of its inherent limits. Locke’s contractual “limited government” strongly influenced the Declaration of Independence (Jefferson) and the U.S. Constitution (largely Madison).
It can also be seen in LDS scriptures’ discussion of religious liberty’s interaction with government: “We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy” (D&C 134:7). Admiring Locke’s limited government theory, I yet believe that Tory MPs who later used it as an argument to oppose British legislation (curbing the slave trade and child labor, and expanding state education) pushed by William Wilberforce (d. 1833) to reduce constraints on society’s unprivileged 95% , were in effect serving the interests of society’s top 5%, including mine-, plantation-, and factory-owners. While respecting George Will as a sincere Madisonian and conceding that large size correlates with some inefficiency in any bureaucracy, I deem most “small government” advocates in today’s USA to be unwitting pawns of the U.S. financial elite who want ever less oversight of their profit-making activities.
While many Romney-supporters carried the “limited government” flag to the borders of financial anarchy (where predators had easy pickings), it seems to me that most Trump-enthusiasts wave another ominous banner. When sensing their political economy to be out of sorts, legions of common people (in both senses) have tended to indulge the ambitions of an available “strong man” whom they naively expect to change his prior selfish behavior to champion their interests. The English Civil War ushered in Oliver Cromwell’s dictatorship, as did later unsettled situations those of Napoleon I, Napoleon III, Mussolini, Trujillo, Vargas, Hitler, de Salazar, Franco, Samoza, Duvalier, Peron, Putin, etc.
To abet their ascents to power, such “strong men” typically appealed to commoners’ nativism and racism: Herr Hitler knows how to deal with the capital- and media-controlling Jews; Herr Trump knows how to treat uppity women as well as Anglo culture-distorting, criminally disposed Blacks and Latinos, and terror-prone Muslims. They also use media to promote a cult of personality—an art “the Donald” has long practiced. Besides exacerbating race, class and religious tensions, strong men’s regimes usually begat ruthless secret police apparati to silence internal critics and generally worsened the plight of the common people whose calloused hands lifted them onto the white horses in the first place. [“This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector” (Plato).]
ON CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE
Mormons have a large scriptural canon (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, etc.) which, on grounds of ongoing revelation to modern prophets, they deem to be “open.” They also understand that extant scripture can be given new meaning—as Jesus took the Passover Seder’s unleavened bread, which in Exodus betokened hasty escape to freedom from physical bondage in exile, and made it when broken also a symbol of his atoning sacrifice and so of the theology that faith in him offers freedom from bondage to sin and exile from God.
The idea of open scripture facilitates my belief in a living constitution; I’d find it odd if, while divine counsel adapts to changing conditions, a man-made guide were ossified from birth. So, agencies empowered by the U.S. constitution can adjust its principles to significant modifications in technology and society. While understanding the idea of “original intent,” I deem it a very weak argument against the creation of federal agencies like the FCC, FAA, AEC, EPA, etc.; because radio and TV, aviation, atomic energy, and environmental degradation were non-issues in 1788 doesn’t mean that they would forever remain so.
Yet I’m tempted to invoke “original intent” myself in certain cases. E.g., in Citizens United vs. FEC (2010), I agreed with Justice Stevens’s dissent that the constitution’s corruption-wary framers would never have extended 1st amendment “freedom of speech” protection to anonymous super-pacs’ unlimited funding of electioneering politicians. But I also acknowledge that the Supreme Court’s majority (however thin) had the best constitutional right to say how the 1st amendment applied to that issue in 2010. Maybe it’s noteworthy that, when speaking of their “constitution,” the British don’t think of Magna Carta, which put some restraints on “bad King John” while listing rights retained by two dozen rebel barons; rather, they’re referring to the entire corpus of parliamentary legislation and judicial rulings. [“The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults” (Alexis de Toqueville).]
ON SOCIAL DARWINISM
I’ve no quarrel with the eons-long process of natural selection. But, as applied to contemporary humankind, I reject Herbert Spencer’s “social Darwinism,” which assumes government’s inability to fix problems as well as a rigidly layered social structure correlating with degrees of inequality under the law. Referring to conditions like children working 16-hour days in mines and factories, Spencer (1820-1903) advised: “We can only wait for evolution. Perhaps in four or five thousand years evolution may have carried man beyond this state of affairs.”
“Nature's law is the survival of the fittest,” observed LDS President David O. McKay. “God's law is: Use your personal power and possessions for the advancement and happiness of others” [Improvement Era 72/2 (Feb 1968)]. I suspect that it was social Darwinian “do-nothingism” that paralyzed Pres. Hoover for most of his term after Wall Street collapsed in Oct 1929, throwing 25% of Americans out of work.
Social Darwinism is the philosophy underlying Ayn Rand’s novels [The Fountainhead (1943), Atlas Shrugged (1957)], which Rep. Paul Ryan has credited with inspiring his political career and his economic policies, which reward the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and the poor. It’s true that political left-wings have at times taken their concern for “fairness” to the extreme of disruptive leveling; but, animated by versions of social Darwinism, right-wings have long been obsessed with “order” to the extent of imagining and if possible imposing socioeconomic caste systems based on race in mixed societies. [“The system is stacked against you if you are a person of color or are poor, and is doubly unjust if you are both a person of color and poor. The potential counterweight to such a system, a lawyer by one’s side, is unequal as well. In reality, the right to counsel is a right to the unequal assistance of counsel in the United States” (Peter A. Joy); “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34); “All are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).]
ON RACISM & SLAVERY
I agree with Cicero (d. 43 BC) and Las Casas (d. 1566) who affirmed that “the entire human race is one” and that all humans “have understanding, will, and free choice, as all are made in the image and likeness of God” when they countered the “natural slavery” arguments of Aristotle (d. 322 BC) and Sepulveda (d. 1573).
I reject the “scientific racism” of de Gobineau whose Inequality of Human Races (1854) ended with a summary chapter entitled: “The Respective Traits of the Three Great Races [White, Yellow, Black]; The Superiority of the White Type, and, within This Type, of the Aryan Family.” I also reject more subtle versions of racism that yet persist, including those invoked by code phrases like “work-challenged inner city” and “food stamp president.” Mormon scholars are still debating how and why there materialized, in 1852 under Brigham Young, a ban on Blacks entering the LDS lay priesthood. But, in Jan 1843 Joseph Smith said: “change their [blacks’] situation with the whites, and they would be like them." [History of the Church, 1978 edition, 5:217].
About 3 months before a mob killed him in June 1844, Joseph Smith advocated both “to abolish slavery by 1850" and to “Break off the shackles from the poor black man, and hire him to labor like other human beings” [Ibid., 6:205]. By then, Joseph Smith ordained to the priesthood ex-slave Elijah Abel, whom he escorted through the temple and sent on a mission. When the ban ended, the First Presidency reaffirmed that the LDS Church declares “that all men and women are brothers and sisters, not only by blood relationship from common mortal progenitors but as literal spirit children of an Eternal Father” (15 Feb 1978 “Easter Statement”).
The verse Mormons often cite about the U.S. Constitution being inspired (D&C 101:80), together with the one just before it, read as follows: “ Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.  And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose....” The pair of closely related verses suggest that the Constitution was inspired in part to abolish slavery. The problem is that the Constitution deliberately perpetuated slavery (see the “3/5 compromise” in Art. 1, Sect. 2). So the inspired bondage-ending process must have included later constitutional actions like Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th and 14th amendments, and then (after state-level “Jim Crow” laws negated those measures) the 1964 Civil Rights and the 1965 Voting Rights Acts. In March 2016 our household received a robocall from William Johnson, who called himself a “white nationalist” and urged us to vote for Donald Trump on grounds that he will reverse the trend that “the white race is being replaced by other peoples in America.” That occurred just days after Trump temporized when asked about the support of his candidacy by KKK “Grand Wizard” David Duke specifically and by white supremacists generally. [“Race makes no difference; color makes no difference; nationality makes no difference” (Apostle Howard W. Hunter, Ensign, June 1979).]
ON OUR REPUBLIC
I believe the U.S. should be a “democratic republic” (Jefferson founded the “Democratic Republican Party,” which Jackson shortened to “Democratic Party,” allowing former Whigs later to appropriate “Republican”). A republic is a political unit “in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected president rather than a monarch” (Oxford Dictionary). Based on ancient Greek and medieval Swiss and northern Italian precedents, our republic began as an “oligarchic republic” (oligarchy is government by the elite few).
In the late medieval republic of Florence, power was by law monopolized by the arti maggiori or major guilds (judges and lawyers, cloth weavers-merchants, bankers, physicians and pharmacists, and furriers). In the 13 colonies and the early U.S. republic, office-holding and voting were restricted to adult male, free white, property-owning members of select Christian denominations. The franchise was soon given to all adult Christian white men, a move pushed by Jefferson and Jackson, whom Joseph Smith praised in Feb 1844 for supporting the common man. In 1810 individual states began extending voting rights to Jewish citizens (America’s 3rd Jewish governor was Simon Bamberger of Utah, 1917-21).
The 14th Amendment enfranchised ex-slaves. It took from 1878 until 1920 to pass the 19th amendment which gave voting rights to women (Utah in 1880 was the 2nd state/territory to enfranchise women). The 24th amendment (1962-4) banned poll taxes for voting in federal elections, and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts (which re-enfranchised Black Americans) forbade poll taxes and other discriminatory devices in state and local elections.
Such measures broadened our republic into a more democratic one. The question now is whether it stays democratic or reverts toward oligarchy. The latter trend I fear may result from scrapping the 1965 Voting Rights Act during 2009-12 by Congress and the Supreme Court ostensibly on grounds that it’s no longer needed. To me, it’s very much still needed in part because, on the pretext of preventing near non-existent voter fraud, many GOP-dominated state legislatures have enacted poll-tax substitutes that appear designed to make voting difficult for groupings like students, minorities, immigrants, and the poor.
These lawmakers and their supporters, it seems to me, say the word “republic” while seeking an oligarchy with the attitudes of Nietzsche: “It is necessary for higher men to declare war upon the masses! .... Everything that pampers, that softens, and that brings the ‘people’ or ‘woman’ to the front, operates in favor of universal suffrage—that is to say, the dominion of inferior men” [The Will to Power]. Nietzsche’s defenders insist that Mussolini and Hitler misunderstood and distorted the philosopher’s ideas. Yet,however distorted, Nietzsche’s philosophy of power had an unmistakable impact on Fascism and Nazism. [“The German state of the future will not be a continuation of Bismarck’s creation, but will be created out of the spirit of Nietzsche” (Nazi theorist Alfred Baumier); “The meek shall inherit the earth—but not its mineral rights” (J. Paul Getty).]
ON FAMILY VALUES
In their family lives, the Obamas, Romneys, and Hillary Clinton have impressed me as having good principles and as being good examples. A very effective president in most respects, Bill Clinton did not make Job’s covenant with his eyes (31:1) and exploited his rooftop vantage (2 Samuel 11), but his past behavior isn’t—or shouldn’t be—an issue now. Though his children turned out well, Donald Trump strikes me as being at the self-indulgent end of that spectrum, channeling his sex drive/ego into serial polygamy while boasting (among others to fellow cockalorum, Howard Stern) of multiple affairs on the side with voluptuous young women. The French wonder why such things matter in American politics. But I’m among many who correlate how persons honor contracts made in spheres like marriage or business with how they might honor the presidential oath.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has made gay marriage legal in all states. Persons and groups of faith need to come to terms with that reality even while exploring how it will interact with 1st amendment guarantees of religious freedom. As the process of courts defining that interaction plays out, my hope is that religious freedom and the welfare of children will continue to be important values in our society. But, however it plays out, I will not let my concerns over such “values questions” divert me from voting for persons who represent my interests on most other issues, including economic ones. [“Whoever can guarantee self-control over the organs between his two jaw-bones (i.e., his tongue) and between his two legs, I guarantee Paradise for him" (attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, hadith 481 in Sahih al-Bukhari); “The most important work is within the walls of your home” (LDS President Harold B. Lee).]
ON VOTING FOR ONE’S ECONOMIC INTERESTS
To an extent, politics is an extension of the age-old interaction between management (which seeks minimal labor “inputs” in order to maximize profits for owners and investors) and workers (who seek wages and benefits that permit security for themselves and opportunity for their children). I’ve lived the old saw: “if you’re not a Democrat when you’re young you have no heart, and if you’re not a Republican when you’re old you’ve made no money.” Through careers in nursing and teaching, my wife and I have paid off a modest home, and we’ve been able to help educate our children and grandchildren. But we never made enough money, as John the Evangelist put it about Babylon’s merchants, to “live deliciously” (Rev. 18:7, 9). Persons who became rich or who inherited wealth of course have a right to defend their financial and lifestyle interests in the political arena. However, in that arena I align myself with workers wearing collars of any color.
It seems to me that the Democratic Party has the same broad concerns, while Mitt Romney and Donald Trump represent the narrow interests of the deliciously living financial elite—who feel a need to one-up their peers by installing car elevators in their vacation homes and golden fixtures in their bathrooms. When seen as a pyramid, the bottom half of our society is about three times as large as the top. So, if occupants of both levels voted strictly their economic interests, Republicans would badly lose all elections. Thus an important part of the GOP’s strategy in recent decades has been to stress “values” (racial as well as familial-gender) in order to sway white middle- and lower-income citizens to vote against their own economic interests.
That strategy has been successful especially among poorly educated white males at times (e.g., 1972, 1980, 2016) when the Democratic Party seemed to stress anti-war and/or new familial-gender values over its older commitment to working class Americans. Frustrated about good jobs becoming scarcer and about some social trends (neighborhoods’ changing ethnic makeup, busing, political correctness, etc.), many white workers tend not to recognize the main source of their diminishing prospects: the Republican corporate executives who outsource more and more jobs to Asia in order to fatten their own salaries and bonuses.
“Priestcraft” is selling spiritual benefits and (often dubious) religious information for private gain (2 Nephi 26:29). Many U.S. workers put themselves in the power of fear- and hate-mongering talk show hosts, who practice “political priestcraft”: selling (dubious) political information for private gain. The likes of Sean Hannity ($30 million annual income), Rush Limbaugh ($40 million) and Glenn Beck ($90 million) direct the workers’ frustrations away from the corporate fat cats toward the largely fictional “liberal Democratic elite.” Limbaugh and Beck are in effect agents of the financial-corporate elite; their job is to deliver white workers’ vote to the GOP. But from my perspective a vote against Obama and Clinton on values grounds constitutes a vote for the richest 5% , some of whom helped scuttle the economy in 2008 and who in the ensuing financial chaos enlarged their take of the national income. [“...the rich, who, on pretense of managing the public interest, only pursue their private ends.” (Sir Thomas More); “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half” (Jay Gould).
ON ECONOMIC HISTORY
Unlike some “hard sciences,” the discipline of history can’t experiment repeatedly under controlled conditions in order to eliminate red-herring factors and so to isolate cause-effect relationships. There thus inevitably arise competing narratives that stress different sets of factors in explanations about why a noteworthy past event happened as it did. Regarding the 2008 recession, a consensus factor was the age-old boom-and-bust “business cycle,” which all would prefer to be less erratic. Another factor, it seems to me, was certain financial companies’ pell mell quest of profits to the point of malfeasance (what economists call “moral hazard”).
That quest was facilitated by the political campaign (headed on behalf of the financial elite by GOP congressmen like Phil Gramm) to remove FDR-era regulations enacted to prevent a recurrence of the Great Depression. That campaign accelerated when Republicans controlled the White House and/or Congress. With “deregulation,” many financial agencies exploited the housing bubble (until their actions hastened its bursting) through practices like mortgage-lending with insufficient reserves, enticing the non-credit-worthy to buy homes beyond their means, and packaging slices of strong and weak mortgages to market globally. Such recklessness can be tamed, but only with reasonable rules and oversight mechanisms like those recommended by experts ranging from Timothy Geitner to Elizabeth Warren.
We have laws and policemen to stop petty thieves; why not have tougher laws and mechanisms to prevent massive robbers like Ken Lay and Bernie Madoff? Christianity long tried to restrain greed (one of the “7 deadly sins”), even forbidding interest on loans in medieval times. Calvinism helped to change that by providing religious legitimacy to modern banking. But Wall Street has gone too far in the “greed-is-good” theology. LDS Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley lamented: “I have observed that there are many in our present generation who with careful design set out on a course to get rich while still young, to drive fancy automobiles, to wear the best of clothing, to have an apartment in the city and a house in the country—all of these, and more. This is the total end for which they live, and for some the means by which they get there is unimportant in terms of ethics and morality. They covet that which others have, and selfishness and even greed are all a part of their process of acquisitiveness” [Ensign, Mar 1990]. Greed is particularly harmful if, in order to amass personal and corporate wealth quickly, some are willing to put at risk the health of the entire economy and so the well-being of millions of their fellow citizens.
Trump boasted that he welcomed the 2008 recession because he planned to profit from it—never mind that his profiting tactics contributed to many losing their jobs, homes, and retirement savings. In that sense, our economy includes—not “makers” (entrepreneurs) and “takers” (welfare loafers)—but “makers” (workers and entrepreneurs) and “rakers” (those who find ways, sometimes legal but often immoral, to rake off for themselves a large portion of the wealth produced by the nation’s economy). I would classify Romney and Trump among the rakers of unusual size and of dubious morality. [“...ye will seek (riches) for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” (Book of Mormon, Jacob 2:19).]
ON ECONOMIC POLICY
The last series of balanced budgets occurred during Bill Clinton’s second term. Recent Republican administrations and candidates have “talked” balanced budgets but seldom “walked” them. Much of the current deficit accumulated as a consequence of the unnecessary wars and unwise tax-cuts for the wealthiest Americans undertaken by Pres. George W. Bush. Republican budgets, while earmarking $ trillions beyond what the Defense Department needs and requests as well as more tax cuts for millionaires, would keep idle many policemen, teachers, and other public servants. Democratic policies would put them back to work.
I also favor appropriations to enable states and communities to engage private contractors to repair our nation’s highways, bridges and other crumbling infrastructure. I suspect that future historians will credit Henry Paulsen, Timothy Geitner and especially Obama’s economic team with acting vigorously to stop the 2008 recession’s slide toward becoming a full-scale depression and then with turning the economy around toward a direction of healthy growth. Hillary Clinton will continue wise economic policies toward full economic health. That is much preferable to turning the economy back over to the greedy, reckless wheeler-dealers like Trump who scuttled it in 2008. [“The great enemy of freedom is the alignment of political power with wealth” (Wendell Berry).]
ON ECONOMIC EXPERIENCE
In his day Carl Icahn was a “corporate raider,” a term that has been prettified to “venture capitalist.” The repertory of tactics has also evolved, including: form a holding company (e.g., Romney’s Bain Capital, Trump Investment Company), seek out struggling manufacturing and service enterprises, acquire a majority of their stock to effect a “hostile takeover,” then either downsize the enterprise by outsourcing its best-paying blue- and white-collar jobs to Asia, or take out massive loans against the collateral of the enterprise itself and declare bankruptcy (thereby pocketing the loans, the fees charged the struggling enterprise for the holding company’s “services,” and the fired workers’ retirement benefits).
These are formulae for enabling a few individuals to rake in vast wealth rapidly but they are not formulae for improving America’s economy as a whole. Success in corporate raiding and outsourcing American jobs to Asia ought rather to disqualify than to qualify someone to be president of the United States—as should Trump’s bait-and-switch tactic of stiffing subcontractors, forcing them to choose between lawsuits and settling for fractions of the agreed payments. [“...because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 9:30).]
Like Christianity or conservatism, capitalism has taken many forms. Economic historians trace its evolution through phases. “Traditional capitalism” entailed family enterprises making/buying goods cheap and selling them dear for a profit, a formula that existed in Sumer by 3300 BC and thrived at Florence in the AD 1300s to fund the early Renaissance. Besides cottage industry on a huge scale, the Dutch moved to “Financial capitalism” in the 1500s by creating joint-stock companies and stock markets. In the late 1700s the English and Scots moved to “industrial capitalism”; they hooked up water- then steam-power then electricity to mining equipment, spinning wheels and looms, and all sorts of merchandise-making machines to create the factory system and to launch the industrial revolution.
Lore has it that, still practicing “mercantilism” (government tightly controls the economy to increase national wealth based largely on the accumulation of precious metals), French politicians asked their merchants how France could better compete with the Dutch and the British; the merchants replied: “laissez-nous faire” (“leave us alone”; i.e., let fabricators and sellers operate in a free market without government interference). That expressed the ideal of laissez-faire or free-market capitalism, the arch-typical operations of which Adam Smith described in The Wealth of Nations (1776), a bible to many economic conservatives. Smith coined the term “the invisible hand” to convey a sense that the many “laws” (supply and demand, etc.) which made the market function efficiently were as “natural” as Newton’s laws of motion.
Tinkering with a lesson on the rise of market capitalism for a world civ class, I googled “invisible hand” to see what images were available to illustrate the discussion. Of the images pulled up, 80% were of the detail of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting depicting God’s hand touching that of Adam, suggesting that Smith’s “invisible hand” was the very hand of God, who built into the cosmos the “laws of economics” along with the law of gravity. On the other hand, reading a few good histories about financial booms and busts (e.g., Dash, Tulipmania, 1999; Alasdair Roberts, America’s First Great Depression [of 1837], 2012; Lester Chandler, America’s Greatest Depression [begun 1929), 1970; The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report [2008 recession], 2011) provided an alternate depiction of invisible hands: one emanating from one side of a human heart/brain labeled “greed,” and another emanating from the other side labeled “fear.” Biographies of the great 19th- century U.S. capitalists (who’ve for good reason been called “the robber barons”) remind that poorly regulated (or “cut-throat”) capitalism entails a lot of bribing and cheating and more than a little violence and espionage. It also doesn’t naturally sustain efficiency-inducing competition but veers easily towards monopoly and price-gouging. Republican Teddy Roosevelt broke up numerous monopolies in order to restore competition.
Robert Reich’s Supercapitalism (2007) makes it clear that transnational capitalist corporations are neither loyal to the countries where they hatched and thrived nor particularly supportive of democracy. Of course, although fostering great inequality, a capitalist economy outperforms a socialist one, so it is our system of choice. Like fire, capitalism is a very useful tool that requires the equivalents of fire-alarms, -breaks, -hydrants and -hoses, and -engines and -marshals. [“The people of communities and nations among whom wealth is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression and suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice… One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals” (Brigham Young, 1875).]
ON FOREIGN POLICY
The Bush ‘43 administration’s foreign policy was charted largely by VP Cheney and his “neocon” associates. Neocon founding father Irving Kristol (1920-2009) moved from Trotskyism (export the Marxist-Leninist revolution) to neo-conservatism (export American democracy) during the Viet Nam debacle—a lesson about rash, costly military adventuring we ought to have learned but didn’t. Thereafter, neocons pushed to respond to any foreign crisis with U.S. military intervention, in Iraq’s case fabricating the justifying intelligence data. [In fact, Iraq had no WMD, and its secular Baathist regime had no ties to al-Qa’ida or any jihadist group; indeed, a parent of ISIS was Saddam’s fierce opponent that began to attack Americans only after they invaded Iraq in 2003.] On the positive side of the Iraq ledger: a brutal dictator has been removed, and Iraq has gained a democracy of sorts (Iraq’s recent governments have consistently ranked among the world’s most corrupt). On the negative side: tens of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died, direct and indirect costs have surpassed $3 trillion (this contributed to the 2008 recession and to the slowness of the recovery from it), Iraq was shifted from being a check on Iran’s regional ambitions to becoming Iran’s ally (some would say its puppet), U.S. attention and resources were diverted to Iraq from actual dangers elsewhere, and the flimsy pretexts for invading Iraq offended most of America’s traditional allies.
Pres. Obama largely extricated us from Iraq and Afghanistan (the world’s 7th most corrupt government)—and Bin Laden is now dead. For the most part I liked Pres. Obama’s rational, measured, multilateral foreign policy, although I concede that he ought to have dealt with the ISIS threat sooner and more aggressively and he should have explained his reluctance to put “boots on the ground” in potential quagmires like Syria. Neocon Sen. John McCain falsified history when claiming that the main factor in ISIS’s rise was Obama’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The precursor of ISIS existed from the 1990s in the form of al-Zarqawi’s anti-Saddam al-takfir wa’l-jihad, which acquired military commanders from Saddam’s huge (Sunni Arab) army after Pres. Bush’s agent Paul Bremer disbanded it in 2003. There were upsides to enabling Iraqis to elect their own government; a downside was that the resulting Shi’ite regime excluded Sunni Iraqis from its ranks and especially from its army, inclining many of them to join the violent Islamist opposition. Then, during the 2011 “Arab Spring” revolt against dictator Bashir Asad, eastern Syria became a vacuum that ISIS filled. These were the central factors in the rise of ISIS; U.S. troops leaving Iraq was very peripheral at most. Rommey’s pronouncements suggested that he was tutored by neocon advisers: start a new war against Iran, let Bibi’s right-wing, expansionist Israeli government determine U.S. policy in the Mid East, etc.
Flowing from his ignorance and inexperience, Trump has made vague and contradictory statements on foreign policy. He has called his doctrine “America first,” which was the term for Lindbergh’s publicly isolationist and privately pro-Nazi movement to keep the U.S. out of WW2 against Hitler. He’s advocated both backing away from overseas commitments and getting tougher on overseas irritants. He has called Obama’s campaign against ISIS ineffectual, but Trump’s few concrete suggestions—weaken U.S. involvement in NATO, boycott Muslims (thereby alienating key U.S. allies like Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc.)—would surely harm our efforts to defeat jihadists movements. Indeed, Trump’s Islamophobic comments have played into the hands of ISIS, enabling it to attract many new recruits with the false and dangerous implications that Western nations hate all 1.5 billion Muslims and that the West’s values based on the rule of law are not viable options for any Muslims.
Pandering to his angry but misinformed supporters, Trump also has called for water-boarding and more aggressive interrogation methods; because ISIS beheads its victims and slaughters innocents, says Trump, we need “to fight fire with fire.” Military experts (including Sen. McCain) insist that torture does not produce good information—besides violating international and U.S. law; after Bush ‘43's experience, no members of the U.S. military or of the CIA would obey a president’s order to torture prisoners. While Trump’s grasp of foreign and military policy is very shallow, Secretary Clinton’s is wide and deep by virtue of her considerable experience; and she has charted a sane middle path between the foolish extremes of Neocon warmongering and libertarian isolationism. There are lessons to be learned from Benghazi— e.g., if we give military grade weapons to anti-dictator, jihadist rebels, make good plans against the day when the jihadists turn on us (we ought to have learned that lesson in Aghanistan after “Charlie Wilson’s War”); in those plans, establish a clear path for rapid decision-making between the State Department, the military services, and the CIA (since the CIA had been in charge of arms- distribution and then was mainly responsible for security at the Benghazi consulate); tell ambassadors to stay home on the anniversary of 9/11; if something bad happens, be patient until a muddled situation becomes clarified before airing official explanations to the public. Otherwise, I can’t help deeming the endless congressional committees as one-part GOP payback for Watergate and Iran-gate and two-parts GOP tactic for the 2016 election campaign—as Rep. Kevin McCarthy admitted. [“The classic blunders: the most famous is ‘never get involved in a land war in Asia’” (Vizzini character in Goldman’s The Princess Bride); A scorpion asks a frog to ferry it across the Nile. The frog hesitates, afraid of being stung, but the scorpion points out that it would also die if it killed the frog. Thus persuaded, the frog agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion stings the frog, dooming them both. As they sink into the Nile, the frog asks “why”?, so the scorpion explains: “This is the Middle East” (Egyptian version of the frog/scorpion fable).]
ON GUN CONTROL
In Columbia v. Heller (2008), Justices Stevens (minority dissent) and Scalia (majority) used grammatical analysis as well as historical sources and legal precedents in their debate over whether the 2nd amendment’s authors’ intent was to ensure the right to bear arms by state militias or by individual citizens. While agreeing with Stevens, I was impressed by the historical dimension of Scalia’s argument. But it is a straw man to assert that the current debate is over whether Americans can own weapons; it is rather about the kinds of weapons they can lawfully possess. On the “kinds” aspect, control-supporters do not aim to curtail the legal acquisition of hand and hunting guns; and control- opponents do not claim that the 2nd amendment guarantees them the right to buy grenade-launchers and stinger missiles (much less Sherman tanks and atomic bombs).
Linked to Scalia’s admission that the right to bear arms has limits, there’s a long standing consensus that this right applies to “small arms” and hunting guns but not to heavy military weapons. So the nub of the debate concerns where to draw the line and specifically how to categorize assault rifles or sub-machine guns. These are military weapons which can’t lawfully be used for hunting game of any kind or size. On these grounds and also because they’d become too easily acquired by criminals, terrorists, and the mentally ill, the “Federal Assault Weapons Ban” made illegal their purchase and possession in 1994. But that law expired in 2004 and was not renewed. Critics of the law argue that gun enthusiasts enjoy using assault rifles for target practice. But, however thrilling it is to fire military weapons, their being widely available and easily obtained by dangerous persons create risks to society that are unacceptably high, as evidenced by numerous mass shootings where the number of victims greatly multiplied because the deranged or terrorist killers used assault weapons rather than just pistols or rifles. Right-wing conspiracy theorists assert that they’ll need assault weapons to protect themselves from their own government which they’ve imagined has gone over to some “dark side.” I consider that notion to be really bizarre, while conceding that some of my in-laws and neighbors subscribe to it and recalling that during the 1960s the John Birch Society alleged that Eisenhower and Nixon were both Communist traitors (the “proofs” were photos showing Ike and Dick talking to Khuruschev—guilt by association is one of the common fallacies in logical reasoning).
I think the main reasons why the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was not renewed are, first, that manufacturers make enormous profits by selling these military weapons to civilians and, second, few GOP legislators have been willing to buck the manufacturers’ displeasure as enforced by the NRA. On the “lawfully” issue, persons with such labels as “convicted felons” cannot buy or own firearms. I find it very reasonable to add to that list other kinds of dangerous persons, including those on terror-watch and no-fly lists, subjects of restraining orders for domestic violence, and the mentally ill. I also feel it sensible to get serious about background checks and to close loopholes—such as having no checks at all when all sorts of weapons are sold over the internet or at ephemeral “gun fairs” rather than at permanent shops. I can’t help butsee a correlation between U.S. gun-makers’ $31.8 billion annual profit and the nearly 35,000 gun- related deaths each year. [“The Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law- abiding citizens for lawful purposes” (Justice Antonin Scalia, majority opinion in Columbia v. Heller, 2008); “Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace” (D&C 98:16).]
I find it useful to separate the legitimate issue of border security from the currents of xenophobia that have periodically flared against immigrants in our national experience. The early-arriving Dutch and English Protestants accepted their near counterparts (e.g., Scandinavians and Germans) well enough, but some of their spokesmen fear- and hate-mongered against subsequent waves of “others”: the Catholic Irish and Italians, the emancipated Blacks (“send them back to Africa”), the Chinese who built our western railways (the 1882 “Chinese Exclusion Act” against the “yellow peril”), Eastern European Jews (the 1924 “Immigration Act” set up a quota system), and recently mainly Hispanics. In a statement released10 June 2011, the LDS leadership counseled Mormons (a plurality of whom world-wide are now Hispanics) not to enter any country illegally and urged the U.S. government to secure its borders. It went on to say that “any state legislation that only contains enforcement provisions is likely to fall short of the high moral standard of treating each other as children of God. ...The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports a balanced and civil approach to a challenging problem, fully consistent with its tradition of compassion, its reverence for family, and its commitment to law.” At an LDS regional conference on 16 Sep 2012, Apostle Dallin H Oaks (ex-U. Chicago law professor, ex-BYU President, ex-Chief Justice of Utah’s Supreme Court) cautioned Mormons against joining “right-wing militia groups.” When just such a group of ranchers seized a federal wildlife sanctuary in Oregon in 2015-6, a few Mormons among them justified themselves by referring to Book of Mormon figures like “Captain Moroni” (a hardened battle commander who threatened his head of state—as it turned out, on the basis of misinformation!).
Condemning right away both the ranchers’ actions and their rationales, LDS Church leaders indicated that they were "deeply troubled by the reports that those who have seized the facility suggest that they are doing so based on scriptural principles....this armed occupation can in no way be justified on a scriptural basis." When Trump vowed on 6 Dec 2015 to ban Muslim immigrants, two days later the LDS Church released a statement citing Joseph Smith’s “Nauvoo Charter” (March 1841) which guaranteed “free toleration, and equal privileges” in the LDS-founded Illinois town for “Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Latter-day Saints, Quakers, Episcopals, Universalists, Unitarians, Mohammedans [Muslims] and all other religious sects and denominations.” In late March 2016, Linda K. Burton (president of the LDS women’s organization) announced a new program called “I Was a Stranger.” She cited the Mormons’ experience in Missouri, where in 1838 Governor Boggs issued an “extermination order” that justified state militia-men in making lethal attacks on Mormon settlements, from which the survivors fled up the Mississippi River to Quincy, Illinois, whose citizens took them in and bound up their wounds. Burton then explained how the “I Was a Stranger” program encourages and enables Mormon volunteers in the Americas and Europe to locate, befriend, and ease the transition of recent immigrants, including from the Middle East and Africa. On 12 Sept 2016, Elder Jeffry Holland called for more “outrage” over the plight of global refugees [Deseret News]. [“Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21).]
Established to train some professionals as well as clergy, medieval secondary schools and universitieswere sponsored and controlled by churches. England’s King Edward VI (1547-1553), realizing that the nation benefitted economically and politically from an educated citizenry, founded several “free grammar schools” for all children seeking literacy. This was a precedent for the British state school system which expanded during 1840-1870. In Colonial North America, churches also at first offered education at all levels. The first public high school appeared in Boston in 1821. By 1870 all states had public school systems. By 1900 most states made school-attendance compulsory until age 14. The benefits to the United States of a broadly educated public include the endurance of our democratic republic (which requires an informed citizenry) and the innovative character of our business and technology. Many European nations, which maintained secondary schools and universities essentially for the elite few, as recently as WWII criticized the United States for trying to educate all its citizens, but thereafter they began to borrow the American education model as they perceived its correlation with both prosperity and democracy. The Book of Mormon directly correlated education with wealth: “And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches” [3 Nephi 6:12].
I support the American tradition of broadly educating our people, particularly through the public schools, which have functioned as our escape hatches from poverty. I oppose efforts to undermine public education, which would transform poor families into a permanent underclass and take us back in the direction of medieval elitism. Beyond the “fairness” issue so dear to some Democrats, for me public education is principally a matter of developing our nation’s human potential to the fullest. Elegizing dead peasants in a rural cemetery, Thomas Gray noted that “Knowledge to their eyes...did ne’er unroll” and then imagined that “Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest” [“Elegy,” 1751]. One never knows from what modest public school there may emerge a Booker T. Washington (1856-1915; born into slavery, he became President of Tuskegee Institute) or a Philo Farnsworth (1906-1971; a Mormon who invented television, he graduated from Rigby High School in Idaho). [“You educate a man, you educate a man. You educate a woman, you educate a generation” (Brigham Young).]
ON THE ENVIRONMENT
Businessmen persuaded Republican President Benjamin Harrison to sign the Land Revision Act (1891) to protect some important watersheds from ranchers’ overgrazing the slopes and miners’ pock- marking them. Republican Teddy Roosevelt (1900-1908) solicited and signed the Antiquities Act (1906). By the end of his term, there were 6 national parks, 18 national monuments, and 51 federal wildlife sanctuaries.
After TR, presidents added more parcels in each category and with Congress created other kinds of federal lands, including national recreation areas, historic sites, historic trails, national forests, wilderness areas, conservation areas, wildlife refuges, recreation trails, and scenic byways. Containing some spectacular land formations, Utah has come to host 5 national parks (Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands), 7 national monuments (Cedar Breaks, Dinosaur, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, Rainbow Bridge, and Timpanogos Cave), and many units in the other categories, including 31 national forests. Roughly 60% of Utah’s land has come under federal control; it is administered through agencies like the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. National forests and some other entities have been designated “mixed use,” meaning that to some extent they can be used for grazing, harvesting wood, mining, and ATV- or motorcycle-type recreation in addition to camping, hiking, and mountain-biking. But ranchers, mining companies, and motored recreaters, straining at the restrictions on their activities, constantly push for greater leeway. To that end they want most federal lands transferred to state control, which in practical terms would mean more grazing, more shaft- and pit-mining, more roads for vehicles, more tracts of cabins, and more fast-food franchises.
These demands are opposed by environmental groups—some national like the Sierra Club (formed in 1892) and others local like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (1983)—who contend that the federal land policy is too lax and that the precious lands deserve better protection. Though not an “activist,” I am persuaded by the environmentalists’ arguments. One of these is economic: Utah gets a lot more revenue from national park tourism (requiring preservation of the land’s natural beauty) than it does from mining (which permanently degrades the landscape—and coal’s role in energy-production is yielding to non-polluting renewables as that of whale oil yielded to coal products many decades ago). Among those seeking a spiritual rationale for tending our planet, some draw upon native American religion while others find in Genesis’ creation account a mandate to Adam’s posterity for exercising wise stewardship over the earth that God created. LDS scriptures contribute several texts to this discussion, including: “Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion” (D&C 59:18-20). Brigham Young and Hugh Nibley, among others, have explicated this passage to encourage humans to limit their extractions to what they need; both say explicitly that permanently damaging the earth—including its air, water and other non-renewable resources—in order to accumulate great wealth violates all three points of the injunction “with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion” [Hugh Nibley, “Brigham Young on the Environment,” in Madsen & Tate, Mormon Essays on Great Issues, 1972].
I’m convinced that, in the present circumstances and the near term, federal agencies are better stewards of Utah’s public lands than would be the for-profit enterprises pushing to have these lands transferred to state control, thereby opening them more widely to commercial exploitation. [“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do” (Wendell Berry).]
When Samuel wanted to anoint Jesse’s eldest son, he was told: “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature...for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7)—an ancient caution against a persistent human tendency to judge a book by its cover. For me, patriotism is determined not by who wears a flag-pin but rather by who subordinates their personal interests to the nation’s well-being, as do members of our armed services. I deem it patriotic that Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton, graduates of fine law schools and so having the option to pursue very lucrative careers, devoted their lives largely to public service.
I wonder about Mitt Romney’s acquisition of a fortune through corporate raiding and confiscating the retirement pensions of fired workers then stashing that fortune in off-shore banks to avoid U.S. taxes. I also wonder about Trumps narcissistic cult of personality, his take-it-or-leave-it cheating of sub-contractors, his multiple bankruptcies to avoid paying legitimate debts, his Trump University scam, his outsourcing of jobs to Asia, his stashing of fortunes in tax havens to avoid U.S. taxes, his extensive business interests in Russia which have led him and dictator Putin into a mutual admiration society, and his bigotry toward women and ethnic minorities. [“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” (Samuel Johnson).]
In short, I voted for Pres. Obama and will vote for Hillary Clinton because they represent my interests and most of my values to a much greater extent than do Mitt Romney and Donald Trump.
A. H. Green earned a PhD (UCLA, 1973) in Mid-East History/Arabic and has chaired the Arabic Studies Department (American University in Cairo, 1982-85), directed the BYU Jerusalem Center (2000-02), and chaired BYU’s History Department (2005-07). He served a mission in France (1960-63), presided over the LDS Cairo Egypt Branch (1977-80) and the Israel District (2000-02); he and his wife have served two post-retirement missions.
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