Our Declaration of Independence From The Conservative Movement

By | 2016-08-24T11:46:02+00:00 July 21st, 2016|
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american greatness declaration of independence

American Greatness aims to be the leading voice of the next generation of American Conservatism.

Divisions made evident during the 2016 Republican primaries made the need for a new journal of American conservatism undeniable. The soil of the conservative movement is exhausted. It needs fertilization, re-sowing, and diligent cultivation if it is to thrive again. And while we will always owe a debt to the giants of the movement who have gone before us, we cannot slavishly attempt to relive the politics of 40 years ago.

It is not just that other journals have become unmoored from the principles of free government or calcified in their thinking; it is that they were founded on principles that were either insufficient or in conflict with the timeless principles of the American Founding.

As time has passed the errors in their foundings have become more pronounced. They have now culminated in intellectual stagnation and a tiresome policy orthodoxy (passing mindlessly for principles) that does not permit growth within or of the movement. Today, movement conservatism offers the American people not a choice, but an echo of the Left. Because of this, American Greatness is not an alternative to movement conservatism; it is a refounding of a distinctly American conservatism based upon the self-evident principle of human equality and the rights that flow from it. Just government exists to protect and promote these rights and is therefore necessarily limited, constitutional, and republican in its form.

Again: this year’s primary fight is not the cause of conservatism’s divisions or its current crisis. Those causes preceded this political moment and have been clear to the creators of this journal for some time. No candidate or accidental turn of events promises to—or can—bring about the necessary salvation.  Any salvation or redemption that comes to American Constitutional government must come by the virtuous action of the sovereign people of the United States, not from a sophisticated band of policy experts who arrive at answers they unilaterally deem “correct.”

What American Greatness Is Not

We are not political partisans. We hold no brief for any particular  candidate or policy prescription. On electoral matters, the editors are agnostic. We do not exist to tell anyone else how to vote. We can be neither vindicated nor embarrassed by the personal successes or failures of any candidate or collection of them in this or any other election year.

Similarly, American Greatness does not advocate any particular policy orthodoxy. We insist on clear distinctions between principles (permanent and enduring understandings of justice and right) and policy (objects for the realm of debate and politics to be guided by prudence as well as by principle). It is likely, however, that even in our internal discussions, we will have disagreements about where, precisely, the one ends and the other begins. We do not see that as a cause for alarm.

The best policy to advance a principle at any given time is, by its nature, changeable. These are arguments that will play out according to the politics of the moment. But we know that when people become accustomed to doing something in a certain way, even when that way is failing, it is difficult to convince them that it is possible to accomplish the same goals in some other, better way. We think lively and spirited debate about these questions, therefore, is healthy, necessary, and liberating.

Finally, although American Greatness owes an intellectual debt and its inspiration to the Journal of American Greatness (henceforth, JAG) and to some of its contributors, we are not the re-emergence of that much-admired effort.

We regret the passing of that manful but anonymous project, which sought to come to terms with the meaning of our current political moment by considering what may be called  a “Greatness Agenda” for America. (The fact that the contributors to JAG felt that anonymity was necessary speaks to the enormity of the problem of our times.) We intend to pick up where the other journal left off, recapturing some of its arguments and expanding upon them.

But our real object is more comprehensive and our methods aim to be more expansive in their reach. We believe that American conservatism has lost its way and, as a result, it has lost much of its original appeal. The once-vibrant political movement that nominated Barry Goldwater, elected Ronald Reagan, and defeated global communism has become ossified and unthinking to the point that conservative intellectuals act like priests mediating unknowable truth to the masses and administering the sacraments of conservative orthodoxy.  Regular excommunications have sapped the life and urgency from a movement once known for its intellectual vigor.  We intend to offer guidance and clarity to a spent movement by reclaiming the ideas and traditions upon which this country and our system of free government is based.

There are clues to what’s gone wrong in our past, but a slavish attachment to the ideas and policies of the past is not a way to advance or conserve our principles. Indeed, it is–precisely–the problem. We do not, in fact, seek to conserve any principles. They exist regardless of our action or inaction. We can only hope to have intelligent debate about how best to explain and defend those principles and the constitutional regime based upon them.

What American Greatness Is

We hold that America—much like movement conservatism—has lost her way. The nation has succumbed to  division and faction, infected by the insidious and  foreign virus of identity politics which has robbed Americans of our true identity as one people. We’re undermined further by an ever-growing centralized administrative state, which robs us daily of the opportunity to participate in governing our own lives as free and equal citizens under the rule of law.

Government has grown remote, unresponsive, and increasingly unaccountable. While many movement conservatives acknowledge these problems, they have failed to persuade a majority of American voters. What’s more, movement conservatives remain stubbornly unpersuaded by voters’ plain rejection of their solutions.  To their credit, the American people have, through common sense and hard experience, rejected the lie that their opinions about their interests and the laws that govern their lives are irrelevant. Likewise, most rank and file conservatives are unimpressed by the half-measures offered by a conservative movement that is more about conserving itself than conserving the people’s sovereignty.

So we do not condescend to tell our readers for or against whom they should cast their ballots  nor do we collectively contend that we are in possession of some “special expert knowledge” about their interests or some speculative good that is beyond their own poor powers to understand or to reach. We seek a higher level of conversation than that and a readership capable of coming to its own conclusions about how to use its franchise. We seek a revival of real politics.

Our editors, contributors, and writers agree that the staleness of the movement came about as a result of too much focus on the word “conservative” and not enough focus on the word “American.” Conservatives have suffered from a kind of elite insularity that pulled their focus away from broader, more American, interests and instead zeroed them in on the interests of their movement, its leaders, and its financial backers. In essence, it has become a kind of faction and has lost the ability to make an appeal to those who are not born into its concerns. It became a movement of conservative Americans instead of a movement of American conservatives.

Our object is a rediscovery of the American part of conservatism’s efforts. What, in other words, are we trying to conserve? And what are our prospects in this present political moment for conserving it?

As our name suggests, we understand the current dissatisfaction with our political institutions and the political polarization of our times to be a direct result of the failure of both political parties and the intellectual movements that direct them to advance an agenda for American greatness. Moreover, it is a failure to understand why such an agenda is so sorely needed.

A proper care and attention to the principles of America requires a serious effort to discover effective means of advancing, not just of conserving, those principles. America is a nation born in and of revolution. It is a radical appeal to a universal standard of justice and right, but it is also a limited appeal on behalf of one people who exist in this one place. As such, America’s principles have always taken the form of a proposition that needs constant affirmation and defending in every generation.

Americans are born but they must also be made. This means a diligent attention must be paid to the opinions and interests—expressed or implied—of the American people in its totality and as it actually exists.

In understanding that the American people are the rightful and sovereign rulers of their country, we cannot forget,as Lincoln reminded us, that in America “public sentiment is everything.”

“With public sentiment,” said Lincoln, “nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.” Molding the beliefs of a free people is necessarily more difficult than dictating from above. It requires education, habituation, and time. But free government cannot be sustained without a healthy public sentiment. So those who would hope to keep it healthy must, above all, actually engage with it and attempt to understand it as it exists and understands itself in reality, not just in the hopes and wishes of the would-be molders.

What is a Greatness Agenda?

When it comes to explaining what a “Greatness Agenda” might look like, we at American Greatness accept the definition of terms as laid out by our predecessors at JAG. The specifics are matters to be determined by real and actual politics that engages the consent of the sovereign people of the United States. But the issues that are paramount at this particular political moment, as we see it, are wrapped up in understanding more fully the American principle of sovereignty and what Harry V. Jaffa called the “conditions of freedom” (in other words, the things that allow us to preserve our sovereignty).  These include, especially, our fitness for liberty and our strength on the international stage.

The sense that we are in danger of losing our sovereignty as a free people is at the heart of the reason why questions of trade, immigration, and foreign policy have become so prominent. American conservatives need to pay closer attention to these issues and to respect (we do not say bow to) the will of the people on them.

Why is movement on these issues necessary? Let’s begin with trade. Conservatives have betrayed a lack of concern with the opinions and interests of significant numbers of their base and borrowed voters (think Reagan Democrats) when it comes to trade. We believe in free trade and free markets in the abstract, but the actual liberty and security of the American people cannot be sacrificed on the altar of a purely notional concept of free trade that rarely exists in the the real world.  

Free trade between free people is a principle of justice. It is why we can accept nothing less than a free market within our borders.  But truly free trade between nations, even when the two nations in question are relatively free and well-disposed toward one another, is more to be hoped for than expected. Freedom goes both ways, and should  serve American interests broadly speaking, not just economically speaking. The government should advance specifically American interests in trade deals with foreign powers. Interests sometimes change. The character of those interests is a matter for politics, not just for experts.

Immigration, too, is wrapped up in the question of the sovereignty of the people who, after all, have something to say about who their friends and neighbors should be. We hold that it is necessary to prioritize the American character of our culture. Obviously, we do not believe that it is impossible for the foreign born to become good Americans. Indeed, there are many instances where a foreign-born person has proven himself an even better, more truly American, citizen than the average native born one. This has nothing to do with ethnicity or race. It has everything to do with character, culture, understanding, and habits.

Importantly, promoting the American character  involves an implicit and cultivated understanding of what Lincoln called our “political religion” which is something we, today, in our collective shame for past sins and imperfections, refuse to understand or appreciate. We no longer effectively assimilate even highly motivated immigrants to the ideas that make freedom a condition we can preserve. Instead, we leave immigrants to adopt the elements of decay and cultural rot that make preserving liberty so much more difficult. An immigrant may come to America thinking that Washington and Lincoln are heroes, only to discover that our schools and our media teach that Washington and Lincoln were irredeemable racists and bigots. Our high levels of immigration are probably not sustainable at all, but they are certainly not sustainable with an education system that undermines the qualities necessary for self-government by encouraging strife among Americans.

Finally, while conservatives can and should be cheerful about positive democratic developments in foreign lands, we need to move away from the idea that seeking to spread democracy is a necessary objective of America’s foreign policy.

Our defense forces and vast national resources shouldn’t be deployed as political missionaries. We have legitimate national interests abroad that need defending, but the first object of any American foreign policy should be to maintain our national strength for our own sake. If, as part of that objective, democracy and good government are spread abroad, so much the better. We cheer it but do not demand or prioritize it over and against American interests.

This brief description of what we are calling the “Greatness Agenda” is not meant to be exhaustive.  It is meant only to introduce the need for debate and consideration about these matters as part of a legitimate and necessary political conversation grounded in truly American concerns for the preservation of liberty. This is exactly the kind of forum we strive to provide.  We will defend the principles of limited, constitutional government based on the consent of the governed and of the American constitutional order as the best means for securing the rights inherent to all mankind.  

— The Editors

About the Author:

The Editors
  • F William Darcy

    You certainly have more guts than the JAG writers by using your own names, putting your reputations out on the line, and by allowing comments. However, I am not certain that JAG was a serious journal. Knowing as little about Strauss as I want to, it seems like his “disciples” love to put secret meanings in their writings. That’s why I don’t think it actually meant to make a real cause for the “Greatness Agenda”. It seems to me to have been more of a joke meant to poke fun out of what the Republican party has become.

    • QET

      I wondered the same thing about JAG. But I decided they were more serious than glib owing to the length and sophistication of the writings there. JAG inclined to didacticism, but I think that was because their chief concern seemed to be, as with this new site, restating and reasserting the bedrock principles on which a truly conservative American politics ought to be based, principles long buried beneath years and decades of policy based on Party expediency.

      But then again, I worry that maybe it was, as you say, just a joke and I fell for it.

    • Grouchy Oldman

      Bravo! I am so pleased to see the revival of the JAG in this vibrant and optimistic forum. Well done and best wishes to you.

      I am certain that I’m not the only one who feels a visceral hunger for the ideas so eloquently expressed here. You’ll likely experience a huge surge of interest and, given the lessons learned from the JAG experiment I hope and expect that you’re ready for the coming storm.

      I’d like to make a plea for the restoration of the original JAG articles in the form of an archive so that the roots of this important discussion can be preserved. Perhaps the original anonymous authors would agree to allow their work to be displayed here?

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  • Schacar Mevsky

    ” The soil of the conservative movement is exhausted. It needs fertilization, re-sowing, and diligent cultivation to grow again.”

    Soil grows?

    • Neuromancer

      From Merriam-Webster:

      transitive verb
      1. a : to cause to grow
      b : to let grow on the body
      2
      : to promote the development of (start a business and grow it successfully — J. L. Deckter)

      So, yes, soil “grows”, in the transitive sense..

  • Conrad O’Connor

    I was a big fan of JAG but my I was somewhat disappointed it did not allow comments. Best of luck in the new endeavor.

  • smagar

    Glad to see that JAG didn’t just fade away, but instead morphed into something else.

    If people wonder why Americans seem so uniquely focused on their national identity, their identity as Americans—well, look at the first half of the 20th century. Especially in Western Europe. By the time WWII ended, Western Europe had had three major wars (Franco-Prussian, WWI and WWII) in the past century. Many Western Europeans were wary of national identities, because the nations of Western Europe had proved that they couldn’t keep from going to war with each other. Hence, the postwar yearning to build a “community of nations.” A byproduct of that was a distaste for nationalism and patriotism.

    Americans have had a much happier experience with nationalism and patriotism.

    • Deplorable Me

      I am beginning to understand however, that freedom and liberty are a white construct, culminating with Martin Luther giving the Pope the finger.

      • Cmon now, Skin tone and historical linage isn’t essential, ethnicity is always mixing around, and values are not genetic inheritances.

        People have differences, but no Nation can exist or assert itself when it leaves out a portion for pretty much half-cooked reasoning. It also clearly is not in the interests of working class people to accept race as a social construct.

        • Deplorable Me

          I disagree. Freedom and liberty are a northern European construct which predates the Vikings. They were not ruled by kings, rather, each man had a voice. White privilege let to Martin Luther telling the Pope (southern European) to pound sand. The enlightenment was also a white construct and led our founding fathers to also declare their independence. This does not happen in other cultures. Just sayin’.

        • Deplorable Me

          Remind me from where the concepts of liberty and freedom sprang?

    • Dragblacker

      “Hence, the postwar yearning to build a “community of nations.” A
      byproduct of that was a distaste for nationalism and patriotism.”

      Well, how’s that working out for them? It’s 1683 all over again but John III Sobieski isn’t saving the day.

  • QET

    I am very interested to see how this site develops its Agenda, but conservatives are going to have to remember that the Latin root of “Agenda” means “to do,” that deeds are today required more than arguments, and that in order first to halt, then to repair, the damage inflicted by decades of Left infiltration of our political, educational and cultural institutions, conservatives/the Right are going to have cut the Chestertonian knot about how progressives make mistakes while conservatives are prevented by their principles from correcting them.

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  • Neuromancer

    I don’t know if the editors will see this, but I find the articles hard to read because of the Twitter/Facebook/Google/Whatever block obscuring the left side of the page.

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  • mauloa

    “There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.” Abraham Lincoln – – Trump understand this precept and has included strong law and order in his message. As long as Liberal/Progressives are fed their agenda by George Soros we will have the BLM, the protesters, the flash mobs, chaos, et al. The most dangerous thought I’m experiencing is not that Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt and dangerous individual to run for and possibly get the presidency (we know that through facts)– the real danger is how very many voters “don’t care” and will vote for her regardless. When welfare, happiness and honor of the people are sacrificed at the shrine of ambition, pride, control and power — it is by these means nations are overthrown, kingdoms destroyed, communities broken up, families rendered miserable and individuals ruined.

  • bookish1

    Sensible approach.

  • anb1

    How curious that this little group suddenly discovers that conservatism has atrophied and that THEY have answers only after the primary season of 2016. So immediately they appear opportunistic. Then they follow it up with this near incomprehensible drivel about how we believe in free trade, but we don’t believe in free trade….? The stink they have put on themselves and on Claremont more generally will not be forgotten.

    • tracycoyle

      The idea of sovereignty is that each proceeds from his/her own reason – not being led as to which way to go. It was clear that Conservatism was at best diminished, more fragmented into “humpty-like” pieces. As to free trade, comprehension being the tool of reading, I got the idea that you can’t have free trade between people/nations that are so unequal as to render the concept void. A buyer and seller negotiate from ‘roughly equal’ positions, when one is distinctly unequal, free trade is not possible – even if you force it…

      • anb1

        What does that even mean? What are “unequal positions”?

        • tracycoyle

          If you have a country with a starving population and I offer 50 tons of food a month for the ability to mine your country of the rich veins of rare earth metals you have, have we made a ‘fair trade’? Even if you argue – and we have – that it is private companies doing the mining and offering a ‘fair’ deal is what was negotiated, is there no room to argue that the parties were not on a level field? What is the issue with a Russian oligarch getting control of a large portion of our uranium sources? Or China controlling a significant portion of rare earths metal ores? Or the issue of countries subsidizing their exports at the expense of their import partners economies…none of those are ‘equal’

          • anb1

            Yes, in your example, that is a fair trade. Rare earth metals do not do starving people any good. This is a perfect example of beneficial trade. I guess you would prefer no trade and people starving to death.

            What exactly do you mean “level playing field”? If two parties are free to make their own decisions free of coercion, yes, it is a level playing field. If you choose to be Bill Gates’ houseboy for minimum wage then you have negotiated that agreement on a level playing field, notwithstanding the difference in net worth.

            Your Russia example is irrelevant. Your China suggestion is bizarre.

            Subsidize exports at the expense of their import partners economies? Huh? The people doing the subsidizing are in the home country that has to finance the subsidy, and the beneficiaries are the importers’ consumers.

          • Your backwards on what America First means,

            Hillary is calling you to vote for her, may I suggest you suck-up the grossness and admit she better serves your material interests.

          • anb1

            Wow, are you a buffoon! A couple weeks prove it.

            I voted for Trump, troll. He’s not perfect, but he’s no Hillary.

            Unlike you, I don’t vote for my “material interests”–I vote for the ideas of this country, and while Trump knows nothing about them, the Clintons are the biggest assault on those ideas in history.

            And lastly, are you threatening me, punk?

          • “Unlike you, I don’t vote for my “material interests”-”

            So your either a lier, a hypocrite, or still naive. Politics are about material Interests, they won’t tell you this in school, but in the real world that’s how things actually work. Every single ideal or universal value is merely pretext for an unstated material interest. Every ‘good intentioned’ intervention was not about ideals, values, or principals, it was about material interests. War is about economics, the geo-political impacts on material interests, NEVER is it actually about ideals. It merely just wears the false robe of liberalism.

            So you don’t vote for your material interests? Soros serves his, Trump serves his, I serve mine as I’m in the working class… but you on the other hand, you take a position of liberal morality? No thanks, I prefer defending my material interests, this is WHY I oppose globalist bullshit.

            “I voted for Trump, troll”

            Troll? You’re the one making a very confused pro-hillary argument, telling the other guy his Russian example was irrelevant … when, now catch this…

            http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/us/cash-flowed-to-clinton-foundation-as-russians-pressed-for-control-of-uranium-company.html

            See how stupid you look now? Yet I’m the punk? Your using globalist arguments, advocating Paul Ryan style neo-liberalism… somehow you voted for Trump? Did you really not get which candidate was which? Why didn’t you just do what the trans-nationalists told you to do? Everyone else knew, but you didn’t?

          • anb1

            Wow–you devote days and days to crafting a response, and you still screw everything up.

            You are wrong. In this country people historically do not vote for their “material interests”. If they did, leftists would win every time, because the mean income is far higher than the median, so it would be easy for the majority to steal from their betters. Perhaps in your desperate attempt to pretend you are right, you will suggest that people look at their lifelong material interests and the promise of a better life many years down the road, but that is just being a leftist again–pretending that words mean whatever is convenient for you at the time.

            You are not worth another second, but please know that I am laughing at you, boy.

    • SolidCitizen

      Disagree, maybe we all have learned something in the primaries. Something like the Amerca First agenda is so widely supported that even a deeply flawed candidate, can earn the vote of 45% of the electorate.

  • …in other words, you’re not limited government conservatives at all…..not liberty conservatives at all….because that’s so “orthodox.” You are actually nationalist populist progressives, because those policies can work at “this given time.” Bunch of frauds.

    • National Populist sounds good, progressive not so much.

      Conservatives can screw themselves, arming ISIS isn’t in the people’s interest. Their is now nothing left to conserve, it’s been over for decades, and you failed.

      • C. Edmund Wright

        what are you babbling about? Arming ISIS is not “conservative” – and your definition sounds retarded…..oh wait, I get it…I claim that this great new conservatism movement isn;t conservative at all, and you step right into my trap. Game set match to Edmund. Thanks.

        • OK, I’m sure it’s not Liberal either, your both the same establishment ideological bullshit thats why.

          It isn’t conservative… because conservatism is just neo-liberalism with less domestic taxes.

          • C. Edmund Wright

            but he ran as a conservative, you dumbass….and I guess Obama hasn’t been in Washington for eight years? Are you the dumbest person on all of the Internet?

          • Are you a post-modernist, or do you really not take the time to read the words I actually said. Let me make my position more clear for you.

            Conservatives and Liberals are practically the same thing, neo-liberal globalism. Both can screw themselves, and Trump won by not running on their single platform with two pretend sides. If you support trump, and think of yourself as a conservative, you never really were, Trump ran on a National Populist platform, with some Conservative policies on fiscal matters.

          • C. Edmund Wright

            you just proved my point, made my case, and aren’t smart enough to figure it out. Plus there is no way you can even define your neo-liberal globalism.

          • Got it, your an establishment shill, and your mad about losing.

            I don’t do dialectics with post-modernists who believe in multiple truths.

          • C. Edmund Wright

            is that why Steve Bannon personally recruited me to Breitbart to write an anti establishment series….because I’m an establishment shill? You’re such a pathetic non thinker.

  • rickv404

    “What American Greatness Is Not”

    It’s not what you people stand for – more meddling from the federal government, which we are sure to get with Trump, or Clinton.

  • Kyle Flaig

    It is tempting to wade in knee deep to the thoughts of the writers I have read to date here, but a caution to everyone who feels the same…changing reading preferences from one corner of the internet to another is NOT the answer to America’s problems. Changing the emphasis in what is written and read from Conservatism to Americanism, again, is not the answer. The editors did, however, write one sentence early is this column that is the key, and it is this: “Any salvation or redemption that comes to American Constitutional government must come by the virtous ACTION (emphasis mine) of the soverign people of the United States…”
    That is the solution. While conservatives, constitutionalists and republicans have been reading and writing and wringing their hands in the corners of conservative websites, the politicians we have elected have been walking small and carrying a tiny stick. If we continue to define ACTION as reading a new and improved conservative website, we are at end. If amgreatness wants to actually change the country, prepare a framework of action that every American who loves their country and lives a conservative life can follow to begin to knock down the progressive walls that have been erected around us. A good start would be a plan to try and eliminate as many msm outlets as possible followed by a plan for parents to change the educational system. Someone needs to rally the soverign people of the United States to virtous action, maybe amgreatness can do it.

    • Pretty sure we rejected this vision quite soundly in the primaries, we didn’t chose Cruz for a very good reason, and it had nothing to do with doubting his conservatism.

  • SolidCitizen

    Thank you for making a home for American Greatness on the internets.

  • Deplorable Me

    Give me the pen! I’ll show Hancock how it’s done.

  • Demerise the Deplorable

    If Americans from both sides of the political divide make their stand against the widespread and entrenched corruptness that exists now, then that would be a great start.

  • Deplorable Me

    “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party,”

    Drain. The. Swamp.

  • Not buying, it seems like a clear way to re-assert the same conservative agenda with a new cultural wrapping.

    No deal,

    Conservatism must fully die now, 100% dead. It failed to conserve anything of value, and instead bought every culture war baited by the liberals. With a wink-wink of playing the bad-cop on a neo-liberal/neo-con screw over of the American people.

  • Peter

    –snip–
    Any salvation or redemption that comes to American Constitutional government must come by the virtuous action of the sovereign people of the United States, not from a sophisticated band of policy experts who arrive at answers they unilaterally deem “correct.”
    –snip–

    A) Since when is expertise in policy not a virtuous act? Perhaps sophisticated policy expertise is the very essence of the virtuous action that Constitutional government requires? After all, isn’t this why we have a republic and not a pure democracy?

    B) If these experts are US citizens then they are already card-carrying members of the sovereign people of the United States.

    C) Try this: Any salvation or redemption that comes to American Constitutional government must come by the virtuous action of the sovereign people of the United States, not from a sophisticated band of bloggers who choose which of these people they unilaterally deem “virtuous.”

  • lweber1939@gmail.com

    I am sure you all feel better.