Author: Jack Shields

Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

Jack Shields | United States

Donald Trump did not win the 2016 election. This isn’t some article telling you about how Russia rigged the election. I recognize that Trump became President fair and square, winning 304 electoral votes. But Trump did not win the election so much as Hillary Clinton lost the election. Trump got lucky and won the Republican primary because he was the most unique candidate in the field of 17. While campaigning, Trump would say or do things that would completely destroy any other candidate’s chance of victory. From making fun of John McCain for being captured in Vietnam to a tape being leaked of him bragging about sexually assaulting women, it seemed impossible for him to become the 45th President of the United States. Yet Hillary Clinton was so unappealing, so corrupt, and so strangely unable to visit the mysterious lands of Wisconsin, that Trump was able to win the election in spite of himself.

With Trump’s approval ratings at historic lows, no wall built, and the Blue Wave in the 2018 midterms, you would think that the Democrats would have learned their lessons from the 2016 election and would be preparing for their easy path to the White House in 2020. But the Democrats have learned all the wrong lessons from both their defeat in 2016 and their victory in 2018. And it is because of this that they are set to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and ensure the reelection of President Trump.

Learning the Wrong Lessons

Coming away from the last two elections, the Democrats believed that they needed to become more radical. To them, Hillary didn’t lose because she was unlikable and corrupt. She lost because she was moderate. This mindset has caused the party to go sprinting as far left as they can. Presidential candidate Kamala Harris has been quoted as saying she wants to do away with private health insurance. Another candidate, Elizabeth Warren, has proposed a wealth tax. New York recently legalized late term abortions, and the Democratic Virginia Governor is supporting infanticide as a bill is proposed legalizing late term abortions in his state. And many are supporting Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez’s Green New Deal, which is Marxism with a hint of environmentalism. This is the exact opposite lesson than the one Democrats should learn. Americans may hate Trump, but this does not mean they love socialism. Most people do not like socialism. Polls show that most Americans do not support late term abortions. And the results of the 2018 Blue Wave consisted of suburban voters leaving the Republicans for moderate Democrats, not radicals. The American people want a moderate, not a Harris, not a Warren, and certainly not a Sanders. If they have the choice of Socialism or Trump, they will do just as they did with Clinton in 2016 and re-elect him. As Ben Shapiro said on his show, “All [the Democrats] had to do was not be crazy, and they can’t do it.”

This radicalism has resulted in former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz seriously considering running as an independent. An independent has a serious chance of performing at the level Ross Perot did in 1992, costing President George H. W. Bush his reelection with the unpopularity of both parties. But as seen in the 2000 election with the defeat of Vice President Gore, a third party candidate would only need about 3% of the vote to derail a candidate. If the Democrats picked a candidate perceived as a moderate such as Beto O’Rourke or Joe Biden and pitched the candidate as a return to normalcy, they’d be set to cruise to the White House. But instead, they seem hell bent on alienating moderates and giving Trump a second term.

The next mistake the Democrats have made is their embrace of intersectionality. The idea that what victim groups you fall into determines how important your opinion is has consumed the Democratic base. Just recently, a Women’s March in San Francisco was canceled due to the fact that too many of the participants are white. Your skin color or gender is now one of the most important qualities in determining if you will be the Democratic nominee. The best example of this is Beto O’Rourke. I’m not big on giving the Democrats advice; I want them to lose. But if I was a Democrat, I’d want Beto to be the candidate. He ran a close campaign as a Democrat in Texas, and now the GOP is worried about losing the state in 2020. He would easily defeat Trump with suburban voters turning on the Republican party. But they won’t do that. The Democrats are already criticizing Beto for being a white male. The base will not let a non-intersectional candidate win. While that might work in a primary, it will not win you the general. As long as the media push Kamala Harris because she is the intersectional candidate, Trump’s chances get better every day. With Democrats caring about skin color and gender so much that they will throw away their best chance at flipping Texas for a Senator who has accomplished nothing in the Senate and jump-started her career by sleeping with a 60-year-old married man simply because she is black and female, get prepared for four more years of Trump.

2020 should be a blowout for the Democrats. Come January 20, 2021, we should be talking about the brutal beating Trump suffered and how the parties have realigned in favor of the Democrats with Texas and Georgia now officially going blue. All that needs to happen is for Democrats to pick a moderate and focus on Trump’s behavior. But they just can’t help themselves. Democrats are allowing their party to be consumed by socialism and the religion of Intersectionality. It is looking more and more like when 2021 comes, we will be talking about how once more the Democrats managed to find a way to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory.


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The Least Immoral and Most Effective Tax

Jack Shields | United States

Ben Franklin once said, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Indeed, since civilization formed, they have been a part of life. Today, taxes are everywhere: we have income, sales, and estate taxes, tariffs, and many more.

Despite most people thinking they pay enough or more than their share, many are quite happy to raise taxes on others in the name of ‘paying their fair share.’ And now, with the Democrats in control of the House Representatives, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already proposing a top rate of 70% to fund her radical agenda.

Which Form of Taxation is Best?

It is important to note that after the Trump tax cuts, the Feds collected a record amount of revenue. Moreover, the 1% who supposedly don’t pay their fair share already contribute 43% of the collected revenue. Meanwhile, the top 20% contribute 87% of the total income tax revenue. Rightfully, some conservatives and most libertarians despise the current state of high taxes. Because of this, Republican administrations and red states have slashed them when they had the opportunity. But in their noble goal, they have neglected the fairest one of them all. 

When examining which taxation method is best, the valid questions of whether there should there be taxation or should the government be spending this much are irrelevant. As of right now, there is spending and there is taxation. I will give neither justification nor disapproval for either. Rather, I will present the best possible situation in the status quo by examining all possible taxes. Obviously, we may need some other forms of taxation to fund all our spending, but we should still strive towards the most moral system possible.

Property Tax: Immoral and Harmful

Perhaps the most popular alternative method for red states without an income tax, such as Texas, is the Real Property Tax, a tax on real estate. In principle, a property tax may be on any good someone owns, not necessarily just land. This is immoral in principle and detrimental in practice. One of the most important rights an individual can have is the right to property and the fruit of one’s labor.

Placing a tax unrelated to the actual acquiring of such property effectively makes it not your property. Rather, the government owns it and you may rent it as long as you can pay for it. As soon you are unable to, you must give it back up to those who really own it.

If you work your entire life to pay for something, it ought to be yours entirely. When the transaction is complete, the government should not be involved, save cases of illegal misuse and other abnormal instances. No government should allow itself to take property that you worked hard to attain.

Tariffs and the Sales Tax

Among the protectionists of the Republican party such as President Trump, tariffs have been supported. Tariffs, however, act essentially as just another tax against the American people. They make better products cost more and lose us thousands of jobs.

Economically, they are a complete disaster. Free trade, which requires no tariffs, is the best way to improve the lives of Americans. Any economic system which places protecting the worker over pleasing the consumer is doomed to fail, and tariffs are a means by which protectionists hope to achieve their flawed economic system, and they should receive support.

The sales tax is also a popular idea among conservatives and libertarians as a way to get rid of the income tax. On the surface, this is a very appealing option. No income tax. No IRS. Seems quite nice. However, the problem is this is regressive and unfairly impacts the poor.

Take two individuals that live in a city with a 5% sales tax. Person A makes $20,000 a year and Person B makes $100,000. Person A has to spend all of their $20,000, essentially giving them an income tax of 5%. But Person B spends $80,000 of their $100,000, saving the rest. This effectively gives them a rate of 4%, as they pay nothing on what they saved. We should strive for the fairest rate and the regressive sales tax is not the best choice.

Taxes that Unfairly Harm the Rich

Just as we shouldn’t have a system that unfairly harms the poor, we should not have a system that harms the rich. But unfortunately, this idea is quite popular in two very immoral ways. The first of these is the estate tax, perhaps the most immoral one out there. The idea that when someone dies, the government gets to go in and take some of their stuff, is truly horrifying. It is one thing to tax someone as they earn income or are in the middle of a transaction. The idea, though, that a death initiates a need to take from the family is just wrong.

One of the biggest incentives for earning is to care for your family. One of the marks of a truly successful life, at least from an economic perspective, is having your family be financially prosperous because of you, even when you are long gone. The fact that this only targets the richest of the rich is irrelevant when looking at it from a moral perspective. When someone dies, there is no moral reason to go in and take their stuff. 

The Progressive Income Tax

The next favorite policy against the rich is the progressive income tax. The idea, of course, is that as you make more money, you can afford to lose more of your income. There are already a plethora of economic reasons why this is a terrible idea, and Thomas Sowell writes particularly well on the issue. The economic side has already seen lengthy discussion.

However, just as with the estate tax, the immorality of the system has seen little public examination. If an individual obeys the law and earns a sizable income, what right do you have to use the government to steal the money and use it for your own ideas? The idea that these rich people are evil and have no idea how to help people with their money is just wrong. Practically, do you really think Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi are smarter with money than Bill Gates, who is using his billions to cure AIDS, or LeBron James, who is using his millions to send underprivileged kids to college? Of course not.

Morally, if your neighbor disapproved of the way you spent your money so he took 70% of it and spent it how he wished, we’d call it stealing (rightfully so). When the government does it, it is still stealing and still wrong. The point of taxation is to give the government a stream of revenue to properly execute its powers. If at any point taxation deviates from this goal in the name of any other, it is immoral. Surely, this is the poster child for this immoral practice.

Its Cousin: Sin Taxes

Special taxes against things which present a supposed moral problem such as alcohol or marijuana (sin tax) are essentially the cousin of the progressive income tax and are just as immoral. Taxing something, whether it be a whiskey tax or carbon tax, is just another way to legislate morality. Just like the progressive tax, this deviates from the goal of bringing in revenue.

The Flat Tax: The Most Moral System

With prevalent practical and moral issues with all the taxation methods listed above, the flat income tax stands alone as the most moral tax system. Of course, it is not perfect; any type of taxation is a necessary evil, after all. By definition, necessary evil is still evil. Nevertheless, it solves the moral and practical issues of the other systems.

Unlike the property tax, this only occurs right as you acquire money, and then you’re done. You don’t have to keep paying it every year. Unlike tariffs, it in no way interferes with free trade. Unlike the sales and progressive income taxes, it does not disproportionately affect the rich or poor. It is an equal percentage across the board, making it fair by mathematical law. Unlike the estate tax, it will not immorally take money from a family dealing with the loss of a loved one. And unlike the progressive income or sin taxes, the flat tax does not legislate morality.

If you raise the rate on one group, you have to raise it on all, making rate increases much more difficult and unpopular. This will help to ensure that taxation only funds the government’s enumerated powers. Thus, it will be moral (assuming, of course, that the enumerated powers are moral).

Because it is both moral and practically capable of raising a reasonable amount of revenue; the flat tax is clearly the system conservatives and libertarians should advocate for in their quest to end limitless taxation and government spending. 


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The States Should Control National Parks

Jack Shields | United States

The federal government has been shut down since December 22nd. I am a huge fan of government shutdowns, as I believe they disprove a popular illusion about the importance of government. The illusion, of course, is that we need government to shield us from the dangers of freedom and without the government being involved in every part of our lives, we’d fall apart in violent anarchy. But it’s been weeks since the shutdown. I’m not dead. No one else is dead. People are still getting their Social Security checks. The military is still out there protecting us, fully funded. Everything is okay. And the fact there are parts of the federal government that can be labeled as ‘non-mandatory’ and not be funded during this shutdown ought to prove the government has grown way too large and we should rid ourselves of these self-acclaimed unnecessary programs. You’d be hard pressed to find a private company that could survive long while paying non-mandatory employees. Many of these non-mandatory programs should just be defunded and forgotten about forever (the study which analyzed the effects of cocaine on a bird’s sexuality comes to mind). However, many are extremely popular and aren’t going anywhere, with national parks being perhaps the biggest example. These types of programs should be devolved back to the state level. This will restore federalism and actually improve the state of the parks.

The idea of national parks was conceived in the mid nineteenth century, with advocates such as John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and Stephen Mather claiming the federal government should ensure that some land is kept natural and preserved so that all generations may experience their beauty. And they were incredibly successful. The first of such came about when President Lincoln required California to preserve Yosemite. Then, President Grant made Yellowstone the first official national park. More were gradually added but the number of national parks skyrocketed under President Theodore Roosevelt, as he added national parks, national monuments, national game refuges, bird sanctuaries, and millions of acres of national forests. Under President Wilson, the National Park Service was created in 1916, and today there are 392 national parks along with millions and millions of acres of other federally protected lands and areas.

National parks in and of themselves may not be such a bad idea. I, for one, am certainly sympathetic to the idea we should preserve some of nature for the generations to come. Even one of the greatest Libertarian thinkers of all time, Ron Swanson of Parks and Rec, seemed to give exception to the national parks when it came to his philosophy of an almost nonexistent government. But just because something is a good idea does not mean the federal government should be the one doing it. If this was true, then we should immediately give the federal government complete control over the economy, violent crime, schools, and every single issue that has ever existed. Because, after all, if it’s a good idea, why shouldn’t everyone do it? This logic is in complete contradiction of federalism, localism, and most importantly the Constitution.

The United States was designed to allow most decisions to be decided at a local level. This was because it holds the representatives more accountable, ensures there are more similarly held beliefs, prevents tyranny, and actually makes more people happy with their government. When it comes to the national parks, there isn’t too much concern that tyranny will arise from them, so making the people happy is the most important issue, and localization ensures the highest success rate. Say for example there are 100 people living in Texas and 80 living in New Mexico. In Texas, 80 people want to increase the budget for the parks. In New Mexico, only 30 want to increase the budget. Under a federalized park system, the budget is increased, with 110 citizens being left pleased with the turnout, and 70 citizens being left disappointed. But under true federalism, the budget is increased in Texas but left the same in New Mexico. This leaves 130 citizens being left pleased with their respective states’ decisions, and only 50 being left disappointed. If Americans want more funding for parks, more protections, or perhaps they’d rather sell the land, all that is well and good. But it should be decided at the state level, leaving more people happy.

Even more important than ensuring the happiness of the citizenry, national parks should be devolved to the states according to the Constitution. There’s really nothing wrong with the idea of parks, and National Parks aren’t really a tyrannical threat to liberty, so most people are probably fine with them being run by the federal government. But we are either a nation of men or a nation of laws. And seeing as because of the principles it is built on, a nation of men turning tyrannical is almost certain, I’d much rather live in a nation of laws. That means strictly upholding the Constitution. Even when it comes to the fun stuff like parks that almost no one has a problem with. Nowhere in the Constitution is the power to run national parks granted to the federal government. This fact requires two parts of the Constitution to be evaluated. First, Article I Section 8 Clause 18, known as the Elastic Clause. This clause states that any law may be passed to execute an enumerated power, and this has been interpreted to allow the federal government to have powers not specifically listed in the Constitution if they are necessary to execute an enumerated power. For example, requiring men to sign up for the draft is considered an implied power which is necessary in executing the power to raise and support armies granted by Article I Section 8 Clause 12. However, it is clear that having national parks isn’t necessary in order to coin money, regulate commerce, or any of the other powers granted to the federal government. Which leads to the 10th Amendment which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by this Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The Constitution says quite clearly what should be done when it comes to parks. 

This devolution of the parks to the states will not only be in line with the Constitution and make more people happy but will also ensure the parks are run more efficiently. Right now the federal government is shut down, which means the national parks are shut down. This means there is no tourism which is causing lots of money to be lost, no one is cleaning the parks (except a few cases of private, charitable parties doing it), and many other problems and inconveniences. The shut down is occurring because the Republicans and Democrats cannot come up with a compromise when it comes to immigration reform, more specifically, President Trump’s proposed wall. Which means tourists can’t go to the parks, and the parks are covered in trash that can’t be cleaned, because of immigration laws. It seems silly that immigration policy should determine whether or not you get to go to Yosemite. With parks in the hands of the states, President Trump and Speaker Pelosi can scream at each other all they want and shut down the government as long as they want, and it won’t effect your trip to the park one bit.

Devolving the national parks to the states would be a simple concept in a time of extreme partisanship and gridlock that would do a little to reign the federal government back into its constitutional boundaries, make citizens a little happier, and prove that not only does the federal government not have to be involved in every little thing, things may actually be better when they aren’t.


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It’s Time to Replace the Electoral College

Jack Shields | United States

The 2016 election was a showdown between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton. The fact that the leader of the free world was going to be one of these individuals, both of whom were under FBI investigation, shows that our electoral system is in need of reform. Further compounding this need is the fact that Donald Trump received 2.8 million votes fewer than the loser, Hillary Clinton. The Electoral College is clearly a disaster which does not do an adequate job in achieving any of the noble goals presented by its supporters. However, the solution of going to a popular vote, by far the most popular idea, would be even worse. The Electoral College must be repealed and replaced with a ranked choice voting system, rather than relying on the popular vote.

The Failure of the Electoral College

The Electoral College was a disaster from the start. The system went unnoticed during the first two elections as George Washington was running, so it was really more of a formality than an actual election. Its flaws, however, became apparent in the election of 1796 between Federalist John Adams and Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson. At the time, the Electoral College operated under the rules prescribed in Article II Section 1 Clause 3, which gave each elector two votes for President. Whoever had the majority of votes became President, and whoever had the second most became Vice President. Adams won, becoming President, but rather than fellow Federalist, Thomas Pinckney, receiving the second most to become Vice President, Jefferson of the opposite party did. This made the Executive branch split ideologically for the only time in American history, causing tension and inefficiency. Problems continued in the election of 1800 when Democratic-Republicans Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr each received 73 electoral votes and the outcome of the election went to the House of Representatives. It was a brutal political battle that took 35 deadlocked votes before Alexander Hamilton convinced a minority of Federalist Representatives to back Jefferson in the 36th vote, making him the third President of the United States (a decision that would help lead to Burr killing Hamilton in a duel). Both sides understood our electoral system was a mess, so to remedy this the Twelfth Amendment was ratified in 1804, making each elector now have only one vote for President and one for Vice President.

While certainly an improvement, ratifying Twelfth Amendment was like applying a band-aid when surgery is required. Many more problems have surfaced since regarding Presidential elections and more and more band-aids have been added.

With electoral votes being what matters and not the votes of the people, the right to vote in a Presidential election was not and is still not guaranteed. The Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-fourth, and Twenty-sixth Amendments had to be ratified, along with the passage of countless laws, to at least clarify which characteristics can’t be used to prevent Americans from voting.

The Twenty-third Amendment was ratified in order to actually let American citizens in our country’s capital have any say in who would be running the nation. For 172 years they were spectators in their own country. Today, millions of Americans are unable to vote for who should be their Commander in Chief simply due to the fact they live in territories rather than states.

There have been five elections in which the winner of the popular vote was defeated. Additionally, small states are disproportionately represented in the Electoral College. Both of these are hailed by supporters of the Electoral College as its benefits. Small states should be represented and the tyranny of the majority should be kept at bay. The problem is that neither of those has really happened. When is the last time you saw a presidential candidate visit Wyoming or Vermont? Small states have not been represented, while swing states receive large amounts of media and campaign attention. Rather than a national election, the Presidential election is an election of Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. This is not how it should be. While power should be decentralized and overall, states should have more powers and influence in the lives of the American people, when we are holding an election for the head of the national executive the entire nation should be involved. The idea that we need a system that checks the tyranny of the majority is absolutely true. The Electoral College just isn’t the way to do it. Checks and balances, a small list of enumerated federal powers, decentralization of power, and state legislatures picking Senators were effective ways to check the majority. We have abandoned many of these ideas as government has grown bigger while our rights have shrunk, and the Electoral College hasn’t been able to stop any of this. The way to change course and keep small states powerful and the tyranny of the majority in check is to stick to checks and balances and decentralization of power, not have a terrible electoral system where someone can become President with only 27% of the popular vote. We should keep powers limited to protect the states. We should keep the amount of positions people get to elect limited to check the tyranny of the majority. But once we’ve decided to allow the people to vote, as we should do when deciding who gets to be the powerful man in the world, we should treat it as any other vote: winning 51% of the vote means winning the election.

The final supposed benefit of the Electoral College was it would protect us from the ignorance of the masses. It did this through the Electors, which are in no way constitutionally bound to vote for who the people of their state picked, although many states have laws requiring them too. But has it at all checked the people’s ignorance? The reality TV star who cheated on his wife with a porn star is President right now. President Wilson (re-segregated the federal government), President Roosevelt (put Japanese people in camps and appointed a former KKK member to the Supreme Court), and President Johnson (helped filibuster civil rights legislation) all were elected without any opposition from Electors. In fact, the only time the Electors have had any significant impact was during the election of 1872 when the Democratic nominee for President, Horace Greeley, died after the popular vote but before the electors cast their votes, causing them to split their votes between four other Democrats. Just like the tyranny of the majority, the ignorance of the majority should not be checked by the way we hold our elections. The way to check it is to limit the power of the federal government and what positions we get to vote for.

With the Electoral College being the disaster it is, many have proposed we move to a popular vote. In this system, whichever candidate receives the most votes becomes the next President. But this cure is worse than the disease. There have been eight elections in which the winner won with a plurality of votes, and this system exasperates this problem. It requires there to always only be two candidates, stifling many viewpoints and competition. The clearest example is with Bill Clinton’s election in 1992. Clinton won with an electoral landslide despite winning only 43.01% of the vote. This was because the third-party candidate, Ross Perot split President George H. W. Bush’s base. A Democrat won the election despite the fact that 56.36% of the electorate chose a conservative-leaning candidate. This is a problem that will continue to occur with a popular vote. A different solution is clearly needed.

Ranked Choice Voting

A Ranked Choice Voting System is the best way to elect the President. In this system, rather than picking just one candidate, a voter ranks his or her favorite candidate 1st, the second 2nd, and so on. If when the votes are tallied in the first round, none of the candidates received above 50% of the popular vote, then the candidate in last place is eliminated and the votes for those who voted for the now-eliminated candidate go to their highest ranked, non-eliminated choice. This process continues until one candidate has above 50% of the vote, making them the next President of the United States. President Bush would’ve been able to win in dominant fashion in the second round of the election under this system; giving the American people a President most closely aligned to the wishes of the electorate. That should be the most important goal of any electoral system, and none do it better than ranked choice voting.

While ensuring the majority of the American people actually voted for the next President is the most important goal, there are many other goals that are achieved by Ranked Choice Voting.

The candidates will be less radical. Primaries allow radical bases to select candidates not in line with mainstream America, causing most Americans to choose between the lesser of two evils as seen best by the 2016 election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Under this system primaries are weakened and may even become totally irrelevant and eliminated as multiple people from each party would be able to run without destroying any chance of victory as with the elections of 1912 and 1992.

With more candidates being viable the American people will have more options and more opinions will be represented. With votes transferring, the idea of ‘wasting your vote’ will be a thing of the past. All voters will get to vote with their conscience for the candidate most representative of their values without having to pick the least worst option.

The presidential candidates will have to campaign everywhere. Democrats in Texas and Republicans in California will finally have their votes matter and the need to campaign nationwide rather than Florida-wide will be the new path to victory.

Millions of American citizens living in territories such as Puerto Rico will be able to have a say in who their President will be. All Americans will have their votes matter now that we will have a system which ensures citizens do get to vote for President and there is no Elector who can go against the will of the people.

Lastly, this system has the potential to make elections more civil and unifying, something badly needed in this country. Most Americans disapprove of negative campaign ads, but their use is increasing. It is much easier to prove someone else wrong than to prove yourself right. A ranked-choice system creates negative consequences for disparaging your opponent and incentives to be civil; voters aren’t just voting once, they are now ranking candidates, so every detail of a campaign matters. And while not everyone is going to make a candidate their first choice, the candidate will want them to rank him or her second. A voter is not likely to rank a candidate anywhere on their list if the candidate is in a calling the other candidate’s supporters deplorables who are racist, sexist, bigoted, homophobic, and xenophobic. Candidates will now have to play nice if they hope to stand a chance should the election go to round two.

With an electoral system that has failed us from the beginning, many Americans are turning away from the Electoral College and looking for alternatives. While this is a necessary first step we must be careful not to stumble upon the first alternative and end up with an even worse electoral system. Ranked Choice Voting is by far the most efficient and beneficial system, making it the obvious choice for the Presidential electoral system of the future.


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How to End the Loophole Surrounding Federalism

By Jack Shields | United States

The drinking age in most states in the United States is twenty-one. This fact is a great disappointment to me having turned eighteen this year. But the fact the age is twenty-one rather than eighteen isn’t even the most disappointing part. It’s the reason why the drinking age is twenty-one. Most states have this as their drinking age because they were coerced into doing so by the federal government using a technique that was held as constitutional in the case South Dakota v. Dole. The decision handed the federal government a mechanism by which they may go around the very idea of federalism and force the states to submit to their will, and must be overturned.

The Effects of Prohibition

In 1919, we as a nation decided that legislating morality was a good idea, and ratified the Eighteenth amendment prohibiting the sale of alcohol at a federal level. Unsurprisingly, Americans did not respond well to being told what to do, and the disaster that was prohibition was finally ended with the ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment in 1933. Section Two of the Twenty-First amendment clearly stated that states had a right to regulate alcohol if they so choose, but the federal government no longer had a say in the matter. Yet, when has a constitutional provision ever been enough to stop our federal government from expanding their scope of power and informing us ignorant, ordinary people what is moral and right to do?

Congress passed a law in 1984 which required the Secretary of Transportation to withhold five percent of federal highway funds for states that did not adopt a drinking age of twenty-one. This was challenged by South Dakota, which at the time had a drinking age of nineteen. The Supreme Court ruled that this law did not violate the spending powers of Congress or the Twenty-First Amendment. Their logic for this was because the law was for the general welfare of the nation, and the way Congress went about achieving this was reasonable, then the law was within Congress’s constitutional bounds even if they were indirectly trying to achieve a goal not within the purview of Congress or the federal government in general.

The Abandonment of Federalism

This logic has now been widely accepted. In my Government class, we had to create our own bills and have our own Congress as an assignment in order to learn how Congress worked. Our teacher informed us that we didn’t have to worry at all about the fact the federal government has very few enumerated powers. We could make our bills about any subject as long as, instead of just creating the policy at the federal level, our bill listed what we wanted and what we would be willing to take away from the states if they didn’t comply. This is not federalism. This is the system my parents had for me when I was little, where if I didn’t obey them then Santa would not be coming that year.

The federal government and the states should not have a parent-child relationship. The way it was supposed to go was the federal government would have a small list of enumerated powers in which their laws would be the Supreme Law of the Land. These were policies that needed to be uniform throughout the states in order to have one country such as a single currency and regulating trade with foreign nations. But other than that, everything was left up to the states. The states were their own independent government, and with powers not enumerated to the federal government, the states’ law was the Supreme Law. That is the very idea of federalism and of limited government, and sadly we do not have that right now because of this decision.

If the federal government is supposed to have limited, enumerated powers, and nothing more, then indirectly forcing the states to do something not within the scope of their power is clearly a loophole that needs to be shut. But how? The federal government currently gives funding to the states for many things. And both the states and federal government feel the need to legislate morality on many issues like alcohol, marijuana, and many others. Whether either of these things is good is an issue for another time. It’s how things are and a fix to this problem needs to fit into that reality. So the federal government is giving funds to the states and giving money inherently grants the authority to withhold money. What should justify withholding said money?

The Solution

It should all be based upon the federal government’s enumerated powers. This is the most logical conclusion, which is clearly seen when looking at this type of situation with any other entity. If you have a phone, you have a deal with a phone company wherein they provide you with a data plan and you pay them for it. If you disobey their terms and conditions pertaining to the purchase of the data plan, it is completely reasonable for the company to cease to provide you with those things. But if you didn’t pay your rent that month, it would not be an appropriate justification for the phone company to cease to provide their services because that has nothing to do with the relationship between you and the phone company. The relationship between the federal government and state governments should be the same way.

From 1919 to 1933, it would have been appropriate for the federal government to withhold funds for disobeying their will pertaining to alcohol. Regulating it was an enumerated power and their law is the Supreme Law. But it is not an enumerated power anymore, and therefore they have no place in regulating it. Funds should only be withheld in cases wherein that pertain to an enumerated power. If the federal government wants to withhold funds because states are disobeying immigration laws, they can. Because that’s a federal power. But if the federal government wants to withhold funds because a state doesn’t pay teachers enough, that would not be allowed as that is not an enumerated power of the federal government and is therefore outside the natural bounds of the relationship between the federal and state governments.

If we are to have a system of federalism and not a system of a parent like authority dictating to their children what is okay and what isn’t we must close all loopholes by which the federal government may overstep both directly and indirectly, their natural, enumerated powers. In order to do this, it is clear South Dakota v. Dole must be overturned and replaced with a standard by which federal funds may only be withheld in cases wherein the federal government wishes to directly influence a state’s behavior pertaining to an enumerated power of the federal government.


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