I Can’t Figure Out What To Do

December 14th, 2018

It’s been three months since I left my job as Rep. Justin Amash’s Communications Director. Part of the reason I quit was to start publishing under my own name again as I did for years before the move to Capitol Hill. But I’m stuck. It’s not just writer’s block, although I think that’s part of it. As I’ve told a few people, I’m still trying to find my voice.

The fact is, I spent the better part of a decade as a mouthpiece for liberty Republicans predicated on the notion that the GOP was improving and had a more libertarian future ahead of it. I naively believed this like gospel for a long time. I wishcasted this destiny for a living. It was arguably a part of my identity. Now, the very thought of calling myself a Republican makes me feel gross, and the respect I had for many conservative politicians and pundits has waned precipitously, to phrase it perhaps more politely than I should. 

Longtime followers of my work will recall how I watched in horror as Trump rolled over an impressive lineup of Republican presidential candidates in 2016, including my first choice Rand Paul, and ultimately my second choice, Ted Cruz. (I miss that version of Cruz, by the way.) Back then, at least it felt as though most of the conservative movement was watching in horror along with me. Now we exist in another universe entirely, and I’m struggling to adapt as I approach it through the lens of a commentator as opposed to the relatively passive observer I’ve been for two years. 

To give a sense of my timeline, Trump became the GOP nominee just weeks before I started in Justin’s office during August of 2016. The Republican National Convention occurred between the time Justin offered me the job and my start date. In fact, live tweeting that clown show was my last hurrah speaking only for myself and not representing a politician, albeit an unconventional one who restricted me less than more traditional congressmen would, but a politician nonetheless. I could no longer criticize or offer up snark without it being tied to Justin. It took time to adjust my habits, but I finally learned what the parameters were and, measured by my prior standards, shut up. 

Back when I started with Justin, Trump was still considered by the vast majority of people to be an unfortunate but temporary aberration. Everything I had published up to the point when I stopped writing for myself assumed that Hillary would crush Trump and the conservative movement could laugh away that awkward time a profoundly ignorant New York wannabe authoritarian won the GOP nomination because he’s famous for the fact that he’s been trolling everyone since the 80s. The world I expected to enter when I started writing again simply doesn’t exist. 

Where do I go in a conservative movement that has either embraced Trump wholeheartedly or resigned itself to him? It seems to me that nearly everyone has decided character doesn’t matter, you know, as long as we’ve got our judges and our tax cuts ($21 trillion in debt be damned, too). Publications I would’ve wanted to write for in the past, people I would’ve happily worked with, organizations or politicians I would’ve consulted for … I simply don’t trust them anymore. 

I realize that this metaphor is dramatic, but the situation contains many of the emotions endemic to a breakup. Like someone I had faith in betrayed me.  On the one hand, sure, if you work in this industry, you’re going to become jaded. But I honestly thought the conservative movement as a whole, with all of its preexisting flaws and strange bedfellows, was better than this. To see wholesale political tribalism trump any semblance of principle, decency, and quite frankly sanity, is disturbing. Yes, pun intended.

Plenty of folks I respected—and many randos on the internet—think I’m a loser for feeling this way. For not cheering Trump on when he acts like an insane person. For criticizing him when he doubles down on policies the same people hated from Obama. For refusing to believe that the wholesale degradation of conservatism that comes with allowing Trump, who is anything but genuinely conservative, define the term in the eyes of the public is worth it for a couple of temporary policy wins (which also ignores the bad policies, as Trump’s defenders are wont to do). 

On the one hand, I know that this too shall pass and everyone will start hero worshipping the new kid in town when he or she arrives on the scene. But this is the current landscape, and I fear that Trump will leave a stain on the conservative movement that won’t be easily erased. Perhaps I’m wrong about this like I, and nearly everyone else, was wrong about Hillary losing to him, but I don’t see how conservatives who have embraced President Grab ‘Em By The Pussy can ever claim a moral high ground again. 

So here I am, wondering if the conservative movement still has space for a libertarian former Republican who refuses to play the hero worship flattery games necessary to make it in Trump’s warped, ego-driven world. There’s also a part of me that wonders if I even want to make it in this particular world at all, which has been part of the rut I find myself in.

Why try to associate with people who don’t want me around? Do I even want to bother attempting to persuade people who tell me I suffer from derangement syndrome because I haven’t engaged in the mental gymnastics necessary to convince myself that Donald Trump, whose active disdain for free speech, constitutional restraint, fiscal discipline, and the vast majority of beliefs considered to be conservative prior to 2016 is, in fact, our de facto conservative standard bearer?

I go back and forth on this question. We do need dissenting voices. And of course, not everything is about Trump. There are millions of worthy topics to write about, and one of my goals is to expand beyond the pigeonhole of politics. But it’s still jarring to navigate a landscape that not long ago felt like home to me yet looks unrecognizable now. 

So there it is. My first attempt to articulate this dilemma in writing. To be fair, the trouble is also that I’ve been telling myself the first piece I publish post-Capitol Hill has to be a Big Thing at a Big Outlet. But no, it really doesn’t. I’ve been allowing that expectation to hold me back as I ghostwrite for others. As it turns out, a stream of consciousness rant on my blog is a perfectly acceptable alternative. 

Republican Senator Mike Lee suggests Donald Trump could kill the Republican Party

July 19th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

As an original tea party organizer, I participated in our movement’s growth from an act of street protest into an organized, albeit decentralized political force. By 2010, we had managed to elect some of the most impressive liberty Republicans seen in generations.

I was optimistic.

Rand Paul, Justin Amash, Raul Labrador, Mick Mulvaney, and David Schweikert, these were Republican leaders of integrity.

But one of the best remains Mike Lee.

Sen. Lee is a brilliant constitutional conservative — who also happens to be one of the most down to earth people you’ll ever meet. As the Republican National Convention unfolds — or more accurately, erupts into chaos — Lee has been thrust into a position of influence both logistically and intellectually.

The mild-mannered Utahan, who has expressed concern about the presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, is Chairman of the RNC’s Rules Committee this year. And as he told Politico, “I have never in all my life, certainly in six years in the United States Senate, prior to that as a lifelong Republican, never seen anything like this.”

Lee was referencing pro-Trump forces running roughshod over delegates who wanted a chance to vote on rules they found unfair and silencing. A critic of Trump himself, Lee hoped Republican delegates — by the nature of their positions longtime Republican activists — would be allowed more say over the direction of their party.

As he told The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes: “There’s a lot of support for reforms within the Republican Party, particularly changing the rules to make sure we remain a vibrant party, a party that welcomes grassroots participation and nurtures activists rather than shunning them.”

And Hayes accurately described Lee, writing, “In his short time in the U.S. Senate, Utah Republican Mike Lee has distinguished himself as a policy innovator and a constitutional conservative who actually knows the Constitution.”

The intellectual backbone Lee has provided the Republican Party in the six short years he’s been in office has been invaluable. As a liberty Republican activist who hoped we could harness conservative disapproval of Washington forlibertarian populist ends, Lee’s work has stood out as a policy beacon.

Unfortunately, this project has been severely disrupted in the near-term by Trump’s more authoritarian form of populism. As the New York Times’ Ross Douthat observed:

This is of course, in reference to Lee’s last stand, flanked by other delegates highly skeptical of Trump; who represent a majority of Republican voters. As Rare’s Yasmeen Alamiri reported, Lee stood with the convention-goers demanding a rules vote, per traditional RNC protocol.

Instead, Lee and his allies were silenced; their mics literally turned off by party bosses.

It’s impossible to describe this as anything but a setback for constitutional conservatives who have been working to harness grassroots passion for limited government purposes. If you were to freeze 2016 in time, it would appear that our work has decisively failed.

But I do believe — and Mike Lee is one of the many wonderful conservatives at the center of this — despite this unfortunate detour, constitutional and liberty Republicans are laying the groundwork for a generational shift.

As Lee said, “The Republican Party has been known as the natural refuge of the conservative. If we find ourselves with a candidate who doesn’t maintain that status, I don’t know what happens. I don’t know how to live in that world. I don’t know how the Republican Party maintains its vitality. I don’t think it does.”

This speaks to the fact that political parties are empty vessels absent principles. Sure, the Republican Party can be shaped into a more liberty friendly entity. We’ve seen strong evidence of that as a possibility in the past decade. At the same time, we’ve seen how a party can easily be taken in a more authoritarian direction.

This is why the project of liberty conservatives in Congress remains crucial; a truth Mike Lee is keenly aware of. As he told The Weekly Standard, “I look forward to the day when it’ll no longer be news when Congress is actually taking steps to rein in executive overreach, to rein in the federal regulatory system and to do so with a mandate from the people who are made to understand number one Congress has cause this problem.”

This work is paramount whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton becomes our next Commander in Chief. A Congress that acquiesces to a president’s every whim has abdicated its basic function as a representative body.

If prospects for liberty look grim in the immediate future, we can take solace in the fact that Congress seems keen on asserting its supremacy in the face of both Trump and Clinton. Constitutionally speaking, that’s the best outcome conservatives can hope for.

Luckily, we have men like Mike Lee to lead us.

Democrats stayed up all night fighting to expand unconstitutional Bush-era powers

June 23rd, 2016

Originally published at Rare

I’m months from my thirtieth year on this earth, and starting to feel old.

Before you get offended by this, consider that when I was in college, Democrats were the anti-war party. I mean a let’s-reject-Hillary-for-Obama-because-he’s-anti-war kind of party. Code Pink was essentially mainstream on the left a decade ago. George W. Bush-era surveillance was markedly beyond the pale. The Patriot Act? Sedition? The TSA? Absurd.

Enter the left, circa 2016. What do today’s protests look like? A Civil Rights era-style sit-in. This is noteworthy given the historical implications of such an act. For a spectacle this extensive—in which Democrats have been literally sitting on the House floor holding up the works—the objective had to be worthy.

So what’s led Democrats to this extreme behavior? Their goal is to use Bush’s no-fly list as a means to deny you your basic constitutional rights.

It’s true: In the wake of the Orlando mass shooting, Democrats are promoting a vast expansion of war on terror-era powers that strip innocent people of their second, fourth, and fifth amendment rights. They’re pushing the use of a secret government list, in which the people on it, often arbitrarily assigned as a terrorists, have no means to combat the designation.

Essentially, what Democrats spent hours demanding, into the thick of the night and into Thursday morning upending regular legislative order for, is the expansion of broadly defined national security powers not long ago opposed by their party and in most cases, them specifically.

Interestingly, House Democrats have both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on their side. And though they’ve dwindled in numbers, a few vestiges of the principled left remain in opposition to this attempt, in concert with libertarians and conservatives.

The ACLU, for example, opposes using the no fly list as a means to deny gun rights. And not because they’re particularly pro-second amendment, but due to an understanding that secret government lists aren’t a metric citizens should accept as a replacement for our traditional “innocent until proven guilty” standard.

Libertarian-leaning Republican Congressman Justin Amash summed the scene up well by tweeting a relevant family anecdote.

This is a matter our friends on the left ought to consider. Particularly those who crow about how Trump is “literally Hitler.” Do liberals really trust a man like him with the kind of power they’re seeking to expand? A man who suggested that putting Muslims in internment camps might not be such a bad idea since, after all, FDR did the same to the Japanese?

It’s easy to sit on the House floor and create a spectacle, demanding a vote on gun control legislation that wouldn’t have even prevented the terrorist attack they’re politicizing. It’s less easy to admit that the answer isn’t a new law made in haste, but a hard look at our national security and intelligence apparatuses.

After all, Orlando terrorist Omar Mateen was investigated by the FBI twice, reported again to the FBI for suspicious behavior just days prior to his attack, and no follow up was initiated.

There are unfortunately no easy answers to the question of how to prevent lone wolf terror attacks, no matter how understandably desperate many are to find them.

To the Democrats sitting on the House floor so they can feel good about “doing something,” I’d suggest that denying innocent Americans their basic due process rights is no solution.

Gay groups and gun advocates are teaming up across America to promote LGBT self-defense

June 17th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

While Senate Democrats filibustered in an effort to pass gun control legislation (the specifics of which wouldn’t have stopped the Orlando terrorist Omar Mateen), some LGBT community members are doing the opposite of what so many politicians now demand: Gay men and women are arming themselves.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, several LGBT organizations are working to get their community properly trained and armed.

Derek Washington of Get Equal Nevada said, as reported by KTNV News:

“We’re at risk. We’re under attack. We’re not just under attack from Muslim terrorists. We’re under attack from Christian terrorists. We are under attack from drunk frat boys. We’re always under attack.”

Washington wants LGBT members to get concealed carry permits: “I want those courses packed. After Orlando, it is our responsibility to care for us. We can’t depend on anyone else,” he said.

Leading this Vegas-based effort is Out For Liberty, an organization that is offering gay nightclub workers—who are legally allowed to carry guns while working behind the bar, per Nevada law—free training courses. The group is also offering discounted rates to LGBT locals.

In Houston, Texas, a gun range has decided to offer free concealed carry courses to LGBT individuals.

“We want to make them aware they can come here, they can feel safe here, they can get their concealed handgun license or their license to carry and they can carry a gun and they can feel good about it,” said Jeff Sanford, owner of the Shiloh Indoor Shooting Range, to KPRC News.

This tracks with a broader trend of increased interest in firearms training within the LGBT community. “Gun shops typically see a spike in customers after mass shootings. But this time, many are seeing shoppers they’ve never really seen before: More gays and lesbians,” reported FOX 31 Denver.

Hours after the Orlando shooting Sunday, the Pink Pistols, a national pro-gun LGBT organization, had its membership spike from 1,500 to 3,500. The organization’s website explains their mission, stating, “We teach queers to shoot. Then we teach others that we have done so.”

“Armed queers don’t get bashed.”

The Pink Pistols website continues, “We change the public perception of the sexual minorities, such that those who have in the past perceived them as safe targets for violence and hateful acts — beatings, assaults, rapes, murders — will realize that that now, a segment of the sexual minority population is now armed and effective with those arms.”

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, gay-friendly neighborhoods have been plastered with posters depicting a rainbow adaptation of the iconic “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden Flag – typically associated with conservative causes such as the tea party movement – affixed with text that says #ShootBack instead of the traditional “Don’t Tread on Me.”

Rand Paul wants to end the draft as a tribute to Muhammad Ali

June 7th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

The death of Muhammad Ali has reignited a debate about the outspoken athlete’s legacy, particularly his famous refusal to be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War.

Now, Rand Paul is getting in on the discussion.

Paul recently introduced an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act that would end the selective service, which forces men between the ages of 18-25 to register for a military draft that, while still technically in existence, hasn’t been enforced since the 1970s.

Now he wants to do it in Muhammad Ali’s honor.

Sen. Paul wrote in the Louisville Courier Journal, “In honor of Muhammad Ali’s life work, I will introduce the repeal of the draft as stand-alone legislation with his name on it.”

“He was a conscientious objector and practiced civil disobedience, a proud American tradition that runs from the Founding Fathers to Thoreau and all the way through Martin Luther King, Jr. in Ali’s own time,” said Paul.

“Ali said in 1975 that he would like to be remembered, ‘As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him and who helped as many of his people as he could – financially and also in their fight for freedom, justice and equality,” Paul added.

If Paul’s bill passes, it will essentially end the draft, officially making the United States dependent upon an on all-volunteer military, as has functionally been the case since 1973.

“One thing I liked about Muhammad Ali is that he would stand on principle even when it was unpopular,” said Paul, speaking to a slew of reporters in Ali’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky this week.

Tying Ali’s opposition to the draft to contemporary disparities, Paul said, “The criminal justice system I say now has a racial justice disparity, selective service had a racial disparity, because a lot of rich white kids either got a deferment or went to college or got out of the draft. I’m opposed to Selective Service.”

Paul’s standalone legislation is called ‘The Muhammad Ali Voluntary Service Act.’