Lessons from Coronavirus

By Skylar Covich & Bonnie Kallis

At no time in recent history has the need for the American people to join in solidarity for the common good been as clear as it is during our current pandemic. We have, as a people, been learning to do things differently—students are distance-learning, churches are streaming services, and families are staying connected virtually. While Americans have demonstrated remarkable resilience and adaptability, the current crisis illustrates the brokenness of our political system. Long before pandemics and protests, the American Solidarity Party has recognized the root of this brokenness as a duopoly that is unable to address the most basic needs of its citizens because the two parties are so locked in conflict. 

At the same time, it can be difficult to integrate upholding a consistent life ethic, the principle of subsidiarity, and economic justice, each of which should factor in the decisions of government (at all levels), organizations, and individuals. Most ASP members have been supportive of at least some shutdown orders, but personal freedoms, religious liberties, and economic protections (particularly for small businesses) still matter. The writers and editors at the ASP hope to create a series of blog posts on such themes and about the important questions that result. One of the first posts in that series will discuss the work of some organizations that include ASP members and sympathizers, such as Breaking Ground and the AND Campaign. This post, however, focuses on basic ASP principles as they relate to the pandemic.

Social Justice and Consistent Life Ethic

The ASP “is founded on an unwavering commitment to defend life and to promote policies that safeguard the intrinsic dignity of the human person from conception until natural death.”

One of the most basic needs for every citizen is access to quality, affordable health care. If it wasn’t obvious before, the pandemic has made it abundantly clear that our current model of employer-based health care is not viable. Along with the rising unemployment rate (current estimates are that close to 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment between March 15th and May 15th) comes a rising number of uninsured people. The majority of the uninsured live in poverty or work in the service industry. While testing and related doctor’s office expenses for the novel coronavirus is covered under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, there is no such guarantee when it comes to covering treatment. Some insurers have waived copays and deductibles for hospitalizations related to COVID-19, while others haven’t. However, the cost for treatment can exceed $20,000 for those with health insurance, with charges up to twice as high for the uninsured. Of course, in some states, uninsured individuals may qualify for Medicaid, and the recently unemployed may qualify for COBRA benefits or insurance under the Affordable Care Act—if they can afford it (an unlikely prospect if you’ve been laid off due to, say, a pandemic). 

As a popular adage states, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” In the current crisis, elderly people and minorities suffer disproportionately. While it is to be expected that the elderly would be more susceptible due to underlying conditions, we need to ask why African-Americans are experiencing the coronavirus in staggering numbers. Take Illinois, for example. In Chicago, where they make up roughly thirty percent of the population, African-Americans have suffered seventy percent of COVID-19-related deaths. Seventy percent—let that sink in. And this is not limited to Illinois; similar imbalances exist in Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, to name but a few. Clearly, we are failing miserably when it comes to caring for our vulnerable populations.

Economic Justice and Subsidiarity

The ASP “advocate[s] for an economic system which focuses on creating a society of wide-spread ownership (sometimes referred to as ‘distributism’) rather than having the effect of degrading the human person as a cog in the machine.”

It has been sadly interesting to see the lack of economic justice in our country illustrated in the effects of the coronavirus, despite the brief hope provided by the bipartisan decision to send most Americans a one-time payment. There is a remarkable irony in the fact that some of the lowest-paid members of society have become the most essential. Grocery store clerks, sanitation workers, delivery people, meat packers, and warehouse workers have all been vital in allowing us to safely shelter in place while they risked their lives to provide essential goods. Many, if not most, of these workers could not get tested for the virus, while celebrities had ample access to testing. While America’s low-paid essential workers were risking their health to provide necessary goods and services and watching the value of their pensions and retirement accounts plummet, some lawmakers with inside information were busy trading stocks in anticipation of an economic downturn. While suburban schools quickly worked to provide online classes for their students, many urban districts struggled with the reality that their students lacked access to the Internet. Over and over again, we witnessed the stark reality of the difference between the haves and the have-nots. 

Subsidiarity

Subsidiarity “is the coordination of society’s activities in a way that supports the internal life of the local communities.” 

The principle of subsidiarity holds that decision-making should always be left to the lowest competent level of government. The need for a system of subsidiarity is evidenced by the divide between rural and urban communities during the pandemic. As states begin to reopen, the divisions in our country are becoming even more apparent. Rural communities, which have so far emerged from the pandemic relatively unscathed in regard to public health, are nonetheless suffering economically. Unlike urban communities, which can presumably bounce back financially, the coronavirus has dealt an economic death blow to many struggling rural communities. This can be attributed, in part, to federal policies which in many ways overemphasize urban economies at the expense of their rural counterparts. Urban communities, some of which have been devastated medically, have been understandably hesitant to open up their economies. Under subsidiarity, urban communities would be charged with making decisions that are in the best interests of their citizens, while rural communities would do the same.

In the coming weeks, we hope to present posts examining some of the following questions:

  • Regarding the principle of subsidiarity, when do orders intended to save people’s lives result in unintended consequences which do more harm than good? In particular, how do we resolve tensions between people who would prefer safety and people who would prefer freedom? Should the federal government, states, or counties primarily set rules for pandemic response? To what extent is it ethical to disobey orders which an individual believes are poorly thought out, or have remained in effect too long?
  • Which policies will best protect unemployed people and small businesses (including small farmers)?
  • Is telecommuting a way to achieve better work-life balance, improve family life, and promote environmental stewardship? Can we achieve the social benefits of telecommuting without exacerbating inequality between those who can do so and those whose jobs truly need to be done in person, especially when working in packed conditions leads to a higher risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus?
  • How does the pandemic change the conversation around health care reform? 
  • Racial inequalities in economics, health care, and treatment by authorities have been exacerbated by the pandemic. One lesson we have learned is how different communities tend to focus on opposition to very different expressions of state power. How can we incorporate racial equality and racial justice into policies that address the pandemic and its effects?
  • Electoral reform seems like a tangential issue to many at the moment. But as we continue to see a possible political realignment for a variety of reasons, there is an increasing need to reform the ballot-access process, establish new systems for determining election winners (such as ranked-choice voting), prohibit gerrymandering, and make voting as easy as possible. How can we work to make this happen?
  • Abortion politics played into the battles over the shutdowns, as there were efforts in several states to keep abortion clinics open. How can the pro-life movement respond productively during a crisis to prevent abortion?

This is by no means a complete list of what we hope to cover, but we expect that these questions will move us toward a distinctive vision for the future. The underlying philosophy of the American Solidarity Party is rooted in the firm belief that we are, indeed, our brother’s keepers. As a country, we have to be better. The fact is that we are all in this together—COVID-19 or not. We have to look out for one another. We all depend on each other for our physical, spiritual, and economic health. It is time for us to move forward as a nation in solidarity. It is time for the ASP.

What Christian Democracy Means To Me

By Amar Patel

“The American Solidarity Party (ASP) is a true, organically-grown grassroots party that was formed by people looking for a third way in the polarized and interest-group-driven landscape of American politics, modeled on Christian Democratic parties throughout the world, shaped by unique aspects of American culture and law.”

These words appear on the “About Us” page of our website. Most Americans probably don’t know about Christian democratic parties around the world, so we often hear the criticism that we shouldn’t use the phrase “Christian” to describe a non-sectarian political party because it will drive away people on both sides of the issue. Non-Christians might feel unwelcome, and Christians may not want others to think that they are trying to create a theocracy. The general response from our party has been that there is a historical richness in the principles of personalism, solidarity, subsidiarity, and sphere sovereignty that have guided Christian democratic parties around the world. The United States has never enjoyed a coherent political force that embodies all of those principles together, so our association serves to provide that option and is edifying at the same time.

For those who want a more academic understanding of Christian democracy, I point you to “The Birth of An American Christian Democratic Party” by Hunter Baker and the ASP’s own statement on Christian democracy. Both offer perspective, background information, and starting points for those trying to understand the American Solidarity Party’s views. I want to offer a different perspective altogether.

The killing of George Floyd and the following nationwide unrest forced me to consider our path forward and to reconsider what Christian democracy means to me. If someone asked me publicly about Christian democracy, I would still start with the concepts of personalism, solidarity, subsidiarity, and sphere sovereignty, but now I would add a personal reflection to the mix. Christianity is necessarily linked to the cross: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). We cannot have Christian democracy without the understanding that sacrifice and suffering are critical to the process.

I have to give credit to ASP member Albert Thompson for inspiring this personal revelation by sharing a video of a message he delivered to a conference of Anglican bishops on the history of racism in the United States. In this speech, he refers to a group of Anglican bishops who had not only supported the Confederacy but also attempted to defend slavery by using Scripture and religious doctrine. After the war, these bishops were simply allowed back into the fold without any repentance or repudiation of their past actions. In other words, they accepted a false reconciliation for political reasons instead of real reconciliation to God.

At this point, non-Christians, agnostics, and atheists may object to the concept of reconciliation as a religious principle, but I don’t bring it up to proselytize. I put it before you because all people understand the concept of “no pain, no gain,” and that is what we are talking about in today’s world. The sentiment that “all lives matter” rings hollow when we look at the current treatment of black communities in America. In truth, we haven’t yet earned the right to use that phrase, which assumes a false reconciliation and a level of social equality that was never truly granted. As such, Christian democracy with its insistence on solidarity calls us to carry the cross of our black neighbors. What that looks like differs greatly from person to person due to age, profession, wealth, and so on, but it certainly isn’t a quick fix and requires long-term changes in behavior.

Many in the pro-life movement succumb to false reconciliation models. Hoping the appointments of pro-life judges and platitudes in speeches will somehow overcome the horrific legacy of abortion is akin to thinking we can simply declare that the country is now color-blind because Barack Obama was elected president. An abusive husband might convince his battered wife not to call the police by being excessively tender for a moment, but his fleeting kindness doesn’t reconcile their relationship. I believe abortion is not the illness; it is a symptom of the intersection of all of the deadly sins. Reconciliation from those sins won’t come with fancy words and creative marketing. It will cost time, money, and all kinds of gifts—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual—to make things right.

The American Solidarity Party’s call for a distributist economy must also be taken in this context. The current libertine notions of “free markets” curing all ills won’t be overcome with articles and memes. Deeper conversations, risk-taking in local economies, and policy support funded by appropriate taxation on wealth must take place over sustained periods. The constant attempts by those in power to regain control will always be there, and without vigilance, monied interests will win out again. We can see a clear effect of systemic racism in the aftermath of every major national crisis. The bursting of stock market bubbles, Hurricane Katrina, COVID-19, and the like all show the wealthy rebounding more quickly and then gaining disproportionately to the poor. This disparity is especially true among black Americans. Imagine the anger and resentment that would exist if people actually understood the rigged economic system.

In conclusion, I will address those who might say, “You don’t have to be Christian to understand the need for work and sacrifice regarding these issues.” Amen to that; however, not acknowledging that the word “cross” derives from “crux,” which also means “the root,” limits the progress of the principles we want to advance. Our both/and approach to solving political problems means standing for justice and committing to the sacrifice required to attain it. To me, Jesus modeled this perfectly in carrying the cross and dying on it. We must suffer to advance the ideals of Christian democracy. Other political parties make no attempt at creating a cohesive set of values. Republicans are liberal on the economy, Democrats are liberal on morality, and Libertarians sell out completely on any responsibility to the common good. G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” Let us hope they don’t say this about Christian democracy in America two hundred years from now.

Police Brutality and Qualified Immunity

by Grace Garrett

In recent weeks, Americans have collectively grappled with the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and other victims of police violence. We have come to expect that there will be no justice for victims of police violence, and we join with the platform of the American Solidarity Party in our demands that “law enforcement officers should be . . . held to the highest standards of professionalism . . . [and] strict accountability for the use of lethal force.” While the failure of the criminal justice system to hold police officers accountable is the subject for another essay, the failure of civil courts to hold police officers accountable by providing a modicum of relief in these cases is baffling. Many are rightly asking, “Why can’t you successfully sue a police officer who attacks you or a family member?” The answer is “qualified immunity.”

Qualified immunity is a legal principle that shields government officials, including police officers, from civil liability for actions taken in the performance of their job, as long as those actions do not knowingly violate anyone’s legal rights. Of course, the Fourth Amendment (among other laws) very clearly establishes one’s right not to be brutalized by the police. So, what gives? To understand this issue, we need to look a little deeper into the history of the Supreme Court’s treatment of qualified immunity.

The current legal test for whether a government agent is entitled to the protection of qualified immunity was introduced in Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982). As with so many unpleasant incidents in modern American history, this one was Richard Nixon’s fault. A contractor named A. Ernest Fitzgerald sued Nixon and several of his aides for whistleblower retaliation; the Court decided that, while Nixon himself had “absolute immunity” from civil liability for his actions as president, his aides were entitled to “qualified immunity.” The Court viewed this qualified immunity as essential to the government’s ability to function without its officials being paralyzed by the fear of civil lawsuits, and provided a two-pronged test for when qualified immunity would apply, stating, “government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate ‘clearly established’ statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Hold onto the phrases “clearly established” and “reasonable person,” as they are critical to understanding why this legal concept is currently operating against the interests of justice.

The definition of a “clearly established” right for the purposes of qualified immunity has been discussed at great length over a number of cases since the test was established in Harlow v. Fitzgerald, but for this discussion, we’ll zero in on Kelsay v. Ernst, 933 F.3d 975 (8th Cir. 2019). Melanie Kelsay, her children, and her friend Patrick Caslin were at a public pool. While they were goofing around, Mr. Caslin tried to throw Ms. Kelsay into the pool. Some bystanders interpreted this as assault and called the police, who arrested Mr. Caslin. Ms. Kelsay spoke to the responding officers in an attempt to prevent her friend’s arrest and then started walking toward a stranger who was speaking with one of her children. It is noteworthy that Ms. Kelsay is described in court documents as being five feet tall and 130 pounds. Deputy Matt Ernst then performed a “takedown maneuver” on Ms. Kelsay which broke her collarbone and rendered her briefly unconscious. While the dissent in this case argued that case law has established that the use of force against a nonviolent misdemeanant simply for disrespect is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, the majority opinion held that there was no precise law or a precedent which handled a fact set close enough to Ms. Kelsay’s case to “clearly establish” for a reasonable officer that it was illegal to body slam Ms. Kelsay under these circumstances.

The second part of the test for establishing qualified immunity has to do with the “reasonable person,” or, in the case of police brutality, “the reasonable police officer,” thanks to the infuriating case of Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989). Dethorne Graham was a diabetic and needed some orange juice to stabilize his blood sugar. He ran into a corner store, but when he saw the length of the line he rushed out of the store. A police officer, M. S. Connor, witnessed Mr. Graham running out of the store and assumed that he had robbed the store. Officer Connor proceeded to try to apprehend Mr. Graham. Mr. Graham’s blood sugar crisis had intensified at this point, and he began running around the officer’s vehicle and then briefly lost consciousness. Officer Connor and other officers who had arrived for backup interpreted this behavior as intoxication and resistance, and slammed Mr. Graham against the police car, handling him in such a way that Mr. Graham left the encounter with an injured shoulder, a broken foot, cuts and bruises all over his body, and persistent tinnitus. In their determination of whether the officers who attacked Mr. Graham were entitled to qualified immunity, the Supreme Court decided that police officers should not be held to the same standard as general members of the community; instead, they held that “the ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation.” So, police officers are given leeway in light of the chaos of a given situation. This standard has been applied in many police shootings where the officers have interpreted cell phones, candy bars, and hair combs as lethal weapons and harmed those they encounter on the job.

The path of the doctrine of qualified immunity from a practical necessity for government work to a tool of oppression is a long one, and we could discuss dozens of other seminal cases in a comprehensive treatment of the subject. Hopefully, this article provides a jumping-off point to understand the concept. We have yet to see lawsuits from the families of the most recent victims of police violence, but qualified immunity is likely to play a part in any civil suits they file against the officers responsible. As we watch for updates, let us continue to echo the words of the prophet Amos in our prayers, and ask that God will lead our country to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!”

The False Meritocracy

By Amar Patel

My parents emigrated from India to the United States in the late 1960s, and I grew up on a street with only white neighbors. I remember avoiding certain blocks because kids would throw rocks at me as I rode by. I would take a trip to the convenience store and turn around because other roughnecks would be outside. I was routinely taunted in the playground and assaulted a few times. I can still remember my sorrow and seething hatred for my persecutors. While I had the good fortune of having a supportive, close-knit, multi-generational family, my parents didn’t know about my plight; I felt too ashamed to share my experiences. The feeling of being an outsider and not belonging did not sit well with me. The principle of solidarity that I now cherish as a member of the American Solidarity Party was as foreign to me as my parents were to the soil they had moved to.

Years later, as an adult, I learned that my father had faced similar racism from his college classmates during graduate school shortly after arriving in the United States. I asked him how he overcame it. His answer was that he knew he had to work harder than everyone else to show that he belonged. This was the one value that my parents instilled in me more than any other: no one can take your work ethic away from you. So, years later, having worked hard, gone to college, gotten a good job, married a supportive wife, and had two healthy children, I had a strong sense that I had earned my place in the world. It was only when my children were older that I had to reassess my world view. One of my teenage son’s teammates bullied him about being a terrorist as their school bus drove by a mosque (we are Roman Catholic). When he told us about this, a latent, decades-old rage emerged and I wanted justice for my child’s abuse. Thankfully, the coach and the bully’s mother intervened and settled the issue, but my heart ached for my son.

In today’s public discourse, we often hear the terms “institutional racism” and “white privilege.” While I am sure society has improved overall in the course of debating these concepts, I know that the arguments over them can fall on deaf ears. My contribution may also suffer the same fate, but as an alternative take on racial harmony, I hope it may spark a new conversation and add to our nation’s ongoing healing.

As I reflected on the George Floyd situation, the subsequent nationwide violence, and the social-media reaction to all of it, my thoughts went back to my father’s journey. How did he overcome racism and othering? Was it really just hard work? What I realized was that he had something that black children often don’t get: an intact family. For many African-American children, there is no father at home (rather than in jail on some petty charge). My grandfather sacrificed all that he had saved and all that he would earn so my father could follow his dream and start a new life. In addition, for twenty years, my parents had the love and support of a safe community—a community that not only believed they could succeed but also rallied together to make sure that they would. They came from small, secluded farming villages in India, and they took the hopes and dreams of extended families and supportive neighbors with them.

This year, I went through a seminar on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). In summary, trauma and abuse when inflicted on a child can have long-term physiological and psychological effects similar to what is seen among soldiers who have been in war. Children raised in high-conflict situations can literally exhibit the signs of PTSD. But there’s a difference: a soldier’s tour of duty will end, while a poor child has no obvious means of escape from the squalor and stress of her daily life. Black children disproportionately grow up in a “fight or flight” environment. Too often they have poorly funded schools, inferior health care, inadequate diets, and dangerous living conditions. On top of these—and perhaps worst of all—they have the outrageous expectation placed upon them that they should catch up on their own to people who started miles ahead in the race.

For the very, very few readers who started with nothing, survived years of trauma and abuse, achieved an education or started a business, and are now thriving adults, I say, “God bless you; well done.” This article addresses the millions who casually lambaste the looters, pointing out the fault in their plan of action, and asking, “How does looting bring George Floyd justice?” It doesn’t, but I can tell you I would have at least verbally assaulted the young man who bullied my son over the singular instance of racism he faced. I can’t begin to comprehend how years of anger and resentment may have affected the psyche of the recent looters and vandals. This does not exonerate them from culpability, but lack of sympathy for their raw emotion implies a corresponding lack of consideration of their daily plight, which is a plight I am fortunate to have avoided.

While I faced racism and hatred as a child, I had loving parents and an extended family living with me. I had good schools with great teachers who never expected anything but the best from me. I had amazing friends whose parents treated me like a son despite my different ethnicity. In college, I found great support in a faith community that modeled respect for all members, regardless of background. The education my parents paid for opened the door to a great job where others had prepared a work environment that has allowed me to thrive and achieve more than I could have done on my own.

“In God We Trust” has been the motto of this country only since 1956. What if our motto was, “There, but for the grace of God, go I”? I am forty-six years old—the same age as George Floyd. What if George had been born into my life and I into his? Individualism feeds a false sense of meritocracy, but no one can make it on her own; everyone needs support from others. We can’t answer questions about how much support is right, when it should end, who should pay for it, and so forth until we accept that we are not isolated atoms moving solely of our own accord. We can’t heal as a society until we are truly thankful for our circumstances and reciprocally generous with our surpluses.

The only time I ever got pulled over for speeding was by one of my former neighbors who had grown up to become a police officer. He recognized me when reading my name off of my driver’s license. We laughed and shared stories about our families and our lives since high school. I don’t expect to have such a pleasant encounter the next time I get pulled over, but I can’t fathom the crushing weight of fear a young black man must feel the first time—or every time—he is pulled over. How can our experiences be so different in the same country? This is the kind of question I have come to ask through my time in the American Solidarity Party. If we are not all in this together, then we will perpetually remain apart.

TELL ‘EM WHAT YOU THINK: How to Write a Letter to the Editor for the ASP

By Leslie Shaw Klinger

Recently, Skylar Covich, a member of the American Solidarity Party’s National Committee, complimented me on getting yet another letter printed in my hometown newspaper, the Modesto Bee. “You are,” he said, “one of the most successful members in the area of getting the word out about the party through letters to the editor.”

Why do I do it? More importantly, how do I do it?

I use the medium of the local paper as a way to drum up publicity for the party. A full-page ad in the Bee might be flashier than a letter, but it would cost a lot of money, and we just don’t have the financial clout of other political parties. What we do have, however, are intelligent members who have a finger on the pulse of their community. Our local paper is a way to let other voters who may be discouraged by the state of national politics look us over.

I am sure that there are many disenfranchised voters adrift in the sea of partisan politics. They are looking for a place to dock their boat and feel secure. They want to finally be able to both vote and look at themselves in the mirror. The number of people who “held their nose” and voted for Trump is higher than Republicans want to admit. Democrats still fighting for a pro-life presence in that party are spending their time on Twitter, desperate for other pro-lifers to join them. The American Solidarity Party can be a home for many who have been either effectively pushed out of the Democratic Party by their anti-life platform, or alienated by the GOP’s myopic view of the pro-life movement. We know there are more like-minded people out there. How are we going to reach them when we do not have the money to flood the airwaves or newspapers with advertisements?

Being a regular contributor to the opinion page of your local newspaper is one way to make our party known and to drum up interest.

So . . . how do we get our letters published?

Know the Rules

Every opinion page has rules. The Modesto Bee accepts one letter a month from each individual, and the letters must not be more than two hundred words in length. The editorial staff reserves the right to edit the letters they receive, so in order to limit the need for them to change my letter, I must be focused, succinct, and coherent. While every page will publish the occasional letter from a local kook, most pride themselves on showcasing the intelligent and well-written opinions of their readers. You must be willing to write, rewrite, and rewrite some more before you submit your letter.

Tie the ASP into a Local Issue

Don’t just write about how wonderful we are; let people know why you chose the American Solidarity Party and why the party’s platform and beliefs are relevant to your community. Does your area have high unemployment? Write about how our approach to economics could alleviate that problem. Are your local politicians in an unseemly fight on social media? Write about how the American Solidarity Party does not need to resort to the types of tactics used by the Republicans and the Democrats, or share that you left your former party because you did not want to engage in that type of behavior. Are your businesses or schools at odds with state regulations? Take the time to educate people on the concept of subsidiarity and how the American Solidarity Party supports the right of communities to determine their own destiny whenever possible. Whatever issue is at hand, write a letter that shares our philosophy with them.

Emphasize Our Consistent Life Ethic

There are a whole bunch of people who do not realize they are pro-life because they see it as only a religious issue. It is important for people to understand that we defend the sanctity of human life at all stages of development. We believe it is important to promote a society that makes the decision to end the life of a child the least popular option. We need people to know that we support expanded educational and financial opportunities, quality affordable housing, a family-friendly tax structure, and health care for all who need it. Being pro-life means more than only being anti-abortion.

Here’s an example. The Central Valley of California has been hit hard with sex trafficking and drugs. Nearly every parish and congregation in Modesto has a story to share of children being lost to either addiction or sexual exploitation. These problems have affected families regardless of their race, religion, or economic status. How does this connect with the issue of abortion?

Tell those who support Planned Parenthood that if a young teenage girl shows up in their lobby with a twenty-something “boyfriend,” no law requires Planned Parenthood to report what could be a crime of sexual exploitation. What ensures that a pimp cannot drive his “property” to the clinic for an abortion with impunity? We must protect both the children we have and unborn children in the womb from this type of exploitation; the American Solidarity Party believes we can and we should.

Does your audience believe that women have a right to choose whether or not to have an abortion? Suggest, in that spirit, that there should be equal funding for “health centers” that provide abortions and local crisis pregnancy centers. Let them know that the ASP supports laws that encourage emotional and financial support for women who choose to carry their child to term. Appeal to their American sense of justice and fair play.

Many people are much more like-minded than we think; however, they don’t know that if we don’t tell them, which we can do by using issues that impact our community via the local opinion page. If we do that, we will gain both recognition and membership.

Know Your Stuff

Be prepared to answer regular objections to voting for a third party. Be prepared to honestly share why you walked away from your previous party to join the ASP. Read our platform, have links ready to share, and do not be afraid to admit that we are in this for the long haul. We do not expect our candidate to become President of the United States this year, but tell people to be prepared for future candidates for mayor or city council to pop up on the radar who will declare themselves members of the ASP. Ask them to do the same.

Develop Relationships with the Local Newspaper Staff

Get to know both the head editor and the editor of the opinion page. In the words of my Texan father, “blow smoke up their bloomers.” Send the occasional note to tell them they are doing a good job. Ask their opinion about a local rumor being promoted on social media. Say hello when you see them in the market. Our city, Modesto, has grown in recent years, but we are still very much a “small town” with a decidedly Midwestern flair for neighborliness. Saying, “Hey, Brian!” to the editor when I see him at the SaveMart puts a face to my name. He knows I am a nice little old lady, usually wearing a Niners T-shirt. I am not scary—I’m just a neighbor.

Every one of us has the chance to be a voice for our party. What we must remember is that in order to appeal to our local populace, the American Solidarity Party must be made real to them. We can do that by making sure all local interests are viewed through our lens. Let them know that our vision promotes common sense for the common good.

Until we have enough money and clout to produce radio spots, to print yard and fence signs, and to get our candidate an interview on the local news, using the opinion page of our local newspaper can still be an effective tool for growing the party. Every voice is important; make sure yours is heard.

My Kind Mechanic, Distributism, and the ASP

An American Solidarity Party Member Perspective, by Valerie Niemeyer

When was the last time your heart was profoundly blessed by your auto mechanic? For me, it was just two hours ago, and the encounter reminded me of why I’m a member of the American Solidarity Party. As a party that is committed to a consistent reverence for human life, we embrace a distributist approach to the economy that fosters the well-being of persons, families, and communities through widespread ownership and a more truly free market.

I am not well-educated about economies and markets, but common sense and my heart tell me that I want to live in a country that makes family businesses (including family farms) a viable option for as many people as possible, which was reinforced by my experience with my kind mechanic earlier today.

I was on my way home from picking up a grocery delivery from my parents’ driveway (my house wasn’t in the delivery zone), when my decrepit 2001 Toyota Sienna lost momentum and began emitting a low rumbling, then a rasping sound. Clenching both my jaw and the steering wheel, I worried about how soon I could find a safe place to pull over and explained to my kiddos (who sensed adventure) that I thought I may have a punctured tire. Once tucked safely off the road, with tires intact and palms pressed to the rough, cool road, I beheld the fallen exhaust pipe extending forward from the muffler—the source of the rasping sound. Bummer.

“Call Excellence and see if they do exhaust stuff like this; if so, we’ll have it towed there,” advised my husband. Thank God for cell phones. I dialed the number and Tom answered. I told him about the dragging pipe and asked if it was something they could help with.

“Sure. Which way is it hanging—towards the back of the car, or towards the front?”

“Towards the front,” I replied.

“Ah—that’s too bad. Where are you at?” I wasn’t too far from his shop—less than ten minutes.

He said, “Why don’t I just come see if I can tie it up so you can drive it here and not have to wait for a tow truck. Can you leave it with me?”

I responded, “Let me call Gramps and see if he can meet us there and take us home. I’ll call you right back.”

Gramps, my husband’s dad, was happy to help. When I called the shop back, it was Tom’s wife who answered. She passed the phone to him for my update: “Yep, I can leave it with you. But I can call a tow truck—it’s not a problem, insurance will cover it.”

“No, don’t do that. It’s no problem. Where exactly are you?”

I knew he wouldn’t charge me for his trouble. He’d gone above and beyond for us before, and his invoices were always a pleasant surprise. We have total trust in his integrity and humbling admiration for his generosity.

Within half an hour, I was greeting his wife, Renee (whom I always look forward to encountering), at the reception desk. She has an air of motherly wisdom and a warm, hard-working humility that always comes through in our conversations.

I remembered noticing the encouraging quote from Scripture hanging above her desk the first time I entered the shop. I also remembered the time her husband kindly worked us in before we left town so we could be sure our old family van was road-trip safe. As I had expressed my gratitude, she had smiled and laughed a bit, and proceeded to compare her husband to the Statue of Liberty, always welcoming anyone, any time, with a desire to improve their automotive lot in life. His automotive lot frequently reflects that posture, with cars in every nook and cranny awaiting his devoted care.

One notes that this kind of care for his customers does not make for an easy, 9-to-5, workaday life.  Renee seems grateful and fulfilled—and tired. They’ve been at this for twenty-seven years, and last I heard, they were hoping a son would take over the business at some point. We hope so, too. Their family has managed to beautify our life and enrich our humanity because they have truly cared about our family as they have worked to help us maintain (or lay to rest) the vehicles that have carried us to and fro in this blessed adventure of life.

We had a similar experience with our previous mechanic, Steve, whose shop was just down the street from Tom’s, and whose retirement after years of faithful service to his community was both a well-earned reward for him and a heartbreaker for those whose lives he had long blessed with quality, friendly automotive service. When businesses are rooted more in human relationships and service to the community than in efficiency and profits, humanity all around is blessed and enriched.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “We must strive to secure a broader economic opportunity for all men, so that each shall have a better chance to show the stuff of which he is made.”

My dad and both of his parents worked hard for large American manufacturing corporations, and I perceived (rightly, I hope) that they had a sense of ownership and pride in their work and in their companies’ business enterprises. They also enjoyed good benefits and comfortable retirement. I’m thankful that Tom and Renee enjoy an even greater sense of ownership and pride in their family business, and I want them, and others like them, to also have access to good benefits and a comfortable retirement as a result of their hard work for our community.

The American Solidarity Party holds that economic enterprises and policies should be ordered to the true well-being of people, families, and communities, and that “models of economic behavior that undermine human dignity with greed and naked self-interest” are to be rejected. We will support folks like my kind, industrious mechanic by advocating, as our platform states, for “an economic system which focuses on creating a society of widespread ownership (sometimes referred to as ‘distributism’) rather than having the effect of degrading the human person as a cog in the machine.”

There are many who will say that such high ideals are not realistic and that pursuing them comes at too great a cost. There are also many mechanics who would never bother to do what Tom did for me today. But I say that caring is worth the sacrifices it inevitably entails, both personally and politically.

Valerie Niemeyer is married to Joe, the father of her six kiddos (ages two to fourteen), who are homeschooled so that “out of the box” educational opportunities could be pursued with and for them. It’s hard, messy, and humbling, but also beautiful and glorious, because of God’s love, mercy, and faithfulness. Large manufacturing companies, as well as family farms and family-owned businesses, have sustained and blessed her family for generations through the hard work of her grandparents, parents, and now her husband. Her greatest teachers and mentors (other than God and her parents) have been the poor of Latin America, whom she has been honored to share life with through various transformative experiences beginning in high school, thanks to the generosity and courage of her parents. After graduating from Creighton University with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish with certification in Secondary Education, she chose to serve the local immigrant and refugee population in nonprofit and community health settings (while pursuing a master’s degree in Theology) prior to staying at home full-time with her children. As an orthodox Roman Catholic who appreciates the good and laments the bad in both major American political parties, she is grateful to have found a political “home” where a consistent, robust reverence for human life and the common good is promoted.

Book Review of Wendell Berry and Higher Education by Jack R. Baker and Jeffrey Bilbro

Review by Lloyd Conway

What can teachers and practitioners of public administration learn from a book coming from an English department on the works of an agrarian novelist?

Public administrators may not seem like the ideal audience for a work examining what the writer Wendell Berry has to say about higher education, but his call for the academy to abandon the “unknown tongue” of academic jargon and to re-engage place—community, locality, the concrete realities immediately outside the ivory tower—ought to find willing hearers among those who labor in the care of the public squares of our communities.

His acknowledged debts to Buddhism aside, Berry’s worldview is (like that of the authors, and of this reviewer) decidedly Christian. One need not share it, however, to appreciate a commitment to an order that is holistic and ecological in the fullest sense, one not beholden to the dictates of market-driven capital.

Berry’s concern for place in the face of a cultural gravitational field pulling ambition, talent, and achievement into the orbits of wealth and power around our political and economic capitals echoes other “third way” public intellectuals, like Lewis Mumford, Ivan Illich, Jane Jacobs, James Howard Kunstler, E. F. Schumacher, and even Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton. The writers in this tradition criticized a centralizing capital-driven system answerable to nothing but the relentless, limited logic of the market. That tradition can inform us, as teachers and practitioners of public administration, and it can help us maintain a dialogue with our colleagues about what our schools’ missions should be and how we can better integrate our disciplines to imbue our students and our research with a purpose that has meaning for the places we inhabit. Baker and Bilbro (85–86) offer examples of colleges that practice disciplines that tie classroom education to work and service. At Berea College and the College of the Ozarks, students literally work their way through school, earning their tuition through campus employment. They become part of the life and health of their places.

The term “academic placemaking” best describes how Baker and Bilbro portray Wendell Berry’s vision of a reformed academy, and it is aligned with the service ethos of public administration. Aside from programs whose focus is national or international, our programs train generations of students whose careers will focus on service to place, often just one place, for their working lives. This book speaks to that service ethos. It also ought to be of use in shaping conversations with practitioners of other academic disciplines about what mission focus our common homes ought to embrace. As Baker and Bilbro put it, by learning “how to serve our places rather than our careers—and by articulating the kinds of imagination, language, and practices that might lead to an education in service of place—we also hope to educate our students to be virtuous members of their communities rather than technically proficient migratory servants of the industrial economy.”(198)

Berry’s writing centers, according to Baker and Bilbro, on the four responsibilities—fidelity, gratitude, memory, love—that all of us owe to our places. These express themselves in rootedness, service, responsibility, and plain speaking, as opposed to euphemistic jargon that obscures what it ought to depict. This writer can empathize with the last point, as it brings to mind an example from work: a “Quarterly Layoff Activity Report” re-christened the “New Labor Market Entrants Report” to sanitize the reality of lost employment for the report’s audience.

In his farewell address, President Eisenhower warned against the corrupting influence of federal funding on higher education’s academic freedom. Berry writes in a similar vein when cautioning against the seduction of research for research’s sake, whatever the funding source, without regard for the consequences stemming from the use of what may be discovered along the way. Berry echoes Eisenhower’s concern that “a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity,” and “public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological élite.” The result is the same: research without limits, without regard for consequences, and without concern for the side-effects of the process itself. In this, Berry’s writings sound a theme similar to that of former Vice-President Al Gore in his 1992 book Earth in the Balance, seeing the defect of our current intellectual state as a deficiency in what T. S. Eliot called the “ecology of cultures,” stemming from the centuries-old Western mind-body split in consciousness and action.

Taking the analysis further, one could say that Berry echoes Oswald Spengler’s observations about Western (“Faustian”) civilization when he refers to the spirit of our age as “curious” to have knowledge for its own sake, as opposed to the classical sense of knowledge as wisdom, an attitude described as “studious”. A “curious” attitude cares not for consequences, neither stemming from its discoveries nor from how they come about, directly or indirectly; side-effects like environmental degradation are peripheral concerns, at best. Faustian civilization has been intellectually “curious” since Bacon. Knowledge for its own sake and the power it brings, rather than for faith or service, is a sickness of purpose in Berry’s eyes. (Baker & Bilbro, 177, quoting from “The Unsettling of America”):

“Who so hath his mind on taking hath it no more on what he hath taken.”

Montaigne

This book may well prompt its readers to ask themselves and their communities: “Do we participate in or do we exploit our places”? The question, and the answers it conjures, ought to be the stuff of meaningful dialogue on the place service has in our work and how our work serves the places we inhabit.


Lloyd A. Conway, originally from Detroit, Michigan, is a retired veteran of the Army & National Guard, was a civil servant for twenty years, and has been an adjunct teacher at Spring Arbor University for the past twenty years. Mr. Conway previously served on the city council of Charlotte, Michigan, and chaired the Planning Commission. He holds degrees from Excelsior College, Wayne State University, Western Michigan University, and Eastern Michigan University. He is married to a fellow teacher and has five adult children. They reside in Lansing, Michigan.

Member Perspective: Is Health Care A Right?

by Catherine Collingwood

The American Solidarity Party’s platform refers to universal health care as a right. That’s quite the assertion, and it’s not a universal American belief. After all, why should the services of health-care providers—who spend an enormous amount of time and money developing their skills—be something that all people can demand for any reason, regardless of whether they can pay a fair price?

It’s a valid question. There’s an equally valid answer. In fact, there are two of them.

The first reason is rooted not in the ASP’s platform but rather in the United States’ own founding documents. The Declaration of Independence clearly states that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are fundamental human rights. We find this same idea in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which states that “no person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Consider the nature of disease itself: even the common cold often challenges our pursuit of happiness. It saps our energy, often proves costly, and undermines our social contribution. In fact, a 2002 National Institutes of Health study showed that the common cold accounts for nearly $25 billion annually in direct and indirect costs to the economy. Based on the 2002 population, that translates to approximately $87 per American—or more than two full days of minimum-wage pay—regardless of age, social status, or ability to work.

If the cost of a cold is so high, consider how much more expensive a complex condition like heart disease or cancer will be. What happens then to the “pursuit of happiness”? Shouldn’t our work contribute toward realizing our full potential instead of just trying to overcome the costs of a health condition we didn’t choose?

We should also consider that human dignity and the whole-life approach mean that people are much more than mere economic units. The ASP was “founded on an unwavering commitment to defend life and to promote policies that safeguard the intrinsic dignity of the human person from conception until natural death.”

A Google search on human dignity in health-care environments returns more results than any one person could ever read. Left untreated (or inadequately treated), many health conditions threaten to undermine the inherent dignity of the human person. Treatments aren’t always that much better, but they at least carry the hope of restoring health to the person who receives them.

This leads us to the second reason, the one that’s related to the ASP’s platform: if human dignity is an inherent right, we have to include universal access to health care in that right. That applies even for those who might not have the economic means to pay for it.

Without access to affordable health care, a person’s life is adversely affected and can even be cut short. That’s definitely not realizing that person’s full potential and can’t be reconciled with the idea of a whole-life approach. In fact, that’s why the ASP promotes a plethora of ideas concerning universal health care: everything from single-payer initiatives to direct primary-care programs.

In addition, given that the Declaration of Independence states that the government has a duty to protect fundamental rights, it follows that ensuring universal health-care access is the government’s job. We might debate which level of government bears the primary responsibility for this duty, and we can also debate how we should go about doing it, but the ultimate goal remains ending “exploitation of the captive audience of patients.” Providing universal health-care access is a critical step in ensuring that all Americans have the freedom and respect they deserve.


Catherine Collingwood has worked with group health insurance plans since 1999, both as a compensation and benefits specialist in an HR office, and in her current position as a group life and health agent/account manager. Her personal blog is located at https://collingwest.blog.

Member Perspective: Why I Marched

By Grace Aldershof

While the American Solidarity Party had marchers at pro-life rallies from coast to coast, no march was more controversial than the March for Life in Washington D.C. For the first time in the 47 year history of the world’s largest pro-life event, a sitting president addressed the crowd in person. Unfortunately, the president was Donald Trump. Measured against our values, this president is a real dud. Several friends and acquaintances seemed horror struck by my choice to attend the March for Life this year, since they viewed it as a part of Trump’s reelection campaign or as a Republican rally. Why would I, a Solidarist, carry my small children through a noisy crowd of Trump supporters in the middle of January? Let me explain.

The short answer is that I marched for the same reason I have marched for many years: to demand that our country outlaw the slaughter of preborn children. But this year, I’ll admit that I had to consider the message I would be sending. I would never want to bolster a president who has goaded our international enemies, enabled those who wish to ravage our environment, set himself as an enemy of social justice and, frankly, has not been a consistent ally of the unborn. Ultimately, though those are great reasons not to attend a Trump rally, they are not great reasons to skip the March for Life.

The March for Life mission statement speaks of “uniting, educating, and mobilizing pro-life people in the public square.” On the whole, the March has been successful in uniting the cause. I saw bishops marching alongside atheists, right-wingers shoulder to shoulder with left-wingers, and personalities who would mix like gasoline and a match under normal circumstances unite to protect the rights of the unborn. Speakers have included Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians, as well as folks who defy categorization. Looking at our group, as well as our friends from Rehumanize International and Consistent Life Network with whom we rallied, nobody would assume we were Trump voters. In fact, we carried signs advocating for someone else to be President. But when we marched together, we gave people an image of the breadth of people who want to end abortion and the unstoppable force which we can be when we mobilize for the preborn.

Moreover, I march to show I am unwilling to cede the pro-life movement to the Republican Party. I advocate for letting the light of a whole life ethic into every sector of society. Many of us have been avidly following the Democratic primary, gauging Brian Carroll’s competition for the presidency, and there we see the effects of giving up on a group of people. When we had people like Denis Kucinich in Congress, I might have been comfortable being a Democrat, and even the pro-abortion Democrats were comfortable nuancing their views. Now it would be radical for a Democrat to support any restriction on abortion at any point in pregnancy. Both Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigeig have been asked if the party ought to be open to pro-lifers and have used a few sentences to essentially say ‘no’. This is the fruit of abandoning the Democrats to the abortion lobby. And, of course, if it is only the Republican party that even gives lip service to the cause, it doesn’t have to have good leaders to earn the pro-life vote. No, I won’t be pressured by Democrats to vote for whomever they nominate in order to stop Trump and promote ecological and social justice; nor will I be pressured by Republicans to abandon my values to end abortion.

So when we unseat President Trump, I’ll be pleased as punch to scream my head off in the front row in support of President Carroll. But even if we don’t, I’ll be there next year and the following until the day that abortion is illegal in every corner of the United States of America.

On the Proposed Changes to SNAP

By Shane Hoffman and Sarah Schaff

The American Solidarity Party, as part of its commitment to a comprehensive pro-life agenda, calls for “laws that facilitate authentic human freedom and ensure that all people have access to everything they need to thrive.” Currently, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is part of our social safety net. SNAP, popularly known as food stamps, is a key element in assisting the most needy in our society to get nutritious food into their homes when they might not otherwise have the means to do so. The elderly, the disabled, people who have had a family emergency and are temporarily unable to work, and those who have suffered job loss all benefit from this program.

What kind of reach does SNAP have? Last year, 40 million low-income Americans received SNAP benefits—that is 12% of the country’s population. Eligibility for this program has always been determined by income, using the federal poverty guidelines. Those rules allow for families earning up to 130% of the federal poverty guidelines to apply. For a family of four, that means an annual income of $33,480 or less. The goal of SNAP is to enable families to stretch their food dollars and to ensure that local grocery stores and farmer’s markets are able to sell their wares and their surplus. This program was meant to be a win-win across the country: for farmers, for small business owners, for grocery stores, and for those in need.

The current SNAP guidelines allow families to choose nutritious foods to supplement their existing food budget. This program does not pay for the purchase of alcohol or tobacco, nor does it subsidize the purchase of non-edible items, such as pet food or paper towels. It is a program meant to help families obtain wholesome, nutritious foods when they simply can’t afford it, and addresses the types of hunger and poverty that were witnessed in our country as recently as the 1980s. The proposed changes announced this year will drastically reduce eligibility across the board, meaning that millions of families stand to lose their SNAP benefits in a few months. While the benefits may disappear, hunger doesn’t. Although compassion and recognition of the intrinsic value of all human beings would argue against the proposed cuts, there are also more practical reasons to oppose these changes.

The consequences of hunger and food insecurity are lifelong. In schools, it is more difficult for hungry children to learn and succeed. Children who are food-insecure often display behavioral issues, which impede their progress in the classroom. Research has shown that food-insecure households have higher rates of hospitalization. Lower literacy rates and behavioral issues are correlated with higher levels of incarceration later in life, so it is easy to see how food insecurity contributes to problems for an entire community. Food insecurity early in life has also been shown to be an indicator for drug addiction, alcohol addiction, and Type 2 diabetes. By doing the right thing and spending money now to make sure our friends and neighbors—especially our children—are able to access healthy and nutritious meals, we can save money down the road on prisons, health care, lost productivity, and more.

In practical terms, the proposed cuts would impact the poor in the following ways:

  • 1.9 million families (over 3 million people) stand to lose eligibility for SNAP.
  • Capping the deduction of utility costs from income that a client may take in order to meet eligibility requirements mean that more people will be forced to choose between eating and heating their homes in the winter.
  • States will no longer be able to opt out of the rule that requires eligible households to have no more than $2,250 in cash or savings—unless disabled or over 60, after which the limit is raised to a mere $3,500—which makes it almost impossible to save for an emergency or large purchase.
  • States lose the right to extend benefits to families who are working and earn slightly above the poverty guidelines, but have large child-care costs and need assistance.
  • Perhaps the greatest shame of all is that an estimated one million children will lose access to free and reduced-price lunches at school, as well as to summer meals provided through the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program—possibly the only meals they get each day.

We must call upon our elected representatives to oppose these changes. As members of the American Solidarity Party, we should recognize that the proposed changes are a breach of the public trust and an abrogation of our solemn duty to protect the neediest among us. We acknowledge the intrinsic human dignity of all people, and thus believe that individuals should not be forced to make choices between heating their homes and feeding their children, between saving for an emergency and putting food on the table.

Beyond our moral obligation to care for our fellow human beings, these benefits are an investment in our economy. The pennies we spend today providing assistance to those in need come back to us in measurable outcomes down the road. As such, members of the American Solidarity Party must stand firmly against the proposed SNAP rule changes. I urge you to contact your federal representatives before the extended period of comment on this change ends on November 1, 2019.

To formally comment on the proposed changes to SNAP, follow this link:

https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=FNS-2018-0037-16542

 

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