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

 

The American Solidarity Party at the Catholic University of America

By Sean McCarthy

During the 2016 presidential election season, I was deeply distressed by the dominant parties. As a Catholic, I found myself unable to support either party in good conscience. The Republicans, despite their supposed acceptance of the dignity of the unborn, elevated a veritable demagogue, exacerbating all of their worst tendencies and positions. The Democrats, despite their commitment to social justice and their acceptance of the evidence of environmental crises, refused to acknowledge the human dignity of the unborn and seemed increasingly hostile to any religion that refused to submit to the demands of postmodern secularism. I became aware of the American Solidarity Party through Facebook, and quickly became a member, finding in it a party where my convictions could remain whole rather than torn and fragmented. 

I felt that as a student (currently in my sixth year in the combined MA/PhD Philosophy program), I could contribute to the party by founding a campus chapter at the Catholic University of America. I proceeded to gather the minimum number of members and to recruit the necessary faculty advisor. By the end of the fall semester, after explaining the vision of the party to those in charge of campus organizations, we were able to establish the chapter. 

I mainly relied on like-minded friends to help me in the beginning, especially Niklas Rodewald, a Marist seminarian. I recall hosting the first of many open houses, events that proved to be disappointing in turnout (altogether I have had two people come to such events, one of whom is now the chapter’s vice president). I intended all along to recruit undergraduate students, in the hope that they would take over and sustain the organization into the future. 

During the spring semester of 2017, I sought ideas for events aligned with our vision. Every year during the month of March, CUA celebrates Women’s History Month by encouraging student organizations to recognize women and host various events. I realized that this would be an ideal occasion for the chapter to honor Dorothy Day with an event. From what I knew of her at the time, she lived a life that defied categorization into typical liberal and conservative boxes, as she was profoundly and holistically pro-life. This idea would turn into an annual event that has happened three times and of which I am especially proud: The Legacy of Dorothy Day. 

That first year, I  connected with Dr. Zena Hitz from St. John’s College, Tim Keating of the Society of Mary, and Art Laffin of the Catholic Worker house in Washington, D. C.. They came and offered profound, authentic, and moving reflections from their own experience of being shaped by Day’s legacy. Art has been my most enduring speaker, sharing his wisdom during each of the three events. Like Day, he seems to never turn down an invitation to speak. Last year, we were joined by Dr. Margaret Laracy of Communion and Liberation, an organization that had presented an exhibit on Dorothy Day at their yearly event in New York City. This past March, Art delivered introductory remarks before we watched “Don’t Call Me a Saint,” an excellent documentary made by Claudia Larson about Dorothy Day.

I’ll offer two reflections from my experience hosting these events. First, as Day understood, even the smallest beginnings can lead to profound change through faith, hope, and love. The events drew a handful of people and did not make an enormous splash on campus. Nevertheless, we began a tradition that has impacted various people and shapes our identity and mission on campus. As Day wrote, “People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”

Second, the people most impacted by the events might be those who are engaged in presenting them. In other words, as Flannery O’Connor put it, “The life you save may be your own.” In planning, arranging, hosting, and offering introductory remarks at each of the events, I have gained experience in what is involved in carrying out successful events. I have been shaped through these experiences to become a better leader of the group on campus. More importantly, though, this work required that I give sustained and intensive focus to the life of Dorothy Day, a person whose life is truly worth remembering and emulating in the twenty-first century, as it embodied passionate commitment to a consistent ethic of life. By focusing on such a saintly witness, I was affected for the better. 

In addition to these events, we’ve also hosted two events highlighting the consistent life ethic. One of these involved remembering Ben Salmon, the Catholic pacifist who was imprisoned, beaten, and force-fed for refusing to participate in World War I. In this case, I was contacted by certain pacifist activists who thought my organization would be congenial to their mission, and I mostly agreed that it was (notwithstanding our acceptance of just war theory). I was made a little uncomfortable, however, by the protest that occurred afterwards, featuring Buddhist monks beating drums, a man calling through a megaphone for repentance for America’s sins, and slow marching through campus to the offices of the Conference of Catholic Bishops and the building for the Archdiocese for the Military Services! The other event consisted of me interviewing John Whitehead on what a consistent ethic of life is. This event was far more peaceful and agreeable and ranged over a variety of issues connected to a consistent life ethic, including John’s special expertise in war and peace issues. I made sure to include other issues like poverty and immigration. Hopefully, this can be an event that is repeated multiple times. 

This past year I was joined by the most promising recruit of the organization so far, Ally Kilgore, a rising junior at Catholic University, who is an outstanding student and one of her class’s senators. Despite this modest but clear success, I was confronted with a troubling development once the summer began. The office of campus activities had determined that all political organizations besides the two affiliated with the major parties and one other organization dedicated to open discussion would no longer be recognized. As you can imagine, I was distraught and indignant. I proceeded to e-mail those in charge, challenging their explanations, and when this was unsuccessful, I pleaded my case to higher authorities on campus, who decided that I should meet in person with the individual in charge of campus organizations. I finally met with this man a few weeks ago and had a very affable yet forceful conversation, which succeeded in persuading him that the American Solidarity Party ought to be recognized on the campus of Catholic University. This was established for two reasons: first, that our vision cannot be fragmented and distributed among the two dominant parties, as our seamless garment approach is holistic; second, unlike certain other third parties that tend towards radical positions in the eyes of the university, we are deeply aligned with the school’s vision and mission, since we are so thoroughly informed by Catholic social teaching. Indeed, as I have said many times to people when introducing the organization, our party is deeply aligned with the vision of Pope Francis, who, as Charlie Camosy argues, is at the cutting edge of Catholic social teaching. 

I hope that as we go forward in what will undoubtedly be another dramatic election season, we will succeed in showing more people that there is another way, that those who embrace the dignity of all human life from beginning to end do not need to be single-issue voters, but can find a home where a consistent ethic of life reigns. 

Distributism Basics with John Médaille

John Médaille is a retired businessman and, for the last fifteen years, an adjunct instructor at the University of Dallas, where he teaches the courses Introduction to the Bible and Catholic Social Teaching for Business Students. He is the author of The Vocation of Business and outlines the fundamentals of distributism in his book Toward a Truly Free Market. His writing is also featured in The Crisis of Global Capitalism and in Localism in the Mass Age.

In this live video, Mr. Médaille discusses the characteristics of capitalism, socialism, and distributism, and makes clear how the free market is distinct from capitalism.

Nat Hentoff’s Idiosyncratic Example

By John Whitehead

Those who wish to defend human life from the many threats to it, those who wish to overturn the usual left-right political categories, and those who wish to discover a genuinely independent thinker would all do well to read the work of Nat Hentoff. Hentoff, who died in 2017 after a journalistic career lasting over sixty years, defied conventional labels: he was an avowed atheist who staunchly opposed abortion and assisted suicide, a friend of both Malcolm X and John Cardinal O’Connor, and a civil libertarian who antagonized both liberals and conservatives. 

Many of Hentoff’s convictions and concerns came to him early. Growing up Jewish in Boston during the Great Depression, he experienced bigotry firsthand, most significantly in the form of Irish toughs who would beat up and terrorize Jewish Bostonians (Hentoff lost a tooth in one such encounter). His first (and probably greatest) passion—jazz music—brought him into contact with an array of black musicians and made him aware of racism’s evils. These early experiences gave a Hentoff a concern for equality and a penchant for siding with the underdog.

Hentoff also acquired a habit of iconoclasm and a dislike for authority. At the age of twelve, he dramatically rejected the Judaism of his early childhood by publicly eating a salami sandwich on Yom Kippur. As a teenager, employment at a candy store led to his first participation in a labor strike, against the store’s draconian owner. Work on the student newspaper at Northeastern University brought Hentoff and other students into conflict with the administration over the paper’s criticism of the college trustees. This last conflict demonstrated another of Hentoff’s passions: freedom of speech, as well as the First Amendment and constitutional law more broadly. 

These early influences fostered Hentoff’s career as a writer of fiction and journalism. His non-fiction writing covered jazz, racial equality, civil liberties, and politics. In the late 1950s, Hentoff found a steady outlet for his journalism at the Village Voice, where he would remain for over 40 years (although he characteristically criticized the Voice itself publicly on more than one occasion). 

Hentoff’s early career coincided with the civil rights movement, which he chronicled and sympathetically analyzed in his book The New Equality. In a passage that sounds familiar half a century later, he wrote:

Justice is less likely to be done if you are poor, and it is in worse imbalance if you are Negro and poor. A study by the United States Department of Justice reveals that in some areas guilty pleas are three times as frequent among prisoners who have to be assigned court-appointed attorneys as among those who can afford to retain their own lawyers. As for capital cases, Norman Redlich, a professor of law at New York University and a close student of capital punishment, claims that hardly anyone is executed in this country who has money or influential friends. Clarence T. Duffy, former warden of San Quentin [State Prison], adds: “Negroes are more likely to die than white men—and for less serious crimes.” (The New Equality, p. 52)

Hentoff would report on racial inequality, in the criminal justice system and elsewhere, until his last years.

When writing a profile of the Nation of Islam in 1960, Hentoff met the organization’s then-spokesman, Malcolm X, amid an unfriendly crowd in a Harlem diner. He found in Malcolm X a welcome intellectual sparring partner—“calmly alert, he enjoys the challenge of debate,” Hentoff wrote—and a friendship developed between them. As Hentoff later recalled, “I enjoyed watching him outmaneuver reporters and academics who either were convinced that he was an irredeemable racist or felt that with sufficient cultivation he might eventually see the light and join the editorial board of the New York Times.” They spoke for the final time a few days before Malcolm X’s murder, the only time Hentoff saw his friend visibly afraid.

A significant ideological difference between the two friends lies in their differing views on whether violence was justifiable, with Hentoff taking the more pacifist view. During the 1960s, he became involved in peace and nonviolent activism for the first time, participating in a protest against nuclear weapons and writing a biography of the pacifist A. J. Muste, whom he considered a mentor. Hentoff also spoke out against the Vietnam War and occasionally participated in anti-war activities. Writing in the Voice in 1968, Hentoff also made a curiously prophetic comment. Decrying the violence in Vietnam and the United States (Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated only a few days earlier), Hentoff speculated on what “could produce a massive pro-life victory.”

At the time, Hentoff’s use of the phrase “pro-life” did not include preborn humans threatened by abortion. Prior to the 1980s, Hentoff generally supported abortion access and knew very few pro-lifers. Moreover, abortion had touched him personally because his third wife, Margot, had had an abortion during a strained period in their marriage. Hentoff’s views began to change in the early 1980s, however, when he wrote a series of Voice columns on the “Baby Doe” cases. These were cases where children born with serious but not necessarily terminal disabilities, such as Down syndrome and spina bifida, were denied medical care at their parents’ request. As Hentoff reported, in one case a boy with Down syndrome in Bloomington, Indiana, was denied care that could have prevented his death by starvation.

Reports on these cases prompted an uproar and led Congress to amend child-abuse legislation in order to classify the denial of medical care to disabled infants with life-threatening conditions as a form of abuse. During the debate over the “Baby Doe” cases and subsequent legislation, Hentoff was appalled to see how many people on the political left defended the parents’ alleged right to deny their children life-saving medical care. An ACLU staffer described the denial of care in one case as “really an extension of reproductive freedom rights—a woman’s right to choose.”

This controversy led Hentoff to re-examine his attitudes toward abortion and to learn more about fetal development. As he explains in his memoir Speaking Freely:

I began to read the medical textbooks that physicians in prenatal care read—not pro-life books, but such standard texts as The Unborn Patient: Prenatal Diagnosis and Treatment

I spoke to a number of physicians who do research in prenatal development, and they emphasized that life is a continuum from fertilization to birth to death. Setting up divisions of this process to justify abortion, for example, is artificial. It is the life of a developing being that is being killed. The euphemisms for an aborted fetus—“the product of conception” and “a clump of cells”—are what George Orwell might have called newspeak… [emphasis in original]

As time went on, I began to understand that there is much more to abortion than abortion itself. The mindset—the ability to regard as just and necessary the killing of at least 1.3 million developing human beings a year—helps strengthen the consistent ethic of death in the nation—including the discounting of the Baby Jane Does and the rise of support for “assisted suicide.” (Speaking Freely, pp. 173-174)

Hentoff’s public embrace of a pro-life stance on abortion earned him the enmity of many, including several Village Voice colleagues and his own wife. His new stance did not earn him the unqualified support of pro-lifers, either: Hentoff remained a secular, left-leaning writer who took Republican politicians to task for their failure to respect civil liberties or meet the poor’s needs. In a 1986 speech on the “indivisibility of life,” Hentoff recalled speaking before a state right-to-life convention, to an audience that mostly disapproved of his whole-life message.  In that address, he argued that:

pro-lifers ought to be opposing capital punishment and nuclear armament and the Reagan budget with its dedicated care for missiles as it cuts funds for the Women/Infant/Children Program that provides diet supplements and medical checkups for mothers in poverty. Surely, I said, they should not emulate the President in these matters—and here I stole a line from Congressman Barney Frank—they should not emulate the President in being pro-life only up to the moment of birth. Well, the faces before me began to close, and from the middle and the back of the dining room there were shouts. I couldn’t make out the words, but they were not approving. As I went on, there were more shouts as well as growls and table-thumping of an insistence that indicated a tumbrel awaited outside. I finally ended my speech to a chorus of howls, and several of the diners rushed toward the dais. I did not remember ever intending to die for this cause, but as it turned out the attacks were all verbal.

He did find some philosophical allies, however, in groups such as Feminists for Life and the pro-life peace organization Pro-Lifers for Survival—the forerunner organization to the Consistent Life Network. Hentoff also found common cause and friendship with the “Genghis Khan” of the Roman Catholic Church, New York Archbishop John Cardinal O’Connor, who also faced opposition from the left and the right alike. In the late 1980s and the 1990s, Hentoff became a notable advocate for the consistent life ethic, in the pages of the Voice, in a syndicated newspaper column, and elsewhere. The speech just quoted expressed that ethic forcefully.

Hentoff went through a final, late-in-life philosophical change; however, that change sadly moved him away from the consistent life ethic and closer to his friend Malcolm X’s views. His concern for the lives and liberties of all people made him write frequently on victims of human rights abuses outside the United States, in China, Cuba, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere.  Exposing people’s suffering in Sudan, including the violent repression in Darfur in the early 2000s, was a particular passion of his.

Reporting on violent injustices led Hentoff to a disturbing conclusion: war could be justified in response to these injustices. Although a fierce critic of George W. Bush’s War on Terror, with its use of government surveillance, indefinite detention, and torture, Hentoff nevertheless endorsed Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. His support for the Iraq War was based not on concern over the weapons of mass destruction allegedly possessed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, but rather on that regime’s very real repression of the Iraqi people. Later, this same belief in war as a tool of humanitarian rescue led Hentoff to advocate for military intervention in Sudan.

Such hawkishness is bitterly disappointing for peace activists and advocates of the consistent life ethic who once so appreciated Hentoff as a comrade. Given his keen appreciation of the Bush administration’s disregard for human rights and civil liberties, Hentoff should have asked the obvious question of whether such an administration could be trusted with humanitarian intervention in another country.

Nevertheless, he had something to teach peace-minded people even in his later years. His justification for renouncing his traditional peace advocacy stands as a challenge for all who seek to defend justice and human rights without resort to violence:

After nearly 20 years of reporting on the likes of Sudan’s General al-Bashir and, more recently, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, I’m convinced there are times when the only way to rescue the surviving victims of such monsters is to bypass the U. N. with a league of democratic nations, enough of whose citizens are driven by a visceral need to protect the human rights of people being terrorized by their own sovereign governments.

For many years, I considered myself a nonviolent, direct-action pacifist, one who was greatly influenced by the lessons of the late A. J. Muste. . . . However, I am forced to conclude, after many decades spent reporting on and witnessing the evidence, that there is such a thing as immutable evil in this world—as personified by, among others, Robert Mugabe and Omar al-Bashir. By advocating the use of force to save their victims, I feel I have betrayed A. J., and probably that part of myself that made me a pacifist. But with General al-Bashir breaking the 2005 peace treaty that put a stop to his 20-year war against black Christians and animists in the south of Sudan—in which over two million people have already died—only force will prevent the opening of (to quote one Western observer there) “the gates of hell.”

While military force is a dubious tool for correcting injustice (as the dismal recent history of “regime change” shows), Hentoff was not wrong to point out the unambiguous malevolence of many regimes guilty of repressing their own people or others. Peace advocates need to be clear-eyed and honest about such regimes, and the departure from the peace cause by Hentoff should be a spur to deeper thought on how to counter these evildoers nonviolently. 

Notwithstanding his evolving views, Hentoff remained, in his later years, a gadfly and critic of those in power. His condemnation of Bush’s war on terror was succeeded by criticism of Barack Obama’s targeted killing by drones and other national security policies. He also continued to write against abortion, the death penalty, and police brutality. When Donald Trump emerged as a serious presidential contender, Hentoff wasted no time in lambasting him as well. His final column in September 2016 was, appropriately enough, in praise of the Constitution.

Very few people would agree with Hentoff on everything, something he would probably have regarded as a point of pride. Certainly, many advocates of the consistent life ethic would disagree with—and be deeply saddened by—his late-in-life hawkishness. Nevertheless, Hentoff’s work and life leave much to benefit the intellectually curious. He offered a thoughtful, unconventional defense of human life against abortion and similar threats, as well as valuable commentary on freedom of speech and other civil liberties. Above all, he offered the example of someone who did not follow the “herd of independent minds” but followed principles and evidence to their conclusions as he saw them, regardless of party lines or political orthodoxy. That is an example well worth remembering and imitating.

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