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It's Crazy Time in America

By Bill Schneider
August 4, 2015

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, July 18, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

Why have Republican politicians gone crazy?

Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan declared, “It’s morning in America.” Now it’s crazy time in America.

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) was the first to notice. After Donald Trump held a massive rally to scapegoat illegal immigrants, McCain said, “[He] fired up the crazies.” There must be a lot of crazies running around. The latest polls all show Trump as the frontrunner for the 2016 Republican nomination.

Trump then insulted McCain, saying, “He’s not a war hero.” Trump has preferred to call McCain, with his impeccable outer-borough diction, “a losah,” adding, “I don’t like losahs.”

After that, it was open season for craziness. Having revealed that Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had once called him to ask a favor, Trump gave out Graham’s personal cellphone number and told his supporters to call it — and presumably harass the senator. Trump ridiculed former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s personal appearance, saying he started wearing glasses “so people will think he’s smart.”

The craziness in the Republican race is not confined to Trump. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said that if the nuclear deal with Iran goes through, “it will make the Obama administration the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism.”  In an outrageous violation of Senate decorum, Cruz called his own party’s majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a “liar.”

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, charged that President Barack Obama “would take the Israelis and basically march them to the door of the oven.”  Huckabee violated Rule No. 1 of political discourse: Nothing is analogous to the Holocaust.

Why have Republican politicians suddenly gone crazy? One key reason is that the first debate is coming up, and there are 17 Republican contenders. Fox News, which is hosting the debate, says it will invite only the 10 top-ranked candidates in the polls to be on the big stage. It is holding a separate, earlier debate among the lower-ranked candidates — the junior-varsity debate.

The also-rans are desperate for publicity to give them a boost in the polls. As one CNN reporter explained it, “There’s this Trump effect going on with some of these candidates where they want to say things and double-down on them to get some attention.”

Trump is gaining support by saying what former Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank once called “not-sa-pos-tas.” Trump says things you’re “not-sa-pos-ta” say if you want to be a viable candidate. Like insisting Obama’s birth certificate is a fake. And Latino immigrants are rapists.

Billionaire investor Mark Cuban, a Trump supporter, explains the Trump effect this way: “I don’t care what his actual positions are. I don’t care if he says the wrong thing. He says what’s on his mind. He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers. This is more important than anything any candidate has done in years.”

Trump is unscripted. He exudes authenticity. His spokesman put it this way: “He’s not a politico. He doesn’t purport to be a politico.”

Trump didn’t create the conservative movement. The conservative movement created him. Conservatives are hungry for a leader who’s not a politician and who exudes authenticity. They demand confrontation.

Conservatives are in open revolt against the Republican Party leadership. Republican leaders are trying to prove they can govern now that they have a majority in Congress.  Governing means coalition building. Coalition building means compromise. Conservatives won’t stand for it.  “The Republican Party in Washington,” Fox News host Sean Hannity charged, “is a carbon copy of the Democratic Party.”

Here’s Obama’s explanation for the epidemic of craziness in the Republican Party: “Maybe this is just an effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines.” Actually, other candidates are trying to imitate Trump and grab a piece of the action. But you can’t imitate authenticity.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is the only Republican contender willing to take Trump on. Bush offers an eloquent defense of compromise and coalition building: “We need men and women of good will forging consensus, starting to solve problems, kind of building back the muscles of consensus, compromise and solution-finding . . . . Apparently that is dangerous in a Republican primary.”

Yes, it is. Which is why Trump is leading Bush by better than two-to-one in the polls. Where will it all end? It will end when Republicans begin to take notice of the polls showing that Trump won’t beat Hillary Clinton. He won’t even beat Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. According to RealClearPolitics, no Republican is beating Clinton right now — but Trump, by far, does the worst. Clinton leads Trump by an average of 15 points in the polls.  She leads Bush by three.

Crazy time will end as soon as Republicans discover that Trump is “a losah.”


Lessons from Wall Street's Quarterly Earnings Obsession

What we can all learn from Wall Street's quarterly earnings obsession


It’s time to break free of the “tyranny” of “quarterly capitalism”, Hillary Clinton proclaimed in an economic stump speech on Friday afternoon at New York University. Translation? The Democratic Party’s front-running presidential candidate is taking aim at Wall Street – sort of.

Clinton is no Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren for that matter. For some she is, in fact, just a little too close to the money men. So perhaps unsurprisingly, instead of offering a wide-ranging critique of US capitalism, Clinton’s taking aim at a very specific Wall Street ritual: the corporate earnings report.

What makes her comments timely as well as interesting is the fact that they were delivered smack dab in the middle of the second quarter’s “earnings season” – the six-week period during which the vast majority of publicly-traded companies tell us how much money they made during from April 1 until June 30, and analysts and traders rush to compare those figures to forecasts.

When the numbers measure up – or even better, exceed – the forecasts, it’s known as a “beat”, and Good Things Happen. Just look at what happened to Google earlier this month when it delivered better-than-expected results, including an 11% jump in advertising revenue. The company’s stock set off for the stratosphere, soaring 16.3%.

That wasn’t only Google’s single best day in its own history as a public company, but the biggest one-day gain recorded by any public company, ever, as the total value of Google (the number of shares multiplied by the stock price) increased by a record $66.9bn to $478bn. It’s as if Google suddenly gave birth to several giant new businesses, overnight.

Then there’s Amazon, which also startled investors by reporting better-than-expected revenues and by announcing that it actually made money, instead of reporting a loss for the quarter. The stock soared 18%; now Amazon is worth more than Wal-Mart.

But if you disappoint, prepare to be punished; Wall Street is unforgiving. Only in the rather bizarre world of earnings season could a 38% gain in profitability and a 35% increase in iPhone sales be dubbed a “disappointment” by analysts covering Apple. But that’s just what happened, in large part because some had expectations that were even higher , and because the company hinted that the current quarter could prove more lackluster. In a flash, $60bn evaporate from the value of the company’s market capitalization. Ouch.

Trying to deliver quarterly results that are on target, or a “beat”, has long since become a game. Entire teams of analysts are devoted to tracking the process. So, for instance, as I write this, I can tell you that Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S calculates that of the companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, 186, or 37%, have so far announced their results. Of those, 74% have beaten estimates, while 18% have reported earnings that were worse than analysts had anticipated. In a typical quarter (since 1994), 63% of companies beat estimates; in the last four quarters 70% beat estimates.

But – remember that I described this as a game? Heading into reporting season, companies will deliver hints to analysts – hey, your earnings estimate for us is too high; you might want to trim it a bit. They’ll do that throughout the quarter, going back and forth, until by the time the quarter is over, and the earnings are announced, what appears to be a “beat” is actually a figure that is lower than the original forecast. In other words, if analysts hadn’t cut their estimates, that beat would have been a “miss”. Only if you’ve been following the process, and have access to the fluctuating estimates – only if you’re an insider – do you know whether a beat is really a beat, and whether to react with exuberance and excitement.

Then, too, what’s happening on the bottom line often isn’t the full story. Consider toymaker Mattel Corp, which analysts were expecting to report a loss of 4 cents a share. When it actually reported a profit of a penny a share, that should have been good news, right? Wrong. That’s still worse than the company’s profits a year ago, and it was accompanied by an unexpected dip in revenues.

When Hillary Clinton takes aim at “quarterly capitalism”, it’s stuff like that she is thinking of. Well, that, and the antics that go on behind the scenes in corner offices in order for chief financial officers to deliver on the expectations of analysts and the investors who await each quarterly earnings season announcement anxiously.

The critique is an old one, dating back decades. The demand to manage earnings on a quarterly basis frustrates the CEOs themselves, many of whom loathe having to ensure their earnings are squarely on target or incur the wrath of giant activist investors like Carl Icahn or David Einhorn, capable of making their lives a living hell.

And it is a real conundrum. On the one hand, CEOs and their chief financial officers are responsible to their investors; their job is to maximize profits. That’s their fiduciary duty. So an investor who sees a company passing up an opportunity to make money this summer, and hears the CEO arguing next earnings season that he made that choice in order to invest in something that will (hopefully) produce even larger rewards in, say, 2017, might justifiably be annoyed. Many CEOs see that as too risky; they’d like to keep their jobs and keep investors pacified, thank you very much. There’s an equally valid argument that by taking those risks (and deferring today’s profits), CEOs are doing their investors, and the economy as a whole, a greater disservice.

It’s worth noting, incidentally, that two of the companies that have delivered blockbuster “positive surprises” so far this earnings season, Google and Amazon, are both headed by management teams with the ability or willingness to defy Wall Street and march to the sound of their own drummer. Google’s co-founders still control the lion’s share of the company’s voting stock, meaning that they can afford to shrug off grumpy investors, to some extent. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has made it clear that he’ll tolerate large losses if that’s what it takes to boost revenues and market share – and if investors don’t share his vision, they don’t have to stick around.

Clinton argues that companies that become obsessed with “quarterly capitalism” risk throwing the whole system out of balance by focusing only on the short term. Her admittedly wonkish speech criticized “hit and run” activist shareholders and the “culture of short-term speculation”, even if it was short of specifics on how to address those particular features of Wall Street.

But we don’t have to wait for Clinton – or any other politico – to lead the way. We can choose how we react to earnings releases, or fail to do so, for instance.

Corporate earnings news does matter, but the noise that surrounds it rarely does. Forget about the “beats” and “misses” and focus on the context. What is intriguing about Amazon’s announcement is the fact that the dramatic gain came from the company’s cloud business, rather than the core retail operations with which we’re all familiar. That might give you a lot of food for thought about what this means for other companies offering clients infrastructure web services platforms in the cloud, including Google, Microsoft and even Alibaba. Mattel’s announcement got me thinking about the fact that companies are having to struggle to post higher profits – this could end up being the 16th quarter in a row in which earnings grow at a faster rate than revenues, Thomson Reuters has warned. That means the pressure will be on businesses to keep cutting costs to deliver the earnings that investors expect – including salaries and jobs.

Then, too, it’s always good to monitor earnings announcements for what companies say about what they see coming next. What’s happening in China? Will oil prices bounce back to life? Are they worried about Greece or do they see it as a sideshow? CEOs and their chief financial honchos usually have a conference call with analysts after the release of earnings and that’s when the analysts will grill them about what’s going to happen next. One earnings season is now history, and Wall Street is looking ahead for clues to the next. If you really want to play the insider’s game, so should you, by reading the (publicly available) transcripts.

Wall Street may still write the rules of the earnings season game, but that doesn’t mean we can’t tilt the boards a little bit in our favor, whether by figuring out what’s going on or finding a way to play on our own terms.


S.C. Works Toward Healing

In South Carolina these days, no one speaks his name.

The 21-year-old man-boy, who allegedly murdered nine people and incited unity instead of the race war he hoped for, has been condemned to an eternal slog not toward fame but to ignominy.

He is no one.

“We don’t say his name,” Gov. Nikki Haley (R) told me during an interview Monday. “He is something that South Carolina wants to forget.”

The names that won’t be forgotten are those of the victims, whose faces and stories are now etched in hearts across the state and nation. Haley, emotionally exhausted by the nine funerals she has attended, readily recited them, saying she wishes she had known all of them in life rather than in death.

She is haunted by that one hour. The hour the gunman reportedly sat with those eight parishioners and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney and prayed with them. Did he revel in their unwitting innocence? Was he picking his first victim even as they read the Bible?

“They thought they were moving him,” Haley said. They thought they were showing him God’s love. . . . They wanted him to feel like he belonged.” Her voice tripped.

How does one process such brutality, inhumanity and hate?

Often the best anyone can do is put one foot in front of the other. With time, the stride lengthens; the pace quickens; and life, intrepid to a fault, goes on.

Action helps.

Thus, Haley moved quickly in urging the General Assembly to take down the Confederate battle flag from its perch on the statehouse grounds. But she didn’t stop at the flag; she wanted the pole to come down, too. “It was important to me that we take care of this once and for all.”

To this end, she decided to share a story from her own life with the state’s Republican caucus. Haley is the daughter of Sikh immigrants from the Indian state of Punjab. In the tiny, rural town of Bamberg, S.C., where Haley grew up, her father wore a turban and her mother a sari. She said she knows what racial pain is like.

“People didn’t know who we were,” she told me. “They didn’t know what we were.”

The story, as recounted to me, went like this.

My father loved to visit farmer’s markets. One day I went with my dad and he stopped at a roadside stand. He started picking up fruits and vegetables, and I saw panic in the faces at the checkout counter. Then the police came. My father’s a very graceful man. He shook their hands and said hello and we got in the car. He didn’t say anything because he hoped I hadn’t noticed. I didn’t say anything because I knew what had happened.

Hard to know what the folks were worried about, but then places like Bamberg, population 2,500 at the time, didn’t much cotton to strangers, especially foreigners, back then.

“Every time I passed that stand, that pain was very real,” she told me. “No child should have to experience that.”

The pain Haley felt, she said, is the same kind of pain many people in the state have felt every time they passed the Confederate battle flag. Pushback was inevitable. One needn’t look long to find online comments that are hideous and cruel. And though any civilized person wants to rail at such lowlife incivility, Haley says she understands that they feel betrayed.

The state’s grief and the healing process notwithstanding, political ramifications attach to such events. Haley, obviously, has been catapulted onto the national stage and into the Republican imagination. Though long on a short list of possible presidential running mates, she demurred on this line of questioning, saying without a hint of obvious humor, “I have a lot of friends who happen to be running for president.” Those who have contacted her in recent weeks to express support include Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

For now, Haley says her focus is on helping her state heal. She plans to begin “Emanuel Nine” tours in schools to talk about the love, faith and forgiveness of the nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church whose lives and martyrdom conveyed compassion and grace to millions across the state and beyond.

“In the history books of South Carolina,” says Haley, “they’ll talk about the Emanuel Nine.”

Not him, whose name no one wants to say.

Read more from Kathleen Parker’s archive, follow her on Twitter or find her on Facebook.

Kathleen Parker writes a twice-weekly column on politics and culture for the Washington Post. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary In 2010. View Archive

House Delegation Embarrasses Anderson County (Again)

By Greg Wilson

While the overwhelming majority of members of the South Carolina House voted yesterday to move the Confederate flag from the State House Grounds yesterday, four of the six members of the Anderson County House Delegation took the low road and voted "no" to the move.

Only Reps. Mike Gambrell, R-Honea Path, Craig Gagnon R-Abbeville, voted to take down the Confederate Flag (Gagnon changed his vote on third reading to remove the flag). The other four members passively or actively continuted to show a serious lack of foresight and vision by stubbornly refusing to recognize the definitive truth that moving the flag is not only wise for the state, it is long overdue.

They joined a small minority of other house members (those on the losing end of the 90-20 vote), in attempting obfuscation of the issue with a series of proposed amendments which sought in vain to placate the vocal extremists who supported leaving the Confederate flag in place.

I fear their show of support for allowing the divisive flag to stay in place could have long-ranging effects on Andreson County's image in the months and even years ahead. Why would economic develop offices of other counties not whisper to prospective industries: "You know Anderson is the county whose legislative delegation supports flying the Confederate flag. You might want to be careful associating with those folks."

Hard to imagine the delegation's behavior did not cause a rise in blood pressure and serious indigestion among the leadership of Anderson County's economic development team. The dedicated folks included in this group has been very successful recruiting good companies (and jobs) to the county, all the while working together with other entities to help better facilities and infrastructure to attract the brightest and best to our home. This group, and the rest of us, deserves more informed and insightful leadership from the elected officials who represent them on a state level.

Anderson County is progressive. Word is spreading that it is also a great place to live and work. We have great people, great facilities and a great location. Why members of our house delegation would soil our reputation (and their own) is incomprehensible.

Arguments for allowing the Confederate flag to remain on State House grounds, or allowing some other version of a Confederate flag, are paper thin.

I won't revisit all the reasons in favor of removing the flag. If you want a fuller understanding of the issue I wrote about it earlier here.

But let's make one thing clear, the shootings at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston are not the reason most in this state, including our conservative Republican Governor Nikki Haley, it is time for the flag to move to a museum.

A number of state officials have invoked the name of God when explaining why they felt the need to vote to remove the flag. Haley said that if she had not moved to take down the flag she "could not have looked her children in the eye." So far, thankfully, I have not heard any state representative saying God told them the Almighty wants a Confederate flag flying over the State House grounds. Stay tuned, though, it could still happen.

Some have further muddied the issue at hand by attempting to make it a referendum on the legality of any Confederate flag, anywhere. That is a smokescreen for avoiding taking responsibility for taking down a flag raised 1961 at the near pinnacle of integration and civil rights laws as a symbol of defiance and racism. It was flown in South Carolina and other states where thousands were lynched and where that very flag was a primary banner for the Ku Klux Klan. Any suggestion that is was a simple reference to some ill-defined heritage are misguided at best, and downright dishonest at worst.

Like a tidal wave, the overwhelming grace and unity the people of the state has shown in the past months has been a marvel to the rest of the world. Those of us whose families have called South Carolina home for generations were not so surprised. There has been a spiritual undercurrent in our state for years, even when it seemed to barely pulse.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said: "We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."

That power of forgiveness has been on display here for weeks, in stark contrast to the fallout of racial unrest in other parts of the country. Led by our churches and many other leaders, people have stood united in a spirit rarely seen anywhere.

The proper response to this kind of united we stand effort is to put down the sword. There is still time for the Anderson Four who seemed to have missed this opportunity to ask themselves, and their God, what purpose is served by creating unnecessary division when an opportunity for healing has been offered.

You can find contact information for members of the Anderson County House Legislative Delegation here. Might be a good time to drop them a line.


What the Declaration of Indepdence Really Says

July 4 at 10:10 AM

[As we celebrate Independence Day, I thought I would post an excerpt about the Declaration of Independence from my forthcoming book, Our Republican Constitution: Securing the Sovereignty of the People (which is now available for pre-order on Amazon).]

Today, while all Americans have heard of the Declaration of Independence, all too few have read more than its second sentence. Yet the Declaration shows the natural rights foundation of the American Revolution and provides important information about what the founders believed makes a constitution or government legitimate. It also raises the question of how these fundamental rights are reconciled with the idea of “the consent of the governed,” another idea for which the Declaration is famous.

When reading the Declaration, it is worth keeping in mind two very important facts. The Declaration constituted high treason against the Crown. Every person who signed it would be executed as traitors should they be caught by the British. Second, the Declaration was considered to be a legal document by which the revolutionaries justified their actions and explained why they were not truly traitors. It represented, as it were, a literal indictment of the Crown and Parliament, in the very same way that criminals are now publicly indicted for their alleged crimes by grand juries representing “the People.”

But to justify a revolution, it was not thought to be enough that officials of the government of England, the Parliament, or even the King himself had violated the rights of the people. No government is perfect; all governments violate rights. This was well known.

So the Americans had to allege more than mere violations of rights. They had to allege nothing short of a criminal conspiracy to violate their rights systematically. Hence the Declaration’s famous reference to “a long train of abuses and usurpations” and the list that followed. In some cases, these specific complaints account for provisions eventually included in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

But before this list of particular grievances come two paragraphs succinctly describing the political theory on which the new polity was founded. To appreciate all that is packed into these two paragraphs, it is useful to break down the Declaration into some of its key claims.

  1. When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

This first sentence is often forgotten. It asserts that Americans as a whole, rather than as members of their respective colonies, are a distinct “people.” And this “one people” is not a collective entity, but an aggregate of particular individuals. So “they” not it should “declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

To “dissolve the political bands” revokes the “social compact” that existed between the Americans and the rest of the people of the British commonwealth, reinstates the “state of nature” between Americans and the government of Great Britain, and makes “the Laws of Nature” the standard by which this dissolution and whatever government is to follow are judged. As Committee of Five delegate Roger Sherman observed in 1774, after hostilities broke out with the British, “We are Now in a State of Nature.”

But what are these “Laws of Nature”? To answer this, we can turn to a sermon delivered by the Reverend Elizur Goodrich at the Congregational Church in Durham Connecticut on the eve of the Philadelphia constitutional convention. At the time of the founding, it was a common practice for ministers to be invited to give an “election sermon” before newly-elected government officials, in this case the delegates to the Constitutional convention, to encourage them to govern according to God’s ways.

In his sermon, Goodrich explained that “the principles of society are the laws, which Almighty God has established in the moral world, and made necessary to be observed by mankind; in order to promote their true happiness, in their transactions and intercourse.” These laws, Goodrich observed, “may be considered as principles, in respect of their fixedness and operation,” and by knowing them, “we discover the rules of conduct, which direct mankind to the highest perfection, and supreme happiness of their nature.” These rules of conduct, he then explained, “are as fixed and unchangeable as the laws which operate in the natural world. Human art in order to produce certain effects, must conform to the principles and laws, which the Almighty Creator has established in the natural world.”

In this sense, natural laws govern every human endeavor, not just politics. They undergird what may be called “normative disciplines,” by which I mean those bodies of knowledge that guide human conduct—bodies of knowledge that tell us how we ought to act if we wish to achieve our goals. To illustrate this, Goodrich offered examples from agriculture, engineering, and architecture:

He who neglects the cultivation of his field, and the proper time of sowing, may not expect a harvest. He, who would assist mankind in raising weights, and overcoming obstacles, depends on certain rules, derived from the knowledge of mechanical principles applied to the construction of machines, in order to give the most useful effect to the smallest force: And every builder should well understand the best position of firmness and strength, when he is about to erect an edifice.

To ignore these principles is nothing short of denying reality, like jumping off a roof imagining that one can fly. “For he, who attempts these things, on other principles, than those of nature, attempts to make a new world; and his aim will prove absurd and his labour lost.” By making “a new world,” Goodrich meant denying the nature of the world in which we live. He concludes: “No more can mankind be conducted to happiness; or civil societies united, and enjoy peace and prosperity, without observing the moral principles and connections, which the Almighty Creator has established for the government of the moral world.”

The fact that Goodrich was a relatively obscure public figure—though his son would go on to serve as a Federalist congressman from Connecticut—shows the commonplace understanding of natural law. And Goodrich’s task was to remind the Connecticut delegates of the proper understanding “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”

  1. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The most famous line of the Declaration, and for some the only line they know. The Committee of Five’s draft referred to these as “inalienable” rights, but for reasons unknown the word was changed to “unalienable” sometime in the process of printing it for the public.

What are inalienable or “unalienable” rights? They are those you cannot give up even if you want to and consent to do so, unlike other rights that you can agree to transfer or waive. Why the claim that these rights are inalienable? The Founders want to counter England’s claim that, by accepting the colonial governance, the colonists had waived or alienated their rights. The Framers claimed that with inalienable rights, you always retain the ability to take back any right that has been given up.

The standard trilogy throughout this period was “life, liberty, and property.” For example, in its Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress (1774), Congress had previously asserted that “the inhabitants of the English colonies in North America, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts,” have the following rights: “That they are entitled to life, liberty and property: and they have never ceded to any foreign power whatever, a right to dispose of either without their consent.” Or, as the influential British political theorist John Locke wrote, “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

Perhaps the most commonly repeated formulation combines the right of property with the pursuit of happiness. This was the version drafted by George Mason for the Virginia Declaration of Rights—not the version actually approved by the Virginia convention in Williamsburg on June 11th, 1776, the very day that the Committee of Five was formed in Philadelphia to draft the Declaration for the nation.

The Virginia Convention balked at Mason’s specific wording “on the ground that it was not compatible with a slaveholding society. They changed ‘are born equally free’ to ‘are by nature equally free,’ and ‘inherent natural rights’ to ‘inherent rights.’” The adopted version read:

That  all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

As we will see, the language of Mason’s radical draft—rather than either Virginia’s final wording or Jefferson’s more succinct formulation—became the canonical statement of first principles. Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont adopted Mason’s original references to “born equally free” and to “natural rights,” into their declarations of rights. In 1783, this language was used by the Massachusetts supreme court to invalidate slavery in that state. And in 1823, it was invoked in an influential opinion by Justice Bushrod Washington explaining the meaning of “privileges and immunities” of citizens in the several states.

On the one hand, this sentence of the Declaration will become a great embarrassment to a people who allowed the continuation of chattel slavery. On the other hand, making a public claim like this has consequences. That is why people make them publicly—to be held to account. Eventually, the Declaration became a lynchpin of the moral and constitutional arguments of the nineteenth-century abolitionists. It had to be explained away by the Supreme Court in Dred Scott.[xiv] It was much relied upon by Abraham Lincoln. And ultimately it needed to be repudiated by defenders of slavery in the South because of its inconsistency with that institution.

  1. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men. . . .’’

Another overlooked line, but for our purposes, possibly the most important. For it states what will later become the central underlying “republican” assumption of the Constitution: that “first comes rights and then comes government.” Here, even more clearly than Mason’s draft, the Declaration identifies the ultimate end or purpose of republican governments as securing the pre-existing natural rights that the previous sentence affirmed is the measure against which all government—whether of Great Britain or the United States—will be judged.

  1. “. . . deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

For reasons I will explain in this book, there is a tendency today to focus entirely on the second half of this sentence to the exclusion of the first part that references the securing of our natural rights. Then, by reading “the consent of the governed” as equivalent to “the will of the people,” the second part of the sentence seems to support majoritarian rule by the people’s “representatives.” In this way, the “consent of the governed” is read to mean “consent to majoritarian rule.” Put another way, the people can consent to anything, including rule by a majority in the legislature who will decide the scope of their rights as individuals.

But read carefully, one sees that the Declaration speaks of “just powers,” suggesting that only some powers are “justly” held by government, while others are beyond its proper authority. And notice also that “the consent of the governed” assumes that the people do not themselves rule or govern, but are “governed” by those individual persons who comprise the “governments” that “are instituted among men.”

The Declaration stipulates that those who govern the people are supposed “to secure” their pre-existing rights, not impose the will of a majority of the people on the minority. And, as the Virginia Declaration of Rights made explicit, these inalienable rights cannot be surrendered “by any compact.” So the “consent of the governed” cannot be used to override the inalienable rights of the sovereign people.

So we should recognize that there has arisen a tension between the first part of this sentence and the second. In political discourse, people tend to favor one of these concepts over the other—either preexistent natural rights or popular consent—which leads them to stress one part of this sentence in the Declaration over the other. The fact that rights can be uncertain and disputed leads some to emphasize the consent part of this sentence and the legitimacy of popularly-enacted legislation. But the fact that there is never unanimous consent to any particular law, or even to the government itself, leads others to emphasize the rights part of this sentence and the legitimacy of judges protecting the “fundamental” or “human” rights of individuals and minorities.

If we take both parts of this sentence seriously, however, I believe this apparent tension can be reconciled by distinguishing between (a) the ultimate end or purpose of any legitimate governance and (b) how any particular government gains jurisdiction to rule. So, while the protection of natural rights or justice is the ultimate end of governance, particular governments only gain jurisdiction to achieve this end by the consent of those who are governed.

In Chapter 3, we will see how the concepts of “natural rights” of the people and “the consent of the governed,” were reconciled by the idea of presumed consent. The people as a whole can only be presumed to have consented to what was actually expressed in the written Constitution and, absent a clear statement to the contrary, they cannot be presumed to have consented to surrender any of their natural rights.

Later in our history, the uncertainty of ascertaining natural rights will be addressed by shifting the question from specifying particular rights to critically examining whether any particular restriction of liberty can be shown to be within a “just power” of government—that is, a power to which any rational person would have consented, such as the equal protection of their fundamental rights, including their health and safety.

  1. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

This passage restates the end of government—human safety and happiness—and identifies the “form of government” as a means to this end. Therefore, the people have a right to alter and abolish any form of government when it is destructive of these ends, as the Americans declared the British government to be in the list that followed.

Jefferson adopted it from Article 3 of George Mason’s draft Declaration of rights, which affirmed “that whenever any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, indefeasible right, to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conductive to the publick Weal.”

* * *

The political theory announced in the Declaration of Independence can be summed up by the proposition I mentioned above: First come rights, and then comes government. According to this view:

  • The rights of individuals do not originate with any government, but pre-exist its formation.
  • The protection of these rights is both the purpose and first duty of government.
  • Even after government is formed, these rights provide a standard by which its performance is measured and, in extreme cases, its systemic failure to protect rights—or its systematic violation of rights—can justify its alteration or abolition.
  • At least some of these rights are so fundamental that they are “inalienable,” meaning they are so intimately connected to one’s nature as a human being that they cannot be transferred to another even if one consents to do so.



Racism Alive in North Without Confederate Flag

By Zack Stafford/The Guardian

In the summer of 2008, I crossed the Mason Dixon line – as many other black people had done decades before me during the Great Migration – and moved to Chicago after graduating from high school.

For the first few weeks, I was euphoric. I felt like I could breathe and move in ways that had been unavailable to me in my Tennessee hometown – a place where I was made to think about my skin tone on a daily basis.

“I haven’t seen a Confederate flag in weeks,” I told my mother on the phone a few weeks in. “I didn’t realize how used I had become to seeing them down there.” She felt pleased for me, because the weight of racism I’d faced back home seemed to already be lighter.

That quickly changed after 23 August – when Barack Obama was named the Democratic nominee for president.

“You Obama-nigger monkey!” a man wearing a Chicago Cubs jersey yelled at me. A few weeks after that, I heard another racial pejorative while out at a bar and another shortly after that. The idea of a black president seemed to shed many northerners of their progressive decorum.

The north wasn’t the utopia I had imagined. It was instead strikingly similar in regards to racism – just without the accents and the flags.

A marker at the Mason Dixon line separating North from South during the civil war. Photograph: Alamy

“We must caution against depicting this nation’s racist past and present as solely a localized southern phenomenon,” Jessica Barron, a sociologist at Duke University, told the Guardian.

Barron, who is largely interested in segregation, racism and spatial demography, says there is no doubt that the south has a brutal history of violence towards black people – but that we can’t just focus that history there. Brutality didn’t only begin there, nor is it currently isolated there. A striking example of the ever-present violence black Americans face are the reports that police violence leads to the death of a black man once every 28 hours in cities all across the US.

“We as a nation do not like to talk about slavery in the north, our 12 presidents who owned slaves, or our legal system that continues to legitimate racial disparities,” she said. “In the American imaginary, the south is a backwards place, consumed by its bigoted ways.”

According to Barron, we need to understand that racism isn’t only slavery or Jim Crow laws, but it’s more systemic than these instances. And we need to understand that the entire foundation of the US is built on a racial hierarchy that has always said that white is better than black – not just in the south.

Once we understand this, we can then begin to do the work to stop racism as a whole without trying to lay blame to an area of the country, which she thinks is just a form of complicity.

However, in light of the recent mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, it’s fair to not be able to shake the idea that the south is more violent in its racism. A larger number of hate groups are also active there.

Photo showing the Jim Crow signs of racial segregation in Durham, North Carolina (May 1940). Photograph: PhotoQuest/Getty Images

“The density of hate groups in the south has typically been thicker than other parts of the country,” Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) told the Guardian. “[But] it’s not like it’s just a ‘south thing’ – there are a lot of hate groups on the coasts as well.”

The SPLC is the leading organization in the US that represents victims of hate crimes. The organization also tracks all hate groups through their Hate Map, which noted 784 active groups in 2014.

According to Beirich, when it comes to the most violent hate in America, there is no southern or northern divide – rather it’s a national problem that is typically being led by what she calls “lone wolves”.

“For the most part, nowadays the violent acts that have taken place – including the shooting that took place in Charleston – are mostly locals. Sometimes they’ve been involved in hate groups, sometimes they haven’t. [But] they mostly are people getting radicalized on the internet and choosing to do this stuff on their own.”

Beirich says such crimes are the result of people digging deep and being influenced by forums and websites such as, which has over 300,000 registered white nationalists.

In other words, the internet is now the problem.

While she acknowledged that people on sites like should have their first amendment rights supported, she also feels that it’s the responsibility of businesses to not make money off messages that could influence others like Dylan Roof, for “hate propaganda leads to hate violence”.

Roof exemplified this in his online manifesto, where he wrote: “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the Internet. Well someone has to have bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

In his interview with Marc Maron, Obama said:

Racism, we are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public … It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t overnight completely erase everything that happened 200-300 years prior.

As the US hopefully begins to work to realize what the president points to, and Confederate flags begin to come down in Columbia, South Carolina, and maybe Mississippi, many of us will all begin to realize, like I did in 2008, that no matter where you live in the US, racism remains – even if the flags come down.

Zach Stafford is a writer currently living in Chicago. He is the co-editor of Boys, An Anthology. Follow him on Twitter at @zachstafford.


Why It's Time to Remove the Confederate Flag

By Greg Wilson/Anderson Observer

"The best time to plant a tree is 20 year ago. The second best time is now."
-  Chinese Proverb

This proverb is at least 1,000 years old, but could easily be paraphrased as a perfect prescription for the situation the state of South Carolina is currently facing.

The best time to take the Confederate Battle Flag off the State House grounds in Columbia was 50 years ago. The second best time is now.

With only a single House member of the Anderson County Legislative Delegation even willing to open debate on the subject, which represents five of the 10 votes against discussion, Anderson County is being painted nationally as the area with most backward, ill-informed and reactionary elected state officials in the Palmetto State.

Exactly 103 other members in the General Assembly agreed with S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s call to get the Confederate flag off from the State House Grounds in the wake of the recent murders at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church. The alleged killer is an avowed racist who has stated he wanted to start a race war in the state. Boy, did he pick the wrong state for that twisted goal.

Much has already been said of the amazing Christian grace and racial unity and support in a city already reeling from the killing on an unarmed African American man with no violent history or record, by a white police officer during a routine traffic stop. The kindling was already lit when the church slayings shocked Charleston, the rest of the state and the world. But unlike Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore and New York where other incidents involving the deaths in African American communities erupted into riots, looting and other violence, what happened in Charleston was something few expected.

At the arraignment of the suspect who gunned down nine people in the church after spending an hour in bible study with them, the families of those nine victims offered Christian forgiveness. In the week since, unity marches, not riots, have marked the event. Prayer meetings, not looting, have been the rule of the day. And even outside groups which traveled to Charleston seeking to fan the flames of hate, were drowned out by singing.

It reflects what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said was a part of his dream:

“We are coming to see now, the psychiatrists are saying to us, that many of the strange things that happen in the sub-conscience, many of the inner conflicts, are rooted in hate. And so they are saying, "Love or perish." But Jesus told us this a long time ago. And I can still hear that voice crying through the vista of time, saying, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." And there is still a voice saying to every potential Peter, "Put up your sword." History is replete with the bleached bones of nations, history is cluttered with the wreckage of communities that failed to follow this command. And isn’t it marvelous to have a method of struggle where it is possible to stand up against an unjust system, fight it with all of your might, never accept it, and yet not stoop to violence and hatred in the process? This is what we have.”

Haley understands the core teaching of this call, and does not want South Carolina to be “cluttered with the wreckage of communities” that failed to follow Jesus’ command. The leadership in the African American community in this state, the families who lost loved ones in the church shooting, and countless others across the state recognize the clear hand of love, the olive branch of peace being extended as a demonstration of how to properly stand up to a unjust system to bring lasting change.

Most seem to clearly recognize these gestures and are responding in kind, with the type of love Jesus talked about when he said the only command greater than loving God is to love your neighbor.

If you lived in a community where you understood your neighbor worked swing shifts, you might remember to tone down your noise in the daylight hours when you knew they were sleeping. Or if you knew your neighbor was a widow, whose husband died serving this country during World War II in the Pacific, is is unlikely you would fly the flag of the Japanese Imperial Navy in your front yard, out of respect.

The Confederate Battle Flag is both offensive and threatening to many in the African American community, and with good reason. While the flag is nothing more than a dyed piece of cloth on a stick, what it represents is determined by how it is used. Some argue that is not fair, but fairness is not at issue in this debate. The truth is the Ku Klux Klan, and according to one report, 500 other extremist groups use the flag as at least one of their symbols. While certainly most who fly that flag do not agree with what these groups stand for, it does not change the fact that there is an association with hatred and bigotry connected to that particular emblem.

Some have tried to argue the flag is a symbol of heritage, not hate, and for a few people that could be true. But few of those are among the groups targeted by those who have chosen the symbol as a weapon of warning and ignorance. As a Southerner whose family roots in South Carolina go back at least seven generations, it is clear many of my people fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. But that war ended 150 years ago, and when it did the Confederate flags in Columbia came down. It was only during the centennial celebration it was added to the capitol dome, which conveniently coincided with the state’s fierce opposition to the legal requirements of Brown vs. the Board of Education which said that “separate but equal” schools were not to be allowed in America.

The flag was clearly intended, not just in South Carolina but across the South and in many other parts of the country, as a signal of opposition to the racial integration of schools and a general opposition to the civil rights movement calling for an end to excluding minorities from voting and being allowed in “whites only” businesses and transportation interests.

Many today have never forgotten than between the turn of the last century and 1968, more than 3,400 African Americas were lynched in this country and most of those were in the South. South Carolina had 156, Georgia 492, Mississippi 539, Tennessee 204, Lousiana 335, Alabama 299, Texas 352, Arkansas 226, Florida 257 and Kentucky 142. Those numbers represent a lot of families who have not forgotten the terror of those times, the KKK was already using the Confederate battle flag as their flag before 1900.

So as those have been wronged offer forgiveness, why is it that these members of the Anderson County Delegation House members - Craig A. Gagnon, District 11, Michael W. "Mike" Gambrell, District 7, Jonathan D. Hill, District 8, Anne J. Thayer, District 9 and W. Brian White, District 6 - voted against the idea of of even debating the issue.
It is a wildly overused phrase, but one which still holds meaning on this issue: these representatives are on the wrong side of history.

South Carolina today is the U.S. headquarters of BMW, Michelin (and soon Volvo) and is home to hundreds of other international businesses. It is foolhardy to think the current controversy is lost on the leaders of these industries. We are a state which had a long way to come, but one where we have made great progress, and now is the time to demonstrate our commitment to moving ahead.

In a state where nearly a third of our citizens are African American - only four states have a slightly higher percentage - and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott is one of one three African Americans in the U.S. Senate, clearly we are ready to move forward.

The flying of the Confederate flag in South Carolina is one controversy we finally have the vision to put to rest.

Let’s hope the General Assembly demonstrates the leadership and wisdom to make it happen.

Contact the Anderson County Delegation here to tell them you expect them to be a part of this historic move, and remind them the primary season for 2016 elections is closer than they might think.


MLK's Dream Lives

By Richard Land , Christian Post

What extraordinary and compelling images have emerged from Charleston in the past week.

First, we were assaulted with the images of the senseless slaughter of nine innocent Christians attending a Wednesday night Bible study in their church, Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. These people were killed by a hate-filled white supremacist just because they were black. The brutality of the crime profoundly shocked the nation.

Then came the extraordinary reaction of the victims' loved ones and fellow church members. As Christians, through their heartbreak and personal loss, they confronted the perpetrator and told him they forgave him and prayed for his soul. What a profound witness to the transformative power of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

These black brothers and sisters, capturing and modeling the true spirit of the Gospel so vividly testified to two generations ago by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who proclaimed in the face of the particularly malevolent brand of evil that would blow up four little girls in church on a Sunday morning in Birmingham, "those you would change, you must first love."

To witness the faith and forgiveness of the African-American members of Charleston's Emanuel AME Church is to expose the current generation to the life-changing impact and power of the non-violent, reconciling message of the 1960s civil rights revolution that transformed our nation in so many very important and critical ways.

Dr. King and his followers refused to allow hate to stifle and shrivel their hearts and souls, and instead became "ambassadors" of reconciliation, preaching that love conquers evil (II Cor. 5:17-21). They triumphed over the implacable evil of the KKK and the White Citizens Councils of their day, and in doing so liberated all Americans, black and white, victim and victimizer, from the corrosive evil of Jim Crow racism.

Now, a half century later, in the very heart of the former Confederacy, where the armed conflict of the Civil War actually started at Fort Sumter in Charleston's harbor, these African-American Christian brothers and sisters vividly illustrate that Dr. King's dream still lives of an America where all people "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." ("I Have a Dream" speech, 1963).

The white supremacist murderer wanted his evil deeds to start a race war. Instead, the black Christians from Charleston are leading a suddenly reborn, vibrant movement of racial reconciliation in America. A church born in slavery in 1816, burned to the ground in 1822 by white slaveholders in the wake of Denmark Vesey's attempted slave uprising, forced to worship underground until after the Civil War, is now functioning as the thermostat all churches should be. Dr. King made this very point in his "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" (1963), where he explained that in the early centuries of the church, convictional Christianity "was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion, it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society."

What a difference a half century can make. Charleston's Christians, black and white, are uniting to be reconcilers, not revilers. This is the life-transforming power that is defeating evil in the human heart.

And as we witness and experience the exhilarating hope generated by the "Charleston Way," let us pause to contrast it with the recent suggestion that in the wake of the declining influence of civil Christianity in America, that convictional Christians should voluntarily withdraw from society, and function in separate social communities, institutions and ways of living, in an effort to preserve and defend authentic Christianity against an ever-darkening civilization.

This budding movement among Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical Christians is being called the "Benedict" option after St. Benedict of Nursia (480-543 AD), a fifth century Christian whose monastery movement helped guard, protect, and preserve Christianity and Western Civilization after the barbarians engulfed the Roman Empire. Popularized by the former Catholic, now Orthodox, Christian commentator and writer Rod Dreher, the movement calls for varying degrees of disengagement with an ever more intolerant and transcendent secular culture.

What has happened in Charleston these past few days is a vivid illustration and reminder of what society would lose if convictional Christians chose the Benedict option. A society in which Christian mores and values are in decline is an ever more self-centered, self-absorbed, selfish society increasingly concerned with ever more libidinous, self-gratifying pursuits. Such a society will generate a lot more Fergusons and Baltimores and no more Charlestons.

As Christians, if we are to follow our Lord and Saviour's commands to be salt and light in society (Mtt. 5:13-16), withdrawing from the playing field is not an option. Faithfulness does not require or promise victory in this world, but it does demand obedience.

And if we think American society is crass, selfish, shallow, and destructive now, imagine what it would be like if convictional Christians disengaged and withdrew inward into self-contained communities and abandoned the rest of society to stew in its own corrosive juices.

No, we must remain faithful, bearing witness in word and deed to the transforming love of the Gospel and doing so, like the prophet Jeremiah, speaking God's truth in love and compassion, with a catch in our voice and tears in our eyes as we weep and grieve for the pain and suffering caused by the people's destructive behaviors.


Time to End Confederate Flag Talk and Take it Down


If the South Carolina General Assembly doesn’t get the Confederate battle flag off the Statehouse grounds after what happened last week in Charleston, then we might as well replace the Palmetto Tree on the proper state flag – the beautiful blue one – with a swastika.

I’m sick of the cockeyed excuses from state politicians about why the Confederate flag issue is so complicated.

Nine innocent black people are murdered by a 21-year-old white man consumed with racist hatred. He embraces the symbols that divide people, including the Confederate flag, and declares his murderous intentions in racist manifestos and photos posted online.

Could it be any clearer what that flag now represents to most people? How complicated is that?

Some members of the families of the victims – my fellow South Carolinians – did a remarkable thing at the first court hearing on Friday: They forgave him. How is that possible?

It’s because many black Americans – particularly here in the American South – have in previous generations undergone so much oppression, injustice and terrorism that they have had to learn to forgive the worst in other humans just to survive and move on. It’s a coping mechanism.

My family has been here in the American South since the 1700s, and my great-great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier. He was a printer. He printed currency. After the South lost the war and the United States emerged intact – thank God – he became a newspaperman.

The family business he started continues today, and now six generations of my American family have been dedicated to supporting the communities we serve and protecting the First Amendment of the United States of America through publishing and communication. We have a track record, so here’s some free speech for those who want to keep the Confederate battle flag on the Statehouse grounds as some twisted symbol of Southern heritage: You’re misguided and morally blind. Snap out of it.

The Southern pride, heritage and bravery I recognize and appreciate – and what I pray my children and their children will carry forward – is that of U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and my own father.

It’s a legacy of teaching, serving the public good and demonstrating through action the importance of trying to do the right thing by all people. It’s a legacy of moving South Carolina forward in spite of the old hatreds that fester like a genetic cancer in so many.

I’ve seen these people. I’ve known them all my life. I don’t like them, but I do feel sorry for them and have tried to forgive them for one very important reason: They’re spiritually sick, and they know not what they do.

The Southern pride, heritage and bravery I want to be associated with is that of the families of the victims who on Friday forgave the monster who murdered their loved ones in cold blood. The only grace and love that could have enabled such an action comes from a faith in God and humanity so deep that we should all pray for some small part of it in our own spirit. I’m praying for just a piece of that amazing grace for all South Carolinians this week as the victims are buried.

This is South Carolina’s time to show the world our true, united colors as a people. Start with the flag. Do the right thing.

Graham Osteen is editor-at-large of The Item. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GrahamOsteen, or visit

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Amazing Grace in Charleston

By Cal Thomas
Fifteen minutes before the beginning of the Sunday morning church service, guests are told the building is filled to capacity and they must leave the historic Emanuel African Methodist Church.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." -- Martin Luther King Jr.

It is such a rare act that most do not know how to respond, except in stunned silence. Relatives of the nine people murdered while attending a Bible study and prayer meeting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, told the accused killer they forgive him.

In violent streets we have become used to calls for retribution, appeals for justice, rioting, looting, marches and self-appointed civil rights leaders hogging cameras and microphones with angry people standing behind them and chants of "no justice, no peace."

But this; this act of forgiveness by grandsons and sons, daughters, husbands and other relatives of the dead is so out of character, so distant from the "norm" we have come to expect, so not Ferguson, Missouri, or Baltimore, so not the Middle East, that it makes the world stop and pause.

Preachers call it "grace," which they define as "unmerited favor." The accused killer doesn't deserve it, but he is offered forgiveness nonetheless. It speaks volumes about the character and spiritual strength of those extending grace to him. In a normal person, grace might bring repentance and, yes, salvation, which is what at least one of the relatives said she was praying would happen to Dylann Roof, a deeply troubled 21-year-old who is accused of the murders.

When the world sees such acts of kindness, it doesn't know what to say. For many it is unfamiliar territory. And yet it is precisely the outworking of what those in that prayer meeting found in the Bible they were studying and the God to whom they prayed. It is a part of the nonviolence taught and practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His refusal to respond to violence with violence helped turn the hearts of many and change the laws of a nation.

Pictures of church services following the killings showed a racial diversity and a coming together that might not just heal Charleston, but serve as a model for the rest of the nation about how to react to senseless violence. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's emotional response to the murders also served as a needed balm that can help heal Charleston's deep wound.

"Amazing Grace" is a hymn sung in churches, at funerals and on other occasions. It is familiar even to those who are not regular churchgoers and may not fully appreciate its meaning. The author, John Newton, was a slave trader. The story of his remorse, repentance and salvation has been told in books and films, but never better than in the first verse of his hymn:

"Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found;

Was blind, but now I see."

Those sweet people who unknowingly but graciously welcomed Dylann Roof into their prayer meeting, only to come face to face with a man who in the parlance of the church must have been possessed by a demon, if not Satan himself, are now receiving the fruits of God's grace. Relatives of the dead who have extended grace to Root have also modeled it to the rest of the country. In doing so they are examples of the One they follow, who, though innocent of any wrongdoing, said to His Father while hanging on a cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Cal Thomas, America's most-syndicated columnist, is the author of 10 books.