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Di Leo: Not Your Father’s Environment – Changes and Truisms in America Today



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By John F. Di Leo –

You may remember the tag line of a popular ad campaign:  “This is NOT your father’s Oldsmobile.”

The company was trying to reinvent its image, to shake the automaker’s reputation as a stodgy businessman’s car company, and recast it as a home of sleek design for hip young people.  

Whether it was successful or not, it was useful as a reminder that nothing is static anymore; some aspects of an issue remain the same, while others are constantly changing.   A famous 1970s book and film, Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock,” hammered this home for my generation, stressing not only that some things change, but also that the rate of change is now so fast, it’s become difficult to keep one’s bearings.

We moved from wired rotary phones to quicker pushbutton phones, then to wireless phones, then to pocket cellphones, and finally to the modern smartphone that includes all the technology of a household – television and radio, camera and computer – all in the same ¼”-thick pocket appliance. 

This progression has happened in my lifetime, and I’m middle-aged.  I can barely imagine how sweeping these changes have been for the generation before mine; they remember when not every home even had a telephone at all, or when people shared party lines with their neighbors or used a switchboard to get a line out of their towns. 

It’s a far cry from the days of the ancients or the medieval eras, when technology stood still for centuries, or even fell backward, as societies literally forgot the Roman talent for setting concrete underwater or designing aquaducts and water screws to bring water from the mountains into a city.

So yes, it is a new world, a world of change, a world of excitement. 

And there are forces who will argue that these changes mean that all things are new, that everything is different today, so we should disregard the decisions of the past, not even necessarily because they were wrong then, but because things are different today, so history no longer applies.

This can be a convincing argument for the gullible, because it rings true, on its face.  Yes indeed, connectivity changes everything.  Yes indeed, having home computers is very different from having to do your research at the library and do your writing with pen and paper.  Yes indeed, mass production and automation make for a different labor environment than the old way of making every product by hand.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still truisms.  The assumption that because some things have changed, so too must everything have changed, is a fallacious premise.  The fact is, some things have changed, but others have not.  We should take changes into account, but don’t assume we’re starting from scratch. The considerations of the past still have relevance today.

A few examples:

Drug Legalization:

The Constitution doesn’t take much of a position on drugs.  Like any commodity, alcohol was something the government might tax, of course, and the Constitution gave the government the right to manage commercial and legal disputes between the states, and to restrict imports or set import tariffs, so there has always been a federal role… but there is no clear statement of whether the government ought to restrict mind-altering substances.

And so we have had debates, from Prohibition of alcohol to the current War on Drugs.  There are arguments to be made on all sides, as drug abuse is clearly a very destructive societal ill.  Those who discussed such matters used to draw clear dividing lines between the types of products in question;  addictive vs. non-addictive, supportive of a dangerous black market or otherwise, hard drugs vs. soft drugs.

Those lines have changed over the years, as medical science has gotten better at understanding the difference between medical and psychological addictions, for example, and these differences are universally acknowledged.

But other lines have changed too, without the debate taking them into account.  Consider marijuana, always known as a soft drug, not a hard drug, because a century ago, you could smoke a joint and get a high not all that different from alcohol inebriation.  The THC level was about one or two percent in those days.

Today, however, much of the marijuana on the street is twenty to thirty percent THC, or even more.  That’s an increase of thousands of percent in potency.  It is such a severe change, there are few alcohol related analogies to make.  It’s the difference between beer and Everclear, or even greater.

The debate is as important today as it ever was; drug abuse destroys millions of lives every year in America, and the black market involved in the drug trade is arguably responsible for (or at least a part of) the lion’s share of all crime in America.

But we continue to hold this debate by grouping marijuana on the soft side of the line, when in fact it is now on the hard side. 

Over the past decade, there has been a massive effort – successful in many states – to decriminalize marijuana.  This effort has been successful entirely because it was based on the incorrect assumption that marijuana is still the soft drug that it once was.

In politics, we must be honest about the facts on the ground to make a good decision; the battle for marijuana legalization has not acknowledged this critical change.


There have been union movements – and opposing right-to-work movements – in America and elsewhere since the 1800s.  In the USA, books like “The Jungle” exposed the hellish conditions of many workplaces, understandably justifying the union movement in the eyes of the public.

Our Constitution, again, takes no position on labor unions; it wasn’t an issue in the Founding era, which (just barely) pre-dated the industrial revolution.  But our Constitution does allow for the right of the people to freely assemble, and the right of such people to form corporations is clear, so the concept of a union – well-focused and law-abiding – is open for debate.  It’s certainly not constitutionally precluded on its face.

That being said, however, the facts on the ground have changed over the past century.

Trade associations like the American Chemistry Council have made workplace safety paramount, and government regulations such as those from OSHA and PHMSA have put protections into the law.  The growth of money markets and 401K plans has enabled workers to gain protections that simply weren’t available in the 19th century.

And the past century of union activity in the USA has been, in retrospect, a long line of criminal activity, from mob involvement to outright communist control.  Look at the history of the longshoreman’s union of the 1930s and 40s, not to mention the union titles of the mafia kingpins caught in the 50s and 60s, to see how far back union criminality goes.

Again, this isn’t to say that all unions are criminal enterprises; many are focused on the quality of their work and the safety of their customers.  Many are respected for apprenticeship programs and ongoing training to keep their profession on the cutting edge.  

The point is, as the facts on the ground have changed, we must consider today’s policy questions by using our knowledge of the current situation, our study of history, and our continued recognition of the fundamental philosophical arguments that remain truisms today.

We can’t oppose or endorse all unions, we must recognize what improper efforts are made – such as the education unions’ virtual control of political parties, and the widespread disregard for the Beck decision – and also what advantages there are – such as the training programs of electricians and plumbers that protect the homes of their customers. 

Some things have changed, but other things haven’t.  Remember the truisms that must serve as the foundation of every policy consideration.

Voting Rights:

My generation grew up with a legitimate fear:  that corruption (largely by old-fashioned southern Democrats still bitter about the Civil War) would cause the denial of voting rights by blacks, immigrants, and other non-whites. 

Even though the 14th Amendment was passed a century beforehand, the problem still existed, so the civil rights warriors of the 1960s and 70s battled in the courts, argued in print, and demonstrated on the streets, to ensure that all law-abiding citizens had the right to vote…  as indeed they should.

When America was founded, voting rights were not fully standardized, but for the most part, either all US citizen property-owners (male and female) or all US citizen male property-owners could vote… and in some states all US citizen freemen could vote, whether they owned property or not.

The path to universal law-abiding US citizen adult suffrage took two centuries to arrive.  In my youth, two generations ago, 18-year-olds won the right to vote. Now, nationally, any US citizen of at least 18 years of age who’s not in jail can vote from his home address, as long as he has one, to prevent vote fraud.

In short, the problem of voting rights has been solved. Nobody’s trying to stop law-abiding US citizens from voting anymore; we’ve won the civil rights battle.  We could declare victory and close the book.

Unfortunately, there are groups who know they’ll never win a majority again if only law-abiding citizens vote… so they have slowly, subtly, broadened the debate to contort the very idea of voting rights and use the issue for their own purposes.

The purpose of the vote is for all the participants in America’s constitutional government to have an equal say – one man, one vote – in who makes up that government.  That means US citizens, taxpayers, the people legally of the country should have the ability to choose who makes up its government.

  • Recent voting rights crusades, however, have sought to reduce the time it takes for immigrants to gain citizenship, so that people unfamiliar with our culture and our Founding philosophy can dilute the voting pool. 
  • They have sought to eliminate the traditional bans on felon voting, to reward people proven to disrespect the rule of law by enabling those very people to help choose our legislators.
  • They have even sought to allow noncitizens, even illegal aliens, to vote… just because they know they would vote their way.
  • And they have claimed that normal, common-sense anti-fraud measures, such as requiring proper  identification, are analogous to the bigoted measures that the KKK and other old-fashioned Democrat machines used to use to stop legitimate US citizens from voting. It’s literally turning the concept of voting rights upside down.

All these measures serve only to dilute the votes of the legitimate US citizen.  Instead of you and I, as US citizens over 18, black or white, born citizens or naturalized, having an equal vote, our votes are minimized – cancelled out – by the felons, illegal aliens and fake votes controlled by the primarily big city political machines.

Again, the lesson is that there are truisms – the question of who should vote, who is best prepared, best educated, to make a good choice, is a worthy philosophical question for the ages. 

But the facts on the ground today are not the facts on the ground of a century ago.  Legitimate voting rights still deserve protection, and always have… but the causes of illegal alien voting, felon voting, and corrupt machine concoctions of fake votes, don’t belong in the discussion of legitimate voting rights.  These players are usurpers in the argument, for political reasons alone.


These are just a few examples that come to mind as I watch today’s debates. There could be many more. Too often, we continue to do battle relying on the knowledge or assumptions of our youth, or of past generations, without ever realizing that the situation has changed, and perhaps, that a legitimate issue is being usurped to serve a malicious cause.

It's partially the march of technology, but it's much more than that.

We should always begin with the truisms… There are truisms that are – by definition – always true. If murdering five Jews or five babies or five old people is wrong, then multiplying the numbers by a million and giving it a euphemistic name like "ethnic cleansing" or "abortion" or "euthanasia" simply cannot change the fact that it's wrong.

Higher numbers might make it a more pressing problem, but they don't change the fact that wrong is wrong.  At the heart of any debate, right remains right, and wrong remains wrong.

What I'm referring to here are more difficult policy decisions, decisions that may have been difficult for generations, and we may not realize that the choices today only LOOK like the choices of the past, but are actually much more complicated because they're not really the same choice anymore.


The Constitution is and remains a brilliant, visionary document.  As originalists – frankly, as all Americans ought to be – we respect the brilliant efforts of our Founding Fathers to design a system that protected us from tyranny, maximizing our liberty and our chance for prosperity without unduly enabling a leviathan government.

But while it must be the starting point for every political debate, it can’t answer every question for us. 

We still need to look at the issues, and be sure that the issues we’re looking at are real and current, not a clever mirage spun by partisans to a cause, or a denial of reality that can only be seen by studying history.

There is an effort by many of the young progressives to shout that everything is different today, the Constitution is archaic, and we only have twelve years left… so we should throw out past principles, past philosophies, and any any study of history, and just accept their pronouncements of the now.

This disregard for the past, this denial of the importance of history, is among the greatest of their crimes, and we must resist it.  We are products of Western Civilization, products of the proud sweep of human history, and we must learn from the past, both its good and its bad, or, as George Santayana warned us, we will be doomed to repeat the errors that we failed to study.

Copyright 2019 John F Di Leo


John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland based Customs broker and trade compliance consultant, writer and actor.  He trains and speaks on behalf of DTTS Trade Compliance Seminars, and his columns are regularly found here in Illinois Review.

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