Full Faith and Credit (with Ethan Bearman)
Reasons to believe.
IN GOD WE TRUST. Those four words appear, somewhat incongruously, on the reverse of all current U.S. banknotes. The separation of Church and State does not extend to our money.
Nevertheless, the phrase is apt. As fiat currency, the dollar is not backed by gold, or silver, or anything tangible at all—just the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. The dollar is not just almighty because it is powerful, but because it requires the collective faith of its users to be worth anything at all.
We take the stability of the dollar for granted, but our currency has suffered through periods of uncertainty and volatility. One such period was early in the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The researcher Dave Troy has written about this extensively:
Modern cryptocurrencies can trace their ideological origin back to 1933 when Franklin Roosevelt, after being president for just a month, was forced to halt the hoarding of gold with Executive Order 6102.
Wealthy industrialists, upset with the new president’s plans for the New Deal, began hoarding gold, thus greatly constraining the government’s ability to pay for New Deal programs — which of course was their stated goal. Why? They were concerned about inflation and the effect that “newly printed money” would have on their wealth. Sound familiar?
Gold bugs never forgave FDR for what they called the “gold confiscation act,” and the wound sat festering for decades. Indeed, alternative interpretations of the New Deal—that Roosevelt didn’t do the right thing, and that indeed Hitler and Mussolini were the ones that got it right—informed books like “Three New Deals” and “The Forgotten Man,” favorites of libertarian crypto promoters Peter Thiel and Balaji Srinavasan.
Aja Raden explains in her book The Truth About Lies how Bitcoin is a Ponzi scheme. I have pointed out that its use by organized crime makes it inherently shady. Troy goes a step further. Cryptocurrency, he argues, is nothing less than a calculated attempt by mega-rich libertarians to undermine faith in the dollar. These soulless ghouls envision a “new era,” Troy writes,
where national sovereignty is replaced with individual freedom, taxes are eventually eliminated due to competition, and services are replaced with private contracts. In short, a kind of libertarian fantasyland where fiat currency (and the evil central bankers that run it) go away and are replaced with “digital cash” — or what would later be called “cryptocurrency.”
The only way to destroy the dollar is to destroy faith in the dollar. Because absent that faith, the dollar becomes a piece of linen and paper with the mug of a dead slaveholder on the front.
Of all the damage Donald John Trump did to our country and our society during his ill-starred four-year term as president, the erosion of faith in our institutions is arguably the worst. Without faith in the dollar, the economy collapses. Without faith in the fairness of our voting systems, election results become suspect. Without faith in the process of governance, compromise becomes impossible, and Congress ceases to function. Without faith in the Justice Department, crime becomes subjective. Without faith in the courts, the rule of law—the very backbone of America—becomes a joke.
The current retrograde Supreme Court is the product of minority rule. Five of our nine Supreme Court Justices—all the garbage ones except Clarence Thomas—were selected by presidents who did not win the popular vote. One of those seats was stolen by a rogue Senate Majority Leader, in place despite the Senate not representing a majority of Americans, acting against the spirit of the Constitution by refusing to confirm a nominee selected by a president who did win the popular vote, overwhelmingly. If that happened in Moldova or Angola or the Philippines, we would rightly call bullshit.
I worry about our collective faith in a legal system that now punishes the victims of rape more than the rapists, that kills Black men for selling loose cigarettes but allows privileged white guys to commit so-called “white-collar” crimes with impunity, that has been so ineffectual and slow in prosecuting the crimes of the Former Guy and his ministers that the Attorney General has become a Twitter punching bag. So it was heartening to hear Ethan Bearman, a California attorney and my guest on today’s PREVAIL podcast, assure me that at a local level, the courts are working just fine.
“If I only read Twitter,” he tells me, “I would think that the judiciary is in absolute disarray, and there’s no hope. And that is not correct.” He continues:
Each state has its own judicial system….so [in] the state of California—which is what I can speak to; I’m a member of the California Bar, and I practice in the federal court in the central district of California, is what it’s called—I see none of what we would talk about on Twitter, what we would talk about when we talk about the Supreme Court. The courts in California are operating the way that they always have….from my perspective, in terms of day-to-day practice, Trump didn’t change much.
Bearman is concerned, of course, about recent Supreme Court decisions, particularly the anticipated overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the impact that will have on women. He notes that, if the Court does indeed strike down Roe, it will be “removing a right”—and an important one. The last time we removed a right so sweepingly was during Prohibition, which, he points out, did not work out so well.
But as horrific as that will be, as far as the diurnal churn of the court goes, the recent SCOTUS decisions are “negligible in terms of the day-to-day operations,” Bearman says. “The L.A. Superior Court is, I believe, the largest courthouse in the Western world, at least. Downtown Los Angeles is absolutely gigantic. Almost none of the cases that you’ll see there have anything to do with what the Supreme Court’s ruling on, that we’re all talking about.” In a global sense, things look ominous, for sure—for women in red states, for voters everywhere. “But in terms of day-to-day operations, really nothing is changing.”
This is welcome news, because our institutions remain under attack. In On Tyranny, the historian Timothy Snyder lists “defend institutions” as the second lesson from the twentieth century on how to defeat tyranny:
It is institutions that help us preserve democracy. They need our help as well…. Institutions do not protect themselves. They fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning.
What keeps institutions going—whether the Federal Reserve, the DOJ, the Supreme Court, the New York Times, or the Catholic Church—is faith. And we are, for better or worse, a nation of believers. Our faith is strong.
In institutions we trust.
What is the state of the law? Greg Olear talks to the entertainment attorney and Renaissance man Ethan Bearman about his origin story, the virtues of the Scottish Highlands, the precarious state of the legal system, the Supreme Court, Section 230, ABC’s “Home Economics,” and the time when Jenna Ellis was still a nice person. Plus: it’s a nice day for some.
Follow Ethan Bearman:
Watch The Five 8, Fridays at 5pm Pacific, 8pm Eastern.
Photo credit: Wikipedia. A $100 bill from 1928. Backed by gold, the banknote does not contain the phrase IN GOD WE TRUST.