Who is Justin Amash?

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On July 4, 2019, United States Representative Justin Amash declared his independence from the Republican Party.

Amash is notable for his uniquely libertarian positions, staunch fiscal conservatism, and using his situation as a government insider to report on the actions of Congress via social media. He is also a known critic and opponent of the PATRIOT Act, National Security Administration, and an interventionist foreign policy.

Endeared to libertarians and constitutionalists for his commitment to the Constitution of the United States, Justin Amash has been looked upon as the libertarian in Congress. He has long appeared to care very little about making political allies, and instead focuses his energy on ensuring that America knows what is going on behind the closed doors of Washington DC. He has built a reputation as an underdog and lone wolf striving to do the right thing regardless of results. At only 39 years old, his name recognition is profound.

Background

Justin Amash is the son of Christian immigrants hailing from Palestine and Syria. Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, his record as a youth displays studiousness: Amash graduated high school as valedictorian, and he went on to graduate (with high honors) from the University of Michigan with a degree in economics before embarking on a career in law. He received his Juris Doctor in 2005.

The Amash Family also owns an international contractor to Michigan Industrial Tools. Justin shares joint ownership with his brothers.

Michigan House of Representatives

Amash successfully ran for the Michigan House of Representatives in 2008, and though only serving one term, was very politically active. The bills and resolutions that he sponsored in that time carry a noticeably libertarian theme:

  • A Resolution to amend the Michigan Constitution to fully affirm the right of the individual to purchase independent healthcare. This would have practically nullified the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, or “Obamacare”) in Michigan by preventing the law from being enforced.
  • A Resolution to force the Michigan government to compensate property owners for loss of property value when due to government regulation and activity.
  • A Resolution that would require a 2/3 majority of both Houses before a tax increase could be legislated, making it very difficult to raise taxes any further.
  • A Bill to repeal the Michigan business tax.
  • A Bill to require the Michigan government to consider open-source software options before purchasing software.

A full list of Amash’s sponsored Michigan House bills and resolutions can be easily found. All in all, the man put forward many anti-government propositions, though ultimately the Michigan government did not allow any to pass.

United States Representative

“I follow a set of principles, I follow the Constitution. And that’s what I base my votes on. Limited government, economic freedom and individual liberty.”
– Justin Amash, 2011

Vern Ehlers (R-MI), a nuclear physicist who served as Michigan’s District 3 Representative to US Congress, reached a term limit in 2010 having served since the early 1990s. A five-way primary was held to select a replacement candidate, and Justin Amash won with over 40% of the vote. Amash went on to defeat Democratic candidate Patrick Miles Jr. Amash’s opponent had graduated with Barack Obama from Harvard Law School, and was receiving national attention during his campaign.

Despite this, the favorable Republican climate of the district (which had once been represented by Gerald Ford) allowed Amash to achieve victory as a young dark horse. Time Magazine then named Amash on the 2012 “40 under 40” list of young civic leaders.

Justin is currently serving his fifth term. He wins reelection every two years, starting in 2010, and most recently in 2018. In that time, his representative attendance has been stellar, and he takes his position very seriously. He has missed only one of over five thousand roll calls.

Justin’s record in Congress has been just as liberty-friendly as his record as a State Representative in Michigan. Amash notes issues that even the media ignores, and recently called for the United States to terminate its genocidal relationship with Saudi Arabia (which has led to a catastrophic cholera epidemic and egregious loss of life); an issue few wish to speak about due to the unpopularity of opposing the Commander-in-Chief.

Being a champion of transparency, Amash has introduced legislation to require all bills passed by congress to be easily accessible and electronically searchable; to allow the American people access to what their government is doing. Predictable, it was shot down.

Other legislative attempts include terminating the Export-Import bank to increase market freedom, attempting to condemn the Federal Government’s exporting weapons to Saudi Arabia, a cosponsored attempt with Tulsi Gabbard to end Federal marijuana prohibition, at attempt to repeal the Cybersecurity Act of 2015 (which vastly increased the eyesight of the government into private affairs), among many other attempts. However, only one bill sponsored by Amash has passed – and it was to rename a post office.

Amash truly stands alone.

Relationship With Trump

Amash is a conservative-leaning libertarian. He concerns himself with individual rights and liberties, but remains staunchly pro-life (given that the ‘right to life’ is something he highly respects). Amash, in the most recent congressional session of the 116th Congress, actually sided with Donald Trump about 93% of the time. He could even be considered a Trump ally, were he not simultaneously calling for Trump’s impeachment.

On May 18, 2019, Justin Amash revealed that he had taken the time to read and study the infamous “Muller Report,” taking in the summary of the two-year investigation into evidence of “collusion” between the 2016 Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Upon being released, all of the talking heads in the media released their preconceived conclusions about it. The misinformation about the report’s findings quickly turned the 448 page into an indecipherable mess.

After reading the Muller Report, Amash came to the conclusion that Trump had “engaged in impeachable conduct,” specifically citing intense levels of partisanship in Washington DC encouraging a war between political parties rather than a purposeful legislative process. Amash criticized Attorney General William Barr for “[intending] to mislead the public” about the report, and referenced that Constitution’s call for impeachment in the event that the President intentionally violates the trust of the public.

Justin also pointed out the inconsistency with which impeachment proceedings are pursued:

The lengthy series of Tweets maintained some level of ambiguity about his opinion on the Muller Report, but predictably Amash’s name entered the political fray as Republicans, out of loyalty to the man in charge, assumed battle-stations. Amash was even condemned by the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus – which he founded. Amash was the first, and to this day the only, Republican who has called for impeachment.

The man to whom loyalty is the primary concerns of Republicans responded almost immediately, referring to himself in the third person:

In an interview with VOX, Amash lamented the failure of the “Tea Party,” a quasi-libertarian right-wing response to Barack Obama, to shift political discourse:

“We were making progress in shifting the dialogue toward limited government and economic freedom and individual liberty… And over the past few years, it has gone in the other direction, and a lot of the people who once stood with me are no longer there. Some of them got voted out of Congress, and others just don’t emphasize these issues anymore.”

Justin the Disloyal

It’s interesting that Donald Trump’s first criticism of Amash included was that he was a “lightweight who opposes me,” and his second criticism included that Amash is “one of the dumbest & most disloyal men in Congress.” As noted before, Trump and Amash actually have a very close record of supporting the same measures. But common support of the same measure does not equate to loyalty, so it does not matter to Trump.

Is loyalty really the mark of a quality statesman? In true Orwellian fashion, the answer to that is an emphatic “YES,” at least in the United States. The Trump Presidency has induced a great deal of fear among Republicans, who are expected not to step out of line and to act as a rubber stamp for the White House. Criticize Trump, and your career may be over.

Trump often refers to people who attend his rallies as “loyal citizens.” At one point, he referred to his own supporters as “the most loyal that we have seen in our countries (sic) history.” Trump once said that China’s trade laws were written out of disdain for “our farmers, ranchers and industrial workers because of their loyalty to me.”

The man is obsessed with loyalty, but not as politicians typically refer to it. Not in loyalty to the country itself, or to the constitution that is meant to hold the government at bay, but to himself. It’s unnerving, and is setting a new modern standard – there has been nothing scarier in human history that left-wing authoritarian regimes equally obsessed with loyalty.

The idea of a President threatening to unilaterally revoke press licenses to organizations that won’t support universal healthcare or full weapon bans keeps me up at night. But these are considered to be national health crises, thus the powers the President has been granted to defend the country from these crises could be easily invoked. Trump invokes emergency powers all the time, and intimidates those who refuse to bow and swear loyalty. The supposed “small government” standards of the Republican Party are nowhere to be found. This is not something that is going to happen some day – it is something that has already started. The President of the United States looks more and more like the proverbial “sovereign” every day, and this is not something that can be undone.

Regardless of how one feels about impeachment as a solution, Amash’s concern is easily understandable.

Republicans are absolutely required to condemn each other when they step out of line and appear insufficiently loyal. Amash knew from the beginning that this would end the support of the GOP to his future campaigns, but he seems to be choosing not to be an accomplice in this continuous deterioration.

Hardly anybody actually read the Muller Report, but everybody had an opinion on it. Amash actually did read it, but his opinion is “wrong.” His experience at multiple levels of government, or as a lawyer, or his degree in economics, can’t save him from the consequences of disloyalty to the President.

Libertarians know that political allies will be scarce, if existent at all. The Republicans will someday blame the Democrat version of Trump for setting the standards that are already in play, and will applaud when some lifelong Democrat steps forward and recommends impeachment. Hardly a newspaper page or politician’s voice will point out the irony. But Justin is washing his hands of the entire mess, citing a warning about political parties given by George Washington in his farewell address.

“It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”
– George Washington, Farewell Address

Justin Amash is proving yet again that being libertarian is simply unacceptable. His time in government has been popular with the people he represents, but unpopular with the other representatives he works with. He is no stranger to obstructionism. Though many critics of Trump do not believe that Trump’s behavior warrants impeachment, as there is no one action that can be attributed to Trump that the Constitution specifies as an impeachable offense, the Republicans are gazing on with deep hypocrisy. They don’t want to impeach Trump; they want to impeach Clinton.

There truly has been a 180 degree turn, as Democrats who once defended Clinton would be happy to impeach Trump, and Republicans who would have pushed for a Clinton impeachment out of pure convenience would not dare pursue the same course against Trump. The necessity of open loyalty runs deep, but Justin Amash has never been persuaded to be loyal for loyalty’s sake. His record has been to insist upon liberty at all costs, and those costs will now likely include his political career.

In his op-ed to the Washington Times, Amash stated that “in recent years, though, I’ve become disenchanted with party politics and frightened by what I see from it. The two-party system has evolved into an existential threat to American principles and institutions.”

It would be a difficult (and likely impossible) task to convince Republicans who believe that they are “winning” that their path to victory is an existential threat. By the time they do, the Democrats will no longer see it. There will always be a political party poised to defend the political game, as long as they are scoring more points than the other team.

Libertarians should be proud that the libertarian in office refused to play that game.

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Nathaniel Owen is the Chairman and co-founder of Being Libertarian. He is a writer, musician, homeschooling advocate, and libertarian, and typically addresses issues from an economic point of view. Nathaniel is a member of the Goldwater Institute, a Friend of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, and has been a member of the Libertarian Party since 2012.

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