My Crumbling Republican Home

I am a conservative and it looks like I have no home (politically speaking).

The Republican party is in the process of being overrun by a mad mix of altconservatives, Neoreactionaries, “race realists,” white nationalists, and angry Republicans who feel so disenfranchised by the “establishment” GOP that they are willing to support a man like Donald Trump for the highest, most consequential political office in the nation. After years of complaining about the cult of personality that lead to the blind embrace of a man like Obama, these folks are willing to blindly (more on that later) embrace a volatile, divisive figure like Trump, willing to put the fate of our nation in the hands of a man whose policy knowledge is shallow and whose policy prescriptions are almost whimsically foolish.

And I cannot follow down that path.

One of the worst aspects of this mindless rage for the outsider is that no one can say with certainty what a Donald Trump presidency would look like or what a President Trump would stand for; I’d suggest that even Trump doesn’t know the answers to those questions in any meaningful way. His answer would almost undoubtedly revolve around “making America great again” and “winning so much that we’d get tired of winning”– and that’s just meaningless marketing talk. No candidate is running on the idea that they want to make America less great or that they wanted to win only enough that it wasn’t unseemly. His candidacy is based on a fragile frame of meaningless prattle, and his believers are blindly supposing that he will be our national salvation.

What we know of his political beliefs, assuming that he has anything resembling a coherent ideology, is that he has leaned strongly to the left for a good portion of his life in both cultural and economic terms. For folks who claim to be conservatives, this should be a red flag; but a good chunk of his support is coming from those groups who have no claim to be conservatives. These are folks who want to blow up the GOP and American conservatism to replace it with white nationalism, so Trump’s support of non-conservative ideas is no strong roadblock to support. The fact that Trumps strongest policy stand revolves around keeping foreigners out of the US and having Mexico build us a wall on the southern border, it’s not surprising that the “race realists” have rallied to his cause.

The GOP is running one of the most ideologically diverse groups in my lifetime. Kasich and Bush are the Rockefeller Republicans; Rand Paul represents the libertarian-conservative strand that grew over the last few decades and has distinct foreign policy and social ideas; Carly and Rubio represent a sort of Reagan fusionism; Cruz and Christie represent Republican populism at, respectively, the more conservative and more liberal ends of the Republican spectrum; there’s a mess of other candidates who sort of fill the spaces in between; and then, alone at the top, stands Trump, who isn’t any kind of a traditional Republican or conservative and who represents only one thing: destruction of the establishment.

And that destruction is seen as being a good thing.

I get the anger and even the sense of betrayal. Some of that is well-earned on behalf of Republicans who haven’t done the job we wanted them to do, but some of it is also based on some juvenile view of politics as being something where extreme changes can be wrought almost single-handedly by having a simple majority in the House and Senate. That’s foolish, of course, and some of those biggest changes are things that require years or strategy and work, not a handful of junior Representatives with loud voices.

Just as I look at Obama and see doubling down on the worst of both the Bush II and Clinton presidencies (over-reliance on executive action, an unfocused foreign policy that has made bad situations worse, wildly divisive in dealings with the opposition, and a belief that more government, more regulations, and more taxation are the solutions to our problems), I look to Trump and I see someone who will carry those beliefs even further and in the service of no discernible policy beliefs (again, outside of the promised closing of borders). How is that a good thing? One of the things that I want from a candidate in this cycle is someone willing to walk away from the blunt weapon that Obama has used in his flurry of executive orders and a return to doing things the old fashioned way: with dialog, leadership, persuasion, and, where necessary, compromise.

That, in and of itself, would begin to build bridges to span those divisions that have been widening over nearly two decades.

Is that the picture of a Trump presidency? Or would Trump be more likely to continue dividing the electorate, issuing executive orders to achieve his goals, and further alienating his political opponents? Would Trump make America great again or would he just further the rot?

Yes, I get the anger, but Trump is not the answer. Trump, like Occupy Wall Street and the inexplicable idea that Bernie Sanders is gaining in popularity, is just another symptom of a broken, angry nation that is struggling to find its way.

And if Trump is the answer for where the GOP is heading, then I have no home in the GOP.

Mobs and the Age of Outrage

This, Palin Broke His Heart, would be an interesting read no matter what, but I think it touches on something that it fails to expand upon: that the mob is becoming central to contemporary political and cultural expression.

One of the shibboleths of American politics that is getting eviscerated this election cycle is that The People Are Always Right. It was never true for anybody; certainly any conservative knows, or should know, that a crowd can easily turn into a mob, and a mob is always a destructive force. We may be seeing this year the political equivalent of a mob.

But mobs don’t come from nowhere. It’s very easy to look at Trump voters and dismiss them as thoughtless vulgarians who vote their prejudices, and who therefore can be dismissed as too morally compromised to take seriously: in other words, not just wrong, but bad. I would ask you, though: is this the way the media and others regarded the mob of Ferguson rioters? No: we had a long, loooooong national conversation on the roots of Ferguson’s rage. And we ought to have had that conversation, however ideologically constrained it may have been.

If we see the Trump moment as not just a populist movement, but as more of an uprising and a mob of angry voters supporting the most visceral and outrageous candidate available, then the mob is becoming the preferred bludgeon for political advancement in the U.S. That fits in with the outraged mobs that flock to and fro on social media, crucifying anyone who dares disagree with their deeply held beliefs. This fits in with the idea that we no longer seem to believe that private opinions and political acts, which cause no direct harm to anyone, are reasons to disqualify a person from a job or a business from operating.

5 Facts of the Age of Outrage

  1. Everything is political. Everything. The things you buy, whether you let your kids walk home from school alone, the movies you watch, and the car you drive, the way you do (or don’t) worship, the microagressions you suddenly notice in movies that you used to love as a kid…you get the picture. Everything in America is seen through the lens of political preference.
  2. Everything is judged. Everything. See above and understand that since everything around you and everything you do is a political statement (even if it is an accidental political statement), that everything is being judged by the hunkering masses on social media and around you with their smart phones and instantly available cameras.
  3. And everything is seen. No transgressions seem to go unnoticed: no accidents or bad days or bad moods or bad moments can excuse away your social and political sins. Someone will post the video or the picture or the scan of the credit card receipt and the outrage machine will grind into motion. And while your family might work to protect you, don’t expect your friends to save you.  While some may remain true, may stay in your corner, I’ve also seen folks who have known each other for years turn on each other and unleash crazed mobs.
  4. The mob is power. Unleash the mob, watch the opposition crumble, and know this truth: the mob is political and social power. While it’s easy to see this as a tool of the so-called “social justice warrior,” the truth is that it is everywhere. It is the Trump voters demanding political change and reveling in the overthrow of contemporary conservatism. It is Occupy Wall Street in all its incoherent, shitting on cop cars rage. It is the black lives matter folks shutting down highways, disrupting libraries, and “taking back” Martin Luther King Day. It is every upheaval on Twitter when someone does something stupid, catching the baleful eye of the monster, finding targets in the  young, old, and middle aged, rich, poor, and middle class, right, left, and somewhere in between. The mob is dumb, dangerous, raging, and unpredictable.
  5. The only safe place is in the mob. And that’s why so many people find a safe place in the mob. If they just follow along, then the eye of the beast isn’t on them. The rage isn’t targeting them. The jobs lost, the reputations ruined, the people hurt– well, if you’re in the mob, it’s not your damage.

This, of course, is unsustainable. We cannot continue as a country, working side by side, raising kids, going to church, seeing movies, paying taxes, dealing with every day life if we grow so fearful that we cannot speak and so hateful of our countrymen that we stop caring for their well being.

This, of course, is unsustainable.

But how much damage will we endure and how will we find a way to heal the divisions? It’s time for a new social contract and new social standards to help us curtail the worst of our own natures, but where is the leader who will show us the path? There are very real problems facing our country and we’ve chosen this moment to magnify them with a social movement based almost purely on the politics of destruction. We better start remembering what is important or we will lose this nation and all the good that its future could hold.

Grace and the US Presidency

This is stitched together from a series of tweets that I made earlier this morning. It’s been cleaned up and changed a touch, but the flavor and the point remains. 

I probably won’t gain any fans from this next series of tweets and might even lose a few folks along the way. That is as it may be…

I don’t much care that Palin trotted out her Mama Bear persona and her special brand of outrage to pump up Donald Trump. She isn’t someone I look to for political guidance. I didn’t like some of the media treatment of her and her family during the election, that is true, but I found her to be disappointing during the election and doubly so afterward. At best she puts voice to my concerns, but I’ve I’ve never seen her put that same voice to offering meaningful policy ideas, political insight, or solutions.

So no, I don’t care who she supports.

I do care about policy, thoughtfulness, communication, and solutions. I care about American culture and the idea of tolerance. I want to support someone who won’t deepen the divide between us, who is principled but not blindly dogmatic. I want to support someone who will start moving the ship back in the right direction, but will take the time to do it right. Not with fragile, blunt tools that are built to impermanence, but with leadership, persuasion, compromise when required, and adherence to the rule of law and the traditions that once made our political system something other than a series of executive decisions and decrees from un-elected agency heads.

I want wisdom and thoughtfulness. Trump fans want outrage and outrageous pronouncements.

All of that leads to one question: who do I support?

I could vote Rand Paul, although I disagree with him on some important issues, but Rand is already out of the race. He just hasn’t noticed yet. Similarly, Carly is someone that I like quite a bit but she had no chance. Not in this election, not with Trump taking up all the available space and dominating the news cycle. No, Carly never had a chance.

I have a mad dislike of Jeb. As a politician, I find him grating, but even more I don’t want America held hostage to some new aristocracy and the presidency isn’t a thing to be handed back and forth between two families every eight years or so.

Imagine how I feel about Hillary.

Kasich, Christie, and the rest of the second tier are just background noise. The greatest service they could do for their country now would be to exit the race and let their support go to folks who might actually win the office. But that isn’t the path of politicians.

Bernie’s beliefs and policies are so far from my own that the idea of supporting him is, for me, laughable.

And that leaves just two.

I’ll vote for either Rubio or Cruz when the time comes, but I have a strong preference between the two. And this isn’t about electability……neither, for that matter, is it purely policy. There are real differences between them but those differences are relatively small. Neither of them represents me on all the issues, neither is a perfect candidate, and, in some areas, I would end up opposing either in their presidency. But on many important issues (taxes, economy, the proper role of gov’t), I find common ground. That’s important, but one step beyond that is important to me, too: what kind of person do I want to vote for?

I want to vote for someone who can show grace and kindness even in disagreement. I want to vote for someone who can distinguish between the argument and the person. Which sounds small, but leads folks to treat others very differently.

I want to vote for someone who has the generosity of spirit to accept differences while maintaining their own beliefs. Which is a stronger expression of principle than the brittle, unyielding kind of stand that most people take on cultural and political issues. And while I’d vote for a atheist or Jew or, yes, even a Muslim for the job if I thought they had the right policies and patriotic spirit……I cannot deny that my Christianity also guides me to look for someone who embodies the values that I hold dear. Not necessarily……that they themselves are Christian, understand, but that they embody those values.

Do you see the distinction?

What is that thing that I’m looking for right now? That answer came to me earlier today as an embodiment of some of those values: grace.

Grace in the sense that a person can show kindness, generosity, and caring even when faced with profound disagreements. I really don’t want to vote for someone who will tell half the country to get to the back of the bus. Whoever we elect will be representing all of us– not just a tiny slice of one demographic. All of us. There are very few one size fits all solutions in a nation of more than 300 million varied so much by custom, religion, region, race, and political belief. And I don’t want the person I vote for to treat the other side of the electorate as conquered foes.

Why all this? Rubio’s answer to a simple question. He won’t have changed the guy’s mind, but he answered with grace.

 

So, Rubio is my guy. I’ll disagree with (and push against) him on a myriad of social issues, but I believe that he has the temperament to help guide us in a positive direction. At least, that is my most sincere hope.

In the end, though, America will vote and we will get the President that we most deserve. The one who mirrors our own face.

Last thought: if we truly get the president we deserve, would you rather it be a mirror of our outrage? Or should it be something better?

Thought of the Day: Choosing Slavery

It’s not an endlessly expanding list of rights — the ‘right’ to education, the ‘right’ to health care, the ‘right’ to food and housing. That’s not freedom, that’s dependency. Those aren’t rights, those are the rations of slavery — hay and a barn for human cattle.

Alexis de Tocqueville

Institute for the Study of War

The ISW is a site that you should add to your blogroll. They’re bringing important updates and analysis about the state of conflicts, broadly, in the middle east.

Start here, with a graphic that shows a current map of control of terrain in Iraq. Which, while we deal with ebola, mid-term political campaigns, a pugnacious Russia, and Peyton Manning’s weekly record chase, we might still want to spare a thought for Saddam’s former playground.

Grand Jury Sins

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: one of the most important jobs of the informed citizenry is to push back against government excesses. All governments– indeed, all bureaucracies– are inclined to grow fat with power and reluctant to relinquish either the money that they collect or the control that collects around them. It is their nature.

That doesn’t mean that government is evil or only does evil, only that the balance of power should always tip in the favor of the citizens. Government employees and politicians should always be made to be aware that they serve at the whim and will of the people. Protect the people and serve them well, and be safe in your job; serve yourself and you’ll soon need to be looking for a new line of work.

Sadly, it’s damned hard to fire government employees (whose jobs are not only safe, but they have better benefits and pay than their civilian counterparts), and politicians at the national level enjoy retention rates that are ridiculously high (and approval rates that are similarly low).

Gnaw on that fact for a bit.

So, as citizens, we keep rewarding failure at the highest level with more pay, perks, power, and job security. The failures of the United States are not the fault of the political class; they are the fault of the citizenry that refuses to do its job. We have become a trivial people given to worry over irrelevant social policies while our economy continues to falter and the politicians become ever more powerful.

Which is a long-winded prologue to this story of why government, at every level, must be held accountable for their failures and citizens must be protected from their excesses.

Grand juries are supposed to protect us from false allegations, but the old saying that prosecutors could get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich”reflects the reality that most fail on that front. Instead, as this study from the Cato Institute explains, they’re often used to harass and intimidate.

Read it all and remember: it’s your job to push back against the excesses of government. At every level.

Vote wisely in the upcoming elections.