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More from Conscience of a Conservative

A few notable excerpts from Conscience of a Conservative.

We are only as good as our information, and if we lose our sense of objective truth, we lose everything. We must protect and preserve our healthy public sphere--that civic space in which we vigorously debate and negotiate, agree and disagree--or else.

***

Giving away one's agency and becoming captive to such outlandish and vile alternative facts would be bad enough were one an average person, quietly living his or her life. But giving away one's agency to such a confusion of fact and fantasy when one has power--well, that is truly dangerous.  And it is something else, too: highly influential.  Bad information propagated by powerful people spreads like a contagion, infecting vulnerable people in its path.

I really appreciated the concept of giving away one's agency related to dishonesty.

From a very young age in ranch country, you also get to know immigrants intimately and honestly.  You learn through experience how indispensable they are to making things work in America. It seems that once every generation or so, we have these spasms of immigrant resentment and scapegoating, if not outright hatred. We are at our worst when we give in to these impulses and resort to a device that can be emotionally satisfying, perhaps, and politically expedient but very self-destructive--the impulse to look for somebody else to blame for our problems.  If only these people weren't here, we would be much better off. The nativist impulse is always destructive, always comes with a cost, and never ends well.

***

Seemingly overnight, we became defined not by the limitless aspirations of a free people but by our grievances and resentments and our lowest common denominators. . . .  The quick answer: We did it because it was cheap and easy and the real world is hard and defending a principled position to voters is harder still.

***

Far from conservative, the president's comportment was rather a study in the importance of conflict in reality television--that once you introduce conflict, you cannot de-escalate conflict.  You must continually escalate.  

Reading this comment during the weekend of white supremacist violence and the President's sociopathic, racist response to it made me even more frightened for the future.

What is best for the country is for neither base to fully get what it wants but rather for the factions that make up our parties to be compelled to talk until we find policy solutions to our problems.

As I said in my review earlier this week, a worthy book. 


Conscience of a Conservative

Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to PrincipleConscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle by Jeff Flake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A worthy book.

I do not share Senator Flake's political worldview (even when I called myself a conservative, I wasn't his brand exactly) but it is a recognizable, legitimate, and rational American political position with which one can dialogue and compromise.

But the bulk of this book is not Flake expounding a version of conservatism, it is his conservative critique of the current state of American politics, particularly his criticism of the Republican party selling its soul to Donald Trump. And his criticisms are scathing.

Since the election I have believed it important to work with folks across the spectrum who identify our current moment as one of crisis. I believe now is a time for finding common ground for the common good.

The one glaring absence in Flake's book is any serious discussion of race and the role it has played in our current crisis.

The book has caused me to reflect upon my Republicanism of the 1990's and how as a Gen Xer I held out hope for a modernizing of the party that would advance environmental protection and LGBT rights. I left the party when it became clear that the Fundamentalists and NeoCons had gained control.

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Romney-Clinton Voters

An article in Politico discusses that future electoral success for Democrats should come from building bridges with those Romney voters who abandoned Trump for Clinton. I have been saying this sort of thing for months, as I've worried that the Democrats are missing the big opportunity before them.

Romney-Clinton voters are, generally speaking, college-educated suburban professionals: lawyers, doctors and businesspeople. They voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, but switched to Hillary Clinton in 2016. They abhor xenophobia, the alt-right and racists, but they also mostly socialize within their own race and they’re mostly white. They’re socially liberal but not obsessed with a political agenda. They value fiscal responsibility but also believe in investing in the future, especially education. They remain deeply worried about Trump’s qualifications, scared about his temperament and alienated by his misogyny and ties to extremists. For the first time in a long time, they’re willing to hear about and vote for Democrats.

For journalists and political operatives, these people are harder to romanticize. They lack the stirring, deeply ingrained Americana imagery of the Appalachian coal miner or the Rust Belt autoworker—a news story set against the backdrop of a paralegal’s research library or a suburban office park simply doesn’t feel as compelling.

But if you want to see the future of the Democratic Party—and if you want to understand how Democrats can win back a congressional majority—then it’s important that you pay attention to a group of voters who might cut a less evocative image than their Obama-Trump counterparts, but whose support of Democrats could cause the GOP to collapse.


What the opposition needs

This article in Salon criticizes liberals for thinking there will be an easy Trump backlash, as the special election in Montana went for the violent bully as well.  But the author contends the left is focused on the wrong things, something I've been saying this year.  In fact, I've said almost this exact sentence, "My position is that Donald Trump is a symptom of the fundamental brokenness of American politics, not the cause."  

He concludes:

For the Trump resistance to have meaning, it must be more than the handmaiden or enabler of a political party that has lost its power, lost its voice and lost its way. Electoral victories will come (and go), but we should have learned by now that they are never sufficient in themselves. Rebuilding and redeeming American democracy — if that can still be accomplished — is a much bigger job, and there are no shortcuts.

Fortunately, there are many on the right who also opposed Trump and believe the same thing, that he is a symptom of a far more serious problem with our society.  We can work together with those folk to repair the social fabric and moral character of our democracy, that is the most important project at the moment.  I find 2017 to be a great time for bipartisan cooperation in opposition the the national catastrophe of Trump.


Dreams & Politics

It is precisely because the social world provides raw materials for private dreams that dreams can help us to think about society. Dreams are not, in other words, an escape from reality, but rather another way of thinking about what ‘reality’ in social and political life actually means.

A provocative essay on Aeon about American dreaming.


On Liberty

On Liberty, Utilitarianism and Other EssaysOn Liberty, Utilitarianism and Other Essays by John Stuart Mill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was reading On Liberty from this collection, the first time I've read this classic work. I'm surprised I didn't read it in high school or college, when it's message about individualism would have been more inspiring. At my current phase in life, I have a more community-based approach to ethics.

Mill's views seem naive in retrospect. His ideal of individual liberty does not address systemic problems of poverty, racism, etc. So many of his ideas, on the left when written, would resonate with some members of the right at the moment.

Mill also possesses the naivete so common in post-Enlightenment liberalism that education would solve most problems by teaching people to be rational and pursue their best interests. He believes that over time as the truth of things is revealed, people will come to more agreement. Clearly this has not happened. He underestimates brute forces and ignorance. He underestimates the power of the majority to undo the progressive politics he advocates. He does not foresee Trump.

I've never been a big fan of Mill. He was clearly influential in his time and is important to the history of liberal democracy, but I believe there are more sophisticated thinkers in that history. I don't care for his book Utilitarianism and chafe whenever I have to teach it. His Metaphysics is a joke, in my opinion. I don't think that Mill's work will remain in the canon long term.

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Church's loss of influence

One of my responses  after the election of Trump was that his election signified the loss of influence of the Christian church, particularly if someone so immoral and whose views were antithetical to the faith could get elected, then we had lost our influence even more than we realized.

In the most recent Atlantic, an article by Peter Beinart gives support to that thesis, while also showing wider cultural trends.

Whereas it has long been claimed that a more secular society will be more tolerant and liberal and will avoid the culture wars, that does not seem to be true.  People who aren't active in church are more likely to hold extreme, polarizing political views.  Beinart writes, "As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between “us” and “them.” Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways."

He discusses how non-church going religious conservatives were the core of Trump's supporters, that non-church going liberals split with church-going liberals over Hillary and Bernie, and that Black Lives Matter doesn't work within the traditional church as previous civil rights movements have.  Beinart concludes:

Maybe it’s the values of hierarchy, authority, and tradition that churches instill. Maybe religion builds habits and networks that help people better weather national traumas, and thus retain their faith that the system works. For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict. It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.