Politics Feed

Election optimism

An optimistic take on the recent elections, asserting that the real majority is taking back control from the "bitter third."

Tuesday’s election allowed millions in the American majority to finally take a deep, cleansing breath after a year of fear and loathing, watching the rampant corruption of our government and the degradation of our culture by the vulgar president and his Putinite coterie. It allowed the world to see that our country has not gone entirely mad.


The Politics of Fear & Anger

Philosopher Martha Nussbaum delivered this year's Jefferson Lecture in the humanities on the topics of anger and fear in our politics.  A clear statement of her topic:

One of the trickiest problems in politics is to persist in a determined search for solutions, without letting fear deflect us onto the track of anger’s errors.

Democratic work is not easy, as it involves the transformation of our anger and controlling our fear.

Making a future of justice and well-being is hard. It requires self-examination, personal risk, searching critical arguments, and uncertain initiatives to make common cause with opponents—in a spirit of hope and what we could call rational faith. It’s a difficult goal, but it is that goal that I am recommending, for both individuals and institutions.

And, of course, she thinks philosophy makes a vital contribution to that effort:

Philosophy does not compel, or threaten, or mock. It doesn’t make bare assertions, but, instead, sets up a structure of thought in which a conclusion follows from premises the listener is free to dispute. In that way it invites dialogue, and respects the listener. Unlike the over-confident politicians that Socrates questioned (Euthyphro, Critias, Meletus), the philosophical speaker is humble and exposed: his or her position is transparent and thus vulnerable to criticism. 


Rule by citizens not experts

A robust defense of democracy against rule by the experts.  An excerpt:

The remedy for our democracy deficit is to devolve as much power as possible to the local level. Many problems can be addressed only on the state, federal and international level, but the idea is that participating in local politics teaches citizens how to speak in public, negotiate with others, research policy issues, and learn about their community and the larger circles in which it is embedded. Like any other skill, the way to become a better citizen is to practise citizenship.


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.

View all my reviews

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.