This morning I had an epiphany.
Much has been made of the far right’s destructive power in national politics — for example Thomas Frank’s “The Wrecking Crew” and other tomes, pamphlets and essays that remind us of how a party out of control has taken a monkey wrench to the levers of power in American politics.
There’s a simple solution that many of us have been overlooking — people who don’t like politics, and don’t like politicians, and don’t really believe in civic micromanagement, maybe shouldn’t be involved in evaluating politics at all.
The Republican Party at this point is like a child who’s been asked to come to the board and do a math problem, and he does it badly, because he doesn’t want to.
Johnny and Susie went up to the board to figure out 2+2. Susie went primly up to the board and neatly wrote a well-contoured “four” under the chalk line. Johnny swaggered up, ripped a loud fart, and angrily scrawled a five.
The tragedy of the situation is that enough students voted for Johnny’s “2+2=5” mostly to spite the teacher, who in this metaphor is either Lady iberty or the individual holds the scales of justice. Sorry folks – Susie’s a suck-up.
The evidence is all around us — incompetent and mean-spirited individuals being promoted to posts which they have in the past wanted to eliminate entirely; the rampant defunding and mismanagement of various federal agencies, etc.
There is a very easy fix to this — people who don’t like the job of providing for others and finding a way to steer the ship of democracy in the right direction should simply go do something else instead of voting and giving money to candidates and all that stuff.
In other words, as a country we been trying to desperately meld the values of the far right with the idea of civic good. The problem is that these two things are not inherently mixable — an ideology that alienates millions of people and up to half of the entire electorate isn’t going to be oriented towards working toward that civic good. It’s going to be inherently oriented towards a divisive and radically disruptive goal that has nothing to do with the civic good, and is extremely toxic to its intentions. This has been played out instructively in the “states rights” civil rights battles of the last century. The federal government’s job was to protect all citizens – and the state houses didn’t like it.
To put it yet another way — many of the individual constituents of the far right base do have values and ways of life that are worth preserving. They are abundantly steeped in the ways of traditional America — which is probably not a bad thing in many, many ways, but again, may be somewhat toxic to the job of federal statesmanship.
Many of these individuals take pride in being hard-working people of the land and people who do not choose to spend their time scribbling in pages or squinting at a computer screen, or dealing with the inherent bureaucracy of the federal system. Let these individuals do what they do best, whether it’s farming or ranching or blacksmithing or whatever gets their hands dirty and provides needed services for a population. Do not force them to, like recalcitrant students, go up to the chalkboard and try to participate in the evaluation of civic and public administration.
Many of them have no interest, and frankly very little aptitude, and have not practiced the inherent skills needed to do this in any meaningful way. Let’s be very clear that this is not to state that these individuals are inferior in any way, or that they lack the intellectual stamina in general to govern — instead, my view is that they lack the will and the sensitivity and the general disciplines needed to participate in these civic exercises – simply because they have not invested in them. Aas exhibit one, look at the marginalization of any realistic voices in the Republican party – the marginalization of “mavericks” like McCain and deficit hawks like Ron and Rand Paul. The base has chosen “apolitical” operatives whose platforms don’t make sense – partly because they dislike government so much that they don’t care if it makes sense or not.
As a result, they can simply give to God what is God’s, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and cease to try to steer the ship directly into the iceberg. We will be left with a set of technocrats and statespeople who will calmly and cleverly run the American ship as it has run for many years, largely as a system acquiescent to big business, but which has at least a veneer of normalcy.
Will they be the best people? No. They may not be entirely responsive to the needs of the population, but they will at least apply that responsiveness or unresponsiveness fairly broadly and universally, because having been trained in the sensibilities of civic administration, they understand how not to alienate. They understand how not to divide.
This doesn’t suggest, again, that they have in general superior moral or ethical premises when it comes to wealth redistribution, family values or anything else — although the case can be made that their social sensibilities fit better with the needs of today’s electorate.
The point is that they can bring a basic level of organization and brinksmanship to the job — which they will need, because the efforts of the right can be again focused on simply hating the federal government and everything that it stands for. The only remaining job will be to keep the peace between the federal government and the states, as we have done these many years since 1865.
The above is one of those ideas that might yet have its day — it seems simple, but stated out loud, just scratches the surface of the roiling morass of political turmoil that has now seeped into every aspect of our lives. We owe it to ourselves to explore these ideas, and to try to explore them, not with the bias inherent to each of us in this polarized society, but instead more conceptually, as individual scholars and again — those of us who don’t want to do this can simply leave the whole dirty issue of politics alone, instead of trying to struggle with something they hate.
This morning I had an epiphany.