Monday, July 24, 2017

Political Science for Beginners as Taught by a Beginner

The political/social climate in the United States has taken a turn in the last 20 years to a very strange and dangerous place. I have come to a few conclusions about this whole mess, and have posted about a few things awhile ago that I realize, looking back at it now, foreshadowed what was to happen in our 2016 election. 

I find myself having discussions with people in bars, or on the Facebook (I can't help it) and have come to the conclusion that Trump supporters either A: have attempted to place Trump into a political box where he doesn't fit, or B: behave like politics is a sport like football. 

I understand Republicans who voted with the party and expected Trump to align with party platforms and agendas and at least attempt to be a competent administrator. After all, he ran a campaign based on the incompetency of government while holding up a record of business success as proof he could do better than everyone else. However, based on what I have seen from this guy, his public appearances, speeches, tweets, I see no evidence that he knows or understands his job requirements. Attempting to pin any sort of political strategy to this guy seems like a folly. As Occum's Razor states, the simplest explanation is probably the truth, and based on everything we've seen since Trump started campaigning should lead us to believe he, in fact, is not some kind of political mastermind with any sort of plan, strategy, or anything resembling competence.

There are some very smart conservative economics, political science, and business people out there who have attempted to explain their support for the guy, but it all sounds like they're talking about a different guy. This isn't Nixon, or Reagan, or even Barry Goldwater, he is singularly unique, and we should probably frame him as such, instead of trying to box him up in any sort of political/economic/social platform. 

Recently, I, like many people, have attempted to understand rabid Trump supporters who refuse to take in all of what has happened since the election campaigns began, and form the seemingly obvious opinion that this dude was not fit for office. I think I have some kind of grasp on it, and it comes down to two things: 

1: Not having a clear understanding of what government does and how it operates. Government, contrary to what Fox News says, does not and should not operate like a business. But I hear many people make comments about how the private sector runs similar government ventures far more smoothly. Trying to run a government like a business, however, becomes a problem when tax money is seen as available profit to be reaped by private contractors, instead of money to be used to budget for what the taxpayers need. As an example, read all about private prisons. 

2: Treating politics like a competition. I figured out, while trying and failing to use reason with Trump supporters, that they are not interested at all in eventual outcomes due to Trump-led policies. Actually, they don't seem interested in politics. This is partly due to a disillusionment with modern politics, but also a short-term historic memory, ignorance of political history, and probably just an inability to understand politics in general. But they understand winning a competition, and an election sure looks like a competition. It appears that winning an election is more important than the consequences of that win.

I think, because of an inability to grasp what politics is, how government works, and what the political parties stand for has led these people to just pick a side. The liberal Left has been seen as this elitist, out of touch group of know-it-all arrogant rich kids, who all seem to be Democrats. If one feels like they have to pick a side, and the Democrats are all snobs, perhaps picking the party which appears to be all about the hard working, no nonsense, proud patriot bible carrying Americans is a good choice. And so, instead of a Trump victory signifying more of the same graft and corruption with a lean towards Facism, it signifies to these people as a win over the arrogant Left.

This attitude of glorifying success and reveling in the other side's demise reminds me so very much of athletic competition. Trump supporters talk about the election in the same way American hockey fans talk about the 1980 Olympics, or Red Sox fans talk about the 2004 ALCS and World Series. It isn't about the policies and legislation Trump will bring to American politics, but more about defeating the Evil Empire of Obama/Hillary Democrats. 

That all aside, I think this country needs to revisit civics. Professor Murdaco posted a very lengthy lecture on The American Political System. It's very well done.

I do think it is very interesting how people perceive our system, and how very easily the terms Left and Right get interchanged with Democrat and Republican. Above is a graphic that illuminates the political spectrum, and has laid American political groups along that line.

According to Marx, the spectrum goes from the Radical Left, to the Reactionary Right, those being the two extremes. Lately the term Reactionary has fallen out of favor and Radical is used to describe both extremes. Ideally, the middle of the spectrum is where the Independents lie. I find this to be disingenuous. Technically, an Independent voter doesn't subscribe to either major political party, but is more often than not allied politically along the spectrum, not truly balanced in the middle. For example, I am registered as an Independent, but politically I lean to the Left. I know others that are also Independent voters but are far more conservative.

The terms Liberal and Conservative come to mean a few things. Liberal can mean using resources generously. It also can mean a progressive view open to new ideas, behaviors, and changes. Liberal, then, in a nutshell, is the idea that we have new information that can show us how to change to be better.

In contrast, conservative can mean preserving, saving, and protecting resources, cautiously using them over time in planned, deliberate ways. It can also mean preserving traditional values, and the status quo. Conservative, then, in a nutshell, is the idea that we already know how to do things, it's all been working well, why change?

In addition, our political party system is not mutually exclusive to the political spectrum. The Democratic Party has not always been on the Left of center. Dixiecrats, a southern sect of the Democratic Party, are responsible for seceding from the Union, Jim Crow, the Klan, and a host of other racially charged legislation. Republicans also have not always been where they lie now on the political spectrum. Lincoln was a Republican, and a Progressive.

It becomes apparent, from this last election, and going forward, the people all want change, and the status quo just is not working for anyone except large GOP donors. The Democrats tried to run a conventional campaign in a country that is fed up with convention. The GOP was unprepared for Trump hijacking their primary and running on Nationalism wrapped up in a false promise of political change.

Perhaps, if we all start to educate each other on what this all means, as Americans, and stop trying to pick sides, we'll be able to all get the change we want.

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