What is the Future of Conservatism

From a Google Image Search – new statesman.com

Joe Scarborough, on Morning Joe this Friday morning, asked some prominent Conservatives what they think will become of Conservative thought once represented by the Republican Party. I have come to have little respect for conservative ideas which are all form and little substance. Conservatives have tried to sell America on limited government, free markets, and on becoming a nation with a growing population that refuses to raise taxes. While these ideas came from the work of Friedrich Hayek who wrote his economic doctrine at the same time as Keynes, we have had opportunities to see how Hayek’s theories have failed to produce the results he claimed we would benefit from. 

Hayek’s proposals became Conservative talking points: limited government, free markets, low taxes, policy choices we have been bombarded with for far too long. Scarborough, George Will, David Brooks, David Frum and a long list of Conservatives are in mourning because an uncouth man is accomplishing their policies, a man who does not have their pedigree or even any understanding of conservatism. Interesting how Trump’s nods to fascism have brought America closer to conservatism than all the private schools and religious schools, all the effete academia of our nation’s top Conservatives (thinkers who do not govern). Hayek’s most famous book has the title The Road to Serfdom in which he contends that the reliance of ordinary citizens on assistance from their government will turn them into serfs. 

These Conservative arguments brought fascism into our lives along with limited government, free markets, and low taxes. Is fascism an inevitable outcome of conservatism or is this just the aberration of one narcissistic, egomaniacal, paranoid man? The clearest picture I got of fascism I got from Elena Ferrante’s trilogy about Naples, Italy. Fascism hates liberalism, it hates protest, it hates labor unions. Conservatism agrees with fascism in these matters except for the baseball bats. Conservatives prefer to use elitism, money, and power to control bottom-up attempts to compete. They label these attempts by we the people to find our own power base liberalism, and they set Conservatives against a set of humanist policies which they loudly proclaim to be harmful to the government they envision. Their government is a top-down, hopefully beneficent government managed by educated elites which they believe offers the best economic program for America. 

But the Conservatives married Racism aka White Supremacy. And the Conservatives married Christianity, although our founders, who had close ties with Britain, a nation torn apart by the religious machinations of Henry VIII and the Anglican revolution, wanted freedom of religion. Now Conservatives are reaping the repercussions of these choices and they have attracted the services of a Fascist enforcer. Conservatives married corporations and wealth inequality. Conservatives married fossil fuels and a denial of the damage being done to the planet. Despite all of these bad marriages Conservatives still demand that America accept them as symbols of moral virtue and high ideals.

If a true Conservative like the revered Ronald Reagan had been in charge of the COVID19 pandemic would he have applied the principles of limited government, small government, to tackling this threat to social and economic order in the same ways that Trump has? Would he have had to resort to a national response instead of forcing states with far fewer resources to handle this national emergency in 50 different ways? Would Reagan have worn a mask as an example to the people of the efficacy of adopting this barrier in order to support the health of the nation? Would Ronald Reagan have adhered to policies that seem ridiculous in a nation of millions, or would he have had to set those policies aside to be the leader the moment demanded? 

Reagan still knew how to compromise. Trump, Barr, Mitch McConnell are drowning in their purity and so is America. Is it even purity or just greed – greed for power and money,  a passionate need to bleed the last dregs of profit from an energy structure that we must change, or we will die with our smoke stacks still releasing deadly CO2 into our fragile atmosphere? America has an addiction that is every bit as damaging as cigarette smoking was to individuals. We are destroying the lungs of the world. Would Reagan have denied science because it did not agree with his dogma? Would Reagan have ended immigration even before the pandemic? I don’t know the answer any more than anyone can, but Reagan was not a purist. He responded to reality. If the principles of Conservatism have to be compromised over and over again in response to actual events wouldn’t that suggest that Conservatism is a philosophical approach to government that is impractical and inflexible, that does not see we the people as real or important, but rather as expendable and interchangeable. Conservatism has shown us where it leads and it is not to a moral high ground; it leads to the moral bankruptcy of 45.

I am always labelled a liberal, and although I do not hate the term I do not define myself that way. I think of myself as a humanist, who believes a society should benefit everyone and not just the wealthy and well-educated. I do not see workers as serfs, although Hayek contended that serfdom would be the end result of liberalism. It appears to me that Conservatism is far more likely to produce a two class society consisting of aristocrats and serfs. Good luck with providing for everyone in a system that takes us back to societies that had no middle class, no merchants. As for my feelings I would like to see an end to the current incarnation of conservatism. Conservatives are doing much more than keeping their eyes on America’s bottom line; they are trying to claw us back to a society that is already obsolete and their policies are hurting America and Americans, not helping. Whether or not we have benefits like subsidized health care or a safety net for workers in a changing market place are no longer options we can keep or discard. These are now just the basics of our society. We need to stabilize these programs and move on to what our new economy will look like and how we will fuel it, how we will shape technology to our advantage as opposed to allowing it to create cyborgs to replace us. ( a nod to Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari). 

How do we learn to cooperate globally if we can’t even make decisions that will affect our nation right now? Does there have to be a paradoxical structure to our politics? Does the existence of a “liberal” require the existence of a “conservative”? Will liberals drive the society off a cliff without the guidance of conservatives? If every yin has to have a yang what new duality could we invent that would be more useful than this conservative/liberal split that divides us right now?

Mourning RBG

From a Google Image Search – Scotusblog

Ruth Bader Ginsburg died tonight. She has been the most amazing example for us all on how to work through all life’s obstacles. We have watched her fights with cancer, her surgeries, her refusal to quit. We should at least take a few moments to mourn the passing of this great Supreme Court Justice and humanitarian. After we mourn then we can howl at the fate that took her 46 days from the 2020 election. She tried so hard to make that marker. Rest in peace, RBG. You have the kind of legacy that many will envy. 

Mitch McConnell, of course, did not waste a single second on grief. He made it very clear that he intended to appoint someone to the Court before the election. Forty-five days will be a record for picking a new Justice and getting the nominee confirmed. There are no niceties in today’s GOP. They have a goal to steal the US government and they are laser focused on that goal. I guess the grim reaper does not want any mourning, any ceremony. I bet he crowed when he heard the sad news. 

Women and children should shed salty tears because they have the most to lose. The ACA will go down. There will be no public health care plan. There will be no protection for preexisting conditions. Many people will go back to being uninsured. This will be a terrible backward move for America. Roe v Wade is very likely to be overturned. Trump seems to have the devil’s own luck and he will be thrilled. We are in such big trouble

Will we allow Mitch McConnell to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg with no muss and no fuss? That would be a betrayal of RBG’s brave fight. At this late hour people are gathering in front of the Supreme Court to mourn. Oh how you will be missed Justice Ginsburg. 

Is this a sign? Let’s not go there. Soon we will have Biden and Harris.

Will the World End in Fire

From a Google Image Search – Newsweek

Beset as we are by multiple concerns like COVID19 spikes and college students returning, hungry children, businesses opening and schools reconvening, a contentious election, rising violence and division, a sagging economy, it seems impossible to do anything but watch the fires on the west coast which seem to expand every year. What can we do? We can give money but many people don’t have any extra money to give. 

Each night on the news we see the personal stories of homes burned, loved ones lost, pets mourned. In Oregon we see whole neighborhoods burned to the ground. People are missing, presumed dead. How much more apocalyptic can our lives get? Is this the big one? Fire, pandemic, hunger, food shortages all presided over by a big bottle-blond man without a clue how to ride to the rescue of anyone, including himself. The only reason we are saddled with this loser is because there are Americans who refuse to see his defects. We have always done so much better than this before we became 50 separate states squabbling over skimpy resources.

Where is FEMA? What is happening to those made homeless by the fires? Are they all wealthy enough to have alternatives? Do they all have family they can go to? Are there shelters? What is all this doing to coronavirus numbers? Are firefighters at risk of the virus as well as the fury of the fires, or does the extreme heat send the virus cowering for an exit? 

I want people in California, Oregon, and Washington State to know that, even with all our other concerns, we are paying attention to your plight. We are also worried that this is going to be a regular event. Even areas of America that are often quite wet are pretty dry this summer. Will parts of the west coast become uninhabitable permanently? Will the entire country just spontaneously combust one day like that huge area in Australia. We are sorry for their losses also. 

Just can’t help thinking about Robert Frost’s poetic contemplation on the end of the world in his poem, Fire and Ice.

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.”

Fire is winning everyone, but it has nothing to do with desire, at least not directly. Perhaps Frost didn’t realize what a fiery emotion hate could be. 

We are all becoming the new hunter-gatherers who must roam from store to store hoping to fill our freezers and pantries, refresh our supplies of anti-bacterial soaps, cleaners and paper products. But we still have homes. We can breathe without getting ash in our lungs. We get to sleep, hopefully, in our beds at night unless we are in a hospital. It is not that we stop living. We go to our small gatherings, some of us still go out to eat, we see family and friends a bit more often, many have gone back to work. But I can’t help picturing how our lives would feel if in the midst of a pandemic our homes started burning to the ground all around us. We are profoundly aware of your distress but for once we don’t know what to do. We can’t divide our resources in enough pieces to cover all our current disasters. 

And now a new hurricane is bearing down on Louisiana and Mississippi, but Robert Frost did not seem worried about wind and rain. Perhaps he would have added another stanza to his poem if he were alive now.

Now that Protesters Have Our Attention

From a Google Image Search – Minneapolis protests – NBC News

Protests are the way citizens talk to government when it is not listening. In a situation as we have right now in America where the government is at odds with the majority, and the minority owns the levers of power (the executive with the justice department, the upper house, in this case the Senate), and every agency kowtows to one man we have to consider whether protest is the best strategy. If we want to get everyone’s attention protests do the trick. But once protesters get everyone’s attention, these citizens have demands they need people to listen to, sensible demands that might improve life for everyone. Making the people whose assistance the protesters need fearful is not helpful even if that was never the protesters’ intention. There are opposition forces and just plain criminals working against your peaceful protests. 

The American people have never been fond of protests unless the cause was their own. And in this case the head of our government is actually escalating the fears of the people so that he can offer to protect them and win reelection. The point has been made, and it is so logical that it elicits a positive reaction and a smile, that in this case the current president is causing more chaos and then offering to fix it if people reelect him. Trump is the President while these protests are going on. If he can’t fix it now why would we reelect him and expect a different outcome. During this pandemic he has pushed responsibility on to states using a state’s rights argument that pleases Republicans. In that case an actual national emergency would have justified a federal government response However, when he has tried to initiate a federal response to protests in cities and states, state’s rights actually do apply and he must be invited to intervene. Because he has those pugilistic fascist tendencies when he is riled up by the people he governs, his first response is beat them into submission, maim them, lock them up. Peaceful streets at any cost!

In this case most Americans see the cause of racial equality as an important one, one that has been allowed to languish in an America that should not have accepted this situation as long as it has. It is not totally altruistic on the part of white people to want to solve our racism problem. Refusing to accept Americans of African Descent as fellow citizens is destroying our society, pulling it apart. Accepting our neighbors of color should not be something that is left to personal choice. This should not be a matter that is in dispute. But we find ourselves deeply divided and in a cultural war over skin color and over a subculture that includes a few violent individuals, a culture produced by the very inequalities we should be trying to address. This might even be labeled a ‘culture war’. Sadly the white supremacists have the con right now. Additionally, our inability to figure this out is insuring that we lose respect around the globe. The world has its eyes on us.

The culture war is complicated by what looks almost like old-style hunter-gatherer tactics used to hunt people rather than game. On the police forces of America, and in the population there are those who seem to be hunting down black folks, killing them off one at a time or in small groups. They seem to hunt the way early humans hunted, the way animals hunt. Find those who are separated from the rest (the herd), find the loners, those who have wandered out of their tribe or pack and then pick them off. I have thought about this before, but recently there was a story of the three police officers who called the EMTs who administered ketamine to Elijah McClain going back to the scene of their ‘take-down’ to pose for a ‘kill’ shot. Vigilantes in Georgia shot Ahmaud Arbery from their pickup truck because they thought he looked suspicious while jogging. A man is killed when he falls asleep at the wheel in a fast food pickup lane. Someone is pulled over for a broken taillight and ends up dead. We often hear someone say ‘he had a gun’ although that was either not true or there was a permit to carry. The protesters have good reason to rise up and ask their government to stop the madness. Sadly they are asking the wrong government.

The fact that protests are coopted by groups who are not with the protesters complicates matters. There are genuine protesters, there are rioters and looters, there is most likely some crossover (protesters who are also looters), there are militias and Trumpers there to fight against allowing black and brown folks by making the arguments about things like ‘respect for the police’ and ‘patriotism’. And there are most likely some people there who are not so peaceful about their protesting methods, who are there to mix it up with the militias and the Trumpers (white supremacists). If it were possible to get some idea of how many people at a protest identify with each group, it would not be quite so easy for Trump to place blame on the left. The fight may end up being between the right wing and the left wing with the protesters left out completely. I don’t know how sociologists or journalists can get a fairly accurate count of the size of these mostly informal groups but it would be helpful.

There could be an interest group formed of knowledgeable people from the protesters and those who would like the protests to push our culture forward on these issues. Such a group could have a plan ready to address the needs of our neighbors who we have excluded for so long from mainstream economic success and acceptance. In this case the protesters should take the lead and the allies should take the role of facilitators. The plan should also include ways to appoint other agencies to take over some of the responsibilities that have fallen to the police such as domestic violence, mental illness, drug ingestion. These are fraught areas of policing because they involve human emotions and chemical imbalances. Can such a plan expect to succeed while those who like the idea of white supremacy are in charge of our government? Will there be a spontaneous combustion if Trump wins? Will there be a spontaneous combustion if Trump loses? What an election!

Is the Future Cancelled

From a Google Image Search – TGV – Trip Savvy

It seemed, when Obama took office, even though we were in a great big recessionary slump brought on by some creative cheat who found a loophole in financial regulations, that we were on that TGV (Tay-Jay-Vey) (high speed train) out of Paris, rocketing into a global future. In this global future we were all pitching in to solve the problems we would face now that everyone was ‘woke.’ Bed nets to Africa to rein in malaria. Tablets to purify water. Water faucets that seemed to pull water out of dry land. Microloans so families could earn money for food. Alternative energies to address climate changes by agreeing to phase out fossil fuels and other carbon dioxide sources in a world where too much CO2 was ruining a chemical balancing act that keeps earth livable. 

Of course we weren’t doing enough. We had the exodus from Middle Eastern nations ruled by harsh dictators. We were trying to give up our regime change habit, go on a strict diet by sitting on our hands and bringing home troops from the area. The mass migrations of people who were not Christians, who were not Europeans, were bringing with them fears that recent acts of terrorism would escalate, fears that the future would be the demise of the past. Prejudice against people whose lifestyles were different, whose religion told them that our religion was wrong, set up a clash of cultures that we weren’t sure how to deal with – assimilate, isolate – migrations always bring up stress and anger – change is never easy and often disruptive.

Authoritarianism was on the rise in both Eastern and Western Europe, and we still had Russia and China and North Korea, a pretty big chunk of world real estate, not on board to help advance a globally viable future unless they got to run it. And America always believed that we would direct the global future. No one was ready to give up their identity as a separate nation-state. So, there were some pretty serious obstacles in the way of that fast train to the future. It seemed possible that 9 billion people due on the planet would encourage us to be more cooperative but we all know that is not what has happened. It is even possible that now leaders are seeing possibilities in using random or designer pandemics to lower out-of-control population growth in the manner of controlling weeds in the grass.

Instead of that fast train to the future, America elected Donald Trump and took a slow train to the past. Now we live in a permanent Groundhog Day, except we don’t have Bill Murray. For one thing Bill Murray, in his lackadaisical way, is funny and for another, although it took him far too long, he learned lessons from his endless loop, which turned out to be more of a spiral and which eventually delivered him to a life that held more pleasure and less cynicism. Our Groundhog Day has Donald Trump, a man without a drop of humor and a man who learns nothing as each gloomy day on rewind unfolds. Donald Trump is also a real man, not a man in a movie. He takes us along for his ride every day and it always takes us to a destination where we don’t want to go. In Groundhog Day everyone knows what a terrible guy Bill Murray is and they don’t seem aware that they are on a perpetual rewind until he gets things right. In our version of Groundhog Day there are people who actively wish for the endless loop to continue. And although they have an ending in mind it is hardly global and it will take us to some really dystopian places.

Republicans are forever complaining about being asked, shoved, pushed, forced to be more politically correct by those terrible college students who are propagandized by leftie professors every day on our college campuses. They do not think college administrators should coddle students by cancelling conservative speakers when students protest their speaking engagements. Why should young people who want to board that high speed train to the future listen to people who are saying that they don’t want to go to the future; that the entire world is making a mistake? Well, when has that ever stopped us. Look at the mistakes we are making in American as captives of Trump’s version of Groundhog Day. Racism should be a problem from our past. We are educated people. We know that skin color does not determine character. We know that it is a culture that determines character. We know these people are our fellow Americas and that we have built cultural walls to keep them separate. Americans know we are living in a toxic culture. If we got back on the train to the future, even if it was a sort of slow train we might be able to finish dealing with the toxins affecting our environment and the toxins infecting our culture. 

We desperately need a new President, a great big attitude adjustment, and the demise of the Republican Party. The future is global and it cannot be cancelled. It will arrive for better or for worse. Build Back Better seems like a perfect mission statement. Voting Democrats into office is our last chance for a while to board that train to the global future and avoid the dark images we are seeing these day out the windows of this train to the past.