The Year That Was

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As the calendar turns over once more, there’s just enough time to peruse the year gone past, before turning to face the year yet to come. Here’s a few of our best and most timely articles from 2019:

It was a particularly fine year for overseas and travel reporting, between

Meanwhile, our editor Stephen Cox continued documenting the follies and fripperies of language, as well as a long-running Liberty tradition of shooting down an “endangered” species. Furthermore, he made the case against intervention in Venezuela, chuckled at an Ayn Rand “Giving Tuesday,” and penned a poem  to intellectual inquiry.

The year was not without its sadness, as we said a sudden and far-too-soon goodbye to the inimitable Lori Heine. Over her years of writing for Liberty, Lori won many fans for her warm-hearted, hope-filled looks at life, culture, and the political scene. You can get some sense of her from her writings this year on the fraud of politically progressive Christianity, for instance, or on the prospects of libertarians in nationwide elections, or on the politics of sheer volume. their volume. But it’s still just a reflection of the person who brightened many of our days. You can read Stephen Cox’s obituary here.

However, like Lori, we will turn our gaze forward, fully aware of the great need for both skepticism and lightheartedness in a world that increasingly lacks both. 2020 promises to be a strong year for Liberty, including full election coverage and on-the-ground reporting from the Libertarian Party convention in Austin, Texas. We look forward to seeing you all along the way.



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The Fifth Democratic Debate

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Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota was recalling how she bankrolled an earlier political campaign. “I raised $17,000 from ex-boyfriends,” she said.

There’s a lesson here, I thought: don’t get romanced by a politician. It’ll cost you money.

It was November 20, and I was subjecting myself to another three hours of Democrats. They did behave better this time, shutting down when their time ran out — thanks not to their inner goodness but to the rules, which cut into their time if they didn’t. Still, it was progress.

The latest entry into the melee to become the Democratic nominee for president, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, was not there, which was just as well. The candidates are still too many. I was thankful that some of the earlier ones were gone, including my state’s save-the-planet governor, Jay Inslee, and former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, who had irritated me with his bloviating progressivism. California Senator Kamala Harris was still there, but I was lifted up by a Washington Post piece saying she is on the verge of an exit. Harris was once California’s chief state prosecutor, a calling that seems to have defined the way she thinks.

Gabbard will not be her party’s nominee, but she says some things that need to be said.

One of the notable moments of the three hours came when Harris turned her rhetorical Klieg lights on Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard. Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran who promised to end regime-change wars, had recently been smeared by the Democratic Party’s previous nominee, Hillary Clinton, as a “favorite of the Russians.” Harris piled on, accusing Gabbard of having “buddied up” to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and of bad-mouthing the Obama administration on Fox News. Gabbard obliged Harris by bad-mouthing some more, saying that the Democratic Party “continues to be influenced by the foreign policy establishment represented by Hillary Clinton and others.”

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg also lit into Gabbard for meeting with Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad in 2017. “I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that,” he said. Gabbard, who was a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, replied that Franklin Roosevelt had met with Stalin and Richard Nixon with Mao, and that she was willing to meet with whomever necessary.

Gabbard will not be her party’s nominee, but she says some things that need to be said. And she was the only candidate who mentioned libertarians as part of her coalition. Not that she is one — she supported Bernie Sanders four years ago — but she mentioned us, anyway.

All these proud Democrats kept to their spendy tradition, promising more free stuff.

Speaking of libertarian issues, several candidates — Gabbard, Senator Cory Booker, and even Joe Biden — called for decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana. Another such issue, the draft, came up in an oblique way. Elizabeth Warren was asked whether she thought more people ought to be in the military. Warren said she thought there should be more ways of community service. She said she had a program for putting 10,000 young people to work in the National Forests and National Parks. She didn’t mention a draft, nor did any of the others.

Since former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz dropped out as a possible candidate, no one has made an issue of the budget deficit or the $21 trillion federal debt. All these proud Democrats kept to their spendy tradition, promising more free stuff: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren promising Medicare for All, others promising Medicare for Lots More, Amy Klobuchar offering three months of paid family leave and Kamala Harris calling for six months’ paid leave. Pete Buttigieg was asked whether he would spend less on the military, and he dodged the question by saying he would spend more on artificial intelligence.

Always more. There was little talk about paying for any of it, though Cory Booker, in disagreeing with Warren’s wealth tax, was for raising the federal estate tax and taxing capital gains at the same rates as wages.

Listening to these candidates, you’d never know that economic times were good.

At one point Booker said the candidates should “talk about how to grow wealth for all” rather than merely how to distribute it. Nobody else said anything like that. Andrew Yang, the former entrepreneur, declared that the advance of technology is “ripping the country apart.” Bernie Sanders, the anti-entrepreneur, asserted that 87 million Americans were without healthcare and that “the economy is rigged.” I have listened to Sanders’ redfaced rants more than I care to think about, and I can’t recall him ever saying anything favorable about the private sector. I read that Sanders was an elector for the Socialist Workers Party candidate back in 1980, and it does seem to be a salient fact about him. He never misses a chance to condemn the health insurers and the pharma companies, and during the debate he declared that the oil and gas industry is “probably criminally liable” for global warming and should be prosecuted.

When asked about the high cost of housing in California, Elizabeth Warren blamed it on the government building fewer units of public housing and private builders building too many “McMansions.” She also blamed it on racial redlining. Not a word about government land-use regulations.

As in the earlier debates, the candidates kept talking about how America was unfair and unequal, that people were struggling, democracy was dying, and the planet was doomed unless something was done right now. At the end of the gabfest, Joe Biden said, “I am so tired of everybody walking around with ‘woe is me,’ and ‘what are we going to do.’” I was tired of it, too. Listening to these candidates, you’d never know that economic times were good.

They have been particularly good for one of the candidates, Tom Steyer, who was said to be so rich that he shoveled $300 million of his net worth into his quest for the presidency. Steyer is promising to get corporate money out of politics. When asked if this wasn’t a contradiction, he said it wasn’t: He’s been wanting to do it for years. They should have asked him if he had a history of making bad investments.




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Flea to Choose

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Libertarian Party Optimism

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I believe that within the next 50 years the Libertarian Party will become a major force in American politics, taking 20 to 30% of the vote nationally and electing a wide swath of candidates.

One reason is that the Millennial generation and the so-called Generation Z will live to see the day when Social Security runs out of money, and they will seek an alternative to the establishment out of sheer survival instincts. Another may be that if Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez becomes president and socialism destroys the economy, Generation Z will flock to the LP.

But today, unlike the tomorrow of the future, the Libertarian Party is held together by duct tape, some sticky half-chewed gum, and some old frayed shoe laces. This was evident at the 2019 convention of the Manhattan Libertarian Party. A lot of people were there, old and young, party stalwarts and people new to the LP, but the event was cozy and unpretentious, lacking the grand pomp and pageantry of a Democrat or Republican rally. It was held in a giant room in the Ukrainian East Village Restaurant in Manhattan, in what seems to be a Ukrainian state building. I would not have been surprised if Russian spies were listening to every word said in that room. The centerpiece of the event, other than the election of the 2019 Manhattan LP officers, was speeches given by Matt Welch of Reason magazine and Larry Sharpe, LP gubernatorial candidate. Sharpe got enough votes for the New York Libertarian Party to become an officially recognized party in the state, with full ballot access, after waging a courageous yet doomed campaign against Democratic juggernaut Andrew Cuomo and his corrupt New York political machine.

The Millennial generation and the so-called Generation Z will live to see the day when Social Security runs out of money, and they will seek an alternative to the establishment out of sheer survival instincts.

Hearing Mr. Sharpe speak, I found that he was a real libertarian, a smart man, a good public speaker, and a fighter, and he seemed to have a firm grasp of important issues. That having been said, it is clear why he did not, and could not, win: he simply lacked the network and political machine and fundraising dollars of, for example, an Andrew Cuomo or a Hillary Clinton. He also lacks the raw charisma and the hypnotizing, mesmerizing rhetorical skill of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and other populists. If you are not a member of the elite and can't be a populist, it is tough to win. Just being a nice guy is not enough, as Sharpe, Gary Johnson, and other Libertarians have learned every time they’ve run for office.

There is an important question, as the Libertarian Party matures, of whether it will evolve into a populist party or try to be seen as a respectable mainstream party fielding "real, legitimate" politicians. That tension was present at the convention, perhaps never more palpably than while Matt Welch of Reason spoke. I am not going to rehash what he said, but instead reflect on the role of Reason in the current moment of libertarianism. Reason projects an image of a libertarian version of the mainstream media, full of polished experts with extensive knowledge who come across as highly professional and whom it is easy to take seriously. Indeed, Reason is a libertarian medium that wants to be taken seriously by the establishment and the political elites, to move the needle on policy and to be read by the intellectual and educated classes. So, too, within the Libertarian Party, many of us want candidates who will be taken seriously by the voters and fit in with the political elites and the real politicians and not be a mere joke or token candidate who can't win.

But there is a catch. Core libertarian policies, such as abolishing the income tax, ending the Federal Reserve, putting currency back on a gold standard, terminating Social Security, legalizing the wide range of drugs, are not taken seriously, and will not be taken seriously, by the American public, and certainly never by the elites and the establishment. There are simply too many ways the government helps the rich, too many Wall Street bailouts, too many efforts of educated elites to use government to control the great unwashed masses of the public, for the educated class or the political elites to turn libertarian. So if the LP runs real candidates who want to be “taken seriously,” it loses something of its credibility and its integrity with its original ideals. Each Libertarian must grapple with what to sacrifice — principles, or being accepted by the establishment.

It is clear why the LP gubernatorial candidate did not, and could not, win: he simply lacked the network and political machine and fundraising dollars of, for example, an Andrew Cuomo or a Hillary Clinton.

You see the problem. Matt Welch even had to cut his speech short at the end because he was scheduled to appear on Kennedy’s show later that night. She and John Stossel do a lot to fold libertarianism into the Fox News vision. There is a certain type of person I think of as a Reason reader — affluent, young, male, highly educated, and very angry that he has to pay taxes and isn't allowed to smoke weed. He reads Reason with a sense of rebellion, yet as a member of the middle class or upper class he is himself a part of the establishment. Such people will one day face a choice — stay true to being real libertarians, or be taken seriously by the educated class and take their rightful place among the elite.

Still, by putting up a fight to be taken seriously as libertarians, Reason and people like Matt Welch slowly but surely shift the public's conception of what is to be taken seriously, and I am optimistic that in about 50 years it will shift enough for libertarians with integrity to our core principles to be taken seriously and be viewed as legitimate and get elected. If and when that happens, the tension and contradiction between being a real libertarian and being a member of the political class or the mainstream media establishment may end, and being libertarian may become mainstream.

This is a long way of explaining why I viewed Matt with caution and a sense of tension, despite the fact that he gave a fun, enjoyable talk about himself and Reason, and shared an interesting anecdote about Ayn Rand threatening to sue Reason in its early days after it acquired Nathaniel Branden's mailing list.

Core libertarian policies are not taken seriously, and will not be taken seriously, by the American public, and certainly never by the elites and the establishment.

There will never be a one-size-fits-all answer for a group as diverse as libertarians. During Q and A with Mr. Welch and Mr. Sharpe, there was some talk of whether libertarians should be radical or be moderate and seek the space between Left and Right. The consensus seemed to be that the moderate center is an illusion and radicals are more likely to get elected. Moderate or radical, freak or conformist sell-out, is another way to frame this question.

For decades, my other tribe, the LGBT community, has been grappling with whether to go mainstream or persist as proud to be freaks, and we still have not decided as a movement. There is still a cold war between the advocates of gay marriage and those among us who oppose marriage as an institution. So, too, may it be with the libertarian movement: an unending war between radicals and pragmatists.

The future of the Libertarian Party looks bright. Although the party today is small and splintered, check back in 50 years. I believe my prediction will prove correct.




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The Two Socialisms

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When I was in college, the selling point of socialism, communism, revolutionary activism, all of that, was something called “participatory democracy.” That’s what the mighty SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) stood for. That’s what the neo-Marxists stood for. That’s what all the “community organizers” stood for. The idea, endlessly reiterated, was that “decisions must be made by the people affected by those decisions.” No one talked about Medicare for all, or government-funded preschools, or government-mandated revisions of the environment. The idea was that centralized “state capitalism” was wrong, not primarily because it was inefficient, or even inequitable in its effects, but because its decisions were not “democratic.” They had not been made by the people affected by them. If it was inequitable or “slow” (i.e., inefficient), that was why.

Now we are witnessing an immense revival of “socialism,” led by Democratic Party opportunists and hacks. And it is all about laws that need to be made to increase the power of the centralized state. It is about giving professional politicians sole power over healthcare, housing, education, transportation, employment, qualifications for voting, and the possibility of self-defense — and all this without the tiniest hint that anyone except the Philosopher Kings who compose the Democratic Majority in the House of Representatives should be consulted. Participation? What’s that?

American “socialism” has shifted, in our time, from a demotic and “participatory” style to a rule-from-the-top dogmatism.

I have to be honest. I am a foe of “participatory democracy.” I do not believe it is optimal, in any sense, to give power over the individual’s existence to whoever happens to be a coworker, a fellow student, or just a guy who happens to turn up at a meeting. I find myself unable to decide whether a regime of little Red Guards is more repellent than a regime of Bernie Sanders bureaucrats arrayed, rank on rank and cube on cube, to decide what the width of my bathroom door should be.

But I think it’s worthy of notice that American “socialism” has shifted, in our time, from a demotic and “participatory” style to a rule-from-the-top dogmatism, constantly twisting in response to the whims of the politicians but always determined to enforce those whims.

I wonder whether any of the socialists have noticed this. Perhaps they are as ignorant of their own traditions as they are of economics or sociology, or respect for anyone except themselves.




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Unite and Conquer

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October 8. Gavin Newsom, “progressive” candidate for governor of California, in debate with his Republican opponent, said this about President Trump’s proposed border wall: “The wall is intended to divide this country.”

October 8. Tucker Carlson, conservative pundit, said this about the attitudes of “progressive” Democrats, who, he asserted, wished to divide the nation: “Only a nation divided between warring tribes can be ruled effectively.”

The root concept is “divide and conquer” — a phrase frequently heard on both sides of the recent Kavanaugh-Ford slugfest.

How exactly did it work? If you were a Republican, you divided the Democrats, and then you conquered them?

I first encountered that cliché when I was in high school. It appeared in discussions of political strategy, and it seemed to make sense. If you were the emperor of Russia, you would naturally be looking for ways to divide the Austrians from the Prussians, so you could, if you wished, conquer them one at a time, or let them try to conquer each other. Books told me that “divide and conquer” was what Napoleon set out to do, and sometimes did, to the powers of Europe. And the “divide and conquer” idea often came up in comments about American political affairs.

But I always had a bad feeling about it. How exactly did it work? If you were a Republican, you divided the Democrats, and then you conquered them? How did you do that? What happened to the various pieces of the Democrats? Did some of them vote for you? Maybe. But wasn’t that just another way of saying that some of them liked you better than their own party?

The best example appeared to be the election of 1860, when the Democratic Party came apart and nominated two rival candidates, producing a contest in which the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, won the presidency with less than 40% of the vote. Yet there was still a problem with the concept. Lincoln hadn’t divided the Democrats; they had divided and conquered one another, and he was happy to pick up whatever votes he could get out of the mess.

Another possible divide-and-conquer situation was the election of 1968, when disaffected Democrats allegedly elected Richard Nixon by not showing up to vote for Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic nominee. But Nixon hadn’t concocted some scheme to fund Vietnam War protestors while encouraging Humphrey to maintain his fatal support of the war. Nixon simply continued to support the war himself, while promising that he had a secret plan to end it. He didn’t divide his opponents and conquer them; he just got more votes than they did.

Lincoln didn't divide the Democrats; they divided and conquered one another, and he was happy to pick up whatever votes he could get out of the mess.

Now, imagine that you are Abraham Lincoln or Richard Nixon or any current, down-at-the-heels partisan politician, the kind of person of whom Tucker Carlson spoke in his October 8 TV program, calling them “hacks and joiners and drones.” If that’s you, would you rather “divide and conquer” your opponents, or simply get them to join your side and vote for you? The latter, surely. Even a Russian emperor would have preferred his opponents to join him instead of opposing either him or one another. That’s why the European powers contracted holy alliances. They would rather be allies than competitors, so long as they could maintain their power. This is human nature.

Coming down to the present, and Newsom and Carlson’s comments: why would Trump want to divide the country, instead of getting most of it to support him? Why would the Democrats find it easier to rule a nation “divided between warring tribes”? Does this make sense?

Suppose that you’re a modern “intersectional” foe of Republicans, and you’re trying to arouse antagonism to them by asserting that because they are “opposed to women,” they are also opposed to “senior citizens,” “people of color,” “the LGBTQ community,” “undocumented immigrants,” “working people,” and, for all I know, Finnish-Americans. Your goal may be to conquer, but it certainly isn’t to set the Finnish-Americans against the African-Americans, and the African-Americans against the immigrants. It’s to get as many groups as possible onto your side. You may call your opponents racists and sexists and so on, but that’s not because you want to divide the racists from the sexists; it’s because you want to shame, scare, and neutralize people who, you think, will never vote for you anyway. But this is not “divide and conquer”; it’s just denouncing your opponents.

Even a Russian emperor would have preferred his opponents to join him instead of opposing either him or one another.

If you want to understand how things really work, picture the two great American political parties as a pair of vacuum cleaners, roaring back and forth across the continent, sweeping up every vote and dollar that’s not nailed down. There isn’t any vote that they don’t want. Republicans can and do actively court gay and black voters; Democrats court evangelicals and conservative Catholics by quoting fondly from the Bible. This is not divide and conquer. This is unite and conquer. Each party dotes on the idea of “uniting this great country.” And neither is kidding about that. They want the whole thing, if they can get it.

I can’t picture Hillary Clinton holding a meeting in which she said, “To defeat Trump, we have to set the women against the gays, and the blacks against the Hispanics. It’s divide and conquer!” But I can picture her holding a meeting in which she said, “How can we ensure that all gays, blacks, Hispanics, soccer moms, overpaid executives, mainline pastors, police unions, publishers of provincial newspapers, Medicare patients, millennials, techies, former prison inmates, police unions, farmers, professors of Harvard college, and did I mention soccer moms, will support me? How can we unite them all behind us?” Again, this is not divide and conquer.

Akin to “divide and conquer” is the idea that politicians willfully create enemies so that they can unify their followers in opposition to the hated foes whom they have conceptually divided from the rest of the populace. This also is a strange idea, when you think about it. Yes, politicians are always attacking “enemies”; they blame things on “enemies”; and “enemies” are sometimes politically useful. But I can hardly think of a case in which politicians have simply created enemies in order to oppose them. Hillary Clinton denounced the “deplorables,” doubtless intending to inspire the non-deplorables to more fervent efforts on her behalf. But she wasn’t trying to manufacture an enemy; she was identifying enemies that she thought she already had.

Picture the two great American political parties as a pair of vacuum cleaners, roaring back and forth across the continent, sweeping up every vote and dollar that’s not nailed down.

Perhaps — and this is a big perhaps — Hitler gained massive political support by attacking the Jews. But he didn’t attack the Jews just because he thought that by doing so he would unite the other Germans. He attacked the Jews because he had a maniacal hatred of them. (And no, I am not — I repeat, not — making a moral equation between Adolf Hitler and Hillary Clinton.)

The current American antifa orgs are not attacking speakers who disagree with them in college forums, or people who happen to drive down the streets of Portland while they are showing off, because they want to arouse support by creating common enemies. They attack people who disagree with them because they don’t like people who disagree with them. They attack random motorists because they are in the way, and because they themselves are angry. This is not the arbitrary creation of enemies. This is self-expression, of a peculiarly non-strategic kind.

I suppose — indeed, I know — that I should now try to account for the fact that many intelligent people think that “divide and conquer” and “make up enemies” are profound and potent concepts, crucial to the understanding of political processes. But I can’t.




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Intimations of Immortality

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The Enduring Mojo of “Roseanne”

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I have always loved Roseanne. It binds me pleasantly to a very important time in my life: my last year of college and the years immediately thereafter. Long before I knew there would be a reboot — something practically unheard-of in prime-time television — I liked to go to YouTube and revisit my favorite scenes from the original, nine-season run of the program. When I needed a lift, I’d watch Roseanne, her husband Dan, and sister Jackie stoned out of their minds on an old stash of weed they’d discovered, or daughter Becky’s humiliating episode of flatulence at a school assembly (she actually got a sympathy card for this), or — my personal favorite — Roseanne accepting a dare to do a topless flash of her husband in the backyard, not realizing that at that moment he happened to be welcoming a new neighbor. This was a genuinely funny show, full of spirit and heart and brutally honest, and when it went off the air, I missed it.

Nothing even remotely like it ever came along, until it came back. I would have eagerly greeted the reboot, regardless of how the real Roseanne Barr felt about President Trump. Discovering that its reincarnation is every bit as funny and thought-provoking as the original has been an added bonus. The popularity of its return is well earned. Although it probably won’t last another nine seasons (even the kids from the original series are looking slightly long in the tooth), I hope it stays around a good, long while.

This was a genuinely funny show, full of spirit and heart and brutally honest, and when it went off the air, I missed it.

The brouhaha in the media about the program’s political implications is something I choose to ignore. There is no reason to politicize absolutely everything — except for people who want to control absolutely everything. Those of us who do not believe that every aspect of our lives should be regulated by our self-appointed betters still appreciate quality entertainment for its own sake. We know it doesn’t need to justify itself by making some politically-relevant statement.

All the same, I can’t help but appreciate that Roseanne Barr has taken a stand. Her program could not possibly be honest if it didn’t deal frankly with the ways people have struggled during the past 20 years, under a plutocracy that no longer even bothers to pretend it cares about us. If the people who are so viciously attacking the program actually liked it, I probably wouldn’t. They would be telling me that I’d been reading it wrong.

Those of us who do not believe that every aspect of our lives should be regulated by our self-appointed betters still appreciate quality entertainment for its own sake.

But I haven’t. The characters in this program endure in their love for each other. They mourn those who have passed on and lovingly embrace the new arrivals. They deal with everyday life in a way the show’s viewers recognize as authentic. They call us back to life lived simply as human beings, totally apart from membership in any political tribe or any allegiance in a political war. The anti-Republicrat libertarian in me loves this.

The mojo of Roseanne is back, and in however trivial a sense, America is better off for it. If we, as a nation, ever get to the point where we can no longer accept honest and humane entertainment, we really will be finished. That the Roseanne reboot has been enormously popular is a sign that — however it may sputter — the pulse of this country keeps pumping on.




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If You Can Keep Your Head

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Recently I saw an article with a headline that went more or less like this: “I’m a Conservative: I Care About Character.” The thesis of the piece was: “That’s why I can’t support Trump.”

I didn’t finish the article. I didn’t need to. I felt that I could have written it myself — or a hundred articles like it. Not because I’m a conservative (I’m not) or because I habitually care about politicians’ “character” enough to vote for or against them because of it. I vote for politicians, not for friends; and I almost always vote for the person I consider the lesser of the two evils. But I understand that everyone has some particular issue that he or she cares most about, at least right now; and for the conservative gentleman or lady it’s “character.” Some people care, or think they care, about only one issue, ever. And an article written from that point of view would be simplicity itself.

I vote for politicians, not for friends; and I almost always vote for the person I consider the lesser of the two evils.

But I look at the world in a different way, and I believe that the year of the Trump presidency has taught a lot of other people to see things that way too. Here it is: there are many possible reasons why intelligent people vote or refuse to vote for someone; these reasons are pretty much apples and oranges, with economic concerns being somehow “weighed” against character concerns or constitutional concerns or the horribleness of the opposing candidate; this is an imperfect world, but somehow one makes choices on the basis of those various concerns, because one has to choose (not voting being a choice like any other). All of this seems self-evident, when you think about it, but I believe that many people have become more conscious of it because of the Trump presidency.

If you’re a libertarian, as I am, you may hail or detest Donald Trump because of his positions on taxes or immigration or trade or “infrastructure” or his lack of traditional gravitas . . . You can expand this list pretty far, and it’s unlikely that you will hail or detest him on every available front. But you get to choose which of them are most important, and you get to change your mind later on. You may, for instance, like his financial policies, and if enough of them are implemented, you may not like him so well afterwards. He gave you your way on your most important issue, so fine; but now you’re looking at his other ideas.

This messy way of thinking operates throughout life, not just in politics, although many true and upright people do not realize that it does. Others believe it is a sin to realize that, and to act upon it. These good people may be purists who cannot bring themselves to make any political choices, because all of them seem dirty. Or they may be rationalizers who make a messy decision and then suddenly discover that what they chose was entirely and uniquely moral and necessary, and if you don’t agree with it, you are a deeply flawed human being.

It’s disappointing to discover that so many of our fellow citizens are, in political terms, insane; that they are living in a different world from the one in which life is complicated and choices are various.

To many of these people, however, Trump has provided a memorable lesson. He has presented them with a concrete problem — the assessment of his presidency — that cries out for them to see the complexity of choice. He has given them the chance to practice thinking like, well, good economists. He didn’t intend to do that, but he did.

He also gave them practice in distinguishing sane thinking from insane thinking. When we see someone attributing every wrong characteristic to Donald Trump, ignoring any of his successes and inventing, if necessary, failures, we have identified someone who has not only made a choice of values about the world but is using it to create a world. In what other area of life do people feel impelled to say that a person whom they dislike for one reason is also unlikable for every other reason in the cosmos? The same goes for the zealots who simply cannot get enough of Trump, his tweets and rallies. In what other area of life do people wait in line for hours to hear strings of clichés, most of them meaningless, and cheer them to the rafters, imagining that now they can depart in peace, having seen all the greatness and the glory of this age?

The fact that politics turns some into obsessive bores or slavering zealots doesn’t mean that they should be dismissed as easily as they dismiss their political opponents.

I know, it’s disappointing to discover that so many of our fellow citizens are, in political terms, insane; that they are living in a different world from the one in which life is complicated and choices are various and difficult, and that they don’t seem likely to recover. One might imagine that their world, because it’s simpler than the real world, is also easier and therefore better to live in. Actually, the reason it’s simple is that there’s practically nothing in it, and this can be an inconvenience.

Yet these people are, like Trump, good lessons to us all — in two ways.

One is obvious: let’s not be like them. The other is not obvious, but it needs to be learned, so that we don’t end up in the same world with them. It starts with the recognition that outside the political realm, most of these people are eminently sane and well intentioned, and blessed with some practical success in life. When we recognize this, we see how important it is to refuse the temptation to make reductionist judgments on their lives, as they do on the lives of others. The fact that politics turns them into obsessive bores or slavering zealots doesn’t mean that they should be dismissed as easily as they dismiss their political opponents. It’s true, we may need to lead the conversation to something outside the realm of American party politics, but even this act may, just possibly, show them that there is a way back to the messy but vital world of actual thought, that we are taking it, and it makes us happy.




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It's Delightful, It's Delovely, It's . . .

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