Sunday, July 31, 2016

Evolving American Politics

American politics have changed—that’s no news. The angry lamentations of Donald Trump’s outbursts without remedial measures is interesting, but not productive of constructive changes to come from a Trump presidency. He makes strong points about how terrible the present state of “progressive” ideas have been; he makes good observations of how the Obama administration and a possible Hillary administration would be, seeing that her election would be a continuation of the ruinous policies of her predecessor. But…there are no forthcoming ideas of what should be done to reconstruct the American republic economically and socially. He makes remarks off the cuff, designed to throw red meat to erstwhile conservatives; but I can see no real substance to his appeal to conservatives and those who would improve our society.

 Both Democrats and Republicans have a strong feeling that our country is in decline—but the decline is different from the viewpoint of the two parties. For the Democrats, society is declining from its former height in the 1960’s when cultural liberalization seemed to coexist with a highly regulated economy. For Republicans, they see our nation’s decline beginning from its high point in the 1980’s when economic liberalization was accompanied by a resurgence of national pride and an emphasis on family values.

Trump’s message of recovery has been characterized by vague, nostalgic tropes promising an end to globalization, illegal immigration and other modern trends. But he fails to flesh out how his nostalgic ideas would give lasting hope to the American decline. His blandishments against “politically correct” speech appeals to the emotions of American superficial thinkers; but seldom do his ideas seem to have long-lasting benefits to those who would look at political consequences.

 On the other hand, the desires of the progressive left are exhausted and wistful. We have not seen all the wonderful results of change and hope promised by candidate Obama. Our economy is still limping along without any improvement in household income over the last 8 years, and our foreign policies have not produced peace anywhere in the world. America’s prestige has been lost. The post-World War II consensus of trust in the basic goodness of large labor and business institutions, accompanied by admiration for family integrity decayed after the post-war years. Political consensus fractured gradually; and polarization of warring camps took its place. Now, the social and political beliefs of Americans have polarized to such an extent that Democrats and Republicans can barely speak to one another.

The above changes have increased the diversity within our nation. And this has produced economic gain for some and loss of wealth for many—a split between the rich and the poor. Some have felt liberated from old bonds on personal liberty—others see nothing but moral decay. Racism is reportedly rampant according to the media and political elites in Washington. Violence and homegrown terrorism seem to be on the upswing. Anyone with a beef against someone else seems willing to take up a gun and start shooting.  

Liberals/progressives of the Hillary Clinton type think that more of the same kind of administration is what is needed. Thoughtful conservatives should think carefully about this. Now may be the time true conservatism might make a comeback—but…changes must be made in the conservative agenda. There must be a new right for a new America.
There is no way to undo the past for America. We must make the most of our recent experience. Our world is a world of individualism and fracture of old and familiar social modes. We must use the changes to forge a new union, a new way of relating to one another. The Republicans of today look at the world through a nostalgia of the old days. Democrats cling complacently to the anachronism of social democracy as their vision of the future. Neither will work.
To my mind, conservatives seem better positioned to work the changes that are needful in America. They need to bring to public policy the dispersed, incremental, bottom-up approach to progress that has pervaded every other part of American life while reviving community and civil society to combat dislocation and isolation. More government regulations will never help obtain this goal. We need local problem-solvers to mix resources, advice, experience, and moral leadership in a continuing process of bottom-up experimentation. The government must get out of the way and let this process develop.
The government should abandon the model of centralized, technocratic industrial economy in favor of today’s decentralized, consumer-driven, postindustrial economy and use public resources to encourage constructive experimentation with public services rather than to impose tired dogmas from above. Those “tired dogmas” include the philosophy of Hillary Clinton, which would regulate our society to death.
Social conservatives should concentrate on the development of vibrant sub-cultures that offer alternatives to the demoralizing chaos of the permissive society. Older models of traditional morality and social construction will not be accepted by today’s diverse population; but they must be demonstrated for the benefit of those who can see their way out of rampant individualism and selfish ways of living for the moment.
Some of this blog post was taken from a book by Yuval Levin, “The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism.”


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