"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Trump Or Not Trump - The Profound Religious And Secular Beliefs That Determine How We Vote

When the noise and static are removed from political debate; when the reasons for true belief are exposed; and when one’s character is finally, once and for all, exposed, there is no place to hide.  A conservative conviction in the ineluctability of human nature, the circular, repetitive course of history, the impossibility of progress, and the denial of any secular utopia underlies every political choice.

Small government? A belief in a God-given soul and the freedom to explore its nature and reunite with the divine.  Social conservatism? A respect for Biblical injunction, the God-inspired Bill of Rights, Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the principles of the Enlightenment.  Family values? Rooted in American exceptionalism, New England, Westward Expansion, prairie homesteads, and faith.  Militant nationalism? Pride and patriotism based on the unique combination of Puritan rectitude, Yankee ingenuity, immigrant ambition, and liberal democracy.

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A progressive conviction on the perfectibility of Man, the inevitability of progress, the existence of a secular utopia, and the freedom from religion similarly underlie their political choices.  Government intervention in otherwise private affairs? A belief in collectivism, communitarianism, and social mobilization to right ills and to expunge counter-revolutionary influences.  Secularism? A conviction that while religion plays an important role in human affairs, history has shown it to be exploitive, manipulative, and enslaving; and only secular union and the concerted activism of the many can overcome the historical chains that bind.

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Everything follows from these convictions.  Every social issue determined by them.  Abortion is not simply a question of pro-life or pro-choice but a fundamental conflict between a profoundly religious, moral belief about the sanctity of a God-given life and man’s responsibility to preserve and protect it; and an equally profound conviction in the fundamental integrity of a rights-based community and the importance of safeguarding its independence from retrograde forces.   Gay rights are similarly not a question of civil right and wrong, but a clash of convictions – one, derived from Biblical injunctions against homosexuality and strengthened by a socio-economic and cultural belief in the importance of a two-parent, heterosexual union; and the other founded on principle of the sanctity of identity.

Rights are collective, and collective bargaining – in this case the LGBTQ community – must be protected against parochial beliefs.  War, in the conservative mind, is not an aberration, but a perpetual expression of human nature; unfortunate but unavoidable in a Darwinian struggle for supremacy.  Peace in the progressive mind is not only possible but preferable, necessary, and achievable – a means to an ultimately perfect end.

it is no surprise that progressives are more activist.  Anyone who believes in the primacy of human nature and the unavoidable consequences of its aggressive, territorial, defensive, and self-interested character cannot help but accept life as it comes – without surprises, quite predictable; and while messy and unpleasant at times, inevitable.  Protest is nonsensical at best.

Those who believe that positive change is possible – that a better world awaits if only a concerted action can be mounted in its favor – cannot help but be on the front lines.  Diffidence is not acceptable, and the more that anti-democratic forces are arrayed in opposition, the more activism is a moral imperative.

The academic, intellectual wing of both movements, conservative and progressive, look at social, economic, and cultural issues through this philosophical lens.  They understand what moves them and why the ends that they promote are the right ones.  They, each in their turn, rely on Tertullian, 2 Kings, Lacan, Derrida, and Paul of Tarsus for inspiration, context, and purpose.  The other 99 percent – those who sense the importance of fundamental beliefs but little beyond– are content to work as soldiers in movement they barely understand.  They march for or against an issue more for identity, recognition, and self-esteem than they do to effect policy.

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Most of those who demonstrate against the One Percent have no idea of the complex system of economics and finance which governs individual and community choices, benefits, and opportunities.  Wall Street is an enemy, a demonic, preying force of anti-libertarian greed.  Those who demand racial equality never consider the socio-economic and cultural determinants of poverty and social immobility.  The glass ceiling for women is no more than an iconic image of frustration at the demands of capitalism.  Pro-choice demonstrators have never reviewed both Early Church and more recent Vatican pronouncements on the nature of human life; nor been willing to accept that abortion is not simply a question of civil rights but moral obligation.

The landscapers of the Washington Mall have little time to re-sod, reseed, or repair the grounds because demonstrations from the Left are so common.  There are marches for women’s solidarity, for the inalienable right of children to remain with their parents, against racism and homophobia, against income inequality, and for world peace.  These progressive airings, however, have few specific goals or objectives.  There is no Vietnam War to end; no back-of-the-bus discrimination to eliminate.  Whatever one makes of the Sixties, their activists had focus, purpose, and will.  Today’s demonstrators by comparison march for ideals, most of them unattainable and idealistic at best.

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has been said that today’s American political environment is the most contentious, divisive, and impossibly confrontational of any in history.  This of course is an exaggeration.  Not only have past political campaigns been far dirtier than any in recent years, but the mudslinging from Left and Right has been the rule rather than the exception.  While some observers point to one moment or other in 20th century political debate that belies these venal expectations, they are but superficial conventions.  Kennedy and Humphrey treated each other with respect and proper demeanor in their 1960 primary debates, but the political climate then was as rancorous and disruptive as any.  It was just hidden behind a front of civility.

The true divisions in political philosophy and the first real exposure of the significant divides in American culture came a few years later in the LBJ-Goldwater presidential contest.  Although Johnson won by a landslide, for the first time a conservative political agenda and philosophy were presented to the electorate; and for the first time in decades, radical populist conservatism had legitimacy, and had its most eloquent expression in Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley.   During those years, a new Republican conservative credo was enunciated.  At its simplest is was patriotism, a strong military, a restoration of family values, small government, and ambitious individualism.

Looked back on, it was a much simpler even naïve day.  None of the principals could have envisaged the ragged democracy of today when identity politics and social issues so fray the country.
The legacy of Reagan and Buckley are but mirages in today’s militant populism.  Donald Trump shares little with them; and few people – unlike then – appreciate the intellectual underpinnings of the conservative movement.  Today’s conservatives are fighting quite different battles and take sides easily and without much aforethought.

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Similarly today’s progressives are a far cry from FDR and his social imperatives, quite time-bound and temporal (The Great Depression), but still expressive of a strong political philosophy.  They are more emotional, anti-intellectual, and politically needy than those of the days of Gompers, Roosevelt, and the true progressives of the labor movement.  They have been hijacked by the very groups they have championed and are hostage to radical feminism and modern socialism.  Emotionalism, passion, and identity have replaced logical analysis, rational judgement, and specific goals.

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