Being a Progressive Republican
My first memories of politics are of waiting in the line in a school gym at our local precinct for my parents to enter their vote on a punchcard ballot. I was five years old and it was 1996. Bill Clinton and Al Gore were running against Bob Dole and Jack Kemp. We were living in Canton, Ohio at the time. It was a swing state then, as it remains today. It was the heartland of middle America, home to amber waves of grain, lots of uninspiring cornfields, and the Football Hall of Fame.
While many kids my age were learning their numbers and letters and how to read and write, I was watching political ads that came on the television between cartoons. Pretty soon I was watching the News Hour with Jim Lehrer and Gwen Ifill during the week, and Meet the Press with Tim Russert every Sunday before church. I followed politics as a child, and my obsession only grew over time. My AP Government teacher was a middle-aged African American single mother, who ruled with an iron fist, teaching from a pulpit in Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the now-defunct Confederate States of America. I loved her class, and it challenged me. Learning about elections, campaigns, and the interlocking branches of government. In college, I ended up majoring in Political Science and Philosophy because I enjoyed arguing and arguments. Some enjoy one or the other, but I enjoy both. After college, that left one route: law school.
The practice of law is the understanding and application of the hypertechnical machinations of the government on a microscopic, case-by-case basis. Politics are how the government is responsive to the macro-level wave of public opinion. It utilizes government mechanisms to convert public opinion to public policy which can be applied in return to the public. It gauges the import and priority of these issues, and responds with in-kind policy.
The importance of politics has only grown over time. American politics is unique on the face of the earth. Idealists will say that all have a voice, and "one person, one vote." However, modern society tests this. We have advancements in technology and efficiency. We have the Electoral College. We have business and political disruptors.
Enter Donald Trump.
The Trump Presidency itself has poured diesel fuel on the prior-controlled flame of public opinion. The flame had been corralled neatly by checks and balances, as well as a shared national decency and respect for one's fellow Americans. This was evident in the days of 9/11, where Americans all came together and united behind American ideals and against the evils of terrorism. Then Donald Trump came about as a businessman-turned-political-conqueror, and turned the majority against the minority in order to consolidate power. He was a businessman who realized he could adopt Frank Underwood's advice for his own ends: "Power over money." The Underwood Aphorism continues: "Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after ten years, power is the old stone building that stands for centuries."
In controlling markets for a day, a person can have influence for a day. In controlling wealth, they may enrich themselves or impoverish themselves. In controlling political power, a ruler can influence a society for generations for better or worse. That includes me, as well as all who read this.
How does one go about gaining power? Donald Trump worked the circuit. He was born into a well-to-do family. Went to the right business school. Built a business. Learned the rules of how to influence and make deals, how to use the bankruptcy system to his eventual advantage, bludgeon enemies, consolidate power, divide, weaken, and strike while the iron is hot. He learned how to make markets, and adapted market making into brand development, and brand development into political inception. He graduated to the bigs. He won a political election with the least support in history, and accomplished this by knowing the system's weaknesses and manipulating them to the extreme, then past the extreme. To such an extreme, that the process rears its ugly head and bludgeons the decent people it was implemented to protect.
America has an indefatigable two-party system. One party or the other always wins. Within these parties, selection of candidates is similar to election of a board member of a corporations. One only needs a plurality of votes (the most votes), rather than a majority (50% plus one vote). One wins a plurality with the least number of votes by having the most number of candidates. Republicans had 17 candidates in 2016. Assuming all candidates had equal numbers of votes, one could win with approximately 5.89% of the vote. This was not the case in reality, but Trump had a comparably considerable base that subscribed to his political brand to the rate of about 24%, regardless of any issues, scandals, or other candidates.
This divide-and-conquer strategy can and has been adapted to corporate takeovers or political takeovers. But when it enters into the political thicket, it affects all of us. When such a hostile takeover occurs, it often utilizes identity as a stand-in for issues. It becomes a zero-sum game that isolates and divides. Society begins to tear apart at the seams, and polite debate and moderated rhetoric becomes an endangered species. I am affected.
I see myself as a progressive Republican, because I believe from my studies and life experiences that this is the way the founders viewed our society. A weak, small government, which is efficient in its singular delegation from the People: regulating public goods and enforcing rights of minorities. The only intervention that should be made by the government is to provide goods that the free market cannot (such as bridges or utilities), or to correct individual rights abuses and protect the rights of minorities (which otherwise an unregulated market would trample for profit). I use "minorities" not necessarily in the exclusively racial sense, but more in a general sense, where some delimiter or characteristic is not reflected by the majority. The proper realm of American politics is the debate within the bounds of what government interference should be permitted, and what issues are substantial enough to justify the incursion. I add the modifier "progressive" to Republican, because I believe that as society, technology, science, and public values progress, I believe that policies should adapt to expand individual rights and also promote market growth.
I believe in the sanctity of process, and that the best processes are the processes that guided the country through its formation, through a Civil War, through impeachments, through Depressions, through World Wars, and through much domestic unrest.
I believe in the primacy of the legislative process over individual policy goals. Too often has government process been distorted by politicians aiming for a short-term victory, using hyperbolic rhetoric to justify their continued consolidation of oligarchic, technocratic, and bureaucratic power. Issues are presented in echo chambers, fed to divided partisans, and meanwhile process is distorted.
I'm also young. Which means my generation is paying for the entitlement programs of the present with no future returns aside from bankruptcy proceedings. Young people such as myself are indebted to a historic degree, throwing more of our money to pay for an education that was presented as necessary to ensure personal autonomy. The government of today continually leverages the finances of the government of tomorrow. Yet my generation is blamed for being "entitled." I'm still trying to learn how one can be equal parts indebted and entitled.
I'm also a spectator. Politics in its crudest sense, is a sexy, bloody, knifefight. It is Bush versus Gore. It is the Brooks Brothers Riot and Occupy Wall Street and Shock and Awe. It is the sometimes cruel and insensitive application of the short-term rules, reductio ad absurdum, which reveals the greater good in the long-term. Politics is exciting and fun to watch, history-making and life-changing.
Politics is also polite and zen. It is the self-aware, mutually-exchanged niceties. It is building your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across. It is short term compromise in exchange for long term gains and maintenance of process integrity. It is the masses--decent people. It is decent people who object to the trampling of the weak to enlarge the strong. It is decent people who value and incentivize success and disincentivize failure. It is the attempt to elevate contemporary public discourse to an eventual nirvanic utopia.
I'm ultimately engaged in politics because a rising tide raises all ships, and I'm interested in contributing to the tidal change.