What results when a society abandons principles? I do not mean specific principles, I mean the very concept of a principle.
Here are some examples. In the final months of the presidential campaign, numerous media outlets decried “violent Trump supporters” at political rallies. Today those same outlets apologize for or ignore violence committed by anti-Trump demonstrators.
When President Obama halted acceptance of refugees from Iraq (albeit in a more limited fashion), hardly anyone noticed. Now with President Trump doing it, we see massive backlash and outrage. For many years Obama and the Left, with the approval of the mainstream media, have harshly criticized American foreign policy since the end of World War II. Trump off the cuff says, “You think our country is so innocent?” and he is pilloried by the same talking heads that complimented Obama for his “thoughtfulness.”
This is hypocrisy. It isn’t new. Examples abound on the conservative side as well. The same small government folks who criticized Obama for unilaterally legislating via executive order seem unbothered by Trump’s constitutionally questionable edicts. Many of these same folks looked the other way when Bush did it too.
What is new is the degree of cynicism. The election has caused the progressive establishment to become unhinged. Principles have become utterly irrelevant. Power and the agenda they hope to push forward with that power are all that matter to them. Without shared values and principles, substantive political dialogue becomes all but impossible.
The Difference Between a Partisan and an Ideologue
There can be no meaningful dialogue premised upon shared values if both sides only apply those values when it lets them score points. The class of moderately intelligent politically aware people are those most affected by this trend. They have become partisan ideologues.
An ideologue is at least consistent in his belief in specific policies. A partisan openly supports his gang above all else. But a partisan ideologue is worse than both. He is a Machiavellian creature: a supporter of “ends justify the means” approaches to pushing an agenda. The gang must be defended that the agenda might be defended, even when the gang violates core tenets of the agenda. Partisan ideologues are dishonest by nature. Worse still, they often cannot even tell when they are being dishonest.
Here is a simple example of this: the constant refrain that because Trump lost the popular vote, the majority of the country opposes him.
That Trump lost the popular vote does not mean that the majority of the country opposes his agenda. Both Trump and Hillary received a minority of the total votes counted. Note the phrase “votes counted.” Many hundreds of thousands of cast ballots are never counted because states frequently don’t bother to finish tallying once certain margins are reached.
Furthermore, given voter turnout, no successful candidate could honestly suggest that the result reflected “the will of the majority.” We also have to consider the very real issue of voter fraud, which may have biased the result in Hillary’s favor, although likely not enough to have won her the popular vote on its own as Trump has suggested.
Even if you sweep all of the above under the rug, there is one simple reason that makes the popular vote completely invalid for determining the will of the majority: The very existence of the Electoral College system skews voting behavior away from the simple majority ideal. With the Electoral College in place, millions of voters in places like New York and Alabama stay home because they see no point in voting. Many vote for third parties instead.
If the presidency were decided by the popular vote, you would see millions of Republicans in big cities coming out to vote, as well as millions of Democrats in other places. If we got rid of the Electoral College tomorrow, voter turnout and voting behavior would be vastly different in the next election.
I spend a lot of time on Hacker News. It is an extremely intelligent community, especially at math and statistics. It is also solidly left-wing. If Hillary had won the election but lost the popular vote, several people there would eloquently and intelligently point out the fallacy of the popular vote that I described above.
However since Trump won, I get to see PhD-possessing engineers and scientists shout, “Trump does not have the support of the majority! Everything he does is illegitimate!” This is why I hate partisanship. It makes even very smart people willfully stupid.
Stop Overreacting. Our Checks on Power Are In Place
Trump’s mandate to enact his agenda comes from the fact that he was duly elected in accordance with American laws after a long and brutal political campaign. Does that give him carte blanche? Of course not. The courts were right to slap down part of his executive order on refugees. Republicans are questioning his cabinet picks. Democrats are vigorously opposing his Supreme Court nominee. State governors and city mayors plan to resist his immigration policies. The media will continue to harshly question his every move. In other words, the system of checks and balances is still in place, the same system that stymied several of Obama’s grander ambitions (gun control, amnesty, etc.)
If you were to read typical left-leaning sites like Salon and The New York Times, you might think that the sky is falling. Hollywood stars are vacillating between fainting spells and calls for Trump’s assassination. Protesters are destroying their campuses to avoid any threat to their precious safe spaces and echo chambers.
I try asking some of these people how they would feel about conservatives reacting this way to Obama in 2008 (quick history lesson: they didn’t). Leftists justify the bedlam by saying, “This time is different. We literally have a madman in the white house. He MUST be stopped.” They genuinely think of themselves as champions of the oppressed. They believe they are fighting for poor oppressed Muslim refugees against an evil racist president.
You Don’t Care About Any Suffering But Your Own
I just do not have the patience for all the manufactured outrage and crocodile tears any more. It vexes me to see all these bleeding heart white liberals pretend to care about poor brown people in the third world. None of them actually care.
How many of them cared when Obama’s drone strikes slaughtered hundreds of civilians in Yemen? How many of them protested when his administration turned Libya and Syria into killing fields? How many of them did more than retweet a hashtag from their gated communities and gentrified apartment complexes? Again, the only thing that matters is the agenda. They came out in numbers to protest President Bush for his wars not because they cared about civilians dying in the Middle East, but because they hoped it would hurt him politically and help their agenda.
This does not only apply to leftists of course. There were numerous conservative hypocrites during the Obama years, and there will be more into the future. I focus on leftists now because they have crossed the line by calling for violence and then lying to cover their tracks. The RINOs and neocons of the Bush years, contemptible as they were, at least had some minimum standards of conduct. The Left, once the champions of free speech during the Cold War, now openly condemn and react violently to it now that they have become the establishment.
This State of Affairs Eviscerates Public Debate
I have no energy to argue with these people because the charge of hypocrisy has lost all rhetorical power. No one expects any sort of integrity anymore. This signifies a societal breakdown. In an advanced society, fidelity to abstract principles is seen as important. We get offended when those in leadership roles disregard their values, and we disqualify them from positions of responsibility in the future. Credibility matters.
When we stop punishing hypocrisy, the most unscrupulous and amoral benefit. There is no longer any pretense of ideas mattering once you replace principles with people. All that remains is tribalism. All debate is reduced to “my gang good, your gang bad.” At the current rate it will not be long before we reach the level of primates throwing feces at one another (given the behavior at some of these protests, we may already be there).
When we replace principles with people, the result is tyranny. This is why Obama got away with so much naked authoritarianism. The Left and the media gave him a pass for extra-judicial killings of American citizens, unconstitutional executive orders, using government agencies to target political opponents, strengthening a massive surveillance state, causing all manner of mayhem in the Middle East, and several other heinous acts.
A few of us libertarian and independent types condemned Obama, but we were too small to matter. Republicans criticized him as well, but their credibility was shot from eight years of apologizing for Bush. Now with Trump in office, the Left has no moral authority to condemn anything he does. Trump supporters have every right to dismiss their fears about Trump in light of what the Left let Obama get away with for two terms.
How to Reclaim Moral Credibility
If the Left wants to reclaim its moral authority it needs to do two important things. 1. Fairly re-evaluate the Obama legacy. 2. Tune down the hysteria regarding everything Trump does.
Notice I do not claim progressives need to moderate their policies or compromise with Republicans. Step 1 is an important part of the soul-searching the Left should have started after losing the election. It is not merely that Trump won in part because people disliked much of Obama’s agenda. It is also the fact that the Left was complicit with many of the decidedly un-progressive things Obama did as president. Had they taken Obama to task over things like Guantanamo, foreign interventionism, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, many more liberals would likely have come out and supported Hillary Clinton.
To preserve what credibility they have left, the Right needs to do the same with Trump. Although his supporters have little cause for complaint so far, they need to hold his feet to the fire. The executive order on immigration was neither well-marketed nor well-implemented No, he is not a dictator for firing an uncooperative attorney general. But conservatives who care about the Constitution should not want to see Trump make a habit of going around Congress and further extending executive power. Trump’s use of Twitter is innovative and refreshing. That does not mean conservatives need to support every single tweet.
We need to hold fast to principles because it is the only way we can get back to talking about ideas instead of personalities. While it is true that America is a very divided country, the nation is far less divided over ideas than it is over parties. When we look at left-wing and right-wing policies, we find that many have strong majorities of support. A clear majority of Americans support gay marriage. A clear majority support securing the borders.
On those areas where we are more closely divided, we should consider making them a state issue. Both the Left and the Right need to start fighting for ideas again. When we do, we can elevate the dialogue by focusing on evidence and reason. We can also get things done that represent not only Trump’s or Obama’s America, but the people’s America.