Get a Grip America

identity-politics

If you’re more upset when your Presidential candidate loses an election than when your home team loses the World Series or Super Bowl you need to rethink your priorities.  And I’m not kidding.

The outpouring of grief, the lamentations, the rending of garments by supporters of Hillary Clinton is beginning to get embarrassing.  Get a grip people.  Think how those poor Cleveland Indian fans felt when they lost to the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.  They haven’t won a championship since 1948. The Democrats won the Presidency just four years ago, and they won the one before that too.  Seems a little greedy to want to win them all.

“Oh, but the Presidency is so much more important than a baseball championship!”  That’s baloney.  There once was a time when we had elections for the purpose of organizing the government and deciding which economic theory would predominate for a while.  Now the purpose of an election seems to be having your values reaffirmed by the rest of the electorate and showing that you’re a superior person (i.e., as in proving that you’re not “deplorable.”)

Every election is now portrayed in apocalyptic terms or as a turning point in U.S. history.  Every four years people swear they’ll move to Canada if the other side wins.  And yet life goes on regardless of who’s president.  Eight years ago Republicans thought the world would come to an end if Barack Obama was elected, and since then their net worth has doubled (if it was invested in the stock market).  And back in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected, Democrats said he’d definitely get us into a nuclear war and he ended up making the world safer than it had been since the 1940s.  At the same time, he never got close to dismantling the New Deal as Republicans hoped and Democrats feared.

Except for the case of angry former manufacturing workers who thought Trump would bring back their jobs, economic self-interest was strangely absent from the 2016 election.  Thomas Frank identified this phenomenon in his book, “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” when he argued that working class voters were seduced by social issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) into voting against their self-interest, which Frank believes lies with the Democrats.  But you might as well ask “What’s The Matter With Connecticut,” where wealthy voters routinely vote for high-tax candidates.  Or for that matter, what about the key members of the Obama Coalition – blacks, Latinos and millennials – all of whom fared worst these past eight years but kept Obama in office.  They sure weren’t voting for their own self-interest.

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Instead of voting to further our economic interests we’ve started to consider elections a expression of tribalism, retreating to our bubbles and only interacting with like-minded people.  And with the proliferation of niche TV channels, websites and podcasts, it’s possible to go through life never hearing a differing opinion.

In the old days you would self-identify first with your family, then country, local community, church, college, profession, social clubs, sports teams and only then with political party.  And politics was only something that came up every four years (or every two years if you were really into it.)  But in our hyper-individualized lives we’ve lost a sense of broader community – we don’t go to church, feel bonded to the place we live, feel pride in the company we work for.  What’s taken its place is sports fanaticism and, worse, full-time non-stop political partisanship.

But rooting for your party as intensely as you root for your sports team is perverse.  Some of us live and die by sports but in the end we know it doesn’t mean that much. We tie our identity to a team so we can be part of a higher cause, but one with no consequences.  No one’s going to die or lose his job (except the coach) if your team loses.  There’s an irrational purity to being a sports fan; you root and care and experience catharsis for its own sake.

Most important, if you are a half-way rational fan, you don’t think you’re morally superior to other fans. If you’re a Red Sox fan you might say you “hate” Yankees fans, but not because you think they are actual cretins.

red-sox-yankee-fan

No so in politics.  In our “all politics all the time” world, political partisans actually do think they’re morally superior to the other side.  Democrats think Republicans are racists, sexists, homophobes, greedy, religious fanatics.  Republicans believe that Democrats are either unproductive parasites with their hands out or elites trying to preserve their moral superiority through an ever-changing set of political correctness edicts.

Hillary Clinton’s unexpected loss has turned the left into a bunch of cry-babies.  They’re still acting like someone in the family died, coming up to one another in the street with tears in their eyes and quaking in their boots about what mean Donald is going to do to them.  And it’s been one long string of excuses.  First it was the James Comey letter. Then it was fake news and now it’s all because of Vladimir Putin.

And after arguing before the election that it was impossible to have a rigged election and lecturing Republicans on how they had to accept the results, Democrats pulled out the stops to overturn the vote.  First it was recounts, where Trump actually picked up votes, and then it was an unprecedented campaign to bully the electoral college electors to vote against the candidate they were pledged to.  But in the end, Hillary lost more electors than Trump did.

Rather than pinning the blame elsewhere, did Democrats ever stop to consider what a bad candidate Hillary Clinton was?  So convinced were they that identity politics would trump message or charisma, they cleared the way for her nomination.  An African American had won in 2008 and now it was a woman’s turn!  That she’d been such a bad candidate in 2008 and was now eight years older and all that much more exposed didn’t seem to matter.  Gotta get a woman! But in the end the voters cared so little about identity politics that she didn’t even carry white women voters.  The Democrats forgot that they win when they nominate charismatic fresh faces that no one’s ever heard of (Kennedy, Carter, Clinton and Obama) and lose when they nominate well-worn party hacks (Mondale, Gore, Kerry and Clinton).

I can understand being disgusted with Trump personally but the fear seems way out of proportion.  New Yorkers pride themselves on being tough but they are trembling at the incoming Administration.  Mike Pence can’t even go to a Broadway show without the cast pleading with him to tell Daddy to be nice to them.  This is the message, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda:  “We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights.”  Please, protect us!!!  Well, Trump has promised to beef up the police to protect us against crime; he’s promised a stronger military to protect against our foreign enemies; he’s promised to protect jobs against unfair trade.  I don’t think this is what Broadway stars mean by “protect.”  What are they so scared of? Really. What’s so frightening?  That the the incoming administration thinks differently that they do?  Maybe someone with a PhD in Liberal-ese can interpret but to me they seem most concerned that they’ll be treated like regular Americans instead of a separate group of diverse special-pleaders.

hamilton

Then there’s the fear that Trump will become a dictator.  Earlier this week Paul Krugman wrote a hysterical column “How Republics End,” which was then dutifully reposted all over Facebook.  Frankly, to my mind, democracy was more imperiled by Clinton, who would have expanded the reach and power of the federal government; we’re already at a stage when elections barely change anything and a massive government bureaucracy, abetted by an unelected Supreme Court routinely subverts the will of the people.

The fear of Trump overthrowing democracy seems based on the Hitler/Mussolini analogy.  But both Hitler and Mussolini were long-standing heads of their own parties who then put their own henchmen in power.  There is no Trump party. He’s a party of one.  There were no Trumpistas on the ballot.  He hijacked the Republican Party to be sure but that means he has to rely on regular conventional Republican Senators and Congressmen, many of whom did better than him at the ballot, to get anything done.  And even if Trump were to attempt a coup, does anyone really think that the military, starting with Defense Secretary James Mattis, would go along?  Besides, Trump is already 70 years old – I don’t think he will even seek reelection never mind try to become President for Life.

Here’s the thing about politics.  As a young pup I worked in Washington during the Reagan Administration and I can tell you that politics is not that important.  Certainly not important enough to fight about with your loved ones. Seriously, how stupid is it to ruin a Thanksgiving dinner arguing politics (and why is it always assumed that the “crazy” one at the table is the Fox-watching Crazy Uncle and not the MSNBC-watching Know-It-All-Aunt?)  I love politics and am happy to have an analytical discussion, but if you’re going to get emotional about it, or berate me at a Christmas party, I’d rather talk about sports.

Sometimes a President can make a real difference – I’m thinking about the Mount Rushmore Presidents plus FDR and Reagan.  But mostly Presidents can only nudge things along at the margins.  The real changes occur out there in the country.  We never had an election on whether we should wire all our computers together, create a new way of communicating, and undermine our entertainment, news, retail and services businesses, but we ended up with the Internet.  We never had an election to determine if we should invest in new technologies that would make our factories so efficient that we could get along without our workers, but it happened.  We didn’t vote on whether we should invent new ways of getting oil and natural gas from the ground and drive down the price of energy but some innovative engineers invented fracking anyway.  There was never a ballot initiative on whether doctors would prescribe a lot of opioids and create a heroin epidemic but it happened.  Most of the important things that happen in this country occur when the politicians are fighting about transgender bathrooms, whether convents should be required to offer birth control overage, or the War on Christmas.

Cheer up Democrats.  Thanks to human nature the party in power will eventually screw up or become tiresome to the electorate.  You’ll get your chance again in 2020 (unlike those poor Cleveland Indians fans who might die without ever seeing a World Series win).  If Trump is as bad as you think he is your chances will be pretty good, but only if you buck up, stop whining and honestly consider what it was about Trump that allowed him to win.  Not excuses like fake news and Russian hacking.  If you continue to think that Trump’s voters are racist, sexist and otherwise sub-human, you’re in for a long exile.

“Put not your faith in princes,” Psalm 146 warns.  Don’t fall in love with politicians unless they actually are extraordinary, which 99.99% are not.  Abraham Lincoln is not walking through that door.  Put your faith in LeBron James, Derek Jeter or Tom Brady instead.

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4 comments
  1. Gary, this may be the best analysis on the state of America and politics. It’s as if the whole country is being raised by helicopter parents.

  2. Gary said:

    Gary, as always a thoughtful and insightful article. Go Patriots!

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