Ever since a fifth grade teacher captivated me with intriguing lessons of history, I have had a love for the social sciences, particularly history and political science. As I made my way through secondary and post-secondary education, I simply could not learn enough about our nation’s history and political system. Emerging from the teenage years of my life, I felt confident in which political philosophy I most closely aligned with. While some (including myself) had branded many of my beliefs as “libertarian,” I always maintained that my belief in public education and libraries, my environmental bent, and my support for state-managed assistance for the most vulnerable in our society made me not “arian” enough, and therefore I embraced liberty conservatism and the Republican Party.
Conservatives and Republicans, I was long taught, were those who embraced fiscal restraint, low taxes, respect for the dignity of human life and morality, economic freedom, property rights, respect for limited government and an end to bureaucratic overregulation and central planning by the federal government.
Lo and behold my surprise, then, when in 2016 the Republican Party sought a nominee for its party, and Donald Trump emerged victorious. How, I wondered, could those who claimed to hold the same philosophical beliefs as myself, embrace a man who routinely defiled God’s creation by launching personal attacks on the height and looks of his opponents? Where was the respect for the dignity of human life when he uttered that in the good ol’ days a protestor would have been carried out on a stretcher and the audience laughed, or when he confidently stated that American soldiers would violate the rule of law and carry out human rights abuses under his directive? Further, how could my fellow Americans who professed respect for property rights and capitalism possibly support a person who had routinely used governmental force of eminent domain to seize others’ property for his own personal benefit and then declare he was a “lover” of such practices? Where was the outcry from these people when he said it was a great time to borrow more money [create more debt for our children]?
The blind allegiance, despite my deepest hopes that it would soon dissipate, only expanded. As the President launched a military strike against Syria without any Congressional vote (the same country he had demanded Obama not attack without Congressional Authority), imposed tariffs [taxes] on foreign goods, redistributed wealth to farmers harmed by his taxes [a policy of literal socialism] , and oversaw now record setting deficits, my fellow “conservatives” remained enamored with him. He was “sticking it to other countries,” stopping the “libtards” and “ending the political correctness of the left!” they professed. Where, though, were these principles of morality, limited governmental authority, and individual and economic freedom that I had been sold on?
The greatest moment of awakening then came when I saw children [innocent human beings] remain in cages at our border (a carryover of the Obama administration). As the two political parties sought to outmaneuver one another and seek opportunities to score cheap points rather than address the suffering of these innocents, I heard such ‘respectful’ comments for the dignity of every human life as “it’s their own fault” and “they shouldn’t have come here if they didn’t want this!” from those whom had told me they were “conservative” and respected human life too.
It was never about any of these foundational beliefs, I have now realized. People never aligned themselves with a political party [or at least remained aligned] because they believed in an inherent set of principles, they did so because in America we have a game being played in which two sides pit themselves and their loyalists against one another, and all options are on the table for “victory” over the other side–including the complete purging of any principles that may have once existed to guide their tribe. There is no intellectual curiosity, desire to weigh individual policies on their own merit, or delve deeply into the justice and righteousness of individual acts by individual leaders. Nope. Animalistic tribalism, however intellectually void, has assuredly won the day.
Looking back, I wish my professors and teachers would have told me the truth. I wish they would have said what our political system actually is in the 21st Century. It’s very likely that such a lesson would have sounded something like this: “forget about seeing your fellow Americans as people. Stop looking at the cashier, the nurse, the police officer, the salesman, the accountant, the teacher, and the factory worker and thinking that while you may hold differing political views, you are united in your Americanism. Stop thinking you can have honest discussions rooted in an open-minded dialogue about the principles you each hold dear. Forget about evaluating your political principles and trying to determine who best aligns with them. Instead, you have a choice to make. Pick a side. Blue or Red. And this is a very important decision. Because once you have made your selection, those fellow Americans you were thinking about earlier [the cashier, nurse, etc.], become either brothers in arms or “libtards,” “snowflakes,” “morons,” etc. whom you must defile and despise. This is not an exercise in philosophy or consistency or integrity, it is a team sport and all options for victory are on the table–no matter how despicable or hypocritical.”
I am awake. I was lied to and I want a refund. America’s political system is not about two competing philosophies that give and take and engage one another in actual meaningful negotiations-with compromise as an outcome. It is about two tribes who betray their principles, one another, and the good of our country if it means they can enjoy the sick satisfaction of having harmed the other.
I’m not sure what I am politically anymore, but I am resolute in knowing what I am not.