The Real RINO
I recently received a letter from Donald Trump asking me to support the Republican National Committee. (A word to the wise: Never donate to a political campaign unless you want to be inundated with emails begging for donations from all across the country. I get about twenty a day – most are blocked and go straight to junk. You see, politicians share donor information with other politicians and if you give to just one you will be on the list of all of them.) The thing that struck me about the letter (I get a lot of snail mail appeals for donations too) was even though Mr. Trump was asking me to donate to the Republican National Committee, his letter constantly emphasized the importance of electing Trump Republicans, not plain old Republicans.
Mr. Trump does not want people to support the Republican Party or its values. He wants people to support him and his values (if he has any). He wants Republicans to be loyal to him over the party and over the country, as well. So, Donald Trump is the ultimate RINO (Republican in name only) because his ego will not permit him to be bound by the Enlightenment ideals and principles held by principled Republicans.
But this led me to wonder, what are Republican values? Political parties change and mutate and, perhaps ex-President Trump is the wave of the future and not an aberration. Jeffersonian Democrats were very different from Jacksonian Democrats (although they both hated Hamilton’s idea of a central government bank). Slave holding Democrats morphed into the party of the (unionized) working man. After the Civil War, most Republicans in the South were black. Now blacks are the most reliable demographic for the Democrats.
Mr. Trump’s letter didn’t give me any clue as to what he considers Republican values to be. Mostly the letter ranted against President Biden’s policies. So, the choices that citizens are faced with in America have come down to Republicans that are against Biden and the progressive Democrats and Democrats that are against Trump and the MAGA Republicans. But what are they for? If Republican values are defined by Democrats in negative terms and Democrat values are defined by Republicans in negative terms, it is no wonder that opinion polls scream that a majority of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. But they have no idea what the right direction is.
It is not just America or the Republican Party that is searching for direction. The entire world is divided between people who believe in Enlightenment values that emphasize the liberty of the individual as part of a society (as propounded by Locke, Smith, Burke and others) and communalistic values (such as those propounded by Rousseau, Godwin and Marx) that emphasize the primacy of the society over that of any individual. But as I noted in my commentary Cautiously Optimistic (9/29/2021), these differing interpretations of philosophy are derived more from the psychology and moral axes of the person, than from rational or logical thought processes. And because they are not the product of rational or logical thought, it is not possible to change peoples’ opinions through rational and logical discussions.
When ex-President Trump accuses Marxist Democrats (as he calls them) of trying to silence the voices of real Americans (as he did in his letter to me), he is saying that Democrats are not real Americans. And when President Biden accuses people that oppose his voting legislation (as he did in a recent speech in Atlanta) of being the equivalent of George Wallace, Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis he is doing the same thing (not that the wildly applauding millennials in the audience knew who the hell he was talking about).
Democrats and Republicans need each other because our society is made up of citizens with differing value systems that cannot be modified by logical discussion. So, any statement of Republican values and the policies based on Enlightenment principles, must also take into account the legitimate social justice concerns of the Democrats because the poor and marginalized minorities and everyone else are parties to the social contract that is America. Likewise, the Democrats in their attempts to achieve at least some of their social justice goals must concede that free markets and limited government have provided the great wealth that they wish to more evenly distribute and that those activities must continue in order to generate wealth in the future for the benefit of all in society.
Domination of the entire country by one value system over the other would result, at best, with oppression and, at worst, with genocide. And since the country is almost evenly decided between these systems (as evidenced by the closeness of national elections) the changing of opinions by a small slice of the electorate can create massive swings in policy. So, moderation, rather than extremism, and an emphasis on shared common values, are essential to the creation of a just and prosperous society.
What I would propose is that moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats come to an agreement that the liberal Enlightenment model that has been so beneficial to America and its people be rededicated as the framework within which American society, economics and politics operates. Republicans can focus on expanding the economic pie and Democrats can focus on making sure the benefits of the growing pie are not too unfairly distributed. The wealthy can continue to get wealthy, but not at the expense of others. The poor can continue to get the help needed to improve their human capital to participate in society, but not to become a dependent, unproductive underclass. How to achieve these results can be discussed by these moderates and concessions made by both sides. There are many ways to achieve these beneficial results and ideas should not be rejected out of hand simply because the other side came up with them.
Fascist populism built around personality cults, crony capitalism and militarism must be rejected. Socialist populism built on government power, enforced equality and cultural relativism must be rejected. These systems have been proven failures that have only resulted in misery and death. It is these extremists that have gained control of the Republican and Democratic parties that have shattered the unity of the American people, thrown political discourse into the gutter and incited increasing violence and reduced public safety. Argentina was one of the wealthiest countries in the world until overwhelmed by the fascist populist Juan Peron and has been repeatedly bankrupt ever since. Venezuela was the wealthiest country in Latin America at the time the socialist populist Hugo Chavez was elected and is now one of the poorest. The easy fixes promised by the populists do not result in happy, prosperous societies but only misery. Such prosperous societies can only be achieved by empowered people developing their human capital and working hard to achieve common goals.
America achieved greatness by liberating the abilities of its people even while government was extremely limited. Well intentioned government programs have fallen short of their goals, created disastrous unintended consequences and weakened the fiscal structure of the country. The social justice objectives of the Democrats can be better achieved by empowering people than by empowering government. Republicans need to concede that economic growth can create unequal costs and social stability can only be achieved when people believe the system is not stacked against them (fairness is impossible to achieve because each person’s concept of fairness is subjective, but people can usually agree when things are not too unfair).
The income gap can be narrowed by redistribution of income through entitlements and welfare programs. But since economics is governed by psychology and emotion and not reason and logic, welfare and entitlements do little to reduce the perception of the income gap. And because the perception of an income gap remains, the need for social justice has not been resolved. Only by empowering the people through education, hard work and deferred gratification can not only the income gap be reduced but also the perceived unfairness of the system.
Happy, prosperous societies do not just happen. They cannot be created by out of nothing by strong leaders or powerful governments. It takes a lot of work by everybody.