Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Emotionally charged politics need to stop (column)
On Your Right
Now that the Democrats have regained control in the House of Representatives we can all relax and enjoy the return to civility Hillary Clinton promised when the switch was in prospect, right?
You and I know exactly what will happen: a more-radicalized Democratic party will howl for blood as one. Instead of cooperation where cooperation is possible — on prison reform, immigration reform, infrastructure development — there will follow two dreary years of “resistance” and investigation, not legislation. Any Democrat solon daring to suggest a moderation in attitude will be targeted for ouster by the growing radical wing of the party; any Republican extending a hand across the aisle will have to seek medical help afterward. Most of the media, already simply a megaphone for the Democratic party, will continue to fan the flames of phony outrage and the nation will slip closer to a dangerous rupture in the trust and confidence that holds the whole thing together.
It’s sad and frustrating because it’s unnecessary. We should take a collective breath instead, and consider some ground truths about our disputes; the nation would benefit from it.
One should understand that the controversies before us, although serious, are not of the same character as those debated by Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun, or disputed by other means by presidents Lincoln and Davis. Most of us basically want the same things: security for ourselves, our families and our nation; the freedom to live our lives as we wish to the extent that does not threaten the aforementioned securities; a government which acknowledges the possessions and incomes of each citizen as their own and makes scrupulously limited demands upon those resources, as necessary to accomplish a narrowly circumscribed and specified number of tasks. I imagine as well that most would agree one of those tasks should be expanding the role freedom plays in their lives, and in assuring equal treatment before the law for all citizens in our republic of “laws, not men.”
That said, we obviously have confrontations today every bit as savage as those of yesteryear — say, the “free silver” movement of the 1890s or the unionization struggles of the 1930s and 1940s. But like them, the disputes we have today are principally over means, not ends. With the exception of education and the mechanics of the political system, vanishingly few points of conflict have the ability to completely change the nature of our country.
Take a popular Shibboleth of the left today: “free higher education.” This is a means to an end — a more educated, and therefore more prosperous citizenry will, by virtue of commanding more resources, have more freedom of action. The proposal is appealing in that it appears to solve the problem of restricted access to the scarce resource of higher education. But it has fatal flaws, not least among them is that applying the word “free” to any paid service is a lie. What “free” means here is that someone other than the recipient of the benefit will pay for it — because the state will force that someone to cough up the money to do so. The same applies to “free medical care,” which is why neither service is a “right:” both must be bought, and if the recipient cannot do so, someone else must be forced to do so. True rights make no demands on others save that they be respected.
Notice that in the above, no one was called a racist. No one was accused of crypto-communism, sexism, homophobia or any of the myriad other phobias much on the lips of some politicians. It wasn’t necessary, because what was outlined was an argument over effective means, not persons.
To lower the pressure and divisiveness in political discourse, at least on the goals common to most of us, we should similarly focus on means and forget personalities. Donald Trump may have an abrasive persona, but his policies have provided decent economic results and are increasing our nation’s security. Maxine Waters may be mad as a hatter, but she may have workable ideas as chairwoman of the House Finance Committee. We shall see.
Such a return to sanity probably will not happen; reason and analysis is not the currency of politics, emotion is — and the rawer and more violent, the better. Look to the political class for more division, hatred and accusations than a revolutionary trial by the Parisian mob. And we all like it; the stronger, the better. So to end it we, ourselves, will have to turn away from and disavow it. But I’m not sanguine we’re able to do that.
Most would far rather complain that it’s all Trump’s doing. It’s easier to blame someone else than look in the mirror.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News.
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