I Wonder: Questions about values

The impeachment trial is dominating American news, as it should. I’m trying to keep up with it as best I can, probably like you. Unlike senators, I get to eat regular meals, drink coffee or tea while I work, take breaks whenever I want, and mess around on the internet. I go out for long walks, read books, fiddle around with daily chores, and go to bed at a reasonable hour. It means short stints following live proceedings on NPR, catching up on play-by-play reporting from four or five news sources, and color commentary from several others.

Writing about it would add a minuscule voice to an over abundance of voices already out there, several of whom are well informed, and many less so. However, there are some things I wonder about. I wonder, for instance, why the GOP appears to be disinterested in taking seriously the allegations and evidence of malfeasance in the office of president? How can they be so complacent in the face of such gross ignorance, incompetence, and corruption? It has to be more than simple party loyalty, or fear of losing the next election.

Are they content with Trump, ignoring his failings, because they’ve bought into tea party ideology that a small, emasculated federal government, except for defense, is a good thing? They often admit his failings, but consider them a tolerable price for policy decisions they say they like. What policy decisions? Slash and burn deregulation with little thought to which or why? Tax cuts having added no measurable benefit to the economy, but enriching a few? Demolition of Americas international standing and reputation? Trade wars? They’re policy decisions that veil neofascism appealing to the extreme right wing, and a handful of oligarchs.

Conservatives have always been suspicious of big government, even as they’ve engineered the bulk of its growth. They’ve always advocated for fiscal restraint, even though they’re behind the greatest expansions in debt and deficit. They believe in free markets, but endorse monopolies and an unrestricted industrial-military complex. They hate socialism and welfare, but freely underwrite agriculture, energy, and tax subsidies accruing mostly to the wealthy. It’s put them in a position to be held captive by right wing ideologies.

It appears they’re frightened, easily intimidated, about the likelihood of being given an insulting Trumpian nick-name, being subjected to abusive tweets, and excoriated with juvenile sarcasm at Trump rallies. They might even be challenged in a primary by a Trump loyalist. How dreadful. So what if they are? A senator who has faithfully represented the whole of his/her state, and kept in touch with the electorate, should be able to run with dignified confidence in the face of such second rate political bullying. Perhaps they have growing self awareness that they have not been faithful representatives of their states. Perhaps they recognize how easily they’ve sold themselves to the highest bidders in the campaign fund raising arena. I suppose there are lots of reasons why conservatives are reluctant to be men and women of courage.

Extreme right wingers, of course, are another story. I think they really believe any liberal application of government resources to pressing social and economic problems affecting ordinary people is a steep slide into Cuban style communism. They really believe the virtue of American individualism is at stake: that Democrats are intent on a socialist government dictating every aspect of personal lives. They really believe they’re the only ones who cherish ideals of hard work and self reliance. By these beliefs, they’re certain that people not like them are lazy, willing to live off the sweat of others’ brows, and unworthy of American rights and privileges. Curiously, for people who claim the right to be individualists free of government interference, they’re the most willing to submit to autocratic rule – if the autocrats promise to minister to their beliefs. It’s a strange business.

As recent Pew research has revealed, the remnants of traditional Republican conservatism have begun to recognize the corruption of the current administration, and that three years of chaotic policy decisions made on the personal whim of a psychologically challenged president have weakened the nation. It’s embarrassing for them, no doubt, but what are they to do? How can they duck and run without losing face? Even a few stalwarts of tea party ideology, have begun to notice that he’s not one of them. Will that change the outcome of the impeachment process? Probably not. Will it change the dynamic forces influencing the upcoming campaign? Absolutely, but how is anyone’s guess.

It raises a question I’ve dealt with before in these occasional columns. How important is it for progressive candidates to speak to traditional conservatives and disaffected tea partiers looking for another way? Has the electorate changed so much that they can be safely ignored? Can the oddities of the Electoral College be factored in favorably? I don’t think so. The right still has to be addressed in ways that may attract some of them. The other night I ran into a woman confidently expressing her political opinions in a group of strangers gathered around a resort BBQ. She’s not all that happy with Trump, but loves the economy and gives him all the credit. She happily recited Trump talking points as if they were her original thoughts: booming stock market; skyrocketing 401k; lowest unemployment ever; what’s not to like? Sure, he has his failings, but life is better than ever. With assertiveness bordering on anger, she declared she was raised to respect elders, work hard, and not rely on government handouts. The intent was clear: people not like her disrespect traditional values, are lazy and want government largess to support them.

OK, I think we can all celebrate the economy, at least for now, and her All American values are indeed worthy. For progressives to win, they have to acknowledge both without reservation. And they have to say more: that these are values shared by most Americans, not just middle and working class whites; that even the poorest and lowest who need government help subscribe to them. Are there exceptions? Of course there are, but they’re exceptions. Moreover, mustering resources only the government can muster is necessary to create conditions under which all can prosper.

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