Here are more political musings for this highly political fortnight. Let’s start with a basic assumption. Donald Trump is not worthy of anyone’s vote until he releases his tax returns. That is the basic price of entry into politics. Until he shows otherwise, we can just assume his scammy casinos and fraudulent colleges are bankrupt and all of his money comes from the Russian government. We do not even need to get to the parts about him being an ignoramus, a bully, a fraudster, and a, um, fascist who would upend decades of international peace, progress, and prosperity for his own naked self-aggrandizement.
So, it looks as though we are supporting the Democrats this year no matter what their circus…er, caucus looks like…but what does their circus look like? After blogging last week about the Republican convention in Cleveland, it is necessary to say something about the Democratic convention this week in Philadelphia. So far the Democratic convention has certainly been glitzy–with all sorts of high-profile show-biz folk. After a colorful opening day during which diehard Bernie Sanders supporters disrupted the proceedings, things have settled down and the grand Kabuki of party reconciliation is proceeding apace. I was also pleased to see the current president return to his finest form with a moving speech about Americans coming together around values like decency, hard work, and responsibility. Where has this kind of soaring speech been during his presidency?
At heart, I am a believer in our world of capitalism, free markets, and open trade (although I don’t especially love the way the market panders to comfort over meaning). I don’t think people are as different as the Trumps (or even the Jesse Jacksons) make them out to be. I am a social liberal. The theocrats need to keep their imaginary gods (and their very real inquisitors) out of people’s private lives.
I also believe in classical liberal economics (although I use that phrase in a sort of 19th century way which will hopefully not confuse people). I read The Wealth of Nations, and I was convinced by Adam Smith’s arguments. However, the part of that book which nobody talks about is the part about monopolies (which Smith saw as anathema to his system). Large corporations merge into immense corporations, which then become nearly impossible for upstarts to dislodge. Such corporations can and do play havoc in the market. They alter regulations to throttle competitors. They fix prices so that everyone pays more. Our version of capitalism may not actually be capitalism, but is instead its hijacked successor.
The rentiers who gain greatly from operating these monopolies (or cartels or duopolies) need to keep them from being disrupted by the only force large enough to do so: the Federal government. The Republicans…the real Republicans who have seemingly vanished overnight played a cynical game where they accumulated electoral gains by telling people not to believe in government or politicians and then collecting campaign money and post-career favors from the too-big-to fail titans. The business interests have an easier time writing their own ticket, and minimizing the uncertainties which stem from rapid technological innovation and globalization.
However that is a cynical way of looking at politics, and we can’t afford to be cynical. Also, when I talk to thoughtful conservatives they say what I just said, except they strongly aver that it is the Democrats who have been taken over by moneyed interests. I don’t disagree, but the sheer extent to which Republicans have acted to paralyze and undermine government makes me think of them as the true malefactors. Is there a way to make things better?
During his stump speech on Tuesday night, Bill Clinton said, “Change is hard and can be boring” I have not found this to be true. Change for the better is hard. It is exceedingly easy to make things worse. I keep looking on Facebook and seeing my old scoutmaster from red America lambasting the Democrats and praising Trump, and it fills me with sadness. What does he imagine in going to happen? We will start a trade war (or a war war) with China, and suddenly it will be 1963? Erecting trade barriers (or literal barriers) will make the cost of goods and services leap through the roof and we will be in a recession that makes the one from 2008 look like a jolly day trip. Even then protectionism and isolationism will not fill up factories with high paid workers—those days are gone forever. If we betray our longstanding allies suddenly the world will be unimaginably dangerous…and we will have no friends. Our power and prestige could evaporate overnight: such things are made of networks and handshakes and treaties and beliefs. For that matter so is money (which is just promises in a database somewhere).
So we have to love the Democrats. Thoughtful people may disagree about some of their positions, but we have no choice but to back them this year. Frankly I have never had much love for the Republicans’ world of religious authoritarianism, intrusive rules about substances and bodies, censors, and unfettered cash worship anyway. The things the Republicans represent which I do love are the belief in a robust military and the desire to throw money at technological progress (which is an entirely necessary requirement for having a worthwhile military in our world of super computers, nano-materials, and space technology). Blue sky research is also the way to have a vibrant economy tomorrow, and maybe to stay ahead of humankind’s terrifying negative impact on the world ecosystems. This year, the Republicans are not interested in improving the military or pushing science forward (they even stopped Newt Gingrich from going on about his moonbase) so screw ‘em.
Hillary was not born as some cold spoiled oligarch—she worked hard to become one. She has substantial brains and a steely work ethic. She needs to stand up for the networked world. This is going to mean working with the corporate hegemons—the same monopolies I was bemoaning two paragraphs ago. It is going to mean some unpalatable compromises with unsavory corporations, countries, and coalitions. Yet we know Hilary has a knack for this sort of ugly work. She also has kind of a flinty look—like she could be another Margaret Thatcher or Angela Merkel…our own formidable iron lady!
Tonight she is going to look us in the eye and tell us she loves us all and wants to hug us and that she will work tirelessly to make us richer and more free. Then she will turn around, go into a smoky backroom somewhere, and make very different promises to the great masters (neither they, nor anyone else, can trust Trump–so they are going to have to deal with her). This saddens me, I wish we could hear about these actual plans for grown-ups rather than whatever airy waffle Hilary serves up in tonight’s speech. But this year has made it all too obvious that people must be talked to as though they are childish idiots.
I guess I am with her. We can keep muddling forward together to greatness. Hilary for President!
(at least she looks happy to have my support–and that is a very cool twill!)