Sunday, July 9, 2017

What I'm For

Republicans opposed Obama. Democrats oppose Trump. In its turn, each side has asked, “But what are you guys actually for?” 

Here’s what I’m for.

Personal Freedom:

I hate being told what to do. By anybody. Anytime. I put up with it when I must and do my best to avoid it the rest of the time. I'm a big fan of the Bill of Rights.

Self Reliance:

Work hard, be frugal, earn your way. Personal freedom depends on not being pushed around by the government, but it also depends on having money so that you can actually afford to enjoy your freedom as opposed to being stuck in a dead-end life where even if no one is bossing you around you might as well be in jail. When it comes to money, if you want more than a pittance, you have to earn it yourself.

A Helping Hand:

We all need help sometimes. Lord knows, I did. Someone was there for me when I needed them, and I like to think I’ve been there for others. Lately, the main way I do that is by paying taxes and supporting social safety net programs. I could volunteer more, but I don’t. I guess that’s selfish of me. But I’d happily pay more taxes to help those in need. There are so many who need help, and they are so scattered into so many communities and families, it’s really the only practical way.

Progressive Taxation:

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Yes, I know who said it. No, I don’t advocate communism. But it’s a pretty good underlying principle for progressive taxation and what I would call socialist-lite income redistribution, aka a helping hand.

International Engagement:

National isolationism doesn’t strike me as a good idea. It has a mediocre history. We might do okay for a while withdrawn into our protectionist self, behind our walls and oceans, but I think the world has gotten too complex and interrelated for that to last. In any event, we certainly will give up global leadership at a time when the values we champion—freedom of the press, equal treatment of women, democracy—continue to have fragile footholds in many parts of the world. History teaches, I believe, that turning a blind eye to the despotism and abuse that throughout the world survive like cockroaches does not work out well for us.

For me, in order of importance, that’s pretty much it; or enough of it from which to extrapolate.

I have a few conservative friends with whom I debate regularly. As you can imagine, we find plenty of common ground on the first two points: personal freedom and self-reliance. Where we get tripped up is on the specifics of how to implement point three: a helping hand. I’m fine with taxes and government safety-net programs, but some of my friends think that private enterprise and personal charity will do the trick. I think that’s unrealistic. I would say I think it's naive, but none of my conservative friends is naive. They know it’s unrealistic, I suspect, but something in them can’t let go of it. I suppose it cuts too hard against personal freedom (theirs, from taxation and inefficient government) and self reliance (what the needy should be practicing more of).

So we disagree. I’ve had these discussions with these same smart people or ones like them for many years. We cite facts and figures to one another and occasionally I learn something I didn’t know and make an adjustment at the margins of my philosophy, but overall the principles I believe in remain the same (at least in what I would call the time of my Enlightenment, which began after the certainty of my youth wore off). Maybe I’m hardheaded. I prefer to think I’ve just thought things through and come to rational conclusions.

There is lot of talk now about how we liberals need to work harder to understand Trump supporters. I understand them. I’ve been debating with them for years. I grew up debating with their ideological forebears, one of whom was my father. I just don't agree with them.

An obvious point that nevertheless bears making it that the basis for one’s conviction matters. Science is a stronger foundation than religion. There is nothing wrong with religion from the standpoint of personal faith and comfort, but the authors of the Bible, for instance, stopped doing scientific research over a thousand years ago. Science is fact. Religion is faith. They both have a place in modern life, but they should try not to poach on one another’s territory. There’s no arguing with faith, of course. I used to think there was no arguing with fact, but recent political events have proved me wrong.

So what does all this mean in terms of my personal engagement in this fractious world? I do my best to stay informed. I debate with people who have other views, both for the fine sport of it and to make sure I’m not missing anything obvious. I balance new ideas against the things I care about. I support reasonable limitations on personal freedom to promote public safety (TSA lines), but not to discriminate (voter ID laws, Muslim immigration bans). I accept taxes as my contribution to our collective enterprise and well-being. I don’t particularly like or trust government, which is inefficient and occasionally corrupt, but I see no alternative to it for certain undertakings.

I don’t know where the country is heading just now. I was surprised by Trump’s election. I’m shocked by his rhetoric. I hope we will have a voter backlash that will purge not only Trump but the right-wing ideologues led by men like Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz. I am far from sanguine that will happen, however. We’ll just have to see. Right now I’m glad to be living in California in a politically progressive era for the state (which has had its not so progressive decades, not that long ago). I plan to hang on to what I stand for, to speak out for it, and to hope that others are listening and agree. 

From a Machiavellian standpoint, it would be nice if we Democrats would stop fighting among ourselves over who has the best ideas, and candidate, to advance a progressive agenda. I read a piece in The New York Times Magazine this morning saying that the term “liberal” is now reviled on both the right (for obvious reasons) and left (as not leftist, meaning socialist, enough). Please, people. Could we get together here and fight the common enemy, the ones who want to strip millions of poor of their food stamps and healthcare, who want to undermine decent public education, who want to rape the environment and de-regulate the oligarchy? Sure, Clinton Democrats and Sanders Democrats have their differences, but they are nothing compared to the differences each have with the direction Trump, Ryan and McConnell would take us.

Let’s stop brawling in the street outside the bar while the bartender counts his money.