NeoMugwump Express: Magical Thinking Edition

Neomugwump Express - January 21, 2020

My Take: Magical Thinking

I’ve been ruminating on something recently. I’ve ruminated about it so much that it keeps showing up in my essays on Medium. To understand what is rolling around in my noggin, I need to tell you a story.

It was 2002. For years I had read about Log Cabin Republicans and wanted to be a part of this group that was working to make the Republican Party more inclusive towards LGBTQ Americans. I joined that year and was a part of the Minnesota chapter for a little over a decade.

It wasn’t easy work. A lot of people didn’t want to be a part of the group, because they didn’t want their friends to know they were Republicans. We would sponsor a booth at the Pride Festival in Minneapolis and we would get nasty looks from some people. However, a few would come by and get information. I can remember in 2008, stopping by the booth and picking up a McCain/Palin sign. I carried it through the park and I can remember a young man giving me such a look of anger as I passed by.

We did more than just the booth in the park. We supported LGBTQ friendly candidates and would go doorknocking for them. We met with legislators and went to district conventions. None of this was popular work. But it was important to work in order to try to change the party. Looking at the GOP today, I feel it has taken a few steps back when it comes to LGBTQ rights. But it didn’t matter if our work was or was not successful, what mattered is that we did something more than just complaining.

I’ve been writing a number of articles over the last year or two, ( like here, here, here, here, here, here and here ) about how the only way for the party to be free of Trump is by getting involved in GOP politics. I keep hammering the point because too many people think that something magical will happen to rid our selves of Trump and other corrupting aspects of the party. Maybe they will suffer a big loss that will force them to change. Or maybe a third party will arise. There is this magical thinking that some act will just change the party.

I’m someone that would love seeing a third party or having the GOP lose big time, but none of that will happen by magic. That can only happen through politics, kind of like what I did with Log Cabin 15 years ago.

If we want to see lawmakers have the courage to stand up to the President, they have to get pressure from the people. If no one is demanding that they do the right thing, we shouldn’t be surprised that the Senators and Representatives then choose to carry water for Trump. Silence means consent.

I think part of the problem is “political hobbyism”. Eitan Hersh, a professor at Tufts University writes that political hobbyism describes people “who spend time on politics to satisfy our short-term emotional and intellectual desires rather than to build power for things we care about.” Hersh explains these are usually middle to upper-middle-class that follow politics closely through the news and “online discourse.” Hersh believes it is this kind of people who see politics as entertainment or a hobby is ruining politics. What works are people who get engaged in campaigns knocking on doors. He explains:

Those who want to advance their values could instead draw from Starbucks’ model. First, the timeframe for growing a movement would be practical. In 1987, Schultz’s ambitious but achievable promise to investors was 125 new stores in five years. What could entrepreneurial political funders do in five years? Build a party caucus that shares their values? Gain a foothold in some state legislatures? Take over some political party committees?  Start in one state and build up. 

I think that a lot of frustrated and former Republicans are political hobbyists. They really aren’t interested in the ground game of politics, they are just interested in following politics in the news or on Twitter. Hobbyism doesn’t change anything because it isn’t interested in fundamental change. What they want is to be entertained.

I think trying to reach out to GOP lawmakers to counter Trump is a missed opportunity. If people were more interested in the nuts and bolts of politics, the things that aren’t popular, but necessary maybe the GOP wouldn’t be a wholesale subsidiary of Donald Trump.

Maybe things will change, but I doubt it.

Good Reads

Stop whatever you’re doing to read this story from the Washington Post which ran last Friday. It is a shocking look at how the top brass at the Pentagon and the State Department tried to get the President to understand the various alliances the US was a part of. Trump lit into this group calling them “dopes and babies” and wondering why the US isn’t making a profit in our various endeavors to keep the peace. I knew this man was unfit for the office, but this shows how much he doesn’t know and how much he doesn’t want to know.

The federal government can be sued by the citizens of Flint, Michigan in light of the water crisis. One of the things we forget about the water crisis in Flint (which happens to be my hometown) is that it was a failure on all levels of government. This wasn't a Republican problem or Democratic problem, it was the government not listening to the people. While the state is guilty, the Federal government was as well, with the EPA knowing what was going on and not stepping in and not going public with their knowledge. It's not mentioned in the article, but one EPA employee was forbidden to say anything even though he knew. Restoring trust among Flint citizens in their government will take a long time.

Michael F. Cannon of the libertarian Cato Institute wrote an essay on civil rights hero and Representative John Lews as a libertarian hero. Sounds weird? Actually it shouldn’t for a movement that believes in liberty.

Writing and democracy go hand in hand, says writer George Packer. In his essay, “The Enemies of Writing,” he focuses on how writing in modern times is stunted because of fear and certainty. If you are a writer or love writing, this is a must-read.

I tend to call myself libertarianish, because I still see a role for the state and I’m not a taxation-is-theft kind of guy. Economist and libertarian Tyler Cowen write about a certain breed of libertarianism that I could sign on to. Peter Franklin from the British website unherd critiques Cowen’s new libertarianism and adds there is a name for a libertarian that believes in a role for the state: conservative. Maybe on Franklin’s side of the pond, but not here.

This is a few weeks old, but it’s still important. Andy Smarick talks about the loss of civility in modern society and why we need it back.

Finally, do listen to The Daily podcast for January 23. You might think the goings on of the Royal Family and “Megxit” is unserious, but how the former Meghan Markle was treated by the family, the media and the wider society gives you important insight into the state of the United Kingdom on the eve of Brexit.

That’s all for now. Please share this email with others who might be interested in politics and culture from a different perspective. See you next time.

Dennis Sanders