In May, I ran into someone at the local dog park who I hadn’t seen since right after the 2016 election. A libertarian of the Ayn Rand sort, he’s got a political-science PhD but doesn’t teach. I’m not sure how he makes a living.
We greeted each other politely. I didn’t want to bring up politics but, carelessly, I did ask him what he had been up to.
“Oh, I’m doing a series of podcasts on capitalism versus socialism. And I’m starting a series on why liberals lie.”
I saw red.
“You don’t know the difference between capitalism and socialism and you know nothing about liberals.” I stomped away, my embarrassed wife following with the dog.
I got castigated, when we got home, and rightly so. But I hadn’t had words for the outrage I felt, at the anger that welled against the dishonesty of what this man was doing. I had recognized it all in an instant but was overwhelmed by the size of the duplicity.
That’s no excuse for not reacting civilly, for not having smiled and changed the subject. But the enormity of what this man—who had been no fan of Trump—was doing had left me incapable of coherent speech.
It’s all about winning, he had clearly decided. He had jumped in with the winning team and was working to further its victories. He did not care about truth or law or the American way.
He had become a Republican politician.
Note that I didn’t say simply, “a Republican.” There are many with allegiance to the party who do look for something besides victory at any cost. There are many who do not see politics as a simple us-against-them accented by the rah-rah of football fans. There are many who do believe in the U. S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There are many who do believe in the political traditions we have built over the past two centuries and more.
I had thought he was one of those.
As a political scientist, he should know that there’s no dichotomy, no absolute split between capitalism and socialism—that, in fact, neither of them is easily defined, especially not as the absence of the other. He knows, I am sure, that “socialism” has been turned into a scare word with little more meaning than “fascism.” He had created his podcast simply to cash in on the current strategy of Trump’s 2020 campaign to brand Democrats as “socialists.”
Am I reading too much into a few simple words? I don’t think so. The timing is just too perfect.
I caught onto my understanding of this in a flash but was clamping my moth shut when he said the other, about lying liberals.
As one who has written about the lying right, I understood, again, exactly what he was doing. Aside from the obvious whataboutism deflecting from Trump’s constant lies, he was trying to set up a “both sides do it” excuse for Republican lies by equating those of Democrats with theirs—perhaps even making them out to be worse. The thing is, Republican lies have been orchestrated for decades—and he is an example proving they still are—while the Democrats… well, as Will Rogers said, “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” The Democrats couldn’t get it together for that sort of conspiracy any more than contemporary Republicans can govern.
Liberals don’t lie the way the contemporary right does simply because they have a program they believe in, that they put above simply winning. Today’s right only cares about getting into power and holding onto it and has cared only about that since the 1964 Goldwater defeat. Look at the attempts at voter suppression and ballot shenanigans (and the attempts to make it look like the Democrats do the same things). Yes, it is true that Democrats have been just as venal as Republicans when it comes to gerrymandering, but Democrats never made it their goal the way Republicans do. Beyond that, look at the attempt to add a citizenship question to the census, something we now know had no basis other than to give Republicans further electoral advantage. Look at the way Republicans in Boone, North Carolina (among other places) moving polling places around so that students at Appalachian State University would have a hard time voting.
Oh, the examples are endless.
And the duplicity is startling.
The Republicans figure they have a base of about 45% of the voting population. The game, then, is to keep 20% of the rest from voting—or to make their votes less meaningful through gerrymandering and the Electoral College. They can do this in 2020 and perhaps will.
Which is what my acquaintance is counting on.
He was unable to cash in on the last election, for he has not picked the winning side. Now, he’s all in for Trump—just like Lindsay Graham and so many others who once had what appeared to be an ounce of principle.
The problem for me is that I don’t want to be storming away from anyone and see doing so as a failure on my part. That I couldn’t smile sweetly and change the subject, or gently explore regions where we might find agreement says that I am part of the problem, that I am solidifying the divide between left and right by seeing only the worst in the politicos on the right.
What am I to do, though, when I do see them in such a negative light. Would it really be a good idea to pull a joebiden and try to work with this guy to come to some sort of understanding?
We Americans, especially those of us who really do believe in the traditions of this country (and I am not talking about the chanters of “U.S.A., U.S.A.”), are in a bind right now. To follow our traditions, we need to find ways of working with those with political beliefs distinct from our own.
But what do we do, when their only goal seems to be to pulverize us?
We fail, as I failed (and continue to fail), when we react in ways that seem to be the same.
I am tired of that failure but, for the life of me, can’t find a workable alternative.
Which makes me very scared.