Winding Up This Election… It’s About Our Future

Okay, we’re winding up. The next few days should tell us a lot about this generation of the republic and the American Experiment.

But first: more grist for you undecideds out there. Or for those who see a bit of wavering in their beloved-but-crazy uncles…

Quartz lists 100 things about Donald Trump, any one of which is far worse than Hillary Clinton making the same procedural mistake with emails as Colin Powell and George W. Bush and Condoleeza Rice. (Seriously? Email procedures? That’s all you got?) Quibble: the writer of this piece should have put policy matters first, instead of last.

Anyway, I could cite three dozen more Trump/GOP lunacies, off the top of my head. Like the pure fact that Republicans slash the budgets for auditors and investigators at the IRS and SEC and try to cripple the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). The only conceivable aim…  that of easing the way for white collar crime. Democrats want those agencies on the job. Lay that stark difference (plus the EPA and the War on Science) before those doubters out there! (Get them to picture alternate worlds of four years from now, when they can try again, or not!)

Those claiming “there’s no difference” are clinically insane. As for your crazy, confederate uncle, none of this will likely persuade him. But recite it all to him anyway! Because your aunt is quietly listening.

And now this.  Win or lose, some Republicans are now vowing Total War.  Let’s be clear. The aim of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes was always the destruction of American politics as a means of adult negotiation, in the United States of America. That outright treason can only be stopped if we cauterize their version of the GOP out of Congress and statehouses.  Tell your Republican friends to send us grownups, in 2018.

Wow. See Jim Wright’s latest posting, Pragmatism. He doesn’t put things in quite the same terminology I would. But this ex-military, raised-conservative believer in free enterprise lays it down hard and clear. That the undead vampires who have hijacked American conservatism need to be sent packing. Wright’s missive may not convert anyone’s crazy uncle. But show it to your wavering cousin.

== His Grace Note ==

President Obama is apparently determined to make the final phase of his presidency about science and technology. He’s always been a supporter, boosting the activity levels of the White House OSTP (Office of Science and Technology Policy) to new levels, including two visit-talks by yours truly, in the last 6 months.

OSTP’s big endeavors include Computer Science for All, a big move to get Computer Science and programming back into the public schools.  Now two more steps:  the White House Frontiers Conference brought together innovators from across the country to focus on how science and technology is shaping the 21st century, and particularly the role of innovation in building smarter and more inclusive communities, with a special focus on the coming 5G revolution.

Obama has called for preparations to be made for “extreme space weather events,” such as solar flares capable of causing catastrophic damage to Earth’s critical infrastructure. Oh, and he’s a Trekkie! Barack Obama, WIRED editor in chief Scott Dadich and MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito discuss the original Star Trek series and what it reveals about our common humanity. Compare this to the relentless, ongoing and volcanic Fox-GOP War on Science, and every other knowledge profession – a trait shared by both Donald Trump and his supporters with Paul Ryan and the Bush Clan.

And after he leaves office?  Proving him to be one of our smarter presidents, Barack Obama apparently has realized something that almost no one in America noticed.  That the real foundations of power in America are in the state legislatures, where gerrymandering and other corrupt practices have taken deep root. The Democratic Party, in close consultation with the White House, has launched a new political group “which will coordinate campaign strategy, direct fundraising, organize ballot initiatives and put together legal challenges to state redistricting maps,” Politico reported.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder will chair the new group, named the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. And Obama himself, as Politico writes, has “identified the group … as the main focus of his political activity once he leaves office.” (Note you democrats in Illinois and Maryland, rise up!  As we did in California, Oregon and Washington, where voters ended gerrymandering-by-democrats! It proved to be the right thing to do. Once you cleanse that horrid crime, it will be a treason only associated with the Republican Party.  Make it that clearcut.)

Back to Obama’s retirement plan. Noteworthy is the stark and diametric difference between how Republican ex-presidents behave than Democratic ones do. Sitting on a ranch and holding court (Ford, Reagan, Bush and Bush) vs. frenzied foundation work to fight poverty or disease (Carter and Clinton). This reinforces my longstanding diagnosis. The divide is not “left-vs-right.” (Entrepreneurship and enterprise always do better under Democrats.) It is manic vs depressive. Dig it: the last five GOP Congresses were the laziest in the history of the republic, passing no budgets, even! That laziness, rather than their dogmatic nastiness, was their most telling trait.

The parties represent the bipolar sides of our split national personality.

== Obstinate Dogma Trumps Even Religion ==

One side effect of the recent U.S. election has been to illuminate just how much more powerful dogmatic political hate can be, than either science or religion.  The confederate war on science (and every other knowledge caste) has meant that scientists cannot – for example – combat denialism using facts.  Not even tsunamis or facts.   Now more confirmation: Pope Francis issued an encyclical that acknowledges human-caused climate change as an unavoidable reality and frames action as a moral imperative. Many hoped that this might have an impact among Catholics who still doubted climate science.  Alas in many cases “they stuck to their guns and criticized the pope’s statements.”

Of course this is related to the deeply puzzling question of why Donald Trump – the opposite to Jesus in almost every conceivable way – drew such strong support from fundamentalist Christians who, one might imagine, ought to support a woman who is a Methodist teacher of Bible studies classes over a philandering-cheating-scofflaw-gambling-lord with mob ties who disrespects women and screws his laborers.

The answer is easy: no other factor matters, when you share the same enemies.

== A failed political zoology ==

The Future of Republicanism: Yonatan Zunger attempts to describe what’s about to happen to U.S. conservatism: “The world we’re likely to see after the 2016 election isn’t one where the existing Republican coalition regroups in some fashion. That coalition has been thoroughly destroyed, first by the Tea Party and now by Trump.”  In so doing, he creates a list of six basic American political factions:

The “social left:” concerned with the personal rights of individual members of society, especially when those rights conflict with the preferences of majorities.

The “economic left:” concerned with the tremendous surge in economic inequality, and seeing its rectification as the overwhelming priority of government.

The “libertarian right:” concerned with the increasing burden of government regulations on daily life, wanting to be left alone. (Centered in the West and in certain economic circles elsewhere)

The “religious right:” concerned with the moral pollution of our society, especially with the behaviors which the social left wants to “protect.”

The “business right:” the advocates of conservative political thought, a focus on traditionalism, economic conservatism, and especially of stopping Communism.

The “populist right:” who see themselves as representing “true America,” and think that the government has been helping everyone else at their expense for far too long.

This attempted zoology seems sincere… and is utter malarkey, in more ways than I can begin to count.  So I will focus on just one.

It leaves out a majority of Americans who are pragmatic, positive-sum personalities and not dogmatic fanatics!

smithian-centristsEspecially, he shrugs aside the dominant component of the Democratic Party Coalition, which I’d call “Smithian Pragmatic Centrists”. These are folks in the FDR-Truman-Clinton tradition who are despised by the left as compromising “DNC democrats,” whose fealty is given to positive sum outcomes.

In other words, they seek to nurture a mixed society that follows Adam Smith’s prescription: In order to maximize the output of capitalist markets, you must first maximize the number of free and capable competitors.

Smithian Centrists like all the goody-goody things, e.g. to expand tolerance and inclusion and free education and health for all children — but there is a pragmatic underpinning to their liberalism. As Adam Smith himself said, markets are most productive when talent is not wasted through poverty, class or prejudice. Moreover, if the input of healthy competitors is maximized then so will be the taxable output, allowing that positive-sun effect to flourish, letting more funds be spent on priming the pump. And on goody-lefty things.

It is understandable that Mr. Zunger ignores this faction, though it describes a majority of Democrats (and some Republicans) far better than any “leftist” appellation. That is because the Smithian Pragmataic Centrist types don’t fit anywhere along a hoary, stupid, obsolete and lobotomizing so-called “left-right axis.”

Evidence for the importance of this category can be found in simple outcomes comparison. The fact that every large-scale attributable metric of U.S. national health does better across democratic administrations, including such conservative desiderata as economic output, rate of change of deficits, military readiness and rates of entrepreneurship. This blatant fact is inexplicable according to Mr. Zunger’s bestiary. But it makes sense when you add in the tens of millions of American Smithian Pragmatic Centrists.

Oh sure, members of the SPC faction may choose to call themselves slightly “lefty” while being browbeaten into feeling guilty, because their leftist neighbors seem more passionate. This is unfortunate, since the SPCs are the true heirs to the world’s only pragmatically moderate and militantly reasonable revolution.  They are the only ones who see this as a win-win, positive sum game.

Moreover, SPCs are the ultimate answer to the insipid National Review (NR) conservatives, who claim to be defenders of enterprise, markets, entrepreneurship and all things Smithian… when all of those things are far, far better engendered by Smithian Pragmatic Centrist democrats. The National Review faction invokes Adam Smith as a mantric shield, a totem to distract from their real role as the rationalizers of oligarchy. They are spokesmen for a return to the kinds of inherited wealth and privilege and power that made life hell for all our ancestors, for 6000 years.

They are proto feudalists. And Adam Smith — who knew the enemy of flat-open-fair market competition was always oligarchy .

Almost-final notes…

The chairman of the biggest oil company in the world, Exxon, finally spoke up about climate change. And guess what? It’s happening. It’s potentially disastrous. And we are causing it. “Exxon had come under investigation by New York’s attorney general for allegedly misleading the public on climate change. Its shareholders wanted answers, too.” Most of the other oil-companies have already done this, touting their efforts to swing investment to renewables. The delaying tactics that worked so well (as they had for tobacco) are now “done.”

So where does that leave your crazy uncle, glued to science-hating Fox and Breitbart? Again, pointing out that he has no facts will not sway him…

…but your aunt is quietly listening.

== Then there is the Earth==

We’re talking about our home, in peril from fools.  One hears cynics shrug and use the ultimate denialist fallback position, after 30 years of moving goalposts, they say: “It’s already too late to prevent climate change.”

Perhaps, but to paraphrase Kim Stanley Robinson, the question is not ‘is it too late?’ because answering either yes or no can lead to inaction.

The real question is ‘How much can we still save?”

So take action. If you aren’t in a battleground state, go ahead and vote Johnson or Stein if you like, “to build cred,” but then take a torch to the GOP, down ticket!

If you are in a battleground state? Go thee forth. Volunteer to help get out the vote. It’s time for patriotism. It’s time for your children and the Earth. You will be asked about this, in future years.

Have a good answer.

About David Brin 17 Articles
David Brin is an astrophysicist whose international best-selling novels include The Postman, Earth, and recently Existence. His nonfiction book about the information age - The Transparent Society - won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association. (

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