Friday, January 6, 2017

The Downside Of The Politicization Of Everything

     The New Yorker, a journal with which I’ve had little acquaintance in recent years, recently printed this cartoon:

     I can’t imagine that even one of my Gentle Readers doesn’t “get” that cartoon, or its targets. I’d imagine that the reactions among you would be about evenly split between scorn and raucous laughter at the cartoon’s author.

     The message embedded in the cartoon, of course, is that the populist wave that elevated Donald Trump to the presidency is akin to piloting an airliner by plebiscite. The redoubtable Glenn Reynolds has a few words to say about that:

     In this view, ordinary people are just carried along for the ride, while the country is run by experts with vast experience and credentials. Letting ordinary people take charge would surely result in a disastrous crash. If the pilots are “smug” it’s because they have abilities that ordinary people lack.

     But do they? Have they demonstrated special abilities whose exclusion from the corridors of power we’re likely to mourn?

     Don’t all rush to answer at once, now.

     Some years ago, during a voir dire examination for jury service in a civil case, an attorney dismayed by my various credentials asked me if I could “set aside” my habits of mind to give his client “a fair shake.” I asked him to clarify his rather disturbing question. He responded by saying, in approximately these words, that in rendering a verdict I shouldn’t be concerned with “mathematical accuracy.”

     To which I replied, “Counselor, to the extent that justice fails to be accurate, it fails to be justice.”

     Need I say that he asked me to be dismissed, or is that too screamingly obvious?

     Yet there is nothing in governance, the most error-prone of all human undertakings, that isn’t about justice. That’s inherent in the nature of governance: the nominally sanctioned use of coercion to achieve particular ends. It’s why I once had my fictional president, Stephen Graham Sumner, say this:

     “Do you know why everyone allows himself opinions about politics, Ethan? Because politics is supposed to be simple. It’s supposed to be about justice. Right and wrong. Things every schoolchild learns at his mother’s knee. Politics isn’t supposed to be the property of a bunch of specialists running simulations on high-powered computers. It’s supposed to be about the defense of the nation and peace in the streets.
     “I never expected to land here, until I actually did. But when the final tallies were in, I knew what would happen immediately afterward. And did it ever! I was practically overrun by would-be advisors, each of them toting some grand scheme to create a Utopia by federal action. Have you ever read about the Coolidge Administration, Ethan?”
     The chief of staff shook his head.
     “I gave them the Coolidge treatment. I invited them to pitch their cases, listened in total silence, and showed them out. To a man, they hoped to become parts of my administration, awarded power and prestige. None of them did, of course.
     “Politics is supposed to be the pursuit of justice. That and nothing else. From what you’ve told me, the public agrees with my understanding of justice, in this instance at least. But if it were the other way around, it wouldn’t have changed a thing. I will do as I think justice requires, regardless of anyone’s opinion before, during, or after the fact.”

     [From this short story]

     The contrary notion, that politics and governance are far too complex to be put at the mercy of popular opinion, is what has all but ruined this nation.

     We’re about to embark upon a course the nation has never before taken. A complete government neophyte, who has never held public office or served in the military, will soon be our chief executive, the man charged to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

     That’s got the Left completely outraged. They were certain the power seat belonged to them...that it would go to their anointed one, who had all the proper punches on her ticket. For the great unwashed mass of Compassion-Challenged Deplorables, Those Who Do Not Understand The Complexities, to spurn her in preference for a total outsider – A reality-TV buffoon! A vulgarian! A businessman! – has turned their world upside down. As Professor Reynolds has noted, it’s a devastating blow to their self-regard:

     And now that Trump has won, people are, in fact, a lot less respectful of the traditional academic and media and political elites. Trump didn’t just beat them, after all. He also humiliated them, as they repeatedly assured everyone (and each other) that he had no chance. It’s a huge blow to the self-importance of a lot of people. No wonder they’re still lashing out.

     Had these persons not made politics their pole star – had they not insisted that everything is political and that they, the Inherently Superior of Wisdom and Virtue, are the only legitimate arbiters of all that is right, true, and just – they would not be suffering quite so much angst. The moral could hardly be clearer.

     Now, as the late Robert Sheckley has said, he who practices soul-doctoring without a license must restrict his prescriptions to remedies you can get over the counter. And so, to our Leftist, ah, friends, so tormented by their anticipation of the coming Trump Administration and its aims, I say:

     Take a vacation from politics. Read some entirely non-political books. See a big, gaudy, special-effects-laden movie. Get drunk a time or two. Jump your Significant Other. And for the sake of our ears and a modicum of public peace, you might consider shutting the BLEEP! up.


Anonymous said...

Part of this fear of we the 'great unwashed' is that those in politics do actually see themselves as better than us. It is this elitist attitude that is a good part of the reason Trump was elected.

Joseph said...

The target of the New Yorker cartoon?

It was obviously people who know nothing about nuclear energy (or GMOs or fracking or pesticides) but think they know how they must be regulated.

Wait... It wasn't?