Last night was pretty normal

Pew in June of this year reported 55% of Democrats say the Republicans make them “afraid”. 49% of Republicans say the same thing about the Democrats. Think about that. Half the country is afraid of the other half.

Trump won last night and half the country is afraid. The other half is happy. The same thing was said when George W. Bush won. And when Obama won. And when Lincoln won.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year reading up on Presidents, their administrations, their leadership styles, and the electorate at the time. One thing jumps out at me: we’ve always been crazy. Americans, and people in general, are not very good at assessing risk. I’m not sure yet that Trump’s election is anything too out of the norm.

In fact, a lot was normal last night:

  • Voter turnout was relatively low.
  • White people turned out to vote, because they always do.
  • The country swung back to the opposite-incumbent party. It always does that. “Three terms” is rare.
  • The stock market freaked out. It always does.
  • Half the country freaked out. That always happens.
  • Urban centers voted on a slew of progressive movements favorably.
  • Rural areas voted against liberalism. They always do.
  • Everyone complains about long lines and voter suppression. One news story on TV last night was a man complaining his vote changed to Democrats when he voted straight Republican. I also just saw a man at a restaurant hand his phone to another random man and ask, “Do you know how to use Facebook? I think I’ve just posted the same thing three times.” Those aren’t related, but computers befuddle people. Nothing new.

Here’s what’s not normal (yet):

  • You being insulated by algorithms that makes you think things are how you’d like them to be.
  • We increasingly have a government that’s so large in people’s lives any changes to anything throws legitimate fear, glee, or confusion into markets.

I always tell clients that ask for “samples of previous work” that “past work is no indication of future performance, but here you go.” The same holds true here. Trump has said so many things we don’t know anything about his governance style yet. He could defer to Pence for everything. He could buck his party all the time. We have no idea.

I do think, however, that many voters are pushing for an ideal they’re not going to get: being left alone.

Everyone must stop insulating themselves from the working class. You must stop treating them like a block of “others”. To say things like, “They like this and don’t do that” is only slightly helpful and immensely harmful at worst. You’ve failed to understand deeply.

I’ll give you an example. In the modern era, starting after WWII and expanding rapidly under Nixon, Carter, and Reagan, our government structure has begun to look like this:

Where large amounts of income flow to the federal government and then down to states and local governments. This is exactly backwards of how most people would reasonably want it to be. It should look more like this:


Where our local government receives most of the income for things used in that community. Where the separation of powers and authority still applies. This makes cities truly more competitive against peer-cities. It ensures a greater allocation of resources (fewer “bridges to nowhere”), and makes sure people see the benefits, or lack thereof, of their money in their daily lives.

The fact that our government has become so large, so powerful a force in people’s individual lives, that people fear it or jump in glee when something as simple as a president is elected is the problem.  I wouldn’t be so worried about marriage rights if the government weren’t even in the business of marriage (instead opting for civil unions for all), for instance.

Today I woke up to see people saying they were unsure of what to tell their kids now that Trump is elected. Do you remember what you said when gay marriage was allowed by the Supreme Court? “You’ll tell them people can get married now.” The same response applies here: “You’ll tell them a guy like Donald Trump is President”. Because that’s what happened and like learning about gay marriage, they’ll go back to playing Pokémon.

People in my stream, left and right, are saying they’re scared for their lives. But remember that you, too, can arm yourself. You can protect yourself. Just like you can change your diet or learn something new. You may not want to, but you can. And you can, you know, talk to people. Invite them out for a beer or a cookout or something.

Today for a lot of people the ideal of a limited federal government is more appealing. For me it was always appealing. Because without a “strong” federal government you may never get Alabama and Mississippi to legalize gay marriage or expand health coverage. But it’s a lot easier to move from Alabama than it is the entire country. Despite half a century of federal intervention by progressives, none of them want to live in Alabama. And despite half a century of federal intervention by conservatives, none of them want to live in New York.

Voters are just saying they want to be left alone. I think progressives and conservatives alike can find a lot of reasons to say the same.

What does it mean to be a Democrat or a Republican?

What makes an idea Democratic or Republican?

I know, heavy stuff for a Monday.

We can just as well substitute “progressive” and “conservative” in those roles, too. For my mental exercise I’m glossing over some nuance and lumping things together.

At face value people throw pithy tags at either party. “Big government”, “tax and spend”, “religious fundamentalists”, “social conservatives”, “the party of business”, “populists”, and so on. That only goes skin deep.

I’m more interested in the vision of the parties. Democrats, for better or worse, have been very good about establishing a vision at the federal level in the last 10-15 years. Republicans haven’t done as well at describing what vision they have for the country. At a local level here in Indiana, Democrats haven’t had an active vision for the governor’s seat in about as long. Republicans had clear vision under Mitch Daniels and that’s been muddied by Mike Pence.

The Party of Lincoln

Parties, like people, change over time so it’s hard to assign too much value to what Abraham Lincoln said and believed the 1860’s. But the vision is there. Lincoln was a Whig before Republicans were even a thing. Slavery and the Civil War changed that, however. After the Whigs and Democrats split between pro-slavery and abolitionists in the North and South, Republicans emerged as a viable, non-radical, party alternative.

At the Great Hall in New York City, 1860, Lincoln made his first appearance on a national stage. Looking “unbecoming” and wearing a new suit that didn’t fit, Lincoln laid out an argument against slavery that didn’t appeal to emotion or morals. It was based in fact.

Like today, people of the 1860’s wanted to know what the Founders thought about issues. In this case it was about slavery.  Lincoln, a self-taught lawyer, brought the facts. Citing in 1784 Congress prohibited slavery in the northwest territory (Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin today).  Lincoln found that of the first Congress, through the Missouri Compromise, 21 out of 23 people who voted on the question of slavery supported federal regulation in the federal territories. Of the other 16 who didn’t vote, many expressed opposition. To Lincoln, arguing the Founders “supported slavery” was like saying “they created six houses of Congress”.

History muddies this because we know many of the Founders owned slaves. We know that many, Lincoln included, thought “whites and Negroes can never be equal.” It’s hard to square this circle, but racial animus aside, they could rise above on a philosophical level and agree what liberty and freedom really meant and see that slavery wasn’t it.

But Lincoln argued on, addressing the slave owners of the South: “You say you are conservative – eminently conservative – while we [Republicans] are revolutionary, destructive, or something of the sort. What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried? We stick to, contend for, the identical old policy on [slavery] which was adopted by our fathers who framed the Government under which live. While you with one accord reject, and scout, and spit upon that old policy, and insist upon substituting something new [dissolving the union]. Let us stand by our duty fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophisticated contrivances wherewith we are so industriously piled and belabored – contrivances such as growing for some middle ground between the right and wrong: vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man; such a policy of ‘don’t care’ on a question about which all true men do care…”

In other words, the Founders weren’t modern-day yuppies thinking everyone was perfect. But they were pretty clear in stating all men are created equal. And it’s Job 1 to protect and further the nation. Slavery works against that, we didn’t get ahead of it, and now we have to abolish “this cancer”, as Lincoln said.  If that’s too hard for you, that’s too bad. This is what the Constitution says and this is out of hand.

As soon as you can recognize that slaves weren’t slaves, but people, it was all the more clearer. Lincoln argued, at first, to regulate slavery away slowly, like you might cut out a cancer slowly, lest you bleed to death. Eventually, as the South started war, Lincoln as President would come to realize “only complete brutality” would work to protect the nation.

Lincoln’s argument sets a tone that Republicans are the party of right vs. wrong, liberty vs. slavery, patriotism vs. greed, and recognizing that the Constitution says exactly what it means, even when you “might not like it right now,” usually through financial self-interest. It shows a Republican party and the Founders as not vehemently anti-regulation of any kind.  It had a place. He saw Government as having a clear role.

Democratic and Republican Visions Today

I spend this time on Lincoln because I feel like I understand the Democratic vision much more than I do the Republican vision. Today Democrats have a vision that’s easy to understand when applied to practical problems:

  • “Healthcare is over-priced and/or unobtainable.” “No problem, we can pay that for you.”
  • “My neighborhood is falling apart.” “No problem, we can fix that for you.”
  • “I can’t afford to go to a university and get ahead in my career.” “No problem, we can take care of that for you.”

Of course, in these and many other situations, the costs there are absorbed through higher taxes to pay for those things. That’s a valid vision and one that is clearly understandable. “Oh, the government takes care of that now.”

Republicans have been weak to share a vision that addresses those very practical problems people have. Instead, they’ve raised the flag on social issues, like Disunionists of Lincoln’s day did toward slavery. “This is the only thing that matters now, and we’ll blow this thing up if our one single demand isn’t met.” That’s not good government, it’s not good for people, it’s not good for the party, and certainly not for the nation.

It’s hard not to get the impression from Republicans as saying, “I dunno, you figure it out,” or, “Well, I got mine. Good luck.” It’s not wrong of people to turn to their elected leaders for direction on, “What’s next? Now what do we do?”

For example, Republican’s aren’t setting a vision for healthcare that’s regulated just enough to guarantee at least modest protection, and why that’s ultimately better. Republican’s haven’t given a solution to making neighborhoods better beyond “tax cuts”. At a federal level perhaps that makes sense. At a local level, people want to know their money is being allocated as wisely and exhaustively as possible. I think most Hoosiers would agree our State isn’t spending much money on frivolous services (except maybe attorney’s fees in losing court battles), so now what? A tax cut doesn’t fill a pothole.

Republicans aren’t showing people how they can improve their lot in life, how they can be responsible for their own success, and handle things like education, healthcare, and property for themselves and with measurable results.

I intend to think about those few things more in the near future from a Republican perspective. Perhaps there is a vision I’m not seeing. Or perhaps I can land on something that’s an alternative to, “The Government will just take care of that.”

A Little About Life

I’ve been enjoying reading “The Life of Lincoln”, which is a free book for you Kindle and a iBook users. It’s written by Henry Ketcham in the early 1900’s — which lends a bit of trust to the book because of the author’s proximity in time in comparison to modern researchers.

I was struck by one quote in particular: “It’s not the years in your life that matters, but the life in your years.”