Born This Way

I was a pragmatist even when too young to know what that was

Looking back, I was a pragmatist even when too young to know what that was. I eventually became aware of the concept and found it confirmed what I was already thinking, perceiving and concluding. Not saying it can’t be developed in anyone with the intelligence and interest, but it’s certainly nice to come by it naturally. My conclusions, such as everything is relative to everything else and there are no absolutes or universal truths, have been confirmed innumerable times over multiple decades. They are foundation of this blog.

Life is simultaneously easier and yet more trying from the pragmatic center. It’s easy to perceive the trap of too much of anything, yet also trying when so many shun the intelligent center for the emotional, intellectually distorted (and dishonest) fringes. The further from moderation, the worse the effect. Moral relativism becomes moral absolutes, political compromise becomes ideological rigidity. Elections are truly a test for a pragmatic centrist, and these have become increasingly unpleasant exercises of fact-free assertions and endless making it up.

The coming election is a few days away from this post, and while I am optimistic that the only qualified candidate will win, the term win seems unfulfilling relative to how much has been lost. All the divisiveness, disinformation, anger and extremism that seem to be inseparable from politics have become so dysfunctional that truly outstanding candidates are now few and far between. Many of the best and brightest simply won’t participate in what has become a race to the bottom of integrity, civility and personal privacy. Obama was a very rare exception, and we have been fortunate to have him for two terms.

It probably won’t come as a surprise that I’ve never voted for a Republican candidate. It’s not that every Democratic candidate is wonderful or even well qualified — at least in my mind. But over the years I’ve observed that moderate Republicans have been increasingly marginalized by those who are more conservative, more unwilling to compromise and increasingly unwilling to govern for a greater good that doesn’t conform to their narrow beliefs. The more extreme conservatives have a deep disdain for government and thus for governance. Voting for a moderate conservative, when they exist, only enables the more extreme conservative in the long run.

This election, however, represented the worst of the worst — both the Republican primaries and then the eventual nominee. This individual is the first presidential candidate I can honestly say has no redeeming qualities. None. He is a pathologically dishonest narcissist bully with literally no intellectual curiosity or rigor, zero experience with governance (no successful president has this distinction) and nonexistent empathy/compassion. He has said there are very few people he respects…which I take as code that
 he only respects himself. His business ethics are dismal at best and few peers consider him successful. And…he has severe issues with anger, magnified by his self-obsession.

As if this wasn’t enough to make him the singularly worst presidential candidate (leaving out the many occupants of the Republican primary clown car), he has become a hero to those who are racist, xenophobic, homophobic and misogynistic. They love that he says out loud what they believe, and thus unconditionally support him regardless of what he says. White supremacists openly support him. We also know how much he respects women — as in not at all — despite his insistence that no one respects women more than he does. He is the ultimate purveyor of post truth, fabricating “truth” that appeals not to intellect but to prejudice.

Were his opponent not the victim of endless conspiracy theories about many aspects of her professional life, plus the highly overrated and functionally irrelevant email server “scandal,” he would have never been close to her in polls (although he is far less so in data-driven predictive markets). Here is where relativism comes into play. Given all the issues in need of attention during the next four years, and given that she is the only experienced, intelligent candidate, the email issue isn’t relatively important — it’s relatively irrelevant. Her goal of not mixing personal email with professional email on a government (and thus not private) server, although understandable, has become a pointless distraction and has likely cost her some votes.

Had her opponent not been so odious, despicable and, yes, deplorable, she likely would have never been electable. But there are sufficient educated voters, particularly women, who grasp the relativity of what’s at stake, so she will probably win…just not by as much as she should. We’ll find out in a few days. My wife says we’re moving to Vancouver if her [expletive of choice] opponent wins, but, pragmatically, that’s not going to happen.

Far more concerning, however, if she does win, is the potential results in terms of opposition voters who refuse to accept her victory — thanks to the dimwit who has been repeatedly telling them the election (and everything else) is rigged, and the unwillingness of Republicans in the Senate to accept any nominee from her for the Supreme Court. The more dysfunctional the balance among the three branches of government becomes, the less likely functional, effective governance will be. Yes, we’ll survive this one way or another, but if that becomes our go-to criterion, we will never become the society we say we want to be.

I’ve spent far too much time and energy on this election cycle, but it was necessary for me to organize my thoughts by writing on this very important aspect of our republic and democracy. For those who share my sense of deep disappointment in the most basic aspect of our democratic society, I want to suggest a reading assignment that deals with a phenomenon undermining political dialogue in the twenty-first century. The cover story for the September 10 2016 Economist — Art of the lie (Pp. 17–20) — lays out post truth politics in the age of social media. It’s time to invoke a pro-truth strategy as a rebuttal to the absence of honesty that has been allowed to become the new normal.