Make America Sane Again

Last night was a spectacle to see unravel. Flipping through channel to channel, I watched as the mainstream media imploded attempting to reconcile their polling data with reality. In just a matter of hours the narrative had changed completely. The narrow path for Donald Trump to claim victory had mutated into Hillary Clinton needing a miracle. And then in a single moment it was over: Donald Trump became the 45th president elect of the United States.

If there is one thing I’ve learned over the course of this election cycle, it is this: Never underestimate the ignorance of the American people. This will no doubt be remembered as an absurd climax in American politics, but it was something that had become gradually inevitable for the wildest year in my lifetime. Indeed, 2016 included the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, massive vehicular terrorist attacks, the Panama Paper leaks, and a Chicago Cubs World series win. Still, the question everyone will be asking today and for many years to come: How?

I believe the biggest reason that Donald Trump was victorious was because of the extreme resentment for Hillary Clinton. It was blatantly obvious to anyone outside of the Hollywood, Wall Street and mainstream media bubble that she was a terrible candidate. She represented the essence of the status quo when the country was screaming for something new. Her campaign was shallow and unexciting to get behind. The Democrats failure to elect Bernie Sanders as their nominee was their biggest mistake.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that at the time of writing this piece that Clinton will win the popular vote and I suspect that she will do so overwhelming as the votes continue to come in. The majority of the country didn’t get swayed by a demagogue. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter now. Perhaps there is something to be said about an outdated electoral college system, but I digress and will leave that to the hundreds of Op-Ed pieces that will surely be coming.

Finally, a third point: Leftists have rightly highlighted the sexism, racism and bigotry throughout Trumps campaign, but have also failed to engage in these conversations honestly. Being critical of Black Lives Matter doesn’t make a person racist. Being critical of Third Wave Feminism doesn’t make a person sexist. Being critical of Islamic Terrorism doesn’t make a person an Islamophobe. The failure to distinguish and separate steel man arguments from true bigotry is a key factor in the rise of Trump and the platform he now has. We should never begin by assuming the worst intentions of our political opponents when thoughtful disagreement is possible. It’s simply lazy thinking and it’s completely ineffective for changing minds.

Emotions are high as this two year long bitter campaign comes to a close, but Leftists and Liberals now more than ever need to be rational and champions of reason. The election of Donald Trump in addition to Republican control of the House, Senate and Congress leaves the door wide open to massively regressive changes these next several years.

The silver lining in all of this, ironically, is that Donald Trump is not a traditional republican. The man has no ideology and his policies have been all over the map from the beginning. There’s much reason to believe that his ideas will continue to evolve as the realities of world politics finally settles in. In this regard, I’m hopeful that the presidency can humble the narcissistic egomaniac and make for a survivable 4 years. Don’t hold your breath.

Liberalism vs Socialism

Both liberals and socialists value equality and liberty, but their visions for the world can be vastly different from each other. Perhaps the best way to distinguish between liberalism and socialism can be clarified by a single question: Who should own the means of production?

American Liberals would say that private individuals should own the means of production. However, they would also argue that the State should invest in a strong social safety net in order to combat the inequalities created by capitalism. The political philosopher John Rawls gives credit to this view in his work A Theory of Justice. Rawls provides two principles to follow in order to obtain a just and fair society:

The First Principle of Justice

First comes the priority of liberty: Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others.”

Basic liberties include the political liberty to vote and run for office, freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of religion, freedom of personal property and freedom from arbitrary arrest.

(Note: Rawls clarified in the revised version of A Theory of Justice that he did not consider private ownership of the means of production or the freedom of contract a “basic liberty,” although this point is the main source of contention by libertarians and conservatives)

The Second Principle of Justice

Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that:

“(a) they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society, consistent with the just savings principle. (the difference principle)
(b) offices and positions must be open to everyone under conditions of fair equality of opportunity(Rawls, 1971, p. 302; revised edition, p. 53-54)

Liberals can satisfy these principles by rationalizing that inequalities exist only insofar that they increase the net prosperity for society while still maximizing basic liberties for all people.

Perhaps the best examples of this are the Scandinavian social democracies. These countries rank high in both economic freedom through “free”-market practices and egalitarianism through supporting a giant welfare state. Given the means of production are owned by private individuals (billionaires) in these countries, they represent the tip of the iceberg of what is possible within liberal democracies.

Socialists, in contrast, would say that the workers should democratically own the means of production. They argue that this would naturally create a more egalitarian society because profit sharing would better reflect workers contribution and profits would no longer be concentrated to a small number of capitalists. Most would agree that this is a noble and ideal goal, but figuring out how this transition of power would occur has been socialism’s major shortcoming.

The other hurdle socialism faces is its perception in the public eye. It’s history in practice consists of failed states and staunch authoritarianism, but its theory is consistently misunderstood by those without a clear understanding of capitalism. Outside of intellectual circles, being a socialist in America is one of the worst things you can be.

The truth however is that one could be a socialist and believe in all of the same liberties laid out in Rawls First Principle of Justice. One could also be a socialist and have social conservative values (which are the values of the Amish). Indeed, socialism is not mutually exclusive with a single social ideology- it is an idea that contains a vast diversity of flavors.

One of the best critics of left wing liberalism came from the socialist G.A. Cohen in his book If You’re An Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich? Cohen elegantly points out that liberal rhetoric on equality doesn’t reflect what individuals do with their money. How is it that liberals demand our institutions to act altruistically, but on the other hand say individuals should act in their own self interest? The challenge for a liberal America is to convince 300 million individuals that an egalitarian society is in their self interest and to act on it.

The question remains: Can liberal democracies continue to evolve or will they succumb to socialism in the technological age?

I’ll leave you with this thought provoking video: Humans need not apply.