by Ray Keating
The Keating Files – December 31, 2021
Here’s a suggestion: Americans need to come together to make a joint New Year’s Resolution. What should that resolution be? Less politics in 2022 – a lot less.
Nearly everything touched by politics gets corrupted. It’s not really a question of “if” but only of “when.” That is, how long will it take for the corruption to become manifest? Make no mistake, the ills of politics long have been spreading throughout our society, undermining institutions, and making daily life far less joyful. But the descent seems to have accelerated in recent years, with fewer Americans recognizing the corruption.
To paraphrase William F. Buckley, Jr.’s declaration in 1955 that his new magazine, National Review, “stands athwart history yelling stop,” it’s time in 2022, to stand athwart politics yelling stop.
And it must be understood that “politics” and “government” cannot be separated in any coherent manner. Politics merely is the control over government, the exercise of authority, or the art, if you will, of governing. Quite frankly, more government means more politics.
Of course, history is laden with warnings about politics and politicians. The psalmist had good reason to exhort: “Put not your trust in princes…” (Psalm 146:3) And in Common Sense (1776), Thomas Paine bluntly declared: “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”
James Madison, often referred to as the Father of the U.S. Constitution, noted:
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty is this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”
Madison very much understood the need for checks and balances in government given his concerns regarding the abuse of power.
None of this should be news to Americans, but it seems to be for many these days.
The political Left long has been at the forefront politicizing society. After all, the Left views government action not only as a cure-all for any and all real or perceived ills in life, but politics as the path to progress and improvement. Hence, the label “progressives.” So, to say the least, the Left has not been on board with Psalm 146, with Thomas Paine’s take on government, nor quite frankly, with Madison and much of the Constitution. On that last point, if doubted, understand that the predominate view of constitutional interpretation on the Left is judicial activism, which amounts to the Constitution saying whatever at least five members of the U.S. Supreme Court say it says, never mind what is actually written in the document itself.
However, new to this particular march of politicization have been many on the Right. Though they usually call themselves conservatives, those now embracing the expansion of politics, and therefore government, rank as populists, who also are supported or fueled by political panderers and opportunists. Like those on the Left, these populists see themselves as victims. It’s about being a victim of political enemies; big business, especially “Big Tech”; immigrants; international trade; and of course, elites. The list goes on.
So, the primary thrust of our politics these days is between progressives and populists each seeking to use government. The agendas differ (though not always), but the goal stands the same, i.e., seize and use the power of government. This has led to an intensely divisive political battle being engaged far beyond the typical realms of politics.
The Christian Church
Christianity, for example, has been anything but immune. The Left long has been playing politics within the Church. Mainline Protestant churches and parts of the Catholic Church have been in the business of tossing aside the truths of Holy Scripture – to varying degrees from the Ten Commandments to Jesus’ incarnation, death and atonement for the sins of all, and resurrection – in favor of taking up assorted political causes in the name of the Church. Political activism by many leaders in the Church not only takes place in areas where Christians have the freedom to disagree, such as where Scripture is silent, but even where Scripture points in the opposite direction.
More traditional or conservative Christian churches and movements have pushed back against such efforts for decades. But now, large swathes of evangelicals and “conservative” Christians have moved beyond a defense of more traditional Christianity to an ends-justify-the-means politicization. That has included, for example, a see-no-evil, character-does-not-matter embrace of President Donald Trump because he was perceived as being “on our side” on various issues, like abortion, but interestingly not on marriage.
Perhaps even more troubling, however, is how a Trumpian divisiveness has reached into the Church to create a scenario whereby Christians, including assorted clergy, view their political opponents as evil and unreachable. That flies in the face of what Jesus teaches. In fact, some movements within Christianity argue for a general retreat from society itself due to assorted political and cultural developments – a turn inward. You know, let’s just preach to the choir. Again, that’s not what Jesus calls for, and it flies in the face of the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
These developments are about politics trumping God’s Word. They are about greater confidence in politics than in the Church and its mission. They are about the corrupting nature of politics. And we see it flourishing now among both the Left and Right within the Church.
The list continues.
Economics or Politics?
My own profession overflows with examples of politics corrupting the economics discipline. While considerable disagreement exists among economic schools of thought on an array of issues, how much of that disagreement springs from various economists ignoring fundamental laws of economics due to their own political preferences?
The temptation to dress up political preferences in the garb of economics has been around a long time, especially given how economics and economists get tied to policy analyses and proposals. Arguably, the door was blown open to politics being dressed up as economics when John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s justified massive government action to juice up aggregate demand and the economy. From that point forward, it has been increasingly easy to find economists willing to slap some economics makeup on almost any governmental action. Today, that goes for government spending being an engine of economic growth to justifying protectionist trade policies to advocating for increases in a government-mandated minimum wage to ignoring any possible negatives of raising costs on entrepreneurs, businesses and investors to asserting that immigrants are negatives for the economy. None of this makes economic sense; instead, it’s about the politics of various economists.
The corruption of politics is clear.
Sports and Politics
How about sports? Sure. We’ve seen where a handful of players use their spots as professional athletes to advance political causes. Politicians react, especially in hopes of fueling anger and action among their respective bases. Matters escalate far beyond the simple reality that a few athletes in a particular league have taken a controversial, usually shallow, stand. Sports become politicized. Interestingly, though, with sports, politics tend to be short-lived rather than something more substantive. Causes come and go, as do the reactions. People declare that they’ll never watch a game again because some players disagree with them on this or that political point. But not long after, everyone is gathered back around the television wearing their jerseys.
But another political storm no doubt will emerge, or be manufactured, and divisions will again be accentuated.
The Politics of Business?
How about business? At one time, American businesses were studiously nonpolitical. After all, why wade into politics and potentially aggravate half of your customers? Of course, there are cases where politicians seek to impose additional burdens on businesses, and it would be irresponsible for companies not to make clear their positions on such matters. But the pressure and willingness to get political beyond those situations have been ramped up in recent times.
Many business executives are stuck wondering which issues are actual trends in the marketplace, and which are stirred up by politicians and activists. Other executives seem to lack a fundamental understanding of the role of profits in a business, as well as in the marketplace in terms of allocating resources, and have embraced political causes as guides for running companies. Eventually, though, businesses that make decisions that run counter to what consumers want and need will be punished in the marketplace.
There’s more, of course, including in education, in “Hollywood,” in publishing, in news reporting, etc. Heck, largely via political manipulation, we’ve even managed to politicize getting vaccinated to save lives and limit the spread of a pandemic. The list is rather exhausting.
Populists, Progressives and No Real Surprises
The populist Right seems to be a strange mix of a harsh libertarianism with extreme distrust of everything government is involved in, including running elections; a politically-focused chunk of evangelicalism that seems more Republican than Christian; a paranoia regarding technology, large businesses, immigrants and the international economy; an isolationism regarding foreign policy; and yet, an authoritarian streak if their people (like Donald Trump) were running the government.
This contrasts with a progessive Left that is no longer shy about brandishing its ignorance of economics, its unwavering love of government, and its willingness to call for adopting socialism (though it’s not clear that many of these pro-socialists actually know what socialism is, and the same goes for many of today’s critics of these efforts). These progressives certainly see no ills in imposing higher taxes and increased regulations, but instead view these as minor, preliminary matters in their larger plans. They share with the populists a penchant for isolationism on most international matters, such as trade and U.S. global leadership, that is, unless an international effort advances the Left’s secular religion of environmentalism. For good measure, the Left’s social agenda no longer allows for mere disagreement, discussion or even civil argument with others, but instead, it is a matter of punishing those who fail to get on board. The temptations of Stalinism are never completely lost on the Left.
So, in this era where one major political party is immersed in a radical progressivism and the other in a radical populism, no one should be surprised by the spread of politics and divisiveness across society. We can be saddened by it, distressed by it, and worried about where the U.S. might be headed, but being surprised is no longer in the cards. In a real and tragic sense, we have caught up to the descent that’s been going on in parts of Europe for some time now, that is, a rampaging progressivism on the Left and a dark populism on the Right.
What to do? Is there another option? Yes. Traditional, or American, conservatism offers insights. That is, the conservatism with roots in the American founding, and made clear in much of the thinking and actions of assorted individuals like Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge, Jack Kemp, William F. Buckley, Jr., George Will, and Ronald Reagan.
Regarding politics and its proper role as they relate to this time and topic, the conservative would say that men and women have a right to be free from arbitrary force; that political freedom cannot be separated from economic freedom; and that the purpose of government is to protect freedom by protecting life, limb and property, providing for a national defense, and administering justice. This limited view of government naturally points to a limited view of politics. As conservative historian Lee Edwards put it: “The conservative looks upon politics as the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order.”
Yes, this description leaves plenty of room for diverse views, disagreement and debate. It always has. But in today’s politics, both Left and Right, Democrats and Republicans, seem to stand against or in ignorance of these basic tenets. And given that Democrats never claimed to be conservatives, this ignorance or opposition is a far more egregious offense for Republicans and others who label themselves as being “conservative.”
Think about this traditional view of politics, and compare it to our current affairs, and to both the Democratic and Republican parties. Again, it’s deeply troubling. But is all lost?
No. From the traditional Christian to the traditional conservative (for which, by the way, there is a great deal of overlap, with Judeo-Christian values serving as part of the foundation of conservativism – but alas that is a subject to delve more deeply into on another day), while serious reasons for worry exist, this does not, or should not, translate into a loss of confidence in truths and principles. But it does mean that hard work lies ahead in order to teach, persuade and correct, and treat civilly, not denigrate and name call, those with whom we disagree.
I think of my favorite quote, which I reference often, from President Reagan: “We’ve made much progress already. So, let us go forth with good cheer and stout hearts – happy warriors out to seize back a country and a world to freedom.”
And yes, this all can start with a New Year’s Resolution for less politics in 2022. It’s a conservative resolution that perhaps many Americans, who are sick of the spreading corruption of politics, now stand open to considering and perhaps adopting.
Ray Keating is a columnist, novelist, economist, podcaster and entrepreneur. The views expressed here are his own – after all, no one else should be held responsible for this stuff, right?
Keating writes the Pastor Stephen Grant thrillers and mysteries. Vatican Shadows: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel is the 13th book in the series, followed by Past Lives: A Pastor Stephen Grant Short Story and What’s Lost? A Pastor Stephen Grant Short Story. Signed books are available at www.RayKeatingOnline.com.
Some of Keating’s best columns and essays are available in Behind Enemy Lines: Conservative Communiques from Left-Wing New York. And his other recent nonfiction book is Free Trade Rocks! 10 Points on International Trade Everyone Should Know. Again, signed books at www.RayKeatingOnline.com.
Check out Ray Keating’s Disney news and entertainment site at www.DisneyBizJournal.com.