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Your Political Mental Map

As a rule, I don’t post images of my family members on this blog, so I’ve blacked out my son Matthew’s face. Here he is coming out of the voting booth yesterday after voting in his first-ever election. He’s 19. I voted in my first national election in 1988. My choice for president that year? Michael Dukakis. Can I pick ’em, or what?

I recently re-read Cambridge social anthropologist Paul Connerton’s great 1989 book How Societies Remember. In it, Connerton talks about how the “mental map” laid down in childhood stays with us for the rest of our lives, and that this is determined by class. That’s true, but it’s also determined by other factors. I’d like to start a thread about how the mental map we — that is, you readers and me — had laid down for us in childhood (up to age 21, let’s say) affected the way we see the world.

I’m 51 years old, born in 1967. Generation X. The most formative political events of my youth were:

1. The Iranian hostage crisis
2. The Cold War
3. Reaganism

4. John Paul II

These three events are inseparable, in fact. I won’t bore you by going into too much detail here, but I’ll give you a sketch. The idea is not to argue that the conclusions that I drew from these things were correct, but only to indicate how formative they were to my worldview.

I was too young to have any visceral sense of Watergate or the Vietnam War, but I do recall the second half of the 1970s being a time of anxiety and malaise. The Iranian hostage crisis was such a humiliating thing for the country. If you didn’t live through it, it’s hard to express how agonizing it was. President Jimmy Carter was widely loathed for being weak and ineffectual in general, but most especially over the way he handled Iran. Looking back on it, he deserved more credit than he got at the time, but man, were we all ever ready for Ronald Reagan. I remember lying in bed on election night 1980, watching Reagan give his victory speech on the little black and white TV on the shelf, and falling asleep thinking, “The country is saved.”

Carter’s weakness was also manifest in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It felt to many of us that the Russians could do whatever they liked, and the US couldn’t do a thing about it. America was a weak and humiliated country. The Democrats were the party of weakness and appeasement. (Again, I’m not arguing facts here; I’m explaining the narrative that formed me politically.) “Morning in America” was a real thing!

The thing is, I was a liberal Democrat for most of the 1980s. Around 1982 or so, I decided Reagan was a bad man. I can look back on it now and understand that my political thinking (“thinking”) was mostly driven by teenage rebellion against my father and what he stood for. I began my rightward shift at some point in college, when I started following the liberal pieties I professed to their logical conclusions. I never did become a full-on Reaganaut, but at some point I began to identify as a conservative, because the conservative account of the world — economic, moral, foreign policy — started to make more sense to me. The thing I realize now is that Reagan so dominated American politics in the 1980s — this, even though Democrats were still the main Congressional party — that liberal politics then were entirely a reaction to him.

The Republican Party was the party that could be trusted on national security, and on the economy. The 1970s had been a terrible time for both the economy and national security — and Reagan really had turned it all around. My conversion to Catholicism in 1992-93 solidified the social-conservative views emerging out of my own experiences. By then, my political worldview was pretty much set, so it was easy to graft Pope John Paul II onto it. He, like Reagan, stood firm against communism, and he also, in my mind, stood for moral order, even more than Reagan did. I believed that the Catholic Church and the Republican Party were two institutions that could be trusted — and I voted that way.

Events from the years 2001-2008 completely shattered that worldview. The abuse scandal, the Iraq War, the Bush administration’s conduct in general, then the financial crash — all of that left me reeling. I still have a morally and socially conservative view of the world, but I find it very, very hard to have faith in institutions. The break was so deep within me that I honestly don’t know to what extent the events and conclusions that formed my political mental map as a youth still matter. There was a series of earthquakes, and the map is now out of date.

The model of the world that I absorbed as a young man in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s proved to be unreliable. I think I’m too old now ever to believe again that there is a politically reliable model. I do know that it is almost impossible for me to trust the US government on matters of war and peace again, not after Iraq.  And knowing how hard I fell for the Iraq war argument, it is, to be honest, hard for me to trust my own ability to judge truth from lies.

I don’t really know what I believe in, politically; I only know what I don’t believe in. It feels sometimes like I’ve gone full circle, and I’m back to the late ’70s, only we’re all richer, and the air is not so smoky. But the sense of cynicism, malaise, and drift is very real.

I’m not sure what the major events are that formed the political mental map of my 19-year-old son. I plan to talk to him about it next time we get together.

What about you? Again, I’m not asking you to attack or defend my 1980s worldview, and to keep the thread from going off-kilter, I’m not going to publish comments that try to support or criticize it (or anybody’s worldview) in depth. What I’m interested in is your reflections on the events and personalities of your youth that gave you your own political orientation, whether it’s on the left, right, or center. This is not going to be an argumentative thread. Rather, I’m only interested in hearing people tell their stories.

UPDATE: By the way, readers, I want to thank you for helping make this site such a success. Last month, this blog tallied 1.7 million page views, from 1.4 million unique visitors. This is the ninth month in a row we’ve had over a million visitors here. I appreciate it!

UPDATE.2: I’m breaking out some of the answers in the comments into a separate series. Please feel free to comment on the substance of those posts in their comment threads. This post’s comment thread will be reserved strictly for people telling their own stories of how their political mental map was formed. Reader RBH’s comment below — which will have its own post shortly — inspired this further set of thoughts from me about my political mental map. (You will be able to comment on these remarks in the separate post, if you like):

 This brought to mind a formative experience I had, that I had forgotten about. I can’t believe this slipped my mind. This is probably the MOST politically formative experience for me!

Longtime readers know that I went through a period in my life — ninth and tenth grade, which I guess is ages 14 and 15 — in which I was bullied in school. What made it especially painful was that the bullies included guys who had been my best friends throughout elementary school. They wanted to be part of the cool older crowd once we got to ninth grade, and for whatever reason, that meant throwing me over the side, and joining my tormentors. The initiating event for that, as I’ve written before, was a group of the cool kids — boys — holding me down in a hotel room on a beach trip, and trying to pants me to impress their girlfriends, who were looking on. There I was, pinned to the floor, begging the two adult chaperones in the room to help me, and they literally stepped over me to get out of the room. They wanted to be cool parents, and that meant not saying no to the cool kids.

In the two years I spent in that school after that event, I learned that the people you thought were your best friends will turn on you just like that, when they perceive their self-interest requires it. I learned that people, when they mob up, are horrible, and only strong authority can protect vulnerable individuals from the mob. But I also learned that authority cannot be trusted — that those in authority will look for every reason they can to avoid exercising it when it would involve punishing those they favor.

To see that lesson play itself out decades later, in the Catholic abuse scandal — well, suffice it to say that that confirmed my priors with the force of an asteroid strike. I believe that writing about the scandal twenty years later as a journalist reactivated a lot of ugly crap that I had buried, and led to my loss of Catholic faith.

A much more minor, but still interesting lesson that formed my political mental map — this, related to RBH’s story.

I left home to start my junior year in high school at a publicly-funded boarding school for gifted kids in Louisiana. After the first six weeks, we were sent home for a long weekend break, and I visited my favorite teacher in my old school. I sat in on one of her classes. I was shocked to see how much time she had to spend disciplining the class. It had been invisible to me before, because I had never known classrooms to be different. In the first six weeks at my new public school, teachers never had to discipline their students. Everybody was quiet, well-behaved, and wanted to learn. Because teachers didn’t have to spend so much time and effort disciplining classes, we were able to cover so much more ground, and the classroom process was much less stressful.

Like RBH, from that I learned that most people lack self-discipline. In most cases, the lack of strong home training will show itself. The point of government is to protect those who want to do the right thing, and build up the community, from the jackasses who want to ruin it for everybody else.

I have a complicated and contradictory political view. I do not trust the People, but I don’t trust Authority either. The paradox here, as I wrote about in my book The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming [1], is that the same tight communal bonds that made small-town life very hard for outsiders and marginalized people like me were what made things so beautiful and loving for my late sister as she suffered from cancer. That is, the things that held me down when I was a teenager living there were not all that different from the things that held her up when she was terminally ill. I don’t know what to do with that. Still don’t.

I tend to have a mildly authoritarian personality, because I fear chaos (which empowers bullies), but I also do not trust authority to do the right thing. If it does, I’m pleasantly surprised. As I wrote in that first post, I came to trust conservative government and the Roman Catholic Church to be sources of authority, and good exercisers of it. The abuse scandal and the Iraq War (as well as Bush administration cronyism) destroyed that.

I hadn’t thought about it till now, but one reason I push the Benedict Option [2] is because I have no faith in the leadership of our large institutions to address effectively the crisis in which we all find ourselves.

Oh, one more thing: watching the 1978 TV miniseries Holocaust. I was 12 years old, and interested in World War II. I had a vague knowledge about the Holocaust, and wanted to watch the show because I was interested in the war. I recall watching with mounting horror as things turned for the German Jews. On the second or the third night of the week-long broadcast, there was a scene in which the Germans lined a bunch of naked Jews up beside a trench, and shot them en masse. I was lying on my left side on the green shag carpet floor in our living room watching that — and I started to sob. I began convulsing. My father rose from his chair and carried me to my bed. That was the end of Holocaust for me.

That right there was the beginning of my fear and loathing of the mob.

137 Comments (Open | Close)

137 Comments To "Your Political Mental Map"

#1 Comment By Ben On November 8, 2018 @ 11:54 am

Where can I read more from Matt in VA?

It’ll be sparse consolation, Matt, but you and your family are welcome in my BenOp group any time. I’m a know-it-all, traditional Catholic, conservative ape, with a boundless abundance of personal flaws and sins, no little cognitive dissonance WRT voting red, and an acute tendency toward misanthropy. Consequently, mine is a BenOp group of one.

(Like I wrote – sparse consolation).

Thank you, sincerely, for this and all of your comments.

#2 Comment By Ryan W On November 8, 2018 @ 12:01 pm

Born 1985. I’m Canadian, but given that most readers of this blog are American, I’ll focus on American issues (Anyway, given how closely tied Canada and America are, a lot of these things would be the biggest events anyway)

1. The Iraq War

I think for a lot of people of my generation, this has had an impact almost equal to the impact of the Vietnam War on our parents’ generation. I was in high school when this started, and prided myself on being a contrarian neoconservative at the time. In Canada, especially Eastern Canada, supporting the Iraq War was a decidedly minority opinion, which of course made those of us who held it (especially the all-wise, all-knowing teenagers among us) somewhat proud of our status as a sophisticated minority who could see how blind the majority was. Of course, that made the disillusionment all the more pronounced when I had to admit that I had been wrong all along. The result is, like most millenials, I’m now decidedly suspicious of foreign adventures.

2. The 2008 crisis

Having had the legs kicked out from under my foreign policy neo-conservatism by the Iraq War, the 2008 crisis did the same to my fiscal neo-conservatism. Like a lot of other people, I was disgusted by the extent to which the bankers got away with espousing radical libertarianism until they got themselves in trouble, then showing up with their begging hand outstretched, only to have the government willingly fill it. Even more disgusting was the nauseating moralism that kept any significant bailout money from flowing to ordinary people that found themselves underwater. Given that most of this happened under Obama, this also led me to reflect on the bipartisan nature of a lot of what’s rotten in America (which of course is present to varying degrees in other countries too).

3. The Trump election

What influenced me so much about this was not so much the event itself as the reaction of the supposedly intellectually sophisticated set. Suddenly it was as if points 1 and 2 were completely forgotten. Trump just parachuted into the garden of wise and just American policy and destroyed everything. Suddenly even George W. Bush could be rehabilitated. It turns out he wasn’t a blind ideologue who played a key role in setting up the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression and irreparably damaging America’s stature in the world. After all, in the really important matters (eg. not sending nasty tweets or having overly rowdy campaign rallies) he was on the side of the angels. The tenor of critiques of Trump, and particularly the rehabilitation of figures like Bush, gave me a lot of insight into how shallow, petty and fundamentally unthinking most of the “public intellectuals” are.

Overall, I guess the key theme here is that the millenial trajectory as I experienced it is not so different from the trajectory of the late Cold War generation. A crusading idealism (Bush or Reagan) has been gradually debunked by following realities, leaving no small measure of cynicism in its wake.

#3 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 8, 2018 @ 12:03 pm

A recent bit of news from the election caught my eye shortly after reading this post by Rod. It serves to set up how my political “mental map” developed.


CAIRO, W. Va. In a race for the West Virginia House of Delegates, the Wiccan writings of one candidate emerged as issue. Mr. Jason S. Harshbarger (Rep.) currently holds the seat in question. On October 24, Representative Harshbarger posted an article on Facebook from The Daily Caller, a right wing website. That post alleged that his opponent, Lissa Lucas failed to disclose her Wiccan practice and writings.

In the grand scheme of things, this is an iota on a blip on the fringe of no one cares. In that local election, a total of less than 5,500 votes were cast for the two candidates. The district is traditionally and very strongly Republican, and Lucas got a lower percentage of the total than the previous Democratic candidate.

None of this made it to mainstream media.

It did make a very big splash on Christian conservative local media, and was prominent on local social media.

I’m not beating the Pagan persecution drum. I am observing that Christians continue to make religion a point of attack, leaping to false accusations and descriptions. It’s possible to see this rhetoric in wider contexts, and just about daily even outside the election cycle. In this case, they characterized Wicca as a cult, Lucas as a cult leader, and with absolutely no chance of losing his re-election the Wild Hunt article makes the point I believe is of importance here:

District 7 has historically voted for the GOP. Given 2016 percentages, District 7 would more than likely remain a safe GOP seat. It is unclear why Harshbarger felt the need to bring up Lucas’s Wiccan background.

Starting in my early teens, my mother and elder sisters were active in the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. I tagged along to events, got “volunteered” to do go-fer and manual chores, and had a ringside seat to non-partisan and multi-partisan discussions. I took two things from it.

U.S. citizens’ first obligation, upon attaining the right to vote, is to be an informed voter. That is a significant effort. It is avoided or ignored by the vast majority of eligible voters. (Please remember, this is the conclusion of a teenager.)

U.S. politicians for the most part do not want a constituency of informed voters. The more they control what people know, the more they control the message, the more successful they are and will be in getting elected and staying in office.

None of that has changed in my mind. I’ve seen nothing to dissuade me of them in the subsequent almost 50 years. It forms the foundation for my deep contempt of average of 50% of eligible voters who don’t vote in general elections, and the 70% or more who don’t vote in primaries.

#4 Comment By GBM On November 8, 2018 @ 12:03 pm


The Iraq war. The combination of hubris, corruption, incompetence, and violence out of the Republican party has likely permanently turned me off to them. Especially given that there wasn’t a shred of accountability for the whole debacle, and it sure looks like they want to do it again in Iran. This tendency seems like it’s got the potential to do immense damage to the United States.

#5 Comment By sigaliris On November 8, 2018 @ 12:31 pm

1959: Fidel Castro makes revolution in Cuba. I was eight years old. I viewed him as a fighter for justice and invented a new game for me and my brother: I was Fidel; he was Raul or Che, his choice. Then I learned from “National Review,” which my father wrote for and subscribed to, that Fidel was bad and we were trying to kill him. I still secretly believed in him.

1962: Cuban Missile Crisis. I was eleven. My father went around for days with a transistor radio clipped to his belt. He tried to build a fallout shelter in our root cellar, stacking newspapers around it to insulate us from fallout. I had read “Hiroshima,” by John Hersey. I wondered if we’d end up like that—wandering through the ruins, blinded and scorched, with our skin peeling off. What if the neighbors tried to get into our basement and eat our canned goods? Would we have to kill them?

1963: JFK is assassinated. I was twelve. I was in 8th grade English class when everything came to a stop, and the principal’s voice over the loudspeaker announced that the President had been shot and was dead. The teachers wandered the halls conferring with each other, while we sat in our room listening to the sound of grownups crying. Some kids put their heads down on their desks and cried. I glared at the wall in stony silence, thinking, “So these are the people who run my world. And they can’t even stop the President from being shot. All they do is cry like babies. What a bunch of pathetic idiots.”

1963-ish: The Civil Rights movement. I saw the pictures of American citizens getting beaten up and attacked by dogs. Apparently black citizens weren’t quite American enough.

1963: The Birmingham Church bombing. Four little girls were murdered. People my age—for no crime but being black. I thought, “This can’t be happening. How can this be America?” My father said that black people were badly treated, but he said they needed to be patient and obey the law, otherwise it would be like the days of Hitler when there was chaos in the streets. I didn’t get the logic, but I dutifully parroted his position. This made me popular (not) with my liberal peers.

1964: I thought Goldwater would win, because “National Review” said he should. Surprise—he didn’t. I took quite a ribbing in my civics class the next day.

Also in the early 60s, I discovered the firebombing of Dresden and Hamburg. “How could we do that?” I asked my father at breakfast one day. “We were supposed to be the good guys.” He flew into an instant rage and screamed at me, shaking his fists as if to slug me at any moment: “You are a STUPID, STUPID LITTLE GIRL and you know NOTHING.” Well, yeah. That was kind of the point. I wanted to know. But he wasn’t going to tell me. I set off for junior high school and prayed, as I often did, that Ann Arbor, Michigan, would be designated a first strike target so we’d get a direct hit and with any luck I would die instantly.

1963: Pope John XXIII died. My father said the Holy Spirit made the pope die of stomach cancer because he was ruining the church. That really hurt. Pope John XXIII was the first and last pope that I loved with childlike innocence and awe. After that, I didn’t care about any of them any more.

1965: Malcolm X is shot and killed. Yes, I noticed. “We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.” How could any citizen of a country brought to birth by revolution fail to respect that statement?

1965 and onward: As soon as they got old enough, my younger siblings rebelled as hard as they could—and with some justification, as we had all been verbally and physically abused for years. My parents were never very good at parenting, but they might have gotten away with it if the 60s hadn’t hit them like a freight train. There was screaming, beating, suicide threats. alcohol and drugs, teen pregnancy. I thought it was my job to save my family. I went looking for the kids when they ran away repeatedly, covered for them when they were drunk, tried to keep my parents calm. I prayed for God to help us. The 60s for me were not a time of fun and freedom. They were a personal hell.

1968: My Lai. “How could we do this? We were supposed to be the good guys.” Sigh.
Martin Luther King is shot and killed.
Robert F. Kennedy is shot and killed.

You’d think all this would have radicalized me, but instead I doubled down on identifying as a conservative. Perhaps out of a misplaced sense of loyalty to my parents, perhaps because I was living in a chaotic world and felt the need for some point of stability. Also, the radical kids I encountered were the same children of privilege who had tormented me relentlessly for being weird, wearing the weird clothes my parents bought me, and having no money. So I wasn’t inclined to hail them as saviors. And I perceived them as idiots who didn’t understand that they were only permitted to carry on because the authorities hadn’t decided to kill them yet. They had no real power.

Instead, I joined a cult when I was eighteen—a Catholic Charismatic renewal “covenant community.” That was my version of making revolution. Thus, I missed most of the 70s, which, from a slight distance, looked pretty wretched too.

1972: I was 21 and stood in line for two hours in a cold rain to vote for the first time . . . for Richard Nixon!! Oy. Just another moment of facepalm in my long life of error.

I’m not a conservative now, but that’s another story.

#6 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On November 8, 2018 @ 1:01 pm

I tend to have a mildly authoritarian personality, because I fear chaos (which empowers bullies), but I also do not trust authority to do the right thing. If it does, I’m pleasantly surprised. As I wrote in that first post, I came to trust conservative government and the Roman Catholic Church to be sources of authority, and good exercisers of it. The abuse scandal and the Iraq War (as well as Bush administration cronyism) destroyed that.

I think this is really important, because what it underscores is that it’s not really the events of the day that shape our thinking. It’s the interaction of those events plus our basic personality traits. I tried to get at that with my comment above. (And I hope to meet you too someday, Rod! I haven’t donated to TAC in the past- I have too many other charities competing for my contributions, although I feel bad about that- but I hope my readership does drive up your advertising contributions).

George Orwell has a great line in his essay on Jonathan Swift, he says that Swift is “a Tory anarchist, despising authority while distrustful of liberty, and preserving the aristocratic outlook while seeing clearly that the existing aristocracy is degenerate and contemptible”. Your comment about your mixed views of authority reminds me of that quotation, and in turn I’ve always seen a lot of myself in the way Orwell describes Swift. I think that most of the answers that conservatism- both in its Anglo-American and in its continental European forms- provides are wrong, but I think the answers liberalism provides are simply incoherent, or more importantly aren’t really answers at all. Socialism and tribalism come closer to providing answers, in my book, but they only deal with very limited areas of life and are miserable failures when you try to extrapolate them outside their domain. Which is another way of saying: I think men need to be ruled over, but I don’t trust any of the existing authorities to rule them (us?) properly. I guess that leads to both of us, in different ways, being very disaffected with the world that we live in.

#7 Comment By London Harry On November 8, 2018 @ 1:20 pm

Born 2001, so I’m still very much in my formative years. Britain is very politically volatile at the moment (Brexit, Corbyn) but insofar as I can claim to have a coherent political worldview, it is one more influenced by my personal circumstances than my perception of ‘events’.

1. My ethnic and geographical background. I was born in Japan to a white British father and an Anglo-Indian mother. My parents really loved Japan, and still speak Japanese to each other, eat Japanese whenever they can and constantly watch sumo on the TV. They moved back to Blighty so my brother and I could have a proper education, but I think they both left bits of their hearts behind, and associate modern Britain primarily with shabbiness, materialism and debased sentimentality (as evidenced by the Princess Diana sobfest and bullying of public figures who prefer to maintain ‘stiff upper lip’ like the Queen, McCann family or Theresa May) in contrast to Japan’s respect for tradition, excellence and self-discipline. I feel I’ve inherited that perception, but at the same time watching my parents’ despondency has awakened me to the futility of the ‘global citizen’ lifestyle. Moreover, the fact I’m the son of a white man means I have zero time for ethnic-minority journalists and intellectuals who spend their lives whining about ‘white privilege’ etc. My mother’s family didn’t come to England to impose Indian culture on native folk. If anything, they came to escape it. My grandfather still doesn’t hide his view of India as a cesspit of bigotry, corruption and misogyny. He and my mother are infinitely grateful for the privilege of living in Britain, for all its flaws. So I’m not exactly keen on multiculturalist paeans to ‘diversity’ and cultural relativism.

2. My education. I go to a great private school in London, where I’ve received a proper education in the humanities. I’ve been particularly influenced by the Irish head of history, who’s a lovely man and an authority on Victorian Catholic intellectuals. He’s introduced me to Russell Kirk, Joseph Ratzinger, JCD Clark and other Catholic-Right thinkers, for good or ill. He’s a neocon, not a paleocon, so there’s some deviation between our worldviews. He’s certainly no fan of Brexit. Equally, though, I’ve been affected by the negative influence of young left-liberal teachers in other departments. There are a lot of humanities teachers in my school who constantly lecture their classes on inequality, diversity, elitism etc. without ever acknowledging their own unforced decision to spend their lives teaching modernist poetry or the Aeneid to mainly white upper-middle class boys in a fee-paying school. They’re all nice people and great teachers, but the main consequence of my contact with them is that I associate the left-liberalism which dominates political and cultural discourse in Britain with hypocrisy and an unlovely lack of self-awareness. If your general opinions contradict your life choices, that cancels your opinions, not your choices.

3. Corbyn. That sensitivity to leftie hypocrisy has accentuated my disgust at the present Leader of HM Opposition. Jeremy Corbyn speaks endlessly of the need for a ‘kinder and gentler politics’ and the boundless badness of ‘the Tories’, but it’s a matter of objective record that he has spent the greater part of his life producing vile apologia for Third World dictatorships (Iran, Venezuela, Russia) and terrorist groups (Hamas, Hezbollah, the IRA). He’s also spoken fondly of blood libellers and 9/11 conspiracy theorists and appeared alongside deniers of the Holocaust and the Srebrenica massacre. So a nasty piece of work, all in all. This summer Russian military-intelligence officers attempted to kill a political dissident on British soil with a chemical weapon. Whilst Theresa May (and, to his credit, Donald Trump) rallied the international community against this despicable violation of basic standards of morality and sovereignty, Corbyn publicly entertained wackjob conspiracy theories. Consequently, I guess that for all the Tories’ incompetence and unseriousness, I’ll happily queue to vote for them as soon as I can.

Sorry for the lengthy comment, but I thought a perspective from across the pond might be interesting to some readers.

#8 Comment By Haigha On November 8, 2018 @ 1:58 pm

You might say that I got full-spectrum conservatism with my mother’s milk, since my mother was/is a Buckleyite conservative. I was left the task of systematizing and refining those politics, which I did largely in high school, ending up rather more extreme than I had learned to be at home, mostly libertarian, albeit pro-life, immigration-hawkish, culturally conservative, and foreign-policy hawkish.

The 1994 “Republican revolution” was perhaps the biggest moment for me. At that time, it seemed really possible that we would start rolling back the Great Society immediately, and even eventually roll back the New Deal. I thought that ever-increasing wealth would inevitably reduce the demand for redistribution, and class-based social tensions, and that the best ideas would win in the end.

The couple of decades since then have been a progressive disillusionment, both with respect to Republican politicians and with respect to the voting public. Not with respect to the Iraq war–I continue to believe that it was right, but disastrously executed–but rather with respect to size and scope of government issues and social conservative priorities like abortion. Another casualty, largely of the Obama era and after: my former belief that the basic common sense of the general public would never be shaken by the nuttiness of the academy.

Parallel to this disillusionment about politics was a disillusionment about people in general. As I progressed from public high school to selective college to law school to employment, I always sort of thought that at the next stage, among a more elite group, people would finally be guided by reason rather than emotion, would make only logically valid arguments, would distribute reward and honor purely on the basis of merit, etc.

I think it was in law school that I finally realized that it’s never going to be like that among any group of people: pettiness, disguised or naked self-interest, cliquishness, and emotion would always and everywhere rule, and always have.

This realization was depressing, but in a way, it was also empowering and liberating: it essentially meant that the emperor had no clothes and that I could stand eye-to-eye and toe-to-toe with pretty much anyone, and deepened my belief in the rightness of subsidiarity, Burkean traditionalism, and individual freedom. It also, perhaps counter-intuitively, made me generally more sympathetic to and affectionate toward people and their idiosyncrasies and foibles. After all, if no one is immune, then we should all be cutting each other some slack.

#9 Comment By YM On November 8, 2018 @ 2:06 pm

Rod, I am a 53 year old male who grew up Reform Jewish in the NYC suburbs and became Orthodox Jewish in my 30’s. Our stories are very similar except for the timings. Here is who I voted for:
1984 Reagan
1988 Dukaukis
1992 Clinton
1996 Clinton
2000 Gore
2004 Bush
2008 McCain
2012 Romney
2016 Trump

#10 Comment By Raskolnik On November 8, 2018 @ 2:17 pm

#1: 9/11 and the Iraq War. I didn’t have strong feelings on Bush or Gore, it seemed like more of the same old same old either way, but on September 12, 2001, I was entirely supportive of military action in Afghanistan. Then, for some reason, there was talk of invading Iraq. I was skeptical of the claims about WMD’s, but willing to take the Administration’s argument at face value. However, in short order it became clear that the United States government had used shoddy intelligence to launch us into a war on flimsy pretenses, a war which furthermore had nothing to do with just reprisal for the attacks on our nation. I took several lessons away from this: the media could not be trusted (one of the war’s most vocal early cheerleaders was the NYT Editorial Board), the intelligence community could not be trusted, and the neoconservatives were pure evil.

At the time, in today’s language, I would have considered myself something of a left-libertarian, seeing the Democrats as beholden to the same corporate interests as the Republicans, just different industries (I still think that’s largely true, though global capital has increasingly thrown in with the Left). In some ways I leaned more D, but saw things I liked in the right-libertarian paradigm, particularly the emphasis on personal responsibility and achievement. However, the Bush years turned me completely against the Republican Party, which I still do not trust to the extent that it continues to harbor Bushie establishment and Neocon types. It is, in my estimation, no accident that these are the exact same people—the Bill Kristols and Max Boots and Jennifer Rubins of the world—who continue to mouth empty Zombie Reaganite platitudes while accepting the Left’s axioms, embracing the Right’s decline, and vociferously shouting down anyone or anything (most notably the President) that could be construed as actually fighting for the American people as opposed to immigrants and foreigners.

#2: The impact of Lawrence v. Texas through the years. As a left-libertarian-ish type at the time, I was mystified by Scalia’s scathing dissent. Gay marriage? Bestiality? What the **** is this guy talking about? Like any normal male I was grossed out by homosexuality (side note: Microsoft Word just flagged this term in its Grammar Check for constituting a violation of “inclusive language”; I am speechless), but the thought of goons with guns arresting people for homosexual acts conducted behind closed doors struck me as out of keeping with the American tradition of liberty and limited police powers.

Of course, as Microsoft Word flagging the term “homosexuality” amply indicates, Scalia was if anything too restrained and optimistic in his assessment of the consequences that Lawrence v. Texas would have. It was quite instructive to see what Rod has since formulated as the Law of Merited Impossibility develop in realtime. The same people whom I had just a few years prior joined in laughter with, at the absurd notion of gay “marriage” being a consequence of this ruling, climbed up on the ramparts and started demanding it as a “human right.” Observing this, I realized that the Left knew neither bounds nor decency. It was perpetually 1968, in their minds, and any adult in the room who offered the slightest bit of resistance to their insane (Microsoft Word just flagged this term too, for violating “inclusive language” with respect to mental health) demands would be sent to GULAG. I wonder how long it is before Microsoft Word starts phoning home and letting the relevant authorities know that I am unafraid to use the terms “homosexual” and “insane” in my prose.

#3: Moldbug. I don’t remember exactly how I first stumbled across Unqualified Reservations, but it was life-changing. Suddenly, so many things that I had found odd or inexplicable made sense. It was like a camera finding the correct focal length; things that had been blurry or indistinct snapped into resolution. There were many aspects to this, but probably the biggest one was his reference to The Bell Curve and his frank discussion of population group-level differences. One of the first things that snapped into focus after discovering Neoreaction was the curious incident of Larry Summers getting ousted from Harvard. The thing about that incident that I couldn’t make any sense of at the time was why someone so obviously smart as Larry Summers would say something like that. Up to that point, I had taken strict and absolute Blank Slate-ism as an article of faith. Didn’t everyone? Wasn’t this just correct, full stop? How could he say or imply that women might not necessarily be as capable of men at the highest level?

Well, it turns out that Larry Summers was smart enough and honest enough to have looked at the data and reached the only viable conclusion, which is that male and female median cognitive ability is the same, but the shape of the distributions are different. This fact was, of course, completely lost in the media outrage over the incident, and if reported at all (which I doubt) initially left no impression on me. But learning that, in fact, since the anthropological controversies of the 60s and 70s, the science had quietly converged on the conclusion that population-group level differences in cognitive ability (and myriad other traits) were real, heritable, and unameliorable by government intervention, and that honest interlocutors such as Summers and James Watson had known this for quite some time… well, it was Part II of the process that had begun with seeing the American government and media sell the WMD lie to invade Iraq. Only this time it wasn’t just the media, which I had always had a kind of intuitive sense couldn’t be trusted that much; no, this was much worse, this struck at the heart of the academy’s credibility. That such a disconnect between what reputable authorities knew and what they were allowed to say in public could exist, shattered my faith in the academy as a place that existed for dispassionate inquiry into truth. That the most dishonest and disreputable voices were given the loudest megaphones and the biggest budgets, indeed are still provided these despite the slow-rolling disaster of the reproducibility crisis and related issues in the social “sciences,” cemented my resolve to fight tooth and nail against the corruption.

#11 Comment By Dan Lo-Pan On November 8, 2018 @ 2:31 pm

I was born in 1960, and grew up on a farm in a midwestern state. The formative experiences I remember were:
1. Watergate, esp. as portrayed in Doonesbury.
2. Roe vs Wade. I knew nothing about abortion until the Supreme Court decision; we soon afterwards had a debate in junior high social studies class. I was baffled; why shouldn’t a pregnant woman be able to become un-pregnant?
3. My family and I were active in our mainline church. I remember hearing zero political messages in church.
4. The 1980 election was my first presidential election. I caucused for Ted Kennedy, and voted for John Anderson.
5. Generally coming of age when there were reasonable Republicans (Bob Ray, governor of Iowa and Lee Dreyfus in Wisconsin), and much-loved progressives (Rudy Perpich, Minnesota).
6. Cal Thomas spoke at our small liberal arts college circa 1980; I was part of a small group of students invited to have lunch with him. My impression was, he was such an a$$. Other negative conservative impressions in the 1970s were from Anita Bryant and Phyllis Schlafly. Strident loudmouths.
7. The defeat of the ERA. Why would anyone be against women having equal rights?

Two items stick in my mind where the popular mob was able to overcome legislators. In the early 1980s, Congress mandated that income tax be withheld from interest on savings accounts. The uproar from “the mob” caused them to repeal the law before it took effect. And a local one: our small town assessed properties to install curbs & gutters; our small church was on a corner and would have had a huge assessment. Again, the people were able rise up and reverse the changes. Some fifty years later, the town still has few sidewalks. (And an opiod problem . . . )

I have no idea how my parents ever voted, but I know they did vote.

#12 Comment By Brian in Brooklyn On November 8, 2018 @ 3:01 pm

Born in 1960, I am part of Generation Jones, and yet the description of my cohort (per Wikipedia) does not describe me at all: “Key characteristics assigned to members are pessimism, distrust of government, and general cynicism.” I am shaped by both the 1970’s and 1980’s.

I was riveted the summer of the Watergate hearings—watching every day while other children were outside playing. I was a geek from an early age.

As an adolescent cineaste, the 1970’s were a great time for me: New Hollywood cinema; New German cinema (especially Fassbinder); and even television: COLUMBO; THE NAME OF THE GAME; and made-for-television movies directed by Curtis Harrington, Steven Spielberg and others.

Overall, the 1970’s instilled in me a sense of inquiry and challenge which, allied with a strong religious background from my parents (children of the Depression—we were upper working class/lower middle class—Mom eventually had to work part-time in a department store—no privations, but no brand names either. Luxuries came by way of the money you earned at your afterschool/weekend/summer job), caused me to understand that inquiry and challenge is most (only?) effective when conducted within a rigorous structure. For example: my television time was restricted, and I needed to make an argument that the show I wanted to watch served some educational purpose in order to be allowed to view it—COLUMBO was allowed because of the cleverness and wit of the writing—the same with the movie THE STING (1973). The sensational/spectacular was regarded as existing on a lower plane—exciting the passions rather than stimulating the mind. Hence my dismay when JAWS and then STAR WARS conquered the cinema universe ushering in the pallid fare of 1980’s cinema (films by Clint Eastwood were a welcome oasis).

The late 1970’s also saw me start a tentative investigation of becoming a priest, but my brief exploration ended when a) I discovered that many seminarians seemed more interested in each other than God; and b) my own inability to reconcile the teachings of the Church with being queer. I studied the teachings and talked to clerics (both brothers and priests), and what I found was while all claimed to be Catholic, almost everyone I spoke to made some adjustments to the teachings—some larger than others. This discovery confused me—religion was supposed to be the structure that guided one’s life, and yet people felt free to make alterations. I studied more and came to the conclusion that I did not believe in the teachings of the Church, and if I chose to remain a Catholic, I would make alterations as I had seen others do. For example, I realized that I believed in the heresy of universalism (to this day I try to keep up with thinking/writing in this area). I did not believe I had any authority to make such alterations, since that would be a mockery of faith.

The late 1970’s also saw me come out. I was met with love and acceptance by my family, and there was some inner turmoil, but not a great deal. I explored the city both cinematically and sexually, but I was always aware of the framework within which these explorations took place—they were never a case of sensation for sensation’s sake—either aesthetically or sexually.

I transitioned to living on my own in New York City in the early 1980’s, and combined with my exploration in the late 1970’s, I experienced the tail end of post-Stonewall/pre-AIDS NYC—a crumbling metropolis where things were possible.

Then in the 1980’s the onslaught of the culture of materialism hit the city and things became simultaneously better and worse. The physical environment improved and became safer, but I saw how inequality was growing—which neighborhoods had better services and which were neglected. It was also the onset of the AIDS epidemic. I became an activist and was involved in ACT UP and Queer Nation, and caring for friends as they sickened and died. I saw the queer community come together and support each other. Some memories: the Buddies program at GHMC; members of the Gay Men’s Chorus hold up fellow choristers too weak to stand on their own to perform at the annual gala at Carnegie Hall; signing DNRs; the anger/kindness/fierceness/sadness that ran throughout our lives—a jagged, sometimes atonal melody that would unexpectedly and astonishingly assume a graceful harmony.

Like many, I burnt out after a few years, but I had learned the power of people coming together to change institutions. Before ACT UP there was a nascent patient advocacy movement, but a group of the most despised citizens—not just gay men, but diseased gay men—came together and forced the medical profession to listen to us as we told them about our bodies. Suddenly, it was understood that patients had to be included at the table since we often knew more about the illness than the professionals did—they needed our insights and knowledge.

Another memory: I was part of the organizing group that helped bring ACT UP NY to the AIDS Conference in Amsterdam. A small group confronted the head of the CDC over the definition of AIDS: what was occurring was that women were dying of AIDS without ever being diagnosed with AIDS. Why? Because the early markers adopted to indicate an AIDS diagnosis were all based on how the disease progressed in gay men: in the early stages of the epidemic, gay men could survive/remain healthy with low T cell counts, while women sickened and died despite high T cell counts. As a result, women were dying of AIDS without ever being given a formal diagnosis of AIDS because their T-cell count was high. We learned the importance of not letting authorities or institutions define you without your input, since in most cases they will define you in a way that benefits them and disadvantages you. And how did the confrontation play out: it led to meetings which led to a changed definition of an AIDS diagnosis.

During this time, I also explored various religions—I wanted structure, but none worked. Then I discovered Buddhism; since I have previously written of that journey, I will not repeat it here. I did start a gay men’s Buddhist group (the hubris, I know), but I had recognized a problem: many gay men in New York City lived nice lives, but still there was an undercurrent of unhappiness. Because of my upbringing, I knew the value of structure, so while I rejected a toxic one, I did not reject the idea of the necessity of having one. Buddhism supplied the structure which allowed me to pursue and attain ethical ends without having to accept the demonize/indulge binary approach to desire which I believed was one of the core errors of the Abrahamic religions—leading people to practice an asterisked Judaism/Christianity/Islam. But I saw that for many gay men—when they threw out the toxic structure, they also abandoned the notion of structure, which I knew to be a mistake.

So those are some of the forces which formed the me of the present day: a queer Tendai Buddhist who often is more in agreement with members of this community than with members of his queer community.

#13 Comment By Fr Martin Fox On November 8, 2018 @ 3:03 pm

Lots of great comments; sorry I couldn’t read every one (is that bad?).

Born in 1962. The ’60s barely registered for me. In my home, we talked about politics and news; my parents tried to be well informed and they expected all of us to be so. For whatever reason, I have always been interested in politics, beginning with a vague memory of offering an (ill formed) opinion to another student in favor of Nixon in first grade (1968)! And I recall being somewhat puzzled by my parents great excitement in gathering us to watch Neil Armstrong step onto the moon.

I remember the ’70s being a bad time and that definitely shaped me. Seeing how my brother went all in for hippie and pot culture really turned me off. My parents worried a lot about money and inflation. We weren’t rich or even upper middle class; but my dad owned his own business so we didn’t think of ourselves as “blue collar.” I remember my parents working every angle to pay for things and provide even vacations — we’d spend a weekend at some resort where they had to hear a pitch for real estate!

A lot of my ways of thinking were formed by reactions. For example, I remember the tail end of the Vietnam War; I didn’t understand it all, since I came late, but I remember two distinct reactions. First, the manner in which people protested the war offended me (not that they protested; my parents took us to a pro-life demonstration at one point). I was offended, then and now, by anti-Americanism. Second, I was even more offended by the way a lot of the objectors to the war seemed so selfish. They didn’t seem to care a whit about what would happen to the people of Vietnam. I remember thinking, so it’s not the war you’re against, you just care about your own neck. My father had served in World War II, and it never occurred to me that he would have argued that, or that anyone would have.

Later, I came to understand the Vietnam War a lot better, understanding much better why people were angry — they were right to be angry! — even as I believed then, and now, that it could have been won. LBJ and his crowd have a lot to answer for.

The Iran Hostage Crisis, on top of so many other failures by Carter, was pretty definitive. But then there was another experience that will be pretty obscure to most. Somewhere in my high school or early college days I remember reading about the Alger Hiss case from the 1950s — and I read a lot about it — and I compared what I discovered on my own from the usual, “mainstream” account; and that’s when I realized you couldn’t trust the media or historians not to lie, pure and simple. I’m not saying conspiracy; just that even people you would think should know better will just repeat what they hear and assume is true, without doing the necessary work.

I initially thought Reagan was too conservative; but before long, I thought he wasn’t doing enough to enact what he talked about. Since you asked about a “political” map, I’m mostly going to omit things dealing with my faith development. But Pope John Paul II didn’t make an impact on my till the 90s.

Right or wrong, I thought of the Cold War as the war of my time, and maybe that’s still about right. So obviously Reagan at the wall and the wall’s collapse was huge. I have a chunk of the wall somewhere.

I worked in politics during the 90s, and I didn’t really get too worked up about Clinton. I expected that he would help motivate a reaction, and the ’94 GOP victory was what I worked for and expected. But like many, I was greatly disappointed in how that worked out.

The 9/11 attacks came when I was in the seminary, and I remember the day vividly, including saying of the terrorists, I wanted them in hell. I quickly repented that and I was and am ashamed I said it. I was also depressed, because I knew that 9/11 would mean vastly expanding government, and I wanted government to downsize significantly (still waiting).

The Afghan war was legit, but I was against the Iraq War; most of my conservative friends thought it was a good idea. I actually see the logic of their position; my objection was moral: we didn’t have a good reason to go to war. But then, when things went south and the Democrats in Congress cut and ran, I was disgusted; even though I’d been against the war, they voted for it; that meant we as a country had gone to war, and I believed, then and now, we had a moral duty to try to see it through to some honorable conclusion if possible. I didn’t like George W. Bush — not really conservative — but I respected him for the Surge.

In the wake of the War on Terror, I came to part company from my conservative friends on the use of torture. They are still friends, we still have a lot in common, but I cannot go along with that, and that was a little bit of disillusionment for me.

About Obama — I didn’t hate him; I didn’t vote for him because he was too liberal, but I was happy we would no longer have to say, a black man can’t win the presidency. I thought that said something good about our country. But he really turned me against him, both with his contraception mandate and his pullout from Iraq.

I was never for Trump. I really wanted them both to lose, and I voted third-party. He has actually proven to be less bad than I feared, so I’m not too worked up. I might even vote for him in two years, if the Democrats keep getting more aligned with Antifa

For me, disillusionment came early or gradually. I figured out a long time ago not to trust Republicans; I’m not really for them, but the things I want, if they come, will come through the efforts of the best of them. I already mentioned what I learned from the Hiss case. Recent years have seen some disillusionment about lots of institutions, including the Catholic hierarchy, but even there, I can’t say that was sudden. When I hear people say that when they were a kid, priests could do no wrong, that baffles me. That wasn’t how my family and I saw things. My parents would never tolerate disrespect toward priests or the hierarchy, but they wouldn’t have let me stay overnight in a rectory.

That’ll have to do, I’ve got to run.

#14 Comment By Sands On November 8, 2018 @ 3:03 pm

I was born in 1977.

* The end of the Cold War
* The election of Bill Clinton
* The rise of right-wing talk radio
* The 1994 midterms
* Pat Buchanan’s 1996 presidential campaign
* 9/11 and all that it entails

The Cold War ended under GHWB, so I credited the Republicans for that. The first time I paid much attention to a presidential campaign was in 1992, and I was a pretty pissed kid on the evening of November 3, 1992. I got caught skipping school (big surprise, huh?), and Bill Clinton was elected that day.

About that time Rush Limbaugh, who I had never heard of before, started his television program. I thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I liked him so much I tried to get my union loving, FDR loving Democratic grandfather to watch. He was a retired refinery worker and a part-time Missionary Baptist minister. He died in 1994, and I can’t imagine what he would think of Democrats today.

My spirits were really lifted two years later, though. Republicans took the House after being in the minority for forty years! That really forced a political realignment and led Bill Clinton to declare, “The era of big government is over.”

I knew that Pat Buchanan ran against Bush in the 1992 primary, and I thought that that was stupid at the time. When he ran again in 1996, I was on board all the way. I even called 800 – GO-PAT-GO and sent the campaign a whopping $25.00.

He was the only one warning that Republicans were committing suicide with their insane immigration policies. I’m a native Houstonian, so that made perfect sense to me. I saw mass immigration up close and personal. Unfortunately, Republicans viewed him as too extreme, so we got Bob Dole instead.

That’s when I made my break from talk radio and all the other “proper” Conservatives (notice the big “C”). The way they, establishment Republicans, treated Buchanan was shameful. I realized, too, that political conservatism in the US is actually very radical. The response to 9/11 put that radicalism on full display. Preemptive war, really?

Anyway, here I am commenting on a publication co-founded by Pat Buchanan for the purpose of pushing back against the radical Republicanism of the Bush era. He was right, and they were, and continue to be, wrong.

#15 Comment By David On November 8, 2018 @ 3:11 pm

Born in ’59; I’m 59 now.

My first political influence was, as it is with most people, my parents. They developed their own political views during the late 50s and early 60s, times of unbroken economic prosperity and the start of the civil rights movement.

They were naively entitled but almost completely devoid of race prejudice, and devoted to progress for black Americans. That made us unusual in the deep south, where our neighbors – at their best – just made one excuse after another. Slavery and Jim Crow have left a deep stain on all of us white folks, most deeply in the minds of those who live in denial.

Mom and Dad were professional educators, culturally democratic in the sense of an optimistic faith in the potential of the common man. I share that, more or less. They were culturally conservative and definitely middle-class, especially in their deep and innate modesty. I’m mostly with them on that as well. They believed in the possibilities of government to better the lives of citizens. I still agree, although I think government has made enormous mistakes, and continues to try to do too much.

In the years since I left home I have parted ways with some of their beliefs but still try to keep faithful to a core value that I think is at the heart of their liberalism: the open-handed- and open-hearted-ness. To me it is a sympathy for the underdogs and a willingness to make sacrifices on their behalf. I think I am being accurate when I say that this has roots in the teachings of Jesus and the legacy of the christian churches. By the way, it might have come as news to my parents that social conservatives might occasionally be underdogs, but they would listen, as do I.

But history has its way with us, and my youthful experience of the world was not as theirs. In terms of impact on my political beliefs, critical events and trends from my youth included:
• the Vietnam war and Watergate
• a hippie disregard for conventional social status
• involuntary immersion in an unrelenting fundamentalist culture
• an “Orwell” moment of seeing the academic left for what it is
• the sellout of the Democratic party to business interests and identity politics
• the ever-present threat of unemployment, to me and to many people I knew
So if I lack trust in institutions, perhaps you can see why. Perhaps my parents led me to expect too much.

The last scale to fall from my eyes was the promise of prosperity from unfettered capitalism. I went to business school, and spent 15 years in or near silicon valley. Look at what they are doing to us! Erich Hoffer was right: first a religion, then a business, then a scam.

What does this mean for my politics? I do not expect large institutions to help me, nor do I really want them to. I’ll get by. I can only insist that they not actually attempt to do harm to me or mine. And I would prefer it if my government would stop subsidizing the wealthy and the powerful (and other countries). Our resources are needed elsewhere.

#16 Comment By Julia Scott On November 8, 2018 @ 3:35 pm

Born in 1951, and my political map is still changing. The biggest event of my childhood was the Kennedy assassination when I was in seventh grade. I graduated high school in 1969: first man on the moon that summer, Kent state my first year in college. I got married to a boy from the valley where I grew up, he became a dentist, I became a stay-at-home mom. His dad, I’m pretty sure now, was in the KKK, which pushed me farther to the left. I attended a Nixon rally with my Republican husband but stared longingly at the hippy antiwar protesters. Smoked a little marijuana. Voted democrat, read Germaine Greer, Bakunin, and Emma Goldman.

Divorced, went off the wall liberal, quit attending the fundamentalist church I’d grown up in, and became a “good witch” in love with nature. There was a genuine spiritual connection there that somehow led me to an awareness of God, a God who loved me as a kind mother, not a stern father. I’m sure there’s a lot of Daddy and Mommy issues in there! Flowers in my hair, I was able to embrace my hippydom a bit late. Hung out at SF conventions because the people there were super smart, and very liberal.

Finally got happily married again. Then one day, literally out of the blue, I found Jesus, or He found me. I picked up the Bible, read the gospels, and was touched, not put off, by the little inaccuracies and differences. I ended up calling the nearest Catholic church, since I had been taught to believe the Bible and Jesus clearly said, “This is my body. Take of it and eat.” I did some research on different church teachings, and was amazed to discover that very few churches took this most difficult verse literally, so Catholic it was. Plus I liked the statues, holy water, and prayers. Still do. My husband, God bless him, came along with me.

I edged to the right very slowly, and volunteered to work in a pro-life ministry, since several friends had told me about their abortions and how sad they were, in spite of it being legal. (One, I remember, told me she couldn’t use a vacuum cleaner anymore. Surely she had PTSD.) But when the Protestant ladies there prayed that Satan -Satan!! – would kill a woman taking her daughter to the abortion clinic next door, I objected, and got kicked out. The fact I was still a Democrat who thought Reagan was stupid might have had something to do with it too. But I stayed Catholic, continued to vote Democrat (or Libertarian) without thinking much, sent my kids to Catholic school, and we put money in the plate.

My path turned more sharply right during the Clinton scandals, for an funny reason: To my chagrin, I realized I was the spitting image of Monica, or had been at her age. I listened carefully to the horrifically cruel things so-called liberal Democrats and entertainers said about her, while completely letting Bill off the hook. It was so confusing, because I had truly believed Democrats cared more about women, but the hypocrisy just broke me finally, or maybe it was one too many “fat cow” jokes on tv, and in 2000 I voted Republican for the first time, along with my husband who had already left in 1996.

Then Obama came along and I voted for him, although my husband wasn’t fooled. But I was sure our young Black president would lead us to a new era of racial harmony. Not.

So back to the right I zig-zagged and voted Kasich in the primaries, or was it Huntsman? I liked them both, and hated Trump with a passion. Then I walked into the voting booth in November and voted for the man, since I hated to vote Libertarian again and couldn’t bear the thought of sickly Hillary with her gaping smile as President. I sat up all night watching returns with >my< mouth agape. Since then, the man has grown on me — say what you will, he does not back down. Still not sure if he's a con artist or hero of the people. Time will tell. I attended a rally last week with an artist friend whose path to the right is similar to mine, as much out of curiosity as anything, but when I told a Democrat family member, she blew up at me. From now on, I'll lie.

Now the Catholic Church is in freefall, I've gotten a good view underneath the frilly vestments at the Church's hairy behind, and it ain't pretty. I always swore that I wouldn't end up losing my faith when I was old, like my parents did, if only so my children wouldn't have to make up a funeral service without a preacher and get handed my ashes in a cardboard box like I did when they died (my parents were well-off, but cheap, and this was what they wanted).

My heart is broken, and here I am, back to where I started spiritually, with only my dear husband to hold onto. And Jesus. We'll go back to church, but no more checks.

Sorry this was so long! Just got my copy of "The Benedict Option" in the mail today and looking forward to reading it.

#17 Comment By Annie On November 8, 2018 @ 3:47 pm

Much in common with Matt in VA. Raised in the UU church with a Wiccan mother, taught to sing songs to the goddess, and first knocked on doors with my parents for Dukakis. Went through high school equating socialism with enlightenment, the kind of identity one puts on to associate with Wise Ones like Dickens, or Einstein. We had no belief in original sin, and one of the early discrepancies I noticed was how much we talked at our UU church about mercy and forgiveness, while calling Republicans and Christian fundamentalists Nazis.

There were small incongruities between me and my fellow liberal friends, partly because I connected (and I still do)the extremism of my mother’s beliefs with her mental illness. I watched the people who grew up in similarly extreme environments spiral out of control, full of rage, looking for a cause, and unable to perform any amount of self-reflection. Just hopping from one emotion to the next. I was turned off by the commodification of the body inherent in my mother and her peer group’s feminism, and saw only misery in the women I knew pursuing the sexual revolution. And I felt an increasing devotion to the Christian religion, though an early reading of Simone Weil led me to avoid baptism. That wasn’t a great decision, but at least I was seeing myself as a fellow-traveler.

The Bush years allowed me to continue to make common cause with people I thought were allies. While I was seen as much more progressive, we were all on the same cause: anti-torture, pro-union, anti-war, pro-environment. Those were easy years, in retrospect. I didn’t have to make choices. Sometimes when people I loved called all Republicans nazis I’d ask them to dial it down, but otherwise we were getting along just fine.

During the 2007 and 2008 primary campaigns, I worked in foster care. I had the most basic, grunt position of all, the person who did all the work in the home, mediated visits, showed up at 4 in the morning in crisis situations, always on-call. I loved the kids. It also nuked every illusion I had about welfare and poverty. Driving through the burnt-out husks of SE DC and Baltimore, watching drugged-out mothers close the door on wailing children they only got to see once a month as they took a strange man into their bedroom, and working with social workers whose incompetence and idiocy was so potent as to be almost touchable, my faith in easy political answers collapsed. I was a wreck.

I was personally hurt when Edwards lost. Make all the jokes you want; the man talked about the poor, and I was furious about what was happening to the poor. But like a good Democrat I rallied, though with grit teeth. The posh, self-satisfied Democrats grew more insufferable by the hour. They had no concerns about who Obama was putting on his cabinet. And it just kept going. While they were all too happy to mock death panels, the truth was they couldn’t be bothered to care about the public option. The only causes they seemed to hold in common were abortion and gay marriage. They went silent on war, the environment, labor, torture so fast it made my head spin.

Every day I felt the chasm between us grow deeper. They had so little concern about the things that would actually help the poor (family stability, ownership rather than dependency), unless they could use them as a cudgel to smash at social conservatives. The brief Green moment went away. So many rich liberals, all jetting everywhere, bemoaning Exxon and climate change, eager to carry a reusable bag, but unwilling to do anything else. Always new ipods (shh about the Congo). Always cheap clothes from H&M (shh about fast fashion sweatshops). Always new pills to pop (shh about environmental devastation). There was a nihilism so bleak in our lives: they were at the top of the heap in terms of consumption, so cynical, and so unable to make a single thing. Sarcasm is the unhappiest lifestyle.

Around this time I read The Lost Language of Plants, which was honest about the effect birth control chemicals were having on plants. Liberation theology made me more, not less upset with the Democrats. Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, and Wendell Berry pointed me towards distributism and de-growth. Unable to participate in the pride of a victory which seemed so ill-deserved, I had voted Green. But at this point it all came fast and furious. Emotionally my break had already come and I could step back and re-evaluate. My frustration with what was going on in third-wave feminist and LGBT circles, the deliberate self-destruction and indulgence of mental illnesses, the clear horror of abortion on people I knew, allowed me to open myself up to new possibilities. I returned to the faith of my father’s family.

For this, I’ve alienated myself from most people I knew before the age of 30. We don’t talk about it, but they’re aware, and they’re frustrated at me and I’m frustrated with them. I’m frustrated when I see women go put on pink hats when they were silent about drones and Yemen and kill lists. I’m frustrated when people talk about mercy and then show nothing but hate and rage. Of course the right isn’t perfect, of course I don’t see myself as a neocon. Ironically, as much as ever, I’m hard pro-labor and pro-environment. That also means I’m tough on things some labor and environmental activists care for, which is the upper middle class lifestyle.

We need de-growth, to change our cultural attitudes towards overconsumption, to abandon mass media and revisit the local, and to help the poor establish strong family bonds and give them opportunities for ownership they’ve been so long denied. And, more than anything else, they deserve beauty. Grievances breeds bitterness. Sarcasm kills. But beauty breeds love and a desire for true justice, not slogans. Love of beauty allows us to accept our own imperfections, our original sin, as we appreciate what is beautiful, what we lack. We must build a beautiful world for the poor, and that won’t come from wealthy career-bureaucrats but from those small little rural and urban churches, operating with so little, that give their communities the joy of Christ.

#18 Comment By Marie On November 8, 2018 @ 3:58 pm

Born 1983

—moral majority type boomer parents. I actually don’t know who they voted for in the 70s—I should ask them about their political map. My dad is kind of sentimental about some 60s stuff, but is personally really pretty conservative. My mom is a flaming feminist but doesn’t know it, haha, it just fits her personality. She’s pro life and homeschooled and all that. I love them and don’t hold any political ideas they have against them


—about exactly around 9/11 I started attending lectures and history courses for homeschoolers at a paleocon think tank in town, when I was a junior in HS. So I was exposed to some incise arguments against the patriot act, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, critiques of Zionism, conservative arguments for protectionism and against immigration (and both sides of the labor unions debate; unions can be conservative ), disgust with the GOPs abuse of anti abortion voters, agrarianism (proofed a galley of a short story by Wendell Berry!), localism before it was mainstream, exposure to gay libertarians and TLM monarchists and “conservative” “anarchists”

I was there when the NR issue threw all the paleocons under the bus. In hindsight, pretty cool to have been around as a teen volunteer and later magazine intern. during this time in GOP/con history. Also, all the petty personality drama of a few characters was fun in hindsight.

Yeah, there were (are) birch society and league of the south guys associated with the place, but I’ve grown up and sorted through what I want to keep from that time, and what to discard. The “whities” were around, but they certainly didn’t inhibit me from having a pretty vast education in American (and European) culture, politics and regionalism. Certainly worth it! Definitely not fed one side or one story or one, unified fantasy of an ideal (or nightmare) of America’s past

And met a lot of people who were just really good role models for what it means to be a Christian, a spouse, a citizen, a parent, a student

Besides my parents and husband, biggest influence of who I am today from my 7 years at that think tank/magazine

—Ron Paul: sort of the Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader influence of my generation. I’m not libertarian, but I was really taken by his popularity and then the effort by his party to ignore him. I think I thought before him there werent very many people at all like me, politically. Probably was what made me later cheer for both Trump and Bernie in the primaries in 2016

—Obama and Bush: I read all their speeches instead of listening to them, and I was always acutely and personally embarrassed for them. I don’t know what I expected to come from their mouths, but when they opened their mouth to say anything, I always wanted to look away and wondered why everyone around wasn’t supremely embarrassed. So many lies and empty words (as in, literally sentences that communicate nothing but platitudes and words some people I guess find familiar or comforting). I avoid tv debates like the plague for the same reason. So embarrassing!

—“In the Thick of It,” first 3 seasons of “Veep,” and “In the Loop”. Solidified my political cynicism. Yeah, I know, I’m a millennial, so gotta include TV.

—Benghazi: This is probably the only “one political event” that pointedly changed how I thought of politicians and our government class. Before it, I assumed people like Clinton and Obama were responsible adults, even if I didn’t agree at all with their politics. But the complete disaster of that event (note: I don’t think it was a conspiracy, just ineptitude—no wrong was done except maybe the completely dishonest attempt to cover it up) ended any trust I had for any governing person to do a good job governing or even managing. They are all irresponsible, narcissistic hacks, and are only effective by accident sometimes.
Maybe that’s why I don’t fear or hate Trump

Bad for a homeschool mom of many to be so cynical, I know. There are no adults in charge, guys, and probably hasn’t been since Bush I!

#19 Comment By Karl On November 8, 2018 @ 4:46 pm

Great idea for a thread.

A few of my formative political moments:
-getting in a fight in HS and nearly getting expelled for it
-being forced in college to rewrite a freshman orientation skit so as to emphasize racial/gender/sexual diversity at the expense of the broader definition we (the participants and writers of the skit) wanted to use
-my experience as an openly Rightwing identifying person in law school during the late W years into the Obama campaign
-my parents divorce
-living in some of the poorest areas of Philadelphia during law school
-seeing active racial hatred (and racial profiling) where I grew up in response to Obama’s campaigns
-working in Republican grassroots politics during the Tea Party years
-and finally the rise of Trump

Like Rod, I was bullied in HS and largely internalized it as the cost of being a social outsider in a boarding school. At one point, it went too far and I snapped, nearly seriously hurting a friend of mine to get at my tormentors and then just getting my ass kicked by the upper classmen on my floor. I was nearly expelled and spent the rest of the year in counseling with the school chaplain. Nice guy, but he had nothing to offer from a religious perspective that helped and frankly didnt even try (In retrospect, this probably when I started to lose my faith). What it taught me is that institutions rarely care for those inside them, but especially not those who are outsiders.
Similarly, the sketch experience taught me that institutions have their own identities and politics and that you go against them at your peril. And when coupled with being an ideological minority, you realize what lip service to real diversity actually means and that your entire existence is that off a curiosity to be tolerated (so long as you behave).
My parents divorce shattered the idea that families just stay together, that the idea of trust and honor are only as good as the person staking a claim to them, but that you can never truly know a person either. And while as a bougie white person my brothers and I survived and got over it, living amidst broken families and homes in West and North Philly showed me the potential costs, as well as what it took for those folks who weren’t willing to accept that lot for themselves in life.
That experience also opened my eyes to racism and prejudice in a way I previously simply discounted. The excitement of the black community for Philly for Obama, contrasted with seeing Obama campaign signs in my rural home community vandalized with n-words (and seeing racial profiling first hand) was simply eye opening.
Finally working on the frontlines of grassroots GOP politics was a unifying experience, because it let me distill all of the anger, resentment, and bitterness I had to those groups that had done me wrong or I felt had held me back (elite academia, untrustworthy women) in a way that felt good and did not ask me to consider whether I was actually concerned with policy or simply revenge. Gradually I saw that too many were in it for the release of those grievances (with Trump the apex of that, until I simply couldnt take it any longer.
Now, I no longer work directly in politics, I have largely distanced myself from the official party and movement, and consider myself a political orphan. I still largely believe in the ideas that made me want to go study law (like freedom of speech and association), but have come to see the political system as wholly divorced from such ideas in favor of petty grievance one-upmanship and resource extraction.

[NFR: Great comment. Hard to read, but very thoughtful, even challenging for me. — RD]

#20 Comment By Lynnaea On November 8, 2018 @ 4:48 pm

@Anna – Of note: we had social studies/history every year in school (public) but we started over with ancient history or colonial America every year and never managed to finish the book. Therefore my knowledge of US history stopped around the late 40’s. It was only as an adult that I started to learn about the Korean and Vietnam wars, the civil rights movement (other than extremely superficial knowledge), the economic depression and fuel crisis of the 70’s, etc. Even now my knowledge is spotty, and that’s very unfortunate.

Yes! It was exactly the same for me, year after year. The teachers did us all such a disservice by neglecting recent history which would have helped us give context and make sense to current political events. Total educational malpractice. I suppose it’s too much of a stretch to think it was all intentional.

#21 Comment By Tom Marchione On November 8, 2018 @ 5:06 pm

My political roadmap started as a child, with a much older brother who somehow, in the course of a year or two, morphed from an aspiring early 70’s prog rock guitarist into a Bircher-sympathizing, conspiratorial loudmouth (albeit a lovable one, whom I love dearly). Propaganda every night at dinner for the better part of a decade, until he finally, mercifully, married and moved out. Bless her heart. But the experience taught me a huge lesson about parenthood, which applies to me as a person with five kids — do not let the anger and prejudices of older children corrupt their younger siblings.

By that time I was a freshman at a renowned Ivy League institution, surrounded by “Free Mandela” types who feared that “Ronnie Raygun” would be the end of civilization. But I voted for him anyway, almost by rote, as my conservative sympathies had been ground into my being over many a dry meatloaf. I would have experienced more wrath for that, except that spoiled college kids have the attention spans of rodents. By the end of the decade, with a budding professional life, some first-hand experience with taxes, and some reasonable evidence that Ronnie and his Raygun had actually done some good here and abroad, I had formulated my own opinions about the blessings of conservatism.

I suppose I let that get out of hand through the politically pivotal 90’s, falling for Perot’s fiscal alarmism, and never being willing to acknowledge any of President Clinton’s achievements, or his willingness to compromise on various issues. Gingrich was a principled achiever after all, not a hypocrite willing to spray political napalm wherever it was needed. Talk radio has its consequences. I was a true believer who talked a good game of open-mindedness. The Lewinsky affair added an exclamation point.

The Great Election of 2000 happened, and I was mostly relieved that Gore lost. Budget balanced… Clinton in the rear view mirror… Republicans finally in full control… all was right with the world. While all that was happening, along came Dennis Hastert. Dennis Who? Something seemed amiss. My radar quietly activated – radar that only years later started beeping loudly. I guess it makes sense to install someone who you can blackmail. But I digress. Suddenly, the anticipated Republican Paradise gave way to 9/11, and a war in …Iraq? Uh, OK, I’ll buy the party line about “fighting the war over there so it doesn’t come here”. Silly me. War and deficits as far as the eye could see.

By the middle of the oughts, I was growing weary of a decade+ immersed in conservative ideology at church, among friends, and in most of what I was reading. My opinion of the neocons was eroding. I was beginning to realize that Sean Hannity was a hollow, almost inanimate being, akin to the props at 70’s-vintage Disney World that would recite vacant truisms on demand. For the first time in my life, I began to realize that many educated people actually disagreed with my conservative principles, and maybe that “independent” label I had proudly hung around my neck for decades needed a little meat on the bones. And so I began to reconsider a lot of things. My views on the death penalty were the first to go. The Iraq War made me realize that the neocon fantasy of projecting American power was just that. Etc.

Around that time, I changed churches, this time to a more progressive milieu, although I was certainly not a full-on convert, or any kind of convert. Just a very nice bunch of people. I made many friends. We all got along, including the more conservative thinkers among us. I gained an appreciation for some progressive modes of thought, even though I didn’t necessarily agree with a lot of it. We all sang kumbaya — probably literally a few times. For awhile anyway.

The first real crack was the Affordable Care Act. As any self-employed person with a lot of kids will testify, if the law was not intentionally designed to destroy people like me, then at a minimum we were considered necessary casualties of a Just Progressive War. Most of my progressive friends had no concept of this. To them, their side was good, and this change was for the benefit of all mankind. I thought I might change some views by laying out the details of what it now cost to insure my family, vs. what it used to cost. The reaction? Mostly disbelief. Most of my progressive friends just can’t seem to get their minds around the idea that their side basically screwed a whole class of hard-working people, people who are demonstrably not “rich” by any Western standard. And so I began to understand, empirically rather than just theoretically, that under this veil of niceness lurked a clear tribal instinct.

Then came 2016. That’s when I learned that harmony with the left is easy when their guy is in power. But just try to take away their candy. I could not believe what I witnessed during that time — what very nice people will become over politics. One continuous tantrum. Sigh. I suppose a big moment for me was the fateful Pence Visit to Broadway. My simple, principled defense of the man – the mere suggestion that it was inappropriate of the actors to conduct a sociopolitical lecture from the stage – was met with full-on outrage. I was a pariah for days. I’m guessing that dozens of friends changed their opinions of me that weekend. How dare I question the general goodness and propriety of such a just public flogging over such an obviously Good and Just Cause.

And so I’ve come to realize that I am destined to be a voice crying out from the wilderness, with no real political home, and no audience to speak of. Yes, I lean conservative, but I also see the dangers of certain types of conservatism left unfettered. I tend to agree that progressives generally misunderstand human nature, choosing to see only the good in people …or at least people who aren’t conservative. At the same time, I agree with the progressive idea that capitalism by itself is not the cure to all maladies. As I’ve become fond of saying, capitalism without a Judeo-Christian ethic is just feudalism by another name.

I’ve left one important influence out of this story, choosing to save it for last for reasons that will become apparent. Somewhere in that period when I was becoming frustrated with neoconservative orthodoxy, talk radio, cable television, and years of war without a purpose, my wife sensed my state. And so, on one birthday whose identity remains obscure, I unwrapped a gift to discover a book by some guy named “Dreher”. It was called “Crunchy Cons”. I started reading it in bed one night, and the epiphany was on. The book spoke to my heart and soul like nothing had in a long time. I immediately began identifying as “crunchy” to friends. I still do. It is who I am. I’m pretty sure it is who I always was deep down.

Like going back to anything called “home”, finding a true political home is a comforting thing. I felt that a decade ago but did not understand it until more recently. So I choose to live there in peace for whatever additional days God chooses to give me on this green earth of His, consigned to the wilderness between Hannityville and Betoland. Where all the cool people live.

[NFR: Well, I didn’t see that penultimate paragraph coming. I’m humbled to have played a role in your story. As I was reading it, I kept thinking that I had asked for a political map of youth, but that you have been changing for all your life. Like you, I’m never going to fit in comfortably anywhere, but reading your description of yourself between the start of the Bush II administration and 9/11, I recognized myself, and experienced a twinge of nostalgia for the days when it was possible to believe that my side — conservative Republicans, and conservative Catholics — was Completely Right. — RD]

#22 Comment By Ron Chandonia On November 8, 2018 @ 5:08 pm

I’m over 70 now, and my first political experience was “Clean for Gene” (McCarthy) when I was in college. Always a liberal Democrat from Vietnam through Iraq, I protested each and every military venture. I taught in an inner-city college as well, where (former GA-Rep) Cynthia McKinney was a colleague, and even joined Georgia’s Stacey Abrams in burning our state’s Confederate-style banner at the capitol.

Though I always voted ultra-liberal and put aside my Catholic heritage with contempt, I was repeatedly unsettled by the seamy underbelly of the sexual revolution, especially by abortion. My students had many of them, and they never seemed to find them liberating. I became pro-life again well before I returned to Catholicism (as did my wife, a NOW member from way back).

It became hard to vote Clinton for his second term, and I started writing in candidates like Ralph Nader. Finally, in 2016 I failed to vote in a presidential election for the first time since I turned 21. I just couldn’t. But I was actually glad Donald Trump won (my wife voted for him), and I am thankful Hillary Clinton is not our leader.

I find myself in agreement with 95% of what Rod posts here on the blog, and I have not only read but promoted the Ben Option. Maybe because I have become so involved in Catholic doings, and I look with deep disappointment and utter dismay on the shambles Francis & Co. are making of the Church, I have grown both socially and politically much more conservative in just the past few years. I see myself voting Trump in 2020–to my absolute amazement.

#23 Comment By Jeffersonian On November 8, 2018 @ 5:32 pm

The farm I grew up on was a 45 minute drive from Jeffersonian’s hometown where the P9/Hormel stick occurred. Because of the desperate farm economy we knew of people who contemplated crossing the the picket lines. My Dad even considered it but by that time our situation was was less dire and he didn’t want any bricks coming through the windows.
What this did to me is instill a sense of life’s precariousness. There was the alleged “end of history “ hiatus through the 90’s to this but it came crashing back with 9/11 and was reinforced by the Great Recession.

Yes, this. I chose the P-9 strike because, being a freshman in high school at the time, I was old enough to see how the market forces in play played havoc with people who were my neighbors– and my own family– and destroyed relationships on a personal level. It was very awkward going to church on a Sunday with people who [and this is Baptists, who defend their pews with the sword arm of the living God] suddenly moved to the other side of the sanctuary, somewhere up by the baptistry, because there were people in the other section you’d rather not be seen talking to.

I had a next door neighbor who retired from the production lines just before the strike began and was highly supportive of the strike. My dad was middle management and that made me pause before speaking to the neighbors. All of this was because in the grand scheme of things meatpacking was in a swoon, other companies were reorganizing and slimming down, and Hormel had to be proactive about getting its own house in order.

That restructuring had to, in terms of the bottom line, include wage cuts under the terms of a “me, too” clause in the local UFCW contracts. In short, despite being one of the few profitable meatpackers at that point Hormel saw the writing on the wall that if they didn’t do this they would be non-competitive within a short cycle and that would be bad for everyone. The Hormel local unions in Iowa, Atlanta, Dallas, Nebraska, and other locations groused but went along. In Austin, Minnesota, though, which was the flagship location, the union local, P-9, was only a few years removed from having made major concessions to keep the company from moving elsewhere when the old processing plant was replaced in 1982.

As far as P-9 was concerned, $10.69 cut to $8.25 an hour was a bridge too far [that’s like $25 down to $19.25 today– still a good wage, but people had made financial commitments at the higher wage].

When the end came, in February 1986, there was a third side– the replacement workers. This was a group that had been hard hit by the farming implosion, the slow death of the small towns around Austin that had a grain elevator and a few supporting businesses, and the general inflation of the time. They didn’t sneeze at the lower wage– many would take anything they could get.

And then there was us, the kids. I had to go to school with the kids of the P-9ers, who were suddenly on free/reduced in the lunch line, whose families were trying to figure out how to make it on $40 a week in strike benefits. That school year had more fights than any other I can remember.

And, yet, there was just enough grace that people were able to move back to their old pews, my neighbor still let me borrow his tools, and life eventually went back to “normal,” whatever that was, after the strike.

Now I can look back, as a teacher in a non-unionized school district, and as a father of kids that I want to have clothes, food, and a roof over their heads, and understand where the P-9 people were coming from: We’ve given so much in the name of the common good and just now gotten back to even squares. Enough, already. We try to teach kids that they are going to be successful or at least comfortable in life if they do x, y, and z, they go do x, y, and z, and then life moves the goalposts. I at least have enough sympathy with labor these days that I can understand when they just want the goalposts back where they’re supposed to be.

And that’s why I believe so many Trump supporters come from the traditional Democrat-Farmer-Labor wing who would have been shamed and embarrassed at having voted for such a lout 40 years ago. And maybe they still are, but so many of them know that to go full on lefty means not only moving the goalposts, but putting them on another field altogether. I think it’s a shame that that’s what the labor movement in this country has come to, but there it is.

I also mentioned Leonard Peltier. I was only four when his incident happened in the ’70’s but I was in Fargo during one of his appeals in 1992-93. His whole situation, as seen on local TV, taught me that trusting in governmental purity, even of its law enforcement wing was a losing game: the government acts in its own self interest, so plan accordingly. https://www.cafepress.com/mf/31795254/government_sticker?productId=702347111

#24 Comment By Matt On November 8, 2018 @ 5:50 pm

1. The campaign of Donald Trump and the rise of white nationalism in America.
2. The absolutely ineffective response of the Democratic party to anything at all.
3. Paying attention to science journalism from a young age.
4. Educating myself on the long disaster of American foreign policy.

I’m deeply opposed to Trump and disappointed with the refusal of either the moderate right and the establishment left to offer any kind of real opposition to them. Only people suffering from brain damage caused by overexposure to Hamilton can get excited over the promises of the Democratic party, so where does that leave the rest of us? The average politically unengaged American is always going to go for the MAGA ticket over the Make America Maybe A Little Better This Time platform and the young white men with no sense of self outside of a gaming console, a porn addiction, and a dead-end retail job are going to respond to anyone who says it’s actually the fault of some ill-defined Cultural Marxism that they’re pathetic. How would you feel if you saw a political movement turn multiple people that you’ve known for years into literal neo-nazis? I don’t mean that in a Godwin’s law sense, I mean people who suddenly believe strongly that America and Europe should be ethnically cleansed. And how does the liberal establishment respond? Hand-wringing thinkpieces attempting to understand why these people believe what they believe rather than just reading Eco or one of the other postwar critiques of authoritarianism and fascism and then seriously attempting to curtail their influence and growing legitimacy in American political life. Now eleven people are dead in their own synagogue because nobody outside the fringe left took these people seriously as a threat.

More political than cultural is my perception of America’s crimes against Westphalian sovereignty all over the world and how it’s produced problems that nobody here is willing to own up to. America has been at war in the Middle East for literally my entire life and as I read about the Cold War I’ve realized that it’s just another in a long string of interventions meant to ensure our interests where we have no business. The CIA’s coups against democratically elected governments in Syria, Guatemala, Iran, and Chile, the bombing of Cambodia, support of the Contras, the fraudulent Iraq War, and our silence on Yemen due to our close ties to the Saudis have all shown me that the United States has no interest in promoting peace or democracy anywhere in the world unless it’s directly in our material interest. Personally, I predict that Bolsonaro is going to convince Trump that Venezuela poses an existential threat to Brazil and we’ll send a bunch of people to die in their jungles until we realize it’s unwinnable somewhere around 2030.

And then over all this there’s the fact of climate change. The Republican Party has no intention to recognize its existence and the liberal establishment is too concerned with pleasing donors and not upsetting the economic status quo to take real action to fight it. A lot of you are going to be dead before you see the effects of climate change but I’m 19 and assuming I live to 2085 I may well see the end of human civilization. I’m not being alarmist, what effect do you think even a little warming is going to have on worldwide crop production? And if you’re flipping your lid about caravans and mass migration what do you think is going to happen once the crops start failing around the equator? That’s why I think it’s absurd to panic about a western cultural identity being destroyed by a wave of migration from the third world. That migration is going to happen sooner or later anyway and it’s our fault for using the global south as a playground for proxy wars with the Soviet Union and for engaging in centuries of colonialism without any consideration for its long-term effects on the ability of those societies to sustain themselves. If you don’t like the effects don’t produce the cause!

I genuinely couldn’t tell you where I am politically. I think I’m still too young for that. All I can tell you is that there’s a reason Bernie-flavor democratic socialism is attractive to educated young people. What we see is fast-approaching climate disaster and a refusal by all institutions to take serious action on it. That’s the issue that I vote on because it’s the issue that’s going to define the rest of the 21st century.

#25 Comment By Observer On November 8, 2018 @ 6:41 pm

1. Growing up in the 90’s in Northern California / Gingrich
2. Leftism at college / WTO protest
3. Crash of 2008
4. Crisis point of early 2010s: blatant atheism of the Left

I was born in 1980–what a turning point! A new world struggling to be born! Like Saleem Sinai, my birth neatly mirrored a new dawn, whereas Saleem’s like paralleled that of Modern India, mine of course has been spent in the shadow of Ronald Reagan, though the man has been the farthest from my hero.

Like Reagan, I am a Californian (though of course he was an immigrant of the Golden State, whereas I have become an expat), and I cannot nor will I ever be able to extricate the golden hills and easy secularism from my blood. Though I converted to Catholicism in 2002, secularism is in every breath, as I struggle to fight against the sense that this is all one cosmic mistake, that with our death, our life becomes one instant blanket of darkness..

I digress! My real upbringing lies in not Reagan’s years, but in Clinton’s. What a time to be alive! To experience the sunshine optimism of the 1990s! The great “dot com” era, when technology not only brought riches to Silicon Valley, but promised hope of a better world, and the worldwide web could someday bring people together and usher in a new era of hope.

Ironically, technology was much less pervasive in the “dot com” era. There was this feeling that you could go to any college, select any major, do what you love, go into the workforce, work hard, and make a decent living. Hoooooooo boy was I ill-prepared for life after college! But alas, I digress again–let’s just say that I spent my 90s hopeful and optimistic for a better world. So was everyone else! I distinctly remember having a class discussion about whether or not we could actually prevent recessions in the future! And of course, there was no more Cold War. What could possibly go wrong?

While we were experiencing this, I somehow absorbed the idea that life was just better with Democrats running the show. I still remember the day in November 1994 when Gingrich won the Revolution. Though I was far too young and naive to understand the implications, my parents instilled in me the sense that this was a very, very bad thing, and the past twenty-four years have only vindicated their opinion. Take away this revolution, and you have no Clinton impeachment, no Tea Party Revolution, no debt ceiling crisis, and no Trump presidency.

Meanwhile, we had a Republican governor, Pete Wilson (holy buckets how the times have changed! A Republican in California! In the 90s, no less!). His record was abysmal, but his real crowning failure was of course Prop 187, a terribly racist law that would go so far as to ban illegal immigrants from accessing hospitals. Little did we know then that Prop 187 would at the same time spell the end of the Republican party in California and present the blueprint for President Trump 25 years later.

After my blissful and joyous adolescence, I went off to college in the Bay Area. When I began, I saw myself as a Leftist, someone committed to changing the world and ushering in an age of social justice. Hooooooo boy! I was NOT expecting the reality of Leftism! The eagerness to march for any cause and protest on a moment’s notice. I can still remember going to Seattle to protest the World Trade Organization (Hey Hey! Ho Ho! The WTO has got to go!) and all that silliness. Instead of indoctrinating me, I developed a sort of immunity against the leftism and found myself drifting rightward and embracing the neoliberal capitalistic mindset of the era.

That being said, I couldn’t drift *that* far rightward. Though I originally supported the Iraq War (like so many others), it didn’t take long for me to realize that it was a total mistake and unmitigated disaster (also like so many others). My revulsion against both Leftward extremism and scorched-earth Republicanism found its hope and promise in the Great Barack Obama. I saw him speak once (before he ran for President), and I still have a “Hope” tee shirt from his campaign. To this day, I still believe that he would have been a great President in another time and another era.

This faith was not just placed in Obama; despite the great financial challenges of my 20’s, I believed in the “follow your dreams and work hard” ethos of the 90s. Though I was not able to purchase a home during the great housing bubble of the 00s, I believed that it was just around the corner in the Fall of 2008. I was working hard, I was going to get the dream job, it was just around the corner.. and POP! went the economy. At first, I truly believed that Obama and the great neoliberal brain trust could solve it, fix it, and help me and millions like me achieve their middle class dreams, those dreams we had held over from the 90s. Hope, however, is never as resilient as we would like it to be, and it fades over time, and I no longer have hope in the democratic party or the neoliberal way.

My loss of hope was then solidified by the atheistic turn of the Left. After my conversion to Catholicism, I was one of those who held out for the great Vatican II synthesis of intellectualism, social teaching, care for the poor. In 2011, I remember seeing overtly atheistic writings in the New Yorker and in books by Harold Bloom, and it also happened to be the year of the Contraception Mandate. It was becoming clear to me that I could not straddle the line, that there was no middle ground between conservatism and Christianity.

So in the end, here I am. I was repelled by the conservatism of my childhood, and the Iraq War, Tea Party, Debt Ceiling Crisis, government shutdowns, Fox News, Talk Radio, and Donald Trump have only served to intensify this. However, I have lost faith in the Democratic Party, and I can’t get excited about any of the potential candidates. I personally think the great crisis of our time is the massive and widening income inequality, and I see no good ideas from either party on how to address it. (Why? I believe because nobody has any clue about how to fix it!) I feel no hope or excitement about anything in politics. I am relieved that the Democrats took the House, because it keeps our liberal democracy alive for the time being at least. We could very well end in totalitarianism, either from the Left or from the Right. That being said, the 21st century has strangely seen all our great fears disappear–Al Qaeda, Iraq becoming another Vietnam, permanently low housing prices, permanently high unemployment, a debt ceiling crisis, ISIS, and the list goes on and on. Perhaps we will wake up in a few years that this crisis too has passed, but until then, we struggle with the present crisis, having no real heroes and no strong vision with which to stir us.

#26 Comment By Dr. Vanessa Poseidon On November 8, 2018 @ 7:31 pm

Born in ‘88, grew up in a proudly fundamentalist, die-hard GOP home. By the time I was old enough to start observing my parents’ political beliefs and understanding them as an adolescent, I struggled mightily to reconcile their attitudes with my own understanding of Christianity and my place in the world as a woman. Hearing the sort of very commonplace double standards for men and women in fundamentalist circles was incredibly frustrating to me as a high achieving teenager. I hated the demonization of people like single mothers in conservative rhetoric, while every Sunday we heard about the need for mercy and the urgency of protecting the unborn. Eventually I began to pick near-daily arguments with teachers at the classical Christian school they had enrolled me in, mostly due to the serious lack of intellectual rigor in their science curriculum (published by Bob Jones University) and the fire and brimstone lessons built in to even subjects like math. History lessons were taught based on the assumption that everyone who had ever been a significant Western leader was a Christian, even when voluminous evidence existed to the contrary. If I hadn’t been a voracious reader as a middle and high schooler, I’m not sure I would have come away with any ideas of my own.

1. When 9/11 happened, I was still enrolled in the small Christian school, and the general response among faculty and families within the school was so radically hateful toward Islam, I had a hard time parsing it with the knowledge that my parents and grandparents had Muslim friends in the community who never knew that they said the things they said.

2. The Iraq War was my real breaking point with the conservatism of my parents. So many of their circle had wrapped up the idea of the war within their Christian nationalist viewpoints, that they genuinely began to argue that it was un-Christian to disagree with the war (and really the Bush administration writ-large). By this point, I was in a Catholic prep school and had really felt like I found an intellectual home (or as much as one can be home anywhere intellectually at 13/14 years old) in liberation theology. I grew ever more disgusted with the GOP as I saw the kind of empty flag waving it devolved into, especially as no one in my family’s upper middle class milieu served in the military or would have ever dreamed of encouraging their children to do so. It felt morally wrong to see them cheering on these wars that they and their children would never be affected by. I really felt like I became a Democrat in 2003, initially due to my disgust at the Iraq debacle.

3. The financial crash in 2008 hit as I was about to graduate college. My parents lost everything, the loans we’d taken out together became exclusively my responsibility, and I’m so grateful that I didn’t have to start paying them off until after graduate school. I’d been volunteering with the Obama campaign since the primaries, and his election was truly one of the only bright spots in what was otherwise a very grim year for many of my friends and classmates. There really is something to be said for how deeply many people my age needed the kind of positivity that he campaigned on. Especially when compared to…

4. Sarah Palin. I think her nomination as McCain’s running mate effectively shut the door on any thoughts I could have had on rejoining the Republican party, long before Trump even entered politics. Jingoism aside, the utter disdain for intellectual rigor or even a willingness to learn was so discouraging, especially when I’d grown up hearing family members praise intellectual Buckleyite conservatives. Heck, it’s the reason I still actively read TAC and National Review, even though I’m as blue as they come on most issues.

5. I survived a terminal illness that would have absolutely prevented me from ever being insured again, pre-ACA. The continuous assault on protections for pre-existing conditions seems to me to be perhaps the cruelest position of many in today’s Republican party. My in-laws have become mostly Democratic voters, primarily because of the experiences my husband and I had in dealing with major illness.

6. Trump’s election wasn’t the earth-shattering event that many of my political persuasion feel it to be. Sure, I didn’t want him to win, but I wasn’t terribly thrilled with the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency either. Rather, the past two years have been especially troubling to me as a PhD in the humanities in the complete erosion of disciplined, thoughtful approaches to difficult questions. Sure, Trump is like a raging wildfire surrounding our constitutional norms on all sides, but I don’t believe his supporters are all bigots or hillbillies, just as I’d hope that there are many other conservatives out there who recognize that despite our ideological differences, I too love this country and its citizens. Despite all the conservative hand-wringing over Marxist indoctrination in our universities, my graduate education was led by thoughtful, principled professors who virtually never discussed politics in the classroom, and never shunned conservative (or liberal) students who were willing to make arguments based in supporting evidence, and this was at a supposedly super liberal university in the ACC (that’s as specific as I’ll get for now).

I no longer work in academia because the pay would never cover my expenses and my student loan payments at the same time. My husband and I live in one of the most liberal cities in the country but I also work for the sprawling behemoth of the defense department. We live in a big city because there are literally no jobs for our highly specialized areas of expertise to be had in the rural/suburban areas we come from and we’d like to be able to afford to have children soon, not because we look down on these areas or their people. It sounds so cliche at this point to express disgust at the ideological barriers that have popped up in so many aspects of American life, but it depresses me. It depresses me to think that nearly half the country likely believes I hate them, or that I’m eternally damned, because I vote for candidates with a D after their names. I vote D because I care about preserving the environment for future generations, because my combat veteran husband is tired of seeing American police be held to more lax standards for rules of engagement than troops in an actual war zone, because I don’t mind paying a little extra in taxes to ensure old people and sick children don’t end up in a Dickensian dystopia, and I don’t believe that others like me deserve to resign themselves to a lifetime of medical debt and poverty (or worse, just die) because they don’t have insurance like I did. I don’t vote D because I hate the things that Republicans stand for so much as I feel the leaders they have congregated around have left or would prefer to leave so many of us behind. I know many Republican voters or conservatives think that many people like myself want to leave them behind. I don’t see it that way, and I wish more people in the US saw one another as children of Jesus who simply have different ways of approaching problems.

#27 Comment By La Lubu On November 8, 2018 @ 7:40 pm

My political mental map, GenX style:

1. Growing up a 5th generation trade unionist, with parents deeply involved with their respective unions. Labor unions and politics from a labor-left perspective was everyday conversation in my extended family. (I do remember Watergate, and my mother’s reaction especially—she put a reel-to-reel tape recorder on top of the tv during the televised hearings, because she didn’t trust that this information would be kept true. It was her attempt at insurance that it wouldn’t all disappear, 1984-style.)

2. Reaganomics and the devastating effect it had on the Rust Belt (where we lived) and the rest of working class America. Say what you will about the Democratic party’s abandonment of the working class (goddess knows it’s one of my favorite soapbox topics), but this trend began with Reagan. When I was in high school, the bottom completely fell out of the city we were living in, and the city where my parents grew up. Factories closed, for sale signs everywhere, all the taken-for-granted building blocks that form real communities….gone.

3. PATCO, the lack of response from business unionism, and the resulting abandonment of labor by the Democratic party. Message sent: “you are beneath us”. And no matter how much Republican ass you kiss as a union (or union member), you are not Their People.

4. Feminism, anti-feminism, and the abandonment of working class women by the self-appointed leaders of the “feminist movement” (i.e.: feminism walking away from being either a grassroots *or* a political movement, choosing instead the comfort of corporate support and lucrative 501c3 careers for the Right Kind of People. Feminism, of the real kind, made my life fantastic. I owe my livelihood to the fact Title IX opened up the trades when I was a child (I’m a thirty-year journeyman electrician in the IBEW. I cannot imagine loving any other job more than I love this—I enjoy every element of my work, and it floors me how few people can say this). But…after the ERA failed, working class women were blamed for its demise rather than strategic failures of the (no-longer grassroots) movement to address opposition (reminiscent of inadequate responses of the labor movement to address *our* opposition as well). It’s pathetic what execrably passes for feminism these days.

#28 Comment By Dana Ames On November 8, 2018 @ 7:51 pm

Born in 1956, lived in Montana until age 7, when we moved to the rural northern California coast. Montana was a very blue state then, a very wide swath of blue along the whole spectrum from die-hard union folk to Blue-Dog ranchers and other people like my dad, who flirted ideologically with the John Birch Society for a while… My parents knew Mike Mansfield personally. Both parents were devoutly Catholic.

My political identity reflects living in a split household; both parents were registered Democrats, but my dad voted for Goldwater, or whoever he thought would serve the country or community the best. Dad was from Kansas and was a 9-year USMC veteran, and saw action in all the worst battles in the Pacific. He was also quite bigoted, but made exceptions for people he actually got to know… My mom grew up in a staunchly Union town with a whole panoply of ethnic groups; she usually voted a straight Dem ticket. I’ve gone back and forth in my life, not swinging wildly, but more than a little influenced by people around me.

My first truly political memory was my dad glued to the TV watching the Kennedy-Nixon debates. Our television was going kaputt and the picture size kept getting smaller by the hour, with my dad moving his red rocking chair closer and closer to the TV, until the picture finally disappeared. The following morning we were at the appliance store buying a brand new (not yet color) TV so dad wouldn’t miss the next debate. My dad was truly afraid that if Kennedy were elected, there would be violent backlash of persecution against Catholics. I remember my parents talking about this when I was 4. JFK’s assassination was a very sad time for me, and I was transfixed watching the funeral with its ceremonial mix of Catholicism and civil religion.

There was always the undercurrent of fear of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War. I remember 1968 as a very bad year, not only with the assassinations of Dr King and RFK, but also the civil unrest at the Dem convention and elsewhere, Viet Nam being really hot, and the 7-Day War in Israel. I was afraid the USA and the USSR would go to war over the Middle East. (I felt a physical sense of relief not only when the Berlin Wall went down, but with all the backing away from nuclear war that was accomplished in the few years leading up to the fall of the Soviet Union.)

And then in 1969 we put a man on the moon. It was the height of our optimism fueled by hope in technology to solve our problems. Then Watergate. I was a Junior in High School, and one of our Social Studies teachers had been in the California state legislature, so the hearings were on the TV in the school library all the time for anyone to watch. High School and early college was a very mixed time in my political awareness, again swinging back and forth from disillusionment in finding out that our president was indeed a crook, to hope that we would be able to extricate ourselves from Viet Nam, to despair at the pointlessness of Viet Nam and of how some of our soldiers had acted.

In my youth I resonated with Catholic social teaching and my mom’s type of Democrat. My first vote was for Jerry Brown for Governor of California. My first Presidential vote was for Jimmy Carter, with my ballot cast in the American Consulate in Heidelberg, Germany, where I was studying that year in college.

I became an Evangelical Christian in college, and voted Republican for a while. The older I got, the more disappointed I became with presidents, and the more I came to see that even the most well-meaning members of both parties in Congress couldn’t figure out how to stay out of the pockets of special interest groups. I also saw that political action was not going to change certain things unless certain aspects of culture changed, viz. poverty. In my late 40s I finally started to shake off some of the outside influences, including Christians with increasingly strident Conservative politics. I read “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” and David Kuo’s “Tempting Faith.” I was done with both Dems and Reps, and since then I have been registered as “decline to state political party.” I have also decided not to vote for “the lesser of 2 evils” – I wrote in someone for president in 2016, and I did not vote for either gubernatorial candidate in California this year.

Since before becoming Orthodox, Fr Stephen Freeman’s writings have informed my life. Lately his writings on politics have really hit home for me. Politics come and go, as do empires, and though I believe I need to do my duty and vote, what will happen will happen. However – and you’re not going to like this – if the Dems would make room for people with a whole life ethic, I’d sign on tomorrow. Like tmatt, I’m a cultural conservative and an economic “liberal.” I’m not holding my breath that the Dems will do that in my lifetime, but I long for my parents’ Democratic Party – yes, corrupt even in their day, but actually doing things to help working people (New Deal; Medicare).

I think the things that have influenced me most are:

1) the split political household of my childhood and the option of not having to vote along one party’s ideological lines;

2) a preferential option for the poor – from Catholic social teaching (which is at root St Basil’s, and which I never really gave up in my Evangelical/Republican years) and my mom’s stories of her parents and their life after immigrating to this country;

3) my dad’s military service and his strong though understated patriotism, along with having a (politically very liberal) daughter in the Army and knowing some of her friends and co-workers. I believe our government has a lot of problems, but it’s better than most. I believe you’re right in seeing the Mob as a grave danger – so did my dad;

4) the ability to observe people around me and see the reality of social and cultural problems, individually and collectively (appreciation for your ability to see patterns and write this blog and the BenOp falls here). In this category are also my experiences traveling around Communist Eastern Europe during my study year in Germany – I observed firsthand what Marxist totalitarianism does to people and cultures;

5) and a weird sort of optimism and comfort in the midst of the current disillusionment and angst. Not that I believe politics or technology will straighten everything out; far from it. This aspect has to do with my own experiences of being bullied from grades 4-7, but I had a different takeaway from it than you did. It hurt a lot, but I did have a few friends who did not turn on me. At the same time, when teachers saw the bullying happening (which was hardly ever, but yet…) they did something about it, so I believe in the *potential* of authorities and institutions to do the right thing. Underneath it all, even though my parents were not perfect, they loved me very well. I am adopted, and I was buoyed through the bullying by knowing how very wanted I was, from my very first days on; home was a haven for me in that regard. Not only was I loved, but my parents sacrificed to give me the opportunity to explore and develop my gifts, particularly in music, and that also brought me great comfort. With a book, I could get into another world besides that of school at recess, when the bullying was most likely to happen; and playing the piano after school calmed my soul.

I believe you’re right in your prognostications. I trust God and the love in which some people are able to live to get us through the hard times.


#29 Comment By aaron On November 8, 2018 @ 8:24 pm

1) Reagan and the Moral Majority

I was born in the late 70’s to Reagan-hating Democrat-registered parents. I remember his administration mainly for its scandals, like Iran Contra and forced staff resignations. But Reagan had less of an effect on me than did the fact that I was a staunch atheist living in a relatively religious, rural area. I knew pretty instinctively that the Religious Right was my outgroup. I despised their self-righteousness, their intolerance, their ignorance, and their willingness to destroy people who didn’t conform to their own supernatural-belief-influenced system of morality. Maybe worst of all was their desire to censor my entertainment. The other big cultural debates of the day were whether or not schools should “teach morality” and/or Creationism. Even though I knew and personally liked some deeply religious Christians, I thought keeping them as far from political power as possible was very important.

2) The Internet

From the moment I started using the internet in the early 90s, I loved it. I loved the anonymous, freewheeling culture it produced and I think that influenced my views in support of a nearly-absolutist free speech, as well as my dim views on strong IP laws.

3) The Science Wars

As a budding physicist in college, I signed up for a course on The Scientific Method, thinking it could be educational. It certainly was, but not quite in the way the instructor intended. You see, this turned out to be a course centered mostly on the postmodernist-influenced Constructivist school of thought, which I became increasingly incredulous with as the course progressed. This also happened to be the very year of the famous Sokal Hoax. It was my introduction to the idea that a university course could teach nonsense, even at the Ivy League level, as well as the fact that the Left could be just as anti-science as the Right. (Science is a Western, imperialist, colonialist, construct that unjustly privileges itself over indigenous ways of knowing, you see.)

I also read a lot of other political theory in college, including a lot of Chomsky, who I was pleased to see gave those postmodernists a pretty righteous smackdown.

As for Bill Clinton, I didn’t care much about the Lewinsky scandal, thinking he was a jerk for his adultery, but whatever. I don’t recall ever hearing the name Juanita Broaddrick around this time; if I had, I suspect I would have thought differently about Clinton.

4) The Aftermath of 9/11

The main impact 9/11 had on me was the overwhelming impression that the country went completely insane in its aftermath. Watching people rush to support laws surrendering our civil liberties in the alleged name of security was horrifying. (How is indefinite detention still “legal”!?) Still more horrifying was watching the rush to war against Iraq, with no clear evidence of WMDs, and with support from institutions and people I had considered previously sensible. Couldn’t they see how obviously the war would be a debacle!? (see Chomsky, above)

5) Obama

I was certainly relieved when Obama was elected. He was my favored candidate over Hillary, who had supported the war, and McCain, the eternal hawk. Also, he was exactly the type of fair-minded, level-headed individual I want as president. Of course the Right’s reaction to him was totally unhinged, and their acting as if this center-left Lieberman-idolizing man who was plainly willing to reach across the aisle was a dangerous radical and threat to America’s existence destroyed any remaining credibility the Right had with me. However, I was also starting to become fairly disillusioned with the Left: What happened to our protests against unnecessary wars, renditions, and drone assassinations? What about holding the architects of the 2008 crash responsible? It was all mostly forgotten, in favor of a renewed focus on social issues…

6) Brendan Eich, Masterpiece Cakeshop, and the response to Trump

While I certainly supported gay marriage (and eventually Obergefell), the Brendan Eich ouster was the first time where I really felt the LGBT movement had gone too far and crossed over from being the bullied to the bullies. Many of the following court cases where small business owners were called into court to be forced to serve gay weddings also struck me as deeply intolerant, and I thought many should be decided in favor of the defendant on free speech grounds. Unfortunately, the rise of white-identity-politics under Trump has only inspired a doubling-down on the identity-politics cultural turn of the Left. When I look now at the Social Justice Left, I am forced to admit that, supernatural beliefs aside, they nearly mirror everything I loathed about the Religious Right: intolerant, ignorant, and self-righteous. Schools now “teach morality”, but its the morality of the Religion of Diversity, and heretics are called out for censure all across society. Its very sad to see that the liberal beliefs the Left once sold to me: free expression, race and gender egalitarianism, and tolerance have largely been discarded in favor of Marcuseism, reverse sexism and racism, and twitter mobs. Ultimately, it’s forced me to see myself as neither Left nor Right on cultural issues, but Libertarian, and generally without a political home.

#30 Comment By SB On November 8, 2018 @ 9:04 pm

1970 incept date.

1976 Bicentennial and basic “American” awareness. Grandfather in WWII my cultural model. Divorced parents, new step-dad is a Libertarian.

1980 School had student poll for Presidential election. They announced the results at the end of the day: Reagan in a landslide and one student (me) for Ed Clark.

1989 First vote cast for Dukakis. Not really concerned at the time, just wanted to vote against Reagan and what I thought at the time was evil imperialism.

1992 Watched Republican convention on tv while washing the dishes in my student co-op house. Pat Buchanan’s “Culture War” speech was really upsetting to me. Thought I was a liberal, but really I was trying to be “with it.”

1997 Shocked myself by being disillusioned when Clinton admitted about Monica. Part of a serious self evaluation that eventually led to converting to Christianity, and considering new possibilities.

2000 At some point while watching conventions on tv, wife says in hesitating voice, “Are we actually Republicans?” Had no answer to that. Voted for Bush almost as a self dare.

2001 Attacks. Gung-ho for war. Angry at Muslims. Hated Them for making me hate them. Angry that all these people were accusing Bush of being evil when it seemed to me he was just trying to do his job. I got defensive and, for the first time ever, what I would call “partisan.” Still living with the effects. Still have a soft spot for Bush, even knowing that we could have done better.

2008 Obama elected. Not sure what to think at the time. Hoped for the best.

2015 Obergefell. Seriously disappointed. Angry. Just not right to require citizens and employees to pretend to believe something that just was not true. Suddenly realized that Pat Buchanan’s “Culture War” speech was all come true. Suddenly realized that I was not a libertarian, not an economic conservative, not a neocon, not an isolationist… Realized that for me, culture war issues trump all others combined. Struggling with ongoing hatred towards people who would do this; struggling with the fact that they have replaced the Muslim terrorists in my mind as enemy number one.

2016 Trump. Despised him from the first. Angry at Republicans for buying it. Assumed he would lose. Ended up voting for him as self punishment for agreeing with so much of his platform. To do otherwise would, in my case, have been rank hypocrisy. Thrilled he won.

2018 Kavanaugh. Angry. Seems part of pattern of “Cultural Revolution” dog pile in frenzy of denunciation. See connections with Title IX nonsense where I work. Feel pushed into even more extreme culture warrior mode.

1976 seems so far away. I don’t even think of America as a real thing any more. Used to be. Now just a place where I live, wondering what it will be like when I lose my job over saying the wrong thing, or when my children decide that I am evil, or when we all go to the camps.

Just sitting here hoping we have reached “peak rainbow” so the world can go back to sane.

#31 Comment By Adam On November 8, 2018 @ 11:57 pm

As a nearly 30 year old from Ohio, the most politically formative period/event of my life has been having a meaningless job.

I went to grad school, so my “real job” search was delayed until my mid/late 20s. It took me nearly 18 months to land a non-retail job after finishing my master’s degree from an ivy league school. Now, to be fair, I did make the horrific and unforgivable sin of not getting an MBA or a JD; instead, I earned a master’s degree in the humanities. May God have mercy on my soul for my complete inability to care about selling widgets or the finer points of insurance law. I should also point out that I am socially adept; I mention that only to prevent someone from internally thinking “well, he’s probably really weird.” I am pleasantly eccentric at best and generally normal.

In any case, I finally landed a job. I hated it right away, but my student loans needed to be paid. I learned within the first week on the job that I was going to be paid for 40 hours of work when I really had 15 hours of actual work to do (and generally it’s closer to 10). However, the person whose job I was taking was still employed by my new employer. So, I couldn’t come out and say “hey, this person has been doing nothing for the past 20 years” because I could get fired. So, I am basically paid to look like I’m working.

If the government lost track of its loan records and I suddenly became financially secure, I would probably become a carpenter. No more sending emails no one reads, no more vague organizational talking points and strategic plans, no more workplace nothingness, but something real.

The point of all of this, politically anyway, is that I abandoned my previous economic conservatism. Not to become something more “crunchy” (though I have grown increasingly conservative socially); instead, I became politically apathetic and nihilistic. No one wants to address the vicious cycle of selling kids on college, putting them in debt to do so, and then making them work pointless jobs for 40 years to pay off their loans. Again, I made the choice to earn a master’s degree in the humanities, so I do bear the responsibility for my own outcome; but, no politician can save us from this problem on a macro level.

The hard reality we have to face is that our society is permeated with tremendous instability–many of these forces are in areas that we may not even see (ask your friends under 30 if their jobs are needed; I bet 2/5 will say that their jobs are meaningless and could be eliminated). Instead of working to make our country better, to create real work with a real purpose (or any other meaningful endeavor), hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on elections that are almost as meaningless as the “work” that I do (or don’t do) on a daily basis. Outside of the Supreme Court and the occasional war that we decide not to fight, there’s not a lot of a difference between D’s and R’s except for the talking points.

So while everyone is spamming Facebook to remind everyone else to vote and then complaining about the outcome after they do–I just don’t care. In short, realizing that my job didn’t matter helped me to see that most of our politicians are just wandering around naked.

Also, I apologize if this is my second post; I didn’t see an earlier post of mine, and I believe that it was likely filtered out as spam (I referenced a book with a vulgar title).

#32 Comment By Nancy McNeil On November 9, 2018 @ 11:44 am

Parents who were upper-middle class children during the Depression;
Cold War, Cold War and air-raid drills during elementary school;
Two history instructors in high school who did not indoctrinate, but gave incredible courses in World and American history;
World War II veteran father who was overly concerned about the communist threat;
Vietnam War;
Reading Russian literature as a young adult.

#33 Comment By Q On November 9, 2018 @ 7:15 pm

Adam I was going to recommend David Graeber’s “B*ll***t Jobs” but I’d bet that that’s the book you were talking about in your last sentence.
So I’ll recommend it to everyone else. A rather slackly anecdotal “anthropological” examination of the modern workforce that rings true.

#34 Comment By Gaius Gracchus On November 10, 2018 @ 5:31 pm

Born in SoCal during the Vietnam War.

My dad is a Democrat and very proud to have never voted for Nixon on any level, and is a FDR Democrat who last voted for a Democrat president in the 60s. He was a Perot voter.

My dad speaks Spanish and he has great love of Latin people and culture.

My mom is a Republican and always has been. I don’t remember any political differences between the two, except my father being more skeptical of big business.

My first political memory was a news report when I was 5 interrupting my TV show about the fall of Saigon.

I listening on the radio in 1976 to the presidential election returns and my parents being disappointed in Carter winning.

During the Carter presidency, I remember disliking him and singing songs mocking him to the tune of the Oscar Meyer jingle “Jimmy Carter has a way of screwing up the U. S. A.”

We grew up religious and espoused classic American values of hard work, self reliance, responsibility, service to others, faith in God, and loyalty to country.

We loved Reagan. We loved America. And we believed anyone could join the great Melting Pot and become one.

We had a lot of immigrants from other countries, but they all assimilated well into American and Southern Californian culture. We strongly believed in MLk’s dream.

We were extremely proud of California and how great it was and how middle class it was.

I had a strong distrust of Big Business from a young age. I feel a strong attachment to Main Street not Wall Street. I also worked a number of blue collar jobs during college and grad school and even went on strike once.

My first election was 88. I really liked Al Gore and had a strong dislike of establishment GHWB and technocrat Dukakis. Ron Paul spoke at my college and I liked what I heard on most issues and I started voting libertarian, sort of.

I read Rand a few years later and started following Objectivism. In grad school, I joined Objectivist Club and wrote for a conservative college magazine.

The 1992 election was important. Everything I feared about GHWB had seemed to come true and he seemed just a man without principles or conviction.

I went campaigning in a very conservative district in 92, for a conservative Senate candidate. Only hitting subrban Republican houses, I was yelled at nonstop by all these Republicans, who felt very betrayed by breaking the “no new taxes” pledge.

I voted Buchanan in 2000. His books really had made me consider the nature of conservatism and nationalism.

I read Putnam and Huntington and at first rejected their ideas and then realized the truth thereof.

In the early 2000s, I got royally screwed by health care costs (my work supplied 80/20 PPO plan somehow resulted in me paying 95% of all payments for my children).

In 2004 I voted Nader. I could tell the Wall Street money machine was super corrupt and we needed to fix things.

The Great Recession hit us hard, and we ended up losing everything and more. John McCain was awful and Barack seemed to know what the problem was and the need for financial controls.

I even caucused for Barack and it was an amazing experience.

I don’t regret that vote, but I was extremely disappointed that Barack dumped all his own financial advisors before the election and put the Clinton machine up to run things.

By 2012 I was a strong Romney supporter. I was quite disappointed when he lost.

By 2015, I had eliminated every Republican candidate but Trump and Cruz at the beginning, mainly over immigration. I went with Cruz because I thought Trump wouldn’t actually follow through on his ideas, which really alligned with mine.

To date, I have been pleased with Trump and his success in the face of opposition from the GOPe, the media, the Democrats, the courts, the administrative state, the faux Russia probe, and the Davos class.

Given the craziness of the left and the liberals, I don’t know if I have much hope left for the country. The rule of law is dead. Evil doers run free. Oligarchy controls the country and the world. Inequality is overwhelming. Evil is called good and good evil.

#35 Comment By Steve On November 11, 2018 @ 12:17 pm

What a great thread! Here’s my political mental map:

1964 assassination of John Kennedy

1967 as a pre-teen reading Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s three volume series on the Age of Roosevelt during the summer before entering middle school. I remember the librarian in the bookmobile scoffing when I brought back Volume One and since I couldn’t find Volume Two, I asked her to order it for me. She wouldn’t order it unless I could prove to her I had read Volume One. I told her of one of the stories I remembered from the book then paged through to find the story and showed it to her. She ordered Volume Two.

1976 by now a hardened Democrat and involved in the solar industry. I believed Environmentalism and Energy Conservation were going to save the world. Jimmy Carter looked like the messiah to me, but would end up being the first crack in my paradigm. Having been involved in jobs in energy conservation and solar, and having taken some of the first Solar Engineering classes offered in the nation, I felt pretty sure I was a part of a wave of the future. When Carter commissiond the Solar Energy Research Institute and the Federal government and State government where I lived offered a combined $12,000 tax credit for solar installations, I was sure solar was going to prove itself. Instead, I saw the government money prove disasterous as fly-by-nights came like locusts to install shoddy and useless solar intallations that would have only cost about $2-3000 pre-Carter but now cost, coincidentally, $12,000. The shoddiness and uselessness of the systems killed any future solar had and became my first lesson in what happens when government picks winners and losers.

I sat out the 1980 and ’84 elections because I couldn’t vote Democrat and I was too paralyzed and unsure of where I belonged to vote for Reagan, especially with all the smears and apocalyptic warnings being pushed by Democrats and the press. The apocalypse didn’t come, the hostages were freed from Iran, the smears didn’t stick. The crack in my paradigm widened a huge amount when a Representative from my state famously called Reagan, “The teflon man.” In an epiphany, I couldn’t remember anytime when smears against a politician had so little substance to them as in this time. I began to respect what Reagan was doing.

I have to admit, I did vote for Clinton-both times-partially out of habit, but when I listened to Bob Dole’s concession speech, I had a crushing feeling that in spite of his milquetoast policy suggestions, the better man had lost. I deeply regretted my vote for Clinton and events subsequently bore that out. I would never go back to voting for Democrats again.

2016: Republicans betrayal of the seven year promise to repeal Obamacare left me without a party. I had attended my county and state conventions for several election cycles, walked my precinct for John McCain, attended rallies in airport hangers when Romney/Ryan ran, began connecting with Tea Party activists. When Trump got elected and the Republicans had no idea of how to repeal Obamacare on January 21, 2017 – I left the Republican party. I still vote Republican in my local elections, but I cannot support the Lucy (of Peanuts cartoon fame) party. I lost my health care insurance three times because of Obamacare. Democrats did not care. Neither did Republicans, apparently. My grandchildren are being enslaved by a corrupt government running up nebulous debt. Democrats do not care. Neither do Republicans, apparently. My country is being invaded by a Cloward-Piven inspired movement of “migrants.” Democrats are responsible. Republicans don’t care, apparently.

I have no party affiliation now. I am a Christian and I make my appeals to God. He, alone, has answers.

#36 Comment By Colin On November 12, 2018 @ 12:20 am

Rod, I started reading your posts this year. I really enjoy them – thanks for your prolificity. I’m not much of a commenter, but when I got a chance to read about the political maps project, I decided to take the opportunity.

Born in 1972 in Queens, NY. Parents were Kennedy pro-life Catholic Democrats who now – like many of their demographic cohort- primarily vote Republican.

Being a child of the 1980s.
We moved to Garden City when I was 8. It was (and still is) a bedroom community with houses squeezed together on 1/10 acre lots. Summer nights were the venue for endless games of manhunt, running bases, nerf football and (in our more mischevious moments) ring and run. When I projected such a desired childhood upon my own brood (10-12-14), I inevitably became frustrated as they prefer to congregate in digital playspaces and not outdoors. This is not entirely their fault – I live in a more rural exurb in New Jersey with 1 acre lots – so there aren’t roaming packs/gaggles of pre-adolescents on the cul-de-sac. But this has become my new reality, and rather than waste the remaining years of my children’s youth on rumination, I have accepted it for what it is and make endeavors to improve it.

All Boys Catholic Highschool 1986-1990
Probably the most formative years of my life. My best friends to this day come from this era. I learned the benefits of positive peer pressure by being surrounded by some of the most honorable, intelligent and funny people you could ever meet. Projecting (again) I strongly encouraged my oldest to attend a similar high school in our area. The school’s unofficial motto – “Do the right thing at the right time because its the right thing to do” still resonates with me today and is the reason I identified for many years as primarily a McCain Republican and calls for serving for causes greater than oneself. This more noble element of political discourse seems to have vanished.

Boxers vs. Briefs
I’m an old soul and there was something icky about Clinton’s embrace of pop culture in his 1992 campaign. The president is supposed to be the adult in the room – and the presidents I remembered (Carter, Reagan, and Bush) were all adults. The MTV town halls, making cameos on late night talk shows, even the “Sister Souljah” moment all seemed liked empty calories that were being served up for Pleasure Island- like consumption. Not that Clinton eschewed serious interviews – he obviously wasn’t a dumb guy. But his efforts to come across as a “cool” seemed to give license to self-indulgent behavior. And then, almost inevitably, Lewinsky happened.

An obvious event. Killed were a high school classmate with a young family, a playmate from my aforementioned idyllic 80s childhood and the father of a friend who went to our sister school. Obvious in retrospect in that this gave Bush II a blank check to respond how he saw fit. And even though I thought Hussein had nothing to do with this – and that while going after the Taliban made sense, going into Iraq did not – I supported Bush and his national security team, figuring they knew something I didn’t. Bush & co may have had more knowledge, but wisdom proved to be lacking, for our soldiers soon seemed to be refereeing a civil war. I was conflicted, reading about the futility of events in the New Yorker (great pieces by George Packer) and at the same time hoping that Petraeus and “the surge” would restore order and honor to the cause. Remember when Bush said, “I have political capital and I intend to spend it.” 9/11 gave him as much political capital as any modern politician will ever get – and he spent it all on Iraq and he (and the GOP) were politically bankrupt when Katrina hit.

Obamacare and Meaningful Use.
I am a physician. I am blessed to have a career that is engaging, stimulating and rewarding. But it is an odd profession in which your customers do not pay a large portion of the bill directly and have very little idea of the actual costs involved. And as physicians, we want it this way because who would use our services otherwise?
Obamacare furthered this disconnect between services rendered and paid. Unfortunately, Obamacare was, in essence, a Medicaid expansion which – as you may know – is not very good insurance. This left consumers with more entitlement, but also paradoxically – more resentment – because the entitlement was not that valuable.
Meaningful Use is a more obscure program – not directly connected to but seems part of – Obamacare. It was a program in which physicians were incentivized to keep track of certain measures during a patient visit. If the program was completed correctly, then the physician was rewarded with a CMS check. If they failed, 2% was knocked off your collective Medicare reimbursement rate. Ok – so if you comply, you get bonused and if you don’t, you get dinged – what’s the problem? It’s a bandwidth problem – in a patient encounter my objective is to find out the problem and offer a solution and do it as compassionately as possible. These criteria imposed on us by CMS HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE REASON FOR THE PATIENT VISIT – it was all for data collection for objectives that could only be dreamed up by bureaucrats with public health degrees. So instead of looking at our patients, we are looking at our computer terminals. This is not limited to healthcare – as this top-down approach infects many industries. Government interference often flows from government hubris -and this program is a microcosm of the basis of my libertarian streak.

2016 and beyond
Everything is political and politics ruins everything. It’s everything you write about. I agree with you spot on with Trump – I couldn’t stand the narcissism, the superficiality, the disrespect shown to McCain and Gold Star Families. But like you, and many others, the alternative is far more sinister. I see their end game as pushing timeless values (and perhaps the Constitution) towards irrelevancy. It’s like all of a sudden, all of history is wrong and we are all idiots. Social media – which I typically avoid – reinforces this divide as people argue in anonymity. The Kavanaugh hearings were the culmination of all this nonsense (so-far) and inspired (or frightened) me to make my first ever political donation to a local pro-life politician.

My political views, in a nutshell, are that human dignity is sacrosanct, the government should do a few things well and not overreach, and that everybody should do their part to be a good citizen and make the collective good greater than the individual parts. I like my political leaders respectful, humble and serious – but your personal interactions with people (and how you treat them) are far more important than those of our political leaders.

#37 Comment By Gregory C Jeffers On November 18, 2018 @ 12:45 pm

I was born in 1990 in Texas, so just as the State was going red. My parents are both reaganites and have never given up their faith in fusionism. My mom’s parents had been racist white southern democrats until they, along with every other conservative white person in Texas, became Republicans. My dad’s parents are from the midwest and have long embraced a moderate conservativism.

The household in which I grew up was very religious and socially conservative. I think both of my parents would have listed abortion as their number one voting issue, though they fully bought in to the fiscal and foreign policies of the Republican Party.

The first national election in which I could vote was the 2008 election and I voted for Obama. I did so because I became convinced that doing so was the Christian thing to do. While abortion was an evil, I came to believe that voting for republicans would not help the pro-life cause because the republicans had largely failed to deliver during the Bush years, the Supreme Court was (even if it struck down Roe and Casey) unlikely to ban the practice of abortion nationwide. Rather, what would happen was that the issue would return to the States who would, in the words of Obama religion adviser Shaun Casey, “fifteen States would immediately legalize abortion, fifteen would immediately ban abortion, and the remaining States would refight the civil war.”

Unlike my parents, however, having come to political awareness during the Bush years, I had an instinctive distrust of aggressive foreign policy (the wars in Afganistan and Iraq were frustrating to me) and I had a young man’s naive sense that Republicans did not want to help people but that the Democrats do. And so, much to the chagrin of my family, I cast my first vote for Obama.

In the first four years of the Obama presidency, I watched the “hope and change” promised by Obama fail to deliver and, simultaneously, I watched the rise of the Tea Party (and the radicalization of the Republican Party) with horror. I became deeply disillusioned with the two party system and began to research alternatives. And so, a full three years before the explosion of the Bernie Sanders movement and the mainstreaming of democratic socialism, I was a self-proclaimed democratic socialist. I ended up voting for Jill Stein in the 2012 election.

In the lead up to the 2016 election, I became highly skeptical of democratic socialism being able to actually deliver. For one thing, its American form lacks any sense of subsidiarity. For another, it appears highly secular and willing to participate in the leading cultural project of driving Christians out of the public square.

Anyhow, I thought then, and continue to think, that the popular understanding of politics is incredibly shallow, and that the dichotomies created leave no room for people like me. And I don’t mean that the center is the right position either. I mean the system needs new categories.

For instance, I identify in many ways with a certain kind of intellectual conservatism–that of Wendell Berry, Edmund Burke, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Russell Kirk, and propagated today at The American Conservative and The Imaginative Conservative–in that I fully understand the human problem to be the disordered will. G. K. Chesterton once answered the question “What’s wrong with the world today?” with the answer “I am.” I couldn’t agree more, and it is this insight–that we are innately prone to disorder–that drives much of my understanding of politics. The answer to such disorder is the cultivation of virtue, and such virtue is best cultivated in the context of traditional cultural and social structures.

I think much of the problem in America is related to the breakdown of traditional social structures. My mom was an administrator in a multi-ethnic middle school in an area of modest income. She told me multiple stories throughout her career about the kind of disorder prevalent in her school. Students, not infrequently, fought each other. My mom attributed such disorder to the lack of corporal punishment. Perhaps. But the larger problem is the breakdown of family and local norms, and the expectation that the school, as an arm of the government, would be the primary locus of discipline. Part of the problem, additionally, is the abandonment of local and regional (and even state) affiliations. While school districts are local organizations, they are centrally regulated from state capitals. And, in any case, the federal government pretty much regulates whatever it wants in schools despite supposed local control. With no sense of communal identity, of shared work among families in a particular local context, local schools become arms of the bureaucratic state.

But that is not the only problem.

(It goes without saying, but I will say anyway, that a “solution” to the “problem” is not very simple. It is not as simple as merely insisting that people take more personal responsibility or that families be strengthened again. People took personal responsibility, and families were strong, in the South well into the 1960s–a culture that oppressed a large minority of its population.)

I also identify, in many ways, with a kind of non-Marxist socialism. I think Marx’s anthropology is repugnant, I think communism is bonkers, but I find much to value in socialism. The argument of all socialists is that people are caught in webs of oppression that force them to take certain actions and force them into certain situations. The purpose of society, in such a vision, is the cultivation human flourishing through maximizing the agency and self-determination of particular oppressed peoples and groups. And not all systemic oppression can be laid at the feet of government. I have no love for multi-national corporate behemoths or local communities that cater to such entities in order to share in their profits (Rod’s recent article about Amazon is a perfect example of this). Keeping the government off of the back of a local bakery or dairy is a desirable goal. Keeping the government off the back Coke is not such a desirable goal.

I think much of the problem in America is related to the way we have collaborated with oppressive systems. Back to my mom. So, these kids were fighting in her middle school because they were not permitted to flourish in a nurturing and wholesome family environment. And, moreover, the school treats them as problems because the school is a branch of the central bureaucracy. But the reason for a lack of family life is due to a variety of factors. One might be that parents have to work in multiple demeaning jobs for little pay because corporations are focused on maximizing profits, and the government has the backs of the corporations (which isn’t to say that parents don’t also possess personal responsibility). And, while hard work and long hours never killed anybody, such companies (Walmart is a prime example) move into communities and disrupt the local ethos. The increasing cookie-cutter, suburban chains means that people do not think of themselves as part of a locality or a region, but of themselves only as Americans. Disrupting the local ethos means there is no sense of solidarity among residents and the communal support one might expect in another time has been thrown out the window.

As a Christian, I can affirm, without equivocation, that since all people are made in the image of God, then all people possess intrinsic worth. It is therefore wrong, a priori, to act against a human being in a way that treats him or her as less than a human being. I am thus happy to agree that human beings possess God-given rights, and that these rights precede the state. That being said, human beings, by virtue of their intrinsic dignity and the divine image on them also possess God-given obligations, and these obligations also precede the state. And just as these rights are unchosen (they are innate), so too are these obligations unchosen. For example, a child has an unchosen obligation to care for a parent, a brother for his sister, a woman for her neighbor, etc. Indeed, Christ’s clear command in Holy Writ is that humans, by nature, possess the following two obligations: 1) to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength and 2) to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.

Of course, Christian tradition also reminds us that things are not so simple. If following the command to love one’s neighbor were easy, there would be no need for the state. But as we all know, we regularly not only fail to love our neighbor, but we also regularly work against our neighbor’s dignity. This is the result of the Fall, the plummet from innocent harmony with God and his creation to selfish disorder in which we strive against God and our neighbor. For this reason, and this reason alone, do we have need of human governments. As St. Paul makes abundantly clear in Romans 13, the purpose of state is to restrain evil and promote virtue. Essentially, the purpose of the state is to make sure that we don’t behave so evilly that it is impossible to live together. This falls well short of the command that Jesus gives us, and even falls well below the threshold of minimally acceptable ethics: don’t do to others what you would not want done to you. Essentially, the existence of the state is a concession to the fact that we are evil.

So, finally, given our two basic facts 1) Humans have rights and obligations that precede the state and 2) Humans by nature are evil and insist on their rights without fulfilling their corresponding obligations, what sort of society ought we design from the ground up? Or, to put it another way, what ought our politics be? Given, then, that at its root politics is about how, given the that human beings are both evil and dignified, power ought to be exercised to retrain evil and promote virtue, it seems important that we first consider politics in its most raw form. Thus, for what remains of this comment, I will describe my ideal political arrangement. This is just a fantasy, of course, but it shapes my approach down the line. Then, I will become a bit more practical and discuss my ideal political arrangement given our context in the U.S. Finally, I will zoom in closer to the present day and discuss the kinds of beliefs and policies I would like to see gain traction in American politics as we experience it now.

My interest in laying out my ideal political arrangement is to set out, in a few broad strokes, what I perceive the best way that humans can organize themselves in order to promote virtue and restrain evil. I will not be making much in the way of policy proposals here so much as I will be suggesting the framework for a system based on some principles derived from the fact that humans are both good and evil.

1) The majority ought not be given an outsized authority. Simply because a lot of people agree to something doesn’t make it right. Votes by majorities in certain circumstances may have to carry the day in certain decisions since that will be the only way to get widespread agreement, but the ideal political system would be well preserved from day to day control by majority rule.

2) The members of any given society ought to be cohesive. That is, the members of a society ought to share a common set of beliefs and practices. A society of atomized individuals who have lost any shared cultural customs with their neighbors is a society that is no longer anything but a geographic area governed by a central authority. The state ought to promote assimilation, inclusion, and adherence to custom and convention.

3) The state should operate on the principle of subsidiarity. That is, the lowest competent authority should make decisions, pass laws, and settle disputes. The further removed the government is from the people, the less it should interfere in the day to day lives of its people. This keeps the government close to home and under the watchful eye of the citizens. It also prevents aggregation of power to one central authority. This also preserves variety because it allows people living in different places to follow different customs and laws.

4) The means of production and ownership of land ought to be spread as widely as possible so as to maximize the equal participation of the citizenry in society. This best preserves human dignity against the totalizing forces of the central planners, whether communist or capitalist. As G.K. Chesterton once said, “Big business and state socialism are very much alike, especially big business.”

5) The state ought to recognize the obligations, institutions, customs, rights, and prerogatives that logically precede the state. For example, the state ought to respect marriage, and enforce it in its traditional sense, because marriage is an institution that is tied to the people of a place rather than to the legal fiction created by the state. In respecting these things that precede the state, the state is upholding its sacred duty to conform itself to nature and to its people, the people who make up the polis.

6) The state ought to seek a balance between liberty (that preserve of man in which he both sins and reigns) and virtue. That is, the state should seek the cultivation of virtue in the citizenry, but not through the use of draconian force. Rather, the promotion of virtue should be winsome, in collaboration with willing religious institutions, and should be ordered toward the common good.

7) The state ought to be severely restricted in its use of coercive force against the citizenry. Robust rights to protection from unreasonable search & seizure, freedom of speech and religion, and equal protection under the law ought to be preserved and affirmed.

8) The state should govern in such a way as to preserve the status quo unless there is ample justification provided for change. Change for the sake of change (the myth of progress) is a lie with no merit. We are no better than the “barbarians” who came before us. Change should be gradual and organic, not quick and technocratic. The society is a living organism and cannot be changed from the outside in except that the character of that society be eliminated.

9) Some system ought to be implemented to mute the power of money for politicians. Corruption is a real problem with real consequences, and those in power ought to be preserved, as far as possible, from that which makes them unfit to lead.

10) The state, on as local a scale as possible, ought to insure that every person who wants to is able to live decently, in accordance with human dignity.

11) The state will not operate beyond its means, but will prudently stick to a budget.

While the above lays out the principles I would want to govern society if I were starting from scratch, the truth is that we already have a political system. So, the question becomes, “what is the best way to make use of the political system in the American context?

Given that we live in a federal, constitutional, republic, how might the above principles be applied?

1) I would like to see a return to State legislatures having control over who the senators of a given State are. I also believe that all judges should be appointed and confirmed rather than be directly elected. Direct election does not allow for an independent judiciary. Furthermore, I think political parties should have committees that nominate candidates rather than having primaries. Finally, I believe it would be a good idea for electors to the electoral college to be elected in their own right and then to trust them to decide who to vote for for president. The reduction of the power of the majority should lead to less partisanship and more focus on getting work done instead of running for office.

2) The current power of the federal government, and of the imperial presidency especially, ought to be severely curtailed. For example, there is no reason to have federal drug laws except to the extent that drugs are trafficked across State lines. But the federal government ought not have laws against drug use. Or, for another example, the FCC should not exist. States are fully capable of regulating communication within their borders. If Texas wants to end Net Neutrality but New York wants to keep it, why can’t both happen? The framers of the constitution never intended the federal government to have this much power, and giving a central authority this much power is terribly inefficient and it replaces local leaders who are close at hand and understand their areas with leaders who are far away.

3) Local and State governments (and on occasion the federal government) ought to aggressively limit the size of corporations and should pass laws that guarantee a living wage. Official local and State government policy should be that small, local, old, and concrete is better than big, global, new, and abstract. For example, cities ought to aggressively ban national and multinational chains from building within their city limits. State governments should take all of the incentives they throw at large corporations to move in and should instead use that as seed money for startup small businesses.

4) While federal laws and regulations ought to be significantly curtailed, State and local governments should be more creative and thoughtful in their use of law to assist society in achieving the common good. I am a firm proponent of universal healthcare and I would like to see a number of experiments conducted by the different States. States should not be mini federal governments. Rather, they should understand themselves as cohesive wholes with a place inside a larger American federation.

5) Governments at all levels should ban outright donations to candidates for office. Rather, each candidate should receive a certain amount of money from the appropriate government to spend on a campaign. Further, groups outside of whatever jurisdiction is electing an official should not be permitted to spend money in that election. And political spending by outside groups ought to be capped at a small total. I do not at all agree with the silly idea that money=speech. If money=speech, then when the government taxes you, it is violating your first amendment rights. This is about having decent, fair, and non-corrupt elections.

6) In addition to passing laws that require a living wage, State and local governments ought to actively foster an environment in which all people are cared for decently well. Of course, this mostly means that State and local governments should assist non-profits and private organizations (like churches and civic organizations). If, and only if, these organizations, even with the state’s backing fails, then the government should provide the service directly. But again, that service should be provided by the lowest level competent authority.

8) There should be a constitutional amendment that forbids any government (State, local, or federal) from operating at a loss. That is, no government may borrow money. All money must come from taxation.

However, despite my list of dreams from above, we still find ourselves in a particular time and place. Our time and place involves the following items which I detest: a) the imperial presidency, b) the national as the focus at the expense of the regional and local, c) the outsized role of the judiciary, d) the duopoly of the GOP and the Democrats, etc. So, in light of today’s realities, here are a few things I bring with me into the voting booth:

1) First, and most importantly, I will vote for the person who seems the most restrained, qualified, and professional. Prudence is the name of the game. I would rather have a prudent and cautious person with whom I substantively disagree on policy than one with whom I agree but who is volatile.

2) I find myself willing to vote for, on a national level, things I wish were left up to the States because I know good and well my State, at least, will never get around to considering them. For example, I am a proponent of universal healthcare. And while I firmly believe that this should start with neighborhoods and communities, I am willing to vote for it at a federal level if I have to.

3) Despite my misgivings about the size of the federal government or its reach, I pointedly do not believe that it should be reigned in with any kind of sudden or drastic action. I prefer an inefficient and overly controlling central bureaucracy to anything that would destabilize the country. The main enemy of society is disorder. So while I would support long term movement toward my vision, in the short term I will not vote for politicians who promise to dismantle the federal government on DAY 1! For example, in the Republican primary in 2016, several candidates promised to “tear up the Iran agreement on Day 1!” John Kasich (who I voted for) said that he would have to study the agreement in detail before making a decision. This is called being an adult.

4) As far as “the issues” are concerned, I tend to care about (in order of importance) the following:

The right to life from conception to natural death. I oppose abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, assisted suicide, and any other mechanism that seeks to directly end life.

The right to free speech, the exercise of religion, peaceful assembly, and of the press. These are often called our “first freedoms” because they are enshrined in the first amendment to the constitution. I am also a big fan of the 4th amendment and its insistence that we ought to be protected in our persons, papers, and effects from unreasonable search and seizure. These are the rights (along with the rest of the Bill of Rights) that prevent government oppression of the citizens. Right now, I see the primary threat to this group of rights to be in the religious freedom arena. For example, Christian florists and bakers are being persecuted for refusing to sell their products for use in same-sex weddings. While public accommodation laws (rightly) require businesses to serve all customers, those laws, when they conflict with the first amendment, ought to be trumped.

Poverty and access to resources that foster quality living conditions, including access to healthcare. Given the caveats listed in the opening paragraph in this section, I find myself largely sympathetic to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party (Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, etc). I support universal healthcare, for example. However, I would prefer to see some sort of Universal Basic Income (guaranteed through tax credits) in place of the sprawling, expensive, and inefficient bureaucracy. However, given a binary choice, I would happily vote for current progressive proposals.

Protectionism. I am a bit of a protectionist. In general, I support the government passing laws in such a way that favors domestic producers. The federal government should impose tariffs and the State and local governments should build private-public partnerships ordered toward building a thriving economic community.

Fiscal responsibility. I am with John Kasich on this. I do not support any spending that is not paid for via taxation.
The environment. I am persuaded that if we do not act very soon, we will find ourselves in an environmental catastrophe that we will not be able to escape. So, on a national level, I support US participation in treaties (like Paris climate agreement) and federal laws regulating carbon emissions. SInce all of us are affected by emissions producers in other States, I believe this falls well within the purview of the federal government.

Crime. I am a Law & Order kind of person. I believe there ought to be robust laws against the production, possession, and use of drugs (from marijuana on up). While I do not believe jail time is all that effective for low-level offenders, I do believe in the use of mandatory rehab and in job training programs that help people get out of this mess. I also generally think the police get too bad a rap. But, at the same time, I want any agent of the state to be held to a high threshold of scrutiny.

5) All of this, of course, means I have no real political home. I have historically had to choose between the lesser of two evils (usually voting to the pro-life Republican because that issue is so important to me). I would happily vote for a pro-life, pro-religion Democrat.