Which tax structure will best promote both fairness and innovation? What combination of regulation and market forces would produce the most effective health care system? How do we build immigration policy to compete for global talent while preserving a sense of justice and compassion? How can we meet the challenge of passing on a better, stronger country to our kids?
These wonky, nerdtastic public policy questions have always interested me. Smart policy is the invisible structure around us that creates a framework for personal success. People work very hard in places like Belize or Haiti to achieve meagre results for themselves and their families. Life for us is different thanks to public institutions we’ve inherited, through which we solve collective problems and amplify individual success. My writing and my political activism are an effort to pay a debt to those who came before, to contribute my small energy and insight to the unending refinement of those critical institutions. That effort at refinement has ground to a halt, interrupted by an emergency.
It has become very difficult for me to do what I like to do, because policy innovation is currently irrelevant. Have an idea for improving public education? Want to solve our health care access challenges? Know a way to address climate change that might create, rather than undermine, wealth generation? It doesn’t matter. Public policy doesn’t matter right now. There is no competent governing body at the national level capable of responding to a great idea. For the foreseeable future, there will be no helpful federal legislation of any kind. Even at the state and city levels, the dysfunctional hulk of our federal government will severely impede innovation.
Our country has descended into a crisis with no clear end. Political stability and security we took for granted is gone. Until we can discern the shadow of a new political order, thinking about policy issues is little more than imagineering. Worse, it feels like denial or escapism.
The White House is now occupied by the erratic don of a minor organized crime family. Animated by ineptitude and bigotry he is slowly dismantling the last functioning elements of our federal infrastructure. He will probably be removed from office over the next year or so. Even if we are lucky enough to accomplish this feat without a civil war, we face the remaining challenge of crippling the cancerous organization that elevated him to power. Our second political party, my former party, has devolved into a Fascist cult bent on destroying our core institutions. They will remain a threat to our future after Trump is gone.
There is no reasoning with those who remain in the Republican Party. It’s nice that Alabama elected a Democratic Senator, but the details of that victory are sobering. Almost half of the voters in that election were willing to elevate an utterly repugnant and inhumane figure to power. A slightly less-pervy cretin who also promised to roll back the country’s post-Civil War reforms could have easily won that election. We are not engaged in a national discussion over vision or direction, a fact-driven debate influenced by reason. We are at odds not merely on matters of policy, but on the nature of reality itself. This conflict can only be decided by superior power.
The democratic process offers our most hopeful, least destructive path back to stability. This narrow and unlikely outcome depends on a massive electoral shift toward America’s political left. That’s not because the left has great policy ideas, but because they are the one of our two political parties that isn’t infested with Nazis. Democrats and the broader establishment left retains respect for our founding institutions, they embrace basic human compassion, they respect a scientific and empirical reality, and they preserve an attachment to the rule of law. These days, that’s enough to command support from any decent American. In the near term, surviving this crisis depends on placing Democrats in power at every level of government. We cannot return to stability until the Republican Party has been thoroughly gutted, hopefully through electoral failure, but by any means necessary.
If policy is restored to relevance anytime soon, it will probably be under Democratic leadership. I have very little to say about how Democrats should govern the country. I am an old-school conservative and an enthusiast for market economics. I embody what young Democratic hotheads consider the root of our problems. The Democratic Party is not a credible outlet for my ideas or activism, it is merely better than the alternative. I have to help them win, but their victory probably pushes me toward irrelevance.
Ideas I see as crucial to our best political future are trapped under the dead weight of a corrupt and vile Republican Party. Market based approaches to problems ranging from universal health care to gun regulation offer cheap, effective solutions that fit a faster new environment taking shape around us. Those ideas are dead on arrival in a Democratic Party still enamored with 20th century government planning. As a very challenging new year dawns, I feel adrift. The survival of this country depends on the success of my political rivals. I can help them, but they won’t cease to be rivals. Their success will rescue what I care most about, but it will probably also damage my hopes that a market-driven political future might emerge in my generation.
I’ll keep writing partly because I don’t know what else to do with myself. This platform seems to have become useful and I’ll do my best to cultivate it. After a period of uncertainty and discord, there may be room again for good, public-interested people to engage in substantive debates over policy questions. When that happens, it looks like I’ll again be in a position of dissent, rather than influencing the winners. So be it.
Happy New Year, fellow orphans. Let’s go do what we must.