Observations on Today’s Political Situation in the U.S.

by | Jan 29, 2021

Photo by Gage Skidmore
The 'progressive' left and 'conservative' right are two sides of a damaged coin. The two sides have differences, but they also have important elements in common, although these are manifested in somewhat different forms.

Trump’s Character

  1. Trump is an extreme narcissist. He has to be the absolute center of attention. He needs to be worshipped. He believes that everything good that happens is due to him, and that all bad things are the fault of others. If others disagree with his whims, he will angrily attack or fire them.
  2. He is a pathological liar and has no moral principles.
  3. He is an irrationalist, emotionalist. Only feelings of the moment count. He can change his mind every day. His core method of arguing is by insult or intimidation, not by reason.
  4. He is willfully ignorant and is not interested in learning. For example, he does not like to read (e.g., books on history, daily government reports). He is reported to not have any books in his library. All his “knowledge” evidently comes from T.V.
  5. He consistently denies reality, e.g., pandemic facts, Russian hacking, lack of evidence for voter fraud, or any fact he does not personally like.
  6. He resents the separation of powers, i.e., congress and the courts, and clearly envies dictators, because they can do whatever they want.
  7. He has favorite dictators; mostly likes Russia (which invaded our entire computer network, interferes with our elections, and kills dissidents, etc.), S. Arabia; N. Korea is ok if they suck up to him. China not ok right now but might be ok tomorrow. There is no moral principle leading him to reject dictatorships as such.
  8. He resents freedom of speech for those who disagree with him and wants some government control of the media.
  9. He is religious though we have no way of knowing fully what it means to him other than opposing Roe vs. Wade.
  10. In losing the election, he engaged in pure fantasy. All of his election fraud claims were repeatedly rejected by the courts due to lack of evidence, even though many of the judges were his appointees.
  11. He has severely damaged the Republican party by his irrationality and by encouraging lawlessness, and then pretending he did not.
  12. He has been a terrible role model for our citizens and for all free nations. Most people want to look up to their leaders and even emulate them. Role models can have a big effect on people, e.g., people you can admire. Negative role models like Trump, who is in a position of enormous authority, can be especially damaging. Trump helped bring out the worst in the worse people, those prone to violence. Many of the better people seemed to think that he should be supported, despite his flaws, as an antidote to the left. The claim is that this will buy time.  This is a huge miscalculation.

The principle of the lesser of two evils has limits, and Trump was way over the line. An irrational, ignorant, unprincipled right-wing leader in the end only gives more power to the left, viz., if this is what the right stands for, you had better listen to us right now. And the voters did.

Unless Biden messes up badly (see below), Trump will not get re-elected even if he is not impeached. And if he were, the result could be disastrous. Imagine a dishonest, grudge-holding narcissist coming back to power after being totally humiliated. He would likely feel invulnerable and be more likely than before to act irrationally on an even bigger scale.

Did he do anything right? Only a little: the tax cut which was needed but without any spending cut leading to increased deficits.  He was pro-Israel and Taiwan, contra Iran and protected the South China sea:  all good. But then he has undermined NATO (he was right to say the Europeans must pay their fair share but wrong to belittle them) and failed to unify the free Asian nations in order to help oppose Chinese imperialism. His trade policy is unclear. Trade is generally very beneficial but with an imperialist, totalitarian dictatorship, it is a very tricky issue. The problem requires actual thought.

It should be noted that Trump is the complete antithesis of Ayn Rand and of all her fictional characters. She stood for reality as real, reason (not emotions or religion) as the tool of knowledge, moral virtue (honesty, integrity, etc.), thinking in principles, capitalism as the moral (as well as the practical) system, individual rights (including abortion), freedom of speech (no government coercion), the separation of powers, etc.

One might ask: how could 70 million people vote for someone like Trump? It was due, I think, to a worrisome decline in our culture: the gradual replacement of reason by mindless emotions and a badly mistaken premise that you can fight the irrational with the irrational. It is because of Trump that Democrats now are basically in control. We do not yet know what they will do, but there will certainly be harmful consequences.

Let us now consider the two parties in terms of essentials.

 

The Right

The philosophy of the right is mainly based on religion, i.e., mysticism. A large portion of Trump’s followers were and are Christian fundamentalists. This is manifested in various ways:

  1. Metaphysically they believe in miracles and an all-knowing and all-powerful ghost in the sky. But they also believe in free will (partly). The strongest focus for free will is on resisting temptation (sin) rather than making choices about all aspects of one’s everyday life on earth and on not doubting God.
  2. Epistemologically they are mystics in philosophy. Christianity is based on faith (belief in the absence of evidence). They reject the idea that reason and the senses are the source of all knowledge. In everyday life, Christians often use reason, but they compartmentalize it. Reason is considered useful in one’s career (though they may pray for help at times), but it is not applied to their philosophy. They have always resented the fact that the U.S. by law (the Constitution) is a secular state. They are anti (non-religious) education in many ways. They often reject science, e.g., evolution, COVID-19, vaccines (many seem to think that God will override the laws of biology). The Catholic Church has had a long and disgraceful record of opposing science and personal happiness on earth. It took the church several hundred years to apologize for threatening Galileo with death for claiming the earth went around the sun, not to mention their war against sexual pleasure, opposition to birth control and abortion, and much more. Practical success such as in business is valued, but it is routinely and formally attributed to God not to the individual because pride is considered the worst of all sins. Note: there have been and are brilliant scientists who support religion because they did and do not use the rational faculty in choosing their philosophy. Discovering what is in science (e.g., atoms) is much less daunting than discovering a theory of ethics: what is the good? Only Ayn Rand discovered the correct answer.
  3. Morally, Christians believe that virtue (as written in the Bible) will get them into heaven, so there is some egoism, but what virtues actually get them there? Altruism, especially helping the poor (as a duty) and especially as practiced by women (who need to be subservient to men). They believe women do not have the right to their own body (its contents) because their body belongs to God. Christian virtue also includes faith and obedience, not reason or independent thinking. Reason is almost never mentioned in the Bible never as a virtue. In one Bible search I found the word reason only once. The gist was: come let us reason together, but the section ended with a warning: you had better obey God or else bad things will happen. Commandments are to be obeyed because God said so and to ensure that one will go to heaven and not to hell. The concept of the afterlife is based on faith. Christianity is pro-justice in form because actions have consequences, but it is wrong in content, viz., faith, altruism, obedience and as well as a wrong view of forgiveness (which is, in reality, a context issue): if you sincerely repent, anything can be forgiven at least by God.
  4. Politically, Christians partly support individualism because they view every person as equal before God. They often favor capitalism (most want to live well), but, at root, this support is for the wrong reason: that business people exist to serve others. The fact that businesspeople selfishly benefit by making a profit through voluntary trade may sometimes be mentioned as a practical result but not as a moral ideal. Love of money is treated with suspicion (the root of all kinds of evil). Giving money away (charity), however, is virtuous and possibly more virtuous than making it. For Christians, this neutralizes possible doubts about the morality of profit. Christians generally oppose dictatorship (e.g., Communism) but for the wrong (or non-fundamental) reason: because dictatorships are non- or anti-Christian (e.g., atheistic). One may think that Christians would never act like Nazis, but during World War II the Pope cooperated with the Nazis in persecuting Jews because they were not Christians. The church, of course, is infamous for coverups of pedophile priests for generations. Faith and rights do not necessarily coincide.
  5. Psychologically: emotionalism is central, because faith is a form of emotion, how you feel about something. Christian TV gurus are often raving narcissists because they claim they speak for God and want blind worship of themselves, God and/or the Pope. The people are supposed to obey Christian leaders. Obedience, based on fear of damnation, trumps independent thought in Christian philosophy. The most honest and intellectually active Christians will feel the most conflict (which is why they compartmentalize). Usually, they conform to Christian philosophy due to moral self-doubt and because it is simply too hard to come up with their own philosophy. This is somewhat valid in that the intellectuals were supposed to do the philosophical work, and they (other than Ayn Rand) defaulted. But they rejected her solution.

 

The Left

The core value of the left today centers on what they call “social justice.” The left is no longer nearly as pro-legitimate rights as they used to be. Rights for them are not just the right to act but the also the right to gain values provided by others. Note that the right to act to pursue values, as in the Declaration of Independence, and the right to get values, are mutually contradictory.  One negates the other. But the left wants to have freedom and eat it too. The correct view of rights involves individual choice; the wrong view involves coercion. The left wants it both ways: allow people to make money by permission and then take as much as they can away. Jesus viewed all men as equal before God, but the left is more secular than the right and wants people to be equal in their outcomes on earth.

  1. Metaphysically, leftists generally believe in real causality in nature, e.g., science (but see below); but they are very much environmental determinists when it comes to people, although they do not deny that people make choices. But they claim people who succeed do so due in large part due to “privilege.” Even if you have always acted justly toward others and earned your own way, you are still “privileged” (as if the government gave you special favors rather than just protecting your legitimate rights) and those who fail do so usually fail due to discrimination (more about this below). There is great reluctance is to give credit or hold people responsible for their actions or outcomes.
  2. Epistemologically, up to a point, leftists accept the senses, reason, and science but at the deepest level they are subjectivists due to Kant’s influence, so they really cannot be intellectually certain of anything. The default position is to go with the majority, as if we were a pure democracy. They are pro-education, which is a good idea as such, but they want it to be based on their philosophy and to keep dissenting voices out of academia (which they have done quite successfully). Many on the left believe in God though are not fundamentalists. This ties in with the belief that everyone is equal which they secularize and apply to economics. The leftist view of the climate issue is somewhat, but not totally tied to facts (the earth is warming slightly but warming will not kill us in 10 or even 100 years). But it is held dogmatically accompanied by doomsday scenarios based on selected data and arbitrary projections. World-famous experts who disagree with the majority are rejected and silenced as much as possible.
  3. Morally, leftists resent differences such as the fact that people come from different families, that some have more money than others, or the fact that some people have more ability than others. Their fantasized ideal is that everyone would start the same and come out the same in results. Because this is impossible, the back-up plan is to make those who do well feel guilty. They want to induce unearned guilt in everyone who is talented and successful—and then cash in by making them pay through higher taxes and racist hiring. Some leftists are even demanding reparations for slavery, presumably paid for by taxpayers who never owned slaves and then given to people who never were slaves. The leftist moral agenda is a revolt against reality. They want everyone to have a guaranteed life at someone else’s expense (i.e., those who are successful). They believe that the collective is the unit of value, with all members within each collective being interchangeable units. They consider any endorsement of individualism to be racist. (See my racism article in Capitalism Magazine, “Reason and Individualism: The Antidote to Racism).
  4. Politically, leftists do not want socialism (government ownership of all property) but rather a different form of statism in which the government does not own the means of production but totally regulates everything people do. The continuum is freedom vs dictatorship. Today’s leftists are ok with private property (with some egregious exceptions—cf. the cases taken on by pro-rights legal organizations like the Pacific Legal Foundation, The Center for Individual Rights, and the Institute for Justice) but want to control its use and the allocation of people’s money. They strive to raises taxes in every way they can and as much as they can. The political class have become parasites. Some imply that they would like pure democracy, rule by majority alone, because they think they could control the mob. Leftists virtually never refer to the U.S. as a Constitutional Republic which limits mob rule—but only as a democracy, which we are not. The Supreme Court is often resented by the left because it sometimes defends the legitimate rights of the citizens (though it is also resented by the right when it rejects religious dogma). The left pushes “black lives matter” which is philosophically correct, but there is a problem: it is not inclusive. Asians, Latinx Jews and white people are sometimes discriminated against too. If you say that all lives matter (which unfortunately is used by some white racists who actually mean only white lives matter) is the most inclusive formulation because everyone has the same rights, you will be called racist. But there is no justification for giving up a correct concept because some people misuse it. The left wants reverse racism, i.e., racial quotas for their chosen groups but will not admit to it by using that term. The implicit quotas are based on the % of people in a given collective found in each type of job in relation to their population- a totally arbitrary standard which can only lead to cynicism and, of course, to injustice. Reverse racism is simply another form of injustice.
  5. Psychologically the left is motivated by envy and hate due to the fact that some people do better in life than others. They assume all relative group differences are due to discrimination but do not consider many other possible causal factors (e.g., culture, education, skills.) They push the negative of a negative, “anti-racism,” rather than a positive. It is not clear just what anti-racism even means. You cannot really get rid of a negative except with a positive. They are totally correct in claiming that there is some real racism in the country, especially, but not only, by some policemen (a problem which definitely needs correction). But the correct, positive solution is not quotas but objectivity: treating people fairly based on rational standards (the content of their character, ability) which means individualism. This principle needs to be taught but it is not. The left opposes the idea of objectivity (and the possibility that all groups might not come out exactly the same) as well as considering objectivity to be impossible.

 

Left and Right Together

The left and right are two sides of a damaged coin. The two sides have differences, as noted, but they also have important elements in common, although these are manifested in somewhat different forms.

  1. Metaphysically, both support determinism in some form. The right believes in miracles in order to resolve setbacks– which God may have brought about in the first place. Miracles and tragedies can sometimes occur through God’s inexplicable whims, but God can sometimes be influenced by prayer. People can choose whether to avoid sin or not. The left believes that setbacks are due heavily to an unjust society and that these can only be resolved by appeal to government bureaucrats, i.e., force. Both sides view lone individuals as helpless when it comes to running their own lives.
  2. Epistemologically, the (non-Trump) right generally supports reason in the everyday world (e.g., business) but not in philosophy where faith reigns. The left wants reason up to a point but claims it is partly or heavily subjective. Both agree that reason is limited, if not just plain cruel, viz, how can we allow wealthy people to earn so much more money than poor people?
  3. Morally, the right allows enough egoism to strive for heaven and to improve one’s practical life but with severe constraints. Earning money is ok as such but does not get you into heaven; charity is your moral duty. The left is also ok with some practical success but “too much” wealth is considered “unfair” and many more assets of the wealthy (after taxes have been paid) should be seized by force and/or given to those who did not earn them. Both agree that wealth has to be limited because capitalists are selfish and thus immoral in some way and, besides, some capitalists are just too rich compared to others and might create envy. Both sides advocate altruism. The right considers pride to be a sin, so formal credit for success must go to God whereas the left wants pride to be replaced by unearned guilt. Both are anti-pride. The right wants moral obedience to God and the left wants moral obedience to the majority or the state. Both sides oppose independent thinking and choice.
  4. Politically, both sides advocate some government control over online media when the media disputes their ideas but would like some government control over their opponent’s ideas. Both want freedom of speech to be limited. (Speech that violates rights such as slander, fraud and treason are properly unlawful, of course, but that is not the issue).
  5. Factions: there are, of course, many factions within both the right and the left, which I will not discuss here.
  6. Claims by some that the right is worse than the left or vice versa are specious. Both sides are fundamentally in error. It is a battle between two wrong philosophies.

So, what are we to do? What is left? The Constitution, the separation of powers, and some of the American sense of life remain. But there has been a severe decline in the culture in recent years, far below the already low-level Ayn Rand wrote about decades ago. The worst of it is not Trump per se but the fact that such an irrational, dishonest person like him could be elected in the first place and make a very strong showing in the current election. The insurrection he encouraged should not have been a surprise to anyone. The Republican Party under Trump is a philosophical and psychological dead end. The loss of the House and Senate (now tied with the Democratic V.P. as tie-breaker) and the Presidency now opens to door to a hard-left swing.

What can we expert of Biden? His climate agenda alone could destroy our economy. If he does, the Republicans could unseat him on purely pragmatic ground, but not with Trump as their leader. One can only hope that the Senate will refuse to go along with many of Biden’s policies. 

  • Thinking longer-term, can either party be rebuilt? Not the Democratic Party. Traditionally the Republicans have appeared to be more pro-capitalist. They would have to decide what they are going to stand for. Right now, there is no Republican of stature that I know of who seems remotely worthy or capable of rejuvenating the party, and, as of now, they are far too dependent on evangelicals.

Where could they start? Here are some ideas that a rejuvenated party might endorse:

  1. Capitalism is the real and only system of economic justice (you get what you earn if you are honest and pay your taxes) and is thus the only system capable of creating wealth past the level of bare subsistence.
  2. Socialism is to be rejected as anti-life. It is not a competitor to capitalism but is a system of moral and economic destruction (i.e., mass poverty) well as the destruction of the soul because everyone is a servant of the state.
  3. There should be no limit on earned wealth.
  4. Pride, based on achievements earned honestly, is morally virtuous.
  5. In a free society, everyone does not come out the same; let everyone do the best they can but no one gets a guaranteed life at their neighbor’s expense.
  6. The best antidote to racism is individualism whereby people are judged objectively by the content of their character and their ability and not by their skin color, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, or country of origin, etc. All collectivist quotas are to be rejected as unjust. The principle is not color blindness but character and ability awareness. This principle must be taught, starting in elementary school.
  7. All lives matter: every individual is equal under the law. There are no group rights.
  8. Through careful selection, training, and proper disciplinary procedures police departments should be upgraded. The police should be required to treat every citizen in a lawful manner or face disciplinary or legal charges. All police should be required to wear body cameras at all times when on duty to help get objective data.
  9. The government should work to promote competition in the public-school system so that parents can make choices rather than being forced to send their children to schools that crush their children’s spirit and their desire and ability to learn.
  10. All women have the right to the contents of their own bodies.
  11. Businesses should not be penalized for being more successful than other companies as long as they do not break any laws or get special government favors such as freedom from competition supported by law.
  12. Taxes and government spending should be reduced, in tandem, by X% a year.
  13. Business regulations should be reduced by X% a year; the government shall not control wages except to prevent fraud.
  14. If better air quality is wanted, the government should allow competition in the market (e.g., fossil fuels, nuclear, new discoveries) and not demand that we use three methods that are so undependable and expensive that they have to frantically be used to try to cover each other’s limitations (solar, batteries and windmills).
  15. The U.S. should declare that dictatorships represent a moral failure and that in politics respect for individual rights is the objectively correct, pro-life principle. The U S. should oppose countries that practice imperialism through force by means of a strong military, alliances with freedom-loving countries, and by speaking out against them.
  16. Note: this is not a full Objectivist platform- there is no point in asking for the preposterous—actually, even this platform is way too radical for today’s culture but some of the ideas could be taken up. But who will lead? I have no idea.

 

Edwin A. Locke is Dean's Professor of Leadership and Motivation Emeritus at the R.H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), the American Psychological Association, the Society for Industrial & Organizational Behavior, and the Academy of Management. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (Society for I/O Psychology), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Management (OB Division), the J. M. Cattell Award (APS) and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Academy of Management. He, with Gary Latham, has spent over 50 years developing Goal Setting Theory, ranked No. 1 in importance among 73 management theories. He has published over 320 chapters, articles, reviews and notes, and has authored or edited 13 books including (w. Kenner) The Selfish Path to Romance, (w. Latham) New Directions in Goal Setting and Task Performance, and The Prime Movers: Traits of the Great Wealth Creators. He is internationally known for his research on motivation, job satisfaction, leadership, and other topics. His website is: EdwinLocke.com

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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