I am an ex-Republican. Having unaffiliated earlier this year, I have no regrets. I have little to add to what I've already written on Trump (here, here, and here for some examples). Today, I write to offer a sort of travelogue of my early months on the left, loosely defined as mingling with folks who are not voting for Trump.
One Last Look Back
What I left behind: for decades my votes, donations, and energy were based on my support for the rule of law, limited government, individual liberty, and free market competition all towards the larger goal of a thriving and non-deterministic future. I reject none of that. But with Trump came a wave of people who tossed those ideas aside at the first sign of a new leader. Their quickness at switching allegiances cast such doubt on the seriousness of the views they previously professed to espouse, that there was little left tying us together organizationally. I quit.
Reason #1 This Post is a Bad Idea
Why I hesitate to mention this: I love optimizing and moving towards the efficiency curve. Where possible, I love finding ways to improve public policy that dominate - so catapult society towards that efficiency curve that they would bear little opposition from liberals or conservatives on philosophical grounds. I prefer to save philosophical questions for when we're close to or on the efficiency curve. Today, we're not.
Reason #2 This Post is a Bad Idea
The second reason is that it could be an exercise in futility. People stop listening to others' views on political philosophy. Case in point: I have split much of my adult free time between Manhattan and Maine. One difference between my respective neighbors is that all of my neighbors in Maine are gun owners while gun ownership is far less common in Manhattan. The stark differences in views could rarely if ever be closed by argument because the life circumstances are so different, in large part based on population density.
Any Manhattanite has seen two angry people yelling or fighting in a crowd. Who would want them to have guns and how many bystanders could get caught in the crossfire? On the other hand, my friends and neighbors in Maine live 45 minutes from the nearest law enforcement officer (that is approximately 44 minutes, 45 seconds further than my New Yorker friends are from their public or private security). What exactly is it that you want to do on their private property or to their loved ones that can't be legitimately done if they are able to protect themselves? No one else will protect them. These are hard mental models to reconcile.
So this is not an exercise at convincing anyone of anything; instead it is a modest field guide to my initial peeks at my post-Republican world. I am a stranger in a strange land and this is what I have seen.
Scope of Government
I attended my first Democratic fundraiser. Conversation #1 was with my local House of Reps Rep, an ex-GS fellow who looks enough like a Republican to help manage my transition into my new wild environment. My first question, "what is something that you deeply believe in personally but which is none of the government's business, is beyond its legitimate scope, or is outside of our constitution?" His answer, "nothing". Nothing whatsoever. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos strikes terror into the hearts of his competitors with a grim saying that I love which is "your margin is my opportunity". My local Democratic congressman has a corollary for taxpayers, "your balance sheet is my opportunity". Your private property is made up of 1) stuff he has spent and 2) stuff that he has not yet dreamed up a way to spend and 3). But there is no 3). I thought this remarkable enough to quiz the many other guests at the fundraiser. His answer that "nothing" is beyond the scope of government was unanimous.
The DNC Convention
By the time the DNC convention rolled around, I was as open-minded as ever before. If you have ever read your kids Winnie the Pooh (I hope you have), then you know the scene where Tigger was trying to find out what exactly it is that he likes.
Like Tigger, it was easier for me to identify what I didn't like. I was cheerfully unaffiliated by the RNC convention… so maybe I would like to be a Democrat? In particular, I have always been a bleeding heart fan of immigration and immigrants. I was heartened to see them on display. And yet… I want the law to respect immigrants; but I want immigrants to respect the law too. This celebration of illegal immigration seemed so disrespectful of the very country that they want to come to. There are many countries with laws that I have no intention of respecting, so I don't visit. Why this enthusiasm for coming to America but not for respecting its laws?
My second observation of the convention: it was much more about identity politics than it was about ideas. Yeah, says my newly unaffiliated self, for this rainbow coalition of African-Americans, Hispanics, women, gays and the disabled. And yet… Do all of them think that their race/ sex/ orientation/ disabilities are the most interesting things about them or perhaps even the only interesting things about them? They were professional representatives of their given tribes. They stayed on script, discussing their group identities, one after another after another. None veered much into areas of universal public policy concerns. It was almost comical. Each was paraded out to predictably and tediously carp about each successive victim status. I have people in my life that I deeply care about with each of these attributes and in no case is their race/ gender/ orientation/ disability the most notable thing about them. It might have been refreshing to have one or two people who were just humans and simply wanted to be treated as such. They might even have something to say beyond their variously hued navels.
My New Friends
As far as lefty friends, I have long been a blue stater with well over 50% of my friends on the left. But it was always like having a dear friend with a volcanic zit or lazy eye; I just try not to stare. But now, I would just jump in as fellow non- or anti-Trumpkins and see how it goes. So far, it goes poorly. If you agree 99%, they hate you. This is, apparently, a group that you join to join in lockstep. My occasional lapses have been harshly slapped down. Here are a few of the troubles I have encountered so far.
My New Words
Words mean things. They already meant things before I started using them. On the left, I am sometimes baffled by learning their reassignments. By "racist" we on the left now mean, "not racist". So if you believe say, in judging people of other races precisely how you would judge your own kids on the basis of their decisions, we call that, "racist". To steal some more artful language, if you have people, "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"… you're racist. Reassigning a word to mean its antonym is taking me a little getting used to. Meanwhile, I am discovering we go with lots and lots of ad hominem on the left and that "racist" is simply used as a catch all insult. It can be as substantively relevant to race as calling someone "poopy head". One last thought on race: once or twice when discussing what I thought was terrible decision-making with some concern that perhaps good behavior and aligned incentives might help, I was warned, "That's racist!" Now I am no psychologist, but would note that I in no direct or indirect way ever thought, implied or said that the terrible hypothetical decision-maker that worried me had a minority's face. But that was instantly the prejudgment of my fellow lefties.
Another word that we reassigned to mean its antonym: fair. Before my recent transition, I knew exactly what I and the dictionary mean by fair - in accordance with the pre-existing rules. One follows them. One owns all of the consequences of your actions, both good and bad. In tennis, work, family, and life, if we follow the rules and try hard and push our advantages, every individual and every group ends up in somewhat different places. Of course. What magical force would lead to any other outcome? A tennis player enters a tournament better at, say, um, tennis. He might do better. He might be stronger, more agile, more skilled, better trained, more properly nourished, or just lucky. But if he follows the tennis rules, he is playing fairly. But that is exactly opposite of what we on the left mean. We use a sort of meritocracy, but we replace merit with sad stories. So if something truly pitiful happened on the way to the tournament, say you lost your racquet, then you cheat (or as we say you get more "fairness"). So if instead of practicing tennis you stayed up all night on a wild drug bender, then we tell the linemen to just let you hit the ball wherever you want to make it "fair".
My New Manners
Manners have a quite different place in my new political environs. In my past, sometimes I got more than I deserved and I absolutely loved it. Within the left, a huge number gets far more than we give in terms of net transfers from the government. When I got overpaid in the past, my only fitting reaction was "thank you". Never sorry, because I wasn't sorry; I was happy. But now I say, "thanks for the free stuff, now here is my list of more free stuff I want and, oh, I hate you" to the wagon pullers from my perch atop the wagon.
We judge our virtue by our generosity with other people's money. One of my favorite Democratic moments from before my transition was Christopher Reeve addressing the DNC, despite getting fed oxygen externally every few seconds. He started a section of his speech with "And that means more funding for…" before the oxygen machine needed to take a few seconds to get him more air. In that pregnant pause, the crowd became hysterical, cheering, whooping, and hollering their frenzied support for whatever subsequent monies Mr. Reeve would support spending on anything. The funding could have been for anything whatsoever. They, now we, just want more of it. Approaching, delicately, my curiosity to hear the rest of the sentence, I have not gotten good responses. Of course, as above "racist" and "unfair" (that is our form of Tourette syndrome). We just shout those out when we're collecting our thoughts. But then it starts to get harsh. If you don't want to spend money on something or another you are "hateful" and if w e really get our dander up, we say you are using "judgement". I need to better learn how to say this to clarify that we use it as an insult.
Everything not required is forbidden
We see no distinction between volunteerism and compulsion. That is a large reason why not paying for other people's stuff is so raunhajuy "racist/ unfair/ hateful/ judgmental". I am new here - I will get the lingo down but I won't take up so much time repeating it so for now it is raunhajuy. But here is an awkward transition from the old country - in a world that respects individual liberty, I wasn't hating or judging anyone, heck I was not even thinking about them when I failed to see the desirability of being joint and several with 300 million perfect strangers. I was just off living my own little busy life with my own family and business. I just wanted to be left alone to make my own decisions and in turn would not hurt anyone or touch their stuff. But this distinction between compulsion and volunteerism is lost utterly on my new brethren. It is a concept that does not exist in our political language. So if you don't want to be joint and several with strangers as they make their own life decisions, it can't ever be that you just want to be left alone, it must only be raunhajuy.
More of an emotion than a thought
On the other hand, what a rousing year to join the left in terms of musical theater. The Republicans had nothing like Broadway, and I have Hamilton tickets, with a cast that was almost all there to support Hillary. So, pop culture-wise, I've made a great move. I even thought our themesongstress Rachel Platten kinda darling at the convention when she sang our anthem, "Fight Song":
Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Wait wait… um, again I'm new here and just checking to make sure: we know that our little boats don't send those big waves, right?