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The Violence Inherent in the Mainstream Narrative

Here’s a little story, from Brian Amaral in the Providence Journal, that oughtn’t be lost in the shuffle of day-to-day news:

A group of juveniles [apparently 15 years old and younger] holding “Trump flags” outside the Brown University bookstore on Thayer Street Friday told police a man accosted them and choked two of them.

According to a police report provided by Commander Thomas Verdi, the five juveniles flagged down police at about 8 p.m. to report the incident in front of the bookstore at 244 Thayer St. They told police they were holding the two flags when they were approached by the man, believed to be in his 20s. The man began to stare at them, then asked what they were doing, they told police.

This is a consequence of the prevalent attitude in much of the mainstream of the political and media classes that Americans with certain points of view are evil and therefore have no rights.  When the narrative flows from “punch a Nazi” to “Trump is a Nazi,” a dangerous atmosphere develops.  In this narrative, somebody “Trump flags” (whatever those might be) is trying to usher in a new fascism.

Sure, the 20-something guy walking down the street who decides to take it upon himself to do something violent about this incipient fascism probably has something wrong with him, but this isn’t an isolated incident.  Let’s not forget the mass hysteria over the viral video of the Covington Catholic students in Washington, D.C., after the latest March for Life.

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Numbers, Facts, and Another Budget Battle

Over in Tiverton, we’re engaged in our annual budget debate, during which I have the new-to-me experience of being on the Town Council, this year.  This budget year is also unique because the full $3 million in minimum revenue from the new Twin River casino is in the budget for the first time.

Given these realities, I’ve been pushing for a compromise that would allow the town to reset local politics and spend the next year developing a long-term plan that allows us all to get our expectations on the table.  Maybe, just maybe, we could move forward from that exercise working together like a community rather than lurching from election to budget to election in a whipsaw of factions.

Unfortunately, given the recent history of the town, trust is an issue, and (from my perspective) it seems as if the old familiar strategies are difficult to move beyond:

During his initial pitch to the Budget Committee, Tiverton’s new superintendent, Peter Sanchioni, suggested that people had to trust him to set our school system aright.  He is correct that trust is critical, and distrust is the major hurdle facing anybody who wishes to bring Tiverton back to a place of compromise and cooperation.  That is why the superintendent’s final presentation to the Budget Committee before it voted on a budget for his department was so disappointing.

At the highest level, the School Committee never really compromised.  They asked the town for the highest budget they could possibly request by law.  (Actually their request exceeded the maximum by $3,624.)  On top of that, they appear to have overestimated state aid by $92,004 (which local taxpayers would have to make up for) and added $311,000 in “critical” capital expenses that they’d planned to fund out of their own reserves but now want the town to cover.

Two more-specific parts of the presentation, however, are where trust really takes a hit.

The closing sentiment of the post is key for Rhode Island as well as for Tiverton:  numbers have to be seen as an area of common ground rather than as an opportunity to mislead.  If I present numbers that lead me to a particular conclusion, somebody who opposes my position should explain which statements are incorrect or why they should lead to some other conclusion.  We at least have to share the the goal of agreeing on what the facts are, even if nobody changes his or her views because of them.

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Paths of Injustice

This week, my ongoing efforts to be better cultured landed Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 film Paths of Glory on my television.

The generals in the French army order a regiment to take a German fortification during the First World War.  It’s an impossible command, and the attack fails, with large segments of the force pinned down such that to charge is to die instantly.  The general in immediate command demands a show trial and execution of three randomly chosen soldiers as an example to the others, and their colonel asks to represent them as their defense.

The officers conducting the court martial hearing give Colonel Dax no chance.  They treat one soldier’s medals and proven bravery as no defense against the charge of cowardice in this case.  Another soldier’s testimony that he didn’t charge because he had been knocked unconscious by, and pinned under, a falling dead body is insufficient to overcome rank speculation that he could be lying and could have inflicted a serious head injury on himself after the fact.

Kubrick subtly interweaves the very human tendency of the generals to rationalize their acceptance of injustice because they had conflated their own interests with the good of the  military and the country.  In his closing argument, Colonel Dax expresses shame at being a member of the human race:  “The case made against these men is a mockery of all human justice.”

Watching that scene, I wondered how it is that we have not all been acculturated against such behavior.  (Unfairness in state and local politics were in my thoughts.)  But then my mind separated the themes of the movie and its imagery.  The court martial consisted of a group of white men in military costumes before a national flag in a large room at Schleissheim Palace.  One can’t deny that our society has been well trained to see injustice in such settings and with such characters as that.

We too easily lose sight of the reality that the particular cause in whose name human beings treat each other unjustly is not ideological or demographic.  Not only traditional authority types are wicked or prone to rationalizing harm to others.  Any one of us can fall into the same role.

Insisting in the name of identity politics or intersectionality that only certain types of people can be inhumane is a dangerous mistake that our civilization seems at risk of making.

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Finland’s Health Care and a Culture That Can’t Balance

Maybe progressives are right.  Americans should look to Finland for lessons in government-driven universal health care:

The government of Finland collapsed Friday due to the rising cost of universal health care and the prime minister’s failure to enact reforms to the system.

Prime Minister Juha Sipila and the rest of the cabinet resigned after the governing coalition failed to pass reforms in parliament to the country’s regional government and health services, the Wall Street Journal reports. Finland faces an aging population, with around 26 percent of its citizens expected to be over 65 by the year 2030, an increase of 5 percent from today. …

Sipila said “there’s no other way for Finland to succeed” besides these reforms, which could have led to $3.4 billion in savings for the government.

In political philosophy, there is always a challenging balance to be struck when finding the boundaries for government action and defining what some citizens can demand from others using government force.  At the end of the day, most of the work ensuring that the balance doesn’t tip must be done in the culture, with our un-legislated sense of what is right and what is unjust.

We’re reaching the point in the United States that the balance is no more subtle than the political ability to force a change through.  (Witness ObamaCare.)  It is our deteriorating culture more than anything that ensures that any benefit, once granted, can never be taken away, even in the face of calamitous unintended consequences.

(Hat tip: Legal Insurrection)

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Clay Johnson: Handicapping the Race for Chairman of the RI GOP

Perhaps chairwoman would be the more appropriate term, as two of the five announced candidates seeking to serve as the next chair of the Rhode Island’s Republican party are women. A fairly broad diversity of personal characteristics, philosophies, and histories will be presented to central committee voters at the party’s scheduled March 30 election.

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Being Socialist Just Like Sweden

As another generation is misled into believing that socialism would be worth a try in the United States, one often hears how well the economic system works in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries.  But as John Stossel notes Sweden is not socialist.

With a prioritization of free markets, school choice, a less-progressive tax system, and privatized social safety nets, it’s arguably less socialist than the United States.  In fact, when the country tried something closer to actual socialism a few decades ago, it was disastrous.  Unfortunately, like the many examples of socialism’s failure, the memory of true believers tends to fixate on the dream of what they hoped would be, rather than the reality.

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Taking Account of the Ideological Tide

Among the more straightforward dynamics in modern politics is that the population generally is relatively conservative while it feels as if the far left is surging.  As the polling firm Gallup finds, and Paul Bedard reports for the Washington Examiner, only six states have more people identifying as liberal than conservative.  That said:

Before conservatives start to cheer, Gallup said the gap (between states with more conservatives and states with more liberals) used to be 21 points and a handful of the state numbers fall in the margin of error.

But the survey still shows a large swath of red and pink states bookended by the whole West Coast, New England, and the mid-Atlantic, including the Washington, D.C. area.

It isn’t difficult to see what’s happening.  Coastal elites are pushing progressivism relentlessly, and they’re making a difference.  That’s especially true now that whole generations are entering the adult world having been broadly indoctrinated to take liberal ideas as a default and without a foundational knowledge of and appreciation for our shared heritage as Americans.

Conservatives need a two pronged approach.  The first is a long-term intention to win back cultural institutions so we can conserve our American principles.  The second is a short term catalyst or magic pill that changes young people’s minds.

Progressivism is built on faulty and superficial ideas, while conservatism has the weight of reason and true compassion.  There must be some way to make people realize that short of seeing their civilization destroyed.

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Nepotism and Letting Representative Democracy Do It’s Work

Nepotism is not good for ethical reasons and for practical ones, because if a decision maker is hiring based on family relationships, he or she is not hiring based on merit.  Setting hard rules from a distance and on a blanket basis in every situation is also not good, because it presumes much more sagacity than human beings can reasonably claim.

That’s basically the perspective with which I approach Walt Buteau’s reporting on what seems to me to be a non-story:

One recent example — Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon’s appointment of second cousin Tarah Provencal to the city’s three-member Board of Public Safety does not violate the [state Code of Ethics].

Common Cause Rhode Island Executive Director John Marion said while the nepotism line had to be drawn somewhere, appointing a second cousin would seem to violate the spirit of the law.

“You should not be given a position of public trust because a member of your family gave you that. It isn’t theirs to give away,” [John Marion of Common Cause Rhode Island] said. “It’s the public’s to give away.”

At some point, this becomes silly.  Yes, public appointments are the public’s to give away, but the public elected the mayor to make such decisions.  I’d agree that a person should not be given a position of influence just because his or her parent’s cousin is the mayor, but should it really be the case that a person cannot be given a position of influence for the same reason?

We have to let our political system do its work, and a representative democracy is one in which elected officials figure out what they were elected to do and why, and it is for voters to figure out whether to reelect them.  The more we take away those two instances of authority, the less we have a representative democracy, but rather an aristocracy that decides for us what decisions we can make and what we’re supposed to care about.

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The Governor’s Progressive Priorities

A recent Providence Journal editorial highlights yet another indication that the administration of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo isn’t exactly exhibiting a casual competence when it comes to the basic operations of state government. This time, the problem is the company with which the state has contracted to ensure that people in need are able to make it to their medical appointments, and the House Oversight Committee, led by Representative Patricia Serpa (D, West Warwick), is looking into it:

It has not escaped Ms. Serpa’s attention that there is a pattern of problems in state contracting. For many years, the executive branch has had trouble drafting strong contracts (without requiring an abundance of costly change orders), making sure services are properly implemented, and providing sufficient oversight once services have commenced. At the same time, the Raimondo administration has dramatically increased the number of public-relations people on its payroll.

Public-relations people on the payroll is just the start. Apparently, the governor also has plenty of time for things like this:

Gov. Gina Raimondo is all-in on a statewide bag ban and past opponents of the concept aren’t objecting.

Raimondo gave her support Feb. 14 at the final meeting of the Task Force to Tackle Plastics, an advisory board she created last July with the mission of cutting plastic pollution in the state.

That’s progressives (like socialists) for you: trying to save the world while letting those who rely on their competence for day-to-day operations suffer. The problem, at its bottom, is that people are willing to pay for certain services from government (for themselves and on behalf of others), but not so much for insider excesses and progressive schemes. So, to make way for the excesses and schemes, government has to scrimp on the things for which people are willing to pay so there’s money left over for the things for which they probably wouldn’t.

And at the end of the day, ensuring that the medical transportation vehicles run on time isn’t all that exciting.

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East Greenwich’s Cienki in the Race for State GOP Chair

Suzanne Cienki, the East Greenwich Town Council president whose local leadership had the town’s government in the headlines for a year, has announced her candidacy to be chairwoman of the state Republican Party:

“The State of Rhode Island is run by the Democratic Party,” Cienki said in letter to GOP Central Committee members. “Unfortunately, this one-party system is the same as a no-party system. The balancing of ideas and checks and balances by opposing parties is vital to a democratic society. The RIGOP needs to clearly identify a platform and educate voters in Rhode Island as to how Republicans will do things differently.” …

“I have the leadership skills, time and energy to devote to the position of chair,” Cienki wrote in her letter to party faithful. “I am not afraid of a challenge and willing to speak out on behalf of taxpayers on many important issues. The state party’s main goals should have a clearly identifiable message, focus on fundraising efforts, and recruit candidates to run for statewide offices.”

Amid the behind-the-scenes chatter, I’ve heard it said that Cienki would be a bad choice because she led her council into a rout by the local Democrats, but Republicans should be wary of that argument.  The idea that somebody with the gumption to take on Rhode Island’s established interests should be penalized because she has had to learn from her experience is antithetical to an active movement that can advance a cause.

The way to gain advantage over time is to experiment, take risks, and then learn from the results, both good and bad.  Rather than writing off anybody who has a bad result, a movement that reassesses based on that experience and renews the charge will make progress.  And if the people who made the mistakes are willing to do the same, they’re particularly well suited to guide the change, at the same time that their participation makes it more likely that the opposition will learn the wrong lessons.

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A Consequence of Faceless Bureaucracy Using Cold Data

Back in the sunny days before many people had even heard about the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP), let alone before it was a byword for the Ocean State’s dysfunctional government, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity was warning about a “dependency portal.”

The idea behind the system is that state government will consolidate the information it collects for every type of welfare benefit and program it operates.  That information would be updated in an ongoing way, and people will automatically receive any benefits for which they are newly eligible.

Of course, the flip side is that people would also automatically lose any benefits for which they are no longer eligible.  Moreover, nobody should believe that politicians and bureaucrats would not find other uses for this treasure trove of information.

Turn, now, to Elizabeth Brico’s commentary on Talk Poverty:

… after decades of collecting this data, the government is putting it to use. This information is feeding algorithms that decide everything from whether or not you get health insurance to how much time you spend in jail. Increasingly, it is helping determine whether or not parents get to keep their kids.

When someone phones in a report of suspected child abuse — usually to a state or county child abuse hotline — a call screener has to determine whether the accusation merits an actual investigation. Sometimes they have background information, such as prior child welfare reports, to assist in their decision-making process, but often they have to make snap determinations with very little guidance besides the details of the immediate report. There are more than 7 million maltreatment reports each year, and caseworkers get overwhelmed and burn out quickly — especially when a serious case gets overlooked. New algorithms popping up around the country review data points available for each case and suggest whether or not an investigation should be opened, in an attempt to offset some of the individual responsibility placed on case workers.

Admittedly, I get the impression I wouldn’t agree with some of Brico’s broader assumptions and prescriptions, but empowering a faceless bureaucratic system to intervene intimately in people’s lives based on cold data is a frightening idea on its face.

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The Center’s Perspective on So-Called “Fair Housing” Legislation

RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse offers the Center’s view on legislation that would limit landlords’ right to decide whether the way potential tenants’ will pay their rent should be a factor in deciding whether to rent to them, including a mandate to accept Section 8 vouchers:

Based on conversations with landlords I know, there is a major, legitimate, and non-racial reason why some business prefer not to accept clients subsidized by public money and all the red-tape they would have to go through. In this case, once a landlord accepts a federally subsidized Section-8 tenant, that business is now subject to a whole new array of mandates, red tape, and risks that otherwise, it would not have to worry about.

Under this legislative mandate, landlords would be subject to unfair rules by HUD, which we know from the RhodeMap RI debate years ago, does not care about private property rights. HUD has corrupted its mission of putting low-income people into appropriate housing to the point where it routinely tramples on the rights of other private property owners.

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The SJWs Claim the Dreams of One of Their Own

Rod Dreher shares a story that shows the urgency of pulling our society away from the social justice warrior (SJW) cliff.

Amelie Wen Zhao is a Young Adult author whose debut sci-fi/fantasy novel, Blood Heir, was set for a June release from a major publisher, as part of a three-book deal. When the deal was announced a year ago, Zhao, who is just starting her career, made her excitement public.

Ms. Zhao has quite a story.  Born in China.  Fully accredited member of the right-thinking POC community.  Unfortunately, a Twitter mob formed, apparently focusing on the fact that the first book’s PR materials described the fictional world as one in which “oppression is blind to skin color.”

The result, as Dreher puts it, is that Zhao learned to love Big Brother.  In her apology letter, she expressed gratitude for having been taught a lesson and reports, “I have decided to ask my publisher not to publish Blood Heir at this time.”

Robby Soave is right to quote Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in this context: “There is more than one way to burn a book, and the world is full of people running about with lit matches.” This madness will come for us all if we don’t start stopping it.

One suspects the SJWs miss the irony that they’re bringing Ms. Zhao’s fictional world into being.  “Oppression is blind to skin color,” indeed.

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The Center’s Statement on Governor Raimondo’s State of the State

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has this to say about Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s State of the State address and budget priorities:

Governor’s Policy Ideas Will Make Matters Worse

More of the same progressive-left policies that are hampering our state today

Providence, RI — With the Ocean State doomed to lose a US Congressional seat because of its hostile tax, educational, and business environment, which chases away wealth, families and potential investors, the policies presented in the Governor’s 2019 State of the State address would only make matters worse, according to the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity.

“The Governor offered nothing but more of the same, failed progressive-left policies,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Instead of seeking to make our state a more free and welcoming place to live and work by easing governmental intrusion in our lives, the Governor is proposing even further attacks on our individual and economic rights. This misguided vision should be alarming to all Rhode Islanders.”

As prior Governors and General Assembly leaders have erred in the recent past, many items from the Governor’s speech would again make Rhode Island an even worse place to raise a family or build a career:

  • With no coherent plan to address our long-time K-12 public-schools problem other than throwing more money at it; and instead of lessening government and union influence over our recently exposed dismal student test scores, the Governor is proposing even more government control over students via her “universal pre-K” and expanded “free college tuition” programs.
  • Instead of easing regulatory burdens on employers in a state with one of the worst business climates in the country, the Governor proposed placing job-producers in further economic peril via more onerous wage mandates.
  • Instead of combating the deadly use of opioids, the Governor’s unspoken tonight push for legalization of marijuana will only create a stepping stone for further drug abuse and will lead to a further fraying of our state’s societal fabric.
  • Instead of protecting and preserving our individual freedoms, the Governor is expanding the attacks and infringements on the rights of the unborn and those seeking to exercise their constitutional right to defend themselves.
  • Instead of seeking to provide more affordable and higher-quality health insurance for state residents, the Governor continues to push for sub-standard and unaffordable government-mandated insurance.
  • With corporation after corporation pulling out of RI and reneging on their corporate welfare deals, the Governor continues to promote more special-interest incentives that end up producing little more than empty headlines … all paid for by the hard-working taxpayers of our state.

For these reasons and more, Rhode Island suffers from an epidemic of people fleeing our state. “Maybe it’s time to build our own wall to keep people in,” quipped Stenhouse.

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Charity and the Guilt of a Race

Rod Dreher has an interesting post on the balkanizing dangers of progressive anti-white rhetoric, and readers with an interest in the subject should read it.  What most caught my eye, however, was a tangential sentiment in a quotation Dreher includes from an NBC News commentary by Noah Berlatsky:

Even community service can reproduce racist ideas. It’s hard to see people as equals when you always have power over them, or when your primary experience with them involves giving them charity.

The spectacle of well-intentioned people working, half unconsciously, to solidify and perpetuate their own power is not an encouraging one. “I feel like my findings are pretty dismal,” Hagerman admits. “When you have people who have a lot of wealth alongside this racial privilege, they’re ultimately making decision that benefit their own kids, and I don’t know how you really interrupt that.”

However he arrives at it, Berlatsky’s ideology clearly gets charity wrong.

Maybe that’s a progressive versus traditionalist difference.  To a traditionalist — specifically a Christian traditionalist — we’re called to charity because we’re all equal in the eyes of God, and we’re to see God most especially in those who are suffering.  The last will be first.  If we are comfortable, we should be concerned that we have already received our reward, but when we humble ourselves, we will be elevated in Heaven.

There’s plenty of room for hypocrisy and imperfection in the actual application of this principle, but that’s the underlying view.  You owe it to the disadvantaged to help them because, ultimately, they are your equals, and what you have is an indication either that your priorities are wrong or that God has given to you so that you may help others.

The penance of progressives’ materialism is much more stern.  The obligation of the privileged is complete negation.  You don’t give to others because you are equal; you deprive yourself because you are inferior (and give to progressives, so they can profit from the redistribution of your wealth).

Actually, as Dreher explains, it would be more true to say that the altruistic progressive appears obligated mostly to express guilt and continue on with his or her privilege.  Culturally, it’s a ritual sacrifice of the less privileged of their own race for the expiation of guilt.

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