Our Celebrity Culture Does Great Harm

Two recent incidentsthe Jussie Smollett street attackand the D.C. confrontation involving high school students from Covington, KYwere disturbing in and of themselves.  In the case of Mr. Smollett, it now appears that he contrived an elaborate racist/homophobic attack on himself and filed a fake police report, but we will have to wait for the final adjudication of his case.  In the case of the Kentucky high school students, a racist narrative regarding the incident that was later proved to be false was spread by news organizations and millions of social media posts, and this resulted in these adolescents, their school, and their families being targeted for frightening abuse by total strangers. The New York Minute from first notice to outrage (prior to a thorough investigation in each of these cases)certainly points to the necessity for restraint and reflection before going nuclear regarding what you read or hear.  It typically takes only a few days to sort out the facts, and reasonable people can be expected to wait before reactingor at least control their reflex to viciously attack at first sight.

However, each of these situations also highlights the role that celebrities and our celebrity-driven culture now play in creating a rush to judgment and inflaming public discourse.  To wait is to left behind by the howling pack, and celebritiessome of who are nominally journalists or politicianscan ill afford to fall behind in the mad dash to amass more clicks and views.

Never in human history have so many pursued fame with such unmitigated lustand never have our standards been so crushingly low.  Notorietynot actual accomplishmentis what matters in America today.  If this fame can somehow be amplified by the suggestion of the grotesque, the hint of the salacious, or a soupçon of victimization, you have hit the Trifecta of 21st century click bait.  As a result, it is likely that more Americans know the name of Lorena Bobbittwho sliced off the penis of her abusive husbandthan Dr. Jonas Salk, who created one of the first vaccines against polio.  So many of usparticularly the young, the impressionable, and the troublednow feed an unhealthful hunger for the bizarre through social media and newsthat titillates the senses rather than informs the mind.  Like a cat frantically chasing the elusive light from a laser pointer, we race to fill some void in our own psyches by trafficking in raw and disturbing emotion rather than careful analysis.

I suspect the secret fantasy of many who are addicted to social media is to be famous themselves because their daily lives lack the drama they desperately crave.  Perhaps the rewards of honesty, sobriety, and responsibility seem meager compared to the bright, shiny lives of celebrities who apparently race from party to party while dressed in the most fashionable clothes and surrounded by the most beautiful people.  If our souls are empty, it could be the case that that which has a shiny surface can be mistaken for that which sustains us spiritually.  A society that lacks faith in itself or its future is especially susceptible to the lure of living for only the moment without regard for the long term consequences for either ourselves or others.

Celebrity culture is, after all, about nothing other than the here and now.  Planning and introspection are both unnecessary and, quite frankly, a huge and unwanted annoyance when the focus is entirely upon yourself at this very moment.  The sheer wonderfulness of being you is all that matters, and in order to keep the spotlight focused and bright, celebrities of all stripes must continue to engage in increasingly wild and potentially self-destructive behavior.  Because so many other celebrities (and potential celebrities) are now vying for the publics limited attention span, sheer shock value is sometimes needed to cut through the clutterwhich only further degrades our already dismal standards of speech and behavior.

Therefore, moderation in both words and actions are quickly discarded by those seeking fame.  Because celebrities by definition need publicity and attention in order to remain celebrities, they are many times the worst offenders when it comes to posting nasty and snarky comments and rushing to pass judgment before all the facts are available.  Sadly, we also see many political leaders moving in this direction in order to keep their names in front of voters.  It often seems to be the case that political commentary in America today follows a drearily predictable formula: Insults + Innuendo = Eyeballs.

Mean-spirited comments from actors, singers, and wannabes are obviously unhelpful; however, when those who hold or aspire to elective office go on the attack to garner attention, they call the basic fairness of our governmental processes into question and further corrode our already shaky faith in our political leaders, which is currently bumping along at historic lows if polling data is to be believed.  We should be able to expect more from a Senator or President than we do from someone who once acted in a sitcom or had a hit song.  Although it may be true that, as the saying goes, there is no bad publicityon an individual level, our nation suffers terrible harm when a politician decides to be a clever little quote machine.  Those who want to lead our nation should be able to demonstrate more restraint than an eleven year old.

This being said, it must be pointed out that sane and fact-basedcommentary posted on social media platforms often provides a forum for discussions that avoid the politicized myopia that has become so prevalent in the mainstream media today.  Given that we cannot expect MSNBC or Fox News to soon escape from the ideological straitjackets that stifle open and honest discussions of the many pressing issues facing our nation, thoughtful debate and discussion often falls to citizen bloggers who do not need to worry overly much about the disapproval of their peers or the annoyance of advertisers.  This unique opportunity for those who live outside the hyper-partisan media bubble to inject some sanity into our national debates, which is possible only because of the internet and social media, offers the clearest possible proof that the problem is not the existence of social media itselfwe simply need to learn how to use it to inform rather than inflame.

Will the downward spiral of celebrity slams ever end?  Although I would like to believe that maturity inevitably triumphs over immaturity, too many have now learned to define themselves by the insults they automatically heap upon others.  It could just be that lawsuitsand the massive financial awards that can followwill be the awful chemotherapy that finally cures the vile cancer of hate that infects our online discourse and daily media commentary.  Nicholas Sandmann, the Kentucky high school student most prominently featured in the recent online and media persecution concerning completely fake charges of racist behavior earlier this year, has filed a $250 million libel lawsuit against The Washington Post over their unsupported and insulting coverageand other lawsuits are soon to follow.  

Will Mr. Sandmann prevail in court?  This is obviously yet to be determined, but it might be the case that fear of grievous financial harmrather than a return of basic human decencywill be what finally tempers our outraged and outrageous urges to shock, snark, and smear rather than simply converse when the next topic of national debate presents itself for our evaluation and reaction.  I am certain this will be a terrible disappointment for the many who now heighten their celebritystatus by denigrating others, but it could be the best possible outcome for both our nation and our people.

When it comes to any of the issues and problems facing our nation today, creating a meme must not be more important that discussing a sensible solution.

Advertisements

Beware The Good Intentions Of Government

One of the strange truths of history is that most of the miseries of our world are created by people who believe they are doing good. The nagging parent. The rigorous teacher. The disapproving minister. The desire to improve the lives of those around us tends to be expressed in a manner that irritates the ones whose lives are being improved, but sometimes it is true that a little tough love is the best love of all

The small scale efforts that we all make out of love or concern for others have the potential for much greater good—or disastrous harm—when amplified by the enormous power of government. Public safety, national defense, and public health are all typically enhanced by centralizing these functions in the hands of government and government officials, although we all understand that the keenest citizen oversight is necessary to avoid waste, mismanagement, or unwarranted intrusions into our lives. Government that works locally as often as is feasible, stays lean, and is responsive to the natural desire of Americans for the greatest possible personal freedom is government we can all support and celebrate.

However, government overreach combined with an all-too-human hubris regarding the excellence of both our high ideals and best intentions can cause catastrophes that reverberate from person to person, community to community, and generation to generation. It is perhaps fitting that so many of these high-minded efforts of various sorts are described as “wars” because they leave so many innocent victims in their wakes. We have fought a war on poverty since the 1960’s that has both failed to eliminate poverty and facilitated the creation of a permanent economic underclass. Over this same period of over 50 years, we have also fought a war on drugs that failed to eliminate drug abuse and has devastated cities and towns from coast to coast. We now are fighting a thousand other wars among ourselves and against our own government on many fronts, and the anger and frustration many now feel over constant and problematic “wars” on the ills of humanity has reached a boiling point—which has resulted in record low faith in government and trust in government officials.

A pure heart does not guarantee a pure outcome, but our desire to do good sometimes leads us to forget this. In addition, humility is often in short supply after an election because the first taste of power over the lives of others can be a frighteningly intoxicating brew. Those who aspire to the highest offices often, quite naturally, have the highest levels of personal and professional ambition; their private visions for how we all should live must, therefore, be considered with healthy doses of both caution and skepticism.

The “Green New Deal”, which aspires to evoke resonances of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation during the depths of the Great Depression in the 1930’s—but which some have already dourly dubbed the “Green Deal Forward”, a sly reference to Mao Tse-Tung’s disastrous and deadly Great Leap Forward during the late 1950’s, both because of the scope of its soaring ambitions and the breadth of its mind boggling impracticality—has become a centerpiece of Democratic policy proposals looking forward to the 2020 elections.

This Green New Deal, which is a basket of ideas that is short on details but long on rhetoric, is a blueprint for a truly revolutionary reordering of the American economy that seeks to somehow transition our nation to a 100% use of renewable sources of energy, which would require ending the use of all fossil fuels altogether in order to reach a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Income and job guarantees tied to the magical creation of millions of “high wage jobs” by—or at least through the beneficent auspices of—the federal government are tied to a radical reordering of our manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, and real estate sectors that would touch every aspect of our daily work and personal lives. While all of this was occurring, government and government officials would also be given new and unprecedented powers meant “to promote justice and equity” for everyone that will result in “economic security for all people” and the counteracting of “systemic injustices.” All of these will, by the way, happen during a window of only ten short years.

Attention, America! Ten years from now—if we agree to allow government to have total and complete power over every facet of our existences—heaven on earth is guaranteed.

As with our government’s previous wars on poverty and drugs, which were surpassingly modest efforts compared to the incredible dreams of the proposed Green New Deal, the powers of legislators, regulators, and law enforcement to monitor and control our nation would be greatly enhanced at the cost of our personal liberty. The huge bureaucracies (maybe that is where all those promised new “high wage jobs” would come from?) necessary to manage this earth-shaking endeavor would dwarf any growth we have previously seen in government employment—as well as the new taxes and fees that will obviously need to be enacted in order to pay for the costs of our new overseers.

Although the thought behind the Green New Deal—which is most closely identified with the Democrat’s new socialist superstar, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—is predicated on the belief that a massive effort by government to eliminate fossil fuel usage is justified by evidence of global warming that has been caused by the fossil fuels themselves, the proposed legislation also sees this as an opportunity to enact a sweeping Social Justice agenda designed to right historical wrongs. Whether this is reasonable or practicable is a topic for ongoing discussion and debate, but the key environmental component is based on the idea that a very small window of opportunity exists to save the earth from global warming effects that would catastrophically impact life on our planet. Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez stated just last month that “The world is gonna end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change…” This doomsday pronouncement of our imminent demise would seem to justify the kind of extraordinary action that she is advocating, but many scientists are not endorsing this apocalyptic vision. However, creating a sense of blood-curdling fear and immediate crisis is useful when attempting to justify an extraordinary economic upheaval—by way of the Green New Deal—that might, in fact, be unjustifiable.

We already know that the track record of doomsday prophecies leaves much to be desired, but any good cult leader knows that fear both motivates your followers and binds them to you. Looking back along the course of my own lifetime, I remember many sage pronouncements that the end of the world was at hand, but I’m still sitting here today typing this—and trying to keep warm on a bitterly cold winter’s day. Given how little we truly understand about our planet and our ecosystems—much of what occurs in our deep oceans and beneath the earth’s crust is, for example, still a mystery to us—perhaps the merest touch of humility about the range of our knowledge is warranted. Moreover, our ability to manage the consequences of government mandates—much less an enterprise of the unbelievably vast scale of the Green New Deal—should perhaps require some humble reflection before we proceed.

Sometimes even the most heartfelt belief in our own knowledge and skills needs a bit of a brake. The aforementioned Great Leap Forward, which was meant to improve the lives of its people by quickly catapulting China to greatness through an extraordinary economic intervention by the communist government and its central planners, should perhaps serve as a clear warning. The program both failed to meet its economic goals and—because its authors could not foresee every possible consequence of this radical reorganization—led to the deaths by starvation of approximately 20 million Chinese. The most dangerous person in the world, when you review the history of our world’s miseries, is perhaps a government official who is convinced that there is no possibility whatsoever they… could… be… wrong.

Government-imposed solutions, as we know all too well, many times lead to government-created catastrophes because they fail to recognize that the many benefits of individual love and concern—which are sometimes expressed as nagging—do not necessarily scale up to the many misguided mandates managed by bureaucrats. Handing over control our future health and happiness to government officials who believe our freedoms must be subjugated to their own ideas about how we must live and work is certainly a step we must not take.

We Must Reject Extremism

President Trump’s State of the Union address, which had been delayed by the federal government partial shutdown, was finally presented to Congress this week.  The speech was lengthy, packed with predictable applause lines and obligatory calls for unity and swift actionand I doubt it changed a single mind in the chamber.  The sneering and snark was flying through social media from pundits, late night comedians, journalists, celebrities, and political opponents even before the speech was concluded.  The battle lines were obvious, the political gamesmanship was all too apparent, and the criticisms were predictable.

Now what?

If you took a step back, you would have to wonder what someone living outside of our nations deeply partisan bubbles would think of the vehement criticisms they heard or read after President Trumps speech.  Considering that the overall national economy is doing quite well, unemployment is at historic lows, efforts are being made to extricate American troops from deployments overseas where the original missions seem to have been accomplished, another summit with North Korea to discuss nuclear de-escalation is scheduled, trade imbalances are being addressed through tough negotiations, domestic manufacturing is booming, and more intractable national problems with healthcare costs and public education are being evaluated and discussed, it might seem a puzzle.  Although there will always be differences of opinion regarding the nature of our challenges and possible solutions, there seem many reasons to hope for a peaceful and prosperous future for our nation and its people.

But many are still filled with a frothing rage.

The explanation for this boils down to two words: immigration and abortion.  Although I strongly suspect that the vast majority of the American people occupy the high middle ground, our political leadersegged on by their most vociferous supportersseem trapped in deep and narrow valleys of extremism.

Take immigration, for example.  As has been pointed out repeatedly, the Democratic Party was until only recently perfectly content with policies that restricted entry into the U.S. and favored the swift deportation of those who entered illegally.  This was once a mainstream and moderate position that attracted support from across the political spectrum.  Speaking at a town hall in California in 2009, President Obama neatly summarized the position held by the many who elected him twice:

“…I think what we have to do is to come together and say, we’re going to strengthen our bordersand I’m going to be going to Mexico, I’m going to be working with President Calderón in Mexico to figure out how do we get control over the border that’s become more violent because of the drug trade. 

We have to combine that with cracking down on employers who are exploiting undocumented workers.  We have to make sure that there’s a verification system to find out whether somebody is legally able to work here or not.  But we have to make sure that that verification system does not discriminate just because you’ve got a Hispanic last name or your last name is Obama.

You’ve got toand then you’ve got to say to the undocumented workers, you have to say, look, you’ve broken the law; you didn’t come here the way you were supposed to.  So this is not going to be a free ride.  It’s not going to be some instant amnesty.  What’s going to happen is you are going to pay a significant fine.  You are going to learn English.

You are going toyou are going to go to the back of the line so that you don’t get ahead of somebody who was in Mexico City applying legally.  But after you’ve done these things over a certain period of time you can earn your citizenship, so that it’s notit’s not something that is guaranteed or automatic.  You’ve got to earn it.  But over time you give people an opportunity.

Now, it only works though if you do all the pieces.  I think the American people, they appreciate and believe in immigration. But they can’t have a situation where you just have half a million people pouring over the border without any kind of mechanism to control it.

Now close your eyes and imagine President Trump saying exactly the same words.

The reaction is easy to predict.  He would be immediately denounced as a xenophobic white supremacist who was planning to build an immoralwall of hatred, and this would be just the start of a crescendo of anger that would sweep the blogosphere like a tidal wave of toxic waste.  It could perhaps be argued that the exceedingly suave speaking style of President Obama was the sugar that made the medicine go down more easily, but it is also certainly true that Democratic proposals regarding immigration policy have undergone a startling and radical shift over the past ten years that has rendered any negotiation or compromise nearly impossible.

The Democratic position on abortion also seems to have been hijacked by extremists over the past decade or so.  According to The New York Times, Hillary Clinton had this to say on this matter in a landmark speech back in 2005:

“I, for one, respect those who believe with all their hearts and conscience that there are no circumstances under which any abortion should ever be available,” she said.

Toward the end of the same speech, she even described a possible future where “the choice guaranteed under our Constitution either does not ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances.”

This seems very different from today’s Democratic support for abortion on demand up toand now includingthe point of actual birth.  It would not be inaccurate to suggest that the recently passed bill in New York that codified these ideas throughout that state is crossing a dangerous and distinct line into support for infanticide in all but name onlyand it is not only in New York that these notions are becoming mainstream Democratic dogma.  

Although his comments on this topic have been eclipsed by the outrage over a deeply offensive racist photograph he featured on his personal page in his medical school yearbook, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam caused great concern with his comments concerning a third trimester abortion proposal in his own state:

[Third -trimester abortions are done with] the consent of obviously the mother, with consent of the physician, multiple physicians by the way, and its done in cases where there may be severe deformities or there may be a fetus thats not viable.  So in this particular example if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if thats what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.

Governor Northams suggestion that a baby born alive might be provided with palliative care only and be allowed to die flies in the face of both a physicians solemn oathGovernor Northam is, remarkably enough, a pediatric neurologistand the basic human decency that informs our lives.  Nazi Germany encouraged the deaths of those babies born with genetic problems or serious health issues in order to strengthen their master race.  However, having learned the horrible lesson of history that such practices inevitably lead to genocide, any suggestion of choosing which babies should be allowed to liveand which should be compelled to dieis firmly rejected by all but the most heartless and cruel among us.

However, state level efforts by some Republicans to restrict or deny abortion access during the first trimester of pregnancy are clearly wrong as well. The ugly and sad reality is that not all pregnancies are the result of loving relationships between men and women, some women may be utterly incapable of either carrying or nurturing a child, and others may be but a child themselves when a pregnancy occurs.  To, for example, force a thirteen year old girl who has been raped to give birth lacks all compassion and human understanding of the horror she has endured and simply amplifies the trauma she will be living with for the rest of her life.

Why is it that extremism has come to dominate our politics, and what does this imply for the future of moderate and sensible positions on immigration and abortion that will allow the vast number of voters who occupy the middle ground on these issues to feel that their voices are being heard and respected?  To insist that national borders serve a purpose and illegal entry should not be rewarded does not translateas so many seem now to believeinto bigotry and hatred.  To argue that late term abortions should be restrictedparticularly in light of the remarkable medical advances since Roe v. Wade in 1973 that now allow even the most premature of babies to survive and thriveis not at all equivalent to taking away the right of women to control their bodies.

Extremism in thought or action is generally marked by two signal characteristics: a tendency to hate those with differing ideas and a refusal to acknowledge the possibility of your own error.  Moderation in most matters of the heart and the mind is a sign of an individual’s ability to understand and embrace the sloppy complexities of life that often require one to abandon immature and inflexible ideological beliefs.  I hope that we will see more moderation and less extremism leading up to the 2020 elections.  We need cooperation and compromise in order to address key issuesincluding immigration and abortion.  Reducing the national fever of hate and insult that is corroding our governmental processes is essential.  We must find a moderate path that will recognize and reconcile all values and viewpointsor we will tear one another to pieces with our extremist passions.

The Death Of Education Reform?

Just a few years ago Democrats were playing a lead role in pushing for broad-based reform of our nation’s public schools. Using rigorous and regular testing of student academic progress to generate the necessary data, money and resources were poured into a “moon shot” effort to make quality education available to all children by turning government and private philanthropy into partners in creating a new paradigm for a national public education system that seemed unable to shake off its bureaucratic mindset and incrementalism. Billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars and private wealth washed into our nation’s public schools, and the high hopes attached to all this money seemed a sure sign that monumental changes were at hand.

Watching the momentum for K-12 education reform now grinding to a screeching halt around the nation, one cannot help but be struck by the shocking efforts of so many leading Democrats to now reduce or de-emphasize academic assessments, roll back charter schools, and embrace the ossified civil service approach of the nation’s teacher unions.

Were reformers fooling themselves all along regarding the possibilities for dramatic progress?

Even putting aside the strong political headwinds now facing school reform advocates, the sad truth of the matter is that change always required a willingness to both stand up to the political power of teacher unions and aggressively deregulate public education in order to introduce real market incentives—and market risk—to a system that both has historically been run according to the priorities of teacher unions and is populated by many teachers and administrators who have no interest at all in abandoning their entrenched civil service protections.

Improvements in the quality and academic outcomes of our nation’s public schools was also always an uphill fight because resistance to reforms was made all the easier by the extraordinary “local control” baked into our nation’s tens of thousands of autonomous public school districts, which have shown themselves to be largely impervious to any changes beyond the most cosmetic simply by virtue of their sheer numbers. The net result is that school reformers have spent decades banging their heads into a brick wall of fantastically fragmented bureaucratic obstinacy designed to protect well-paid but marginally competent teachers and administrators who find any effort to quantify outcomes, develop cost-benefit analyses, or (gasp!) insist upon accountability antithetical to their mutual goals of ironclad job security and guaranteed salary enhancement.

The real lesson of the past several decades of education reform is as simple as can be: You cannot force changes upon a system that has little real interest in what passionate—but too often ineffectual—reformers are trying to sell. It is always easier for the education insiders to insist that the problems with student learning are due to external societal and cultural factors, so miserable academic outcomes cannot be blamed on the schools themselves.

However, the challenge today facing reformers is the increasingly close relationship between teacher unions and the Democratic Party. Unless this is somehow severed right now, real reforms will continue to be measured with an eye dropper in the decades to come.

How close is the relationship between teacher unions and the Democratic Party? The numbers tell the story. During the 2018 elections, 95% of the over $30 million dollars they contributed to political parties and candidates went to Democrats. Of course, driven by high profile races in Texas, Florida, and Georgia, this amount was dwarfed by total 2018 election spending that topped $5.2 billion, but teacher unions also provided large and reliable voting blocs in key races and contributed countless in-kind resources to Democratic candidates. The net result of this political symbiosis is that the matter most important to teacher unions—growing their base of dues-paying members—is also rapidly become a driving issue of the Democratic Party.

The most obvious element of the alliance between Democrats and teacher unions is a renewed national push to halt the growth of charter schools, which offer tuition-free alternatives for families that cannot afford private schools. Whether or not charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated, provide better educational outcomes for students—and there is a great deal of hard and persuasive evidence that this is indeed the case—seems to be a tangential concern at the moment. The crux of the matter is that more charter schools translates into fewer teachers paying union dues. Union leaders, feeling besieged after the Janus decision by the Supreme Court struck down state mandates for “fair share” dues across the nation, now seem resolutely determined to reverse the national growth of charter schools. The rumblings are growing louder in many states, although supporters of charter schools have also mobilized to defend parent choice, but we have just seen the most dramatic move in what is likely to be a long and divisive battle in Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest school system—and until only recently a major booster of charter schools.

Having just settled a teacher strike with a new contract that has already been deemed financially unsustainable, the LAUSD Board of Education has now voted to declare a moratorium on the growth of charter schools. The 225 charter schools in Los Angeles now serve 23% of the district’s students—112,000 young people whose parents chose to remove them from the city’s troubled public schools. This has long been a sore point for national teacher unions, who see the rapid growth of charter schools in Los Angeles and elsewhere as an existential threat. Is it simply a coincidence that this shocking reversal happened in the most heavily Democratic state in the nation, one that provides 20% of the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives? Should we be surprised that the often tearful pleas of Los Angeles parents, who were thrilled with the quality of the educations that their children are now receiving, were completely ignored by school board members, many of whom owe their seats to Democratic support?

The political battle lines have hardened in recent years, but one area where politics should be set aside is the desire of every parent to find the school that best fits the needs of their child. Charter schools have offered many poor and middle-class parents an avenue to help their children escape blighted public schools that were robbing them of their right to a quality education. To insist that these children, and more to follow, must hope and pray that their school will be spared from today’s political gamesmanship is both cruel and destructive. The national movement toward school choice—of which charter schools are certainly the most important single component—should not be rolled back so that teacher unions can sign up some more dues-paying members.

The dreams of parents and students for the brighter futures that charter schools can provide must be respected, nurtured, and supported. To do otherwise would be the worst possible betrayal.

The Government Shutdown Was All About Political Power

Although we are supposed to see our recent record-breaking federal government partial shutdown as a principled battle between Democrats and Republicans regarding border enforcement policies and practices, the reality was both far more complex—and commonplace. There was a cold calculation on both sides that they could benefit politically by harming their opponents. Moreover, both Republicans and Democrats already have their eyes firmly fixed on the 2020 election, and each side is already auditioning applause lines and fundraising pitches aimed at their respective supporters as they maneuver for advantage in what is certain to be an particularly dirty and divisive campaign. As with most supposedly high minded activity by politicians, this shutdown was instead about the same old thing: how to get—and keep—more money and power.

Although the mass media encourages the belief that our nation is a hot mess of warring factions—liberals against conservatives, men against women, educated against uneducated, urban against rural, rich against poor, young against old, and so on—it could be the case that the division that sets us at each other’s throats is far more simple: the powerful against the powerless. Sometimes this power is open and obvious; sometimes it is exercised surreptitiously or indirectly. Nonetheless, power—and the immense wealth that follows right along behind it—has been the subject of our most primal human lust since we first squatted in a cave many tens of thousands of years ago.

Because of the ever increasing globalization of business and finance, the divide between our world’s winners and losers has grown wider and wider over the recent decades. Win enough power—economic, regulatory, or technological—and one can now stand bestride the planet like a Colossus. The central role that government interventions now play in both granting that power and jerking it away has turned government service into an incredibly lucrative career for many, and the immense concentration of wealth in capitals the world over has made the mere proximity to government a main driver of personal wealth.

The areas surrounding Washington, D.C., which now contain most of the wealthiest zip codes in America, has become a near-monolithic block of federal employees and contractors whose highest loyalty is reserved for those elected officials (a.k.a. Democrats) who strive to increase their powers and remuneration. The hostility directed against President Trump by those who work for the federal government is readily explained by his open disdain for much of their work and his desire to close or reduce many of the make-work bureaucracies for which they labor. Knowing that their livelihoods are on the line, it is little wonder that Donald Trump is viewed as a unwelcome interloper whose policies must be “resisted” at every turn by government employees whose loyalties are often clearly not with the elected President of the United States.

It has, of course, been pointed out that one result of the partial government shutdown is that federal workers have now been compelled to confront the kind of personal financial angst that everyone beyond the comfortable cocoon of government employment deals with every day. It is doubtful that every American is moved by the plight of federal workers who were forced to cancel their yoga studio memberships, cut down on restaurant meals, or deal with temporary financial problems that were worse as the shutdown dragged on. This new exposure to employment insecurity faced by federal workers—who will, nonetheless, be made whole on every penny of pay they missed when their paychecks were not being issued—is an unfortunate daily reality that many, many Americans employed in the private sector have suffered for years. The stories blasted throughout the media about the plights of furloughed federal employees, although certainly sad, perhaps produced more schadenfreude than sympathy among some of our nation’s beleaguered taxpayers.

The disconnect between the lives of the vulnerable ruled and those of the—at least until recently—well insulated rulers is, I believe, one aspect of President Trump’s continued appeal that those who live and work within the long shadow of federal power still simply cannot comprehend. The core belief of many Washington’s leaders in the benign and beneficent nature of the immense power they exercise over every facet of our daily lives makes it impossible for them to comprehend the frustration the average person feels each day as they crash into a brick wall of laws, rules, regulations, practices, guidelines, and advisories that cumulatively strip them of personal autonomy and invite the specter of investigation, lawsuit, or arrest if they fail to obey. These pronouncements from the high castle of federal power, which are generally designed to ensure strict oversight over the unruly serfs (a.k.a. you and me), are often the product of scholarly study by a priesthood of credentialed experts who have little interest in—or understanding of—the actual lives or values of those whose existences they zealously regulate.

In addition, the stench of corruption that has emanated from official Washington for many years—a grotesque assemblage of bribe givers and bribe takers (a.k.a. lobbyists and elected officials)—is simply too foul to any longer ignore. Hillary Clinton’s biggest liability in 2016 was not that she was a woman or completely lacking in charisma; the root of the problem was that she was a shameless creature of the D.C. Swamp World of back scratchers, influence peddlers, and money grubbing parasites. She was, therefore, rejected by voters who were willing to roll the dice on a blunt and graceless businessman who spoke directly and forcefully to their anger at an entrenched ruling class who thought them a herd of idiots (a.k.a. Deplorables) whose lives and aspirations needed to be carefully controlled and monitored.

Donald Trump’s election has put powerful D.C. insiders into a two year collective freak out that has been helpfully spun by their compliant media partners into a parable of “resistance” to right wing oppression and Russian chicanery. Taking a step back, you have to admire the genius of those who have created and encouraged this narrative while (wink!) resisting every effort to rein in the incredible powers of the national security state, reduce federal oversight of our daily lives, or remove American troops from dead end wars around the world that accomplish little else other than further enhancing the profits of international arms dealers—quite a Jedi mind trick, to say the least. I don’t, for example, recall Barack Obama meeting with the leader of North Korea to negotiate for the end of their nuclear weapons program, do you?

I know that having their paychecks temporarily stopped and stressing about paying their bills was terrible for many federal workers. Given the clear intransigence of Democrats regarding any negotiations regarding border security, it is possible that this partial shutdown could be back again in only three weeks. The apparent unconcern with which Democrats were willing to forgo the least flexibility and prolong this shutdown until public safety was finally put at real risk leads one to wonder just what kind of end game is being contemplated here.

Is the long-term plan to create chaos, crash the booming national economy, use the megaphone of the mainstream media to place all the blame on President Trump, and try to stampede an impeachment by continually screeching the Clinton campaign accusation that President Trump is an agent of Russia—despite the utter lack of any actual evidence to support this after two full years of the Robert Mueller sideshow? If we remember that this standoff is less about principle and more about power, it makes a certain Machiavellian sense. It is, therefore, likely this is just the first act in what is going to be a titanic power struggle between Washington’s entrenched and angry elite and President Trump and his Republican allies—not all of whom, truth be told, find the current reality all that distasteful. Those Republican legislators and bureaucrats contemplating post-governmental careers as a D.C. lobbyist or lawyer/fixer, with all the wealth and influence that this implies, likely see The Swamp as an ecosystem of power, prerogatives, and future fat paychecks they do not want to actually disturb—sad to say.

Stay tuned, America. You might be witnessing a truly pivotal moment in our nation’s history because this ongoing battle seems like it is going to leave only one side standing, and the future direction of our nation certainly hangs in the balance.