Big Money Politics Helps Produce Political Extremism

People have been complaining about the corrupting influence of political contributions forever, and it is true that the escalating costs of running for state and national political offices have turned our elected officials into full-time fundraisers—for themselves. Given the many millions of dollars it might today cost to campaign for a Congressional or Senate seat—and setting aside the astronomical $850 million spent by the two major party candidates during the 2016 Presidential race—it is apparent that we now have a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.

It is an open question just how much of the daily struggle of the average American actually gets through to candidates who are cosseted by campaign contributors handing them gobs of money. This does not become less of a problem after they are sworn into office. Upon being elected, officials immediately start to raise the dollars necessary to hold their seats, eclipsing the daily work on behalf of constituents—whose troublesome needs eat into the time that must be spent raising campaign funds.

However, the power of incumbency at least makes raising money easier because political favors now can be granted in exchange for campaign contributions, which are certainly a pernicious form of peculiarly legalized bribery. As the costs of political campaigns keep increasing, the importance of your opinion to your elected representative is ever more related to the size of your bank balance, the “pay to play” politics that disgusts most Americans. We are, sad to say, now all forced to live by the Golden Rule: “Those who have the gold make the rules.”

There is, however, another problem beyond the capture of our political institutions by wealthy individuals and interest groups—and it is helping to tear apart our nation.

Campaign fundraising used to be built around two basic appeals. On the one hand, you could attempt to appeal to the more elevated human traits of empathy or sympathy. An example of this approach might read as follows:

“Your contribution will give this puppy a warm bed tonight.”

Of course, if you really wanted to motivate potential contributors, a more crisis-laden approach was often more effective:

“Unless you contribute, this puppy will die tonight.”

If, however, you are running for political office today and need oodles of money in order to compete, a more sensationalistic and confrontational approach is preferred:

“UNLESS YOU CONTRIBUTE, MY OPPONENT WILL MURDER THIS PUPPY TONIGHT!” 

See the problem? The ongoing need for cash to keep today’s mega-million dollar campaigns afloat inevitably pushes all political discourse to the extremes because this is what best motivates contributors. Candidates can no longer afford to be gracious, reasonable, or moderate. All political opponents are now by grim necessity depicted as horrible brutes, and all opposing policy ideas are certain to result in lingering death, massive destruction, and the breakdown of civil society—because to say otherwise would not persuade anyone to write a check. Every election cycle is now Armageddon—the ultimate confrontation between good and evil—and each campaign season only further reinforces these venomous attitudes.

Big money politics have, of course, become an even worse problem over the years because of both inane Supreme Court decisions that have privileged wealthy donors and the sheer recalcitrance of officeholders who love the fundraising opportunities of incumbency and are allergic to reforms. However, reform we must if we are to have any hope of rescuing our nation from extremist politics and speech because campaign cash does more than just buy influence: It is itself a major driver of the political extremism that is both stalling our political processes and sidetracking legitimate national needs—all the while turning neighbors into enemies. Unless we can find a way to reduce the extraordinary costs now associated with political campaigns, we are likely condemned to yet more divisive and damaging political speech that will continue to hollow out the shrinking center of our national dialogue.

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Should You Hate Those Who Disagree With You?

I often feel that those who see racism and sexism (and other “-isms” too numerous to count) all around us share much in common with those who use the teleological argument to demonstrate that God exists. Just as some argue that the appearance of order and rationality in nature absolutely proves the existence of a purposeful creator, so do others contend that all forms of inequality are clearly the outcomes of embedded hatreds and deliberate discrimination. The use of such obviously circular—or at least specious—logic to prove that America is still an openly discriminatory nation chock full of bigots and haters should give one pause. Moreover, one has to also wonder whether such beliefs about America and Americans create their own issues—and explain a good deal of our troubled contemporary political culture.

Although there are certainly bigots to be found in our nation, one would be somewhat hard pressed to demonstrate that discrimination is still a driving cultural force in America. Indeed, when one looks at our prevalent commitment to multiculturalism throughout the public and private spheres of our society, the immense and broad-based popularity of diverse entertainers, sports stars, politicians, and public figures across our nation, and our increasingly multiracial and multicultural population, we see clear evidence of a country less and less concerned with anything other than our shared humanity.

Nonetheless, our nation’s liberals still routinely describe our country in terms that make it sound as if ignorant bigots still rule across the land. One CNN commentator memorably described the election of Donald Trump as a “white-lash” in response to the two Obama presidencies, and the progressive press is regularly filled with dire predictions about the future of the United States that suggest conspiracy and malign intent abounds around us.

To presume that all negative life outcomes and experiences are the results of discrimination is an incredibly reductive—and damaging—assumption that both provides a facile excuse for personal failures and insults the vast majority of Americans who treat their friends, families, neighbors, and co-workers with the utmost respect and consideration. I increasingly find myself wondering whether the liberal obsession with “micro-aggressions” has become so extreme because there truly is not much overt bigotry in American society today. A lack of cultural sensitivity and knowledge, which is certainly unacceptably neglectful today, is very different from hatreds based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender—and those relatively rare situations where such attitudes are now ever expressed are roundly condemned. A nation such as ours where currently 1 of every 6 marriages is racially mixed just doesn’t appear able to support the level of hatred that many insist still exists throughout our nation.

Unfortunately for progressives, acknowledging the many successes of our diverse nation disables the overarching political narrative of the Democratic Party—the need for Big Government to protect us from all those horrible bigots out there—which might explain some portion of their inability to move voters in the Presidential election last year. To continue to assert that discrimination explains everything means nothing to voters who might, for example, go to a female doctor, report to an African-American supervisor, have a lesbian sister, and attend a night class taught by a Chinese-American professor. There are, of course, many areas of the United States where the population is less heterogeneous and the understanding of our very diverse nation is perhaps less sophisticated, but these folks are still at least exposed to a much broader reality through their voracious consumption of mass culture. Even the kids in Topeka are grooving to Beyoncé these days, and the bad old days of regional insularity and parochialism are probably gone for good.

Many voters are increasingly annoyed by those who insist on blaming their own failures and problems on discrimination when it seems obvious that a more multifaceted understanding of persistent inequities might be more reasonable. For example, if your local community has a difficult time attracting small businesses because of crime, are those business owners who are keeping their distance bigoted—or smart? If your child is flunking in high school, are the teachers failing to provide a nurturing environment—or should you be taking away your kid’s cell phone and insisting on some study time? If you are not hired for a job because you cannot pass a police background check, whom do you blame for your misfortune—yourself or a “hate-filled” world that kept arresting you for breaking the law? Although it is now common to dismiss discussions about personal responsibility and real life consequences as “victim blaming” or something worse, perhaps these dialogues are necessary—and even helpful.

We have problems—all societies and nations do—but active discrimination might be slipping down the hierarchy of concerns faster than many realize. Healthcare, affordable housing, quality schools for our children, income inequality, reliable infrastructure, taxes, secure retirements, crime, and a host of other pressing issues likely preoccupy more Americans than the random cuckoos who justify their awful behavior and attitudes with cock-eyed theories about humanity. Given this, the liberal insistence on pushing identity politics to the forefront of every discussion eventually turns off voters who are looking for practical and affordable solutions for their concerns rather than virtue signaling and sanctimonious lectures.

The crux of the issue—and likely one that has motivated the increasing rejection of Democratic candidates on a national level over the past decade—is a frustration many voters feel about being labeled as bigots because they don’t support or believe the progressive political agenda, and this is a discussion that the Democratic Party needs to have if they hope to regain their electoral footing in the years ahead. To continue to argue that any judgments about behavior, values, or morality are hatred and bigotry in disguise will not be a winning strategy with voters who take pride in their accomplishments derived from self-sacrifice, hard work, and personal integrity. Although some Democrats disparage “values voters” for their supposed lack of intelligence and worldliness, it might be worth remembering those very same voters are often the bedrock members of communities across our nation—and to refuse to honor their lives or hear their concerns is both wrong and wrong-headed.

Moreover, to persist in branding all those who disagree with your values or assumptions as bigots likely causes its own set of difficulties by closing ears, heads, and hearts to any reasoned conversation while embittering rather than enlightening. An electoral strategy predicated on convincing your supporters that their fellow citizens are “deplorables” is a prescription for a nation that is fragmented, fearful, and frustrated—which seems to be right about where we find ourselves at the moment. Perhaps it is time to stop and consider the damage these defamatory characterizations inflict on both individuals and our country.

Further proof that we need to stop demonizing others is the shocking and cowardly shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise—by someone who obviously thought he was stopping a bigot or something worse because of what he read and heard. This tragedy is a harsh reminder of how encouraging the hatred of those with different views or values can have tragic consequences. It’s time to grow up and work together for the good of our nation. If we can start listening and stop attacking, there is much we can accomplish.

Some level of bigotry will always exist in any society because we cannot outlaw individual stupidity, but to presume that everyone is a bigot and hatreds run rampant causes its own—and, in some cases, worse—problems by putting everyone in the position of walking around with their fists up. No nation can survive living in a state of constant suspicion and anger, and we condemn ourselves to a prison built from our own fears if we live our lives always presuming the worst of one another.

As much as so many dislike politics and politicians, we must recognize that they will play a key role in whatever healing is possible. Just as the Democratic Party must rethink their approach by listening more, the Republican Party must contribute to the healing that is necessary by speaking more softly and carefully in order to avoid their own brand of inflammatory rhetoric. President Trump might have ideas worthy of consideration, but he harms our nation when he continually presents his thoughts in the most combative manner possible. Leadership requires toughness at times, but more often it requires a respectful tone that soothes rather than scars.

Democrats In A Debt Trap

The electoral fortunes of the Democratic Party are now at a low ebb, and leaders of the party are seeking a path that will allow them to begin winning back the governorships and state legislatures they have lost to the Republican “Red Wave” in recent elections. On the federal level, the loss of all three branches of government—the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency being the most galling loss of all to many—has led to a great deal of soul-searching that has yet to produce a solid strategy for success beyond continuing to paint the Republicans now firmly in power as heartless plutocrats out to enslave America.

Only time will tell whether simply bad-mouthing Republicans will ultimately turn into a winning electoral strategy (Hint: It didn’t work for Hillary Clinton). However, I wonder if there is a much bigger electoral problem facing Democrats that is not being sufficiently discussed: trends in the American labor market over the past half century—particularly those regarding union membership—that could ultimately serve to lock Democrats out of power for many years to come.

The support of the Democratic Party for the American labor movement during the glory years of the Roosevelt presidency, the industrial boom due to rearmament around World War II, and our manufacturing hegemony in the period immediately after the war while the rest of the world’s factories still lay in ruins likely hit its high point in 1954, when roughly 35% of all American workers were unionized. Our heavily unionized private sector employees in key America industries such an automobile and truck manufacturing, steel, coal, and transportation helped create national wealth on a scale never before seen in world history, and many Americans enjoyed a lifestyle as a result that was previously unimaginable.

The precipitous decline of many formerly dominant U.S. industries is well-known to all, and today a scant 6.5% of private sector workers are members of unions, which would seem to signal the death of the American labor movement—but this is not the case. Although total union membership has certainly declined, and now only 11% of all workers are unionized, labor unions have become a dominant player in one part of our job market—public sector (read: government) employees, where roughly 35% of workers are now unionized.

During the decades following World War II—and most particularly during the decades following the “Great Society” progressive politics of the 1960’s—government employment as a percentage of the workforce exploded, and today roughly 1 in 5 American non-military workers is drawing a municipal, state, or federal paycheck. At the local government level union membership among workers hovers between 40-45% because of the inclusion of heavily unionized police, firefighters, and public school teachers in the totals. This is a transformation that has changed both the American labor movement and its relationship to our citizens.

In a galaxy a long, long time ago—and now far, far away—unions largely represented the downtrodden industrial proletariat battling the evil capitalists for a fair share of the wealth, in the form of profits, their labor was creating. However, the demands of workers were always constrained by the profits that were available to share; unions certainly did not want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. This near-magical balance was, of course, destroyed by foolish free trade agreements that allowed companies to simply relocate their operations to countries where labor was much, much cheaper. However, I hope—and I know I am not the only one who feels this way—that a rejection of the illusory benefits of globalization will bring much needed manufacturing jobs back to America and reinvigorate our private sector unions.

However, when it comes to public sector unions, there is no balance between worker demands and available revenues/profits that constrains negotiations; taxes are simply raised or costs deferred to pay for contract agreements, and any dollars and cents reality is largely absent from the equation. Those long gone battles between industrial workers and greedy capitalists that still inform our collective understanding of labor-management relations are misleading models for today’s labor market; the negotiations between public sector unions and craven politicians who often lack all business sense are one-sided affairs that have become, to be blunt, a fiscal disaster for the taxpayers of our country.

Unconstrained by the realities of profit and loss, public sector workers now typically enjoy salaries, job protections, and benefits (particularly as regards healthcare and retirement) that the average private sector worker no longer even dreams of possessing. We now often encounter the rather perverse situation of relatively less affluent private sector employees being taxed to pay for the comfortable lifestyles of those who work for government, and these pressures are reaching the boiling point as the costs of public pensions and retiree healthcare agreements—that were negotiated decades ago with absolutely no thought as to how they eventually would be funded—are now blowing gaping holes in local, state, and federal budgets. Estimates of the cumulative shortfalls in public sector retirement plans, which are still built around defined benefit models that have largely disappeared from the private sector, range between $3-5 trillion. This is going to get real ugly real soon, and taxpayers—unsurprisingly—will be caught in the middle.

All of this leaves the Democratic Party in one heck of a bad spot. Given that many millions of dollars of union contributions to the Democratic Party and Democratic politicians are major sources of funds to support political and electoral operations, Democrats cannot back away from their traditional support for these unions and their demands their contracts be honored in full. However, given that this will essentially boil down to requesting steep, escalating tax increases to cover the costs of fiscally unsound pension and healthcare plans for decades to come, Democrats are going to find themselves in the very unpopular position of squeezing money—and lots of it—out of the struggling many to pay for the comfy lifestyles of the few. Citizens will certainly push back hard—as has already happened where bailouts have been sought after municipal public sector plans have failed—and their demands that retiree benefits be reduced to levels that can be sustained with the tax dollars now available will certainly grow louder and angrier.

The bottom line is that, in the difficult years ahead, the Democratic Party will be in a perfect position to make a lot of enemies. Members of public sector unions will feel betrayed by the Democratic politicians they have so lavishly supported with political contributions, and taxpayers will be likewise angered about being asked to foot the bill for financially irresponsible employee contracts. Republicans, who have historically advocated for small government and (at least in words) for fiscal restraint will simply sit back and watch these battles while positioning themselves as the protectors of working class taxpayers—unlike those danged crazy Democrats who just want to raise everyone’s taxes and spend, spend, spend.

Unless the Democratic Party can find a way to convince their allies in public sector unions to voluntarily reduce their salaries and benefits in order to forestall a fiscal supernova, it is going to be a very rough go at the ballot box for their candidates, which will push them even further into the political wilderness and leave our nation with de facto one-party rule. This would be a real shame because a vibrant two-party system provides tremendous benefits to our nation and its people, but I wonder whether this fiscal trap is one the Democratic Party has any hope of escaping unscathed.

Fixing America’s “Perspective” Problems

Our political landscape sometimes seems like one big, bad, broken relationship crashing upon the rocks—and those on both ends of the political spectrum are instantly (and sadly) prepared to ascribe the most noxious intentions to the actions of those who hold an opinion contrary to their own. This is unfortunate—but certainly understandable. The political ground shifted beneath the feet of many last November, and the resulting feelings of fear and insecurity have made people lash out. Unfortunately, however human these kinds of reactions might be, they do little to facilitate the national consensus necessary to fix the many pressing problems facing our nation.

These anxious and emotionally-driven responses from those in the political arena who were stunned by the November election results have become so twisted and out of proportion that it has become impossible to understand what either side actually supports or rejects—consistency is no longer a part of the of the equation. For example, regarding the ongoing conflict in Syria, those on the left have moved from “Trump is in Putin’s pocket” to “Trump is waging war on Putin” since the  Presidential campaign last fall. Even worse, when the need to reform our broken healthcare system is discussed, those on the right have moved from “Repeal and Replace” to “Never Mind” just since the Inauguration in January! The revolving door of opinion certainly makes one’s head spin, but it is the extraordinary degree of distrust exhibited by all regarding almost every issue that is startling—and profoundly worrisome.

We must move beyond our paranoid preconceptions of one another’s motives because—although this might make for wonderfully “tweet-able” bits of schoolyard-style maliciousness—it contributes little to the real world of discussion, negotiation, and compromise. Sadly, no matter what our political opponents might say or write these days—and how thoughtfully they try to explain it to a listener or reader—they are often perceived to be engaging in subterfuge designed to crush our nation and its people in a shortsighted attempt to impose a personal agenda on an unwilling and/or vulnerable public. I could keep adding more adjectives and adverbs, but this is pretty much the state of our political discourse these days.

The problem we now face as a result is one born of the inevitable collision between overheated rhetoric and quotidian reality: Despite the vehemence with which we now commonly express our opinions and beliefs, we still need to find a way to occupy a common land mass and live under a common set of laws and norms. Short of outright secession—which some are foolish enough to actually advocate—we must figure out some way to make our many interconnecting relationships work for the benefit of America as a whole. Even if we can’t agree on every issue, perhaps we can agree on a few basic principles that might keep us from flinging the household crockery at one another day after day and help us to regain some much-needed perspective that will cool down our flaming rhetoric.

The world is not fair, but we can still strive to make it as fair as possible—within reason.

No matter what regulations, systems, and laws we put in place, we cannot create a nation where all opportunities are equalized, all disparities are eliminated, and all conflicts are erased. As much as this might grate on some, we must accept this in order to avoid unnecessarily restricting the basic freedoms we are fortunate to enjoy as Americans. The desire of many to change this harsh fact of human existence springs from a well-meaning place, but the resulting actions generally do nothing but suck us all into an intrusive and expensive bureaucratic vortex of blather and bother that simply produces its own set winners and losers when government officials pass out the goodies. Short of a genetically engineered “utopia” where we all come off an assembly line with the depressing sameness of Styrofoam blocks, our lives, those of our children, and the lives of the billions upon billions of people around the globe who are total strangers to us are going to be battles of brains, brawn, and beauty that will produce winners, losers, and every variation in between.

Moreover, although it might not seem so when you read the hourly attacks on one another that reverberate through our media outlets and the blogosphere, we actually do live in a blessedly calm nation—although it is still sitting astride a messy, noisy, and scary planet where the list of factors we cannot control is far longer than the meager list of those we can. Some rules and boundaries are obviously needed to manage any nation; however, it could certainly be argued that the most important lesson to be learned from the past half-century of politics is that micromanaging everyone’s lives often produces nothing more than a new set of problems. The proper role of government in creating a world that is more fair for all is certainly a matter for discussion, but we must always remember that perspectives different from our own should be granted equal space and consideration—and nothing will be accomplished by engaging in continual in-fighting and name-calling.

We need to return to appropriate levels of personal privacy in order to keep politics from intruding into—and overwhelming—our daily lives.

We live in a “Too Much Information” society that has sadly erased the boundary between what is acceptable to share and that which should be kept to ourselves. The problems caused by documenting and sharing every aspect of our lives might not seem obvious to those who are voyeurs and exhibitionists, but there is a clear line between someone who wishes to share their personal story out of a desire to inspire or instruct versus those many individuals who are seeking personal validation—or perhaps even retribution—via social media.

If you count on the crowd for your sense of self-worth, you can count on a signal truth: Somebody will disapprove of you. Unfortunately, social media now allows that disapproval to be broadcast to a worldwide audience who will further amplify—and likely garble—that initial disapproval with the aid of their own doubts, anger, and frustration. The result of this is a spiral of rage, defensiveness—and yet more insecurity—that improves nothing and no one. If our political discussions are reduced to the 21st century technological equivalent of spray painting 140 character slogans on a wall and making derogatory comments about those who disagree with our positions or values, we are going to keep shouting right past one another and never build the bridges between one another that are necessary to manage our nation and provide for our people.

Some believe that hashtag activism and virtue-signaling via social media creates a stronger nation. However, although a society where we all walk around naked with billboards on our heads broadcasting our thoughts would, of course, be utterly transparent, it would also destroy the space that should be reserved for dreams, hopes, and desires that are ours alone—which seems to be exactly what has happened. I believe much of the pervasive anxiety of our modern age can be attributed to the societal pressures that now drive us to overshare our lives to a point of sheer absurdity. The well-documented link between the time we spend pecking away on Facebook pages and diagnoses of depression should tell us all something about the innate human need for boundaries and personal space that we seem to have forgotten as we have coasted into the 21st century digital age, and our politics cannot easily heal under such circumstances.

The personal may, as some feminists have claimed, be political, but we still need to maintain our personal lives and sense of what should be kept private in the process. We are not worthwhile individuals just because every aspect of our lives is shared with everyone, and we damage ourselves and others if we lose all touch with our inner existence. Reasoned perspective that is born of quiet and personal contemplation—not mob action resulting from a Tweetstorm—is exactly what is needed to improve our national dialogue right now.

Keep the courage of your convictions without closing your mind to learning from the lives and experiences of others.

I am sometimes complimented by others regarding my calm and patience, which I believe is a helpful attribute to possess no matter what your life’s endeavors might be. I believe this peace springs from two practices I strive to always keep at their forefront of my daily activities: Live according to a set of principles while also respecting the principles of others. If we are smart, we are humble enough to realize there is a great deal about the world and the lives of others that we neither know nor understand. Rather than fear and reject contrary viewpoints or ideas, we maintain balance and emotional health by listening—and hopefully learning.

We can change or modify our own values as we see fit based on what we learn from the lives and experiences of those outside our circle of friends or family, but more importantly we develop the ability to empathize with those with whom we disagree rather than simply shower them with our smug scorn. That, by itself, might be the first essential step toward healing the angry divisions in our nation. It may be distressing to listen to others explain why they believe we are wrong, but it is certainly a valuable part of our political educations and allows us to broaden our perspectives regarding the people and world around us.

I am sorry, America. National divorce or separation are not options even remotely available—and isolating yourself from your neighbors or “un-friending” those with whom you disagree will do nothing but produce yet more grief for us all. Therefore, let’s all resolve to work together while respecting the reasons of others and rediscovering our perhaps frayed sense of personal privacy. You may consider it “couples therapy” if you wish—but please consider it, nonetheless.

Change Is Terrifying

“And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.”
The Prince (1517)

Niccolo Machiavelli, an Italian courtier and diplomat renowned for his devotion to absolute practicality in affairs of state, wrote his masterwork, The Prince, 500 years ago, yet his words still carry weight—and impart wisdom. His insight into the perils inherent in forcing changes upon governmental systems that are inclined by their very nature to worship the status quo has long served as a warning to those who try to move too far and too fast.

Our most recent Presidential election seems to me to have been one that Machiavelli would have easily recognized. On the one side we had a candidate who was a product of the system and whose entire campaign was built around her repeated pledges to change as little as possible—promises that it was hoped would propel her to the Oval Office by reassuring those in power. On the other side we had a brash outsider who respected no precedent, position, or prerogative—and who delighted in openly attacking the presumptions of the presumptuous.

In an outcome that flabbergasted and appalled those who thought they had a firm grip on the election, the outsider triumphed in a manner that both angered and humiliated those who thought their continued control was assured. Were Machiavelli alive today, he probably would not be surprised by the feverish fury of our nation’s elites. Rarely in recent American political discourse have we heard condemnations more vitriolic hurled at a President after only just over a month in office.

However, given the startling changes President Trump is attempting to impose upon a national political establishment long contented with protracted and circular discourse followed by incremental tweaks to the comfortable status quo, the day after the election must have felt like waking up in the hospital after being run over by a truck. The hushed deference to which they had been long accustomed was suddenly gone—and will probably never return.

If one is to judge from the daily dose of invective hurled at President Trump and his administration, the shock is still too much to bear for the many who fully expected a Democratic landslide. Whether one is talking about foreign policy, financial regulation, international trade, healthcare, taxes, freedom of expression, immigration, natural resource management, the powers of the courts and Congress, job creation, national defense strategies, housing, the balance between federal and state authority, terrorism, transportation policy, property rights, or a host of other issues, it is now abundantly clear that nothing—absolutely nothing—is safe from the attentions of this mouthy upstart who seems determined to gore every sacred cow in a cozy company town in order to fulfill his campaign promises. Those who have grown comfortable with their unassailable sinecures are reeling from a bracing dose of rude reality delivered by someone whom they had long ago dismissed as a harmless populist buffoon.

Not surprisingly, the long knives of the political establishment are out for all to see, and the mainstream media is, sad to say, often acting as the house organ for those who don’t want too many hard questions being asked. Speaking as someone who has spent much of my life speaking in support of the critical role that the free press plays in a democracy, the thoroughgoing intellectual dishonesty of so many of the major news outlets—pretending to be mere reporters while acting as vociferous political advocates—has been a bit hard to stomach. However, it is probably not a problem that journalistic biases are now so obviously displayed because it has compelled Americans to openly question what is being reported, which is plainly scaring the bejeezus out of editors and news directors in media centers such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. who have historically enjoyed more credulous and compliant audiences.

The upside to all of this political upheaval is that there seems a real possibility that sweeping and fundamental changes—whatever form they might ultimately take—can now be expected. Those who are frantically trying to cram the genie of voter anger back into the bottle and carry on as we have for decades—more public debt, more inequality, more government regulation, and more jobs being shipped abroad—are certainly doomed to fail.

Although some might desperately wish it were otherwise, we are clearly going to have a national debate about the scope and cost of government, the balance between individual freedoms and collective obligations, and the pressing need for more individual initiative and personal responsibility in virtually every facet of our daily lives. These will be a difficult and confusing conversations for many who have grown oddly comfortable with being coddled and herded, but the outsized role of government in our lives will certainly shrivel in the years immediately ahead due to crushing budget problems and voter demands.

Whether one loves Trump or hates him, we are already experiencing fundamental changes in our nation—at a pace that has clearly set many heads to spinning. Depending upon your point of view, these new directions will either renew or destroy our country—there seem to be few middle-of-the-road opinions out there these days. Perhaps Machiavelli’s wisdom can explain at least some portion of this phenomenon: Change, as he observed, produces many enemies and few friends. This plain fact certainly is responsible for some portion of the extraordinary and destructive divisions afflicting our nation today.

However, given that democracy is a process that requires at least as much listening as speaking, I hope we can cease our shouting and begin a thoughtful dialogue resulting in policies that respect our many differences. Whatever the path we ultimately pursue might be, I can guarantee that not everyone will agree with it, but hopefully our fierce American individualism will allow enough space for the reasonable cooperation necessary to maintain national unity. Our only other option is unthinkable, and I am certain that I am not the only one who worries that rage and frustration are taking many down a road we must not travel.