Politics Is Rotting Brains and Making Everyone Mad

These two views are the basis of society, and what role politics should have in it. The traditional libertarian view, as embodied in America’s founding (albeit imperfectly), sees government mainly as a referee that applies the laws equally to all citizens.

In this view, the public square is a neutral place, where a tightly restrained government allows people to live out their lives largely as they choose—even if they make seemingly boneheaded choices. While the government can adjudicate disputes between private parties and provide some public services, it primarily tries to prevent people from hurting each other.

The second view, which has long been common among progressives and now among populist conservatives, is that there is no such thing as neutrality. This view holds that government’s role is to promote the “public interest” and should be equipped with all necessary tools to make people behave economically and culturally as they ought.

That view is even more traditional, as it harkens back to the days of kings, potentates, and marauders—people who recognized nothing beyond their own power to exert force. Of course, this is where the problem lies. This call has to be made.

Even the most authoritarian Americans recognize the primacy of elections, even if they concoct bogus voter-fraud theories to justify their attempt at stealing them. However, there is much discussion about what power an election grants to the winners.

The libertarian perspective says it doesn’t matter who is elected president, governor, and city councilor because these politicians have a very limited level of authority. These limits are being eroded and elected and appointed officials, especially during coronavirus, now have as much power as possible.

Politics has become a constant grudge match because the stakes are so high. Americans are convinced that the rhetorical firepower has made it imperative to be involved in politics. Even before Donald Trump, progressives have portrayed every GOP victory as the harbinger of fascism.

In recent years, conservatives did something very similar. In the famous “Flight 93”, column, the author argued that this race is the same as the hijacked commercial airliner that was lost in Pennsylvania. Voters could charge the cockpit or die because a Hillary Clinton presidency would be “Russian Roulette with a semi-auto,” wrote Michael Anton.

Given these stakes—real or hyperbolic—we shouldn’t be surprised that increasing numbers of Americans view every election as a do-or-die situation. If Republicans win we will soon be giving away the Treasury and goosestepping down Main Street. We should be prepared for life in the Gulags if Democrats win. Socialists will cancel Christmas and give the country over to Mexico.

Two recent news stories show how this politics-as-endless-culture-war is playing out. The Washington Post reported on a fracas in Kalispell, Mont.—an historic town on the outskirts of Glacier National Park. Although this is one of the most picturesque places in the country it is also a place that is rife with political and cultural divides. Both the state and city once displayed a welcoming, open-minded attitude.

The article states that “hostility about the November election, coronavirus outbreaks and social movements has left a trail a bad blood among the old-school Republicans who were backers and supporters of the ex-president, vocal Democrats and out of-state transplants. This is convulsing everyone from school districts and public libraries to every day interactions.” Local officials were told by Mayor Mark Johnson that “our community is currently going through a divorce.”

It’s something I have witnessed in my community as well. The hostilities are not limited to one place. AtlanticPeter Wehner, a journalist from’s Peter Wehner, reported on widening divisions in American evangelical churches. “The aggressive, disruptive, and unforgiving mindset that characterizes so much of our politics has found a home in many American churches,” he wrote.

This divide is the result of what many observers refer to as the “politicization of everything.” Although I’ve been involved in politics since childhood, I don’t recall every thing we did that led to knock-down and drag-out political discussions. Friends and family with diverse political views were always my best friends.

Although I’m not sure what we do (aside from refusing segregation on a personal basis), I know what to avoid. In a recent column, Sohrab Ahmari argued that to save America, we must reject libertarianism. Sohrab Ahmari urged conservatives not to believe in neutrality, and instead insist on exercising political power “on the side that is truth”.

Which truth is it? Whomever has the power, I suppose. Although it sounds exciting to seize power to vanquish enemies, my opinion is that America must recommit itself to the original principles.

This column first appeared in The Orange County Register.