Conservative Dilemmas in the COVID Era - Small Government


There are two possible directions for American conservatism moving forward—authoritarian empire or extinction. Trump’s path to dictator can manifest through electoral victory or by adjourning both chambers of Congress, as he recently threatened to do. The pandemic is forcing states to consider massive vote by mail elections, a scenario that will likely be disastrous for the Republican party. Conservatives who do not subscribe to the Trump brand of politics and oligarchy have extraordinary dilemmas to address.

 

Although many people would like us to believe it, there can be no return to “normal” post-pandemic. COVID-19 is reshaping everything. The crisis exposes conservative leadership and policies as wholly inadequate to prepare and protect the United States. America has the most cases of COVID-19 in the world, making up nearly one third of total cases [1]. Unsurprisingly, White House leadership is focusing its efforts to funnel money to the wealthy. In the time of our deepest needs, conservative politics are being exposed precisely for what they are, a tool for the rich to become more affluent.  

 

In a logical universe, there would be no new subscribers for conservative politics, but ours (at least from our limited perspective) defaults to chaos. Our inherited circumstances play a defining role in our political viewpoints; political ideologies today have more to do with the birth lottery than understanding of theory or policy. Attempts to convince others of the error of their beliefs fall on deaf ears. It’s challenging to break decades of programming through independent conversations. In the end, conservatives are people who want to live the way they want—who can blame them? There’s no reason to deny them this autonomy, so long as we ensure they do not deny it from others. So how do we reconcile conservative wishes with our reality? If we can figure this out, we may be able to expand the movement rapidly.    

 

The answer is the dilemma. For conservatives who appreciate the ideas behind the label, the only possible path to making them a reality is embracing the progressive agenda. For the majority of the people in the U.S., life is a struggle. We lack the necessary investment and action to empower ourselves. The result is an angry populace easily bent to the whims of wealthy elites. The truth we keep denying is that technology and imagination can now be applied to society to diversify our ways of living significantly. The challenge remains, will conservatives abandon the label to bring their vision to life?  

 

If you’re skeptical about cooperation between conservatives and progressives, it’s understandable. As recently as three months ago, it may have been impossible. Now everything is different. At the time of this writing, 26 million Americans have recently filed for unemployment [2], a catastrophe that will be worse than the great depression. We aren’t hurtling towards the crisis, we’re already here. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, everything about politics and society has changed.  

 

We’re focusing on philosophy and ideals, how do conservatives want to live, and why do they want to live that way? Understanding that this option will not appeal to every republican voter, and that’s okay. We don’t need a total majority to make change. People supporting Donald Trump during the crisis are unlikely to turn until the house of cards collapses. There is hope for the conservative who understands the following; to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you need to have boots.

 

 

Small Government

In the Federalist Papers No. 14, James Madison wrote, “In the first place it is to be remembered that the general government is not to be charged with the whole power of making and administering laws. Its jurisdiction is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all the members of the republic, but which are not to be attained by the separate provisions of any.” Separating powers is essential to the original design of the United States government. While this is no longer the case in present-day America, it is central to the conservative vision many believe.

At its heart, small government is about allowing groups of people to govern themselves; however, they see fit. The design of states facilitates experimentation, empowering citizens to craft unique ways of living. Smaller governments are, in theory, more agile and capable of dealing with a crisis. COVID-19 demonstrates this idea as false, but conservatives may still believe it to be true. The central theme of small government arguments is fear. The fear that a big federal government, especially one as well-armed as ours, will always pose an existential threat to the individual.  

This idea certainly has merit. If we look at the two largest productive engines on the planet, the United States and China, both act in different degrees of central government authoritarianism. PBS recently released a documentary about the concentration camps China is running, and Edward Snowden revealed the total data collection agenda of the United States. Now, as the pandemic brings the world to its knees, these large governments are faring much worse than their smaller agile counterparts.

Small government is about being able to express your fullest you. To live the way you want to live, uninterrupted and unimpeded by those who do not know your struggle or care about your well-being. It’s an idea that every progressive should agree with, we want to construct a society that allows people to self-actualize to the highest degree possible.  

Small government also paves the way for selective grouping. Groups are a necessary and welcome part of the human condition. They have been integral to the survival of our species and help us experience the higher pleasures of life, such as love and friendship. It is entirely natural to desire and actively seek ourselves with like-minded people.  

So how do we reconcile the ideals of grouping with its observed practice throughout history? The United States has always been a country of insiders and outsiders. Our constitution was designed to benefit only white male landowners. Race and class have been used throughout history to divide and sow discord among the least privileged, always creating an “other” to blame for society’s woes. Can we create a form of small independent government that allows people to democratize their ways of life to the highest degree while simultaneously preventing abuse and exclusion? The answer is yes if we ditch our dogmas.

Small independent governance cannot be an excuse for the denial of rights and liberties of others. That means developing infrastructures where people born inside specialized societies are just as capable as those born outside (and vice versa). The progressive approach will ensure that people living in these communities have frictionless opportunities to exit them should they desire. In present-day America, we observe the opposite. We can look at isolationist religious cultures and rural labor communities to highlight two areas of disparity in the capacity development of individuals.  

Here we identify one of the dilemmas conservatives face on the pathway forward. It’s within our power to experiment with democracy in ways that allow for deep flexibility and customization of the rules. That power comes with the responsibility to organize ourselves in a way preventing these developments from oppressing or excluding others based on descriptives such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and others. Are conservatives willing to make the necessary concessions to eliminate discrimination as part of self-organization, or do their illogical biases override their desire to govern themselves?

Donald Trump has given us the most direct example of a small federal government and its ability to handle crises. The results are abysmal. That doesn’t mean they can’t be better, but it will require large scale cooperative efforts. One is significant infrastructure projects; another is changing our approach to education. Both of these are central tenants of the progressive project. 

Self-Investments

Empowering people to better independently self-govern requires advancement in several other social verticals—the most critical being saving the planet from environmental collapse. Socialized medicine is another glaring example. Otherwise, those born into small self-governing communities may lack access to the highest quality medical care. Transportation infrastructure is also essential, people born into self-governing communities must have the right to exit—that means having access to transport. The progressive project offers the most comprehensive reforms in each of these areas and more.

Every human is subject to the demands of planet Earth, and it’s clear that our pre-COVID way of living isn’t sustainable. Continuing on our current path of environmental destruction will do radical harm to the human species While some traditional conservatives are lost to this truth, others who can see through the propaganda know we must act. Conservative (and liberal) political leadership around the globe have proven their inadequacy, unable and unwilling to solve our species’ most pressing problem. Generations will suffer because we refuse to act appropriately.  

If the crisis has taught us anything, it’s that the government can create money at will. The most recent stimulus bill generated $500 billion for large corporations and a $1200 one-time payment for Americans. To put it in perspective, if we inject that $500 billion into American households, every person (including children) would receive approximately $9112.23. Instead, people in communities across the nation are facing a scarcity of basic needs. Today it is within our power to create sustainable abundance for everyone, but only if we’re willing to take drastic action.  

The Green New Deal is the most assertive plan to transform our infrastructure. The process creates training and employment for generations, upgrades obsolete infrastructure, and lays the foundation for an explosion in innovation and experimentation in our economy. One often-overlooked truth is that this self-investment would empower small government communities. Scaled and networked clean energy infrastructure allows for the creation of nearly free energy for our society as a whole. That means the costs of processing raw materials, shipping, and manufacturing all decrease dramatically. It’s a direct path to empowering small businesses in our society while also significantly decreasing the cost of living for every American. There is no greater way to encourage independent communities to create new and unique forms of living than abundant cheap energy.  

Universal healthcare, defined as available to anyone at very low or no cost, is another necessary program given our place in time. One of the central conservative voter arguments opposing health care reform was the risk of losing their existing employer coverage. COVID-19 makes us all face hard facts. Public corporations do not care about you or your health. Just ask the 26.5 million unemployed Americans [3] who’s health insurance disappeared as quickly as their employment. From this day forward, if we tie healthcare to work, we resign the majority of Americans to being uninsured or underinsured. Not supporting Medicare-for-all forces groups that should be experimental and self-governing into ways of living tied to how much you can earn. It limits their potential to live their best lives and supports a rigged system that is collapsing before our eyes.

One of the best historical examples of large federal projects is our national highway system. Under President Eisenhower, the United States undertook the immense task of connecting people and goods across our continent. It was a project that could only be completed by sizable federal investment and management and is a shining example of our capacity as a nation. Investment in upgrading our transportation infrastructure—personal and commercial—to green technologies is vital if we are to continue the distribution of consumer goods. Transportation consistently ranks in the top three sources of pollution in the United States. Advancements in self-driving cars open new options for transport in America, such as state-owned, self-driving fleets. We are allowing people to reduce personal vehicle consumption and provide methods of escape for those inside small communities seeking an exit.

Conservatives face a dilemma. These programs require substantial federal investment to be successful, which means higher taxes and expanded government oversight. The alternative of forcing states to transition into green energy infrastructure independently is a recipe for disaster. Higher material prices, differing quality standards, and a lack of consistency in design would result in subpar infrastructure investments.  

Conservatives thinking realistically about the future have to reconcile their dislike of large federal projects with the reality that scaled efforts are the best way to approach these necessary investments. How can people best pursue freedom and happiness without the right tools? They can’t, which is why if the conservative genuinely believes their political philosophy, substantial federal infrastructure investment is the only logical path forward.

Education

Education is another social vertical to consider, one with profound impacts that question our very notion of rights. Today in America, the two most significant contributors to educational disadvantage take form in religious freedoms and economic class. 

We define religious freedom in the United States as the ability to worship as you see fit. Today it is morphed into something much larger and more ambiguous. Religious communities deny members the necessary educational tools and information to self-actualize and develop genuine autonomy. Their entire stream of knowledge focuses on keeping members isolated in their group of insiders. Members who escape find themselves grossly ill-equipped to function in modern society. When communities use religious freedom as an excuse to deny people the resources necessary to work independently in the world, they enshrine slavery in dogma.  

Class is the most direct impact of educational opportunity for the majority of Americans. Educational funding throughout the United States is tied to property taxes. It makes sense that a state like New Jersey, with an incredibly dense population in a small area, has excellent education. Children in rural Kentucky have no such luck and will leave primary school unprepared and ill-equipped for the world at large.  

For the progressive, the public school is the greatest opportunity to save the child from their birth lottery. Throughout human history, the randomness of birth has determined both king and peasant. We cannot fully empower people to self-govern and live independently without best equipping them with the tools to do so. That is why the federal funding of education is a necessary and logical evolution of how we empower our youth.

Here progressives and conservatives diverge so much that reconciliation may be impossible. Does a society have a responsibility to its youth, or are they merely property? If we will not fight to give voice to the voiceless, then who will? Religious rights in the United States do not grant one individual the power to suppress another. How can the American dream ever exist in a society where being born poor guarantees limited resources and capacity? It may be the biggest dilemma conservatives face. Are the ideals you believe in just for you, or are they for everyone? Both answers directly contradict current practice, leaving followers with no real option or escape from dogma.

I hope that every conservative understands that the progressive is not against your chosen way of life. We believe we are your best opportunity actually to achieve the lifestyle. What we disagree upon is our ideal pathway forward.  

If there is one final thought I could share with every conservative, it would be the central difference in our philosophies. The main theme in the progressive project is shifting what determines success in society.  

Currently, the most critical factor determining individual success is birth. If you’re born into a wealthy family, you are more likely to have access to higher quality education and the resources necessary to self-actualize. Alternatively, if you’re born poor, you’re more likely to grow up in a world of inadequate support. This randomness creates a chain reaction that shapes realities. The progressive understands that just because this has been historically true doesn’t mean it must continue to be this way. In other words, we want to give people the tools and resources necessary to live their best life.  

For conservatives who understand the real and present danger Donald Trump presents to all of us, there are few options. They face a dilemma of voting Republican, a party that now represents authoritarianism, or voting for a centrist Democrat who is merely a mouthpiece for their corporate sponsors. There’s only one path that furthers the ideologies that the conservative believes, and that is the progressive project. We may not agree on the end game and that’s okay. Together we can build a society that gives space for both futures to exist. By cooperating and collaborating, we empower each other to realize the future that we both want.

[1] COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU)

https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6 

[2] United States Initial Jobless Claims 1967-2020 Data | 2021-2022 Forecast | Calendar Trading Economics https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/jobless-claims 

[3] United States Initial Jobless Claims 1967-2020 Data

 Trading Economics https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/jobless-claims 

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