When I first began to read, listen to, and watch political commentary, and identify my position on the socio-political spectrum, I felt a great passion about numerous issues. I was young, and the fire burned brightly. A decade and a half later, I’ve slowly come to realize that passion can act as a sort of cataract to political decision-making.
It’s entirely reasonable and even appropriate to feel passionately about certain political issues – after all, without passion, we would have little motivation to engage in politics at all. That said, we must be keenly aware of the ways in which our fervor is influencing our ideology as it pertains to the way in which we would like to see things be accomplished.
There are two apt examples that illustrate the poison of passion – one on the Left and one on the Right.
The debate about how the health care system can be fixed has raged for decades, and despite some disruptive changes, e.g. the Affordable Care Act, little has actually been accomplished for good or ill.
Groups on both sides have their arguments locked and loaded, and are so settled into what they perceive to be the truth that no amount of data or reasoning will break their line of thinking. As a self-identified conservatarian, I have a set of ideas based on my conversations with several experts, as well as what I believe to be a logical assessment of the data set before me, of how to reform the health care system in such a way as to improve quality and make it both more affordable and accessible.
What I have tried to do is allow new information and perspectives to inform my ideology so long as such information and perspectives stand up to scrutiny. This has led to moments of evolution in the way I view the means by which the health care system can be made more effective. In other words, I have worked diligently to keep passion from infecting my perspective to the extent that I would not countenance information that challenged my ideology as it’s currently framed.
I have not always been successful, having on several occasions dug my heels in when my desire to be “right” meant more to me than understanding the issue more fully.
Setting aside politicians, many of whom seem to be driven not by a craving for solutions but by an appetite for votes, I believe that the average progressive American is just as motivated to find solutions as their counterparts on the other end of the political spectrum – they have simply allowed passion to infect their perception, leading to the formation of blind spots.
Progressive Americans want to see the less fortunate have access to health care, they don’t want surprise medical bills sending families to the brink of bankruptcy, they want more affordable medications for chronic medical problems, among other things. None of these wants are bad. In fact, they are the exact opposite.
Conservatives want very similar things. Where good faith progressives and conservatives diverge is over the “how” of it all. Progressives generally believe that government intervention is how these things can be appropriately achieved. Conservatives generally believe that deregulation and the free market is the answer.
Watching the health care discussion as it occurs during the Democratic primary process is illustrative of the idea that passion often overrides common sense. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has proposed a “Medicare for All” plan that would, according to him, provide every American with “free” access to health care. He admits that middle-class taxes would increase, but claims that the positive impact outweighs the higher taxes. The estimated cost of the plan is approximately $32 trillion over a decade.
Whether Sanders is a genuine believer is unimportant in this case. Supporters of the senator, as well as supporters of other candidates offering similar plans featuring massive increases in government spending and scope, have been essentially blinded by their passion for the issue. They see an opportunity to accomplish a desired good, and are blinded to the negative externalities.
However, the negative externalities of such a plan are numerous – the elimination of private care, untenable increases in government spending, allowing the federal government full control over an extraordinarily large, multifaceted industry. These initial negatives are only exacerbated by what would follow. As can be seen in other nations that have nationalized or semi-nationalized systems, giving the government control over the health care industry inevitably leads to access burdens, ballooning costs, subpar care, talent loss, and innovation shrinkage.
Because of this blind fervor, supporters of nationalized health care cannot properly assess, with any intellectual vigor, the pros and cons of the situation. If they were able to look at the issue with dispassion, they could engage with those who do not support such a plan, and work toward a meaningful, effective, and feasible solution.
But since passion has coated their eyes, they have lost all depth of perspective, and can only push out talking points crafted by progressive politicians. They cannot reach any deeper, or wrestle with information that doesn’t comport with their established worldview. This is why when pressed, they often become angry or indignant. They cannot fathom the notion that someone wouldn’t see the world as they do. They are ill prepared for such a confrontation because they haven’t taken the time to learn to articulate their point of view, and the only option left is to short-circuit.
Dispassion could alleviate this ideological rigidity.
On the Right, there is a similar rigidity when it comes to President Donald Trump. Prior to the 2016 nomination of Trump, there was a divide among Republicans as to who was the best choice to represent conservative values in the general election against Hillary Clinton.
Conservatives of all stripes had their favorites. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and even former Ohio Governor John Kasich were favorited by different segments of the Republican Party. Many individuals who supported these candidates saw Donald Trump as a cruel, unstable, ideologically chaotic narcissist.
After Trump won the November 2016 election, there was a small band of conservatives who dug their nails in. They didn’t support Trump during the general, and they weren’t going to support him as president. These people are known colloquially as “Never Trumpers.” It doesn’t matter if some of the president’s policies are good – they don’t like him, and they will oppose him at every step of his presidency.
On the other end, there is a base of Trump backers who, regardless of his policies, are hellbent on supporting the president. Conservative policies? Great! Not-so-conservative polices? He’s playing 4D master chess, and you’re just a fool! There isn’t any in-between for these supporters. Let’s call this group of people “Always Trumpers.”
Somewhere in the middle is a third group who applaud the president when he enacts conservative policies, appoints originalist judges, and fights back at the dishonest media, but condemn him when he behaves poorly or supports policies or agendas that are not so conservative.
The “Never Trumpers” and those who support Trump no matter what are equally blinded by passion.
It has to be acceptable to reward good behavior while taking the president to task over his shortcomings. Donald Trump has appointed at least one stellar Supreme Court Justice in Neil Gorsuch, reduced the unemployment rate to record lows, cut taxes, repealed regulations, taken a dishonest media to task, and sided with pro-life and religious freedom causes, among other things.
He has also failed to do anything about the rapidly increasing national debt despite swearing to reduce spending, his long-promised border wall is essentially nonexistent, and his childish cruelty has shoved political discourse further into the mud, facilitating the greater tribalization of the American people.
This isn’t to say that the Democrats are any better. They’re not. They’re actively running a socialist in the primary race for president. However, the “Always Trumpers” are the type who will, when reading the above paragraph, become indignant at the very notion that a Republican or conservative would dare say anything negative about the president. They will take to the comments section in a huff to excoriate the author, calling them a disloyal cuck or something equally ridiculous, despite the clearly articulated message above that one can support President Trump, even vote for him, and still recognize the less flattering aspects of his presidency.
These “Always Trumpers” cannot handle dissent or any information that doesn’t comport with their worldview that President Trump is the greatest of all time and must not be criticized. Because of this, much like the far-left Medicare for All advocates who have lost all depth of perspective, they will respond to critics with ad hominem attacks and meltdowns.
Dispassion would allow “Always Trumpers” to step back, and see the world in colors other than black and white.
There’s no such thing as a world without passion. As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, passion is a necessary component of politics, and of life in general. However, when passion isn’t tempered by dispassion, it can evolve into a monstrous blindness that devours anyone and anything it perceives to be a threat.
Blind passion is poisoning us. The United States is two milky-eyed beasts on a collision course.
The tonic of dispassion is sometimes unpleasant, and it requires humility and a willingness to open oneself up to contrary notions, but if we don’t take this tonic, we risk destroying beyond salvage our credibility to fight for and defend the ideas in which we strongly believe.