Political Risk: A Personal Journey


John F. Phillips

The United States Capital, site of January 6th Insurrection

Politics, the crooked timber of our communal lives, dominates everything because, in the end, everything, high and low, and especially high, lives and dies by politics. You can have the most advanced and efflorescent of cultures. Get your politics wrong, however, and everything stands to be swept away. Politics is the moat, the walls, beyond which lie the barbarians. Fail to keep them at bay, and everything burns.” – Charles Krauthammer*

I haven’t written for awhile because my partner and I were involved in a horrific traffic crash that should have killed both of us, but we were able to walk away with moderate injuries, hers worse than mine. We are both recovering nicely, but because she hasn’t been ambulatory for a few weeks because of a broken ankle, I have been spending most of my time taking care of her rather than writing.

That doesn’t mean that I haven’t been thinking. Since the accident, both my partner and I have come to the realization that God spared our lives for a reason, that there was something He wanted us to do to make a difference (I’m not one to cram religious faith down people’s throats, but I have always been very up front about my deep Catholic Faith and I will not apologize for it.).

Aside from realizing that I wanted to become a better person personally, emotionally, physically and, perhaps most importantly, spiritually, I also came to the honest realization that I had reached rock bottom in terms of having lost my passion for writing about politics and international affairs. The constant conflict, division, and hyper-partisanship, the fomenting, rationalization, and weaponizing of conspiracy theories as serious political thought, the vindictiveness, and yes, hatred, on both sides, had mentally and intellectually worn me down and burned me out. In a way, it was like PTSD, which I have experienced, and the events of January 6th only intensified my desire to say to hell with it and walk away.

The accident and a powerful spiritual experience at Mass a week after the crash, an experience that was deeply personal and private, and one I won’t get into, changed everything.

Instead of walking away, I have come to understand that God is asking me, inspiring me, directing me, to “retriple” my efforts, to be a voice that, in the words of an old Crosby, Stills and Nash song, “speak(s) out against the madness, to speak your (my) mind, if you (I) dare.”

That gets me back to Charles Krauthammer.

I loved Charles Krauthammer. I didn’t always agree with him, but I always admired him and he had a tremendous influence on my transition from being a big government liberal Democrat to becoming a center-right Independent. Krauthammer was one of the last “old school” political commentators and thinkers. He was willing to consider alternative points of view, and generally open to constructive dialogue and discourse, while at the same time, crafting arguments that were built upon a foundation of deeply held beliefs and principles . As he wrote, “That didn’t mean splitting differences or straddling some ideological midpoint. It meant viewing certainty with suspicion and acknowledging, with both regret and resolve, the imperfectability of man, the fallibility of institutions, and the tragic, rather than redemptive, nature of history.”**

Who is that voice now? Yes, there are a few who try to follow the same approach as Krauthammer, people like Dan Rather, Tom Nichols, Tim Alberta, and others. The problem is, even these very, very deep thinkers and writers, to varying degrees, have been formed in and influenced by their professional experiences in Washington, DC, New York, Boston, and other enclaves that make up the “bubble” that surrounds the professional political class at the national level. Even Krauthammer was a product of this environment.

The problem with this is that commentators become part of an echo chamber that doesn’t always reflect the reality of the situation outside of the “bubble” in which they live and work. It creates intellectual silos that constrain honest thinking about other points of view.

In all honesty, this phenomenon is not restricted to east coast political and media centers of influence that are considered “liberal” by those who are on the outside, looking in. In the Midwest, where I live, “conservatives” have created their own intellectual silos that are just as much a product of the “conservative” echo chamber as the silos created by the “liberal” echo chamber they so richly condemn. I’ll have much more to say about this in the future.

Therein lies the challenge.

We have to acknowledge that these echo chambers have greatly contributed to the division and conflict that currently exists in our country. It’s like a married couple in the middle of a very conflict filled divorce. Both sides are yelling and screaming at each other, but not listening to what the other person is saying. Many times, reality is somewhere in the middle, but neither side is willing to admit that because it questions their own perspective on things and weakens the walls of the silo that they live and think in.

We have to stop demonizing the other side and acknowledge the fact that neither side has a monopoly on the good ideas. We as a society are so dug in with respect to our own point of view that we now attach terms like “unpatriotic”, “fascist”, “treason”, “socialist”, “communist”, “authoritarian”, and other such terms to ideas and people who disagree with our own point of view, often without any understanding of what the label actually means.

We have to stop practicing politics as a form of performance art, a reality show that plays out on cable news networks, talk radio, and social media platforms and call out those who engage in such behavior in order to attain personal political power and influence. Politics isn’t about doing the people’s business anymore. It is all about “owning” the other side and doing whatever it takes to make that happen. There is also big, big, big money to be made from politics as performance art, whether it is “owning the libs” or the progressive “cancel culture” that condemns any idea that doesn’t conform to “progressive” thinking. How many times have we seen politicians from both sides fund raise off of this crap?

We have to get back to being a political system of ideas and compromise. Right now, neither Democrats and Republicans actually govern. Instead, we have a Congress that has become ever more populated by people who want to throw bombs and blow stuff up, all the while never offering solutions that will actually address the challenges our country faces. It’s all about using the blame game and “whataboutism” to cover up incompetence in governing.

As a whole, Democrats are the party of moldy, oldie ideas that are centered on government having all of the answers and throwing money at problems as the answer to everything (How has the “War on Poverty” worked out?). The Republicans have become the party of no ideas because they are so busy fighting culture wars, some of which are decades old, that they don’t even think about governing and problem solving anymore.

The barbarians that Krauthammer talks about are at the gate, they have scaled the walls and are destroying the unity of our country. These are not foreign adversaries, but rather, barbarians that have infiltrated from within. If we don’t act now, the America that we all love will no longer be recognizable. I’m not going to stand by and let that happen.

As far as my future direction is concerned, I am rededicating myself to writing about ideas and concepts, and holding BOTH sides accountable. That was the original intent when I started Politics From The Heartland, to attempt to be a voice that wasn’t part of either echo chamber. Like Krauthammer, I am more than willing to look at all points of view and engage in rational discourse that offers criticism when it is warranted, but along with criticism, offer ideas and solutions that stimulate thought and action.

Also like Krauthammer, my world view is built on a firm foundation of principles that I think are important. As I begin this new journey, I will lay out these foundational ideas that drive my thinking in detail.

I believe as Krauthammer does that politics impacts all aspects of life and that the manner in which we practice politics and exercise political power reflects who we are as a society. This is true at the national, state, and local level. I believe that if we do our politics well, great things can happen. Despite our current division, I believe, like Dan Rather does, that more unites us than divides us and that in the end, the goodness and compassion of the American people will shine forth and bring us together. Politics can be a force for good if political power is exercised in a way that promotes the general welfare of the governed. We need to get back to believing that because the 20th century is filled with examples of what happens when politics is done poorly.

Forty seven years ago, I took an oath to defend this country and the Constitution as a member of the United States Army. I stood along the East German border and vowed that nothing was going to threaten this country as long as I had something to say about it. That oath still stands, it is perpetual, and the new East German border is protecting American democracy through my actions and words. I just hope that I am as good a soldier now as I was then and do my duty and perform the mission. Failure is not an option and quitting is not in my vocabulary.

I not going anywhere.

*Charles Krauthammer, Things That Matter, 2013, pp.2,3.

*Krauthammer, 2013, p.7.

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