We are in the political season. I say we are in the political season, but if you’re reading this you’re probably thinking I’m insane and you’d be right as the big elections were last year. For clarification, I tend to write my articles six months to a year in advance of publication. This allows me flexibility and it is also a trick to help me target evergreen topics. As I write this, we are definitely in the middle of the political season with two weeks to go until Joe Biden and Donald Trump lead their respective parties to victory or defeat. Naturally as politics is all around me, all the activity got me thinking about it in the ways that I usually contemplate the issues I encounter in work and life.
Normally I’m not political in my writing. Some would argue that point vehemently. They are wrong, I’m not a political guy, I’m a systems guy, meaning I look at the big picture and try to draw conclusions to better understand the world. I feel I’m not political as after some significant disillusionment several years ago I stopped paying attention to the politics of the day completely. That being said, I’m actually surprised that for the first time in many years, that I’m paying attention. I have no idea why I’ve started to check the news updates. When I say news updates, what I’m really checking is the battleground states daily poles. I’m not particularly passionate about any of the issues, at least not the ones that are being discussed via the stump speeches and other campaign outreach. I think my focus on the battleground states is, in part, due to the many news stories I’ve been listening to regarding political strategy. I find it fascinating how each party is attempting to one up the other through intelligent and targeted campaigning zero focused on undecided voters. The challenge with this one-upmanship is that the best that can happen is a party wins a cycle but the other party martials resources and catches up the next election. I guess that’s my first point, There is balance in the force:
Balance in the Force
What do I mean by a balance in the force, or more specifically, balance in the political force? I have cited this story before but I think it’s perfect to describe what I mean when I talk of balance. There was a time when my father, an avowed Democrat, would rant and rave about the billions of dollars the Koch brothers would put into campaigns against Democrats. His impassioned argument was that they were cheating the system by spending incomprehensible sums in support of the Republicans. He always dismissed it when I brought up George Soros, the infamous billionaire Democratic activist as the perfect counterbalance to the Koch Brothers. to me it was a lot like noise canceling headphones. No matter how strong the sine wave is on one side, the noise canceling headphones will create an opposite wave that cancels out the first. That’s pretty much what political activists are. The way I see it for every militant LGBTQ activist, you’re going to have a right-wing Christian conservative activist. For every big donor on the left, you’ll have one of the right. I even see it locally. There were some recent political demonstrations in my small North Carolina town relating to the removal of a historic Confederate statue in front of our old courthouse museum. Every day during the protests I drove by the statue and there were equal numbers on both sides protesting. It’s very similar to product marketing. Most mature markets coalesce around two big players. Apple and Android. Boeing and Airbus. Coke and Pepsi. Republicans and Democrats. There are countless examples. The point is, there is always going to be balance. Politically, if there is always balance, then what is the point of taking a side? That is the conclusion I came to. I know that if I was militantly liberal, there would be a militant conservative who would arise to balance me out.
It’s All About the Big Trend
You may ask yourself, if everything cancels itself out, then why do big things occasionally happen politically? Shouldn’t it be a perpetual stalemate? For the most part it is a stalemate. Yet, as there’s so much power sharing in our political system the way things happen really relates to the macro trends that are greater than any individual. Take a look at Trump’s 2016 path to victory as an example. What self-respecting North East A-moral, Pro-Big Business Republican would look at a large population of pissed off blue-collar workers and pander to them? A true conservative, at least when I was growing up, would look at that population and say: “You are responsible for your own success.” But the trend was clear, as corporations placed shareholder value above all, anything that got in the way of that, including human beings, was marginalized. No major corporation which outsourced a large population of workers made extensive retraining those dislocated workers a major component of their outsourcing plan. Little by little, the population grew to the point where it simply couldn’t be ignored. Trump was able to plug into it. Many would argue that his promises to the proletariat were smoke and mirrors. That is a debate for another day and another forum. My point is that the macro trend of the average American worker getting screwed over and getting pissed was unavoidable, and a candidate, even one you wouldn’t expect, was able to see it and plug into it, and wound up with the political upset of the century.
This, by the way, is why I think socialized health care is eventually going to happen in America. The tea leaves are unmistakable. We got into a system based upon employer provided healthcare as an unintended consequence of wage controls in world war II. It’s fundamentally a flawed system if you believe in universal coverage as a human right in an industrialized first world nation. It’s also obvious as hell to me that employers really want to get away from it. I say it’s obvious because over my decades of working with employers, I’ve never had an experience with one in any sector who championed their healthcare as much as other factors of their business. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the growth of organizations built around giggers and “independent contractors.” The entire point of the gig economy is to eliminate costs and risk associated with full-time employees, the biggest of which is healthcare. The socialists don’t want employers to provide health care, and the employers, no matter what they say, don’t want employer provided health care either. You can tell it by their actions. Bottom line, it’s going to go away sooner or later.
This is also a good moment to discuss why I always receive so many comments about how I’ve become a socialist, yet why I believe I’m far from it. I look at healthcare, and I think that the problem really has more to do with the fact that healthcare is intertwined with businesses. If we could decouple healthcare from employers, that would be a huge win for employers and the economy. Arguing for the benefits of healthcare separate from businesses is a very different thing than saying we need the government to own and operate the healthcare system. Personally, I’d like to see direct pay for basic services and some form of co-op solutions for expensive or chronic medical care that realistically needs to be annuitized.
You can see it historically. There was a time that 80%-90% of the people wanted to smoke or thought it was ok for folks who enjoyed it. Watch old TV commercials and you can see that not only was it legal and culturally accepted, it was also heavily promoted by big business. We eventually got to a point where 80-90% of the population thought smoking was unhealthy and wrong. Ultimately cigarettes become all but outlawed. No amount of money from the powerful tobacco lobby could stop this trend.
I’m going to make a prediction right now that we’re going to have a president Biden. Yes I can go back and edit this before it goes out to the world, but I won’t do it even if I’m wrong. The theory under which I make this prediction is that we are so divided as a nation and each division is very set in their ways. There really aren’t a lot of swing voters. The people who actually make the decision, are the ones who don’t really pay close attention to the deeper theoretical underpinnings of a party, and consequently have a leaning. They make a decision how they feel in the moment. As I said, that is actually how Trump got elected in the first place. He plugged into a group who’s been beat up for decades by the machinations of corporate America. Trump redefined it as trade and immigration. But let’s be honest, if the corporations weren’t operating in an macro economic environment based upon the Friedman doctrine i.e. that shareholder value is the primary, and really only, reason for the existence of a corporation, the issues of trade would not be as severe. That group, or I should say that issue is now superseded by another group and issue. I’m talking about those who have been affected by COVID-19. As I write this, we are still in the middle of the Pandemic. People have been stuck at home for the last six months with their kids trying to work, assuming they have a job. Unemployment is high. Add that to the classic political mudslinging season, I don’t think people are feeling real happy on average right now. It doesn’t matter who’s in office, angry undecideds always vote for the other guy. You get enough of them, then you get a new President, Governor, or School Board.
Everyone has a thing
I talked about the emotional swing voter driving the election results. In our tribe driven echo chamber oriented world, the vast majority of voters and everyone who’s not an emotional swing voter, has a thing. What I mean by that is nearly everyone has a primary issue or issue category that determines their political decision making. Call it their prime directive of voting. There is one thing, above all else, that they will vote for. It’s why no matter who is on the Republican Ticket, even if they are obviously not religious, the Christian Conservative vote will be overwhelmingly republican. On the other side of the aisle, it’s why the union vote will march in lock step to put a democrat into the white house, no matter what their labor background is.
I’m picking big broad examples here yet there are countless things that people hold in highest regard when it comes to decision making. For me it’s historically been about personal freedom Vis a vie freedom from taxation.
This anchoring to our thing, reinforced by the silo effects of our modern communication networks, means the preeminence of our thing is always reinforced by the inputs to our thinking. This is all a fancy way of saying, most people only listen to what they want to listen to, and believe what they want to believe about the stuff that’s most important to them, and nothing else matters. I think this is also the reason why such hysteria takes over people. If their core thing, whether it’s personal freedoms, their money, or whatever is threatened they see that potential as the end of the world. You can see this communicated loud and clear by both sides every major election cycle. If XYZ republican candidates win the world will end! If XYZ Democrat candidate wins we will all become socialists overnight!
So what’s the point of all this? I guess, to me, politics simply isn’t worth it. When I say politics I mean taking part in the political system. I look at the big picture and I realize that the short-term decisions about who’s in office is really illogical and emotionally driven. I also realized that the direction of the country is a bit like the stock market. It has its little ups and downs but there’s a clear trend that you can’t get away from no matter what you do. That trend is really tied to the changing values of the electorate. I also realized the vast majority of the electorate, the ones who are anchored to their thing, will never change their vote no matter how much money or time you spend on them.
As my grandma used to say, don’t put good money after bed. In this case, good money is my emotional time, and engagement. Bad is a system that simply won’t change no matter what I do individually. I’m sure if I had limitless resources, decades to work, and a very specific goal, I could influence a macro trend but I don’t have any of that.
I have to say, it’s much more enjoyable this way. When I look at politics and political machinations, I see it for what it is, a game or an impassioned performance that ultimately amounts to nothing. Maybe that’s why I have been watching the swing state polling numbers. Watching the ups and downs of this cycle is more interesting and entertaining than anything on Netflix.