Liberty Expose: The Death of Rationality

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It has almost become a certainty; following a tragedy, inflamed rhetoric drowns what is left of reason in the discourse. If the internet teaches us anything, it is that the fall of man is real and it is infinite. Twitter is usually the delivery system for all things wrong in politics. Following the massacre of Christians worshipping in a small church, morally paralyzed individuals ranging from Internet trolls to commenters to authors to politicians dismissed religion as a healing power in favor of advocating legislation before the facts of the massacre were revealed.

This has become a common occurrence in American political culture. In our rush to judgement, rationality becomes subservient to emotional outgrowth that only divides the culture more than it already is.

Democratic politics retains its moral imperative only when democratic citizens refrain from emotionally-induced advocacy. American politics is a child of the Enlightenment; decisions made and policies produced must be done so only when citizens are divorced from emotion and predicate their decisions and policy preferences within the bounds of logic, as well as with the acknowledgement of intrinsic rights and universal truths. When this rule is not followed, political turmoil succeeds discourse and democratic virtue is undermined.

Which is why there must be a lay time between tragedy and politics.

There is a general rule citizens would be wise to follow, but usually don’t: assume that the other side has good and reasonable intentions, but has different opinions as to how to solve public problems. That is, don’t accuse the other side of being bad because they think differently. There are the few outliers such as racial supremacist and other extremists, but they are a small minority in the vast American body politic.

The point of civil society is to have a conversation, but too often this virtue is ignored in favor for the politics of obliteration one’s enemy. Take this recent headline from Salon, “Tomi Lahren makes statement about Texas mass shooting – and a Texan shuts her down immediately.” Or this headline from The Federalist Papers Project, “Byron York DESTROYS George W. Bush’s Trump Attack in Just 6 Tweets.”

The more attached to social media, and the more associated with ideological or partisan the media outlets are, the more sensationalist the headlines becomes. Having conversations have surrendered to the politics of obliteration.

Political commentary has become a framed narrative of absolute good versus malicious intent; it is the role of many media outlets to capitalize on anger and campaign on the intoxication of righteous indignation. Perhaps it’s just a fallacy of the human condition – people enjoy being angry, and strive to see themselves within the context of a struggle between good and evil.

In this mindset of moral struggle comes the demonization of one’s political opponents. A perfect example is a disgusting attack ad ran by the Latino Victory Fund against Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Guillespie, depicting a Guillespie supporter in a truck sporting a rebel flags attempting to run down minority children.

Emotion is easily manipulated by those who seek to ride the wave indignation to power. History is riddled by tyrants orating their way into powers, starting with Robespierre to the dictators of the 20th century. American politics has featured grievance politics as of late; though not consisting the vast majority portrayed by the media, there are still nonetheless Trump supporters who do see themselves as marginalized and victims of economic injustice. On the Left, the politics of identity and victimization help conform the narrative by portraying those disadvantaged enough to only think in terms of race.

Democracy and republicanism has seen a crisis in confidence in recent years. Polls have been published suggesting that Westerners, practically Millennials, are more open to the idea of living in an anti-democratic regime.

 One could almost understand why – the democratic republics of the West have descended into self-induced turmoil that turned off many voters. Some of this may be the retreat of Western culture and values, it may be that the internet is revealing a dark strain in democratic politics that has always existed, or it could be a little bit of both.  

For Western Millennials, this trend has become practically troubling as, opposed to earlier generations, Millennials have grown-up in a world in which Western democracy and republicanism failed to have a geopolitical existential threat. Many of the ideas and trends that have destroyed the tyrannies opposed to the West are finding a new audience in the West.

 The fruits of Western democracy are never guaranteed to the next generation, and we must take the Lincolnian warning that the great threat to American republicanism does not come from abroad but from the death of Enlightenment politics at home.

The first step towards the dark comes from making rash decisions following a national tragedy. Public policy can be a dangerous game – when legislation is enacted, it must be enforced if the spirit of the law is to retain any meaning at all. This enforcement has consequences, and at times people will suffer for it. Which is why the passing of policy must be done only when completed freed from the chains of passion.

When we demonize opponents, turn politics from a discussion to a series of rhetorical combat, and do politics not as civic duty but as righteous indignation, the spirit of the Enlightenment dies – and soon after that, the free republican system itself. The greatest existential threat to American political culture is a populace not willing to defend it.