CDS Column: Scraps at the Christmas Table

It’s less than a week until Christmas. I still have shopping to do, cards to write, family to see. There is snow on the ground, the ski lifts are running, and Mount Washington is glistening its most majestic. I don’t really want to write about politics.

But I feel like I ought to. Somehow evidence that Russia meddled in the U.S. election has become partisan. Hackers did what they could to sway the vote, and here we are bickering about it like children.

How did it come to this? How did we get to a point where we fight among ourselves while a foreign power toys with our democratic process?

This shouldn’t be complicated. It is easy to focus all citizens on concerns about Russia’s foray in our election. It’s an issue that affects every American.

Lots of Americans are concerned with unfair elections. That was made clear this campaign season. Candidate Donald Trump repeatedly called into question the legitimacy of the American electoral process. He even said he might not accept the outcome while his surrogates raised concerns about voter fraud.

But now? Where is that concern now? Who is willing to stand up and say something about the sanctity of the American process? Who is willing to rebuke Russian influence in our election? No one within the president-elect’s administration. Somehow defense of basic American civic process has split along a partisan divide, and KGB-style meddling goes unchallenged.

But that has become a theme in our country as the American Century has splintered. We have become bickering children arguing over table scraps. Trump won. There would be no punches pulled. Even as the American electoral process takes a hit.

We’ve seen this before. For years we have watched the Congress choose winning over governing. There was no compromising on workable solutions to real world problems. The fight was bitter, and We the People wound up the losers.

Supporters of Donald Trump rejoice that his rise will bring change to Washington, the draining of the swamp. But his blind eye toward Russia indicates more of the same — someone more invested in winning than on governing.

But regardless of his temperament, his party will have to govern. His promises to scrap regulation and Obama administration programs like the Affordable Care Act mean he and his team will be forced to implement a new American vision. What will that look like? Will it be one more winner-take-all proposition, or can Trump conceive of America as a place of growth for everyone?

His initial rhetoric is not encouraging. But the fact is despite Trump’s language of exclusion, America is not a zero-sum country. If our history has proven anything, it is that capitalism and ingenuity mixed in an American pot make it possible for everyone to rise. The children of immigrants can become wealthy. The descendents of slaves can be president. This is America’s legacy.

But the current strain of conservatism seems to read a different narrative, one where America is a land of scarcity. There are winners and losers and where anyone willing to pull punches might find themselves at the bottom.

That narrative has kept Donald Trump from coming out strong against Russian election influence. If Trump gives an inch, according to this reasoning, his entire victory and future administration could come crashing down.

But is his administration that fragile? Wouldn’t it be possible to fight for the sanctity of the process and the rights of all Americans to be left unmolested as they choose their president without handing Hillary Clinton victory? Where is that confident voice, Mr. Trump?

This isn’t the only place where this administration divides the world into winners and losers. Jobs and immigration get the same treatment: There are only a certain number of jobs, the narrative goes, and if immigrants are willing to do jobs for less, Americans lose. If China and Mexico are willing to produce cars or air conditioners or computers for less money, Americans lose again.

But economics doesn’t work that way. The beauty of capitalism is its capacity for growth, the ability to take a given set of inputs and leave everyone with more. Adam Smith described this idea more than 200 years ago, in 1776, the same year we declared our independence. And it is how we’ve approached commerce ever since. We aren’t left with table scraps. Yes, there are winners and losers, but that is part of capitalism’s creative destruction. And on balance America is winning.

This used to be the heart of conservative ideology. Adam Smith was Republican dogma. But just as Democrats were once Dixiecrats and Republicans were once the natural party of black voters, things change. Now conservatives abandon faith in the market and backpedal from free trade.

It is sad to watch the incoming administration approach the American worker so pessimistically. Our capacity to exist, survive and thrive on the world market is not weak. Yes, we have sectors that have become obsolete. I work in one of them: Newspapers are tanking as a result of the internet. And while we may look back nostalgically, we can’t unwind progress. We can’t disconnect from a global economy. Our job is to figure out what we do well, how we can best compete, and then throw our collective might into that sector. This is not a time to blame immigrants or trading partners, to lash out at natural allies (Mexico) and ignore the provocations from adversaries (Russia). It’s a time to claim our place within the world and its markets confidently, and to support those caught in capitalism’s creative destruction.

Instead we’re chasing table scraps and ignoring Russia. Merry Christmas.


This column appeared in the Conway Daily Sun.

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