I first ran into Heraclitus, a great Grecian shedder of tears, while writing in college about the fearful subject of Change. Heraclitus opined, in answer to my query about human disruptions: “The only thing permanent is change.”
I can’t say much has changed — as it were — in that department over the last 2500 years. In the great Preston Sturges movie The Palm Beach Story, we overhear Mary Astor telling Rudy Vallee: “Nothing is permanent in this world, dear, except Roosevelt.”
We get the point. Complacency of any sort buries the complacent. In politics — as the events of last week should remind us — the digging in of heels and the pious recitation of creeds doesn’t win elections. Activity wins elections. Intelligent repositioning wins elections. Reassessments win elections. And, brother, we’d better hope the Republicans catch on fast to that ageless truth.
I offer as consolation to the Republicans the fact they’ve plenty of time — well, not plenty, perhaps, but some — to devise a program for the expansion and exploration of American liberty; a program of which Jefferson and Lincoln would approve; a program to which today’s Democrats, for all their success with ethnic minorities and suburban women, seem indifferent if not hostile. It’s a winner of a program, nonetheless, if we can just talk wise and inventive Republicans into shifting to a higher plane the eternal debate over Donald Trump and whether he’s going to get impeached, and whether the House will dig into his tax returns and business dealings, and how long Matt Whittaker (of whom we had not heard before last week) will keep his job, &c., &c., on and on, to eternity or extinction.
The topic of Donald Trump — for all his amour-propre and love of a good fight — and granting him credit for his unexceptionable record on judicial appointments (See: Kavanaugh, Brett; and Gorsuch, Neil) — is in the end a distraction. It should not be the business before the house. There are bigger fish that need frying.
We really shouldn’t go on this way, asking all the time what POTUS is going to do; asking what POTUS isn’t going to do. Democracies are infinitely larger than lone individuals, howsoever much invested with power. Let’s get on with something else, because otherwise the historical forces identified by Heraclitus and Mary Astor are going to overtake our form of government, in ways major and not necessarily pleasant to the senses.
As Democrats seem indisposed (see above) to take their eyes off the president, the field is open to Republicans to chart the new path we know to be coming our way, as per the Heraclitan dictum.
The burgeoning, bustling America of today — so unlike the America surrounding me when I first shook hands with Heraclitus, somewhere around 1961 — is changing. The foundational need of a successful society is moral understanding concerning which Republicans can’t do much in their political capacities, save protect freedom of religious expression. Nevertheless, many new public needs require addressing.
The provision not just of education but for sound education: thorough and challenging and reasonably financed is a need at the state level — and also the need, the teacher unions notwithstanding, to foster choice in schooling, without bullying by the government.
The incorporation of new populations into our existing one — to fill otherwise unfillable jobs — is a major need: one requiring sense over sentimentality. No Trumpian “wall” is going to help, of course; but orderly processes emphasizing the desire to contribute to America, and to become American in every genuine sense, are much in order.
Health care, whether we like it or not, is what the polls say most voters care most about. We can’t keep the government out of what the government is already in over its head, via Medicaid and Medicare and Obamacare; but the maximization of independent choice, and the deflating of new government aspirations, are governmental ends to be kept in view by any liberty-loving assembly.
The scenery-chewing Trump can’t be kept away from political center stage, but out in the audience are Americans looking less for entertainment than for the order-in-liberty and liberty-in-order nobody seems able to find these days. That has to change — as does everything in due course, come to think of it.
William Murchison is writing a book on moral reconstruction in the 21stcentury.
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