MINOT, N.D. — There's definitely a theme to the emails I've been getting lately, and it's Trumpism. Also, the Bastiat Caucus, which is perhaps the purest distillation of Trumpism on display in North Dakota politics.
It's starting to feel like it's all I ever write about, but I'm not sure you can overestimate how important this shift in Republican politics is, both nationally and in North Dakota.
I often get accused of dwelling on topics for too long, though usually those complaints come from people who are uncomfortable with the critical scrutiny I apply to some policy or candidate they support. Judging by the feedback I'm getting, many people care about what's happening and want help in understanding it.
So, with that established, we go to this week's mailbag, which includes several messages from people concerned about Trumpism and the Bastiat Caucus and the future of the NDGOP.
Email email@example.com to get a hold of me. Correspondence included in this column may be edited for clarity and brevity.
Kelly writes in response to my recent Plain Talk Live episode covering the hate crime topic: "Wow, what a productive conversation! Many times, this topic devolves to one side, saying, 'Oh, you don't support hate crimes? You must think it's ok to be a bigot.' I mostly agreed with Mark (Friese, a Fargo-based criminal defense attorney), but I felt Wess (Philome, a Fargo-based Black Lives Matter activist) did a good job advocating for his cause. It was so refreshing to see a nuanced and civil conversation as opposed to the talking-head theatrics we see on cable news. Great show!"
Plain Talk Live is breaking new ground, both for Forum Communications and for me. We've never really done anything like it before. So far, I'm really enjoying the live streams, and it's gratifying to get this sort of feedback from the audience (Kelly's hasn't been the only positive message). You can find all the episodes at this link, which is the archive for all of my content, and if a video isn't your thing, there's an audio-only podcast version of the show too, which you can subscribe to on your favorite podcasting service.
Here's the specific discussion Kelly is referencing:
So many of us have lost sight of the point of politics. It's not a war. It's not a competition to see who can have the spiciest hot take. It's a participatory endeavor aimed at producing a policy that works best for the most. To do that, we have to be able to talk to each other and have meaningful discussions.
Whether the topic is hate crimes or taxes or foreign policy, we are never going to reach a consensus, but we can have a process we all engage in that, even when it doesn't produce the policies we prefer, can leave us feeling heard.
That's not very sexy. It doesn't make for good entertainment. But then, this stuff isn't supposed to be entertaining, though there are entire industries -- from talk radio to cable news to social media to book publishing -- built on the politics-as-entertainment approach.
Is there room for thoughtful discussions among people who disagree, often passionately, over even fraught topics like racism and hate crimes? Is there a demand for engagement between people who can disagree without being disagreeable?
I think so.
Kelly seems to think so.
I hope you think so, too.
Mark writes: "I am a Fargo reader and registered Republican who voted Democrat in 2016 and 2020. You have written many things over the years which I disagree with so that for a while, I stopped reading you because you seemed to have conceded to the conservative 'delusional thinking.' But as you showed during Trump’s four years, you have become more honest and more willing to call a spade a spade. I have acknowledged this change in you, and I want to affirm this in your work. But I want to go one step further and implore you to continue to move in the direction of rational thinking and awareness of what it means to live in a pluralistic society. I have made this move, and it is so freeing compared to the stultifying effect of the current iteration of the Republican party. Keep up the good work and best wishes."
I've been getting many pats on the head recently from people typically obliged to disagree with me, and it makes me think of the turn-around in perception many have for people like Mitt Romney and George W. Bush. When those men ran for president, they were reviled. Called warmonger and racist, and misogynist. But now, despite changing really nothing in their policy positions, they are revered, or at least condoned, by those same critics because they stand in opposition to the rise in Trumpism.
My attitudes about public policy have not changed. I am for limited government and individual liberty. I despise identity politics and attempts to manufacture equal outcomes as opposed to promoting equality of opportunity. I'm still a conservative, in other words. But Trumpism is not conservatism. It's not even really an ideology in that its organizing principle seems to be opportunism and anger.
I guess my point is that if you pay attention long enough, you'll probably go back to disliking me. Or, perhaps you'll see the points I was trying to make were never that unreasonable in the context of what the Republican party is becoming under Trump.
Don writes: "I appreciated your recent column in which you discuss the apparent melding of loyalty to Mr. Trump with Conservatism. I agree that Republicans should be more than opposition to anyone who doesn’t espouse the 'Big Lie.' In our democratic republic, there is a need for loyal opposition, but that doesn’t mean loyalty to a malignant narcissist."
I will never begrudge anyone for their honest disagreement. I can even muster a certain level of grudging respect for a socialist, despite the horrific realities of that ideology's toll on humanity, because at least they're being honest.
What disgusts me about Donald Trump, and Trumpism, is that it's built on dishonesty. Take Trump's appeal to social conservatives, for instance. That faction of the American body politic made much hay over former President Bill Clinton's adventures in infidelity and sexual harassment, and rightfully so, but now many of them have fallen on their knees in worship of a serial adulterer whose positions on issues important to social conservatives, like abortion, are about as authentic as a three dollar bill, and whose most popular campaign schtick was an insult comic routine so childish and juvenile it was beneath the dignity of insult comics.
I recently talked about Trumpism with former Gov. Ed Schafer, and he made an important point. Many of the policies and positions Trump espoused (with varying degrees of sincerity) represent solid ground the conservative movement can build on as we enter a new political reality. But, Schafer pointed out, Trump himself is a poor leader and a bad spokesman for his own policies.
Here's the episode, if you missed it:
Kevin writes, in response to my latest column about the ongoing efforts by the Trump-aligned Bastiat Caucus to take over the North Dakota Republican Party: "Sometimes it seems the Republicans in the state just think they can do whatever they wish and not what the constituents want or need for good government and leadership. Their shine has faded for sure for a lot more than the Bastiats, but for a lot of the NDGOP, sometimes they look like lemmings lining up."
The cause-and-effect relationship behind Republican dominance in North Dakota is that Republicans, starting with Schafer and certain legislative leaders in the early 1990s right up through most of our state's current Republican leadership, really did provide "good government and leadership." Despite what certain meddling activists might have you believe, ideology doesn't win elections.
Good policy wins elections.
Good government isn't about litmus tests and culture war. It's about plowing the roads. Fixing potholes. Running good schools. Fair taxation. Prudent fiscal management.
Republicans have been winning in North Dakota for decades because they've governed well.
This makes me curious as to what the Bastiat Caucus movement is so angry about. If you listen to them, there's a lot of hot talk about revolutions and tyranny, and maybe that makes sense in the hothouse environment of social media where these people thrive, but out here in the real world, things are actually pretty good.
We have challenges, sure, but that's always the case. The job of governing is never really done.
I would argue that the Bastiat Caucus movement isn't born of any understandable dissatisfaction with how North Dakota is governed. It's just a culture war. Those people gloss over the not-so-titillating realities of good government -- fixing potholes, making budgets, etc. -- and work themselves into a dudgeon because our governor doesn't see the point in, say, legislation aimed at fixing a problem with transgender athletes that doesn't actually seem to exist.
Again, Republicans have dominated North Dakota politics because they have, for the most part, governed well.
The Bastiats want...to change that?
We should all think about what that really means.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.