What is an overlooked part of our modern society is that many of the conventions that make politics run are not enforceable in any meaningful way. They are just agreements, unspoken, over many years that both sides will behave in predictable ways.
But what happens if one side abandons the norms of civil society and drags you into a state of nature?
That’s exactly where progressives are. Obviously, the Hobbsian version is a bit more rough-and-tumble, but it is not that far off.
Freedom Caucus Chaos
The House Freedom Caucus shut down the U.S. Government under Obama. Think about that for a second, Obama was not some tyrannical leader hellbent on changing the constitution to make him supreme chancellor, he was a moderate.
What he got in return for being a moderate, was political nuclear war. The Republicans spent eight years waging war on Obama. It’s a miracle he got anything done.
One of the most galling acts in this state of nature was the blocking of Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court.
Essentially, the black president was illegitimate, and anything done to him was justified.
In Australia during the minority government of Julia Gillard, the balance of power in the lower house was so small that Tony Abbott refused a pair for any reason.
A pair is where for votes on the floor both sides agree to sit out a person if the other side has an MP that needs to be somewhere.
A classic example of this working would be the foreign minister being overseas. They need to be overseas, and the opposition agrees to sit out one of their side on votes.
The government returns the favour if, for example, the shadow foreign minister needs to be overseas.
In this state of nature progressives are operating in, no such luck.
The Political State Of Nature
What life for Obama was like, and the Abbott opposition example show us is that the rules of civility, the social contract between politicians, has broken down.
Progressives are operating in a state of nature, they just don’t behave that way.
What has happened over the last few decades, is the right wing of politics has abandoned these norms and dragged the left into the state of nature. This state of being is intimately linked with the anti-fact movement of the right but is not the same thing.
I’m not a game theorist, but keeping civility during this stage can’t be a good idea. If one side brings a knife to a fistfight, you’re going to lose.
And the problem is voters don’t care. Their view is a pox on both your houses, even if one side is acting according to long-held laws, rules and conventions and the other isn’t.
I don’t know a way out. I suspect that until the right wing of politics embraces facts again, or is forced to, the left will be playing in a state of nature whether they like it or not.
The first step though is to recognise where you are and adjust your strategies, tactics and messaging.
So we are clear, I am not advocating behaving in the ways the right wing of politics is, or for abandoning civility, just that pretending that you are in Kansas is not going to win the day.