Insisting on change for change’s sake

It’s not often that I quote National Post columnist, Andrew Coyne…ok, it’s never happened, but these might be extraordinary times. I’m writing on August 10th as Donald Trump is promising ‘fire and fury’ to North Korea and Kim Jong-un is promising ‘enveloping fire’ on Guam. I am not stockpiling post Armageddon supplies of canned food and water yet, but the news is still troubling. This column is not about the odds of nuclear war. I will leave that to people who know about these things. This column is about the scary downside of anarchism and libertarianism.

It’s about the pitfalls of insisting on change for change’s sake without considering the consequences or having a plan.

“Throw the bums out,” is not a helpful political plan, whether we are discussing government, school boards, corporations, religious bodies or any community organization.

Burning down the house only leaves ashes and rubble and nothing on which to build a future. The institutions that we humans create to serve us are intricate bodies with history, policy and obligations that must be honoured. If it’s time for change, well and good, but the idea of aggressive deconstruction of any institution is a very risky thing. The risk is heightened when power falls into the hands of those who have little understanding of, or respect for the institution they have come to control.

And so Andrew Coyne on the US – DPRK crisis states:

The lesson from all of this, painfully obvious as it should have been, is that it matters who is in the White House, not just who isn’t. Those who had convinced themselves that, whatever Trump’s manifest unfitness for office, “at least he isn’t Hillary”; if they had not already repented of their folly over the previous six months, must surely do so now. (He said with no conviction whatsoever). The presidency is not a ceremonial post; neither is it a program of policy. It is a command centre, with decisions to be made, many on short notice, sometimes with the most profound consequences. (NP August 10, 2017).

I suspect that most reading this would agree that Trump was elected for the wrong reasons. He was the ultimate “Hell, No!” vote of angry people united by little more than their negative feelings about politics in general, democratic rule, hatred of Hillary, racist hatred of Obama, mistrust of government, dislike of refugees and immigrants…the list goes on…

In my view, his election was a triumph of anarchy and me-first libertarianism. Trump’s most loyal supporters are anarchists, even though they would reject that term. Anarchy is “absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal”. These are people who mistakenly perceive the state’s role as taking their money and trampling on their rights. They might as well adopt the old revolutionary war slogan of, “Don’t tread on me.”

The other people who tilted the election were libertarians from the upper end of the economic spectrum, people who advocate unregulated capitalism and near absolute freedom to live however they wish. The two philosophies meet on the point of selfishness. They want what they want and hang everyone else.

The problem with both of these philosophies is that they define their positions in negative terms. They are against everything and only in favour of vaguely defined freedom. There is no agreement on what freedom should look like, no policy platform, no limits for the good of all…indeed no concept of the ‘good of all’.

Donald Trump was their perfect candidate, all incendiary promises and no policy. Despite the grand puffery of the campaign trail, there was no plan for how to actually govern. Six months and zero legislation passed is proof of that assertion.

Institutions of any size are only successful when the people involved understand how the organization works, understand that even if change is desperately desired, sometimes compromise is necessary. Working relationships must be built on trust and not dictated from power. This does not happen overnight. It takes time, often more time than the people will grant in these times of ‘instant gratification’.

Sweeping change is not often successful change. When the ramifications of dramatic policy shifts are not fully considered, real people get hurt So, here we all sit wondering if the Doomsday Clock is finally about to strike midnight.

That decision rests, on one side in the hands of a narcissistic totalitarian madman. The other side of the decision belongs to a narcissistic, short sighted man incapable of truly understanding the legacy of the office he holds.

Diplomacy is an ancient art, not always successful, but a useful tool in the quest for peace and human rights. It is a strategy of change. Like most change strategies it takes time and patience, not bombast and threat.

Diplomacy is frustrating and unsatisfying at times, but it sure as heck beats burning down the house.