A Principled Yet Pragmatic Politician?

A Principled Yet Pragmatic Politician?

As it happens, quite often, I was struck with the urge to write quite unexpectedly. Once again, Twitter was the reason for this and I found myself thinking about an issue far more deeply than you’d expect from a platform often given to the snarky, superficial, and utterly sarcastic.

This thread happened as the result of a poll.

This poll to be precise:


Pretty straightforward question, right?

Though the poll, with roughly 10 hours to go, seems to be leaning toward the “principled” side, the American political scene would likely convey a different narrative. Whether it’s Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, or any other “reformer” it seems that the People are largely seduced by the notion of a pragmatic politician. And why not? The idea of someone fixing the corruption that’s set in within our system, proverbially greasing the skids and rejuvenating an overextended, overworked (or out of work) populace does carry a particular allure.

This isn’t new.

The desire for pragmatists to govern those they’ve been chosen from is a hallmark of a nation ready for revolution. It is the death knell for many systems of government but is especially toxic to republican forms of rule. Why is this? Republican forms of government rely on very particular processes for shaping society. These processes are predicated on principles. Just what those principles are may vary between societies, but they’re based on an idea. A principle. In the American experiment, the Constitution was created to distribute federal powers. The government was predicated largely on mini republics within the greater republic, the federal institution being a mere adhesive to hold the nation together as a cohesive whole and provide for the common defense. It was kind of a reverse hierarchy, if you will, extremely limiting governing powers at the upper echelons of government (the furthest distance from the People), and giving greater responsibility as the government gained closer proximity to the People.

Federal, then State, then local community governments, then families, all the way to the individual.

Ultimately what the Founding Fathers realized was that a free society was predicated on individual action, not on an “efficient” government or politician. That’s why we have the freedom to select our representatives to become our government. That’s why practically anyone could run for office, however, with great power comes great responsibility.

At the close of the contentious Constitutional Convention of 1787, it has been said that a woman posed an inquiry to Dr. Benjamin Franklin as he left Independence Hall:

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”, she asked.

To which he replied:

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Now, perhaps, you’re beginning to see the irony of the Trump campaign-turned-presidency. The entirety of the American experiment relies on the People to properly execute the forms which have been laid out in the Constitution. The Constitution itself is a document which acknowledges that it isn’t a perfect document, and therefore gives provisions for altering it with the changing times, but the onus nevertheless relies on the People themselves to keep it intact. Donald Trump enamored many Conservatives as a “get shit done” candidate. They were fed up with all the overreaching that Obama had done in his tenure as Commander In Chief (to which Obama was elected due to Bush’s overreaches), and wanted to make a statement.

They did. They elected a pragmatist who promised the world. He promised to “Make America Great Again”.

Obama promised “Hope and Change”.

Both did the same thing. They convinced the People to sit back and let them fix the mess we’re in, and We the People have been all to happy to cede that power to them rather than taking ownership of what has been allowed to happen on our watch, just as our parents and their parents did. You can’t live in a house when you’ve gutted its foundation. The same holds true of the pillars of principle which uphold America’s methods of governance. They’re load-bearing walls which, when removed, precede an inevitable collapse.

In the wake of the election I read a fascinating piece that’s somewhat related to the topic at hand, and I had to link it here for you because…if nothing else, it struck me as intriguing.

I don’t have a use for “get shit done” politicians. I’m very skeptical of self-proclaimed “reformers” because I don’t believe reform ever comes from the top where the money, power and corruption lie. Reform happens with you and me. It happens when we assert our rights as sovereign citizens and demand that our elected representatives abide by the contract between the People and those they’ve chosen to govern which is the Constitution. It happens when we oust those who violate this contract regardless of the party they belong to, or if they’re “our guy”. People may view this idea of retaining principles in government as the sanctimonious preaching of someone who doesn’t live in the “real world” and doesn’t know when it’s appropriate to just forego the forms and “get shit done”. If that’s the case, so be it, but I believe that actions speak stronger than words, and that the precedents “reformers” have set throughout American history has brought us to the place we are today.

We read about people like Ronald Reagan, Franklin Delano Roosevelt,  or perhaps Abraham Lincoln and how certain men were placed into positions power “at just the right moment” and often these conversations are shrouded in a hushed sort of reverence. The great men who did what was necessary in times of need. Perhaps America wouldn’t have endured if we’d just stuck to that old Constitution…or perhaps it would’ve, and we wouldn’t feel the boot of a bloated, unsustainable leviathan from D.C. pressing on our necks. Squeezing our incomes, taking our freedoms, and arrogantly flaunting their lack of principles. The decay is palpable. The people know it. Yet we seek another “enlightened one” to save us. To save our nation.

The People always clamor for a pragmatist to govern when they’ve lost the will to govern themselves.

They ask for a savior for hope when they’re too tired to find it within themselves.

And when the precedent has been set, there’s no turning back. Oh sure, there are halfhearted fights and a great deal of grandstanding along the way, but the truth is that we’ve compromised our desire to be principled for the sake of expedience, and once we’ve found that there’s an easier way the labor of being true to our inheritance just doesn’t seem worth it.

Ironically enough, Abraham Lincoln, the same guy who suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus (how very pragmatic don’t you think?), also noted this in his speech entitled, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions”:

“Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.

And it’s true. In asking for saviors to make us great once again, we’ve lost our principles and our greatness. We’ve put the gun to our own head and pulled the trigger.

That is why principles matter.

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About the Author

Josh Carter
Josh Carter is the host of The Resistance Podcast, an independent, Wisconsin-based media project. He is a working class husband, father of two and a student of history and political and revolutionary theory.