October 28, 2016
I hereby retract my formal endorsements of Hillary Clinton and Colin Powell, stand by my renunciation of Donald Trump, and finally endorse General David Petraeus for President of the United States in 2016. I will be writing General Petraeus in on my ballot when I vote.
This is, as many call it, a protest vote. I am fully aware of the implications of protest voting. I am surrendering my influence over the 2016 election- and the right to say I fought against its ultimate result- to spare my conscience and future record from a Hillary Clinton/neoliberal globalist establishment association. Some would argue that I love my conscience and future record more than I love my country, since I am not doing everything I can to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.
This is not the case. First off, I love my country far more than I love my conscience, and will always subvert my conscience when the two clash. Wherever possible I will seek to align my conscience with the imperatives of service to my country. It is possible here.
As a Republican living in California, my individual vote will have little to no influence over which way this state goes- the gods of the polls have long since decided that. Were I living in a swing state that could potentially go to Donald Trump, such as my home state of Virginia, I would most certainly bite the bullet and vote for Hillary Clinton, simply to preclude a temperamental numbskull like Trump from soiling the office of the Presidency. But since my protest vote stands no chance of delivering the Golden State to the Destroyer of Worlds, nor having any other influence over the destiny of our Republic, I vote against both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump with a clean conscience as regards the ultimate result.
I am fully prepared to accept a Hillary Clinton Presidency, given that a Donald Trump Presidency’s reckless mismanagement, divisive social policy, and unpresidential demeanor is the only other option. I am not particularly supportive of the impending President Clinton’s neoliberal globalism, her progressive social agenda, her imprudent human-rights hawkishness, her subservience to the billionaire class or her freewheeling support of the regulatory bureaucracy. I especially despise her condescension towards everyday Americans, her constituents, those whom she will be pledged to serve.
But I trust that she will be a competent manager of American internal decline, and a prudent enough captain of the ship of state in these turbulent international waters we enter. She will not make fundamental reforms to the American system of governance and political economy, the kinds of reforms that we need; but she will shepherd elegantly the furtherance of negative trends in such a way as to preclude any of them from erupting into out-and-out crisis. She will be as a James Buchanan or Herbert Hoover- the last steward of the old regime, whose failures will be overshadowed by the victories of some new Lincoln or Roosevelt, I would hope, by the 2020s.
I cannot and will not vote for such a regurgitation of the past three decades and a slow lurch into a future I do not want. I will honor President Clinton as my President, in line with my duty as a citizen, while withholding my electoral support.
After coming to these conclusions, I determined to cast my vote for an independent Republican- not a #NeverTrump conservative looking for a new Reagan, but a pragmatic centrist Republican reformer who’d been alienated from the increasingly conservative GOP for years before Trump scared the daylights out of the Bill Kristols of the world. That led me to General Colin Powell, a great American. I defended and promoted General Powell in a debate at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library; as soon as the debate finished, I discovered that Powell had endorsed Hillary Clinton for President of the United States.
My withdrawal of write-in support for Powell is not out of disagreement with his endorsement. I respect his endorsement and understand why he did it- as a respected public figure, he does not have the latitude that I have in picking other options. He would be complicit in the election of Donald Trump if he, as a national figure, did not oppose Trump at a national level with all his force, by encouraging his fans to vote directly against Trump.
However, were I to maintain my write-in endorsement of Powell, it would be an indirect endorsement of Hillary Clinton, given that his energy is henceforth being funneled to Clinton. This, I could not accept- my vote would be for Powell, and to have it merely funneled towards Clinton would subvert the point. So I withdrew and began considering other endorsements.
At the top of the list were the non-endorsing Republican Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. After all, they declined to endorse Hillary Clinton, choosing instead to not take sides and work for bipartisan collaboration. I respect and admire both Secretaries; however, in their old age, I would be voting for a return to an older America than a push forward to something new. Fully respecting the Secretaries nonetheless, I chose to consider other options.
I considered the gag move of writing in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. I even wrote him a letter encouraging him to get back into public life at a subpresidential-level. But ultimately, though Schwarzenegger would be a fine write-in, the unconstitutional nature of him as a presidential candidate would relegate my conscience vote to a joke.
A few days ago, I went to an event where General David Petraeus was speaking, and a few days later I spoke with my friend and mentor Dan Schnur about the event. Upon further reflection, I decided that due to General Petraeus’s country-first mentality, pure patriotism, and cultivated competence in the arts of statecraft, I would write him as a candidate for President of the United States.
Some have argued that General Petraeus’s career in public life is over. I am not sure that this is true, given the utter implosion of Republican leadership forthcoming (General Petraeus has described himself as a Rockefeller Republican rather than a conservative,) given his depth of skill, knowledge, and wisdom in the conduct of foreign affairs, given his relative youth, and given his cultivated and natural respectability among serious public servants. His recent departure from public service seems to have sprouted more from the Obama Administration’s tendency to stab its own folk in the back (a tendency that also took out Gates and Huntsman) than from his own personal indiscretions, which he has since apologized for. I don’t know or expect that the General will ever run for President of the United States. I would not be surprised if, like Nixon, he rises again from the depths of scandal and wilderness, through his own contritions and services to the country, to again be an actor on the world stage and a force in the destiny of the American Republic.
Character, duty, service, and temperament all matter. And in my particular situation, I am free to vote my conscience in this most interesting of elections. I therefore vote for the non-candidate who nonetheless would do a better job as President, and guide the country towards a better future, than the clear winner. I cast my vote for General David Petraeus in the sincere hope that he enters public life again, in whatever capacity, and serves his country well.
I hereby renounce any influence over the present election, and commit myself to working for a better tomorrow for America.
Schwarzenegger sitting at President Nixon’s desk at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California. (Photo by the Richard Nixon Foundation.)
Dear Governor Schwarzenegger,
I’ve been an admirer of yours for some time, and like you, have anguished over the fact that you are constitutionally ineligible to run for President of the United States. Yours is a truly American story- you’re a Real American Hero- and temperamentally, you are what the American people and the Republic’s institutions need right now. The fact that we can’t vote for you saddens a good many of us old-line moderate Republicans and even more of your loyal fans.
But Mr. Governor, I beseech you- do not give up on the noble quest of service and duty to country. Do not retire to purely private life, and do not forget that you can still exert a good amount of influence over the future of the United States of America- more influence, perhaps, than most Presidents of the United States have in our history as a nation.
Other immigrants have become great public servants, as influential as the Presidents they served and more influential than Presidents they didn’t serve, and left their indelible marks on the country we’ve inherited from them. The greatest example, of course, was Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, the greatest American and George Washington’s “Shadow President.” He never earned, and never sought, the Presidency of the United States. But by the force of his mind and will, he served a variety of informal roles- Washington’s Grand Strategist, Washington’s Prime Minister, Washington’s Chief Counsel- that granted him powerful influence over the future direction of the United States. These are things the President cannot do alone, for the President must tend to keeping the people together and making the big decisions. But the President’s right-hand-man and counsel can concoct the schemes which the President puts into action.
Bonnie Reiss has told me that you’re an Executive by temperament and wouldn’t be interested in running for Senator or offering your services as Chief of Staff. I won’t recommend that you do.
But what you could do, Mr. Governor, is embark on a quest to become, again, a major voice in the national Republican Party, and influence future Republican Presidential candidates towards a more moderate course along the lines of something you would pursue.
Moreover, upon the election of the next Republican President of the United States, or even a reasonable Democratic President of the United States, you could offer your services as Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, or Secretary of the Treasury- a powerful executive in its own right- and essentially run American diplomacy, military affairs, or public finance as a proxy for the President of the United States. That’s what Secretaries of _______ do. Sure, they take general orders from the President; but they have the discretion of command and administration nonetheless.
In this role, you would be back in the public eye. You will again have influence in the Republican Party and the Federal Government. You will be able to influence the course of events in this country and, in many ways, be a national leader in your own right. And I would bet, that given your acumen and your ambition, that you would do greater things for this country than President Obama, President Bush, and President Clinton ever were able to do even in their Presidencies.
Sometimes the noblest service is by those who stand not behind the microphone, but behind the speaker; the invisible leaders and counselors who brief the Presidents, who build the policy castles the Presidents then use. Every once in a while, someone comes around and masters this art far beyond what any other public servant has done- the last thus far was Henry Kissinger. You may well be the next. The Shadow Presidency does not have quite the power and prestige of the Presidency; but it certainly has all the responsibility.
One more thing, Mr. Governor.
These times portend great trial and tribulation for the nation, and we need another great lawgiver and institution-builder and visionary of the caliber of Washington or Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt to guide us through.
But Washington, Lincoln, and FDR did not do it by themselves. They assembled teams of the best and brightest Americans to do the dirty work, and built the institutions of the Republic time and time again.
You can be on that team. You can be the greatest member of that team, and go down in history as the man who saved the Republican Party, the man who adjusted and rebuilt the nation’s economy, the man who ran American foreign affairs- whichever end or ends you seek. You can serve, and service will make you greater than those who have come before.
Mr. Governor, do not throw away your shot.
Finally, I’m looking for a master to serve in politics. I’m considering working for an establishment Republican- perhaps John Kasich, perhaps Tom Cotton, perhaps John McCain, perhaps Lindsay Graham. But it would be a true honor- a true, true honor, Mr. Governor- to work directly for you, to stand by your side in this moment of history, and to help you do great things. For the future of the country, I hope you consider my suggestion, and re-enter the rough-and-tumble of public life at levels lower in authority, but equal in responsibility and honor, to the Presidency of the United States.
Thank you for reading my message, and God Bless you, Mr. Governor.
Lin-Manuel Miranda for freaking President already. He’s already more qualified than Donald Trump.
The two basic jobs of the President are 1) conduct foreign policy in the national interest and 2) shape the national debate and national narrative. You could always be TR/FDR/LBJ and be good at building Congressional coalitions to pass major domestic reforms, but that’s not part of the job description. Leave that to Congressional leaders.
It’s darn easy to outsource foreign policy to Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon, which leaves “Story-Teller-in-Chief” as the primary thing the President, the Face of the Nation, is supposed to be.
LMM’s storytelling capacities are beyond compare and he is one heck of a good American. Who’s to say he wouldn’t put his annual State of the Union to music, like he did to the Farewell Address in the musical? “Hamilton” reveals how serious and deep a person he is too, yet his public image reveals how “good a guy” he is simultaneously.
He’s socially liberal enough that liberals worship him and he’s an apostle of the Founders so conservatives should be able to stomach him. He takes the American story and tells it in modern words.
That’s what we need. Not a technocratic hyperliberal like Hillary, and not a reactionary populist demagogue like Trump. We need someone to tell America’s story to America and the world, to remind us who we are.
Lin-Manuel for President.
In light of the recent and simultaneous “revelations” about Trump on sexism and Clinton on bank speeches, here’s my hot take.
You can basically vote Trump and side with White Populism, vote Clinton and side with Liberal Globalism, or vote your conscience, third partiers, and forsake your right to complain about whoever wins because you didn’t block them.
Trump voters- is White Populism REALLY better than Liberal Globalism?
Clinton voters- sure it’s better than White Populism, but do you REALLY want to be associated with Liberal Globalism and the corrupt neoliberal overclass right as the public’s faith in our institutions is tanking and those institutions are crumbling?
Voting against one means voting for the other. You can either be for White Populism, or for Liberal Globalism.
Or you can throw away your vote and right to complain about the outcome and vote third party (like me voting for Colin Powell.) but if you do vote for some idiot like Johnson or Stein or McMullin, or for some Real American Hero like Vermin Supreme or Colin Powell, and you vote your enlightened conscience, you’ll be guilty of not blocking the election of either Trump or Clinton and thus won’t have any real right to complain about either being President. Can you stand that? Does your conscience matter so much to you that you’ll give up the ability to actually influence events?
Same with just not voting.
So you have three bad choices- vote White Populist, vote Liberal Globalist, or vote in such a way that your vote doesn’t count. If you’re not slightly concerned about your choice (and you must make one of these three choices) you probably don’t have many good ideas about how to move the country forward. If you’re concerned and guilted about your choice, you probably will be somewhat more useful as the impending crisis storms through.
Three bad options? None you’d be proud of?
Then stop being so self righteous, so messianic, so certain, so fascistic about how right you are about politics. Politics is tragedy; politics is about making the least bad choice; politics is about keeping people from destroying each other, not building a better world. It’s not a black and white affair and it should not be discussed as one.
And by the way, all this applies to me- I’m not asking anybody anything I wouldn’t already expect of myself. (Especially because I’m throwing away my vote and right to complain by writing in Colin Powell.)
My mind has been returning again and again to religion as a concept these last few weeks, and an idea I’ve held for some time keeps coming to the fore. Namely, that “religion” is a far wider concept than most hold it to be, and influences political and social life more deeply than most would care to admit.
Functional Religion Vs. Theological Religion
First, we should distinguish between two conceptions of religion: Functional, and Theological. Theological Religion is what comes to mind for most people when they think of the world’s great religions- Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and all their infinite permutations, along with more traditional animisms and paganisms from pre-modern times which, occasionally, still survive to this day. Theological Religion deals explicitly with the metaphysical- who or what is God or Gods? What do they want us to do? What is their nature? Are they even there? Atheism, as we moderns know it, typically positions itself as a rational refutation of all forms of Theological Religion.
But some would note that “atheists” and “secularists” since the dawn of the modern era have oftentimes acted “religiously” in ways that even true believers in the Theological Religions would find pious- fighting and dying for nations and ideologies, supporting panhuman causes of universal human dignity, embarking on great quests of social reform, and more. It would almost seem that religious behavior, if not religion itself, is integral to human social nature.
There’s an easy explanation for this, I think. Since secularism and the refutation of Theological Religion as an organizing principle of public life has grown in the West since the Enlightenment, there has been a concomitant rise in another phenomenon, which I will call here Functional Religion.
Functional Religion, by my definition, is basically any widely-held set of social-moral beliefs that meets three criteria:
- It deals with absolute right and wrong.
- It deals with questions of individual and social human nature.
- It has implications and recommendations beyond the believing individual, reaching out to society as a whole.
This is to say, Functional Religions- like, say, Liberal Modernity, Communism, Nationalism, Environmentalism, and any other of the vast number of social belief systems that meet these three criteria- operate functionally more or less like Islam did for the Arab societies of the 7th Century, like Confucianism did for China for so many centuries, like Protestant Christianity did for many of the post-Reformation European states. They provide individuals and societies with a sense of moral purpose around which to order themselves and behave, and an analytic lens by which to examine and approach timeless questions and timely debates. Marx and Rousseau, in this regard, are prophets to the same degree that Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha were.
The Epistemology of Functional Religion
This view of Functional Religion as a natural human social phenomenon, of course, rests on a couple of assumptions. The most important of these are:
- Human beings are partly rational and partly spiritual beings.
- There is some form of ultimate reality, but human consciousness can only sense and interpret it- never understand or create it.
- All human interpretations of this ultimate reality are therefore social constructions, necessarily contingent on social and intellectual conditions around the time of their practice and creation.
- All Functional Religions, therefore, are complex amalgamations of universal truth and social construction, and all have some claim on truth while none have a full claim on truth. Any attempts to lay full claim on truth seem to have social consequences resulting mostly in tyranny or persecution, such as the Inquisition, the Reign of Terror, and the purges of the Fascists and Communists in the 20th
I come at this question from a philosophically Skeptical point of view, yet a Universalist conception of moral and spiritual reality- an odd mix of David Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and C.S. Lewis’s universalist pretensions in the Appendix of The Abolition of Man. Hume teaches that human understanding is always limited and incapable of reaching universal truth; Lewis teaches that there are basic universal moral instincts sewn and sown into the human breast, which inform all moral thought.
Marry these two conceptions together, and you get a rejection of Jacobin-style moral universalism on the one hand, and a rejection of postmodern relativism on the other. There is universal truth and order in the chaos, somewhere out there, and we can know it’s there; we can’t, however, know exactly what it is or how to live it. Every human attempt at understanding it- which will always happen, because societies will always strive to justify and know themselves- will always be necessarily limited, but fruitful. We will never know truth, but we will always approach it.
This approaches something like the understanding the philosopher Isaiah Berlin attempted to convey in his essay, “A Message to the 21st Century-“ that there is a truth out there, but that there will always be different interpretations of it simply due to human social nature, and that we must never delve into universalistic hubris and must always tolerate the dissent of heretics. It’s not pure rationalism; but neither is it pure relativism. It’s hard to pin down, which, perhaps, may be why it’s hard to turn into a political program.
Examples of Functional Religion in Modern History
I won’t pretend to be able to list and categorize every single brand of functional religion out there across modern history, any more than any scholar of theological religion would attempt to list and categorize every theological religion out there. There are a couple of examples, however, which stick out, and are worth examining and illustrating conceptually at some length here. Like the Theological Religions, they each have their holy texts, their quasi-theological disagreements, their high priests and laymen, their excommunications and heresies, and the like. Unlike the Theological Religions, they do not view themselves as explicitly religious- but, in my view, are so nonetheless.
Though something like Nationhood or Nationalism has probably existed from time immemorial, with pan-tribal identities being churned into states, Nationalism as we moderns know it really is a product of the Enlightenment and therefore a child of Modernity (which is a religion in itself.) Its basic tenets are simple- that small-to-midsized groups of people share enough in common that they are uniquely one, that they are bound together by shared heritage and experience, usually sacrifice, that their symbols define that heritage and experience and are therefore sacred, and that there are distinct boundaries between a nation’s kinsfolk and foreign “others.”
Not every nation has nationalism, but those that do feel it strongly. The heads of state of these countries normally are in some ways religious leaders or figureheads, too- witness the semi-spiritual symbolism of the President of the United States or the Queen of England. More importantly, the citizens of these countries will oftentimes fight and die for the nation and its ideals- something that, a millennium ago, was reserved almost exclusively for communities defined by faith, as kingdoms normally had their own religious practices.
The elevation of nationhood to sacred status is one of the most interesting things about modernity, and it is best illustrated by the revered nature of heads of state and the sacrificial nature of patriotism. Unlike many faiths, though, nationalism is by its own nature parochial, not universal. It would be helpful to analyze some universalist Functional Religions, too.
One such universalist Functional Religion is Communism, Communism being that school of social thought and body of historical practice defined by the works of the prophets Marx and Engels, among others, and the life-works of various warrior-prophets like Lenin and Mao.
Communism has (or had, as its star has mostly faded now) a philosophy of history unique to itself- a complex theory of economic revolutions precipitating social revolutions with political consequences, inexorably marching forward towards a grand new utopian future. True Communists believed that this process was happening naturally and that the purpose of true believers was to help bring it about as vanguards in the various regions of the world afflicted by late-stage Capitalism, where the revolutions would most likely soon occur.
Like Nationalism, many true believers fought and died for Communism, and its high priests led its march across Eurasia with a crusading religious fervor. They believed in the universal application of Communist ideas, given that it was a natural historical process rather than an “ideology,” in their view. This combination of factors- a unique epistemology of historical progress and right and wrong, a devoutly personal attachment to the broader social cause, and a complex social organization of Communist institutions resembling the Church bureaucracies of old- puts Communism squarely in the tradition of functional religions, and probably the second most influential of all those of the modern period.
The most influential functional religion of the modern period, though, is the one that informs most of us (and certainly animates our political and social elites) nowadays in the 21st Century. That functional religion might be called “Liberal Modernity-“ it is an amalgamation of ideas about human equality, social progress, and international integration that expresses itself in the progressivism of most social discourse nowadays. It generally accepts internationalism and the neoliberal conceptions of free markets coupled with public social safety nets, and has a decidedly feminist and multicultural bent on social issues.
Liberal Modernity has its high priests- the purveyors of culture in media and the academy- as well as its rituals and holy texts. Most would not even consider it to be a functional religion, thinking of it instead as simply the natural way things are supposed to be- which further underscores its religious nature, given that it deals with a society’s basic conceptions of right and wrong and has serious implications for social structure and policy.
There are many schools of Liberal Modernity- for example, the Liberal Modernity of neoconservative foreign policy elites differs from that of Silicon Valley tech oligarchs- but generally these are mere doctrinal differences. The belief in human progress, human equality, and cultural cosmopolitanism informs educated elites and publics across the West, and Western-educated elites in most parts of the developing world. Liberal Modernity is, in this sense, a truly global religion, and as such it is the basic creed of one of the world’s global institutions of governance- the United Nations.
The United Nations vs. the Nations, the Papacy vs. the Kingships
Liberal Modernity very much informs the educated elites who staff and fund the United Nations and the ecosystem of social-progress and internationalism-oriented NGO’s and foundations across the world. The UN’s founding documents, in fact, even testify to the human-universalist nature of the UN’s world mission.
As such, the UN is often the butt of criticism from more Nationhood-minded elites and publics across the world, especially in the developing world but increasingly within the West, too. While some would call this a quintessentially modern phenomenon, it seems to me that there is a direct historical parallel to the UN’s universalism versus the nations’ parochialism- the history of the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and its client kingdoms, particularly from the late Middle Ages through the beginnings of the Renaissance.
In essence, the Roman Catholic Church was a Christendom-spanning political institution premised on regulating relationships between Christian states and encouraging their progress towards Catholic social teaching. It often took on political initiatives and military campaigns on its own regard, ostensibly for the good of Christendom as a whole, sometimes with its own initiatives in mind. Its legitimacy was founded upon the Papacy- the Church’s connection as a whole to the life of Jesus Christ through Peter, the first Pope. In Medieval Europe, a largely Catholic society, the Church’s authority was very real, and oftentimes conflicted with the constituent kingdoms despite the doctrine of “Render unto Caesar” that otherwise made clear the distinction between religious obligation and political obligation. These dividing lines were not really cleared until after the Reformation and the Hundred Year’s War, with the strict enforcement of local religious choice made in the Peace of Westphalia.
Fast-forward a couple of centuries, and you have the United Nations- a Liberal Modernity-spanning political institution premised on regulating relationships between modern liberal states and encouraging their progress towards Liberal Modern norms. It takes on political initiatives and military campaigns on its own regard, ostensibly for the good of humanity as a whole, sometimes with its own initiatives in mind. Its legitimacy was founded upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights- the UN’s quasi-spiritual statement of the most important truths of political reality. In the modern world, the UN’s authority is very real, sometimes conflicting with the imperatives of its member states. The dividing lines of sovereignty are often muddy, and never quite clear.
Though the United Nations and the Roman Catholic Church both are and were political institutions, they were animated and justified by a primarily religious sensibility that is, in many respects, quite similar in both situations. Moreover, the religious sensibility animating the Church and the UN is in most ways equally legitimate to the nationhood and kingship that informed and informs the teachings of both institutions’ respective client states. As such, the contest between international authority and national sovereignty is not solely a question of institutional turf-fighting- it is in many ways a religious conflict, based on conflicting loyalties to universalist religion and parochial religion. We should expect that some similar form of tension will exist so long as the Western international system is around.
The Root of History
Some would say geopolitics or some other material factor is the most important source of historical direction, or that money is the greatest imperative for human action. I would disagree- to me, it seems clear that religion– not merely Theological Religion, but Functional Religion as well- is the primary determinant, given that it informs individuals’ and societies’ beliefs about who they are and what they are supposed to do. Geopolitical and economic calculations set the boundaries of what can do, but functional religions set our sights on what we hope to do, which is the driving cause of action among societies and individuals alike.
Therefore, to understand why human societies behave as they do, it is not sufficient merely to understand their environments and physical histories, though this is important too. Far more important is understanding their cultures, their social structures, their myths and legends and the stories they tell themselves, and the goals towards which they are oriented. This knowledge of social soul will speak much about the in-the-moment decisions cultures make, alongside their long-term motivations and goals. Material concerns might shape these, but not drive them. Both are important to understand; but if it came down to a choice, understand the minds and cultures first, every time. Getting the religion, particularly the Functional Religion, correct, is the first step to understanding why peoples do what they do.