Why Not Change?

A recent commenter on this blog made an observation along the lines that the Republican Party was dying, but that instead of changing, the GOP was rigging the system in an effort to disenfranchise Democrats and reduce their voting influence. Although I have doubts that the Republican Party is dying, its base is a minority in the U.S., and that minority appears to be slowly shrinking.

So why don’t Republicans change?

Over the past several decades, some have tried, either by returning to the ideas of fiscal prudence and personal responsibility. Others have tried to bring in new ideas, such as true immigration reform. Those efforts have been rejected by the “mainstream” Republicans, although they do justify blocking any increases in social programs by citing fiscal responsibility, even while they cut taxes on the wealthy and provide business subsidies.

The only real “change” in the Republican Party is making a greater and more concerted appeal to the far right and ultra-conservatives.

Real change is difficult, both for political parties and individuals. This is true of both parties.

The simple fact is that we live in rapidly changing times, and the majority of human beings, while adaptable, resist rapid change. That’s understandable. Rapid changes are disruptive, both to society and to individuals. But we now live in a time where not changing can be even worse.

Coal mining jobs, for example, are not coming back. The only even marginally profitable coal mining is highly mechanized strip mining with greatly reduced jobs and tremendous environmental problems. That kind of mining likely wouldn’t be profitable if the costs of environmental remediation were included in the cost of that coal. The number of high-paying oilfield jobs has decreased enormously in recent years as oil producers have automated and streamlined operations. This sort of change is occurring everywhere.

Years and years ago, I found that there was essentially no market for my skills in the area where I grew up, and the jobs that were available that would support a family didn’t match my skill set. So I moved to where such jobs existed. The same was true of my wife when she graduated from college. To continue as a professional academic musician meant moving where the jobs were – and moving away from friends and family. While such moves were costly in many ways, including failed early marriages, we each eventually made it work and found each other along the way, which entailed yet another move.

Republicans tend to be conservative in more than politics, both in their family, and in where they grew up. The problem is that, if you choose staying where you grew up, particularly in rural and agricultural areas, all too often the economic opportunities are limited and pay less, even for highly skilled professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, etc.. This is a relatively new aspect of culture, and it’s caused by technology. But the people in these areas are angry that technology created a choice between staying with their roots – and getting steadily poorer, for the most part – or leaving everything behind in an effort to make a decent living, and with no assurance of that. Such anger fuels a strong commitment to a party that recognizes the situation and the fact that people either can’t change or won’t and identifies with those who feel that way. But for a party to tell people, in any way, that times are changing and that some change is necessary leaves supporters feeling disenfranchised. They want the benefits of technology without the costs.

The same is true of the Democrats, in a different way. They’re angry because much of their base has been disenfranchised economically and politically for centuries, and all they see is that the Republicans are doing everything they can to keep them down economically and politically, and any politician who suggests moderation is considered a sellout.

Right now, neither side can afford politically to recognize the other’s concern because emotions are running so high, and those emotions will remain high unless and until the majority in both parties feel that their situations are improving… and improving more than just marginally.

And that’s the challenge facing both President Biden and the Congress.

10 thoughts on “Why Not Change?”

  1. William F McKissack says:

    I strongly agree with this especially that conservatives are conservative in most aspects of thier lives. While technology has disrupted many things, we are getting closer to having it resolve this problem as well. The pandemic has shown that many of the well paying jobs can be done remotely. Off-shoring has shown that for years. The people with power have to be willing to change. It is often upper management who resists remote employees and the laws need to be adjusted especially the tax laws. Some companies don’t like remote workers because of the tax issues in having employees in more states. Others offshore because of how capital expenditure taxes are lower than operational expenditure taxes.
    I am not sure that the people in power want to change. Many of them have gotten significantly wealthier during the pandemic.
    I am reminded of many of your books and the challenges facing both the gifted/powerful and the leaders.

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    What might one imagine to be sensible immigration reform? It IS possible to enforce existing law, with a combination of walls, sensors, patrols, economic disincentives to coming illegally, etc.

    What’s lacking is the will; unions, leftists, chamber of commerce types, all think they’ll benefit by lots of cheap labor (or lots of discontent people that want more socialism, or whatever).

    Whether the existing laws are exactly right isn’t even the point, changing them by administrative fiat is NOT the right answer. And the humanitarian side is irrelevant in any excess of treaty requirements, and perhaps even then, SAVE THAT a different sort of attention to those and other considerations might just give people more reason to stay and fix where they are rather than bringing their problems here with them.

    We DO need some immigrants, the best and the brightest of those having skills in short supply, provided they’re willing to become good self-supporting culturally (what part of opposing invasion IS NOT ABOUT RACE don’t race baiters understand?) western capitalists and leave their social, linguistic, and cultural baggage behind, give or take cuisine and private beliefs, customs, and bilingualism – and aside from the same freedoms everyone has, NOT expecting much social accommodation for their differences.

    We do NOT need people who compete with our own citizens (although we probably ought to put work requirements on all of our own that are able-minded and bodied but sucking up handouts; that would also be a disincentive to those coming that are not serious about earning their keep).

    But regardless of the details, whether the existing law is changed or not, we need to be willing to enforce the laws on the books, or else just surrender to waves of third-worlders, or corrupt ourselves by treating any law that’s not popular enough as something to be ignored.

    1. MRE says:

      I’m not sure a lot of what you are wishing for is actually associated with the policies you are suggesting.

      If you really want to throttle immigration and lose cheap labor because you dislike the “third-worlders” and their influence on our culture (which is pretty funny since it appears that Cuban immigrants’ fear of socialism is what led to Florida voting Republican for the last few cycles), you will be seeing more out-sourcing and higher prices. Fair enough. Canada does this to an extent. Vancouver is filled with Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants buying up property because they meet immigration wealth standards and see Canada as a stable western economy where they can invest safely.

      I don’t particularly agree with that approach. My brand of conservatism likes cheap labor and fresh blood keeping our country’s population young and working. We can throttle immigration, raise the minimum wage, and even shorten the work day, but letting go of those policies is far more difficult once they’ve been enacted. I’ve got friends in France who still have trouble getting jobs due to the restrictive labor market.

      The point being, I really don’t see US economic policies being driven by the political activism of recent immigrants. Economic grievance on the part of working class voters who are having to adjust to the pressure placed on their wages from immigrants is a more plausible explanation in my view. Workers losing their jobs to cheap labor *hate* hard working immigrants, which fits well with the MAGA rhetoric; not some high minded ideological concern that these immigrants are importing socialism into our culture as they mow our lawns and clip our hedges. Part of that reaction is to dirty them up in the press, call them filthy third worlders and socialists who want to steal our hard won tax dollars.

      But socialist/collectivist policies don’t need waves of poor immigrants to advocate for them. After the last administration’s massive deficit spending, that war has been lost. The Democrats will have their spending bills because that is what both sides do now. Immigration’s theoretical effect on party ideology is something that I’ve seen mostly in Republican talking points, but not a lot of evidence for. It may be occurring at a grassroots level, which I doubt given political engagement’s high correlation with income, but I don’t see it having a lot of contemporaneous influence. It’s reaction to recent Republican policies, which have been divorced from any consistent ideology, capitalist or socialist, which has been driving the ambition of Democratic spending proposals at the moment. Not politicians reacting to some nebulous constituency of poor (and improbably politically active) immigrants demanding handouts.

  3. Postagoras says:

    With the advent of the Cold War, the Republican Party settled on fear as a way to excite a reliable set of voters. The Red Menace, Socialists, abortion, people of color, immigrants- all of these worked as sources of fear.
    Best yet for the Republican Party, this fear could motivate people to vote against their economic interests. This was a boon for the military-industrial complex, you know, the one that President Eisenhower warned us about?
    It’s not that the current set of Republican voters are averse to change and fearful. It’s the other way around. The Party has groomed a reliably anxious set of voters who profess strong values but who leap like trained hounds to every dog whistle of fear.

  4. Tom says:

    Reading “Fairhaven Rising” I started to wonder if “balance” is indeed the best result when comparing costs and benefits, black and white, chaos and order etc.? Specifically with regard to our present US national divisions, states divisions and governmental divisions. Is the cost associated with a goal exactly equal to the benefit inherent in that result? Possibly, but in a ‘natural’ world costs and benefits are usually not equal, and thus, placing them equal distances from the fulcrum does not result in balance.

    Fairhaven becomes a place of excess chaos before its destruction. Perhaps our USA is suffering an imbalance of extremism because the authoritarians outweigh individual to individual the socialists; despite their numbers being equal. Chaos creates more destruction than Order can rebuild. The final outcome in the US seems (at the start of 2021) to herald chaos or anarchy.

    Are there tools that can be used by those in congress who DO work to uphold their Oath of Service to the USA? Tools which can be used to stop Representatives or Senators such as Johnson from reading into the Congressional Record a conspiracy theory? Tools that can be used to pull 70 + million voters back from a lack of self-control before we destroy ourselves and open the world to Asian hegemony. Or are we totally dependent on “natural laws” which like ‘average citizens’ do not exist.

    The Federalists gave in to create the US Constitution. Lincoln fought the Confederacy to preserve the Union. Do the people of the 21 rst. century US not want to preserve “America”: to not preserve the concept and reality of US exceptionalism? It surely looks that way!

    I am not a politician. What action(s) by whom, will create the ‘change’ to preserve the Union and exceptionalism of US Republican Democracy?

    Or, like Christians, we have to wait for the Messiah and hope we recognize such an entity?

    1. William F McKissack says:

      Balance looks better to an individual watching giants battle. Most people do better when the world is not changing rapidly. They can plan and the plans have a better chance to work out. In the US now the change is rapid so there isn’t any balance. False dichotomies are being pushed to change the focus of the arguments and to hide the fact that the politicians are chasing golds. While there are some true believers in the leadership, most seem to be lining thier pockets. I would say to increase transparancy on the financial transactions involved in politics. We also need to learn how to better deal with weaponized disinformation.

      1. Tom says:

        It seems that conservatism should slow change through the maintenance of “tradition”. So instead of “progressivism” we should be better off with a conservative leaning socialism. That should mean lean government which deals with need rather than overwhelming remodeling, which can result in just as much destruction as the recent kleptocracy.

        Dealing with misinformation one needs to be really careful to not suppress the essence of democracy which is ‘free speech’. It seems to me that making the media liable for the misinformation they spread eg. via social media, is doable. The EU and perhaps the US is leaning that way.

  5. Nicholas Parker says:

    In my opinion Anyone who works for a government, any government, should be financially liable and held to account for any lies/falsehoods/misinformation/or “alternative truths” in anything they say to the public. I do not have my copy of Haze in front of me, but I think that this was how they handled and forced people in politics and power to listen more and say less.

    1. Tom says:

      Thinking of:

      Let the market system allocate resources and make sure everyone has the minimum necessary for bare comfort, but ensure that excessive uses or waste required extraordinary high recompense.


      Who ever controlled energy, communications and water controlled society. Food could always be found, made, or stolen, and the same was true of weapons. Industrious and inventive humans could turn anything into a weapon.

      I liked

      Most people just wanted to live their lives, to work at what they could, and enjoy what they could, and live without fear and insecurity.

      Financial liability would be very difficult to legislate so that, like Tax laws, they would not be taken advantage of.

      1. Tom says:


        This is probably what you meant …

        No polls or surveys. Anyone can say anything that is truthful to anyone through any comnet and any public venue. They just cannot contact anyone on an organized basis and ask what those others think. That also applies to debates and discussions in any governmental forum. It is a systematized way of avoiding political mob rule where government bases its action on what people think they want rather than on the best judgement of the representative. They try to reward leadership – not followship. There can be visitors in the government chambers but what is happening is projected into public areas.

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