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Farewell to Hackery

When I had to choose between my principles and my blinding partisanship.
October 29, 2019
Farewell to Hackery
"Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?" (Photo by Matt Cowan/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, after being asked whether he is Mitt Romney, Senator Pierre Delecto confirmed by responding, “c’est moi!” Wait, the other way around! A day later, former secretary of state and senator from Massachusetts John Kerry, also a fluent French speaker, tweeted, “Touché, Sénateur @MittRomney. J’approuve!”

When I saw this, I laughed hard. It was a cute moment. Romney was the governor of Massachusetts when Kerry was a senator from the state. Most likely, they are friendly, if not friends.

In the pre-Trump era, or in a world in which Donald Trump had crashed in the GOP primaries in 2016, I would not have found this funny.

I got involved in politics in 2014, when I started college. In that world, I still would have been the guy who thought that the GOP was the party of the smart and honorable, and that everything that the Democrats did and said had a malicious angle.

Donald Trump changed that.

He ran against every principle that I, and virtually every other Republican, held dear. His character was flawed. His foreign policy was Obama 2.0 but open about intending to commit human rights violations and war crimes. He was against free trade. He ran against cutting entitlements. The list goes on—and never stops!

And, naturally, virtually every single of those Republican officeholders came out against him, making the same arguments I just made. You see? My party was great! Here were my party’s leaders, the smart and the honorable, standing against the frontrunner of the field.

Then, Trump became the nominee. One by one, those honorable party leaders fell, and so did much of the conservative intelligentsia. As Jonah Goldberg likes to say, it was like the invasion of the body snatchers.

Beneath the tragic circumstances, there was a great awakening for the young college kid that I was: Politicians are human and prone to human temptations and failings, and party affiliation doesn’t change that. Some are good, and some are not so good.

The Trump moment has taught me that politicians can be honorable no matter how wrong I think they are. And they can be complete hacks with zero principles, even if they like judicial originalism and entitlements cuts.

Don’t get me wrong: I still think that John Kerry was a terrible secretary of state; the Iran nuclear deal was a disaster, and his declaration that the era of Monroe Doctrine was over makes me want to pull every strain of hair out of my head. But I now acknowledge that most of what makes John Kerry who he is exists outside of his tenure in politics, even though that’s all I can see. That just because I disagree with him doesn’t mean he is inhumane or stupid or ill-intentioned. That just because I think that he is wrong on most issues doesn’t mean he is wrong on all issues.

The last point is important. This might seem obvious to people more naturally ambivalent in their politics, or people older than me who had their eyes opened earlier, but I have come to appreciate that just because Democrats believe something doesn’t make it inherently wrong, and just because something is on the Republican platform doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily good. The fact that it was the Democrats who were warning about climate change didn’t mean that climate change wasn’t a real threat, as much as the Republicans liked to pretend it. And it doesn’t matter that Republicans have never seen a tax cut they didn’t love: At some point, you do fall on the left side of the Laffer curve, and you end up with a giant deficit.

Today, when I hear a Democrat talk, I no longer look for the best way to attack what they said. When I hear a Republican talk, I don’t feel that it I must make the case in defense of what they said. This isn’t to say that I used to reflexively attack Democrats and defend Republicans despite knowing better. The point is that I didn’t know better!

No, Donald Trump hasn’t made a progressive out of me. My political views—how small my ideal government would be, or how big my ideal military budget would be (for those who are keeping scores, $1.6 trillion is a good start)—would give most Republicans the impression that I’m a lunatic, let alone progressive Democrats.

So, in this very narrow and specific regard, I want to thank President Donald John Trump Sr.: I’m not a kneejerk reactionary anymore. This is the upside of being politically homeless.

Shay Khatiri

Shay Khatiri studied Strategic Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He’s an immigrant from Iran and writes the Substack newsletter The Russia-Iran File.