Democracy Dies in Darkness


I left the Republican ideological bubble. I don’t want to join another.

December 3, 2018 at 4:39 PM

Now that I’ve left the Republican Party, I am often asked why I simply haven’t become a Democrat. In part it’s because I don’t agree with the progressive wing of the party: Some of them are as protectionist, isolationist and fiscally irresponsible as President Trump. But it’s also because, after having spent my entire adult life in one ideological bubble, I don’t want to join another. I refuse to make excuses for Trump — and I don’t want to be tempted to make excuses for a future Democratic president, either, as so many did for Bill Clinton after his sexual misconduct.

Jerry Taylor, formerly of the Cato Institute and now president of the Niskanen Center, explained the dangers of ideology in an important essay about why he no longer calls himself a libertarian. Ideological allegiances, he argues, impede the search for truth: “Given our very human tendency to filter out information that does not comport with our worldviews — and excessive attention to information that comports with the same — the more we repair to our ideological lenses, the more distorted they become thanks to a spiraling process of confirmation bias.” Taylor now prefers to pursue “moderation” rather than any ideological worldview. So do I.

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President Trump has irreversibly changed the Republican Party. The upheaval might seem unusual, but as Opinion writer Robert Gebelhoff explains, political transformations crop up throughout U.S. history. (Adriana Usero, Danielle Kunitz, Robert Gebelhoff/The Washington Post)

If I wanted any more confirmation of the dangers of what Taylor calls “motivated cognition,” it came in the hysterical reaction to my recent column explaining why I’ve come to recognize the danger of climate change and bemoaning that much of the GOP remains “impervious to science and reason.” The only potential solution I mentioned was a carbon tax, the most free-market approach possible to weaning us of our greenhouse-gas addiction. But you would think, to judge by the fury from the right, that I had called for the confiscation of all private property:

Goldberg shows that he hasn’t grasped the scientific evidence when he writes, in a faux-reasonable vein, that it’s possible to “believe that climate change is a real concern, with some legitimate science on its side.” Some? Try all. In support of his own climate-skeptical views, Goldberg cites the British science writer Matt Ridley. He has a D.Phil. in zoology, but he has not published peer-reviewed research in climatology, meteorology or any related discipline, and his argument that global warming is benign has been roundly ridiculed by actual climate scientists.

One gets the sense, as my Post colleague Jennifer Rubin wrote, that if progressives championed the theory of gravity, conservatives would denounce it. In fact, public-opinion research suggests that many Republicans would be likely to support climate-change solutions if they were proposed by Republican leaders — and conversely many Democrats would be likely to oppose them even if they would have backed the very same policies when put forward by Democrats. We’ve already seen the parties flip positions on Russia because of Trump. That is the danger of ideology, and why I strive for an empirical, non-ideological approach instead, even if that leaves me in a political no-man’s land where I am sniped at by both sides.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Our climate reality will catch up to us, no matter how hard Trump tries to bury the evidence

Max Boot: I was wrong on climate change. Why can’t other conservatives admit it, too?

Eugene Robinson: Climate change is real. Welcome to the new normal.

Max Boot, a Post columnist, is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a global affairs analyst for CNN. He is the author of “The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right."

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