Through most of the last generation you could find much of the edgy fringe of Idaho politics in Kootenai County, and pieces of a recent article about politics there helps locate one of the reasons things have gotten so worked up.
The article by Anne Helen Petersen on the site Buzzfeed is called “Here’s what happens when Republicans have no one to fight” (it is at https://www.buzzfeed.com/annehelenpetersen/wackadoodles-north-idaho). It describes in detail the evolution over the last half-century or so of local Republican politics, especially the relatively recent splintering between sundry pachyderms, Reagan Republicans, redoubters and others.
The most central current figure in the article is Brent Regan, chair of the Kootenai Republican Party Central Committee, where at meetings “people come to him, as if before a ruler, or a king.”
He apparently is not shy about expressing himself, writer Peterson said, and “when I asked him to help refine my understanding of liberty-minded conservative beliefs, Regan protested my use of ‘beliefs,’ which infers that they are, in fact, decisions — instead of ‘immutable truths.’”
The article quoted an email from Regan: “There is a right and a wrong, good and evil, and beneficial and detrimental. Society cannot thrive under Cartesian Relativism because it devolves into a muddle of conflicting ‘truths.’ The truths are that American Exceptionalism is the product of Judeo-Christian morality (The Ten Commandments) and of Logos (try to speak Truth), Greco-Roman philosophy (democracy and the idea that nature can be understood) and Anglo-Saxon Law (Magna Carta, the laws apply to all, even the King). The result is articulated in the most powerful political statement in history, the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution is a covenant between the states to create a federal government. The Bill of Rights does not grant rights, it forbids the government from infringing on those rights which “are endowed by their Creator.”
I reject his premise: These are not immutable truths. These are interpretations, analyses—ideas, opinions, which may have merit or not, but most certainly are not facts. Facts and opinions are different things. It’s a fact that Regan was quoted in the article as the last paragraph indicates. This column is opinion and analysis, and so is the quote from the Regan email.
Some of what Regan says here is just silly. American exceptionalism is the outgrowth of the Ten Commandments? Really? Other parts seem more sensible. I would agree that the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence is among the most powerful political statements ever, but how is that contention fact and not opinion?
This is not mere philosophical hair-splitting. The inability to discern between fact and opinion is subtle but also one of the most serious real political problems we have these days, and it’s getting worse.
A big part of what we as Americans suffer from is an inability to compromise—which is another way of saying, the ability of the widely varied 323 million or so of us to get along and to work together. A society made up of people convinced of their own absolute, unquestioning rightness, the lack of any need to learn anything new—much less about their fellow citizens—can keep our country from functioning. It can blow a society apart.
You want to turn America into an updated version of the ‘90s-era Balkans? Evidently, you can find a prescription for that kind of future up in Kootenai County.