“Indeed, it is a strange-disposed time:
But men may construe things after their fashion,
Clean from the purpose of the things themselves.” 

Cicero from Act 1, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Politicians rarely pursue their purposes independent from the necessities they face. Prudence demands they respond to practical incentives rather than fall on the sword of their principles.  

Put differently, practicality may be the truest and sharpest principle in politics, allowing political practitioners to cut loose the creeping cowardice of conscience, fashioning their choices as if they had no choice at all. 

In normal times, such a practical approach rarely invites controversy or confusion. Political normalcy breeds a stable and dominant incentive structure that all politicians must accept as the only game in town, leading to a fairly smooth and predictable process for power to be administered.  

But normalcy only lasts so long. A given game may be dominant for a short time, even a few generations, but eventually, the same game develops blind spots, sowing the seeds of its own destruction and ushering in strange times.  

In strange times – wherein once trusted institutions and dominant interests begin fading in power and prestige – practicality can then cut in many different directions, revealing new paths for ambition to tread.  

Such a cycle is largely inevitable, and Americans are in the midst of such a cyclical change. Strange times have befallen the United States to much controversy, confusion, division, and dissent.  

America’s apple of discord was revealed in recent comments from Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Saks).  

“Ukraine is the sticker,” Rogers told the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce regarding funding for the Ukrainian war. “Here's the problem: we have some ignorant members. They're not stupid. Some of them are stupid. Most of them are just ignorant about the topic." 

Rogers continued his laments in an interview with “Capitol Journal’s” Todd Stacy, blaming the changed media landscape as the cause of American discord:  

I'm of the opinion, cable TV and social media is what's really driving this problem because — and cable TV, you know, these different cable news networks. They're so-called news. They're really opinion networks — they pick a business model that goes after a certain demographic. They really pander to that and they keep them stirred up, keep the eyeballs on the TV. All that stuff creates hostility itself. But social media is just taking gas and throwing it on the fire. 

… [W]e have members, their sole source of fundraising is online. And the way they get the online contributions is do something outrageous on camera, whether it is on the floor, with the media that they can tweet out ... to get the small-dollar donors. They raised enormous sums of money doing it. So. I don't know the answer. I don't think social media is going away any time soon. or cable TV networks. But it has really distorted the process.

Rogers is only partially correct. The media landscape has changed, the performative outrage machine is real, but the crucible all Americans face seems too scalding to be reduced to an outgrowth of social media and cable news. Divisive and dismissive propaganda didn’t begin in 2010 or with cable news or social media. Rogers’ branding of those who disagree with establishment foreign policy goals as ignorant or stupid is just another tired example of the disparagement tactics so characteristic of the shoddy discourse surrounding American foreign policy. 

Rogers’ tactics aren’t all that different from those he criticizes, nor are his motivations. Rogers is responding to incentives and interests (including monetary incentives from the traditional donor class) just as much as the next guy in politics – maybe more so given he’s the chairman of one of the most powerful committees in Congress.  

That said, I would never reduce Rogers down to being a paid stooge for the military-industrial complex. I must believe the man is more complex than an uncharitable caricature. I don’t know him, but I’m willing to believe Rogers is earnest in his preferred policy outcomes, genuinely frustrated by congressional dysfunction, and probably much more clever and hardworking than the average bear – a workhorse, not a show horse, as they say.  

I am also willing to believe Rogers sincerely wants to see the United States prosper, secured against any potential threats the nation may face. If the United States is to brave the ominous horizons of AI, quantum computing, or the race to dominate low Earth orbit, we’ll probably need the insights and experience of someone like Rogers. The crucible we face as a nation takes all types. 

That said, in the spirit of goodwill, I am prepared to issue an apology: Congressman Rogers, I am sorry I compared you to Liz Cheney. I also apologize for making a cheap wisecrack about your hair. If you say it's real, I believe you. 

However, sir, when you spout the conventional Beltway foreign policy wisdom on Ukraine, I, like millions of my fellow Americans, do not believe you anymore.  

It isn’t personal. The majority of the GOP base disagrees with the American foreign policy establishment on Ukraine. Maybe we disbelieve to our own detriment, but I am simply describing reality here. Americans feel betrayed by their political elite, especially the foreign policy elite. That is the American apple of discord. Everyday folks have watched these last 20 years with dismay leading to immense distrust in all major American institutions, becoming far too familiar with America’s “bodyguard of lies” in all her foreign policy adventures.  

Yes, propaganda will always be a part of the anarchic game of geopolitics, but as you know, there isn’t one sole propaganda game in town any longer. Mind you, new media isn’t just for obnoxious tweets and performance art from the likes of AOC or MTG. Americans who disbelieve the conventional foreign policy narrative can now listen to long-form conversations with Professor John Mearsheimer or retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor without gatekeeping from corporate media, including cable news networks. Maybe Mearsheimer, Macgregor, and other critics of conventional American foreign policy are mistaken in their assessments, but they remain more trustworthy than corporate news to millions of Americans. To dismiss critics of American foreign policy as stupid or ignorant simply won’t cut it any longer. After all, the critics aren’t the ones who have been running the show for two decades.  

The necessities we face are shifting for all to see. The game is changing. Now that men may more freely construe things to their own fashion, if we are ever to get back to the purpose of things themselves, we may need to fall on our swords and resign ourselves to creating a new game together rather than bemoaning the loss of old ways.

Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email joeyclarklive@gmail.com. Follow him on X @TheJoeyClark or watch the radio show livestream.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com

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