“Town meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within the people’s reach, they teach men how to use and how to enjoy it. A nation may establish a free government, but without municipal institutions it cannot have the spirit of liberty.”

Alexis de Tocqueville 

All politics, at least in a free society, should be local. But they’re not. Not in America today.

Formally, this still holds true. We still have local elections. We might even pretend such local municipal elections are “nonpartisan.” 

But informally, the true bill of republican self-government — “all politics is local” — has almost vanished from the political scene, driven away by national party politics as well as the broader culture wars. Fueled by the many-headed Leviathan of social media, the corporate press, the university systems, and the bureaucratic administrative state, the American people are thoroughly conditioned into believing certain carefully crafted national narratives at the expense of their local bonds and identity. 

Do not assume your local community is immune to the intoxicating and deleterious effects of national propaganda, especially when ambitious local politicians are willing to exploit such trends to their full advantage. Ambitious local politicians would be negligent or inept at their jobs if they didn’t exploit such a ready-made repository of gullibility and credulity. An ambitious local politician, if he is clever and practical, understands that he swims in national waters and should use the currents and the riptide to his benefit rather than fight the inevitable to exhaustion.

Take, for instance, the 2023 Montgomery mayoral election. Ever since challenger Barrett Gilbreath entered the race, Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed hasn’t shied away from the informal truth. He’s embraced the national currents.

Yes, municipal elections in Alabama are technically “non-partisan,” whereby candidates are not required to align with a particular political party. Despite this formal matter of fact, Steven Reed knows he is a partisan Democrat through and through. Why shy away from it? He knows many of his voters are also partisan Democrats all day, every day. Why deny it? 

Why would Steven Reed hide behind a fake, “nonpartisan” facade when he can honestly run as the Democrat he is, milking national partisan divisions all the way to his reelection?

That seems to be Reed’s strategy and it seems a sound approach — if winning is what matters most. As much as Montgomery voters claim to care about crime, better schools, and more economic opportunity, nothing gets people more fired up to vote than appeals to that pervasive, petty prejudice known as partisanship.

In July, Reed’s campaign began suggesting his challenger, Barrett Gilbreath, was funded by the ALGOP. ALGOP Chairman John Wahl swiftly denied such allegations as “outright lies,” but that hasn’t deterred the Reed campaign from pressing their partisan advantage. 

Nothing excites Democrats more than the feeling that they’re fighting back against the sinister GOP’s deplorable retrogression and benighted bigotry. It doesn’t matter if it’s literally true or not. People have been trained and conditioned by the national propaganda machine to believe it. For the Reed campaign, that means these national partisan memes are too effective to be left on the table.

Last Friday, Reed’s campaign was given a huge gift: the high-profile Montgomery visit of President Donald J. Trump. Local Montgomery literally became the center of national politics that evening. 

The Reed campaign didn’t miss a beat, blasting out this mass text to Montgomery residents:

"Donald Trump is campaigning TODAY in Montgomery alongside extremist Senator Tommy Tuberville. This appearance comes barely 24 hours after Trump’s scheduled arraignment in court after his third indictment. … [B]oth the Alabama GOP and Donald Trump are spreading lies and degrading our democracy. And it’s no surprise because the ALGOP is doing the same thing here in Montgomery. They’re funding Mayor Reed’s conservative opponent and doing everything in their power to take Montgomery backwards. We need to support leaders like Mayor Reed who are willing to stand up to their lies and who will defend our democracy.”

Again, it doesn’t matter if the above is literally true. If literal truth were the most important thing in this world, practical politics would be impossible. Yet practical politics remains practical for a reason — it works! — and it works on account of how well a politician plays on the people’s fear, envy, loyalty, and sense of identity, not their sensitivity or fealty to literal facts.

In post-persuasion America, the name of the game is to mobilize the already faithful rather than convert the faithless to your cause. In post-persuasion America, neighbors can’t just be neighbors independent of national narratives, everyone must pick a side. “All politics is local,” has indeed been trampled underfoot by revolutionary marchers carrying the messianic banner, “Making the World Safe for Democracy.” 

If the American people and their leaders wish to foster a spirit of liberty once again, they would be wise to remember that the American Democracy once praised by Alexis de Tocqueville was local, voluntary, and infused with the spirit of religion — held together by faith and hope in the villagers to manage their own affairs on their own terms rather than submit to a central plan. 

In the meantime, ambitious and clever local politicians will do whatever is necessary to advance their interests, punishing their enemies and rewarding their friends. They may even use the local community as a stepping-stone to some greater ambition like federal office. After all, all politics is now national, and political climbers can help their climbing.

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 newsandviews931@gmail.com.

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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