Saturday, February 24, 2024

Musings on Religion and Pragmatic Altruism in Democracy

By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The pragmatic moral imperative of altruism is to love God and your neighbors of other races and religions as you love yourself.  It’s the greatest commandment taken from the Hebrew Bible and taught by Jesus, and it has been accepted by Muslim scholars as a common word of faith.  That makes it a pragmatic moral imperative for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. 

Altruism is about providing for the common good, and in democracies voters expect their elected officials to enact altruistic laws and policies.  Political  parties are a part of the process, but voters expect their elected officials to enact laws that provide for the common good based on standards of pragmatic altruism, not on divisive partisan objectives.

Supporting Ukraine against unprovoked Russian aggression is a major issue stymied by a polarized partisan Congress and a massive national debt.  Donald Trump has complicated the issue further by saying he would not defend any NATO nation attacked by Russia if it has not paid what it owes NATO, and “encouraged Russia to do whatever the hell it wants.”

Meanwhile, President Biden has continued to fund a broadening Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza that has killed 29,000 Palestinians.  Biden’s Zionist loyalty and friendship with Netanyahu seem to have blinded him to Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law; and in an election year, neither Biden nor Trump have addressed America’s massive national debt.

For now Biden and Trump are the only viable choices for President, but Democrats have the option of an open convention.  With little prospect of a viable third party candidate, and with a polarized partisan Congress, both parties have ignored the common good by failing to balance partisan proposals with America’s economic constraints.

Churches should be moral stewards of democracy by promoting pragmatic principles of altruism; but in 2016 churches lost their moral compass when a majority of white Christians elected a narcissistic President.   Now it seems increasingly likely that 2024 may be deja vu all over again--unless one or both parties seek redemption through an open convention.

Ross Douthat has indicated his skepticism of Trumpism populism and Bidenomics “in the future, but he has not offered an alternative to Biden’s ‘post neo-liberal policymaking’ or Trumpist populism.”  And Douthat’s suggestions don’t even address how to fund long-term aid to Ukraine while reducing spending to control America’s “unsustainable” national debt.          

Pervasive materialism and hedonism indicate that education and affluence will not protect American democracy from the corruptions of greed and crony capitalism.   Providing for pragmatic altruism is essential to a stable democracy, and that requires freedom with social and economic justice.  That doesn’t require economic equality, only equality under just laws. 


Ross Douthat has said “that Neither Trumpism Nor Bidenomics Has an Answer to Inflation. Douthat asserts that The right’s populism and the left’s socialism were hardly models of rigor and consistency, but behind both Donald Trump’s ascent and Bernie Sanders’s popularity lay an array of concerns about problems the existing elite consensus didn’t seem well equipped to deal with — the downsides of free trade and China-America intertwinement, the painfully slow recovery from the Great Recession, the rising costs of health care and education. “much of the Biden administration’s economic agenda has been designed with full-employment stimulus, the big infrastructure spending deal, the experiments with industrial policy, the attempt at student-loan forgiveness, the push for family-friendly tax policy, the trade brinkmanship with China: As much or more than Trump’s White House, this has been a post-neoliberal administration. Politically, the debate about whether Biden has gotten the post-neoliberal mixture just right clearly matters less than the fact that a post-neoliberal agenda has no clear answer to inflation. Instead, all of the ideas that came out of the mid-2010s reckoning with neoliberalism’s limits assume a certain degree of fiscal capacity. Which, in those years, is exactly what we had: more room than the fiscal scolds and deficit hawks assumed for spending and for tax cuts, more room to run the economy hot, more room to debate whether a Green New Deal or a big beautiful infrastructure bill or a pro-family tax code should be the most important populist priority. But they are no longer responsive to the biggest problem facing voters: prices that keep climbing or just feel stubbornly high, a cost of living increase that doesn’t just affect positional goods like college but hits you at the grocery store, gas station and everywhere else besides.” Douthat says “the hope, for Biden’s fortunes especially, has been that the Fed really can do it all by itself, that post-neoliberal fiscal policy can avoid hard choices so long as monetary policy comes through. Is any sort of American populism, be it Bidenomics or Trumpism, capable of offering a responsible program under those kinds of circumstances?

I suppose one should say something constructive here, but the answer is pretty obviously no. Instead, if post-neoliberal policymaking is to continue, in either Biden’s second term or a Trump’s, it will do so only because of the careful ministrations of the most credentialed, anti-democratic, anti-populist institution in America.

Doutat concluded, “Only the Federal Reserve can protect post-neoliberalism from its own limitations. Only elites can keep populism alive.”  But Douthat doesn’t address the massive and increasing national debt that haunts liberal spending. See t

On an open convention for the Democrats, see Democrats Have a Better Option than Biden (Ezra Kleine) at

On Musings on How Altruistic Values Can Prevent a Dysfunctional Democracy (2/3/24) at

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