As long as there is government, there must be people in charge of it. It follows that there also must be politics, because politics is the means of acquiring and maintaining the power to control government.
But does it also follow that politics must infringe on every aspect of our lives? Only if government encroaches every aspect of our lives. That’s what I think every time I hear someone say, lately, “Everything is too political.”
Donald Trump’s bombast and election cranked up the heat on what had been a simmering case of the politicization of daily life. An illustrative New York Times headline read on Nov. 15, 2016, “Political Divide Splits Relationships — and Thanksgiving, Too.”
Trump’s rise only made obvious for the political Left what has unnerved the Right for years – government and those who run it seem uncontrollable. Large and small examples abound. Airline service disputes famously turn into law enforcement confrontations. Seven decades ago, only 5 percent of Americans needed a license to work, but now the proportion is about 25 percent.
It seems nothing is too embarrassingly intimate for government to regulate. Even the capacity of your toilet flush or flow of your shower head are dictated to you by bureaucrats. You’ll never be able to name them or hold them to account, but they’ve been empowered by the delegation or abdication of Congress.
As government grows, more of the stuff of daily life becomes political. Why, for instance, is driving a Prius down the highway a political statement? Because entire political factions have organized around obtaining and defending massive subsidies for expensive autos that conform to regulators’ notions of right and wrong. Trash recycling is political for similar reasons. Government tuition assistance for well-to-do students at elite universities is another example. Bathroom choice was not political until government involved itself. What used to be voluntary has in some sense become, or is becoming, mandatory and contentious. And mandates can only be enforced by government.
That which might have been accomplished by social custom, mutual benefit, or voluntary persuasion is increasingly accomplished by force. And that is what makes people lament how political things have become.
Those who romanticize government as “simply the word for those things we choose to do together” have it wrong. Getting together for a potluck is something “we” might choose to do together. Dragooning every American into a compulsory new health insurance scheme (for instance) that tens of millions would never willingly choose is something that only those who run government can choose to do.
If you find yourself wondering why everything seems so political, take another moment to ask whether people have for some reason just decided to view everything through a political lens. Or maybe it’s because it’s harder and harder, as government grows, to go through life without encountering its footprints and approaching footsteps.