Mugwumps started political life as Republicans who supported the civil service reform and regulation policies of James Garfield. They wound up switching sides in 1884, dooming any political ambitions, and supporting Democrat Grover Cleveland. (Theodore Roosevelt, who identified with them, didn’t switch in 1884, preserving his political career.)
The term originated with a man named Dana, in this case New York Sun editor Charles Anderson Dana. It sounds like it could have been coined by Mark Twain, who identified as one. It supposedly derived from an Algonquin term meaning “war leader,” and Mugwumps were derided at the time as political fence-sitters, their “mug” being on one side of the divide and their “wump” being on the other.
The obscurity of the Mugwumps, and their eventual oblivion, is undeserved. They were important as a swing vote, and as political godfathers to the Progressive movement. They were, in the context of their time, technologists. Many ran newspapers, which were products of high-tech manufacturing. Many were early adopters of electric lights and telephones.
I mention all this because, in 2021, we need Mugwumps. The country is at war, between Democrats who demand social and economic equality now, and Republicans willing to trash democracy in the name of profit and power. A lot of businesspeople are caught in the middle. They like democracy, but they’re cool to Democracy. They want low taxes, but they’re leery of the fascism that comes with it.
These are today’s swing votes. Business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have become overtly Biden-curious. I’ve written here many times about how tech workers are most often Democrats and so are their bosses. Many were pulled into the fight, briefly, by the fight over Jim Crow voting laws in Georgia, where I live. Business Republicans don’t like Jim Crow. They don’t like the social regression of Trumpublicans, either. In response, Trumpublicans have been directly threatening them, calling for “Big Tech” to be broken up, sounding like liberals when they’re really fascists who want to base wealth on political allegiance.
It’s these business Mugwumps who now must speak up, despite the political risk. Some have taken socially liberal stands in advertisements, but more is demanded. They need to stand up, now, on behalf of democracy. They must choose sides.
I’ve written before about why. The gating factor to economic growth is brains. The only way we’re to beat China is if trained, empowered, enthusiastic and free minds all get together and drive the economy forward. It’s also the only way we’re going to save the planet from the fever resources industries have given our planet, their poison of chemicals, the waste despoiling our land, water, and air.
Free minds are vital to growth. Democracy fosters free minds, just as liberty and capitalism do. They give society flexibility. It’s why America is rich today. Failure to support democracy and liberty risk these advantages. It’s also amazing how much political power you can wield when the winners know you made the difference.