The Freemen News-Letter
Ep. 1 - Shall We Play a Game?

Ep. 1 - Shall We Play a Game?

Explaining the zero-sum game that American politics has devolved into using a little bit of ‘80s pop culture.

Explaining the zero-sum game that American politics has devolved into using a little bit of ‘80s pop culture.

15 Surprising Facts About WarGames | Mental Floss

Welcome to the first episode of the Self-Evident, a podcast about first principles, hosted on Substack along with the From the Hawk’s Nest newsletter.

Self-Evident is currently available on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.

Episode Transcript

Hello folks, my name is Justin Stapley, and welcome to the first episode of Self-Evident, a podcast about first principles. Some of you may have been reading my work as a writer for quite some time and others may have listened to my previous podcast endeavors. Others, I assume, well I hope, are new listeners who are open to the perspective I’m going to try and present in this podcast. 

This podcast isn’t going to be about electoral politics, partisan bickering, or the hysterics of the culture war. It is my sincere hope that I can find a way to rise above all of that and do what little I can to bring a discussion on the first principles of the American republic into the conversation.  

But before I get knee-deep in the primordial soup of America’s great experiment in self-governance, I had better discuss why I’ve chosen not to continue my previous podcast project, the New Centrist. 

The Untimely End of the New Centrist Podcast

I have, unfortunately, discovered that the premise upon which the New Centrist podcast was founded on was overly optimistic. The perspective I had was that America’s two mainstream political parties had migrated to the margins and left a traditionally-minded political center without a voice. While this perspective remains true in many ways, I came to also discover general political dysfunction across the board, even in the purported center of American politics. 

If there is a constituency for founding principles, or a "new center" as I had envisioned, it’s shockingly small in the face of the anxieties and agitations presented by presidential electoral politics in what has clearly become a Progressive Democracy. 

The Imperial Presidency has become the most consequential of political footballs, and the passions of the general electorate seem too hotly stoked by the contest for its control for principles, ideals, or values to be a present consideration. 

The self-evident truths of classically liberal governance have become all but forgotten. 

Specifically, anxieties have become so centralized in the specific person of Donald Trump, few have demonstrated the broader vision necessary to understand that nationalism and populism, the embryos of totalitarianism and fascism, are the inevitable results of central planning. 

Our present dysfunction is the inevitable state of dystopia and decay that represents the final result of a century-long doomed attempt to create a progressive utopia. 

It has been my woeful observation that there is simply no constituency for a "return to normal" in terms of the health of our Constitutional Republic because there are relatively few who understand what normal actually looks like. 

We are fallen from the founding ideals of the republic in heart, mind, and soul. 

With this new understanding of our present situation, I was forced to retire the short-lived “New Centrist” podcast. 

This new podcast, Self-Evident, is my attempt to embark on a new project to reassert and reaffirm the first principles of our republic that we have forgotten and communicate to a lost generation the values, ideals, and principles of the republic they have inherited. 

I fully understand and am painfully aware of how difficult this journey is going to be. Our nation is currently engaged in all the rancor, excitement, and hysteria of an election year. Since I have chosen to reject the choice between nationalism and progressivism, as represented by Trump and Biden, and since there is currently no viable, principled option able to slice through the hyper-partisan fog, I will probably be accused often of muddying the waters without offering an alternative. So be it. If attempting to illuminate the self-evident truths of our republic’s foundation “muddies the water” then it only speaks to how very lost we all are. 

Shall We Play a Game?

So, if I’m not going to throw my weight behind some politician and wave their banner in yet another “consequential” election year, what exactly am I trying to accomplish?  

I am going to play tic-tac-toe. 

You heard me right. Tic-tac-toe. 

Pop-culture and 80s nerds who saw the name of this episode might have an idea of what I’m getting at. For those who have no clue, let’s talk Matthew Broderick. 

Now, I wasn’t born until 1987. I have no memory of the cold war or even the Berlin Wall coming down. I have faint memories of my dad getting orders to ship to Desert Storm before he got stood down, but by then the world was already a very different place. Without growing up facing the very real possibility of thermonuclear war, it’s hard for me to appreciate the terror my parents’ generation lived with for decades. 

But I caught a glimpse of what the world went through when, as a kid, I watched WarGames for the first time.  

For those who are unfamiliar with WarGames, it’s a 1983 movie about a young hacker who unwittingly hacks into a government computer system and starts playing a game with an artificial intelligence. He doesn’t know that the AI is actually in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal.  

The hacker, played by Matthew Broderick, plays what he thinks is a computer game as the Soviet Union in a Global Thermonuclear War scenario. The AI reacts in real-time, not understanding the difference between reality and simulation. 

Long story short, spoilers to follow, the situation escalates towards Armageddon as the AI is determined to instigate a nuclear war and “win the game.” 

It isn’t until Broderick’s character has the AI play a game of tic-tac-toe with itself that the world is saved from the brink of disaster.  

For those who don’t know, tic-tac-toe is impossible to win if every move is followed by a perfect response. By having the AI play tic-tac-toe, Broderick’s character taught it the concept of futility. After applying this new logic to its ongoing game of Thermonuclear War, the AI concludes there can be no winner in a scenario of mutually assured destruction.  

The AI concludes that nuclear war is “a strange game” in which “the only winning move is not to play.” 

Zero-Sum Games

What does any of this have to do with politics? Simple. Tic-tac-toe and nuclear war are both zero-sum games. The moves taken to win are always at the direct expense of the opponent, who responds in kind. The end game is always dysfunction and destruction. 

The political contest in today’s America has devolved into a zero-sum game. 

Over the last hundred years, we have created a presidency vastly more powerful than envisioned by America’s founding fathers. Congress has slowly ceded copious amounts of its own power to the executive branch, aiding in the creation of a vast bureaucracy that ultimately answers only to the President. 

Through use of regulatory and emergency powers, the President can proceed almost with impunity in enacting national policy with or without the consent of Congress. 

This reality has long been hidden by the fact that many Presidents have mostly chosen to keep their actions within established norms. But in the past 20 years, situations have arisen that have provided excuses to our current and recent presidents to break established norms and reveal just how powerful the presidency has become. 

The American people have responded as should be expected. Recognizing just how consequential presidential elections have become, the various factions have engaged in a pitched battle for control of the presidency. And, from Obama’s “elections have consequences” and “bitter-clinger” comments to Trump’s constant ad-hominem attacks on anyone who doesn’t support him, it’s clear to see there is no respect for the rights or viewpoints of those who lose an election in our current climate. 

In this zero-sum game of electoral politics, there’s never going to be a winner and each round is just going to bring us closer and closer to the brink of collapse. 

The only way to win, the only way to save our republic, is to teach the American people the futility of the game they’re playing, to teach them not to play it anymore. 

The only way I know to do that is to try and go back to the basics, to teach the tic-tac-toe reality of human behavior and why our nation’s government was established as a constitutionally limited republic with necessary checks and balances on power. 

As the founders knew too well, men are not angels and never will be. Expecting a government to function justly when it must rely on the best men, and women, to always hold the reins of power is an exercise in futility. 

Until balance in the system is restored, until the American people learn the futility of playing this partisan game of mutually assured destruction, the establishment of liberty and justice is never going come from simply removing whichever demagogue happens to have risen to the top of the ash heap. 

And that’s going to do it for this brief but pointed episode. I hope you enjoyed this first foray into this new project. If you liked what you heard today, be sure to subscribe and offer a review of the podcast. I encourage you to also check out my writing and the writing of other liberty-minded Americans at, that’s and to consider subscribing to my bi-weekly newsletter From the Hawk’s Nest. You can find me on both Facebook and Twitter and can also email me anytime at  

Stay free my friends. 

The Freemen News-Letter
Justin Stapley discusses timely political topics, timeless values, and the first principles of limited government and free society.