What defines a political movement? Or maybe I should say who?

Is it the pundits, those who appear in newspapers, on podcasts and on television? Is it the donors who fund campaigns, or the lobbyists who favor political power brokers and establishment politics?

Is it the politicians themselves, who campaign and get elected on both individual pet principles, and party platforms?

Is it the national media, who has been shown to willingly bypass journalistic ethics if it means viral clicks?

Is it the voters, who turn out for special elections, primaries and for election day year after year?

Is it their opponent’s notions and definitions, both perceived and in practice?

Apparently on the right it’s an almost all of the above approach, minus voters, especially as the party elite scrambles to find an identity in this post-Trump political landscape.

After four years of reflexively shouting “Never Trump” both pundits and politicians now have the unenviable task of trying to define what it means to be a Republican, while denouncing 80% of your base, and trying desperately to remain in good stead with the moderate donors and Chamber of Commerce types that fund campaigns and political startups.

Honestly, it would be much funnier if it wasn’t necessary for an opposition party to actually have a plan to stop this fundamental transformation of our nation. 

But it’s still funny. In an ironic sort of way.

The right has been led by a punditry class that thinks that lower taxes are the most important issue facing our nation, and that voters, and people who buy their musings are dumb hicks who can’t possibly understand the intricate workings of our federal bureaucracy.

We have made idols and stars of those who write books and spout smart sounding philosophical points as arbiters and gatekeepers of our politics.

The author of the book “Liberal Fascism” has evolved over the last years, and now sees no problem with a federal police force deployed across the nation, or the government that sanctions it. Another right leaning thought leader, and first amendment advocate, regularly calls for censoring opinions that he finds abhorrent. Conveniently, it’s usually voices that point out these inconsistencies.

Don’t get me wrong, people are allowed to evolve in thinking and worldview, and even in politics.

But when your punditry and insults only point towards those who can challenge you in the marketplace of ideas, it’s less about a political movement and more about personal gain and holding turf.

It’s no surprise that the right is having this battle publicly, and at this moment in time.

The battle for control of the narrative and the Republican party apparatus has been happening since neoconservatism became a thing. About the time all the pundits said to forget about those horrible social issues, and focus solely on economic policy and big tent politics.

Where has that gotten us?

To a place where “our betters” celebrate drag queen story hour at your local library as a constitutional necessity of free speech, but protesting government in the manner that was acceptable to all and sundry on the left is denounced as treason and domestic terrorism.

Trump was a feature of this particular battle, not a bug. And Team Red’s political elite were again caught flat-footed and unprepared, much like their principled arguments that never amounted to any political action.

It’s time we quit outsourcing our political opinions, and our duty to act as responsible citizens.

A bit of personal news... officially this is my last column. Much has changed in one month, since the last “last column” I wrote. All of it good for the West Side and the newspapers.

It’s a completely different feeling as I sit typing this “last” column. No Kleenex has been required, and there are more smiles this time around.

There’s definitely a few butterflies, which can only partially be attributed to the cold brew coffee I may not have diluted enough this morning.

Figuring out life’s paths can be stressful, scary and more than a little exhilarating, as I’m sure the new owners of these publications can probably tell you.

When trying to figure out my own path over this last month, and what the newspaper’s circumstances meant for myself personally, I a to be as respectful as I possibly could to my mom and the staff, the new team coming in, and to everyone who has read my column week after week for all these years.

I’m not so egotistical to think that my column is a necessity on the West Side, or that a new publisher would necessarily want my words at the top of the opinion page.

My opinions are just that, my opinions. And the new publishers should have a newspaper, and opinion page, that fits their’s and their editors’ voices.

If that includes my voice, wonderful.

If it doesn’t, well that’s wonderful too.

More voices and opinions are necessary. Not less. And most definitely not just mine.

More than a couple readers have messaged me in the last month asking if I was still going to write. The answer is yes. Though what format, and where it will be published is still undecided. At least on my part.

Hence the butterflies.

But I do know that writing about politics and life has become more than just a column for our family newspaper. It keeps me engaged with our political system when I’d rather throw my hands up in disgust. It means reading opinions and world views other than my own, and being open to being wrong (in print, forever... which is really annoying). It’s been a piece of home and a constant to count on.

And it has saved my family and friends from hearing the worst of my rants every time we talk.

I think I would really miss all of that.

So, I promise to let you know once I decide what’s next. Maybe I can get the butterflies to calm down for a minute so I can actually think.

But it’s really funny how life’s events line up.

Three years ago this week was my going away party at the newspaper. The U-Haul and SUV were packed, and I was feeling this same stress and exhilaration as Vince and I headed due east towards a new path in our lives.

And while that path hasn’t always been easy, or happened according to plan, it has been quite an adventure. One that has been positive both personally and for our family.

Remembering all that stress and joy has been helpful over the last month as I try to figure out my own next steps.

Doesn’t necessarily make it any easier, but it wouldn’t be an adventure otherwise.

So, thank you...

Thank you for reading. Thank you for the letters to the editor and personal notes when I struck a particular cord, for the texts and emails whether you thought I was right or wrong, or suggestions of something I should look at. 

It all made me strive to be a better writer, and a better thinker - politics or otherwise.

Most of all, thank you for inviting me into your homes each week.

It has been an honor and a privilege that I am truly grateful for. And always will be.

Staff columnist Toni Butero can be reached at tbutero@mattosnews.com or by calling (209) 862-2222.