By Mel Harkrader Pine
One year ago today — as I was groping to understand how half of the presidential-election voters had so misunderstood the other half (take that either way) — I wrote a blog post called Reflection on Election, with Compassion. I think I hit on something we’re still confused about. Here’s the heart of what I wrote then:
What I think I’ve learned is that both liberals and conservatives feel that we have lost control over our country, but we are looking at different things.
Liberals see a governmental structure that over the last four or five decades has become far more conservative — less financial and environmental regulation, more money for war and the military, more people in prisons, more holes in the social safety net, more big money in elections. Even after almost eight years in office, Barack Obama failed to close Guantanamo, bring the Patriot Act under control, or end our military involvements overseas. Meanwhile, the right portrays him as an extreme leftist.
Conservatives are concentrating more on the social fabric of our lives. Families no longer stay together, either geographically or emotionally. The movies and TV shows — with liberal producers, directors and writers — emphasize the individual over the family, and a wink-wink attitude toward sex and drugs has invaded our schools, even middle schools. Mainstream colleges teach political correctness. Unskilled and semi-skilled labor has been devalued. Hook-ups have become a casual fact of adolescent life. And (forgive my bluntness) former President Bill Clinton got a blow job in the Oval Office from a woman 27 years younger than him and then avoided conviction after impeachment because he said he did nothing to stimulate her.
These two views have only hardened in the year since, so liberals still want to take their country back from conservatives, and the right still wants to take its country back from the left. The passion from both sides is so intense that those who see the truth in each perspective get dismissed as useless moderates.
It gets more depressing every day, and all that saves me from despair is the faith that, one-by-one, person-to-person, we can learn to stop the shouting and listen to each other. That’s where liberal religions and spiritual practices help.
This blog, Truly Open Minds and Hearts, is devoted to moving liberal religion toward being part of the solution and not the problem.
Copyright 2017 © Mel Harkrader Pine
I don’t know Mel, I rather feel like people’s beliefs are splintering such that, other than on the far fringes, people choose one from column A and one from Column B etc. to make their decisions. Also, a lot depends on context. In my church I am seen (fondly?) as a crazy conservative. But outside of my church I am seen as a crazy liberal (basically because of my human rights beliefs.) My political beliefs can mostly be summed up by saying the closer we get to socialism, the worse off our country will be.
It seems that fewer and fewer of us fall into the category of people who think through issues on their individual merits and are willing to say so publicly. Or, if I’m wrong about that, at least we get less attention. The dominant voices are all red or all blue. So people like you, me, Rev. Kate, John McCain, Rand Paul, Joe Biden(?), Rev. Anya aren’t getting any traction.
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It’s like most of us are in a siege mentality
I would just add that Conservatives also believe that the existence of an extremely powerful yet unacknowledged (not to mention unelected) regulatory state is a huge problem.
For example, the labyrinthine maze of environmental regulations serve already-established oil companies extremely well. Such companies can afford to employ teams of lawyers devoted to ensuring (or perhaps eluding) compliance. A start-up energy company will not have the resources to do the same; they will inevitably fall foul of the regulations and be fined into non-existence. Thus, the profits of Big Oil are being protected by the regulatory state that we liberals fondly imagine exists only to protect our air and water.
Conservatives are also deeply concerned about the rule of law. Among other things, the immigration issue was about whether laws laboriously passed by our elected representatives should be followed and enforced.
This is a subject that ought to be open to reasoned discourse. After all, if we want more immigrants, or think we should do away with national borders entirely, we-the-people can vote for representatives who agree and are willing to change the laws accordingly.
But if the laws enacted by the elected and accountable law-making body (Congress) can simply overruled or ignored by the president (or the next president) that’s a problem, and any of us ought to be able to recognize it as such. After all, a president who can decide which laws to enforce is no longer a president. He’s a king.
I agree that the maze of regulations (and tax laws) serves to give big companies vast advantages over small ones, and it’s true in many more industries than the obvious ones. It’s part of the reason we have so many fewer mom-and-pop stores selling books, hardware, pizza, groceries, etc.
But I find a flaw (gasp!) n your logic about laws, because Congress has in the past and regularly does leave the details up to regulatory bodies. Both parties make that a practice, probably because it is so hard to agree on implementation details. Then, when some don’t like the resulting regulations, they go to the courts. So the elected senators and congressmen turn a lot over to the other two branches.
We really need a new constitution. But that’s not likely in our lifetimes.
Instead of subjects worthy of rational discourse, we are encouraged to think of these as morality plays:
Conservatives, being irrational, hateful people who want to destroy the earth for profit are against regulations. Liberals, being wonderful, gaia-loving and science-based people want to protect the earth for children, so we’re for regulations.
Conservatives, being bigots who hate brown people are in favor of dumping Mexican pre-schoolers in the Mexican desert. Liberals, being the souls of kindness and inclusivity, want to keep them here and help them, and admire (though not, of course, appropriate because that’s racist) their wonderful, vibrant cultures.
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Mel, I don’t think the problem is with you, or with moderates. It’s with the frame: the left/right, two sides, polarized thinking and discourse. It feeds the siege mentality. I think if you step outside that frame, you find more peace. Right now we’re stuck in this two-party system, but other countries, and history, show it doesn’t have to be that way.
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