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The Political Divide

by on September 3, 2020

The Political Divide

by Marco M. Pardi

The differences between the conservative and the radical seem to spring mainly from their attitude toward the future. Fear of the future causes us to lean against and cling to the present, while faith in the future renders us receptive to change.” Eric Hoffer. The True Believer.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response. All previous posts are open for comment.

Readers throughout the world will agree that all advanced nations have some fundamental document, usually referred to as a Constitution, which enshrines their core values. And, most if not all have mechanisms for formally altering that document should the need arise. But therein lies the rub.

Through most of my life I’ve heard the American political divide stated as Conservative versus Liberal. In the 1960’s, we endlessly heard the term Radical. In recent years we are increasingly hearing the term Progressive. I have never identified as a member, official or merely sympathizer, of any such group. But the question remains: Who’s who?

Until John Kennedy came along my family was knee-jerk Republican, which meant Conservative. Unsatisfied with labels I looked into the values and feelings of that group. And I found what I felt were deep and irreconcilable contradictions. For starters, it seemed the conservatives were dedicated to conserving the values enshrined in the American Constitution without consideration of the accelerating pace of change in every aspect of our lives. Yes, there is a long train of Amendments, but they were grudgingly won in protracted court battles often long after the original petitioners are dead.

But then, as I was growing up in the extremely repressive 1950’s under a “conservative” administration, I noticed that, while “Freedom” was the mantra, there were book and film bannings in several cities and public libraries, words that could not be said and scenes that could not be shown on television, “Public Service” films on television which relegated women to a status about equal to a household appliance and children to indentured servants. “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, which was to be recited with vigor at the start of each school day, whether you believed in a god or not and whether, as I had, you took that oath at your Naturalization Hearing thinking it was a solemn and once in a lifetime oath. (I tried explaining to a teacher that when I took that oath I did not know it had to be renewed every day. Oh, that went well.) In short, the core value of “Liberty for all” was directly contradicted by everyday life.

These contradictions were far more apparent when we looked at the rules and regulations aimed at personal life, such things as sodomy laws, cohabitation laws, abortion laws, etc., versus corporate life and making a profit. Corporations of every type fought hard against every attempt to promote and develop consumer safety, such as in vehicle design; consumer health, such as clean air and clean water regulations; food safety, and the list goes on. In every case the conservative mantra was Deregulate, just as it is today in the conservative camp. Buyer Beware applies today almost as much as ever.

It’s strange that for the last few years conservatives have been praising the “good old days” of the 1950’s when, in the 1950’s, people of the same political and social orientation were praising the “good old days” of a mythical frontier past. Nothing like a good old Tom Mix “western” movie, or a Hopalong Cassidy cowboy series on a Saturday morning. Shoot the bad guys, save the helpless damsel, ride off into the sunset. All without indoor plumbing. The “good old days” meme is less common today, but the drive to squelch advancements in science on every front – except where there is profit to be made, is alive and well.

I didn’t hear the term Liberal much in the 1950’s. I did hear “egghead”, “pointy headed professors” and other pejoratives aimed at anyone who dared to publicly think aloud. They were the “ivory tower” types, probably lurking on elite college campuses and plotting to subvert our virginal youth with their talk of the United Nations and other “world government” cabals. But if there could be anything which drew me to listen and learn, it was people who dared to think aloud.

Now, I should not give the impression I agreed with everything proposed by the Liberal voices. I thought some of it was naive, and even a few steps from self destructive. For example, I watched the rise of communes, and their all but certain demise as they gallantly refused order in favor of “doing your own thing”. But those fledgling efforts were fringe groups, lacking the DNA to grow and replicate. However, what the larger society missed was the principle underlying these efforts: the realization that “It Takes a Village……” and that village is global. When people crow that the United States is the most powerful nation on Earth they must equally realize that powerful nations render effects far beyond their borders. And those effects have consequences. No nation stands for long atop the mound if their actions, or inactions, erode and weaken the very mound upon which they stand. And being the world’s number one exporter of arms, the number one exploiter of all non-renewable resources, and the sole deserter from international accords while it pursues its “Do your own thing” mentality in profit making is simply a version of an imploding commune writ large.

Admittedly, the shift from the largely mythical history of the United States toward being a responsible member of the world community will not happen quickly. But then, quick solutions have themselves become the expectations of too many Americans. In saying the liberal position favors forward thinking while the conservative position favors (often false) memory I am reminded of how I explain the bedrock of science. Science does not advance only by re-inventorying what we’ve known; it advances by asking what do we not know. This brings us up to date with the Progressive movement we are now hearing more of. The title itself should clarify the operant ethic: Progress, but carefully defined and carefully developed.

I remember an ad from the 1950’s, “Progress is Our Most Important Product.” And I remember thinking at the time, But what if what we have works? Progress for the sake of progress leads to abuses, such as charging more for a product simply because it has been redesigned with no clear benefit from doing so. Our politics are a product of our society and while we must be adaptive to new realities we must be equally careful to reject change for the sake of change. This has never been more obvious than in the 2016 Presidential election.

And so, when considering the buffet of political groups on offer, what happens when the diner finds nothing on the table fully appealing? Does she go away hungry, choosing not to vote? Or is she drawn to that sideboard in the corner, the one with the narrow selection called Third Party, or Independent, or Green Party, or whatever is fashionable these days?

Frankly, when I hear of people casting their votes for outliers I think of someone who is asserting a personal position at the cost of a national vote. In other words, throwing away a vote just to feel better. Yes, making a statement is important. But only if someone is listening. Votes cast on the fringe deplete those which could have been cast for a viable candidate, and sometimes contribute to a “spoiler” effect. Votes cast for a statement of principle may be personally satisfying, but masturbation never gave birth to anything.

Democracy has its flaws but totalitarian Fascism is unimaginably worse. In the 2020 election cycle the choice has never been clearer. A common saying in the voting season is, “Hold your nose and make your choice”. Of course, the message is that rarely, if ever, does a candidate or party completely satisfy a thinking voter; there will be areas of disagreement. But the election of 2016 undeniably demonstrated that the United States is running low on thinking voters, or those who can and do think are simply walking away.

Even if you are not eligible to vote, please think, and think aloud. And if you are eligible to vote, please do so in a thoughtful way.

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8 Comments
  1. Mike Stamm permalink

    Well said, as always. To my maternal grandfather, FDR was the Antichrist, and my parents were Republicans until Watergate came along, as far as I know; I think they thought highly of Adlai Stevenson but were certain he could never win. As a kid I was nominally a Republican, mostly because I didn’t know the issues and didn’t think about them in any case; I voted Democrat in my first presidential election even though the national media had already announced that he’d lost.

    I think the biggest issue we have to deal with, the vampire myth we have to eliminate, is the notion of American exceptionalism. The notion that the best men are self-made is both ludicrous–look at Drumpf, the archetypal example and the absolute proof of the horrors of unskilled labor–and an outright lie. No one–NO ONE–exists in this world without the help of others. The same goes for voting; those who vote out of “personal opinion” or “gut feeling” are betraying their country and themselves. It will take years to repair the Drumpkins’ damage to the country and to the world; we need to start now.

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    • Thank you, Mike. In keeping with your theme of inclusiveness I would reiterate my support for a Parliamentary system instead of the bicameral system we now have. One hardly has a sense of participation when only given the chance to vote Either – Or. This cycle may give impetus to this thinking.

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  2. danarenee71 permalink

    Marco, as you know I can’t yet vote since I’m not a naturalized citizen.  But I do try to think aloud, stay informed, sign petitions, and lead by example.  While I wouldn’t want to choose a political label, sometimes one must pick a side. 

    Even as a teenager I couldn’t comprehend why voters would cast their ballot for anyone who clearly doesn’t stand a chance, simply to make their “point.”  As you said, someone must be listening if a point is to be made.  Too many are attempting a statement by not wearing masks during a deadly pandemic.  Some “statement.”

    In 2016 I knew quite a few people who either didn’t vote, or voted Republican because they seemed to have this sudden hatred for Hillary Clinton.  She has obviously not always made the best choices.  But I would have liked a concrete answer from them – people who included male gay friends who called themselves Democrats at one time. Was it misogyny?  I don’t know.  I kept hearing, the emails!  The private server!  Benghazi!  Not much of an explanation there really.  People sometimes vote against their best interests or not at all, which is often the same.  Either way they don’t seem to be thinking clearly.  I live and work with such people.  No matter what Trump does and says they still support him.  

    Laugh out loud funny:

    “Shoot the bad guys, save the helpless damsel, ride off into the sunset. All without indoor plumbing. “

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    • Thank you, Dana. Why people vote, or don’t vote the way they do will likely always be fodder for political science. But through your communications with others you make important contributions even if, for now, you can’t perform the official act of voting. Thank you for your dedication.

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  3. William Boyd permalink

    Thanks, Marco, for another well-thought essay.

    In essence, I agree, though admittedly never having voted for either the Republican nor Democratic candidates. Though many would be mystified by my quadrennial choice, I know I voted with both heart and head.

    The standard presidential election–as many other elections– has each candidate true to form vilifying the opposition, often going so far as to proclaim the other’s election to be tantamount to utter destruction of civilization as we know it–if that in itself would not be a good. And as Vonnegut had it, “so it goes.”

    As for November 2020, I lean towards Biden-Harris because of one single issue, the management of this pandemic. Realistically, mine is but a single vote which is nothing.

    Bill in Virginia

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  4. Thank you, Bill. I certainly agree on the pandemic management. And, yes, it is tempting to view a single vote as “nothing”. But those votes add up. Maybe we can “make something out of nothing”.

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  5. The closer we get to the election, the more disturbed I am by what I read and hear. We should all remember the comments Trump made during the last campaign, with him saying that McCain was not a hero, that he liked people who had not been captured. However accurate the latest reports on that subject (calling military people “losers” and “suckers”), it’s just another reflection on the draft-dodger-in-chief’s attitude toward our military, of which my family was a part for twenty years.

    I am stunned to hear that he is encouraging people to vote twice. Is he that stupid? Aside from that being a felony, the repercussions are enormous. The methods for counting only one vote per person are already in place, but it would no doubt be an excuse to try to invalidate the election altogether. He really does want more of his people to vote twice, or he’s hoping Dems will vote twice, and that this would invalidate both of the votes of the people doing so. Is encouraging people to commit a felony breaking the law? Who are we kidding, he’d just claim it was a joke.

    And “twelve more years”; the thought of four more sickens me. And, just to end this, just one vote is like just one snowflake; multitudes together create a storm, and there’s nothing better to clear the air.

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  6. Thank you, Rose. We share the military family traditions. And because of that we know there are far too many people exactly like Trump.

    I think he is so terrified of the prison terms awaiting him when he leaves office he is doing and saying anything to remain in power. The Russians are already helping him again, and I would not be surprised if he pleaded for their military support as well.

    I’m glad we will be voting.

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