This morning’s Guardian includes an op-ed piece from a former UC-Berkeley sociology prof who contends (via somewhat dubious example poll questions) that college-educated Democrats live in denser bubbles than Republicans. Perhaps, but that’s not the thought-provoking part.
What Arlie Hochschild argues from her polling data and anecdotes is that individual Republicans and Democrats actually have more common ground than generally supposed. Which, by the way, as a college-educated progressive who has spent roughly 80 percent of his life in the South, comes as absolutely no surprise whatsoever.
Hochschild’s conclusion is that we would be wise to get to know each other better and not live in bubbles, yada yada. And of course that’s true. But what shocked me is her failure to explicitly address the NATURE of the common ground on which conservatives and liberals agree: Every plot of common ground she cites is on the liberal side of the divide.
Why is that?
Why did conservatives admire Bernie Sanders in 2016, even as they dismissed his policies? Because Bernie clearly spoke what he believed to be true, challenged the sincerity of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment, and struck many people as an authentic human being.
Why do majorities of conservatives agree that the Climate Crisis is real? Because the Climate Crisis is fucking real, full-stop, end of story. The fact that human civilization is destroying the environment on which it depends is not a left-vs-right issue, it’s a rational-vs-moron issue.
As Michael Moore has been saying for almost a decade, America is a liberal nation: Majorities are tired of our foreign wars, favor strong environmental regulation, think women should be paid the same as men, want higher taxes on the rich, and support gay rights, racial equality, etc.
So why do Republicans continue to hang on to power despite lacking national majorities? Because the GOP has spent decades applying its power to make our system less democratic. Why do voters who actually agree with liberal policies swing right on election day? Because roughly seven out of 10 voters are white, and Fox News and the GOP have been selling white America a phony Culture War since 1996.
American politics is not rational. It isn’t about policy, it isn’t about issues and it certainly isn’t about representing the will of the people. It’s about money first, power second, and people third — and that’s only because the law still requires us to consult the voters once every couple of years.
There are ways to hack that status quo, and we don’t need to go in depth on those now. But the core challenge isn’t about moving to the center or getting out the vote or appeasing the activist base. To break the grip of this corrupt status quo, you need a coherent story that explains the source of people’s suffering, offers them a plausible path to a better life, and names the actual villains. The good news is, despite all the forces arrayed against us, Democrats can tell this story without having to lie.
Do we understand each other? Probably not. But to be truly candid, we don’t understand ourselves that well, either. So know thyself, love thy neighbor, and burst your bubble whenever the opportunity arises — but remember this: Understanding the cognitive gymnastics of individual conservative voters is meaningless compared to understanding the system that creates and reinforces that thinking.
Our target must be that corrupt system — not those people — and this time we must destroy it and replace it with something imperfect but significantly better. Given the challenges ahead, the stakes are literally life and death.