False Equivalence: why saying Democrats and Republicans are the same is ridiculous. And dangerous.
Let’s start with an allegory of sorts.
It’s 4am, you wake up, and the house is on fire.
Your first thought is, “holy shit! Really?” But once the realization sets in that yes, this is actually happening, you spring into action.
You run to the kids’ rooms, get them up and usher them downstairs, holding their hands. Lucky, your dog, follows, and seeing you have an extra moment, you grab your computer and purse on the way out.
On the front lawn, watching your house ablaze in the darkness, you wonder if you should go back in to grab some valuables and family heirlooms, but just then fire trucks arrive and the firemen escort you and your kids across the street.
Then they go to work.
30 minutes later, the flames are out, but the house is pretty well destroyed. You can’t go in, but almost nothing is salvageable anyway, either because it’s burned, too wet, or both. In short, it feels as if all of your life’s work and material accomplishments have been erased — and in point of fact that’s pretty much true.
But all you can think is: thank God my kids and family are safe.
And: I did the best I could.
The next day, your husband returns from his business trip. You tried to call him right after the fire, but he didn’t answer his cell phone. Probably because he was passed out. He has a history of heavy drinking, especially on road trips when he can get away with it. If that isn’t enough, there was also the time you caught him having an affair with his secretary—they didn’t even bother to lock the office door for Christ’s sake. But to this point you’ve ignored the drinking and forgiven the infidelity because well, he’s the father of your children and you’ve built a life together, even if you sometimes suspect he might be involved in shady business deals and don’t approve of his behavior.
But when he shows up at the hotel — the kids are at school — instead of being happy to see you or thankful everyone’s safe, he comes at you with accusations:
“How could you let this happen to the house? What did you do, leave the stove on? Burn a bunch of candles and go to sleep? Fuck, Karen, our shit is gone… did you save my cigars — did you get the good wine out of the cellar? What about my suits and ties?”
You try to explain the situation: there was nothing you could do. You did the best you could. Besides, isn’t he happy you and the children are safe? Isn’t he glad the dog didn’t die? Aren’t there more important things than his goddamn wine collection and cigars?
“Of course,” he answers. “But why didn’t you… fuck, Karen! Fuck… I just, I just don’t see this working — Christ Almighty, you can’t even take care of the house when I’m gone for a few days. Goddamnit!”
And then he storms out.
The next day he serves you with papers asking for a divorce. You learn, during the proceedings, that he’s gone back to his secretary because he brings her with to the mediation and the courtroom. And of course, he goes cutthroat on everything — except the children. On that he’s OK with every other weekend.
When it’s all over, you find out he’s stashed a bunch of money overseas, but because of legal complications there’s no way to get your half. And so, after 15 years of marriage to a man you’d put up with and forgiven time and again, you find yourself living in a shitty two-bedroom apartment with your shell-shocked kids, while your ex-husband sets up shop in a swanky condo downtown where he screws naive college girls he meets at the local coffee shops. Apparently the secretary wasn’t enough.
But when you talk to your parents and friends, when you try to explain what happened, when you just want someone to goddamn listen and empathize and understand what you went through, this is what they tell you:
“Sorry honey, but you had it coming — you’re both equally at fault. I know it’s hard, but you should’ve done better handling the relationship… and the fire. I mean, you really couldn’t have gotten his wine and cigars?”
Insane right? And yet, that’s a pretty apt description of how our country looks at politics. Because I hear this all the time: “Democrats aren’t any better than Republicans. Both parties are the same. There’s too much partisanship on both sides.”
Seriously, think about that for a second — think back to the last election.
Hillary Clinton, perhaps the most qualified person who’s ever run for president, had to check every box: a comprehensive healthcare plan, education reform, a team of foreign policy experts, a trillion dollar infrastructure package, along with a detailed explanation of how she was going to pay for everything. While doing all this, she was criticized for sounding “shrill,” greeted with skepticism at every turn, faced derision for campaigning so hard she caught pneumonia, and was dogged constantly by the ridiculous fabricated email scandal.
And it’s important to remember, the people who were doing this to her were the “failing” NY Times, the “lying” Washington Post, and “fake news” CNN. On the Breitbart, InfoWars, and Fox they were floating murder conspiracies and child-sex rings out of pizza parlors.
On the other hand, Donald Trump ran around telling everyone how great everything was going to be, offered no policy details, lied constantly, said horrifically racist things about African Americans and Mexicans, and attacked everyone from a Rosie O’Donnell to George Bush to Khizr Kahn, the father of a slain Iraq war veteran.
Here are few quotes from the man we now call president:
“I did try and fuck her. She was married… I moved on her like a bitch… I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
After white supremacists and Nazis killed someone in Charlottesville: “I think there is blame on both sides.”
“Ariana Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man — he made a good decision.”
“I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”
About Ted Cruz’s father: “His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being — you know, shot… I mean, what was he doing — what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death?”
In other words, Donald Trump did everything he possibly could to show that he was a horrible person who was totally and utterly unqualified to be president, and yet, most Republicans still voted for him, a sizable minority voted third party, and a large portion of Americans decided the difference between him and Hillary Clinton wasn’t big enough to even show up to the polls.
But this isn’t just a one time phenomenon.
It’s a consistent political theme in our country. Republican policy is either explicitly immoral — the debate about gun control and Climate Change come to mind — or in blatant service to lobbyists, multi-national corporations, and wealthy campaign donors.
On the other hand, while I can’t say I agree with every Democratic policy proposal, at least they’re putting forth solutions intended to solve real problems. There’s a level of seriousness to what liberals are bringing to the table — a conversation on the left about how to address the very real problems we face as a nation, like infrastructure, Climate Change, education, the cost of college, the cost of living, affordable housing, and income inequality.
That’s simply not happening on the right.
No, instead Republicans and conservatives have given themselves over to conspiracy theories, irrational talking points, knee-jerk emotional outbursts, hate-filled reactionary tirades, and thinly veiled racist beliefs. Again, in many cases, what Republicans and conservatives believe is either irrational, immoral, or both. And none of their views belong in a civilized, modern society.
Yet the press, the media, and many ordinary Americans act as if the national political conversation is just an honest disagreement on policy — as if Republicans are a legitimate party seeking to serve the American people in a straightforward, honest way — even though that’s clearly not true.
Have Democrats lied, on occasion, about policy? Sure.
But for Republicans it’s in their DNA. They lie about almost everything all the time, whether policy or principle, because the truth — that 99% of what the GOP does is intended either to help the rich and powerful, gain more power by manipulating our democracy, or make their base so angry they don’t know what’s going on — is toxic.
Have Democrats had scandals or screwed up while in office? Sure.
But look at the Bush administration: 9/11, lying us into Iraq, blowing up the debt with tax cuts for the rich, the response to hurricane Katrina, and then the economy melting down in 2007 and 2008. That was a terrible presidency.
And yet, Trump’s is already worse. All signs point to his campaign colluding with Russia to win the 2016 election, he’s praised the KKK and white supremacists, his cabinet members are abusing their offices and wasting taxpayer money on private charter jets, the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico has been slow and ineffective, and then there’s his Twitter account which he uses regularly to divide and embarrass the American people, if he’s not threatening some other country or his own cabinet members in some absurd screed rooted in the fact that all he does most of the time — aside from golfing — is watch Fox News.
Like, this isn’t close.
The divide between Democrats and Republicans isn’t as simple as good vs. evil, but it’s at least a case of people who are seriously trying vs. people who are evil, incompetent, and/or corrupt.
So why are they treated equally?
Part of it’s cowardice. The simple fact politics is contentious and many people would rather avoid the controversy than seek to solve our problems.
Part of it’s greed and selfishness. Those who benefit directly from Republican polices or are wealthy enough to enjoy their lives and entertain themselves without having to worry too much about the suffering of their fellow citizens.
Part of it’s pretense. Many Americans would rather pretend the Republican Party is a responsibly representing the interests of conservatism, even though it’s quite clear they’re not.
Most of it, however, is tribalism, simple stupidity, and bigotry: red vs. blue, rural vs. urban, white vs. black and brown, Christian vs. the “god-less” liberals.
But whatever it is, let’s make one thing clear: it’s dangerous. The false equivalence we lend to the political debate in this country is a danger to every man, woman, and child living here.
Because only one party refuses to act when there’s a gun massacre. And it’s not the Democrats.
Because only one party is willing to ignore Climate Change. And it’s not the Democrats.
Because only one party tried, on three or four separate occasions, to take healthcare away from 20+ million Americans so they could cut taxes for the rich. And it’s not the Democrats.
Because only one party is currently ignoring a president who is in blatant violation of the Constitution, colluded with a foreign country to influence the last election, issues repeated racist statements attacking or disparaging Americans of color, and regularly advertises that he is unfit for office. And it’s not the Democrats.
I could go on.
Look at the Republican record of obstruction during the Obama administration, killing laws that would have lowered interest rates on student loans, killing laws to end tax breaks for corporations who send jobs overseas, killing laws for universal background checks on gun sales, killing laws to rebuild and renew our broken, decaying infrastructure.
To top it all off, they stole a Supreme Court seat — and that’s to mention nothing of what went on in the states, where partisan gerrymandering following the 2010 census makes it almost impossible for Democrats to compete in districts Republicans hold, and GOP legislatures did everything they could to keep people of color, college students, and people who live in urban areas from voting, whether it be with voter ID laws or fewer polling places and days to register and vote.
Indeed, I’ve been asking a question for a while now that no one, so far, has been able to answer: what is one thing, one policy proposal, Republicans have put forward on the national stage in the last 20–30 years that was designed to help ordinary Americans — one single idea that didn’t primarily benefit the rich and powerful?
The reason no one has been able to answer that question is that there isn’t one — although if there’s anyone who can think of something I’d love to hear it.
Think about that for a second. How does a party who, for the past quarter century, hasn’t done a single thing to help ordinary Americans remain popular enough to control all three branches of government?
False equivalency. That’s it.
Because too many Americans pretend or ignore the fact the Republican Party is a cancer on our society. Because for some bizarre reason we still take their ideas seriously even though they’ve lied to all of us — on a national stage — time and time again. Because we treat Karen and her husband as equals, when one of them is a decent person and the other is a scumbag.
Look, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with conservative values, like favoring low taxes, fewer regulations, small government, and state’s rights — it’s that we don’t have a responsible, intellectually honest, or serious party who’s advocating for them. And we won’t get one until we stop with the false equivalence.
Understand finally, we all suffer as a result.
Events like the Las Vegas shooting would be happen less often if Republicans weren’t in power — there would also be fewer suicides. More people would have health insurance and that insurance would be more affordable healthcare if Republicans were not in power. We would be investing in and rebuilding our infrastructure if Republicans were not in power. College would be more affordable, schools would be better funded, police would be better trained — and safer — as a consequence, people who were brought here illegally as children wouldn’t have to worry about being deported, and childcare would be less expensive.
Most importantly, we might now be talking about a constitutional amendment stating that money is not speech and corporations are not people.
That’s not conjecture: it’s fact. It’s the Democratic platform Hillary Clinton ran on as a candidate for president.
But because she used a private email server — which at least six officials in the Trump White House have done since — and because Trump was running around yelling MAGA, we treated them as equals.
That’s bad. It was then, and it is now.
So please, no more. No more saying Democrats and Republicans are two sides of the same coin. No more bullshit equivocating whiny-ness trying to advocate for the legitimacy of both sides. No more saying it’s not as simple as one party vs. another.
Because it’s the Republican Party vs. the American people. Fact. And anyone who can’t or won’t acknowledge that fact is part of the problem.
Thank you for reading. This will be my last post for awhile, as I’m not able to reach the necessary audience to justify the time it takes to write these pieces when I could spend them working on my next novel, Say Yes. For a larger explanation of what I’m up to, please see my post on chuckingrocks.com, which is my primary political blog.
However, if you like this and want me to write more of them, please consider sponsoring me on Patreon, or donating. If I reach $5,000 by the end of the year, I’ll redo the blog and continue to write about politics. If not, you can find my fiction on Amazon and wherever fine books are sold.