What’s Really Behind America’s Political Divide. At Its Heart, Politics Is A Personality Clash Disguised As A Policy Disagreement

Jun 23, 2017 · 14 min read

–David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)

Political Theories Are Actually Just Organized Expressions Of Each Side’s Personalities

At their very core, the left and the right are not arguing about what rules would make the country more prosperous. They’re really fighting a war that’s rooted in each side’s personal ideas about right and wrong.

The personalities of the people who call themselves socialists or conservatives each generate different notions about what is fair, unfair, right and wrong, and their political principles are really little more than the rules that each side thinks will create a society that they think is fair.

While these true believers on the left and the right tell themselves that their principles will make the country great, they don’t really care about creating a prosperous society.

Each would prefer a country that is a mess but is run according to their notions of fair and right over one that is objectively prosperous, clean, safe, and free but is run under rules that they consider unfair and wrong.

The Communist Example

Many people have personalities whose instincts tell them that it is unfair that some people, often not very nice people who do nothing positive for society, have massive wealth while other people, often decent, hard-working people, are left to starve.

In their heart that’s how they see things.

It was people who thought that way who came up with socialism and communism. They didn’t invent these systems because they thought they would make a more prosperous society. They invented them because they thought they would make a more fair society.

All the theories about how great a country run under a communist system would be were after-the-fact justifications for the rules they wanted to impose for moral reasons.

Everywhere that the communist system was tried it failed miserably. The evidence of its practical defects was undeniable. Yet, the communists wouldn’t let it go.


Because at its core, the communist system was the expression of the personalities of the people who created it, and how well or how poorly it actually worked was more or less irrelevant to them. To them, the system was great. I was the people who lived under it who failed.

In This Regard Conservatives Are No Different Than Communists

Conservatives want a society run by rules they think are fair. It’s only their definition of what is “fair” that differentiates them from the communists.

Whether or not the society the conservatives build functions poorly will not make them give it up. They would prefer a poorly functioning society that runs according to their moral principles over a high-functioning one that doesn’t.

The Conservatives’ Idea Of “Fair”

To understand the kind of country the conservatives are trying to create, we need to understand the intuitive rules that their personalities define as “fair” and “unfair.”

The conservatives’ basic moral code is focused on maximizing an individual’s freedom to accumulate and retain wealth.

The conservatives emotionally cling to the following logic chain:

  • Everyone should be free to do anything they want to gain wealth that isn’t outright stealing.
  • There’s no point being free to get stuff if someone can just come along and take it from you. Therefore, stealing can’t be allowed.
  • Because stealing isn’t allowed then everyone has to pay for everything they get.
  • In order to make sure that people don’t steal your stuff, a police force is vital. An army is just a police force created to keep foreigners from stealing your stuff, so an army is also required.
  • To get wealth you must have the ability to build stuff, buy stuff, and sell stuff.
  • In order to be able to build stuff, buy stuff, and sell the stuff you’ve built you need an infrastructure like roads, banks, courts, fire protection, and the like.
  • To have this infrastructure, you’ll need an organization to operate all these things. This organization is called a government.
  • Since the police/army, fire department, roads, bridges, etc. benefit everyone, and since the rule is that everyone must pay for everything they get, everyone has to pay a share of the cost of the government. That’s taxes.
  • Since everyone is paying taxes it follows that the government shouldn’t do anything that doesn’t benefit everyone, otherwise some people would be getting stuff they didn’t pay for and other people would be paying for stuff that they didn’t get.

Therefore, it follows that if the government collects taxes to pay for things that benefit only some people that’s wrong for two reasons:

  • The government took everyone’s money and spent some of it on only a few people, which means that the government is stealing on their behalf, and
  • The people who got the benefit from that money got things they didn’t pay for, which is also wrong.

If the government makes any laws that cost your business money and that benefit only some people that’s also wrong for the same two reasons, namely,

  • it indirectly takes your money without giving you a corresponding benefit in return (stealing), and
  • other people are getting stuff they didn’t pay for.

Conservatives think that the only purpose of a society is to provide an infrastructure that will facilitate individuals gaining and keeping wealth.

Put differently, to conservatives human societies have no purpose beyond facilitating individuals gaining wealth and the protection of wealth they’ve already gotten.

What Kind Of A Society Will The Conservatives’ Rules Create?

We know what kind of a failed society the communists’ moral principles created.

What would America look like if it was run strictly according to conservative principles?

No Social Safety Net

We would have to cancel all programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, school lunches, and the like because they give stuff to people who don’t directly pay for it. Add in free vaccinations, job training, and every other government expenditure that wasn’t paid for by each person who benefited from it.

About 43 million Americans receive food stamps. Assuming they are all adults, that means that 43M/248M or 17.3% of the adult population are unable to feed themselves or their families. What are those 43 million Americans going to do when they find that they have no way to feed themselves or their children?

The conservative’s answer is, Not my problem.

About 74.6 million Americans get their medical care through Medicaid. What are those over 74 million people going to do when they find that they have no access to medical care?

The conservative’s answer is, Not my problem.

Since 75 million people aren’t likely to just quietly starve, the next question is: How many police, how many courts and how many prisons will the country require to deal with what happens next?

It costs almost $50,000 a year to lock someone up, far more than the cost to feed them, but the conservatives don’t care because locking up thieves is good and spending tax money to give people free food is bad.

Giving people you lock up free government food is apparently an exception to their rule.

No Employee Rules

Since the minimum wage, overtime rules, and the like force companies to pay more money to employees than would otherwise be the case, these laws would all be repealed. This would drastically lower the standard of living of tens of millions of citizens and would drastically increase the number who could not care for themselves.

The conservative’s answer to workers’ complaints is, “If you don’t like it, negotiate a better wage agreement. If you’re too stupid or too unskilled to do that, well, that’s your fault.”

Better hire more police and build more prisons.

Well, the conservatives say, prisons and cops are just some of the things you have to pay for in order to make sure we have a society that’s run by fair rules.

No Consumer Protections

Since business regulations force companies to spend money they would not otherwise have to spend for the benefit of a limited segment of the population and since they reduce the businessperson’s freedom to make money any way they like, they would have to go.

Banks could charge any late fees they wanted. Airlines could leave you stuck on the runway as long as they wanted. Insurance companies could cancel your policies at any time, etc. etc.

Conservatives admit that sometimes that will be hard on consumers but it’s necessary to protect the freedom of business to make money any way it wants short of outright stealing.

Don’t blame the system. It’s people’s own fault if they aren’t smarter shoppers.

No State-Supported Universities, Government Scholarships Or Job Training

While a conservative might agree that everyone benefits from having a population that can read and write, they see no general benefit from training this person to be an engineer or that person to be a mathematician. If someone wants advanced training they will have to get it without government spending.

If you’re really smart you’ll get a scholarship. If you’re really strong you’ll get a job to pay for your room and board while you’re in school.

If you’re not that smart or that strong, well, that’s your fault, isn’t it? The conservative system is good. It’s your own flaws and failures that are the problem.

No Pollution Laws

Conservatives take a narrow view of personal obligations. If I dent your car then I have an obligation to fix it because my breaking your stuff is similar to my stealing your stuff. But many if not most conservatives believe that if my factory releases smoke or carbon dioxide into everyone’s air that’s my right because I have a right to make money and other people don’t own the air.

In a society run under conservative principles there will be few or no pollution laws.

The conservatives’ answer to this complaint is, If you don’t like it, organize a boycott of that company’s products. If that doesn’t work, too bad. Don’t blame the system.

No Inheritance Taxes

Conservatives feel that once you get your money you’re entitled to keep it. They especially hate inheritance taxes so they will disappear.

I could probably go on but you get the idea.

The Concentration Of Wealth

The conservative philosophy opposes any government-funded job training. It forbids government-funded medical care or housing, and it forbids any government-required higher wages.

It assumes that the bulk of the population with average intelligence, average talent and a high-school education will somehow be able to earn a living wage. It doesn’t concern itself with whether or not that theory actually works out in practice.

It ignores the fact that people who have money are able to educate and train their children to get good jobs; that people who have money have the contacts that allow them to help their children get good jobs.

People who don’t have money can’t afford to train their children or support them while they are being trained.

Since there will be no inheritance taxes and since successful people will be able to train their kids to get good jobs and poor people won’t, wealth will be increasingly concentrated. We see that in the United States today.

  • 96% of America’s private wealth is owned by the top 40% of the population.
  • 85% of the country’s private wealth is owned by the top 20% of the population.
  • 62% of the country’s private wealth is owned by the top 5% of the population.

Economic Mobility Depends On Good-Paying Unskilled Jobs

There used to be plenty of unskilled jobs that paid a living wage. Sixty years ago the average unskilled person could work his way out of poverty. He could work his way into the middle class.

Today that’s no longer the case. Today those low-skilled, middle-class-wage jobs are largely gone.

Today, some very smart or talented people might be able to work their way into the middle class.

Today, ordinary people who are members of a family that can afford to train them for a good-paying job might be able to work their way out into the middle class.

Today, ordinary people without family-supported training or exceptional talents cannot work their way into the middle class.

Instead, today tens of millions of Americans are living on food-stamp wages and stuck in quicksand poverty from which they will never be able to escape without either massive publicly-funded training, a massive increase in living-wage low-skilled jobs, or a huge increase in the minimum wage, all of which the conservative philosophy forbids the government from doing.

Today the bottom 40% of the population owns zero percent of the country’s wealth, no net wealth at all.

Seventeen percent of American families are on food stamps. Half of American families cannot handle an unexpected $400 expense.

Half of American families are essentially broke.

Concentration of wealth.

Poverty Generates Toxic Cultural Values Which Poison Succeeding Generations

A stable middle-class family teaches its children middle-class values — planning ahead, saving for the future, resisting pleasure today in order to have a better life tomorrow, following the rules, making and keeping promises, avoiding excessive use of drugs and alcohol, working hard, etc.

Poverty exacerbates absentee fathers, single parent homes, drug and alcohol abuse, lack of positive adult role models, and fosters a host of low-class values — you have no future anyway so live for today, look for a short cut, get money by being lucky not working hard, rules are for suckers, do as little work as you can get away with, look out for number one, etc.

A poor but talented, very intelligent person with middle-class values has a shot at possibly having a decent life.

A poor person with low-class values is not only cooked, his kids will inherit his/her low-class values and they’ll be cooked too.

Poverty is a cultural disease that spreads from generation to generation.

The more the conservative’s sink-or-swim, no government training, no minimum wage, the-rich-get-richer rules shove people into the lower class the larger and more persistent the lower class becomes and the less likely it will be that its members will have the occupational or cultural tools to take advantage of any opportunities they might otherwise have to escape.

The more the conservative’s sink-or-swim rules shove ordinary, average people down to the bottom of society, the more intractable crime, drugs, gangs and poverty become.

The conservative philosophy creates a semi-permanent, self-replicating underclass.

The Emotional Response Of People In The Underclass

OK, you’re a twelve-year-old boy. Your father has disappeared. Your mother works at some minimum-wage, junk job.

You’re not especially smart. You don’t have some obvious marketable talent. It’s clear to you that you have no future, no way that you can ever have a decent life. Are you going to respect the law? Are you going to have any commitment to your society?

OK, now you’re eighteen. You have no training, no skills. You have no way to get training. There are no jobs that will pay you a living wage. You know that you have no future. You’ve been taught low-class values. Are you going to respect the law? Are you going to have any commitment to your society?

Now consider that there 65,000,000 other people in America just like you — 20% of the population. There is no medical care available. There is no money for food or housing beyond a few starvation-wage jobs.

Will you meekly accept the conservative’s doctrine that you’re just a failure because you somehow didn’t get yourself trained for some theoretical good-paying job that you don’t have the natural talent to hold in the first place?

Will you just accept the conservative’s doctrine that if you starve, you starve, that’s your fault, that it’s not their problem?

How many police and how many prisons will it take to keep the 65,000,000 of you in line?

Conservatism Is A Socially Toxic Philosophy

The conservative’s ideas of “fair” and “unfair” are as toxic to a prosperous, healthy, low-crime, free, economically and socially mobile society as the communist philosophy is.

In a modern, high-tech society built on conservative ideas, 10% are very wealthy, 30% have a good life, 10% to 20% are getting by, and the bottom forty to fifty percent of the population is somewhere between barely surviving paycheck to paycheck and living on the edge of starvation.

Conservatives don’t care. The only thing that counts to them is that the society they created is, by their lights, fair.

To them the fact that it doesn’t work for half the population is irrelevant. In their minds that’s not the fault of their philosophy. It’s the fault of the bottom 40% — 50% who just aren’t good enough, smart enough, hard-working enough or who don’t have their middle-class values.

If things have turned out badly then that’s because of the loser people who just don’t have the “right stuff.”

It isn’t the conservative’s political theory that’s wrong. It’s the loser people who’ve caused the problems.

If people would only act the way the conservatives think they should act and if they only had the cultural values that the conservatives wish they had, then everything would be fine.

That’s exactly what the communists said. Their system was great. It was just the greedy, self-serving people who failed to accept the principles of sharing, altruism and self-sacrifice that screwed things up.

If only the bad people would live by the moral principles of communism everything would be great.

For both the conservatives and the communists their theories are right. It’s the bad/stupid/loser people who don’t live by the conservative/communist principles who have caused all the bad results.

The system isn’t defective. The people are defective.

If only people worked harder, were smarter, made better choices and had been inculcated with the conservative’s middle-class values values then the country would be great.

If twenty percent, thirty percent, forty percent of the country is broke their poverty and associated crime and poor social values are not the system’s fault. The conservative system is great. It’s the people who have failed.

Are you starting to see the problem here with political systems that are designed to implement ideas of right and wrong instead of making rules based on what works and what doesn’t work for the overwhelming majority of the people in that society?

The problem is the true believers. Get rid of the communist principles. Get rid of the socialist principles. Get rid of the conservative principles.

Do what works best for most of the people given the flaws, defects and stupidities of human beings as they actually are.

Make a system works well with real, flawed, people instead of trying to make people, with all their human defects, work under your failed system that only functions well with perfect people whose lives are run according your values.

Another Way

There is an alternative to the left wing’s “equalize the wealth” idea of fairness and the right wing’s “you can’t tax me” theory of fairness, namely, “Everyone who works is paid enough to have a decent life without welfare.”

If every employer were required to provide medical insurance and a living wage, working people would

  • be able to earn a decent life on their own
  • have enough money to maintain a stable family structure
  • remain in the middle class and teach middle-class values to their children
  • train their children for better jobs and for a better life

If unskilled, ordinary people with limited intelligence and ordinary talents were guaranteed jobs that paid them middle-class wages and provided medical insurance they

  • wouldn’t need food stamps or Medicaid
  • would be far less likely to abandon their children
  • would be far less likely to descend into drugs and alcohol.

You cannot guarantee every full-time worker a middle-class income under the conservative’s moral principles, but you can do that in a society that’s run by pragmatic rules that don’t care what either socialists or conservatives think is “fair.”


Here’s my plan:

The Solution To The Shortage Of Living-Wage, Low-Skilled Jobs Is Publicly Funded, Non-Profit Corporations That Will Pay A Living Wage

–David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)

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Graduate of Stanford University & U.C. Berkeley Law School. Author of 17 novels and over 200 Medium columns on Economics, Politics, Law, Humor & Satire.

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