On Friday, the changing of the guard will happen. Donald J Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. The Obama era (2008–2016) is over. We are on the cusp of a new era in American history, the Trump era. Nobody knows exactly what’s coming, but we can be pretty sure some things are going to change.
I’m starting this blog, Liberalism for Conservatives, as an attempt to bridge what I see as an increasingly wide gap between two parallel universes that have emerged in the kind of news and information people receive in the US about politics. We live in an age of fake news. The fastest stories to spread are not the most accurate, but instead the most sensational and the ones that make us feel the most angry or give us the most satisfaction that our pre-existing beliefs are right.
This is a very dangerous situation, and I think it’s the primary reason why partisan polarization has reached a peak in recent years. As our differences have grown, it has become increasingly difficult to have any kind of a meaningful productive conversation between red states and blue states, Democrats and Republicans, big cities and small towns. Regardless of whether you think Donald Trump is about to make America great again, or if you think he’s about to start rounding up Muslims and Hispanics and marching them into gas chambers, I hope we can all agree that the level of distrust and overall animosity between the parties in the US has gotten way out of control and that this situation is not good. Our nation is tearing itself apart, and no I’m not saying this is all Trump’s fault.
As a liberal, I find myself deeply worried about someone like Donald Trump having the reigns of power, and it’s hard for me to comprehend how anyone, (conservative, liberal, libertarian, socialist, green, anarchist, or otherwise) could have thought it was a good idea to give him the keys to the White House. I’m sure Trump voters think this is because I’ve been brainwashed by the liberal media, and that I just don’t understand how smart Trump is and how he’s really got a great plan for the country if I could only stop listening to those who criticize him.
Like Hillary Clinton, I was raised a Republican, but after a lot of learning and personal growing I have come to identify much more with the outlook and strategy of the Democratic party (at least, as it stands in 2017). I feel a special connection to her, and the many other people I know in this situation, because of this.
I live in the San Francisco bay area of California, having recently moved here from the New York City area. Most people where I live are liberal. The two industries I’ve worked in are science and technology, both very liberal professions. As an adult, I haven’t had any friends or colleagues who consider themselves conservatives, as far as I’m aware. Certainly not any close ones. (Although I have plenty of libertarian, socialist, and anarchist friends, all of whom have different opinions from myself and whom I discuss politics with frequently, sometimes agreeing on issues and other times strongly disagreeing.) But aside from my spouse and her family, the rest of my family — including my parents who live where I grew up in suburban Florida, and my sister who lives in suburban Texas — is still conservative. They all work in conservative professions, and I presume, have mostly conservative friends.
It’s hard for me to talk to my family about politics, so we generally try to avoid it — it just tends to escalate into hostility and resentment too quickly. However, the current political landscape has become so polarized, and I’ve started to become so emotionally invested in politics, that I no longer have that luxury. After having made the mistake of not speaking to them about it during the entire 2016 election, I was shocked and horrified to find out, on Christmas Day, that my worst fears were true: they voted for Donald Trump. Not just in the general election, as I had admitted to myself by the end might be a possibility, but also way back in the primary, against people like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — something which it had never occurred to me in my most terrifying nightmares might be true. I don’t think families who are split this much over these kinds of things can survive unless they at least attempt a dialogue. I suspect I’m not the only one in this situation.
So I’m writing this blog as a way of reaching out, across the great divide. I realized I’m not going to sleep well at night unless I at least try to explain to my family why I believe the things I do, and try to understand more about why they believe the things they do. I’m writing this in part for them, but I figure if I’m going to the trouble I may as well make it accessible to others since I’m sure many families are going through similar issues. So I’m really reaching out to anyone who is befuddled by liberals, or even afraid of liberals, who is nevertheless curious about what liberalism is and how liberals think. The key ideas behind liberalism, as I understand them, have almost nothing to do with the things I’ve heard conservatives say about liberalism. So I believe there is a pretty huge misunderstanding here, which isn’t often addressed.
Some people argue that politics is about different coalitions with different interests. Others say it’s about different people having different kinds of values or different priorities. No doubt, both of those are at least partially true. But to me the most important dimension of politics — and why I became interested in it originally — is the different set of beliefs that different political groups cite as facts. From what I have seen, the values and priorities I have compared to the rest of my family are really not all that different. The main reason we vote for different candidates is that we each have a different set of facts that we’re basing our decisions on.
I tend to see conservatives as people who are especially susceptible to misinformation, and who often vote against their own interests when politicians lie to them. (And I assume many conservatives think something similar about us liberals.) But never have I seen a case more disturbing than Trump, where it seemed to me that his lies were so blatant and so transparent that it’s impossible for me to understand (as of yet?) how anyone took them seriously.
When I confronted my parents about them voting for Trump, they gave me several reasons why they voted for him. One was that — since I’ve been exposed to a different set of news sources — I probably didn’t know that Hillary is worse than Trump, or that Trump isn’t actually racist even though the media says he is. My mother said they voted for him because they believe he will “make America great again” and my father said he voted for him so that the country can be run by an adult for a change, instead of being run by a bunch of children as it’s been for the past 8 years. He also added that Obama was completely unqualified to be President and it would be nice to have someone who has actually had executive experience running things. Trump, in his opinion, is very smart and most of the media doesn’t seem to acknowledge this. Both of them thought he would make a better negotiator than the ones we currently have. To me, most of their words sounded more like a parody or a joke than something that an actual thinking person would say seriously. And yet, they did actually vote for this man, so I have to assume most of it was not a joke — although I have yet to understand the details of how or why this happened.
So until some conservative starts a “conservatism for liberals” blog (which I certainly hope happens), I’ve decided to do my part in bridging this gap, which is to try to explain why I think liberals like Obama and Hillary are the people best qualified to advance what I have heard conservatives try to articulate to me as the goals they want to achieve.
I’m not talking about the goals that liberals say conservatives have (like excluding minorities from a mostly white power structure, keeping women in the kitchen and out of the workplace or from having equal pay, spreading hatred and intolerance for queer people, destroying the planet, or protecting a corrupt banking system from external scrutiny) but the goals that conservatives themselves say they have. Goals like fighting big government overreach, keeping the national debt under control, protecting us from terrorists, growing the economy, promoting capitalism and free trade, ensuring that people are hired based on merit rather than because they belong to a specific ethnic group or other special interest group. These are things I have heard conservatives say all of my life, especially growing up in the 1980’s in the Reagan/Bush era. They are all goals I agree with, and have always agreed with. With the rise of Donald Trump I have started hearing some of them less (conservatives have started to become wishy-washy on free trade, for instance), and other strange mantras have been popping up indicating a shift in the battle lines which has been going on for many decades but which greatly accelerated after 9/11 and even moreso with Trump. I see a Trump Presidency as a direct threat to achieving any of these goals. How someone could have thought he might accomplish them better than Obama or Hillary is incomprehensible to me given the things I’ve heard him say and seen him do.
The only goals I personally expect Trump to succeed at are the ones liberals accuse conservatives of supporting. As a liberal, I often find myself suspecting that conservatives just don’t like to admit the real goals they support (like white identity politics) because they sound too cynical. However, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m willing to believe that their intentions are good, and at least a great deal of them are simply the victims of misinformation. This is why I’m starting this blog. I’m also open to the possibility I’ve been the victim of misinformation in some cases. I’m always learning and growing, always willing to update my opinions upon receiving new information. That’s an important value in itself for me, and a character trait I’ve always been very proud of. Although to be perfectly honest, given what I presently know and what I feel the most uncertain about, it does seem more likely to me that if I am missing anything big it’s probably the kinds of things my socialist friends tell me I’m missing rather than what the conservatives think I’m missing.
Either way, this blog is for conservatives. Or people who have friends or family who are conservatives who might want a resource to share with them to help them understand. It’s for conservatives who are in the reverse situation from myself, who genuinely want to understand how someone could have possibly voted for Obama twice, and then been so pleased with his job as President that I was happy to vote for Hillary Clinton so she could continue his legacy and build on it.
I chose Abraham Lincoln as the icon for this blog, because to me, liberals like Obama and Hillary are the direct inheritors of the ideas people like Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln stood for. Lincoln was the first Republican President, shortly after the founding of the Republican party. A party which I believe was once a Grand Old Party, one I would have been very proud to vote for were I alive then. Today’s Republican party, led by Trump, I see as nearly completely opposed to those ideals. When Obama was elected, I remember thinking he was like a reincarnated version of Abraham Lincoln, both of whom are personal heros of mine. Frustratingly, it seems that today’s Republicans never saw Obama that way and got a very different impression of the man. I don’t know how they got such a different impression, but I suspect fake news has something to do with it.
This blog is different from other political blogs, ones that covers current events and interpretations on what’s happening day to day or week to week. This blog will focus more on a long term understanding of what issues are at stake, where the two parties of the American system differ and how those differences have been rapidly changing recently. And on reconstructing what happened during the Presidencies of Bush and Obama, and what happened during the campaign trail leading up to the primary and general elections of 2016. If current events seem relevant, they might be mentioned, but I tend to shy away from reacting quickly to new news as often a full understanding of a new and complex event (like the occurrence of a mass shooting, terrorist attack, start of a war, introduction of a new health care system, etc.) doesn’t come until a long time afterwards. Hindsight is supposedly 20/20, so let’s focus on what specific Presidents of recent memory got right or wrong, and how different factions of the media covered that accurately or inaccurately.
If you’re a conservative, your news sources probably told you that Hillary Clinton was corrupt. They probably tell you that we liberals love to play the “race card” to shut down rational arguments, or that we are pushing to exclude conservatives from college campuses simply because we don’t like dissenting opinions. They probably have been telling you for a long time that liberals like myself or Obama love big government, or that we like spending money wastefully or that we want to help certain groups of people take other people’s money or jobs. But none of us see ourselves even remotely that way — to us that all just seems like made up nonsense, an attack on things that have nothing to do with liberalism. So it might help both of us if you had a better idea of how we do see ourselves and why we think the things we do. At the very least, even if you have no intention of being open-minded towards any of what I write, treating it simply as the rantings of a highly confused, misinformed person, reading this might help you to “know the enemy” better in order to come up with better arguments against liberalism that have a chance of convincing actual liberals. What have you got to lose?