I have learned that although there is significant common ground on the issues facing our country, our perceptions of each other are tearing us apart…. — Diane Hessan
It’s by now well-established (at least as a general proposition), that conservatives assess and then address political or cultural issues by different methods than those relied upon by their liberal counterparts. Conservative thought processes, motivations, policy preferences, cultural tendencies, criteria, expectations, and values share what are by now familiar indicators. Liberals draw from their own — different — resources.
The foundations are not intended to serve as judgments regarding the validity, legitimacy, or soundness of the contrasting features associated with either/both constituencies, any more than determining left-handed individuals with blue eyes are better physicians than their right-handed, green-eyed counterparts. The inherent differences are what they are. Such traits are largely irrelevant in terms of how correct or valid are most choices we all make from day-to-day.
Outcomes are another matter. Different approaches and criteria relied upon can often lead to wildly divergent conclusions, preferences, and policies. Not all are sound, well-intentioned, or advantageous for any purpose beyond serving the moment. Some don’t even manage to accomplish that.
I’m frequently confounded by the decision-making approaches applied almost uniformly by conservatives no matter the issue, its complexity, potential impact, scope of influence, or just about every other relevant factor worthy of more than a passing glance. It’s been established that the typical conservative “process” is strongly disinclined to devote much effort to examine or incorporate the many subtleties and great variety of considerations upon which most matters of public policy, governing, and implementation legitimately require/depend — assuming a sound, beneficial decision is the goal.
We found 88 studies that had investigated correlations between personality characteristics and various psychological needs, motives, and tendencies, on one hand, and political attitudes and opinions, on the other….
We found pretty clear and consistent correlations between psychological motives to reduce and manage uncertainty and threat — as measured with standard psychometric scales used to gauge personal needs for order, structure, and closure, intolerance of ambiguity, cognitive simplicity vs. complexity, death anxiety, perceptions of a dangerous world, etc. — and identification with and endorsement of politically conservative (vs. liberal) opinions, leaders, parties, and policies. — Researcher and social psychologist John Jost
So many of our most important — yet hyper-polarized — social, political, and cultural issues are addressed by those on the right side of our political/cultural divide by means of a “cut to the chase” approach. That method is often inadequate to the task. Resolution of social/cultural/political matters having widespread impact don’t usually lend themselves to Keeping It Simple as the tactic of choice.
Those of us on the left side are much more inclined to wade into the breach by first giving due regard to those aforementioned subtleties and considerations which vital issues call for. (We often devote too much time and effort, of course. Over-analyzing has its drawbacks. At some point, decisions must be made and policies implemented.)
Whether they are considered to the degree circumstances warrant or not (or at all), facts do matter. Likewise, different perspectives, and how interests ought to be prioritized, are essential considerations if meaningful and effective solutions are the goal. Finding the balance is not always immediately obvious, and rarely easy to achieve. The toxic levels of partisanship now on display both inside and outside of government these days isn’t exactly helpful.
There is no requirement that voters must pass some kind of test to indicate they utilize the correct decision-making process or have even the barest minimum understanding or awareness of policy positions. Circumstances dictate how much less or how much more willingness anyone possesses in fulfilling any “informed citizen” norms. Legislators and other elected officials aren’t always shining examples of that ideal as practiced, either. Welcome to democracy!
These days, votes are often premised on nothing more than kinship with others in the same political/cultural tribe. Underlying issues may matter far less than does sharing similar feelings or expectations. Given the usual assortment of priorities we all deal with on a daily basis, matters having less immediate impact — politics among them — slide down our list of urgent matters.
So … I get it. I do. Most of us have mental space available for only so much political and cultural bandwidth. Contemplating the full array of contentious issues currently dividing liberals and conservatives can be a stretch no matter how intense our level of interest may be.
Few of us, Left or Right, have the time — or even the interest — required to perform deep dives into policy details, relevant issues, expectations, outcomes, and consequences. We have elected officials and experts to do the work for us. Their decisions often become ours as well.
That works now and then. A case in point was presented by the above-referenced Diane Hessan. Her Election Day article (one in a series involving a group of more than 500 voters with whom she had been regularly communicating since the 2016 election), featured a woman she identified as Marian. This New England resident had twice voted for Donald Trump even though “she detests Trump’s meanness.” Marian’s decision was made after many years of consistent support for Democratic Party candidates.
I was just fed up. I watched all of those career politicians in Washington writing books, getting rich, and doing absolutely nothing for middle class people like me. Why not take a risk with an outsider who might blow it all up?
Her job was to transcribe recorded conversations between claimants seeking insurance settlements and company representatives. Over time, the various assertions made in support of those disputed claims had finally jaded Marian. Her explanations serve as a textbook display of the methods relied upon by countless other conservatives to support their opinions, and on any number of broadly-relevant issues.
Every tape I did was a person who wasn’t working and who was living off the system. Someone would have a headache and would sue for $5,000. It tainted my views and I noticed this unfairness in other places. I concluded that our country was set up to use my tax dollars to support freeloaders, and we were becoming too liberal.
“Every tape”? “Tax Dollars For Freeloaders” is kinda catchy, but as an ideological pillar for Democrats, no … not really.
Most of us have undoubtedly come across a story of two of someone taking unfair advantage of “the system” in one way or another. No one will dispute that schemers come in any number of varieties, from all walks of life. They have no qualms about exploiting loopholes, or recognizing individuals who would be susceptible to their unfair tactics. However, it is quite the leap from acknowledging unscrupulous behavior by the few to ascribing a similar lack of ethics and integrity among the many.
It’s a convenient shortcut to bolster one’s opinions and conclusions on matters an individual may already prefer. It’s also a handy justification when doing so retroactively, thus providing support for an action already taken or policy implemented. We’re all pre-disposed to try and present our best selves to others (and often, to convince ourselves that we’re behaving according to the highest standards). A subtle re-write of recent history to accomplish that isn’t such a deal, is it?
Referring to Trump, Hessan’s article indicated that Marian “sees him as a hard worker who loves his family and who is making progress despite obstruction from the other party.”
Donald Trump may have been a hard worker (I’m in a generous mood) but if that’s true, we have very few indications that the hard work was to honor his obligations as president of the United States — at least not those obligations every other president sought to fulfill. As for Ms. Hessan’s assessment that Marian saw Trump as “making progress,” that’s a criterion easily met just by getting out bed in the morning. Any progress attributed to the former guy after that is open to serious debate.
Volumes will be written about the specific “progress” Trump made while in office. Almost all of it will fall under a category bearing no similarity to efforts designed or intended to serve the best interests of the United States and its citizens. No president has or ever will fulfill that objective completely, but no predecessor and no successor will ever fail as spectacularly and as incompetently as Donald Trump.
Grabbing the broadest brush available, Marian was quoted as saying that the Democrats had “gone off the deep end,” and apparently intended to make every service “free … from health care to education.” Admirable goal, of course. Not happening in our lifetimes, but admirable! It’s also an overly-expansive conclusion. That observation works only if validating a belief that Trump was a better option than Joe Biden.
It’s also an extremely convenient tool to have at the ready if a deep dive into the innumerable considerations, interests, incentives, goals, obstacles, circumstances, hardships, and available assets — just some of the factors in play for even a successful next-step solution — are all rejected in favor of the more comfortable “cut to the chase” strategy.
Marian’s view is much less complicated. An even broader brush was available for this:
I mean, we have all of these elitist socialists who just want to keep giving and giving. ‘You screwed up again? Oh, I am sorry, let’s give you some more.’ And meanwhile, the Democrats want to get rid of the police? And want to take my tax dollars and give them to prisoners, criminals, and illegal immigrants? I am afraid of what would happen if the Democrats got their way. They scare me.
That does cover it, Right? Lumping all of that into just a few sentences is quite a feat. If only matters with the potential to impact literally tens, if not hundreds, of millions of others could be so effortlessly reduced to a handful of talking points straight from The Official Talking Points Handbook….
Such efforts are definitely much more advantageous if the only issue worth considering is to live life unburdened by obligations to anyone else, ever, in every way, for everything. Deserted islands are hard to come by these days, unfortunately.
Listening to those on the other side of the partisan chasm is imagined to be both an unpleasant and pointless undertaking. Imagining an exchange of respect for the thoughts, comments, perspectives, needs, concerns, and hopes for those same others is such an unpleasant prospect that just getting to the end of this sentence is a chore for most partisans. Imagining any possibility that those un-American, ignorant others are worth listening to and trusting for even a brief moment is all but impossible.
Imagine instead if more of us adopted the late Senator Paul Wellstone’s perspective: “We all do better when we all do better.”