With the upcoming election it seems appropriate to remind everyone that democracy means a few things. 1. We may not get what we want, pitching a fit isn’t the answer. 2. We fight for what we want by constant respectful discourse and future elections, not by protesting, hate speech or violence. 3. No group has a perfect perspective, we should appreciate the differences in our beliefs as well as the similarities. Let’s go through a few of the commonly held beliefs about Democrats and Republicans and see if there’s something we can learn.
Religion and Traditional Values
According to wiki a Republican or Conservative is about upholding traditional values to include, marriage, drug use and abortion. While again according to wiki, a Democrat or Liberal seeks to promote social programs, environmental regulation, criminal justice reform among other changes. With this view the primary difference is a conservative feels we stick to the tradition and work from there. Liberals feel there needs to be change and reform to those traditions. This overly basic breakdown of the two parties doesn’t really work especially if we question either what is being reformed or what is considered traditional.
One major issue is that many describe conservatives as more religious and liberals as less religious. Yet of the US House of representatives 186 Democrats are Christian, 192 Republicans are Christian. The vast majority of representatives associate with a religion of some sort. Of the 435 seats only 18 are “unknown/unaffiliated”: 14 democrats and 4 republicans. That doesn’t even mean that they aren’t religious, it just means they didn’t state one. So if we consider religious values as an indicator of traditional values, it wouldn’t really work in this breakdown.
Let’s look further at a “value” like same sex marriage. The PRIDE act was unanimously passed. This means that despite common conceptions that Republicans are against same sex marriage all together, this act ultimately means everyone was ok with recognizing the same sex marriage as “unions”. Both sides are closer than most realize on this unless we want to start arguing the terminology.
How about drug use? Very few republicans are against alcohol and tobacco. Very few democrats are for legalizing something like heroin or crystal-meth. In fact even if we look at marijuana, according to a 2019 Gallup poll only 12% of people even smoke marijuana regularly. Chances are there is going to be a mix of both Democrats and Republicans in that breakdown.
Finally lets take a look at abortion. According to NPR, a 2018 poll only 18% was truly pro-choice wanting women to be allowed to abort at anytime during the pregnancy. On the other hand only 9% were truly pro-life meaning there are no possible circumstances or time frames where abortion is allowed (day after pills included). What this insinuates is there are many more nuances to the vast majority of our beliefs. All in all, the point is that with respect to “traditional” values, the vast majority of both Republicans and Democrats vote in similar directions. Most of us don’t want extreme drugs out there, most of us don’t want babies being aborted at 9 months, most of us don’t want to restrict someone’s same sex choices.
Economy, Government Assistance and Size
According to most sources, Republicans are for free markets and less governmental assistance for the economy. Democrats on the other hand are more for increased governmental assistance and intervention to promote / affect the markets. However, during 2020 and the COVID pandemic, governmental aid has been pretty unanimous among both Democrats and Republicans. This means that during extreme times, the current congressional consensus is that the government should step in.
Yet, things finally start to go their separate ways when we talk about taxes and overall government size and the use of the funds. Democrats like to increase governmental budgets and social program spending. Republicans generally decrease budgets and spending unless it relates to the military or corporations. Democrats believe in taxing the rich more than the poor, Republicans believe in removing as many taxes across the board. The problem with this breakdown however is that it doesn’t truly get into the “why”. There are so many reasons as to when and why a government budget could be increased or not, that the truth ends up obfuscated. For example, while Republicans decrease taxes, that significantly increases the money corporations earn and retain which could prompt more earnings and other economic incentives. While Democrats increase taxes, that significantly increases the money that gets sent to social programs and other government incentive programs to include small businesses.
The ultimate difference starts to sound like either take care of yourself or let the government help take care of you. Which is somewhat apparent in the welfare/unemployment assistance polls. Many Republicans are for reducing the budgets in these areas, while most Democrats are not. Notice however that the size of the government size and social programs don’t have to go hand in hand. Incentive to private organizations to perform welfare/unemployment could work; reduction of military spending to increase social programs could work.
Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity
Arguments and debates of Republicans being more “racist” or Democrats not fully supporting the original abolition of slavery are everywhere. The fact is, the unanimous majority on all sides agree in equal rights. The departure however is how to ensure equal rights are established. Affirmative action is a Democratic set of policies that push to require organizations to integrate minorities or those deemed less equal due to various factors such as race or economic disadvantages. Republicans generally believe that the laws that are currently in place are laws that promote freedom and equality as is. Some feel that further promoting affirmative action may have the opposite affect and put others at a disadvantage.
At some point we have to stop trying to manipulate the system to have “equal outcomes” vs simply equal opportunity, yet we also have to acknowledge that there could still be problems carried over from generations past. As with the various other areas what we end up having is “no change is needed” on one end and “major changes are needed” on the other end. Chances are most of society are closer to the middle: maybe more accountability, maybe some changes, but we’ve been steadily improving since the 60s.
Over 90% of both Republicans and Democrats agree that someone with a mental illness shouldn’t be allowed to purchase a gun. That means that the majority of both sides agree in some form of gun control, similar to various other political areas. In fact just over half of republicans are *in favor* of banning assault style weapons. Ultimately the biggest difference are the belief on how gun ownership positively or negatively affects crime. Republicans generally believe the more people who own guns will deter mass shootings and crime, while Democrats believe more guns equal more violence. This is somewhat similar to military/national defense policy in that Republicans believe a stronger military is better than other foreign policy in terms of deterring war.
While this philosophical difference should ideally be arguable to anyone who can look at multiple sides, more importantly it’s pretty separate from government size, social assistance and traditional values. It can be very realistic to believe in a more Republican view of gun control yet want affirmative action and more government involvement or vice versa. How should someone like that vote?
Generally Democrats are all about environmental regulations and the negative affects of climate change. There’s a belief that the human population has and will continue to significantly impact the environment. Republicans generally feel there is no real proof that climate change is attributed to the population and organizations involved. Yet as with gun control, this topic is so vastly different from the rest that there is no reason a Republican should always disagree with climate change or a Democrat has to agree.
With respect to immigration, traditionally Republicans enact more restrictions with respect to immigration law. More border requirements, more citizenship requirements. The reason being bad immigration could negatively impact the economy. While Democrats are less strict and are more about the ‘people’ involved vs the economy as a whole. However, both sides agree that allowing several million illegal immigrants into the US every year could have a major negative economic effect. According to CBP, at the height of the 2000s, there were almost 1.6 million southwest boarder apprehensions in a single year. That doesn’t count all borders, and doesn’t count however many got through illegally. The primary difference is focus on families and social programs for Democrats and security, economy and restrictions for Republicans.
Both Republicans and Democrats want more focus to be on internal issues versus foreign affairs. However the difference comes into play with how interactions with countries occur. The Iran nuclear deal for example generally was not approved by Republicans because they felt it allowed Iran to much leeway. While Democrats believed that any compromise is great forward movement. The problem with trying to separate Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy is that for some countries Republicans tend to do the same, for example Russia. There are a large number of nuances and the main differences deal with aiding other countries; Democrats are usually more apt to lend aid to other countries who encounter war or other significant issues. While Republicans would rather split the bill and spread the costs across all the other countries.
Left vs Right is Broken
Right wing is supposed to mean social orders and hierarchy is normal and inevitable. Which means that “natural laws” are said to govern things and the less involvement in trying to manipulate that order is a good thing. The most extreme on the right are the fascist and supremacy side of things. This is because if a single group or order naturally is “superior”, then that ultimately is the “natural law” of things.
Left wing instead is all about equality of social orders and a denial of any inevitable unequal situations that arise. Generally left wing are going to be the revolutionary types that want to take down and disrupt social order such that no one has more power over another. The extreme version of this however is totalitarianism where the government has total control over what everyone does so that no one can supposedly take advantage of others. The problem of course is removal of freedom and whoever is the leader or in the leading groups will ironically also have unequal power.
Social order vs economic order is often used to separate political beliefs. Yet what we haven’t seemed to grasp as a society in all of history is that different context and situations call for different actions. Every one of our areas we discussed could lean left or right from a ‘social order’ perspective, however we should be adjusting left/right the same way we adjust wings on a plane, not as a permanent belief. It’s like asking, “Should we play offense or should we play defense? Both depend on the context and what we’re dealing with. Left vs is right is no different.
If we did this correctly, there would be more competitive political parties. At any given moment the various topics and their associated support should be changing based on current events and overall national strategy.
Bottom line, vote the way you see fit and lets all push for more nuanced understanding and break this archaic two party system. 300 million people should never be relegated to two sets of beliefs. Stay respectful, keep discourse open and always work to understand the why behind someone else’s perspective. It will take a while, but the more we use our minds and speak up, the more those in political power will see and have to adjust accordingly.
Image from Politcal Compass Reddit – https://www.reddit.com/r/PoliticalCompass/comments/jm1zpi/the_compass_explained/