The re-election of Barack Obama honestly stunned many conservatives. They could understand some people being confused enough to vote for Obama four years ago, but as they watched his actions during his first term, they were certain that most people saw the same danger they saw.
Now those conservatives are left confused and scared of what’s next. Mostly, though, many of the conservatives I know are trying to figure out what went wrong. How is it that what was so plain to them wasn’t plain to a majority in the country?
Deep down, most people believe that other reasonable and intelligent people are like them. It makes sense on some level. If you assume that you’re intelligent, informed and reasonable, you assume that similar people would come to similar conclusions. And if they don’t come to similar conclusions, well, they’re not very bright. Or they’re ill-informed. Or biased. Or unreasonable. Somehow, there’s something wrong with them.
Conservatives have believed that they were in the majority for years. Even during the tumultuous ’60s, Richard Nixon told conservatives that they were the “silent majority.” In the ’70s, the Rev. Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority to become a political force for social conservatives. In both of these names, you see the assumption that the majority are obviously “with us.”
Those who think this way honestly don’t understand people outside their group. They just know there’s something wrong with those people. They see those on the left as selfish, stupid and unthinking people. They see them as lazy folks who only want a handout. And they probably live in California and eat foods that normal people can’t even pronounce.
Those on the progressive left are exactly the same way, but in reverse. They can’t see how any intelligent, informed and reasonable person could come to any political position other than the one they’ve come to. To them, conservatives are stupid, ill-informed and unreasonable. Probably racist. And they probably live in trailer parks and don’t go to dentists.
I have lots of friends on both sides of that divide. As an anarchist with wildly independent views on pretty much everything, I have a foot in each camp, at least socially. Some of my friends are Bible-believing social conservatives who are in church two or three times a week. Others among my friends are socially liberal, gay, artsy and intellectual. There’s a good bit of overlap, of course, but it’s easy to stereotype them.
I like the people in each group. I strongly disagree with both groups, because each side wants to control people, just in different ways. But I understand what each side thinks and why it believes what it believes. If there were a formal debate, I could represent either side, because I understand where each side is coming from. I understand why they believe what they believe.
Many people in this country today believe the biggest political problem we have is figuring out how “both sides can work together for the common good,” but that’s very mistaken. There’s a fundamental divide between the two. There’s not common ground that reasonable people can find. Each side believes that what the other believes is evil. They’re not going to suddenly learn to get along.
Conservatives believe that if they just work harder, they can convince a majority to give them power to change everything to the way they want things to be. Those on the progressive left believe that if they can convince a majority to give them all the power, they can correct all the problems created by those nasty conservatives. This struggle is going to get worse, and it’s going to get nastier.
This country is fragmenting and it’s going to get worse. Demographic changes mean that the white people who have traditionally been the vast majority of voters are slowly losing their super-majority. In 2000, 80 percent of voters were white. This year, only 72 percent of voters were white. Hispanics are the fastest-growing group, but there are also more blacks and other minorities. It just means that the old days of white interest groups battling it out for political power (with one of them aided by a small group of minorities) is ending. It’s not going to be long before “minorities” collectively form the majority.
If you think the disagreements are serious today, wait until racial groups that have been minorities start taking control. They’re already signed up for the progressive left — and there’s going to be a lot more interest in “soaking the rich” as that shift happens.
The WASPish America of our dim memory is gone and isn’t coming back. The fissures between us are going to get more and more serious. Anger is going to be stronger. Social and economic breakdown will eventually happen.
Doesn’t it make sense to be thinking now about how we’re going to handle that breakup? We can keep pretending that we’re united and indivisible or we can negotiate terms of a breakup for those who want to go their own way. That’s the only thing that will stop the violence that I fear.
Sadly, I suspect that all of the mainstream groups would rather keep demanding control of the entire pie rather than allow the pie to be split. It doesn’t make sense, but these groups which fundamentally don’t understand each other are convinced that they’re ultimately going to win in the court of public opinion.
We’re in for rough days. I just can’t tell whether it’s going to break down in five years or 50 years. It has to happen at some point, though. I’d rather have a plan to deal with it — and a ways to break up peacefully — instead of waiting around to get hurt.