Tag Archives: America

United We Stand Up to Democracy’s Bullies

George Lakoff once offered this metaphor for understanding conservatives and progressives: Conservatives think like Strict Fathers (SF), Progressives think like Nurturant Parents (NP). A Strict Father is (obviously) male and the authority figure who can tell right from wrong. A Strict Father governs by himself, as he sees fit, if something goes wrong, he exacts a harsh punishment. A Nurturant Parent is gender neutral that understands the world in shades of grey. Nurturant Parents work together, even with those that they govern, to find a solution that seems best for all. If something goes wrong, a Nurturant Parent tries to find out what happened, come up with a just consequence, but the punitive measures are checked in favor of positive motivation. These metaphors and ideologies can apply to an actual family, but the intention is to apply the metaphor to nations and look at them as a family.

Sara Robinson of Alternet has written a great piece on how our nation/family is doing lately using these metaphors. Here’s her take on the real contract Americans have made with each other:

Seen this way, “America” is the family name for the 310 million of us bonded together in a covenant that’s very much like the commitment that forms a family. We have come together to build our common wealth, create opportunities for each other that will secure our shared future, raise our children, care for our elderly, protect our assets, look after each other in sickness and in health, and wisely tend our national house and manage our gathered resources so we can hand the increase proudly off to the next generation.

And, like a family, this is a commitment that is entirely grounded in mutual trust — a bone-deep knowledge that we will keep faith and be there for each other; that we will look out for each others’ rights, property, and kids; that we will generously give the family our best whenever possible; and that we also rely on it to be there for us when we need help. For better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health, we promise to be there for each other. The true strength and wealth of the country begins with the strength of that commitment.

Our founding documents – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – are the structures that bind our commitment into law. Our unofficial motto is “United We Stand, Divided We Fall”. Like sibling/citizens, we may bicker, but for the most part, we wish prosperity and happiness to our fellow Americans and support the systems that make that possible.

What happens though when a small part of the population no longer recognizes the covenant agreed upon by their predecessors – it is the covenant, the contract by which all Americans are either born into or embrace before becoming a citizen. Robinson describes this in terms of the family metaphor:

…there’s another group that has entirely checked out on us, and turned ugly and abusive. The conservative minority is acting like Lakoff’s canonical Strict Father scorned: When the family rejects his leadership and his attempts at authoritarian control, he sinks into a punitive, bullying rage, lashing out at the rest of us for what he’s come to believe is irredeemable broken faith because we won’t let him be the boss. By his behavior, he is telling us in no uncertain terms that he wants a scorched-earth divorce — the kind that leaves the rest of us broke, ruined, miserable, and utterly at his mercy.  He has gone so far as to hire batteries of lawyers and lobbyists to accomplish this, and is taking a bully’s evident glee in his success.

I asked a Republican operative recently how far he would take the “States-ism” idea, and did he even want to be in the same country with the rest of us. I wondered if he thought 50 separate countries was a better idea. He responded that he needed the other states taxes to have a superior military in the world. I summed it up by saying that he only wanted to use the other states for their money, and was shocked when he didn’t really disagree.

Robinson talks about a marriage in her piece. When a couple goes into marriage counseling, it can be apparent from the start whether they are heading to a reconciliation or divorce. The determining factor hinges on how much the couple still has their original dream, the spark, and the trust that even if things get convoluted along the way, there is still hope to work things out in a viable way. If the trust is totally gone, the dream is totally dead, too much pain has been inflicted, and there is no chance of a rekindling of love, then the contract is already broken and the divorce is a formality.

As a Nation, we must take a hard look at that idea, is our contract too broken? Are we so much at odds with each other that we are ready to scrap this experiment in democracy and throw our hands up in the air? I don’t think so, at least not on my watch.

Most Americans want to keep our union intact. We are willing to agree to disagree about many details, while keeping our foundational documents intact. We like California and Alaska, Iowa and Vermont. We like our diversity, our quirkiness, our vast and varied geography. We like driving from state to state without much ado and being able to visit Alberquerque to see an old friend – without a passport. We like that being American is a hard stereotype to pin down – sure we have loud mouthed blow hards (our image in many other countries), but have just as many quiet, vegan, yoga teachers.

Robinson does a great job of using the family metaphor to illustrate what is happening to us. She draws parallels to an abusive father that no longer protects his family, but hurts and manipulates them regularly to reinforce his own power. (you really should read her piece)

Like in a domestic violence situation, we have to break this cycle of authoritarian bullying. We can’t just walk away, we have to become aware and take action; we have to confront our bullies. Even small conversations that seem to go nowhere might start a thought process that eventually bears fruit. I’ll let Robinson close here with a few suggestions on how we can get our family back on track.

We can decide that we’re going to stay sane in the face of the craziness — and stand with anybody, regardless of their politics, who is also acting in good faith to stand against the bullies.

We can work to create a consensus vision of the next America we want to become, and form trusting relationships with others to make that happen.

We can refuse to reward bullying behavior with success. (Or, for that matter, with any more attention than it takes to get the bullies out of the room.)

We can stand up before each other and the world and say: “Those people do not speak for us, and their squalid, angry vision is not our vision. We are a better nation than that.”

And we can, simply, continue to come together and govern. Because the specter of citizens civilly and peacefully exercising power is, above everything else, the one thing they fear the most, the biggest threat to the radical anti-democracy agenda.

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Right Fears, The Left Loves

The Left are lovers, the right are scared; that’s the short story from new study came out recently from the Political Science Dept. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A test group of established conservative and liberal subject were hooked up to machines that measured physiological responses and found that conservatives fixated on images they found fearful and liberals were relatively unfazed.  Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Obama Straddles the Fence

I began this post as a sort of Cliff’s notes on the framing of the State of the Union address, but now have done the equivalent of ripping the page out of the typewriter, crumpling it up and tossing it in the can. Obama’s speech had a lot of great points, he is a good speaker and has good writers – the majority of Americans can rally around the majority of the ideas put forward in the speech. He does speak of values – which is where his progressive streak sparks a flame – then he snuffs it out when he tries to walk the fence for the sake of being “moderate”.

Americans aren’t moderates! It is popular to seem moderate and say you’re moderate, but in fact that is not how our brains operate. There are really only two positions for each detail of an issue –  we agree or disagree, yes or no, good or bad – you can almost always break an issue down in this way. We answer those questions by checking our internal value system; is it making us feel empathetic (nurturing, caring) or judgemental (strict, authoritarian). The only other possibility is that of being apathetic or unaware; even if you are uninformed, malinformed, or ignorant you may have a strong opinion, as is painfully apparent today. We are like computers in that this system of forming opinions is basically a set of ones and zeroes.

Let’s try an issue. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

An Occupied Kind of Tea Party

The Occupy movement has done much to change the conversation in our country around issues of commerce, the worker’s plight, and the inequity that exists between the very rich and the rest of us. I am thankful that they’ve done it because the status quo discourse around those matters was painfully apathetic. There is one unfortunate aspect to what has happened in the Occupy movement that provides a chink in their armor, it’s a path that creates further division – not unity – for their cause.

I would have hoped that early on the Occupy movement would have recognized the similarities between themselves and the Tea Partiers that demonstrated a season before them. You can point out many differences but the power comes from pointing out the similarities. The Tea Party started as a rejection of the bail out of the banks – little guys vs. big guys, the workers vs. the monied classes.  They were hostile to Wall Street and the preferences showed them over Main St. It was said that they despised all things big, Big Government, Big Banks, Big Business and Big Taxes – hey, I see a solid half of values matching up. Even Big Government and Big Taxes are contested concepts and relative terms; I don’t know many people that want bigger taxes and government just for the sake of being big. Since the start of the Occupy movement – and since it is commonplace to pit folks against each other – comparisons have been made between the Occupy and Tea Party Movement.

It is time for those of us with respect for our fellow humans to try and recognize our similarities and affinities and draw from them rather than point and laugh at our differences. Originally Tea Partiers were grassroots, organically organized, and rightfully upset at a system that had discounted their opinion. These very basic and authentic roots resonate with most of us, especially the Occupy sympathizers. I for one, as a sympathizer, want to reach out to my fellow citizens and human beings. I can respectfully disagree with some points and then wholeheartedly agree with many others. We agree that our system is dysfunctional. We agree that opportunity should be fair and that favoritism is fundamentally unfair. We don’t like our tax dollars or reputations to be squandered doing wasteful or hurtful things to others. There are a host of values that we align with that could be emphasized instead of taking cheap shots and trying to “gotcha!” each other.

I come from a family and area in the Midwest where it is common that find myself in a room of loved ones that do not politically agree with me, it does not make me love them less. It used to make me like them less, but now I understand where they are coming from and the values that they hold dear. Because I also hold my values dear and would fight to uphold them, it gives me respect for my debate partner to hear their well reasoned points ring with passion and integrity. When I hear rigorous debate that ditches the sophomoric name calling and embraces ethical rules of engagement, I have hope for the future. A glorious, wonderful thing happens when we give each other the time and space to express themselves in a respectable manner: our guard relaxes, we feel safer and we open our minds to begin learning from each other. We will never all agree with each other, but we can remind each other that we are human and at least in that, we have some common values. If we are to continuing to exist, we might as well try to bring out the best in each other.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Family Values and the “Free Market”

In yesterday’s post, I outlined some of the inconsistencies Newt Gingrich has shown on the campaign trail  – how he got very touchy-feely with moms yet his platform of ideas does not line up to be that family friendly.  The most glaring inconsistency is – once again – about values. Gingrich is all about unfettered capitalism, exhausting resources for short term gain, and upholding what he considers to be traditional American, God fearing family values. So why is he espousing liberal values in front of an audience that was shown to support Obama? Ok, that’s got an obvious answer – because he wants to be the one they support. Their survey basically showed that moms have more liberal belief systems than the social conservatives (all but Ron Paul) in the Republican race.

Luntz starts off his analysis stating simple facts about the survey, but then showed his bias by backpedaling a bit in order to tow the Republican line. In this clip, he speaks with a CafeMom correspondent about the survey that CafeMom did. First he states the facts pretty plainly, moms are feeling very negative about the American dream, their daily struggle, and political parties, but at about 2:40 he begins putting words in these surveyed moms’ mouths when talking about what moms want from politicians:

They need to address the issues, not from an ideological standpoint, but much more from a day-to-day, quality-of-life standpoint.  How can you help moms achieve their goals from the moment they wake up in the morning ’til the moment they go to sleep at night? Now [moms are] not asking for bigger government – that’s not what they’re saying. What they’re saying is understand, empathize, and at least get out of their way and don’t make it more difficult for me.

Luntz goes on:

They need to show [the moms] that they hear the challenges and they have solutions to it, whether it’s helping them feel more secure in their jobs, whether it’s providing more money at the end of the week, whether it’s helping them save, helping them start a business…or even just getting out of the way so they can do it themselves.

Luntz does a sloppy job of quoting, citing survey results, and interjecting his opinion in this interview. You can’t really be sure when he is paraphrasing on the moms’ behalf and when he inserting his own opinion, though he does call attention to actual quotes from moms. Rest assured, if an actual mom had an actual quote that fit his agenda, he would be using it and trying to push it to the spotlight of attention. In the above quotes he takes the leap in outlining what moms are not asking for – a negative catch phrase that Republicans love to use – “bigger government”. To an establishment Republican, that term is synonymous with Democrats – this is a dog whistle. He wants it to seem like moms reject Democratic ideas when there is no question or response that indicates that. He goes on to state that moms want understanding and empathy – nurturing values that are planks of the Democratic party. Then he throws in “get out of their way and don’t make it more difficult”, as if moms actually responded with those words – again, if they did he would’ve quoted it. He is dog whistling again – throwing out a tagline of the Republican party as if the moms put it out there.

In the second quote above, Frank is summarizing the survey and stating what moms have said that they want from a candidate. Look at the laundry list, job security, more money per week, saving (which also amounts to more money) – what does a Republican have to offer for those day-to-day, week-to-week struggles and fears? The “free market” (a.k.a. capitalism). There’s only one problem, the “free market” does not have a human component. It is about money, money, and money. “Free markets” are not sympathetic when you must miss work due to a child’s illness, there are other workers to replace you. “Free markets” don’t care if your 40 hour work week has turned into a 60 hour work week and you no longer have any daylight hours (or energy) to spend with your family – that’s called “productivity”. “Free markets” aren’t giving out pay raises to allow for some breathing room in a family budget – are you kidding, in this job market? This is the progressive qualm with the so-called “free market”; there is no room for humanity to be human. The trajectory for the quality of life of a worker at this time goes nowhere but down.

Luntz suggests the idea that moms may like help starting a business. I’m sure that is true of some moms, but let’s be realistic: if you can’t find a job, live in fear of losing a job, and have zero or low wages, would you really be in a great position to learn what it takes and have the resources to run a successful business? Without these hindrances – or children that need rearing/child care that needs paying – starting a small business is risky enough. The rate of successful, thriving businesses compared to the number of startups is bleak for the long term. Security definitely does not spring to mind when thinking of risking the well-being of the whole family on an entrepreneurial venture ( a craps game is closer to my mental imagery).

Luntz knows, at least in this instance, that empathy is key to this demographic. It almost seems like he is trying to co-opt the term for himself/his clients even though it is not a traditionally top conservative value – it is the top progressive value. He wants folks to vote conservative though the survey shows their values are liberal. Indeed the bigger problem for Luntz – and the Republican party – is that two of the main factions of their party, social conservatives and “free market” advocates, are not very compatible when you get down to the real world application of those values. Once again, the credibility goes back to a trust issue – just like in interpersonal relationships.  Can moms really trust an unrestrained, subsidized corporation to take care of their families and neighborhoods? Is profit-seeking the same as caring for family values?  When the used car dealer tells you it’s a fine piece of equipment just moments before the fender falls off, you take your business elsewhere. Luntz knows this and relies on our short term memories, then plays a shell game with our futures. Gingrich can talk a sympathetic game, but it is inconsistent with the Republican capitalist platform – the core of his platform.  It will be interesting to see if empathy continues to come up on the campaign trail and how Republicans handle these inconsistencies. Maybe corporations will start eschewing profits to worry about our kids’ future – just kidding, I wanted to end with a chuckle.

As an aside, you may wonder why I continually put “free markets” in quotes throughout my post; the latest buzzword is “enterprise”  (perhaps that was a suggestion of Luntz’s as well, it does sound better). “Free markets” use the contested concept of “freedom” and, as the joke goes, freedom is more free for some than others. I’ll do a future post all about the misnomer of “free markets” or enterprise, or whatever the term of the season is for capitalism in our corporate society. Keep checking back in, with CivilTongue – and your own values.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,