Well balanced social/political maturity is defined by the ability to recognize what is real about the life we live in, adapt to changing circumstances, relate to others in mutually acceptable ways, and sublimate violent tendencies to more useful ways. Individuals, families, groups, classes, and nationalities, each have their own take on how they understand reality, what adaption to change means, how mutually acceptable relationships work, and how hostility is to be made useful. Because their various takes are based on objectively verifiable data about the reality they apprehend, they can communicate with others, learn from others, and work out ways in which their differences can be accommodated.
The reality of our political environment is that a significant portion of the electorate, and their leaders, have chosen to live in an alternate world of delusion and conspiracy defined by little that can be objectively verified. It’s centered in today’s Republican Party. It’s hard to know how many are true believers, and how many leaders are in it only to seize power at others’ expense. Along for the ride are others, probably many others, genuinely perplexed about who and what to believe. Together, they’ve absorbed public attention, dominated media coverage, and influenced elections. They’re not a majority of the population, not even a plurality, but they have sent us down countless rabbit holes, eroded the integrity of the electoral system, and made it difficult to address agreed upon issues and work out solutions that, if not wholly agreeable, are at least tolerable to all who are willing to negotiate in good faith.
I worked with local and regional Republican interests during my years in public policy work. Republican leaders then shared a general understanding with Democrats about the reality of issues before them, but had significantly different ideas about how to address them. There was always a tacit expectation that an acceptable agreement could be worked out. In general, the more conservative Republican approach favored private solutions over public ones; expected ends to be achieved without the government dictating methods; encouraged problems to be addressed at the lowest practical level of government; desired as much freedom as possible for businesses to make market decisions; and believed federal policies should be more general, less specific, to allow flexibility of administration at the local level. There is wisdom in listening to that kind of conservative thinking. It’s a check on liberal tendencies toward extravagant plans and programs that promise more than they can deliver.
Today’s GOP leadership, playing to the trumpian base, has embraced those who live in an alternative world of delusion and conspiracy. It’s built a wall between objective reality and delusional reality that prohibits agreement about the reality of issues facing the nation. Issues identified by hard data are denied. Issues invented out of conspiratorial imaginations are claimed to be real, and there is no room for agreement on ways forward.
GOP public messaging no longer addresses serious issues. It substitutes a litany of complaints that Democrats, and liberals in general, are extreme left wing radical socialists. It’s an old trope founded only on repetition. Nothing in any of the many Democratic agendas rises to the level of extreme anything, and much of it is old time conservative defense of the rights and responsibilities of each person.
- The GOP accuses liberals of refusing to allow differing voices to be heard, claiming delusional alternative reality should have the same status as objectively verifiable reality.
- It defines bipartisanship as surrender to their demands.
- In the absence of Trump there is less talk about fake news, but the GOP continues to harp on liberal media that won’t give credibility to a menu of allegations that can’t be verified.
- Curiously, in the face of white supremacy violence, including a well organized insurrection attacking the Capitol, they contend that liberals are prone to violence. I guess that’s why they need their guns.
- Their final thrust is from an old war horse: that Democrats and liberals are out of control tax and spend fiends who will wreck the economy and impoverish the middle class. Data prove otherwise, but it is true that liberals want to raise marginal rates on the very wealthy. It’s also true that, on behalf of a vulnerable public, liberals believe corporate interests need to be regulated to limit predatory practices and protect the public health. It has the added benefit of protecting capitalists from their own worst tendencies, enabling them to compete more fairly on more reasonably level playing fields with rules everyone understands.
The nation clearly needs a responsible conservative voice that adds a bit of caution and restraint to the public debate. Today’s GOP can’t fulfill that role. One of two things needs to happen. Establishment Republicans, what Heather Cox Richardson calls business Republicans, need to regain control of the party. Or, they and other like minded conservatives need to start a new party. We shall see. If that doesn’t happen, if the current GOP trajectory toward delusional reality and autocratic rule continues, we will have a Democratic party continuing to fight for the preservation of American democracy as it faces off against hard core fascists. What may save us from such a fate is the rapidly changing American demographic profile that is watering down white hegemony while modifying the distribution of political views toward the center, with a slight edge toward left of center.