Politicians Prey On Our Natural ‘Wiring’

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By Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News


“But the world does move, and its motive power under God is the fearless thought and speech of those who dare to be in advance of their time - who are sneered at and shunned through their days of struggle as lunatics, dreamers, impracticable and visionaries; men of crotchets, vagaries and isms.

“They are the masts and sails of the ship, to which conservatism answers as a ballast. The ballast is important – at times indispensable – but it would be of no account if the ship were not bound to go ahead.”

Horace Greeley

Greeley was just that sort of man he describes above. “He endlessly promoted utopian reforms such as socialism, vegetarianism, agrarianism, feminism, and temperance, while hiring the best talent he could find…” to write about the subjects in his New York Tribune.

He had founded the newspaper in 1841 and before long it was the largest in the county with a circulation of around 200,000 a decade later. Its editorials were “widely read, shared, and copied in other city newspapers, helping to shape national American opinion.”

Greely, with these beliefs, was a Republican. How the world of politics has changed.

Authors Marc Hetherington and Jonathon Weiler, professors at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, recently wrote a book with the title “Prius or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America’s Great Divide.”

Their questions are more so choices of which characteristics you would prefer to see in a child. Pick one of the two options for each of these characteristics:

Independence   or        Respect of elders
Self-reliant        or        Obedient
Curious            or        Good-mannered
Considerate      or        Well-behaved

What you preferred as traits in a child tells how you lean politically. More choices on the left and you are likely to vote Democratic. More answers on the right and you are likely to be more conservative and vote Republican.

The authors go much further in their ability to define a person’s politics through their choices today on everything from the food they eat to the vehicle they drive.

Weiler was a guest on Sunday’s Fareed Zakaria’s GPS program. He said that those that chose answers primarily on the left side could be described as  “fluid” people while those whose choices skewed to the right side were more “fixed.”

“Folks who are fluid tend to embrace diversity, they embrace social change, they answer this very interesting question about whether you think the world is a ‘big beautiful world,’ they say very much so. Folks on the right say, ‘No, in fact, the world is not necessarily a big beautiful world. In fact, it is a world full of danger and one in which we need to be careful in order to protect ourselves and our families.’”

The choice we make in the seemingly simple things in life define our worldview. Weiler says the bad thing that is happening with this worldview that shapes our personality and politics is that it is aligning with hyper-partisanism creating a greater rift about those with whom we don’t agree.

Eighty percent of Trump’s voter saw the world as a dangerous place threatened by crime, immigration, and terrorism. Eighty percent of Clinton’s voters saw it as a big beautiful world with mostly good people, and say we just need to work together to make the world a better place.

Conservatism, Zakaria noted, has always had a darker view of the world. It is about bad things lurking out there to which we have to answer with order, law, and control to ensure stability, he said. Conservatives, particularly Trump, capitalize on these predispositions through the use of fear.

“President Trump on Monday sharply intensified a Republican campaign to frame the midterm elections as a battle over immigration and race, issuing a dark and factually baseless warning that ‘unknown Middle Easterners’ were marching toward the American border with Mexico,” The New York Times reported Tuesday.

In fact, those headed northward, still more than 1,200 miles away from the U.S. and traveling on foot with small children, are refugees from Central American countries including Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. They are trying to escape persecution, political oppression, crime lords, murder and rape. They seek better lives for their children.

The above paragraph fits in well with what Hetherington and Weiler see as Democratic, or liberal, ideals. Liberals tend to be more idealistic, willing to experiment, take chances, and more willing to accept change, all characteristics their friends on the right see as naïve and dangerous.

Through the first half of the 20th Century, our political differences focused on economics, taxes, and the size of the government. Starting with the Vietnam War protests and the equal rights movement in the 1960s, we have become more divided on emotionally charged issues of race, immigration, sexuality, and family structure.

These issues define us and deeply divide us. We are constantly being pushed to separate our beliefs into warring camps. There is no room for other identities, or beliefs, in our world the advertising campaigns and political speeches of candidates tell followers. We are pushed to be emotionally angry and politically intolerant. We are losing the ability to talk with one another, working out differences, and seeking compromise.

Trump, without a doubt, is the poster child for divisive identity politics. No politician, no president, has demonized his opponents more. Past presidents have tried to unite America, not tear it apart, through their speeches and actions.

It is hard to resist the push to become more isolated in our beliefs, yet it is what we must do if we are to restore state and federal governments that work for the common good not just the fringes of society.

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