There is a lot in the national monologue about ideology and partisanship and how idiotic the GOP is for supporting ANYTHING Trump does. Fair enough.
If you’ve noticed, none of that extensive monologuing is solving a problem. Or any problem. Or problems. Why? Because we have a problem of problem definition.
We hear a lot of blasting of the ideology with very little said about why people hold the views they do, why they vote the way they do and why they think a certain policy solution or set of policy strategies will work the best to achieve positive outcomes.
But positive as defined by what, exactly? And by whom? And for whom?
At the core, our differences are probably less about what we believe and more about why we believe it. What came first? The experience. The ones that form our views of ourselves, our communities, our politics and our problems, therefore what we believe are good solutions.
Consider it this way:
You have a formal education that did not extend to receiving a university degree, or even an associate’s degree. Your career options are fairly limited, your neighborhood is not stable, you are raising children by yourself without access to daycare or any kind of quality childcare, you can’t save because you spend what little you earn on car repairs, moving expenses and rising costs of living that outpace your wages and you feel that you cannot move up in life because you do not have access to the resources you need to acquire stable housing, to access more stable and performance-driven employment opportunities and to make sure your children have a quality education that can help them rise above the position your family is currently in. You don’t have family, friends or charity that can step in and provide you a step up, so where else do you look? Government resources.
Programs, policies and assistance for you are likely to be most available from federal, state or local government assistance, and your experience shows you that while people may fail you, the government provides, especially when liberal candidates are in office. You have a strong personal interest in liberal candidates being elected because that means you get assistance you don’t otherwise have, and you have so little that taking even that away is a significant threat to you. It has nothing to do with your willingness to work, your ability to work, your values or you future goals, it is about survival and having a chance at a better position in life that does not require so much struggle. Of course the wealthy should pay more taxes, because they already have so much. Of course the government should spend money on job training and education, because if only you had better work skills or a better education you could get a better job. No, you couldn’t care less about foreign policy because it doesn’t affect you and why spend money elsewhere when so many people you know are in need here at home? Yes to transit because your car is not reliable. Yes to rent controls because maybe that will get you and your children into a more stable neighborhood. Yes to entitlement spending because your neighbor, who sometimes watches your kids, depends on it to stay near you and you can’t afford to lose your childcare.
You own a historic building in a medium-sized town and have a small business in that building. Your building is regulated because it is in an historic district, your business is regulated because the government likes to interfere in the affairs of small businesses and you pay a lot in taxes because you are self-employed and your business is returning a profit after three years of struggling. You have worked hard for everything you have, you had to get a loan, you had to take a risk, you work much more than 40 hours per week and you are planning to retire in 13 years if all goes well. However, your plans to update the building are foiled by the local building official who is requiring extra work that will cost you $16,000, the federal agency that oversees your type of business is adopting a new rule that will cost you $50,000 over the next 4 years to implement and the state legislature just voted to increase the business tax, which means that instead of seeing a net gain in revenues this year you will have a net loss for the next two years unless you can increase sales far beyond your projections. Now you have to decide whether to eat the costs or reduce your number of employees. No to more taxes, no to more government, no to more rules, no to more competition and no to screwing over the hardworking Americans who are entrepreneurs and small business owners and who are just trying to earn a decent living!
Is it about ideology or is it about experience? And if we were to acknowledge that our experiences dictate our political views, both on the issues that directly apply to us and on the issues that don’t, both to specific and broad issues, does that move us away from blaming ideological stances and toward acknowledging that if we want the views to change, we must change the experience?
If you want the first person to acknowledge the difficulties the second person is facing, you would have to communicate or share the experience, and vice versa. Want more people to understand what it’s like to be a small business owner? Give them the opportunity to be one. Think government gets in the way too much? Understand the position of those whose lives depend in it getting in the way. Think people are not improving their status because they won’t work for it? Face the same prejudices and be subject to the same constraints and see how well you do. Think people don’t understand your needs, don’t care about you and your situation and are just prejudiced? Understand that their situation may be very different – and even opposite – from yours.
Today I heard a very good city leader say that most conflicts can be resolved by knocking on your neighbor’s door, but we aren’t knocking on doors anymore, we are running straight to government to resolve the conflict. He’s right. But that assumes that government is in the business of conflict resolution. It generally is not.
Is it really as easy as knocking on a neighbor’s door? Only one way to find out.