BY VERN TURNER
I am not a religious person, but sometimes it becomes necessary to venture into the land of religious teachings to make a point in the modern world. The point today is from George Lakoff’s very interesting book, Don’t Think of an Elephant. In it, he describes the two basic models for American politics: The authoritarian model and the nurturant model. Ironically, both are founded on many of the same passages from the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Lakoff defines the nature of the so-called conservative philosophy beginning with the premise that God is all-powerful and all good. OK. Most religious people accept that up front. Conservatives think that God wants good people in charge of things. They see a God-driven hierarchy [God above man, man above nature, adults above children] where virtue is rewarded with power and those who manage the moral codes should be obeyed.
They believe, as most religious people believe, that God made the laws and that it takes personal discipline to follow those laws. If someone is disciplined enough to obey God’s laws, he or she should be rewarded with power and wealth.
God is, therefore, the “original strict father.” Obey the laws and get rewards. Break the laws and receive punishment.
It gets a little more complicated when God’s son, Jesus, enters the picture. Jesus gives sinners a second chance to obey God’s laws; to be born again. This philosophy gives conservative-thinking Christians an additional shot of hierarchy with Christians above non-Christians, men above women, whites above non-whites and straights above gays. This structure allows conservatives license to launch their political application of hierarchy and discipline on their societies at large and the masses in particular.
Included in this structure is their own brand of morality, economics, education and government.
The discipline-oriented model assumes that social services are immoral in that everyone should earn what they get through hard work and discipline. This carries over into economics and government as well as education. Education, for example, should be rigidly controlled, uniform in curriculum and authoritarian in directing student behavior.
Economics must follow the oft-failed free market model [Supply Side or Trickle Down economics] where no regulations or organized labor are allowed to limit profits for those who produce goods and services.
Within this hierarchy, the poorer classes are necessary to serve the upper classes and to provide the sweat equity to make them rich. After all, as the model goes, the owners and the upper class are the most righteous because they receive all these material and comfort rewards; they simply deserve them.
Of course, this begs the question about why equally religious and righteous people don’t share the same amount of comfort and luxury. Is there a scale of religious righteousness that matches up comfort and wealth with how much an individual loves God? I couldn’t find that anywhere in the Bible.
Now, how about the other side? What is the value meme for progressives/liberals?
Lakoff describes them as the nurturant model of humanity – you know, those people who see the big picture of their society and want to share, or at least distribute, wealth and prosperity to everyone willing to try. Why, they even create charities for those who can’t participate directly or are in such a state that success and happiness are out of reach.
Indeed, many of these people liberals care about are homeless, or indigent, or starving. Nurturers don’t possess all of the authoritarian model attributes found in the strict father model of conservatives.
Liberals, like their original hero, Thomas Jefferson, believe that education should be a right for everyone. They also believe that if everyone who can pays a little, then there is enough for the few who are very needy.
Yes, this is utopian and total idealism has yet to be approached. Also, not all conservatives and not all liberals practice their major philosophy totally. That’s certainly understandable given the enormous complexity of the human condition everywhere. Our complex society in the United States allows barely over half of each “competing” philosophy to operate that society. Yet, we do quite well … other than for the 15% of chronic poverty that not even the most generous of liberals can get to.
Conservatives actually blame the poor for being poor, irrespective of their lack of opportunities in their environments. Liberals, to their shame, only offer the chronic poor lip service, not real opportunity.
Casting our veterans aside, however, is everyone’s fault. Shame on us for allowing half of our homeless people to be veterans of wars fought nobly even when our employees in public office lie through their teeth about going to war.
It’s been done before, and all too often, but the reference to New Testament Gospels in the context of this essay is germane to our country’s current situation and its future. Everything I’ve gleaned from the red print in my Bible talks about rich people giving up their wealth to help “the least of us.”
The principle character in this most-read book in history keeps saying things like feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the indigent, etc. He even advocates for educating the children.
Maybe that’s why the Romans had him killed. He was pro-life, pro-socialism and pro-dignity of mankind. He led a movement that resisted the pain of the Roman boot on the necks of the people being subjugated. But the Romans saw him as a political liability and did what they did to his kind of dissidents.
Are we seeing a repeat of tyrannical oppression with the advent of Donald Trump?
Franklin Roosevelt, in his final State of the Union address, mentioned six rights that all Americans should enjoy. Among those were the same things Jesus Christ requested for humanity as it tried to govern itself: equality under the law, food, gainful employment, a place to live, a good education, available health care.
So, I ask, why do so-called conservatives, who base their lives and philosophies on Christianity, keep trying to undo the things that FDR brought forth as the Second Bill of Rights?
Is it the selfish motive? Is it the money meme that takes over the hearts and minds of conservatives? Is it all of these? Why, I ask, have conservatives forsaken the best words from their Lord and Savior in order to foist upon the American people a harsher life with no social safety nets, no affordable health care for all and no affordable education?
Did Jesus’ words of compassion piss them off somewhere along the way? What happened to create such glaring hypocrisy among the most self-righteous, self-absorbed, self-serving and selfish people among us?
The current conflicts between so-called conservatives and liberals/progressives are exacerbated by those who make a handsome living off the conflicts: the lobbyists. The argument for cutting FDR’s New Deal programs means more money for them and their clients’ employees in government, you know, the folks the people elect every year to do them harm.
This begs another question that Lakoff asks at the beginning of his book: Why do people keep voting against their own best interests?
The best answer seems to be that the people who do this are emotionally invested in who and what they vote for. It has little to do with truth and logic, the key framework for liberal/progressive agendas. The conservative framework, truthful or not, lies with how to stir the emotions, fears and anxieties of voters in order to gain their confidence.
Donald Trump, for example, is the confidence man [aka Con Man] that did it. The Trump voters didn’t really want him to do all these things with walls, wars and woman degrading. They just heard the roar of their own testosterone in their ears and voted for him. Pure emotion. Not a fragment of logic here at all.
As my mentor keeps saying, “We have to change the framework of our political discourse.” We, the liberal/progressive majority must regain the high ground of producing candidates, and campaigns that capture the mind and imagination and emotions of the American voter.
We have to do this without condescension, but with a way of introducing a positive set of ideas that will not only fulfill the ideals of FDR, but also of the guy speaking in red in the Gospels we Americans hold so dear.
– Vern Turner lives in Marble Falls, TX and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. His latest book, Racing to the Brink: The End Game for Race and Capitalism, is available through Amazon.com.