BY VERN TURNER
Since 1965, the Republican Party has had a president for 28 years, the Democrats only 25. During those 28 years of Republican control, the law has spit out 120 criminal indictments against members of those administrations. From those, there were 89 convictions of various crimes that yielded 34 prison sentences … and this does not include the Trump Administration’s coming tidal wave of laws broken and sentences handed out. These legal issues are, sadly, symptomatic of Republican politics and governing. The Democrats have been taken to the legal woodshed less than 10% of these by Republicans, and the Obama Administration received zero indictments, convictions or prison sentences. No wonder the Republicans dislike President Obama so much: He is their antithesis. He played by the rules and committed no crimes.
George Lakoff wrote a very insightful book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, that helps define, first, the differences between “conservatives” and “progressives.” Republicans have always identified themselves as conservative, but what, exactly, does that mean? Democrats identify with being liberal or progressive, but what, exactly, does that mean? Lakoff begins with the bold statement that all politics is moral, but different groups define their political morality differently. He also states that this morality is not absolute, but rather operated by the technical term, biconceptualism. This allows inconsistent systems to function in the same brain. This means that certain parts of each ideology are shared by everyone, but to different degrees. Biconceptualism, therefore, is central to our politics.
Too many progressives have been taught a false theory of reason and logic. This theory says that framing, metaphors and emotion play no role in what passes for rationality in politics. Even though it has very important purpose, just citing facts and data does not set one free, at least politically. Facts matter greatly, of course, but for them to be meaningful to voters in general, they must be framed in terms of moral importance. For example, when debating with the other side, don’t use their frames if you want to sway the audience. When Nixon told the world that he was not “a crook,” guess what everyone thought. Another example is George W. Bush’s coining of the term tax relief. Relief sounds like there is an affliction, taxes, and that the hero of relieving the afflicted, Bush, would bring relief.
Let us now look at the basic tenets of comparison between the so-called conservative models and the so-called progressive models. Again, George Lakoff has done the leg work to make these identifications clear.
The Strong Father Model
This is the underlying tenet of so-called conservative values and views on society.
– The world is dangerous. The strong father must protect the family from danger.
– The world is difficult. The strong father must support the family in this difficult world.
– Children are born bad. The strong and strict father must teach the children right from wrong.
– The child must be obedient; the father is the moral authority who knows right from wrong. The only way to teach the children is through punishment. [In James Dobson’s book, The New Dare to Discipline, he advocates spanking babies after they’re 18 months old. This “discipline” is supposed to help develop the child’s own internal discipline for future years.
– The “discipline” has the secondary effect of being a requirement for success and prosperity. It means that disciplined people pursue their own self-interest and become, therefore, prosperous and self-reliant. This intention of the strong father model links morality [discipline] with prosperity.
In the south, where evangelical religions dominate society, Dobson’s regimen of discipline is embraced in public schools much more often than in northern schools. I taught in three districts in Texas, for example, and all three communities elected to include corporal punishment [paddling] as part of the behavior control aspects of their districts. I learned that about 90% of Texas’ school districts enabled paddling, especially in the rural areas.
Focus on the Family’s Dobson went on to link this strict father world view to free-market capitalism; the link being the conservative’s version of Adam Smith’s view of capitalism: The Invisible hand [nature] will allow everyone to prosper if the individual prospers.
This model also includes the criteria for being a good person, a moral person: disciplined, obedient and pursuant of self-interest. Politically, this translates to not needing government to interfere, the small government meme of conservatives. After all, if people are taking care of themselves, and that means everyone is doing well, then who needs government? Indeed, promoting social programs is actually immoral. At least that’s the extended logic to this theory. What this theory also embraces is that only those who have discipline should reap benefits. Thus, tax cuts [“starving the beast”] for those moral and disciplined people is the way it should be.
It should also be noted that this model includes evangelical Christianity as one of its pillars: women are “legally” and morally subjugated by men and are assigned a subservient role in the family and the community. It’s the “lord and master” thing from ancient times, but this is 2019. One would think that we’ve moved past pre-Biblical rule sets, but no …
The most dramatic and extreme example of this theory in practice came from the 2013 sequester monstrosity where just about every government program that was actually far-sighted and citizen-oriented was cut significantly. Those cuts have yet to be reinstated and are harming our nation’s ability to function as an economic and innovative leader in the world. It’s not that conservatives are against all government. They like subsidies to corporations, because the investors reap the benefits. They like the military, because the military-industrial-complex makes billions of tax dollars, thus feeding the stockholders even more. They like conservative courts that allow regulations to be cut so more profits can be made for those who deserve them.
What conservatives are against are social programs that help people, early childhood education [where it is critical], Medicaid for the poor, free public education, minimum wages and unemployment insurance. Basically, conservatives are against anything and everything that FDR’s New Deal provided. They have been fighting to rid the nation of these “socialistic” programs that invest in the citizenry at large since before the ink was dry on those bills.
This strong father model extends to foreign policy, too. Conservatives feel that the United States is the “strong father” and that all other countries, even democracies, are the children needing discipline. Is it any wonder, then, that our foreign policies under conservative administrations began as being the “policemen of the world,” devolved into government overthrows, illegal wars based on lies and a kind of imperialism that avoided colonialism for the most part, but promoted military and economic bases in hundreds of countries; a kind of “parental” hegemony that extends our conservative version of morality around the world.
This situation is not exclusive to conservative administrations, but it’s a kind of tar baby diplomacy trap: Once you’re in, it’s really hard to get out or be thrown out.
Oh, and this hegemony also requires more military spending and thus more profits for the chosen moralists, the conservatives. If a foreign nation chooses not to follow our dictated guidelines, they become “rogue nations.” Otherwise, they are “friendly nations.” It’s moral vs. immoral.
The Nurturant Parent Model
This is the model that Lakoff uses to help explain the progressive ideologies that affect our society and government. First of all, the nurturant worldview is gender neutral. Both parents are responsible for child rearing and family values.
– Both parents are responsible for child rearing.
– Children are born good, and can only be made better.
– The world is difficult, but it can be made into a better place; the task is to make it so.
– Nurture the children and praise them for nurturing others.
– Empathy is the watchword; do your best for yourself andyour family, your community, your country and wherever you can reach.
It is determinative that if the parent[s] empathize with the child, protection becomes part of the family environment in a compassionate way without, necessarily, physical punishment. This empathy means that the parents are protecting against things like drugs and crime. Other empathetic protections include seat belts in cars [Remember the battle it took to get them installed everywhere?], smoking, bad chemicals and additives, etc. These battles still rage in the courts. So, on a larger, political scale, environmental, workplace, consumer and health protection is part of the nurturant or progressive agenda. Furthermore, empathy with the children presumes to allow those children to lead fulfilled lives, be happy and avoid envy of others. The nurturant parent’s moral responsibility is to teach the child happiness and how to achieve it.
Here is a summary of nurturant [progressive] values that differ so much from the conservative, or strong father set of values.
– Instill the freedom for the child to obtain fulfillment in their lives.
– There is little freedom for fulfillment if there are no opportunities or enough prosperity available. Opportunity and prosperity, therefore, are progressive values based on freedom.
– Fairness is a value. Progressives tend to want to be treated fairly and try to treat others fairly, too. Fairness, therefore, is a progressive value.
– Honest, open, two-way communication is a value that supports empathy.
The quality of the community will affect how children grow up. Progressives, therefore, tend toward community building and public service so that their community will be a healthy place for their children. Community service, therefore, becomes a progressive anda family value.
– Trust, honesty and two-way communication are progressive values too. These values add to the quality of life in the community, and thus a better environment for children to be nurtured and grow.
It should be noted that not everyone is totally conservative or totally progressive. The vast majority of people reside along a continuum of values. The good news is that vast majority has major overlaps with both sets of values. This condition creates the dynamics of our society that allow us to function. Civil harmony is crucial, in complex societies, in order for that society to do wonderful things and have more value as a whole. Sadly, there are political forces that keep trying to wrench people away from overlapping values and to adhere to their strict ideology.
Most recently, the Republican Party in the United States has taken on the mantle of this separation of values for their own political and/or corrupt alternate set of values. With so much big money in politics, elected officials tend to be susceptible to bribes and graft. There is no greater example of this than the ousted EPA director, Scott Pruitt. He learned his graft/corruption “skills” in the notoriously corrupt halls of Oklahoma politics. His time in the Trump Administration exhibited the graft, corruption and misuse of public funds to the extreme.
As a final statement to Part I, it should be noted that nobody is immune from corruption no matter the value set to which they adhere. As with the people who share so many values, there is a continuum of corruption, graft and outright criminal activity. Some say that the pendulum swings both ways in our political arena, and history shows that is true. But each time the pendulum cycles, some threads of our national fabric are frayed and become difficult to mend. The concern is that the time may come when so much of that fabric has been frayed and stretched, that healing is not possible and the fabric of our society is irreparably torn. It happened before in 1860 when slave-driven economics collided with the moral outrage of that institution. We did heal from that … sort of. But the frayed edges of that rending of our country are still flying in the breezes of our national discourse.
Part II will address this issue further and illustrate how the Republican Party is defeating itself politically, socially and morally. We want to not let them take the nation down with them.
– Denver resident Vern Turner is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. His latest book, Why Angels Weep: America and Donald Trump, is available through Amazon.