Blog 140. Liberal ideology versus political reality

Today, the adjectives “conservative” and “liberal” imply an identity group.  However, at one time, the term “conservative” implied following authority, applying principles presumed to be tried-and-true. The term “liberal” implied questioning and testing.  Science and news journalism are both inherently questioning, and hence they will always appear to be “liberal”—but only if they are investigating, not preaching.  Dictators suppress both reporters and scientists.

Since 2016, the Democrats’ “liberal” movement has become more reactionary than questioning. This movement sees that racism, misogyny, poverty, unrestricted financial enterprise, and money-in-politics (otherwise called corruption) bring economic and social depression. But even if this view is accurate, the “liberal” movement is in danger of proposing actions based on ideology more than reality.

The Democrats appear to believe that they, alone, stand between the future of our democracy and a fascist assault.  Dark money, they say, is invested to politicize the judiciary, gerrymander elections, purge voters, punish illegal immigrants, impose poverty with subsidies for big business, privatize national parks and lands, restrict abortion and worker protection, and eliminate environmental restrictions—especially those restrictions that apply to climate change.

The political reality is that a majority of the country must agree if changes in the laws are to be effective.   An approach forced by a 51% majority might solidify resentment rather than create resolution. Being right by making others wrong can win elections, but it doesn’t resolve a widespread view that the Democrats’ ideals are academic and elite, far removed from the working person.

If ideology dominates practicality, the Democrats might self-destruct like the former Republican Party when it bowed to the ideology of the Tea Party. That happens when a minor fraction blocks every attempt at progress. In today’s case, the new progressives wouldn’t be trying to take down the government, but rather to expand it before examining the consequences.

In the post-2008 economic recession, the income disparity and the social polarization are emergent behaviors of the complex systems that are our society and economy. My mantra: To control an unwanted emergent behavior of a complex system you must alter the rules of interaction among the players in the system, rather than applying fixes to the symptoms. For example, you might treat the symptoms of an epidemic directly by establishing more hospitals. That could reduce individual suffering, but not stop the epidemic. Alternatively, you could treat the interactions between persons by restricting gatherings at theaters and swimming pools, as was done during the polio epidemic of the 1940’s. Or, you might use immunization to alter the interaction between pathogens and persons. That’s more effective.

And how do you immunize an economy? By altering the rules by which the money flow concentrates in a few organizations while widespread productivity declines—the rules that allow monopoly, speculation by banks, centralization of wealth, government subsidies for big business, and—most of all—money in politics. Our country has encouraged, rather than discouraged, these infectious mechanisms during the last three decades.  It has to be done in such a way that the common person feels included at each step.

New spending for welfare and public housing will reduce suffering for a few people, but it won’t change the massive division{1} in a society that has lost confidence in its government, its economy, and its moral structure.

The dangerous polarity that threatens our democracy cannot be dispelled by another divisive ideological crusade in Congress. To resolve the angst that permeates American society will require a strong, informed, unselfish leadership that openly acknowledges compromises while gradually revising the rules of banking, big business, and politics.  A crusade can only amplify the polarization.

We have to regenerate confidence in government.  The large majority of people must feel that government protects them, rather than government protecting corruption.

Such confidence requires a political philosophy in which the purpose of government is the well-being of the people and the environments within which they live.


{1}  Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Great Divide. W.W. Norton & Company, 2015.

3 thoughts on “Blog 140. Liberal ideology versus political reality

  1. Veronica Palmer ·

    Well said Don, but when both political parties promote the same economic agenda what are we supposed to do? Frankly, I am beginning to think the French and now the Belgians have the right idea. Maybe the entire system needs to be torn down to create a new space for something different.

    • Well, my notion was that the newer wave of Democrats was enthusiastic about a different agenda–or actually a different ideology that hasn’t been translated into a realistic agenda. If both parties promote the SAME economic agenda (and that’s possible) the social divide might become a chasm. dn

  2. Keith Schick ·

    Both parties tend to be too extreme. The more I hear about Libertarians the more I like their platform? Small government, personal responsibility, while providing a hand up when someone is down on their luck!

    Happy New Year!

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