Jeremiah Goulka grew up as a pro-business Republican in a white, upper middle class community. He went to law school and joined the Bush II administration. But as he became uncomfortable with the abandonment of basic Constitutional protections and the abuses of Guantanemo and Abu Ghraib, he decided he would feel better if he did something positive, so he volunteered to go to New Orleans post-Katrina to help re-establish government institutions and was stunned at what he found.
I noticed that the criminal justice system treats minorities differently in subtle as well as not-so-subtle ways, and that many of the people who were getting swept up by the system came from this underclass that I knew so little about. …
It turned out that everything I was "discovering" had been hiding in plain sight and had been named: aversive racism, institutional racism, disparate impact and disparate treatment, structural poverty, neighborhood redlining, the "trial tax," the "poverty tax," and on and on. Having grown up obsessed with race (welfare and affirmative action were our betes noirs), I wondered why I had never heard of any of these concepts.
Was it to protect our Republican version of "individual responsibility"? That notion is fundamental to the liberal Republican worldview. "Bootstrapping" and "equality of opportunity, not outcomes" make perfect sense if you assume, as I did, that people who hadn't risen into my world simply hadn't worked hard enough, or wanted it badly enough, or had simply failed. But I had assumed that bootstrapping required about as much as it took to get yourself promoted from junior varsity to varsity. It turns out that it's more like pulling yourself up from tee-ball to the World Series. Sure, some people do it, but they're the exceptions, the outliers, the Olympians.Then he had a trip to Iraq where he found institutional incompetence and disdain for the Iraqi people. These experiences created an epiphany, that the Republicans simply weren't seeing people beyond themselves--whether poor minority families struggling in Louisiana, or Iraqis helplessly watching as a war is waged for 10 years in their country.
An old saw has it that no one profits from talking about politics or religion. I think I finally understand what it means. We see different realities, different worlds. If you and I take in different slices of reality, chances are that we aren't talking about the same things. I think this explains much of modern American political dialogue.This piece exposes the mindset of otherwise intelligent people who simply "don't get it". You know, like Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney. They really are in their own world-- a world where the poor are lazy freeloaders and "welfare queens", where hardworking immigrants are dangerous drug dealers and gay people and atheists are un-American, and where anyone who needs it has access to money and healthcare can get it if they just work hard enough.
My old Republican worldview was flawed because it was based upon a small and particularly rosy sliver of reality. To preserve that worldview, I had to believe that people had morally earned their "just" desserts, and I had to ignore those whining liberals who tried to point out that the world didn't actually work that way. I think this shows why Republicans put so much effort into "creat[ing] our own reality," into fostering distrust of liberals, experts, scientists, and academics, and why they won't let a campaign "be dictated by fact-checkers" (as a Romney pollster put it). It explains why study after study shows -- examples here, here, and here -- that avid consumers of Republican-oriented media are more poorly informed than people who use other news sources or don't bother to follow the news at all.
It's well worth reading the whole thing and sharing widely.
At some level I get this, because it's the world I live in. I'm a comfortably-off white middle class professional surrounded by others like me. My job is secure, and I worked hard to get it. It would be nice to imagine that anyone could do what I've done, but that's not true--I had the advantages of a stable family, a good education, and the social skills to take advantage of opportunities. I wasn't crippled by college debt and didn't have to work my way through school. It would be very easy for me to ignore the plight of the poor and disenfranchised, because they are generally invisible to me, or at least de-personalized and distant. "They" are the homeless person begging on the street corner, or the thuggish youth with no prospects whom I see loitering by the train station, or the small, tired Latino men with callused hands waiting by the hardware store parking lot for a job.
Yet I feel there is a social contract that should include them, that the gap between rich and poor is problematic, that we should all contribute to the good of all (and if that means more taxes on those of us who can afford it, who are paying the lowest rate since Eisenhower, so be it).
So what gives me a social conscience? Why am I a "reality centered" Democrat, rather than a Republican in denial?
Why are you? Or why not?