Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A former Republican discovers the hollowness within

I can think of quite a few people who should read this.

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.

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.
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.

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?


Fred Schwartz said...

IT, it is my opinion that if you believe in the philosophical basis of the fundamental documents that make this country what it can be then one cannot help but have a social conscience. I cannot see how those who truly beleive in the basic concepts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution can accept run-away cpaitalism (or any capitalism for that matter) as a means to an econimc end. It presupposes such things as 2-4 % unemployment all the time; it presupposes that corporations are as important/invaluable as a single human being. It expects that it will step on people to careless to get out of its way. At its heart capitalism has no heart, no feelings, no morals and no ethics. How this stacks up against our form of government is a marvel. I beleive several persons have said democarcy is not the best form of government but it is the safest. I am a utopian centered realist who always votes democraatic.

IT said...

Fred, I agree.

Anonymous said...

My husband has long said that in the eyes of a lot of these Republican people, if you make less than $50K/year, you are not human to them.

He has also said that "wealthy people are two things: wealthy first, people second."

He grew up poor in Indiana and Arizona, and his family dealt with that sort of attitude a lot.

Anonymous said...

And just for the record, the US is not a democracy. It is a Constitutional republic. Found this pretty good description on ThisNation.com:

The United States is, indeed, a republic, not a democracy. Accurately defined, a democracy is a form of government in which the people decide policy matters directly--through town hall meetings or by voting on ballot initiatives and referendums. A republic, on the other hand, is a system in which the people choose representatives who, in turn, make policy decisions on their behalf. The Framers of the Constitution were altogether fearful of pure democracy. Everything they read and studied taught them that pure democracies "have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths"

Anonymous said...

Regarding this:

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?

Because I'm a woman, and I have rights that came as the result of progressive thinking and a lot of struggle on the part of the women (like the struggle women went through to get the franchise). How can I be a conservative if I myself enjoy the fruits of thinking outside of the conservative box?

Admittedly on some topics, I shade conservative - like the whole drug thing. I'm strongly anti-drug. Have never used recreational drugs my entire life and have no plans to. I'm happy living a drug-free life. I like my world without drugs in it. I also like my 2nd Amendment rights. My dad was a gun owner; he had 3 shotguns in the house around me as I was growing up. He and my mother used to go skeet shooting with them.

But on other things I'm more liberal. I favor marriage equality. I wish the ERA would be passed already. Freedom of religion, etc.

So perhaps that makes me more of a moderate, actually.

Fred Schwartz said...

For the record, the quote I used was a quote from Thomas Jefferson. And yes, I realize that we live in a republic but thanks for the lesson in political science.

IT said...

I think your husband is right, Tracie. Studies show that the rich really are different--they have less empathy, and are less honest. (We discussed the studies about this recently here at FoJ).

As for why I"m more aware, I agree with you that I think part of it is being a woman. We're already underdogs in many environments (it's routine for me to be the only woman other than a secretary in a senior faculty meeting of 20 professors, for example). Also, for me as a gay person, I'm also marginalized and disadvantaged. I think this too makes me more keenly aware of the disadvantages that others have.

As for moderation, I would legalize marijuana but tax the heck out of it (and booze and cigarettes.) I have no problem with gun ownership though I think it is reasonable to require a license and background checks for guns.

JCF said...

I lived w/ guns a large part of my life (whenever I was under my father's roof, as now). Target shooting is mildly entertaining to me, and I can appreciate those who hunt for food (I've tastily benefitted from it, more understanding to those people who NEED to hunt for food to survive).

That said, I'd be more than happy to live in a gun-free world. I'd gleefully piss on the Second Amendment, as the human-sacrifice consuming IDOL it is. Idolators, repent! (Now, what are MY idols?)


I think the human conscience/lack-of-conscience scale may be partly genetic, but that the greater factor in lack-of-conscience is childhood trauma (inc neglect). I wish there was a quick fix for the latter pathology, but I don't see any signs of it (human-made, anyway! "Road to Damascus" moments DO happen however...all at once, or over time, as for Mr Goulka. Godspeed more of them!)