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Why the Fear and Loathing?

What is it about my politics the Right hates so much? It’s a question I kept asking myself as the election returns rained down last Tuesday. How do they convince themselves that my vision of America’s future is somehow un-American,  a threat that will somehow make their lives intolerable?

I’m speaking in the first person here because I don’t want to presume all progressives share my political  priorities. And, my emotional response to the Right’s pre-election hatred and post-election triumphalism feels personal.

Let me present broadly a few of my political hopes. Maybe I can provoke a response from some contemporary conservatives. I’m not being defensive. I’m quite secure in my beliefs. I just don’t think conservatives can give a cogent answer. But I’m asking.

First, I’d like to move closer to the achievement of something like popular democracy in which all Americans’ voices are heard. De facto barriers to universal suffrage would be eliminated, and that means  (among other things):  1) Automatic voter registration that accompanies, say, social security applications; 2) election-day holidays and extended early voting periods; 3) criminalization of overt voter suppression efforts; 4) full public finance of campaigns; 4) Reversal of court precedents which give those with more money more voice in elections and, consequently,  in political decision-making.

I grant that these hopes may be politically unrealistic at the moment. But there’s certainly nothing in them that threatens the American way of life. In fact, many pretend naively or with malicious intent to mislead) that they are today part of the American way of life.

Full-blown popular democracy requires an educated citizenry, and right now we are moving backwards on education. I want a re-commitment to public education and to affordable college for all. This hope shouldn’t get me subpoenaed to a new, GOP-controlled House version of an Un-American Activities Committee.

This next one might even surprise such a committee of hard-line right-wingers. I want to minimize government interference in private lives. I don’t want everyone to be like me, and I don’t want to use government to make everyone be like me. Health decisions, including reproductive health decisions, should be a private matter between patients and doctors. Domestic government surveillance should be curtailed and strictly controlled. Regressive, ineffective and destructive drug laws should be modified.

Speaking of health, we need to eliminate the power private corporations have to decide who lives, who dies, who stays sick and who gets well. The alternative is not to let government make these decisions, as the Right, in a dodge to protect those private corporations, likes to claim. I’m not for that, either. Doctors and their patients should make the decisions. But government can take steps to make medical care available for almost everyone.

As regards government regulation, I think we can have a lean, mean government that polices the criminal white-collar theft of our wealth the same way we police our streets. I actually think capitalism would perform better with a little anti-crime discipline.

I’m a realist about violent threats to America and Americans. That allows me to differentiate between criminal terrorists and religious devotees. Bigotry and know-nothing hatred make us less secure. Also, our foreign policy should be decided by those elected through the aforementioned enhanced popular democracy, not by arms merchants who have a financial stake in creating global conflict.

Finally, I really don’t want to leave my daughter a world destroyed by pollution and radical climate change.

Many people won’t share these views. There are those whose worldviews are more hierarchical, who believe egalitarian political and economic arrangements are impossible. Some people like to follow orders. Others insist on giving orders. It’s the nature of the human world, they believe. There are greedy people who worry that the achievement of popular democracy would inhibit their pillaging. There are religious people who really do think the un-saved will go to hell or maybe even create hell in this world.

Still, there is nothing un-American about my political dreams. I inherited them from the Framers (certainly Madison and Jefferson, if not Hamilton).  They are fully within the American grain. Certainly I see no reason they should stir the kind of hatred we’ve seen lately on the Right.

I don’t buy the standard line that the anger is all about economic worries. I have economic worries, too, and they haven’t led me to hate brown people or black people or city people or educated people.

Anyway, if a contemporary conservative happens across this modest piece, please enlighten me. What is it about these dreams you find so threatening? How would they destroy America? Why do you think it is urgent to take America back (as if I’ve run away with it)? And what does “Take Back America” mean anyway?  If you haven’t noticed, my dreams are unrealized.

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Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith