Election 2024: Democracy At A Crossroads

Election 2024: Democracy At A Crossroads

Do we need a strongman?

It's pretty freaky to witness a growing sentiment among Americans entertaining the idea of authoritarianism (as long as it's their dictator) as a solution to our nation's problems. I do get the appeal. My choice for dictator is a combo of Bernie Sanders and José Mujica. This sentiment doesn't feel like a theoretical debate anymore but a reflection of the deep-seated frustrations with the current state of our political system. People on both sides do not feel government is working for them. With good reason. A study looking at 20 years worth of data found that the opinions of 90% of American have no impact at all on our policies. (1)

In the wake of polarizing algorithms and social media echo chambers, we're witnessing the erosion of middle ground where red faces, name calling and denigration are the norm and nuanced, compassionate discussions can't happen without someone being labeled a traitor. As we confront our country's division, it's crucial to remember the fundamental thread that binds us—we live, love, worship and go to work each day in a Democracy.

Perceptions and realities

Amidst the loud and angry political discord, it is easy to forget that beneath the labels of "Republican" or "Democrat," "liberal" or "conservative," lie individuals with hopes, fears, and dreams not dissimilar from our own.

IMO, the political divide in America often boils down to a profound misunderstanding between the values and lifestyles of 'red' (conservative) and 'blue' (liberal) states. This section explores the roots of the anger fueling both sides, highlighting the perceived grievances that drive the embittered national discourse we seem to be having these days.

Conservative perspectives on liberal policies

Red states, often located in the middle, rural parts of the country and generally less affluent, frequently feel neglected and misunderstood by the urban, wealthier blue states. Many inhabitants of these regions believe that the liberal policies and cultural shifts endorsed by blue states erode the social and economic fabric of their communities.

In many small towns across the South, for example, the economic landscape illustrates this sentiment vividly. On the outskirts of these towns, large big box stores can often be found strategically placed to avoid local taxes. Meanwhile, the once-thriving downtown areas have become ghost towns, devoid of the bustling activity they once knew. Jobs have disappeared, and residents are often faced with a painful decision: leave behind their community and a way of life rich in history and personal connections to pursue employment in impersonal office jobs in distant cities. This shift not only represents a loss of economic vitality but also a deep erosion of community identity and cohesion

  1. Big Government: Conservatives typically view liberals as favoring a larger, more intrusive government that regulates and controls various aspects of life, from the economy to personal choices. They believe that this approach undermines individual freedom and self-reliance, and leads to inefficiency and wasteful spending.
  2. Economic Policies: Many conservatives criticize liberal economic policies, such as higher taxes and increased spending on social programs, as economically unsustainable. They argue that these policies discourage hard work and innovation by redistributing wealth and creating dependency on government assistance.
  3. Social Values: Conservatives often perceive liberals as pushing for social changes that conflict with traditional values, particularly in areas like marriage, gender identity, and abortion. They may view these progressive stances as moral relativism or an attack on traditional family structures and religious freedoms.
  4. National Security: In terms of defense and immigration, conservatives might see liberal approaches as overly permissive or naive. They often advocate for stronger border controls and a more assertive military policy, viewing these as necessary to protect the country’s interests and security.
  5. Political Correctness: Many conservatives express concerns that liberals enforce a culture of political correctness that suppresses free speech and honest debate. They argue that liberal focus on inclusivity and avoiding offense can limit meaningful conversations about important issues.
  6. Globalism vs. Nationalism: Conservatives often criticize liberals for prioritizing international alliances and agreements over national interests. They may view liberal policies as sacrificing sovereignty in favor of global cooperation, which they argue could be detrimental to domestic economic and security interests.

Liberal perspectives on conservative choices

Conversely, many liberals view the conservative voting patterns of red states as self-destructive. They argue that residents in these states vote against their own economic interests by supporting conservative politicians who may prioritize big business and wealthy elites over the needs of working-class Americans. Additionally, liberals often attribute conservative perspectives to a lack of education or exposure to diverse viewpoints, which they believe leads to misinformed decisions at the ballot box.
  1. Economic Policy Misalignment: Liberals typically believe that conservatives vote against their own economic interests by supporting policies that favor the wealthy and big corporations, such as tax cuts for high-income earners and deregulation. They argue that these policies do not benefit the average working-class individual, especially those in economically depressed areas.
  2. Social Conservatism: Liberals often view conservative social policies—such as opposition to abortion, resistance to same-sex marriage, and stringent immigration laws—as regressive or out of step with modern societal values. They may perceive these stances as based on religious or traditional norms that do not account for changing attitudes and demographic shifts.
  3. Education and Information: There is a common belief among some liberals that conservative voters are either misinformed or under informed about the issues, influenced unduly by biased media sources, or lack access to education that would otherwise inform their political views more broadly. This perception can lead to stereotyping, where conservative voters are thought to be less educated or aware.
  4. Resistance to Change: Liberals often interpret conservative resistance to progressive reforms—such as environmental regulations, healthcare reform, and economic redistribution—as a reluctance to adapt to necessary societal changes. They might see this resistance as motivated by a desire to preserve the status quo that benefits certain groups at the expense of others.
  5. Fear of the Other: Liberals sometimes believe that conservative policies are driven by xenophobia, racism, or fear of cultural change. This perspective is based on conservative stances on issues like immigration and law enforcement, which are often more restrictive and security-focused.

Where does the tension come from?

Cultural and Economic Impacts on Communities

The transformation of small towns across America encapsulates much of the tension between red and blue states. Liberals often advocate for moving towards urban centers for better job opportunities, which they see as progress and necessary for economic growth. This advice, however, is perceived by many in small towns as a disregard for community bonds and local heritage, which are deeply valued in conservative areas. (2)

The Democratic Party has largely abandoned wide swaths of rural America. There are folks in these rural places that want to offer people alternatives & but guess what? They can't get funding from the Democratic Party to run their races. (3)

The shift from vibrant local economies to towns dominated by big box stores and dwindling job opportunities is often perceived as a consequence of liberal economic decisions. This change not only reshapes the economic landscape but also affects the social fabric of communities, leaving them to cope with increased drug problems and social decay without adequate support from state or federal governments.

Bridging the Gap

Understanding where this anger and frustration comes from is crucial in addressing the divide. Both red and blue states harbor misconceptions about each other that exacerbate conflict and prevent constructive dialogue.

To my liberal friends,

Recognizing the value of community and stability cherished in conservative areas is essential in forging a path forward that respects and incorporates the diverse values and needs of all Americans.  

The dismissive and condescending tone that often emanates from the left doesn't create change. Labels like "racist" or "xenophobic" often shut down conversations—much like the effects of being called a "Baby Killer" by protestors at abortion clinics. These labels can alienate and silence rather than open avenues for understanding and change. Recall when Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters "Deplorables," a move that bonded Trump supporters together and alienated them even more. 

I want to clarify that the responsibility to educate about racism should not fall on the shoulders of Black individuals or other marginalized groups that endure racism. They have the right to express their anger and frustration without the burden of educating those who hold prejudiced views. Instead, this task falls to us allies, especially those of us who are white, to facilitate this learning and initiate meaningful dialogue with those that of us that fail to acknowledge racism.

Fighting racism involves leading by example, which includes continually educating ourselves and our communities, advocating for impactful legislation, and engaging in actions that go beyond social media posts, pointing fingers or dismissive comments. Heather McGhee wrote an inspiring and eye-opening book titled "The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together'. It is a must read for all of us.

Let’s white people take inspiration from individuals like Daryl Davis, who has demonstrated that even those with profoundly opposing views can be engaged through genuine conversation and empathy. His approach of befriending members of the KKK and gradually influencing their views shows the power of patient, persistent engagement over confrontation.(4)

To my conservative friends,

It's essential to recognize that the voices calling for progress and inclusivity are not your adversaries. These are not the voices of just immigrants, the poor, or liberals; they are fellow citizens expressing real and urgent concerns. In the midst of our debates, it's crucial not to let fear dictate our perceptions or responses. Fear is often used by those in power to divide us, diminish our collective power, and distract us from the root causes of societal issues.

When we dismiss concerns about environmental sustainability, social justice, and economic inequality as overblown or irrelevant, we risk ignoring the very issues that shape the lives of millions, including our own. These issues will undoubtedly impact future generations, making it imperative that we address them today. When we fear that others are trying to take away from us we stagnate and rot.

Engaging constructively with these concerns instead of discounting them can lead to more productive and empathetic dialogues. Such an approach not only helps bridge our differences but also enhances our collective understanding, leading to solutions that reflect the true values we all cherish—fairness, freedom, and the well-being of our communities. Let's choose to unite in our shared interests rather than remain divided by manipulated fears.

The balance

In a metaphorical sense, if we think of liberals as Shiva, "The Destroyer," known for transformation and change, and conservatives as Vishnu, "The Preserver," who embodies stability and order, their synthesis—like the deity Harihara—represents a complete and balanced entity. This fusion, much like Yin and Yang, brings together opposing forces that, when united, enhance the strength and greatness of society. Embracing this balance means respecting the importance of religion, family, structure, and tradition, while remaining open to change, growth, and new ideas. (5)

When the 99% comes together

Throughout American history, the most transformative moments have arisen when poor and working-class individuals have united against the oppressive economic systems upheld by the wealthy elite. Yet, time and again, these powerful alliances have been systematically undermined through tactics such as racial division, economic pressure, and harsh legislative actions.

Consider the Populist Movement of the 1890s, where farmers in distress banded together to challenge the stranglehold of railroads and banks. The elites countered with political maneuvers and racial fear-mongering to break the unity of these interracial coalitions, maintaining a divisive hierarchy. Similar patterns emerged during the labor movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and again during the Civil Rights era, where broad coalitions faced everything from covert FBI operations to economic retaliation aimed at diluting their strength.

In more recent times, movements like Fight for $15 and Occupy Wall Street have mobilized diverse groups against the widening chasm of income inequality and unchecked corporate power. Yet, these movements too face formidable opposition from elites who strategically stoke divisive issues to scatter our focus and prevent cohesive, impactful reforms.

The truth is stark: the elites thrive on our division. They deploy distractions and sow discord because a united front of working-class people, armed with knowledge and solidarity, is their greatest threat. We must recognize this deliberate fragmentation as the tactic it is—a barrier to the collective power needed to reshape the foundations of fairness in our society.

Now, more than ever, we must draw on our shared experiences of struggle and injustice to forge a united path forward. We have the numbers, the will, and the right to demand a system that serves not just the elite, but every one of us. Let's stand united and reclaim the power that rightfully belongs to the people.

Then we can fight about everything else.

Tips for finding common ground

Engage in Active Listening: True dialogue begins when we listen—not to respond or to convince, but to understand. Stop trying to convince the other side why they are wrong. You listen, they listen. Americans generally show little interest in discussing politics with those they disagree with, with only 15% expressing willingness. However, interest rises to 61% if they know they would be listened to respectfully.(6)

Focus on Facts and Shared Values: In discussions, emphasize factual information and appeal to shared values. This approach can reduce emotional volatility and allow for a more rational, connected conversation. 

Promote Civil Discourse: Civility in dialogue creates a safe space for expression and is more likely to lead to constructive outcomes. Mutual respect is the currency of productive political discussion.

Look For Compromise: Politics is the art of the possible, and compromise is a cornerstone of democratic processes. By being willing to give and take, we can move toward solutions that benefit the greater good. Currently what we have is a blocked toilet. 

Educate and Empower: Encourage yourself and others to be well-informed about political issues. An educated populace can engage in more nuanced and insightful discussions. The first part of this is to educate yourself! I love this example of a thoughtful discussion. (7)

Advocate for Collaborative Leadership: Support leaders who prioritize unity and are willing to reach across the aisle to work with others. Leaders set the tone for political discourse, and collaborative leaders can inspire unity. Skip the loudmouths and pick the quiet one in the corner who gets legislation passed. 

Participate in Community Initiatives: Grassroots movements and local community projects can be unifying. They remind us that we can make a tangible difference when we work together toward a common goal. This video by Andrew Yang sums it up so well and would be a great starting point for come together legislation no matter where you sit (unless you entrenched at the top). (8)

Dinner conversations we can have across party lines

Amidst all the political discord, there does appear to be one common thread: each side believes in the integrity of their own political party while viewing the other with suspicion and contempt. But, if you look a little deeper there are other commonalities.

Economic Stability and Fair Play: Despite our differing views on fiscal policy, there is universal agreement that a stable economy forms the backbone of a prosperous society. Americans across the spectrum desire fair economic opportunities and a system that rewards hard work without tilting the scales in favor of a select few.

Healthcare as a Shared Concern: Healthcare transcends political boundaries; illness and health do not discriminate based on political beliefs. The value of good health and the fear of its loss are universal, and as such, there is a shared commitment to ensuring that our healthcare systems are efficient, affordable, and accessible.

Education as the Great Equalizer: Education is another cornerstone of our common aspirations. We all want future generations to have better opportunities than we had, and education is often seen as the vehicle to achieve that. While we may debate the methods, the underlying goal is to empower individuals through knowledge and opportunity.

Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness: The ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence remain aspirations that cut across party lines. We all cherish the freedoms afforded to us—freedom of speech, worship, and the pursuit of happiness. In protecting these liberties, we find a common cause worth rallying around. Our abolitionist movement, the legal and political battles fought over slavery, and the eventual legal abolition of slavery had a profound impact on the global condemnation and eradication of slavery.

Environmental Stewardship: The earth is our shared home, and its protection is a collective responsibility. Recognizing our stewardship's critical nature, we can move towards solutions that honor our planet and ensure its bounty for generations to come. 

Personal Freedoms as a Common Cause: Today, the desire for personal freedoms remains a potent uniting force. Whether it's the freedom of speech, the press, or peaceful assembly, these rights are cherished across the political spectrum. They are reminders of our shared commitment to a society where individuals can express themselves freely, practice their faith without fear, and contribute to the nation's democratic process.

Unity is the path forward

Let us focus on what binds us together, for it is only through collective action and shared responsibility that we can overcome the challenges we face today. Together, we have the power to shape a future that honors our past, respects our present, and builds a foundation for generations to come.

Check out this ad from Lyndon B. Johnson's Presidential campaign where he says "We must either love each other, or die."(9)


1.Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens

2. Dignity Seeking Respect In Back Row America by Chris Arnade

3.Instead of Leaving Rural America, Democrats Should Double Down on Running Candidates in Rural Races

4. Klan-destine Relationships by Daryl Davis & Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America

5. The moral roots of liberals and conservatives - Jonathan Haidt

6. Do Americans Really Care For Each Other? What Unites Us—And What Divides Us

7. For more people than we realize, fascism is a "strong opinion, lightly held

8. Andrew Yang Why US Politics is broken and how to fix it

9. "Daisy" Ad (1964): Preserved from 35mm in the Tony Schwartz Collection

Resources to become part of the conversation:

  1. Weave: The Social Fabric Project - Founded by David Brooks at the Aspen Institute in 2018, Weave aims to address the crisis of social trust in the U.S. by fostering community connections and promoting a culture of relationalism. The project supports grassroots leaders who help weave inclusive social fabrics in their communities​.
  2. Shared Nation - This organization is a participatory democracy platform that enables individuals to vote on which global projects receive funding each month. It encourages collective decision-making and philanthropy to address diverse global challenges​.
  3. Better Arguments Project - This initiative is a collaboration between the Aspen Institute, Facing History and Ourselves, and The Allstate Corporation. It focuses on improving public discourse by encouraging Americans to engage in better, more productive arguments that respect differing viewpoints​.
  4. Listen First Project - Aimed at bridging divides and mending the fraying social fabric, this project promotes conversations that prioritize understanding across differences, fostering more respectful and effective communication .
  5. Braver Angels - Braver Angels is an organization dedicated to depolarizing America by bringing liberals and conservatives together for discussions that foster understanding and reduce political hostility, aiming to find common ground .
  6. American Exchange Project - This project offers high school seniors a chance to travel and stay in different parts of the U.S., encouraging direct interaction and cultural exchange among youth from diverse backgrounds to foster mutual understanding and respect .
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