The Underlying Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives

It’s policy, but it’s more than that.

Everyone knows that liberals and conservatives differ on policy: Liberals support abortion rights, gay rights, and gun control, while conservatives oppose all three. Conservatives want to deport undocumented immigrants and build a wall to keep more from coming, while liberals want to provide a path to citizenship for people who have been living and working here for years without incident. Liberals believe climate change is a real problem that requires serious action, while conservatives don’t. And so on.

But underneath all that are much broader and vaguer differences.

Conventions are designed to be popular TV, so they don’t go that deeply into policy. Instead, they focus on identity and present values rather than five-point plans. Consequently, watching the two conventions back-to-back is a good way to get a handle on the underlying differences. The following questions are intended to help focus your thinking as you watch.

1. Is your ideal America in the past or the future? One of President Trump’s major complaints against the Democratic Convention was that its speakers ran America down.

“Over the last week, the Democrats held the darkest and angriest and gloomiest convention in American history,” President Trump said in remarks to members of a conservative group in Arlington, Va. He accused Democrats of “attacking America as racist and a horrible country that must be redeemed.”

If you’re a liberal (as I am), you probably don’t remember the convention that way. What sticks in my mind are all the expressions of hope: We are a great people. We have it in us to overcome the current challenges and “build back better”. I saw a celebration of decency, of families that stick together through tough times, and of people’s simple desire to help each other.

This perception gap arises largely because of one of the major liberal/conservative splits: Conservatives see their ideal America in the past, while liberals see it in the future.“Make America Great Again” only makes sense if you believe that at some point in the past America was greater than it is now. Trump has always been vague about what era his “again” points to, but different segments of the MAGA community have their own favorites:

  • The Founding. Many Evangelicals (and Mormons) go so far as to claim that the Constitution is divinely inspired, putting the Founding Fathers on a level very near the Biblical prophets.
  • The Confederacy. Republicans tend to minimize the role that white supremacy plays for their base, but all those Confederate flags and rallies around statues of Robert E. Lee point to something else: nostalgia for the noble Lost Cause of the slave empire.
  • The Wild West. There was a magic moment just after the Native Americans had been driven away, but before civilization arrived. The land was too vast and empty for anything you did to pollute it. And you could shoot all the buffalo you wanted, because there was nobody to tell you not to.
  • The Gilded Age. Libertarians and Ayn Rand followers idealize the late 1800s, before antitrust laws and other progressive reforms involved government so deeply in the economy.
  • The Greatest Generation. According to the myth, we single-handedly saved the World from fascism and never got the gratitude we deserved.
  • The Happy Days. The idealized 1950s, when a white man could support his family on a single income, women knew their place was in the home, gay sex was a crime, and Negroes were invisible.

Democrats, on the other hand, have an annoying habit of throwing dirt on these beautiful images by talking about slavery, Jim Crow, the Native American genocide, or the indiscriminate massacre of civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When we honor the Founders, it’s not because their era was so great, but because they left us a vision of a government where authority bubbles up from the People rather than streams down from Heaven, and of a world where “all men are created equal”. They never achieved that vision, but they wrote a Constitution flexible enough that we could evolve towards it, and a Declaration we could edit to say “all people are created equal”. Yes, they were hypocrites to wax eloquent about their own freedom while enslaving others. But in the long run, their visionary hypocrisy has served us better than realistic cynicism would have.

Liberal patriotism revolves around the Future America, the one we could build that will finally live up to that never-achieved vision. That’s why Kamala Harris talked “the beloved community … a country where we look out for one another, where we rise and fall as one, where we face our challenges, and celebrate our triumphs—together.” But then she admitted: “Today, that country feels distant.”

Trumpists hear negativity and gloom there, while liberals find it inspiring: Even in moments as dark as this one, the American ideal is still out there, still beckoning for us to achieve it.

In contrast, the theme President Trump has chosen for the Republican Convention is “Honoring the Great American Story“. Taking a wild guess, I suspect we’ll hear a lot about “left-wing mobs” who have been tearing down or defacing statues that honor major players in that great story: mostly Confederate leaders, but occasionally non-Confederates like Columbus or even George Washington. We might also hear denunciations of the 1619 Project, an American history curriculum that emphasizes the central role slavery played the Great American Story. (Senator Cotton wants to deny federal funds to schools that teach this curriculum. Remember when conservatives opposed federal control of education?)

This next week, expect to hear a lot of reverence for the America of days gone by. But the only vision you’ll hear for our future is to return to that past greatness.

2. Do you think mainly about We or I? There’s a reason masks have proven to be such a divisive left/right issue, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that they are great tools for controlling the Covid epidemic: Masks are a we-solution, not an I-solution.

Does wearing a mask guarantee that you won’t catch the virus? No. If you walk into a crowded room and you’re the only person wearing a mask, it’s going to improve your odds of escaping infection a little, but not really that much.

So if your demand is “Give me something I can do that will keep me safe”, telling you to wear a mask is not a great answer. But if you revise that to “Give me something my community can do that will help us get the virus under control faster”, masks are a great answer. If everyone starts wearing masks when they leave the house, instead of each infected person passing the virus on to three other people, you might have three infected people passing it on to just one new person. Instead of exponential growth, you’ll have exponential decay. And in a struggle like this, that’s what victory looks like.

But conservatives hate we-solutions. They would much rather hear about snake-oil cures like hydroxychloroquine or oleandrin, because those are I-solutions: If I get sick, I take oleandrin, and I get better — if it works.

This shows up across the board. Why should I give up my AR-15, when I was never going to do anything illegal with it anyway? Well, because if we all give up our AR-15s, the next mass shooting might not have quite so much “mass” to it. If you think taxes are too low, why don’t you just make a voluntary contribution to the Treasury? Because changing my tax rate doesn’t solve any national problem, while changing the rate we all pay does. And so on.

3. Are problems solved best by punishing individuals or reforming systems? Related to the focus on I rather than We is the conservative belief that problems are caused by individuals: The crime problem is caused by the individuals who commit crimes. The drug problem is caused by smugglers and pushers. Terrorism is caused by terrorists. And so on. This leads to a belief that the way to solve a problem is to figure out who is causing it and punish them until they stop doing whatever it is they’re doing.

That’s why the conservative reaction to immigrants and asylum seekers is so harsh: Border-crossers cause our immigration problem by coming to our country, and so they need to be punished until they stop. Herd them into detention centers and let people debate whether those centers qualify as “concentration camps”. Take their kids away and lose them in your system. Just make them stop coming.

Liberals are more apt to ask why they are coming and if there’s some way to unplug whatever process is pushing them here. Maybe we could promote reform in the hellish places they come from, or reform the trade practices that make those countries so poor. Maybe we could fund programs there that give them reasons to stay. But no, conservatives say, that would be rewarding the behavior we want to stop. And it wouldn’t work anyway, because … well, it just wouldn’t. If you’re not punishing anybody, you’re not solving anything.

Ditto for the violence that has sometimes accompanied the protests against police brutality after George Floyd’s murder. People are making trouble, so they need to be punished. So fire the tear gas, pepper-spray the peaceful and violent protesters indiscriminately, and send police into crowds swinging their nightsticks. Systemically, it makes no sense to answer a protest against police brutality with more police brutality. But those individuals are wrong and they need to be punished.

The flip side of this way of thinking is that whenever liberal tinkering with a dysfunctional system inconveniences conservatives, they interpret it as punishment. Raising taxes on the wealthy isn’t a sound fiscal plan to raise revenue, it’s punishing success. Affirmative action isn’t a way to compensate for the old-boy networks disadvantaged groups lack, it’s punishing white men. Green taxes punish coal miners and people who drive a lot. Laws preventing discrimination against gays punish Evangelical Christians. And so on.

From a liberal perspective, the weirdest thing in this mindset is the joy they imagine we feel as we punish them. Spend much time inside the conservative bubble, and you will hear a lot about how much we liberals hate the rich, and the coal miners, and the Evangelicals, and anybody else who will be disadvantaged by a liberal policy. We’re just rubbing our hands in sadistic glee whenever Harvard turns down some deserving white male.

My only explanation is projection. They know how they feel when a policeman clubs a BLM protester, so they imagine we must feel the same way.

4. When do you trust systems, and when do you trust people? Dr. Anthony Fauci had such a long and distinguished career before Covid-19 that I must have seen him somewhere — maybe during the Ebola scare or during the height of the AIDS epidemic. But I didn’t remember him. Certainly I had no reason to either trust or distrust him as a person. However, when Covid-19 started spreading, I recognized him as the spokesman for a system of medical science that I do trust. I don’t trust it absolutely or blindly, but when there’s a new disease and I have to make decisions about how to avoid it or seek treatment for it, that’s where I look for answers.

I trust a lot of other systems within certain bounds. I trust academic climate scientists to tell me how we’re doing on climate change. (And I don’t trust scientists employed by energy companies.) Their models may or may not make perfect predictions, but like the weather service’s forecasts, they’re the best we have. I trust geologists and astrophysicists to tell me the age of the Earth, and biologists to tell me how long ago various animals evolved. I trust the Bureau of Labor Statistics to tell me the unemployment rate and the Treasury to report the deficit. I read major newspapers with a mix of trust and distrust: They don’t always characterize events properly, and they sometimes misjudge which stories are or aren’t important, but if they put quotation marks around something, I’m pretty sure somebody really said it. If there’s a publicly checkable fact, I trust that somebody has checked it. The New York Times may not be perfect, and I may or may not agree with its opinion columnists, but it is not fake news.

Those attitudes don’t have anything to do with the issues we normally think of as defining liberalism or conservatism. That last paragraph didn’t state any position on abortion or gun control or tax rates or immigration. But all the same, it marks me as a liberal. There are systems for gathering knowledge, and I believe that (with occasional but fairly rare exceptions) they work.

Conservatives, by and large, don’t share my faith in systems, and would rather trust people. Many of them (God help them) trust Trump. Some trust their religious leaders, even on topics that have little to do with religion. Some trust media personalities like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. Some trust people who share their religion or their economic class or their DNA. Or they look at a TV talking head and make their own judgment: That guy wouldn’t lie to me.

So they look at Dr. Fauci and don’t see the mouthpiece of medical science. They see a guy like any other guy — and what did he ever do for them? But that My Pillow guy, he speaks the same religious language they do, and his pillow was pretty good, and Trump likes him, so maybe he knows what he’s talking about. Maybe he’s right and Dr. Fauci is wrong.

5. Is the United States a member of the world community that leads by example? Or are we “exceptional”? Trump appears not to recognize the existence of a “world community” at all. He has been relentless about blowing up agreements that involve the US submitting to rules that bind large groups of nations. He pulled us out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accord and the multi-nation agreement to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. He supported Brexit, and chafes at the idea that he can’t have one-on-one trade agreements with the EU countries. He keeps making noises about undercutting NATO, even at one point questioning whether we would really defend some small NATO country like Montenegro.

At this point, the Republican view seems to be that the US is entirely exceptional: No rules should apply to us at all. We should be able to torture people if we want to, we can violate other nation’s sovereignty with impunity, and above all we should not get out in front of other countries to set an example. If somebody needs to be virtuous, let some other nation go first.

Liberals want our vision of the Future America to eventually spread to the Future World. Not that we will conquer the world, but that our ideals of equality and human rights will take hold everywhere once people see how they work here. In his convention speech, President Obama put it this way:

Joe knows the world, and the world knows him. He knows that our true strength comes from setting an example the world wants to follow. A nation that stands with democracy, not dictators. A nation that can inspire and mobilize others to overcome threats like climate change, terrorism, poverty, and disease.

6. Are some Americans more “real” than others? I don’t think Sarah Palin invented the phrase “real Americans”, but her 2008 vice-presidential campaign popularized it. “Real America”, she explained, is in the rural areas and small towns that just happened to support the McCain-Palin ticket rather than Obama-Biden. Since then, Republicans haven’t liked to define the term precisely, but the usage of “real Americans” favors white, native-born, English-speaking conservative Christians.

You can see the current emphasis on “real” Americans in the revived Birtherism that questions Kamala Harris’ eligibility for the vice presidency. Her parents were not citizens at the time of her birth; her mother was an immigrant from India, her father from Jamaica. But she was born in Oakland, and the 14th Amendment declares that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” So she is a citizen by birth rather than by naturalization, making her a “natural born Citizen” as demanded by the Constitution’s Article II.

While any challenge to Kamala’s 14th Amendment rights would be doomed in court — at least until Trump gets to appoint another Supreme Court justice or two — conservatives don’t like the birthright citizenship the 14th guarantees, or the “anchor babies” it makes citizens. Trump has described birthright citizenship as “frankly ridiculous” and has suggested that he might do away with it in some unspecified way. Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation then tried to put meat on those bones by finding a loophole in “subject to the jurisdiction thereof”.

Consistent with the liberal notion that the ideal America is in the future, liberals view America as a project that anyone can join, while conservatives have a more blood-and-soil definition. They see an important difference between people who are citizens due to some legal technicality and “real” Americans.

So those are the things I recommend you listen for this week, if you decide to watch the Republican Convention: real Americans, American exceptionalism, suspicion of systems contrasted with trust in particular people, the importance of punishment, We vs. I, and whether we should be trying to move back towards an idealized past or forward to an idealized future.

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  • orionblair  On August 24, 2020 at 10:04 am

    Very insightful – as always! I’d like to suggest another way to compare liberals and conservatives, this from Richard Rohr in his post of August 23 from the Center for Action and Contemplation:

    “Based on years of spiritual direction, I have observed that conservatives must let go of their illusion that they can order and control the world through religion, money, war, or politics. True release of control to God will show itself as compassion and generosity, and less boundary keeping. Liberals, however, must surrender their skepticism of leadership, eldering, or authority, and find what is good, healthy, and deeply true about a foundational order. This will normally be experienced as a move toward humility and real community.”

    I think there is a sense in which conservatives deeply value community, not just individualism. The “problem” for me lies in the boundaries they put around words like “community” and “neighbor” as I feel those words should have no boundaries.

    • Jacqueline (Bonin) Gargiulo  On August 24, 2020 at 1:47 pm

      Love Rohr. Thank you for sharing. It brings to mind another divide I witness… a level of comfort with uncertainty by liberals vs a need and even searching for certainty by conservatives. Faith practice leaves the uncertain to God where belief in religious authority takes solace in “knowing”.

  • EFCL  On August 24, 2020 at 10:09 am

    I like the way you discussed the “We” focus vs. the “I” focus. If the Trump supporters truly want a strict interpretation of the Constitution, then should start the Preamble: “We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States…” Those original words seem to align well (but maybe not perfectly) with the points you have made here: We, People, Union, Justice, domestic Tranquility, common defense, Justice, Welfare, liberty. It doesn’t say: I, us, individual, righteousness, privilege, individual protection, wealth, liberty. It just doesn’t say that.

    • jh  On August 25, 2020 at 1:06 pm

      I was pondering why there is this impression that conservatives are the ones who make community. It’s in all the imagery in american myth. It’s the small towns where everybody knows everybody and the all go to Church on Sunday and they all have potlucks and they all bring casseroles for the grieving family. But I think that is a big lie. It’s a simulacrum of community rather than the essence of community.

      I live big city adjacent. Even now, in the relatively quieter suburbs, the population is one that goes to work every Monday through Friday and it’s in the big city or a middling city that is adjacent that has a population that dwarfs the rural towns. I don’t know everybody on my block. I don’t talk to them a lot. We all live our lives and build our communities through our friends and the people we meet at the bus stop or at our local churches (I was a former Christian.) and the other places where life occurs.

      To strangers, they would say the rural areas are the more community centric. But to me, it is the cities that are community centric. We share the same buses and roads. We share the same space for far more than a 1 hour church service once a week. We see the old lady having a bit of trouble reaching a higher shelf and we go “Excuse me. Can I help you?” No reward required. Not even an acknowledgment. We care about more than a select circle that we know. I’d point to things like Hurricane Sandy or that big blackout. None of us lost our damn minds. We didn’t suddenly say “I’m going to blow through this intersection.” We knew that we had to work together to survive. And that’s what community really is… a survival instinct in our social species. We understand that concept of sharing so nobody is really a stranger. That dark skinned man takes that bus just like me. That hispanic lady with her kids takes the train just like me. That asian sells coffee to people just like me. We’re all in it together.

      When I look at the rural areas, it’s extremely different. That group of people isn’t used to sharing. They’re used to taking. They aren’t used to tolerating others because, hey, the bus is for everybody. They’re used to their single serve transportation. The country folks don’t practice sharing their space or their community. Rather, it’s a club. One in which outsiders are not welcome if they don’t talk like them, look like them and have a personal connection to invite them in. All they want to talk about is themselves and their needs. Everybody else has to go to the back of the line until ALL the conservatives’ needs are catered to. (and newsflash, you can never fulfill those needs. Conservatives are a black hole that just sucks in and sucks in and never gives back. Liberals constantly try to help but it never works and we get our faces slapped. )

      The difference between a conservative and a liberal is simple, I can look at somebody who speaks a foreign language, whose moral code may be vastly different from mine, worships a god I am unfamiliar with and I see a fellow human being who I will have things in common with. To the conservative, that person is an enemy and there is no commonality. All the conservative sees is a dehumanized enemy to be exploited or blamed.

      • Anonymous  On November 24, 2020 at 7:27 am

        Wow! That is quite the sanctimonious diatribe. I notice that your musings are immediately divided into “we” and “they”, with the “theys” universally demonized. It would appear to me that if we Liberals truly think in terms of “we” then we would find ways to include “them” as well rather than name calling. Have you ever lived in a rural area? Are you writing from experience, or are you simply making generalizations on what you perceive?

        Unfortunately, here is the real difference between Liberals and Conservatives. The Liberal “we” only include “us” as long as we adhere to our agenda. This is abundantly clear from your thoughts above. Perhaps you should try more understanding rather than labeling. I agree that Conservatives do think more in terms of “I”, but what they don’t do is pretend they include everyone when clearly they don’t.

        But don’t feel bad – this problem isn’t unique to you. It is arguably present in all of the people of the US – Liberal and Conservative.

  • Kenneth  On August 24, 2020 at 11:32 am

    Regarding systems and people, I have to say that the longer Trump is in office the less I trust government systems, and also that I do place my trust in Anthony Fauci because of what I know he has done.

  • HAT  On August 24, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    This is brilliant analysis – really helpful!

  • Jacqueline (Bonin) Gargiulo  On August 24, 2020 at 1:40 pm

    Well summarized. I observe these as well. Stay well.

  • susanchambless  On August 24, 2020 at 3:37 pm

    Thank you for this.

  • Bill  On August 24, 2020 at 7:51 pm

    Doug, great post!

    One follow up on point (2). How do you reconcile the idea that conservatives focus mostly on “I” instead of “We” when the core principle of the military – which is dominated by conservatives – has a strong ethos of one for all and all for one? Or maybe veterans are more likely than the average conservative to be willing to wear a mask….

    • Jacqueline (Bonin) Gargiulo  On August 25, 2020 at 5:37 pm

      Hey, Bill. I find this curious, too. As an AF brat, I witness that my parents and one sibling have remained stalwart Republicans though they do appreciate the need for masks and other safety protocols. As a brat, though, and being formed mostly overseas, I am a liberal. I am aware of both liberal and conservative veterans groups.

      As a practitioner of the social sciences, something I observe is the impact of our formative years on our core value structure. So, even though the military is one for all and all for one. I’m thinking it may be interpreted based on existing formative context and be subject to the social hierarchy framework differences proposed elsewhere here in comments.

      Stay well.

    • weeklysift  On August 26, 2020 at 8:59 am

      Bill, you’ve brought up a point that I’ll have to think more about. I remember hearing General Wesley Clark when he was running for president. He said that whenever he commanded a military base, he essentially was mayor of a town, with schools and roads and public services and so on. But that town worked very differently from the small towns in Sarah Palin’s “real America”.

      • Bill Dysons  On August 26, 2020 at 1:42 pm

        One other point to consider. The cognitive linguist George Lakoff (whom you’ve referenced in some of your older writings) has argued that many military and evangelical communities often operate as “liberal organizations” in the sense that they treat their in-group members as liberals would – with extraordinary amounts of generosity, empathy, compassion, etc. I can personally vouch for this, as I was raised in a conservative Christian home with a veteran in the household. I have greatly benefitted from and have warm feelings towards military organizations I’ve interacted with as well as my childhood church, even though I now identify as a liberal atheist.

        For what it’s worth, Lakoff’s point was that when conservatives talk about serving others within the context of serving those in their own tribe, they sound like liberals. The hard part is getting them to see all of America the way they see their own church, unit, etc.

      • weeklysift  On August 27, 2020 at 8:26 am

        Bill, You’ve hit on a theme that shows up a lot in liberal Christianity (and no doubt in liberal branches of other religions): How do we expand the circle of caring? A person who would risk his life or give the shirt off his back to help a relative or best friend or fellow parishioner might be extremely callous about the suffering of immigrants seeking asylum or fellow citizens of a different race or religion. The whole point of the Good Samaritan parable is to valorize caring for the Other.

    • Guest  On August 26, 2020 at 10:30 am

      This is all kinda nebulous, but I would offer that not all “one for all and all for one”‘s are made equal. In the military, this ethos is set in the context of a rigid and well defined power structure/hierarchy. All the decision making and the articulation of that vision in practical terms is more or less exclusively imposed top-down, ie authoritarian. Within this system, we find service members broadly and senior leadership in particular have tended to skew white and male, though perhaps that is slowly changing as society progresses on women, gay, trans rights etc. A lower case d democratic approach, complete with freethinking and dissent, is not prized for the most part, it is anathema.

      To the extent conservative members embrace such a system, they are peas in their pod. To the extent conservatives feel constrained by being in such a system, self-agency can be desperately grasped at in public life by demonstrating that they are the sovereign tyrant over their own individual person, ie “you don’t get to tell me to wear a mask, nobody can make me wear a mask if I don’t wanna.” They finally don’ have to take orders, they can make them. And because the military doesn’t exactly provide healthy models of self-agency, the results can get wild.

      As Bonin implies, it’s not like that for everyone. You can enter the armed forces appreciating that the system is ultimately subservient to the American people, the We, with all the democratic ideals and hard-won rights and liberties held dear. Brats and service members can be exposed to different cultures abroad, and have direct insight as to how an authoritarian system plays out in people’s lived experience, the shortfalls and the advantages alike.

      Turning the mirror our ourselves in the political context, you find that liberals are content for “one for all and all for one” to be expressed via rhetoric and representation/elite diversity, while progressives search for meaningful policy change that serves the “We”.

  • The Serapion Brotherhood  On August 24, 2020 at 8:18 pm

    ‘He accused Democrats of “attacking America as racist and a horrible country that must be redeemed.”’

    I thought fundamentalist Christians recognized themselves as sinners who had to be redeemed? Or is it that they are hypocrites? One or the other, I forget which.

  • bobby1970  On August 24, 2020 at 8:39 pm

    While Hiroshima and Nagasaki were tragedies of monumental proportions, were they really worse than the firebombing of Tokyo or Dresden? Isn’t it just as horrific to be burned to death in a firebombing as it is to be vaporized in an atomic blast?

    • telejeff  On August 25, 2020 at 11:49 am

      I agree. In fact, I would argue that the firebombing raids were morally worse.

    • weeklysift  On August 26, 2020 at 9:00 am

      I used the atomic attacks as easily recognizable placeholders. There is a long list of horrible actions on all sides in World War II.

  • Abby  On August 24, 2020 at 11:27 pm

    Don the Con keeps forgetting that his mother was an immigrant.

  • telejeff  On August 25, 2020 at 11:48 am

    Like many other readers, I too find this analysis to be really excellent (as usual). I would like to propose one additional fundamental difference between Liberals and Conservatives as they are defined in the USA at this time.

    Social Hierarchy. Humans are very social creatures and many studies have demonstrated that many people are more interested in their status (e.g., relative wealth) than most anything else (e.g., absolute wealth). It feels like our two polarized political parties have very different visions on this score as well.

    Conservatives (or, if you prefer, Republicans, Trumpists, etc.) really seem to value a well-defined, strictly-enforced social hierarchy in which everybody knows their place. It may also be important to them that the differences between social groups/tiers are rather large–that it is really clear who is “winning”. Liberals (Democrats), on the other hand, seem to be quite interested in a society where all people have relatively the same social standing. Not just that people are not categorized by race, religion, etc., but that all people are seen as “equal”.

    In many ways, this is related to the traditional social hierarchies referenced in the first point in this week’s article about when America was great. Another way of describing the various stages in our history is by referring to who was on “top” and by how much. To me, however, there are two separate points. Not just who is on top, but also whether we have a distinct and stratified social hierarchy (caste system).

    • weeklysift  On August 26, 2020 at 9:08 am

      Funny you should mention that. Dominance vs. Equality was in the original mental outline I made of the article, but it had slipped my mind by the time I started writing. One place this shows up is in discussions of race. Conservatives are apt to believe that if whites no longer oppress blacks, blacks will oppress whites. The balancing point of equality is hard for them to imagine.

      This way of thinking goes all the way back to Jefferson, who imagined that if the slaves were freed but not sent away somewhere, there would be a race war that whites might lose. “We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.”

      • Jacqueline (Bonin) Gargiulo  On August 26, 2020 at 10:43 am

        Yes. I see that as fear of reaping what one has sown. And, to your point, an inability to see it any other way.

      • weeklysift  On August 27, 2020 at 8:30 am

        More Jefferson: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”

  • Donna Victor  On August 25, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    Wonderful and thoughtful piece of writing. Thank You

  • Guest  On August 25, 2020 at 4:18 pm

    “visionary hypocrisy has served us better than realistic cynicism”

    A nice distillation of the liberal/conservative choice that faces progressives. And perhaps the most candid case for leftists to vote Biden. Well put.

  • Km  On October 18, 2020 at 8:13 pm

    Life is a competition. For the girl/boy ,the job,the promotion, the little league team. It is natural survival to want to gain an edge on the competition and promote yourself and the ones you love. Who among us would willingly give up our position in life at th expense of our family to someone less fortunate that has not earned it for themselves. It may be unfair but competition is life. Be it Democrat or Republican. If we can be kind to one another despite the competition we all win.

  • Bob Ross  On February 28, 2021 at 11:22 am

    Wow this isn’t a biased article at all. No bias whatsoever here. 🙄

  • Anonymous  On March 9, 2021 at 10:00 am

    I started reading, thinking it might outline some real differences that we could work on. But, alas, it was just another liberal, highly biased piece, trying it’s best to demean conservatives, while “trying” to show liberals in a great light. Didn’t work!

  • Anonymous  On December 1, 2021 at 9:54 pm

    The difference is conservatives think that personal responsibility and accountability (decreases crime, increases education, increases income, increases quality of life) is the key to the success of an entire society while leftists think that the removal of personal responsibility and accountability especially towards criminals (increases crime, decreases education, decreases income, decreases quality of life) is the key to personal success.

    Conservatives think individuals are the foundation of society and exist to improve society. Leftists think society exists to improve only their personal lives and others exist for that purpose.

    • Samantha  On October 31, 2022 at 8:44 am

      Wow. Congratulations. Every last syllable of your post is objectively and demonstrably wrong. Then again, you are conservative, so that tracks.

  • Secret Skwerel  On March 28, 2022 at 9:29 am

    Sad to see another article with revisionist history.


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