A Lost Public
Defining America’s Purpose: Conservatives Fall Short, Liberals Fall Short.
These are not easy times. Conservatism’s monied elites crave an America of systemic corruption. Liberalism’s activist groups seek an America of symptomatic reforms, reforms inspired by a range of grievances - economic, cultural, technological, and environmental.
And, on top of that, we are now gripped by a pandemic that our Republican President has been utterly incapable of handling properly. As of this writing, America has only four times more people than Germany but America has suffered twelve times more Covid 19 fatalities. By election day, we Americans will likely have suffered twenty times more deaths from this virus than the Germans.
But no one in either party invites us to visualize and seek an America of systemic integrity, of systemic solutions, of systemic well-being. No one on the Right, no one on the Left. Run Google searches on all these variations and you'll come up nearly empty.
Or, to offer the same insight in even more basic terms, no one invites us to envision a choice between a nurturing America and an abusive America.
We're just not ready to rethink our drives and our principles, our ambitions and our culture. Just as alcoholics go into denial, whole cultures too will end up in denial.
If an America of systemic well-being were put before us as America's recommended goal, would we have to the know-how to pursue it? Not entirely. We've never gotten into the habit of wishing for an America of systemic well-being, let alone thrashing out what it would mean, or how it would be achieved. Try a Google search on the phrases "an America of systemic integrity" and "an America of systemic well-being." You'll come up very nearly empty-handed.
You'll get nearly the same results if you search on "a nurturing America" or on "an abusive America."
We have some of the raw know-how we'd need, if we were to set our sights on achieving an America of systemic well-being. But we wouldn't have nearly enough.
And this observation ought to give us one important clue about America's near-term future, and a very different clue about America's long-term future.
In the near-term, America's conservatives have an edge over America's liberals. Yes, even with the hit Conservatives are likely to take from Trump's mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, Conservatives will still have key advantages.
Conservatism is heavily backed by the nation's billionaire elites and a portion of the nation's middle class. The nation's most powerful Conservatives see themselves as playing a long game. What they want most is a corrupted political system, a corrupted Government, and a corrupted economic system, because the enrichment of the powerful proceeds far more swiftly when there's no accountability for the harms they create than when there is. Drives unchecked by principles so easily become ugly.
Liberalism will always be at a short-term disadvantage in this match-up. Liberals have never bothered to create a long-term vision of what America could be, were our nation to embrace a nurturing and high integrity future for all Americans. It's a truism; Liberalism has almost always been grievance driven, rarely vision-driven. A vision-driven Conservatism will always have a short-term edge over a grievance-driven Liberalism. Only now, with the urgency of Green New Deal bubbling up in America, has American liberalism even begun to envision anything close to an America of systemic well-being.
This fundamental Right-Left standoff has been complicated by the direction Donald Trump's presidency has taken. I see Trump as trying to "Southernize" the entire Republican Party by deploying on a national scale the same style of race-baiting politics that the South has long specialized in.
It's a simple model. A white politician stokes white fears of non-whites. By keeping working people who are white divided from working people of color, they weaken the political clout of the entire working class, white as well as non-white. Which in turn protects the wealth of the One Percent. And perpetuates the poverty of all working people.
Or, to summarize:
"Appeal to white racism in order to keep working Americans divided."
"Keeping them divided keeps them weak."
"Keeping them weak protects the strength and the wealth of the rich."
"Strengthening the rich keeps everyone else poor."
This has ever been a staple of Southern racism; the Trump gamble is that it will pay off for Republicans nationally as it has in the South.
But southernizing the Republican Party nationally, by turning Republicans into the party of white self-pity, may or may not square with the long run goals of Far Right One Percenters. They don't necessarily want an all-white voting bloc, they just want a Republican base that hates Liberalism. And so one has to wonder if Trumpism will survive Trump.
In the long-term matchup between Conservatism and Liberalism, odds are that Liberalism holds the strategic edge. The Conservative agenda for America inherently turns America into a nearly unlivable country for millions. Pushing the country away from the path that makes it healthier might work tactically but it's not likely to hold together as a long-term strategy.
And that's the long-run downside of the Conservative Right. Their drives are too ugly to look at, their principles too weak to disguise their malevolence, their ambitions too distorted to create an America that earns the admiration of its people.
Conservatives don't want to see America become a country with a nurturing value system, they want America to be prized by its elites for the abusiveness of its value system.
Conservatives don't want America to become a country that pursues systemic well-being, they want America to be slavishly devoted to the endless enrichment of the One Percent.
Conservatives don't want an America that's dedicated to the long run health of the environment; they want an America that's addicted to technologies that make conservatives rich, even if those technologies imply the eventual death of human civilization on Planet Earth.
In other words, a Conservatism that's determined to derive its wealth from the looting of the planet may think itself to have made an advantageous short-term bet, but that fantasy arises from its state of denial about the dangers of its long-term bet.
We are in a new era, an era that Liberalism is prepared to acknowledge, an era that Conservatism utterly refuses to acknowledge.
Our current technology portfolio is undermining Nature's future and in so doing, also undermining humanity's future. Conservatives act as though it's to their advantage to deny this. Liberals know that it's their mission to accept this challenge and step up to it. Liberals know that we humans will earn the future we want only by swapping out the technology portfolios that can destroy us and replacing them with technology portfolios that will keep Nature healthy and humanity healthy at the same time.
Helping our civilization make its shift to a Nature-safe Technology Platform is history's higher calling. Anyone who'd been paying attention already knows this. From here forward, we are to live by a new set of rules. Protecting Nature's long-run vitality is crucial to protecting Humanity's long-run prosperity.
And if Americans, and indeed all humanity, are to be successful in protecting Nature's long-run vitality, we shall also have to embrace cultural value systems that move us in that direction. Our ambitions need to pull us toward a nurturing America. Our principles too. And our drives need to be bent toward nurture, not toward abuse.
Liberals are far more ready than Conservatives to answer the call to an America of systemic integrity, and to reject the principle that America ought to be a nation of systemic corruption.
And which type of politics is more likely to help us rise to our higher promise? The politics of propaganda and lies that's favored by Conservatism? Or the politics of reason and evidence and the truths that flow from evidence-based reasoning?
And this is where Liberalism has the long-run edge. It is far more willing than Conservatism to step to our civilization's long-run calling.
And so we face quite a consequential moment in the long history of human encampments on Planet Earth. Our species has become the Earth's first "technological species." Which compels us - as never before - to pay attention to the interactions between our technologies and the natural world we are releasing them into. A technological species with a nurturing value system will know this. A technological species with an abusive value system won't let itself know this.
Conservatism's short-run edge, therefore, is morally unsustainable. For Conservatism to win, Nature has to die.
And if Nature dies, humanity dies. So Conservatism's "win" gets dissolved in the crumbling of the civilization it was so desperate to author.
And Liberalism, though not disciplined enough in the moment to give Conservatism a serious contest, is the social vessel that has the potential to help America rise to its full promise.
But it won't be the Liberalism that we have known, the Liberalism that operates in piecemeal fashion. It will be a Liberalism that rises to the challenge of thinking in systemic terms about how best to put together a truly healthy America. It will be a Liberalism that aspires to an America with a nurturing culture, not an America with an abusive culture. It will be a Liberalism that aspires to an America of systemic well-being, not a Liberalism that aspires only to an America of symptomatic well-being.
And so what will that higher and better edition of Liberalism actually look like? What is it that honorable Conservatives ought to aspire to as well? That's the question I'll break into pieces, and examine, one step at a time, in future chapters.
Steven Howard Johnson