This article was written by Terry Trueman with AI Assistance.
The terms conservative and liberal and other once easily understood categories have shifted ground as we have faced the destruction of civility, kindness, decency, honesty, and a sense of fair play as being necessary. Many other once mutually understood and agreed upon concepts have lost so much of their clarity from these Trumpian times in which we are living.
I find many well-meaning people trying to use terms of the past to deal with the unique situation of our American political life as it exists today. A primary area of confusion and polarization revolves around the no longer relevant labels of conservative and liberal. We are now in a life and death struggle between Democracy as a governing philosophy or authoritarianism as its replacement, and the values embedded in each set of beliefs.
I grew up in a conservative family. I was taught to respect tradition, authority, religion, and family values. I was also taught to be patriotic, hard-working, and self-reliant. I believed that these were the principles that made America great and that anyone who disagreed with them was either ignorant or evil. Indeed, for many years I had no idea that anyone could even disagree with any of the beliefs my family and culture had jammed down my throat. We were Nixon, not Kennedy, GOP all the way and my father flirted heavily with the John Birch Society and was buddies with John Haldeman who later became one of Richard Nixon’s advisors (and convicted collaborators in the Watergate saga). I read None Dare Call it Treason as a 14-year-old.
But when I went to college, I met people who had very different backgrounds, experiences, and opinions from me. I learned about history, philosophy, science, and art. I was exposed to different cultures, religions, and lifestyles. I realized that the world was much more complex and diverse than I had imagined and that there was not one right way to live or think. American involvement in Vietnam, among other consciousness-altering experiences, fully reinforced these new understandings.
As I grew more fully into American adulthood, I also realized that some of the things that I had taken for granted as conservative or liberal values were not so clear-cut or absolutely one or the other as they were human and universal. For example, I learned that not all conservatives were pro-life, pro-gun, or anti-immigration. I learned that not all liberals were pro-choice, anti-gun, or pro-immigration. I learned that there were conservatives who cared about the environment, social justice, and human rights. I learned that there were liberals who valued individual freedom, personal responsibility, and economic growth. Thinking about this era of growth and learning it now feels like a golden time and it glows brighter and brighter the further away we get from it.
I began to question some of the assumptions and stereotypes that I had about both sides of the political spectrum. I realized that there was a lot of nuance and diversity within each group, and that there was also a lot of overlap and common ground between them. I realized that the terms conservative and liberal had lost much of their clarity and meaning in recent years, and that they were often used as labels to dismiss or demonize people who disagreed with us.
This is a problem because it prevents us from having honest and respectful conversations with each other. It makes us see each other as enemies rather than fellow citizens. It makes us focus on our differences rather than our similarities. It makes us forget that we are all human beings who want the best for ourselves and our country.
In what ways have the terms conservative and liberal lost much of their clarity in recent years? How do you identify yourself politically? How do you deal with people who have different views from you?
If you ever find yourself in a political debate with someone who claims to be a Democrat or a Republican, you might want to ask them a simple question: what are the main differences between the two parties? Chances are, they won't be able to give you a clear or coherent answer. They might resort to vague or clichéd statements, such as "Democrats are for the people, Republicans are for the corporations" or "Republicans are for freedom, Democrats are for big government". But if you press them for more details, they will likely stumble or contradict themselves.
Why is that? Most people don't really know what the two parties stand for. They just identify with one or the other based on their family, friends, media, or emotions. They don't bother to learn about the history, ideology, or policies of each party. They just follow the crowd or the label.
The two parties are not that different after all. Sure, they have some disagreements on certain issues. But on many other issues, they historically are pretty much in sync. They both serve the interests of the wealthy and powerful elites who fund their campaigns and influence their decisions. They both use fear and propaganda to manipulate the masses and divide them along artificial lines. They both maintain the status quo and prevent any meaningful change.
So, what can we do about this? Well, one thing we can do is to educate ourselves and others about the true nature and history of the two parties. We can read books, watch documentaries, listen to podcasts, or visit websites that expose their lies and corruption. We can also look for alternative sources of information and perspectives that challenge the mainstream narrative and offer more nuanced and diverse views.
Another thing we can do is to stop identifying with either party and start thinking for ourselves. We can question our own assumptions and biases and examine the evidence and arguments on both sides of any issue. We can also look for common ground and solutions that benefit everyone, not just a few. We can also support independent candidates and movements that represent our values and interests, not those of the establishment.
Most people claiming to be Democrats or Republicans can barely describe the differences between the two parties because they either don't know or don't care. But we can do better than that. We can learn more, think more, and act more independently and responsibly. We can be more than just labels. We can be citizens.
You might think that the most obvious way to tell if someone is educated or not is by looking at their diplomas, certificates, or degrees. But that's not always the case. Sometimes, people who have gone through formal education can still be ignorant, biased, or narrow-minded. And sometimes, people who have never set foot in a classroom can still be wise, curious, or open-minded.
So what is the real difference between educated people and those lacking education? I think it's not about how much knowledge they have, but how they use it. Educated people are not just those who know a lot of facts, figures, or theories. They are those who can apply their knowledge to different situations, analyze information critically, and communicate their ideas effectively. They are those who can learn from their mistakes, admit when they are wrong, and change their views when presented with new evidence. They are those who respect other perspectives, appreciate diversity, and seek understanding.
As Donald Trump exclaimed in a rare moment of genuine honesty, upon hearing what high percentage of votes he’d received in the 2016 POTUS election from people with lower levels of education, “I LOVE the uneducated!” Folks lacking education are not just those who know little or nothing. They are those who misuse their knowledge to manipulate, deceive, or harm others. They are those who accept information uncritically, reject evidence that contradicts their beliefs, and impose their opinions on others. They are those who repeat their mistakes, deny their faults, and resist change. They are those who disrespect other opinions, fear difference, and create conflict. They are those who vote for, idolize, and deeply adore Trump and his reactionary, MAGA movement.
I think this is a useful way to think about what education really means. It's not just a matter of how much you know, but how you use what you know.
Of course, another significant factor in the harm Trumpian thinking and conduct is having on our politics and world is tied to Trump’s own, well demonstrated lack of conscience and empathy.
What are the biggest contributors and inhibitors to developing conscience and empathy?
Why do some people seem to have a strong sense of right and wrong, while others don't? Why do some people care deeply about the feelings and needs of others, while others are indifferent or even cruel? What makes us develop conscience and empathy, and what prevents us from doing so?
Conscience and empathy are not solely fixed traits that we are born with or without. They are also skills that we can learn and improve throughout our lives. However, they are indeed influenced by many factors, such as our genes, our upbringing, our environment, our experiences, our beliefs, and our choices.
Looking for models of leadership requires a sense of your own ethics beforehand.
Some of the biggest contributors to developing conscience and empathy are: Having a secure attachment with a caring and responsive caregiver in early childhood. This helps us develop trust, self-esteem, and emotional regulation, which are essential for moral reasoning and compassion. Also, having positive role models who demonstrate moral values and behaviors, such as honesty, fairness, kindness, generosity, and respect. This helps us learn by imitation and internalize moral standards. Having opportunities to interact with diverse people and perspectives, such as different cultures, religions, races, genders, ages, abilities, etc. helps us develop perspective-taking, empathy, and tolerance for differences. Having exposure to moral education and literature, such as stories, books, movies, games, etc. that teach moral lessons and dilemmas, helps us develop critical thinking, moral judgment, and moral imagination. Most of us have had experiences of moral emotions, such as guilt, shame, remorse, gratitude, pride, etc. that motivate us to act morally or correct our mistakes. This helps us develop moral sensitivity and moral motivation.
Some of the biggest inhibitors to developing conscience and empathy are: Having a traumatic or abusive experience in childhood or adulthood that damages our trust, self-esteem, and emotional regulation. This can make us feel insecure, fearful, angry, or numb, which can impair our moral reasoning and compassion. Having negative role models who demonstrate immoral values and behaviors, such as dishonesty, injustice, cruelty, selfishness, and disrespect can make us learn by imitation and internalize immoral standards. A lack of interaction with diverse people and perspectives or having exposure to prejudice and discrimination can be inhibiting and can make us develop stereotypes, biases, or hatred for others who are different from us.
A lack of moral education or literature or having exposure to immoral media that glorifies violence or immorality (looking at you MAGA movement) can impact us and can make us develop uncritical thinking or desensitization to moral issues. Having a lack of moral emotions or having excessive or inappropriate moral emotions that distort our moral judgment or motivation can make us develop moral blindness or moral rationalization.
Developing conscience and empathy is not a simple or straightforward process. It requires a lot of factors to work together in harmony. However, it is also not impossible or hopeless. We can always take steps to enhance our moral development by seeking positive influences and avoiding negative ones.
We must also begin recognizing obvious truths unfolding before us every day in our culture; Trump’s destruction of norms, mores, civility, decency, kindness, and fair play have created an environment where people lacking in any of these positive traits, beliefs and characteristics have carte blanche to act out their worst impulses with impunity and cruelty. When a large group in a society rejects long held understandings of right and wrong and replaces these beliefs with the whims and mad rantings of an authoritarian bully and fascist like Trump, we see the destruction of the culture, day in and day out.
Whether, in the past you considered yourself conservative or progressive, GOP or Democrat, pro-life or pro-choice, socialist or capitalist, none of these label’s matter as much today as they once seemed to. What matters today is your education and intelligence, your capacity for moral judgement, and determining right from wrong, your empathy vs your selfishness. What matters today is your ability to see what is really in play in the modern MAGA movement and world, authoritarianism and power Uber Alles or respect, dignity, and civilized disagreement between honest and sincere people on all sides of all issues. Civility vs barbarism is the only “versus” that matters now.