The collision of materialism and idealism in American Politics

American democracy shows what happens between political contestants when one party is idealistic and the other is not.

I was a Libertarian in college – socially liberal and economically conservative. Still, the College Republicans were friendly to me. They enjoyed a hearty debate over drug legalization, gay marriage, or the War in Iraq. But the College Democrats were weirdly hostile and wouldn’t engage me, though we agreed on many issues.

Republican discourse is idealistic in character. Debate centers around discovering which policies would be best for America, or which policies support shared American values. Republican factions might never reach agreement, but if you’re willing to listen to them, they are willing to listen to you. The Republican youth conference CPAC is a lot of fun to attend for the quality of political conversations.

The Democratic party, however, is thoroughly materialistic. It is all “Who? Whom?”. They will not debate optimal policy with you because that is not what they care about. They care about advancing the interest of their interest groups. The first thought of the College Democrats on me walking into their meeting was thinking who is this guy? Is he one of the people on our side? Being white and male without the typical liberal air of softness and apology was a major tell.

Between the two, Democratic ideology is better adapted for life in a democracy. Rational idealism is a luxury for a trusted, homogenous group. Republicans engaging in idealistic debate foolishly believe that the homogenous America of the first 200 years still exists, that the nation shares a common set of American values. But America is a changin’, as  progressives tell us with glee.

Just as rationalist debate advances policy within groups, “Who? Whom?” is for doing battle between groups. This is tribal warfare on the African savanna and nobody cares what your beliefs are about income taxes. The question of the day is “are you a red or a blue”?

Materialism a very effective strategy in a diverse democracy. Democrats win because Republicans don’t realize that the rules of the game have changed. The national discourse is no longer about optimal policy, “small government”, or “family values”. It is now about stoking class anxiety and class hatred. It is about “wars on women” and the “racism” of voter ID.

Voter ID is a good example of how modern politics work. Republicans adopted the sensible policy that a democratic nation should check ID cards before people are allowed to vote, ensuring that the voter is a citizen with the legal right to vote. Democrats ran screaming, telling minority ethnic groups that the Republicans seek to disenfranchise them. In the last election, minorities voted overwhelmingly for the Democrats, giving them a smashing victory. Anxiety over voter disenfranchisment was no doubt a part of that.

Materialism cannot be combated with Idealism. The more real, the more primitive ideology wins. Resisting primitive ideas requires honor and agreement on both sides. Otherwise, it is as if one party brings a gun to a fistfight.

Democrats are perfectly willing to buy minority votes by helping them defraud the government. The only hope for Republicans is to sink to their level, and thus become a thing that they despise, or perish with the middle-class white majority.

Politically we have returned to a Hobbesian world of all against all and anything goes. The ideologies that win will be the groups that are the first to abandon their idealistic hangups and fight dirty until total victory is attained.


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