Are These Two Articles Contradictory?

Salon.com is hot today. I hate the title on this article (spirit animal? ugh!), but the text by Eliza A. Webb is chockablock (great word) with links to sources that back up the idea that America is far more a center/left country than the conventional wisdom allows. Really, so many links it must have been exhausting to put together so read and absorb.

Bernie Sanders is America’s spirit animal: Why this country is much more progressive than you think

“Despite the political division in Washington, the far-right rancor being spewed by G.O.P. candidates, and the contention in the Democratic race over Wall Street, campaign finance reform, universal health care, and how to handle ISIS, poll after poll shows that the people of this country strongly support far-left progressive, liberal and democratic socialist ideas.

We just don’t like the linguistic packaging.”

I hear some readers saying softly to themselves, “yeah sure, but really, this country is soooooo conservative. C’mon!”  I say, sure, there’s a great susceptibility to simple and simplistic answers. Their side only has to confuse issues and suppress the vote to win in a lot of the country. But when you have authentic progressive candidates that aren’t afraid to talk honestly and directly about issues, and be a bit pedantic about it when necessary, then there’s virtually nowhere that won’t be open to those values.

We tend to overstate the depth of conservatism because the conservatives we meet are so eager to identify that way and crow their beliefs. Hell, they’ve grandly deluded themselves against all logic that our revolutionary founding fathers were conservatives like them – that freedom itself is a conservative value (unless it’s reproductive freedom). But even Texas has Austin, even Alabama has college towns. The reddest states still are only 60/40 most of the time and as a matter of  fact and demographics there are way more Americans in blue and purple states than in true red states. The simple truth is that Republicans can’t win national elections and wouldn’t do nearly as well in local ones without gerrymandering and the apathy of the left in non-presidential years.

Okay, so granting that the studies and polls are right and we are a nation that embraces enlightenment values there’s still our history, the reality on the ground that says the only real American exceptionalism is our exceptional narrow mindedness and ability to justify racism, sexism, otherism. We sure can hate.

We have always been good haters: Our Donald Trump problem goes all the way back to the Founding Fathers

“… In colonial Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin had no patience for Germans who refused to abandon their native language. The Irish, across generations, were despised as simple-minded, argumentative drunks and rabble-rousers. Swarthy southern Europeans and Jews were “filthy”; Chinese were “loathsome” and legislatively prohibited from entering the country.

The list is long. The anti-foreign types in today’s GOP who court the votes of bigots and xenophobes reflect American history. And yet, the story we are taught is that of the Statue of Liberty, and the poor immigrant who saw America as an asylum from persecution. So many politicians credit their honest, hardworking immigrant parents for pointing the way. But what are they leaving out? Answer: historical perspective. Without even knowing it, here is what they are professing: that the United States of America was the one place in the world that enacted the admirable ideals of the Enlightenment. This one statement underlies all claims of American exceptionalism. It is who we wish we were.”

Ah, so is it contradictory to say we’re really more progressive than CW, but we have always been a country roiling with bigotry? Is the American progressive just our ideal self that we claim to be and the conservative hater who we actually are in the voting booth?

Um, yes, sometimes, often. But not always. Which is why we’re a cynical country that loves appeals to hope and optimism. We want people to tell it like it is, so long as we’re being told that we’re not the problem.

Everything is contradictory. The founding fathers were revolutionaries who threw off the monarchical status quo both politically and economically, but they were also the products of a patriarchy of white, English, ethnocentric slave holders. That’s the progressive/conservative death match right there, still being fought for the schizophrenic soul of America.  As our national pallet gets more diverse, the voices get louder, and the melting pot seems more chunky than smooth, the contrasts and contradictions become more vivid.

And it gets scarier to those who find the whole messy democratic thing disturbing.

Which is why “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” was probably the most perfectly progressive statement ever made by an American president. A president who created Social Security and interned Japanese-Americans. Perfect contradiction.

We are exceptional in our contradictions.

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