With the Republican Party turning to Trumpism and the Democratic Party returning to their progressive roots, will we have an honest debate this election year in our media?
"What you see is what you get" is an old cliché, but it's endured all these centuries because there's so much truth in it. "Don't listen to what people say, look at what they do" is another truism we can apply to inform us about today's politics.
The past 40 years have seen three Republican and three Democratic presidencies, and the modern priorities and values of each party are now quite clear.
On the Republican side, Ronald Reagan laid the foundation for George W. Bush and Donald Trump to hand over $10 trillion in tax cuts to billionaires and giant corporations while spending an equal amount on senseless, unwanted and unwinnable wars, leaving us with a $20 trillion national debt.
Trump has since merged the Grand Old Party with the antidemocratic, oligarchic and male/white supremacist values of the pre-Civil War South, leading his followers to proudly fly Confederate flags and strut around with as many large guns as they can carry.
On the Democratic side, there's been a steady revival of the progressive movement, along with its efforts to lift up working-class and poor Americans while cleaning up the environment and protecting the social safety net.
While the Democratic Party embraced neoliberalism for a while, from 1992 until 2016, the majority of elected Democrats today are committed to extending the benefits, freedoms and privileges of citizenship to all Americans, regardless of race, religion or gender identification.
There's an uncredited meme that's been floating around the internet in various forms for a while, generally titled "Shocking Things Liberals Believe" that summarizes this:
- People who work full time shouldn't live in poverty
- Homelessness shouldn't exist in the richest country in the world
- Women deserve both equal rights and equal pay
- Corporations and rich people shouldn't be able to legally bribe politicians
- Trashing the planet for profit is wrong and must stop
- Every American should have world-class health care at little or no cost
- Free higher education (and quality public schools) unlock human potential which benefits the entire country
- Children should learn the true racial history of America so they can empathize with their peers who are still experiencing these problems and grow up to become well-informed adults
- Women should make their own medical decisions, not politicians
- Massively profitable industries, from oil, coal and gas to Walmart and Amazon, shouldn't get billions in subsidies and tax breaks
- Children shouldn't fear getting shot at school
- When Wall Street banksters steal from us all, and should be imprisoned instead of bailed out
- No CEO is worth $100,000 an hour ($20 million a year) or more
It's actually a pretty reasonable summary of the perspectives and positions of most Democrats who'd describe themselves as liberal or progressive today and, while not descriptive of every elected Democrat, shows the direction the party is moving.
But it immediately provokes the counter-question: Now that Trumpism has taken over the GOP, what do they believe?
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Since the Republican Party stopped publishing a platform or clear positions on issues after the 2016 election, we pretty much have to look at its behavior, but that, at least, have been consistent. Here's what's obvious, based on "what they do":
- "Free and fair elections" are for suckers
- White men should run the country and the world
- Violence is a legitimate tool in politics
- Conspiracy theories like the one suggesting Democrats drink children's blood as an "elixir of youth" are probably true
- Rich people and their kids shouldn't have to pay taxes
- More guns mean less crime and fewer deaths
- The darker your skin, the more likely you're a criminal
- Leadership is about instilling fear, not vision
- Women are men's property
- Climate change and evolution are tricks to take away our freedoms and ruin religion
- Education makes people stupid
- Going into politics is the ticket to riches and fame
- Rich people should make a buck off everything the government does through privatization
- Helping people who are going through a rough patch is a waste of time
- The "rule of law" only applies to minorities and the poor
- Money and power are the only truly important things in life
- Teaching the true racial history of America is a plot to make white children feel sad
- LGBTQ people don't deserve respect or rights
- Wealth is proof of goodness; poverty is proof of moral failure
- "Giving" citizens things like health care, education, family leave, etc. are "socialism" and will destroy "the American way of life"
- Government has no right to regulate pollution or protect consumers
- "Fiscal responsibility" is a phrase that can justify just about anything
Both are obviously partial lists — an attempt to define our political parties based on their behavior, instead of just their words.
This is an election year, and these differences should be the basis of our national conversation about who leads the country in 2023 and beyond.
Is our "reality TV" news media up to the task of comparing and contrasting the two political parties, and judging the most likely outcomes of the directions they've chosen?
It's going to be a challenge as long as Republicans keep spewing crap like John Kasich saying on CNN last weekend, when discussing the Jan. 6 attack, that "we have seen hatred on both sides." Or Joe Manchin grandstanding and using long-discredited "but the deficit!" and "but the filibuster!" GOP talking points every time a camera shows up on Capitol Hill.
On the other hand, if enough of us are active in holding our fourth estate to account, particularly on social media, and can amplify truthful messages of compassion, clarity and sanity to our friends and neighbors, perhaps we can actually have a meaningful election year.
Read more on the peril and promise of the 2022 midterms: