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Old 09-18-2019, 07:23 AM
Chad Sudan is offline
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Is the U.S. really a nation united by political ideals?


Many of us were brought up believing that the United States was a "propositional nation." In other words, it was a nation united not by ethnicity but by broad political ideals, such as representative government, rule of law, personal liberty, and egalitarianism.

The idea (as I understood it) was that both people born into this community and people who immigrated into it would grasp the advantages of such a system and make sure to raise the next generations with the same values.

But in the last three years, we've seen that ~40 percent of the population may well have a different idea of what America is. We see that they are pleased to have an authoritarian-minded, ethnonationalist White House and will defend it, come what may. (And some of them reject the "propositional nation" concept explicitly.)

Surely, America can't be a nation united by shared ideals if it includes 63 million MAGA supporters insisting otherwise?

Could those of us who believed in the "propositional nation" have been wrong all along?

Last edited by Chad Sudan; 09-18-2019 at 07:28 AM.
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Old 09-18-2019, 07:34 AM
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Of course not. I think one of the greatest divisions are between folk who emphasize the common good, and those who value the individual's ability to maximize their own interests. Another is the willingness to tolerate different points of view, as opposed to the desire to impose one's own views on the entirety.

Not being entirely cynical, but the closest I can come to shared ideals (whether they qualify as political) is a desire to accumulate as much stuff as cheaply as possible, while not bearing the externalities of one's choices. Our words greatly differ from our deeds.
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Old 09-18-2019, 09:16 AM
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No. The idea that people living in such different ways should be forced under a continent-spanning centralized government is pure authoritarian ideology. Trump has at least hastened the imminent collapse of the civic religion. With that there’s hope people begin to accept the idea of other people doing their own thing.

Last edited by WillFarnaby; 09-18-2019 at 09:19 AM.
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Old 09-18-2019, 09:20 AM
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Generally, the D and R ideals are broadly the same - "equality, freedom, morality, justice, fairness, equal treatment, responsibility," etc.

It's what those things mean, and how they are to be done, that elicits the ferocious clashing.
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Old 09-18-2019, 10:15 AM
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Any study of history will show that the ideals found in textbooks have been threatened, stretched, bent, overlooked, and subverted in every decade since the Constitution was signed. Immigration, isolationism, and fear of the Other are endemic to U.S. history. You just think this is different because it's the loudest thing in the room. A few decades from now, nobody will remember.

The United States will go on because pretty much everybody in the country except Will wants it to. And pretty much everybody in the country who voted for Trump also believe in representative government, rule of law, personal liberty, and egalitarianism. (They say that it's the left who doesn't.) You're confusing means with ends.
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Old 09-18-2019, 10:21 AM
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I think the real underlying political ideal is that this is the* nation where people who wildly disagree with each other, including being allowed to do so in public, nevertheless choose to live together without, for the most part, murdering each other.


And I don't think we've, for the most part, lost that one yet; though I agree that it's somewhat in danger. It's been in danger before, however. This mess isn't new, it's a recurrence (though the exact details of the symptoms, of course, vary.)




*I'm not claiming it's the only one.
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Old 09-18-2019, 11:21 AM
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Originally Posted by Chad Sudan View Post
Many of us were brought up believing that the United States was a "propositional nation." In other words, it was a nation united not by ethnicity but by broad political ideals, such as representative government, rule of law, personal liberty, and egalitarianism.

The idea (as I understood it) was that both people born into this community and people who immigrated into it would grasp the advantages of such a system and make sure to raise the next generations with the same values.

But in the last three years, we've seen that ~40 percent of the population may well have a different idea of what America is. We see that they are pleased to have an authoritarian-minded, ethnonationalist White House and will defend it, come what may. (And some of them reject the "propositional nation" concept explicitly.)

Surely, America can't be a nation united by shared ideals if it includes 63 million MAGA supporters insisting otherwise?

Could those of us who believed in the "propositional nation" have been wrong all along?
3? Try 30+ years of very little communication, coordination and crossing over in the best interests of all instead of just US vs THEM.
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Old 09-18-2019, 12:11 PM
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Liberalism


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In other words, it was a nation united not by ethnicity but by broad political ideals, such as representative government, rule of law, personal liberty, and egalitarianism.
The ideology of the people of the United States is liberalism, as you described. The founding principles of this nation, expressed in the Declaration of Independence, are almost universal values among the American people. Indeed, to question the basic tenets of liberalism is un-American. Tocqueville recognized such in his Democracy in America (1835):
"Democratic republics extend the practice of currying favor with the many, and they introduce it into a greater number of classes at once: this is one of the most serious reproaches that can be addressed to them. In democratic States organized on the principles of the American republics, this is more especially the case, where the authority of the majority is so absolute and so irresistible that a man must give up his rights as a citizen, and almost abjure his quality as a human being, if te intends to stray from the track which it lays down.

In that immense crowd which throngs the avenues to power in the United States I found very few men who displayed any of that manly candor and that masculine independence of opinion which frequently distinguished the Americans in former times, and which constitutes the leading feature in distinguished characters, wheresoever they may be found. It seems, at first sight, as if all the minds of the Americans were formed upon one model, so accurately do they correspond in their manner of judging. A stranger does, indeed, sometimes meet with Americans who dissent from these rigorous formularies; with men who deplore the defects of the laws, the mutability and the ignorance of democracy; who even go so far as to observe the evil tendencies which impair the national character, and to point out such remedies as it might be possible to apply; but no one is there to hear these things besides yourself, and you, to whom these secret reflections are confided, are a stranger and a bird of passage. They are very ready to communicate truths which are useless to you, but they continue to hold a different language in public.

If ever these lines are read in America, I am well assured of two things: in the first place, that all who peruse them will raise their voices to condemn me; and in the second place, that very many of them will acquit me at the bottom of their conscience."
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Originally Posted by Chad Sudan View Post
But in the last three years, we've seen that ~40 percent of the population may well have a different idea of what America is. We see that they are pleased to have an authoritarian-minded, ethnonationalist White House and will defend it, come what may. (And some of them reject the "propositional nation" concept explicitly.)
I do not make such a blanket judgement upon the Trump-approving American populace. Just because a survey respondent "approves" "the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president"[1] doesn't mean said respondent condones authoritarianism or ethnic nationalism.

But I do think there are many authoritarians to be found in this country, particularly in the ideology and religion known as evangelical Christianity. That's not necessarily a bad thing (from their point of view at least), but it is a thing. Probably 10-20% of Americans identify as evangelicals (too lazy to cite).

[1]The survey question behind Gallup presidential job approval statistics (Newport, 2001).

~Max
Newport, F. (2001, July 25). Examining Presidential Job Approval. Gallup News. Retrieved September 18, 2019 from https://news.gallup.com/poll/4723/ex...-approval.aspx
  #9  
Old 09-18-2019, 12:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
The United States will go on because pretty much everybody in the country except Will wants it to. And pretty much everybody in the country who voted for Trump also believe in representative government, rule of law, personal liberty, and egalitarianism. (They say that it's the left who doesn't.) You're confusing means with ends.
I agree. There is no movement calling for any broad change in the way the country is run. Regardless of whether Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders gets elected in 2020, they will still adhere to most of the same basics. Virtually nobody is saying we should abolish Congress or make the Presidency a lifetime office or eliminate private property or take the vote away from women.
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Old 09-18-2019, 12:57 PM
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Virtually nobody is saying we should abolish Congress...
Notably, John Dingell, the longest serving Congressman in history, wanted to abolish the Senate.

I seem to recall that one of our distinguished colleagues recently raised such a proposition in this very forum...

~Max
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Old 09-18-2019, 01:12 PM
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Notably, John Dingell, the longest serving Congressman in history, wanted to abolish the Senate.

I seem to recall that one of our distinguished colleagues recently raised such a proposition in this very forum...

~Max
Yes, but their proposals were designed to retain Congress but make it more representative rather than less. That's the exact opposite of the OP's comment as well as Little Nemo's.
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Old 09-18-2019, 01:43 PM
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I agree. There is no movement calling for any broad change in the way the country is run. Regardless of whether Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders gets elected in 2020, they will still adhere to most of the same basics. Virtually nobody is saying we should abolish Congress or make the Presidency a lifetime office or eliminate private property or take the vote away from women.
Exactly. When you look at the things that we fight over politically, you're focusing on the things that we disagree about.

But the massive amounts of stuff that we agree about doesn't come up in politics. Because we agree about it and don't fight over it.
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Old 09-18-2019, 01:47 PM
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Yes, but their proposals were designed to retain Congress but make it more representative rather than less. That's the exact opposite of the OP's comment as well as Little Nemo's.
So it is. Sorry about that.

~Max
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Old 09-18-2019, 01:48 PM
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Notably, John Dingell, the longest serving Congressman in history, wanted to abolish the Senate.

I seem to recall that one of our distinguished colleagues recently raised such a proposition in this very forum...
You know, I originally wrote "Nobody is saying we should abolish Congress or make the Presidency a lifetime office or eliminate private property or take the vote away from women." But then I thought that while the meaning was clear, somebody was going to point out an example of a person somewhere who had proposed one of these ideas. So I changed it to "Virtually nobody". And then I thought that somebody is going to ignore the word virtually and go ahead and argue about it anyway.

I'll admit the use of a dead person to make the argument caught me by surprise.
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Old 09-18-2019, 01:54 PM
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You know, I originally wrote "Nobody is saying we should abolish Congress or make the Presidency a lifetime office or eliminate private property or take the vote away from women." But then I thought that while the meaning was clear, somebody was going to point out an example of a person somewhere who had proposed one of these ideas. So I changed it to "Virtually nobody". And then I thought that somebody is going to ignore the word virtually and go ahead and argue about it anyway.

I'll admit the use of a dead person to make the argument caught me by surprise.
Yeah sorry, I forgot the context surrounding your post.

I also didn't know Mr. Dingell passed away, that just makes it worse.

~Max
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Old 09-18-2019, 02:00 PM
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...There is no movement calling for any broad change in the way the country is run.... Virtually nobody is saying we should abolish Congress or make the Presidency a lifetime office....
As you're probably aware: The concern is not that America's democratic institutions will be abolished but that they will be hollowed out.

That would indeed be a "broad change in the way the country is run."
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Old 09-18-2019, 02:51 PM
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As you're probably aware: The concern is not that America's democratic institutions will be abolished but that they will be hollowed out.

That would indeed be a "broad change in the way the country is run."
What democratic institutions will be hollowed out? The only ones mentioned in your OP were "representative government, rule of law, personal liberty, and egalitarianism."

Everybody here (none of whom are MAGA supporters to my knowledge) keeps saying that these are not at risk to any greater extent than all the other times they've already been at risk.

Do you have a different set of institutions in mind? Do you have any evidence that this period is actually different from all the other periods? Can you prove that Trump supporters are an existential threat to democracy?

All I've read is an extremely vague generalization about nothing concrete.
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Old 09-18-2019, 03:44 PM
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Of course not. I think one of the greatest divisions are between folk who emphasize the common good, and those who value the individual's ability to maximize their own interests.
That's a little one-sided. More like one side that emphasizes the common good, even to the point of restricting and/or removing individual rights to that end, and another side that views those rights as paramount, even when they conflict with the greater good.

It's really emphasis on different things- both of which are virtuous in their own way.

But the real problem is that we have TWO Overton windows that only overlap a little bit these days. What's reasonable for one group is unthinkable for the other in a lot of ways. I think in the past, the two windows overlapped enough that they basically appeared to be one window, but not anymore.
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Old 09-18-2019, 04:32 PM
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Many of us were brought up believing that the United States was a "propositional nation." In other words, it was a nation united not by ethnicity but by broad political ideals, such as representative government, rule of law, personal liberty, and egalitarianism.

The idea (as I understood it) was that both people born into this community and people who immigrated into it would grasp the advantages of such a system and make sure to raise the next generations with the same values.
It says something about our society that I figured it was even odds if the next sentence would be, "But Republicans..." or "But Democrats..."
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Old 09-18-2019, 04:39 PM
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Generally, the D and R ideals are broadly the same - "equality, freedom, morality, justice, fairness, equal treatment, responsibility," etc.

It's what those things mean, and how they are to be done, that elicits the ferocious clashing.
In my 50+ years on this planet, I have never known Rs to have even the same definition for those words as the rest of the population and have most often seen them act to restrict, rather than enhance.
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Old 09-18-2019, 04:46 PM
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In my 50+ years on this planet, I have never known Rs to have even the same definition for those words as the rest of the population and have most often seen them act to restrict, rather than enhance.
But you're proving my point.

Republicans frequently invoke "equality" in pushing against affirmative action ("why should one race get an advantage over others"?), "morality" in abortion ("it is murder to kill the unborn"), "responsibility" (arguing for "personal responsibility" all the time in issues like welfare, urban poverty, school performance,) "justice" and "respect for law" in illegal immigration ("we need politicians who will properly enforce the laws on the books and eject illegal immigrants,") "freedom" in gun rights ("Second Amendment gives freedom to own guns,") etc.

The fact that you cannot see that shows that people interprets those terms only from their own lens. Bear in mind that ISIS also has an extremely strong sense of morality.
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Old 09-18-2019, 04:56 PM
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(Before someone misinterprets my words, I'm not comparing the Republican Party to ISIS; I'm just saying that just because you disagree with someone doesn't mean they don't have a strong sense of morality. Plenty of good and bad things are done in the name of morality.)
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Old 09-18-2019, 06:26 PM
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Many of us were brought up believing that the United States was a "propositional nation." In other words, it was a nation united not by ethnicity but by broad political ideals, such as representative government, rule of law, personal liberty, and egalitarianism.

The idea (as I understood it) was that both people born into this community and people who immigrated into it would grasp the advantages of such a system and make sure to raise the next generations with the same values.

But in the last three years, we've seen that ~40 percent of the population may well have a different idea of what America is. We see that they are pleased to have an authoritarian-minded, ethnonationalist White House and will defend it, come what may. (And some of them reject the "propositional nation" concept explicitly.)

Surely, America can't be a nation united by shared ideals if it includes 63 million MAGA supporters insisting otherwise?

Could those of us who believed in the "propositional nation" have been wrong all along?
That’s sort of a bad premise with a lot of bad assumptions. Just because people vote differently than you’d like them to vote doesn’t mean they are the ones opposed to democracy.
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Old 09-19-2019, 09:06 AM
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Everybody here (none of whom are MAGA supporters to my knowledge) keeps saying that these are not at risk to any greater extent than all the other times they've already been at risk..
Which is not at all the same thing as saying that they're not at risk.
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Old 09-19-2019, 10:55 AM
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Which is not at all the same thing as saying that they're not at risk.
Right. They are always at risk. At the same time, the safeguards against that risk have proven to be extremely strong. There is no evidence to my eye that those safeguards have vanished or are unequal to the task today. I lived through the Civil Rights/Vietnam era under Nixon. That was scary. Today is merely clownish by comparison.
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Old 09-20-2019, 09:00 AM
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I lived through the Civil Rights/Vietnam era under Nixon. That was scary. Today is merely clownish by comparison.
I lived through that era also. This one scares me worse, for two reasons:

For one, in the 60's and 70's everyone was pretty much watching the same three TV channels, and had a similar idea of what was actually going on. There was a lot of disagreement as to what should be going on; but people were less likely to be drawing on an entirely different basis of information. And nobody, or effectively nobody, was saying that little girls hadn't actually been blown up in their church, or burned by napalm.

For two, a lot of the disagreement about the Vietnam war was between generations within the same families. This made it nastier in some ways (and I don't want to diminish how nasty such things can get; families split during the Civil War, after all, and risked actually killing each other), but it also made it harder to entirely write off people of different opinions as being people who just shouldn't matter. -- it occurs to me that reason 2 doesn't apply anywhere near as much to the civil rights issue, though there was some generational shift there also.
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Old 09-20-2019, 10:02 AM
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This is worse than the Nixon era because of the blatancy of the grift and partisanship. There were a lot more traditional conservatives in the electorate than there are now but they knew corruption and power grabbing when they saw it. Today's right fears losing power far more than it does losing respect for governing dishonorably.
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Old 09-20-2019, 10:45 AM
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I lived through that era also. This one scares me worse, for two reasons:
I agree that the split realities are a very real threat. I'm not as sure as you that this is something new.

I'm a science fiction writer. Many decades ago, way before anyone thought of the internet, I had an idea for a novel set in a civilization based on two rival newspapers that reported news in opposite fashion, and the growth of two parallel timelines based on them. It was too complicated to work out so I never wrote it. But I sure wish I had, because it would now be cited as almost supernatural prediction.

I hate to be an optimist on anything, but I don't believe the current situation is permanent. Demographics doom the aging, rural, white conservative core to become ever more a minority while today's minorities will become the majority - and the majority electorate - sooner rather than later. Trump's loss will break their power structure and there doesn't seem to be anybody out there to replace him. President Tucker Carlson? Don't think so.

As has been said earlier, both sides still agree on the same ends. They disagree on means. That's also been true many times in the past. America will survive its idiot populations. That's what optimism looks like.
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