As we inch closer to the 2020 elections, Americans have already begun choosing their horse to support in the race. While many candidates have similar platforms and policy goals, their minor differences in rhetoric and approach set them apart. Democrats and Republicans attempt to attract voters through self-satisfying policies with varying results. This leads me to the question: should a person support a candidate whose platform positively affects their lives at the cost of someone else’s? Throughout history, many American people have sought to ensure the equality and equity of those discriminated against. The efforts that fought against systemic oppression should be celebrated, while those that fight against or fail to act have self-satisfying motives and should not be. I believe that voters should value positive societal movement more than short-term monetary or selfish gain.
Many people see a shared gain in the Republican platform to lower taxes and promote business growth. It would make perfect sense for a person who owns a business to support those policies. But when those policies are often coupled with xenophobia, racism and classism, the choice should be simple. The rights and liberties of people are not to be violated for a few dollars. If we are to vest the power of the people in a government, it should work for all of us and not a select few who value the dollar more than human life. A value of the Democratic Party is to protect the weakest members of society, but Democrats have still passed laws that provide gain for the majority at the expense of minorities. For example, Bill Clinton passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that sought to make America safer. The end result was more sinister: this policy impacted nonwhite Americans disproportionately and sent them to prison for non-violent drug related crimes.
The two party system forces us to enter into a binary relationship with fiscal and social policy, thereby ensuring that people will have to weigh their policy priorities at the polls. When voters have to choose which party most aligns with their values, political parties can ignore socially irrelevant issues. The Republican and Democratic Parties have created political camps that veer away from their conservative and liberal ideologies. Conservatism once valued limited government, but many members of the party stray away from this chief tenet. On the other side, progressivism is represented through the Democratic Party, a party that once valued a more expansive government to look after the people through progressive policy. It has since shifted into a party looking for revolutionary reforms that its mainstream members do not believe in. According to an NBC/WSJ poll of registered voters, 56 percent of people believe that Democrats are “out of step” with the American people. Over time, the Republican Party has shifted further and further right; across the aisle, the Democratic Party has veered slightly more to the left. A person who supports small business should also be able to support immigration reform or universal health care.
The binary nature of our party system has forced people into boxed ideologies and echo chambers that funnel people to one side of policy. People can be herded into either party through their own profession’s needs to achieve higher wages or resources. Resulting from the illusion of difference and prevalence of party identity, Americans have been pitted against each other. The “divided society” we live in is artificial, and we are all culpable. We bought into the heated, antagonistic relationship between parties at the cost of compromise and productive dialogue.
People consume media that aligns with their ideologies, and this creates echo chambers that solidify their beliefs; thereby, creating a rift in American society. Furthermore, the discomfort we experience when someone challenges our worldview should not be shrugged off but embraced. Difficult conversations and dialogue can open us up to new opinions and new understandings of the world. The Republican Party does not have to be an American fundamentalist party, and the Democratic Party does not have to be the party of technocrats. It is our job to support forward looking candidates based on policy not platform — not making the same mistakes of our predecessors. While this problem is not new, the present vitriol can be softened by learning how to talk with those who have different perspectives. Principles may not change, but they can be understood more clearly by the opposition.
Majority held positions can pose a threat to minority interests. When parties create a base, they attempt to attract as many people as possible, and this can leave a lot of people left out of the political conversation. By preserving the majority’s interests, we are silencing a portion of the American people. John Rawls, a contemporary political philosopher, writes in “A Theory of Justice” that we are all inherently biased. We will fight tooth and nail to give ourselves a societal advantage, but I believe that we have to make an active effort in securing liberty for the most vulnerable and unrepresented in society. In a thought experiment, Rawls invites us to imagine the creation of a new government. While there, we have no idea what race, religious group, or sexual orientation we belong to. Rawls calls this the “Veil of Ignorance.” This forces people to create a governing document as equal and fair as possible for the most amount of people. If people do not know what group or groups they belong to, they will craft policy that protects the entire population from injustices.
Voters can utilize this theory while consuming news media and observing the rhetoric of potential candidates. By applying the “Veil of Ignorance,” we are more inclined to be sympathetic to hurtful rhetoric or policies. With this in mind, we are reminded that civil rights should not be taken for granted nor treated lightly. When any human is taken advantage of, we should be there to protect them. Alexis de Tocqueville writes in “Democracy in America,” “The only people in whom anyone is interested are those closest to himself.” In a hyperconnected world, we are able to escape the chains of individualism by observing abuses worldwide. Experiencing new world views are a click away.
In the United States, we have the privilege to ignore many of the atrocities occurring around the world. But even in the U.S., systemic inequality perpetuated by discriminatory policies ruins the lives of ordinary people. Those who live in pain and suffering do not have the choice to ignore the world around them. It is up to us to fight for those who are unable to do so, domestically and internationally. We need to create a society that fights for those that are at the greatest risk of majoritarian abuses. Self-satisfying and opportunistic policies endorsed by the majority can have cataclysmic impacts on minority parties. It is imperative that we vote for candidates that advocate for human and civil rights even if your rights are not violated. A government that rules by the people and for the people should protect all Americans from institutionalized discrimination. Those in the majority should not view the advancement of equality as a detraction of their rights but rather as a mutually beneficial advancement of society.