I believe there is a healthy and reciprocal relationship between liberals and conservatives, directly related to the role they play for society, and preserved by the Constitution. In fact, it was a recent Constitutional Law class that taught me the simplest way to express this relationship: “we cannot be the judge in our own cases.”
Imagine a scientist holding up a paper in which not only did they form the hypothesis and conduct the test, but also claim that they verified their own results and are trying to publish the paper. They would be laughed out of the scientific community.
Similarly, whenever a politician, or police force, or other group says that they can investigate themselves or their organizations, we all have a collective eye roll. To me, one of the few inescapable truths about ourselves is that we cannot rise above our own biases, no matter how highly we think of ourselves, and require an outside entity to evaluate our theories and ideas.
We separate out the two responsibilities of moving our culture and society forward: the “scientists” that go out and find new theories, and the “testers” that verify and analyze the results.
Liberals develop new theories and hypothesis for how we are best to run our country. They are the momentum forward, the engine that drives change. For example, when they saw the elderly and disabled struggle to survive in our country, a definite breach of justice, they decided to form an idea that eventually became Social Security.
Conservatives take these new ideas and theories from the liberals, as well as the package of real-time data that comes along with it, and make judgment calls about whether the liberals are on the right track or not. If liberals are the engine, conservatives are the processors, taking the information from the liberals and analyzing, evaluating, and kicking the tires. The ideas and theories that pass the conservative’s tests are then encoded into our society, like Social Security, and those that fail are discarded or returned to the sender.
I believe this is why the top news organizations (New York Times, Washington Post, Wesleyan Argus) lean liberal, but the top political commentaries and analysis (Rush Limbaugh, Fox News) lean conservative.
If we were to silence every conservative, the liberals would be setting themselves adrift, unable to moor their boat onto any firm concept or thought. Put a whole bunch of liberals into a room, and they will argue until eternity. They would be paralyzed and locked in a battle till the end of time because deep down they all know their ideas and theories are all untested, and they can’t test them themselves.
Similarly, if we were to silence all liberals, society would become so engrained and so inflexible that it would stagnate and break. Put a bunch of conservatives into a room and nothing will change, we might as well fill that room with cement. None of them would be willing to go out on the ledge with a new concept, and even if one was, they would almost certainly be shouted down.
These are sweeping generalizations, of course, and liberals are more than capable of testing theories that conservatives develop. There are always exceptions.
Regardless, I believe this balanced tug-and-pull of conservatives on liberals and liberals on conservatives is the core of our society. When we elect and hand the keys to liberals, it is society as a whole telling those in charge to find and enact new ideas to curing our ills. When we elect and hand the keys to conservatives, we are asking those in power to review our systems and strengthen them, or distill them into more effective, and more correct ideas.
I think this is why we have one president that is liberal followed by one that is conservative. A similar but slower cycle exists in Congress.
This sounds a lot like a relationship, two people who promise to help be that voice of reason for each other during tough times. And like a relationship in trouble, when both sides stop talking to each other, polarization quickly sets in.
I see the relationship between liberals and conservatives based on two very important things: trust, and good faith. No one likes to be told they are wrong, and that is what happens almost every time liberals and conservatives interact – they debate and try to convince the other side.
Liberals need to trust that conservatives are acting in good faith when they review the ideas brought forth. Conservatives need to trust that liberals are acting in good faith when they present their findings. When this breaks down, when liberals start trying to review their own theories or conservatives start trying to develop their own, deep fractures form. We are no longer two parties working together, but two parties working independently and lobbing insults and threats at each other. The large amounts of nastiness is a sign of just how awful things are becoming between us.
The University of Chicago looked at the results of the “safe space” experiment suggested we need to go back to the drawing board. The University of Wesleyan rushes to the defense of its theory, and pushes back. Do we nastily decry each other or do we find a middle ground?
When Hillary Clinton calls half of Donald Trump’s supporters “deplorable,” when Trump seemingly won’t listen to critics over his ideas and plans for his presidency, this is a sign that the understanding between us is breaking down.
And, like any relationship in trouble, despite our best effort to convince ourselves otherwise, nothing is completely one side’s fault. Simply, liberals are not perfect, conservatives are not perfect. This implies that each side is going to be right from time to time, even on important issues, and we all just have to deal with that fact.
We can choose to end the bickering and fighting between like-minded liberals and conservatives. We can start re-establishing those lines of trust.
Or, we can continue screaming at each other at the top of our lungs, demonizing each other in order to prop up our “we are always right” philosophies.
I choose the former.