Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right Themes

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right Themes

The Great Paradox

The central thematic strain running through the negative is what the author terms the Great Paradox of American conservatism. Why do so many Americans cling to conservative economic values when the policies and agenda associated with those values are in direct opposition to their own self-interest. Specifically at issue is why conservatives remain so stubbornly opposed to regulation of industry and supportive of increased deregulation when those policy agendas have resulted inflicting personal and economic damage to them ranging from the 2008 Wall Street collapse to various environmental disasters.

Empathetic Polarization

The author is a sociologist and her approach to studying the deep divides currently guiding the political polarization in America has concluded that it the divergence is not ideologically-based. In fact, she argues that over the course of a wide and varied range of individual issues, the mass of conservatives and liberals actually want essentially the same things: a robust economy, safe schools, a cleaner environment, fewer wars and improved healthcare. What’s more, there is also widespread agreement on the means by which these improvements could be accomplished.

The problem stems from the compromises that would by necessity be required to implement those means of civic improvement. The surprising element here is that the problem is not actually finding common ground on which compromise could be constructed; the author takes it as a given that most people are such agreement on what they want that compromise could be reached. The problem is that arriving at any compromise is dead in the water even before talks begin because of the utter lack of empathy the right feels toward the left and vice versa. The political polarization dividing friends, neighbors and families turns is thematically related not to actual political convictions one holds, but rather to the convictions that the other side is operating beyond all reason.

Structural Squeezing of the American Dream

Lying at the heart of the white sub-affluent class of conservatives in the U.S. is the methodology constructed to explain how their passionate commitment to capitalism as the path to realizing the American Dream has failed without being forced to place the blame for that failure on capitalism itself. Rather than blame the forces of capitalism for their inability to realize their economic dreams or even just meet the same level of social mobility enjoyed by previous generations, conservatives look elsewhere for victims to blame. The mechanism allowing previous generations to realize the American Dream—pensions, company-sponsored healthcare, union wages and government funding of social programs—have been squeezed out of the American system and by default those that should be blamed get a free pass while those taking advantage of what social mechanism are still in place are instead blamed: minorities, immigrants, the poor, etc.

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