“Liberal” is Good for America

“The two parties which divide the state, the party of Conservatism and that of Innovation, are very old and have disputed the possession of the world since it was made…” Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

There has always been tension between “conservatives” and “liberals” in social and political affairs. This has been a constant theme of American history. This election year’s rhetoric will again emphasize these ideological divides. But because of the fact-free nature of our political debates and advertising this will result in more name calling and fear mongering than intelligent debate.

So it is time, once again, to remind readers that liberals made America. Liberals are responsible for all that is good in our country. Liberals gave practical application to the platitudes of freedom and justice for all. Without the political and social activism of liberals our lives would be very different – and not for the better. Liberalism has guided all the advances in American society since 1776.

The current MAGA Republicans are not “conservatives.” They are fascists. The list of crazy, destructive, divisive things they are pushing is extensive, astonishing, nonsensical and undemocratic. Their agenda (Project 2025 and Trump’s Agenda47) are not about what is good for people, the economy or the nation. Their agenda will be very harmful to the vast majority of Americans.

Liberalism developed during the 17th century Age of Enlightenment. This philosophical movement undermined the authority of monarchy and the state sponsored church. It paved the way for the political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, including the American Revolution. Liberalism rejected the prevailing social and political norms of hereditary privilege and argued that each man (women were not included) had a natural right to life, liberty and property. Governments must not violate these rights. Liberals advocated representative democracy and the rule of law.

John Locke is credited with founding liberalism. He had a great influence on the founding fathers, all of whom were well read in Enlightenment authors. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and our representative democracy are the products of this liberal philosophy. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Paine were liberals!

The word “liberal” has a number of meanings. Scanning various online dictionaries produces this list of definitions for liberal:

  • Broad-minded; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional form
  • Open to new behavior, or opinions, and willing to discard traditional values
  • Willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own, open to new ideas
  • In economics being favorable to, or respectful of, individual rights and freedoms including, free trade and free markets and protection of private property
  • Having political or social views favoring reform and progress; a person who favors a political philosophy of progress and reform and the protection of civil liberties
  • In education being concerned with broadening a person’s general knowledge, rather than with technical or professional training
  • Free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant

Wikipedia summaries liberalism as a political philosophy founded on ideas of liberty and equality. Liberals generally support freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free markets, civil rights, democratic societies, secular governments, gender equality, and international cooperation.

The obvious questions for Republicans are; “What is wrong with being liberal? Why do you denigrate being liberal?

We need more open mindedness and willingness to respect others. We need more openness to new ideas and new solutions to problems. We need a better, more broadly educated public. We don’t need to “balance” tolerance with bigotry, or open mindedness with zealotry, or democracy with plutocracy, or science with pseudo-science, or knowledge with ignorance.

There is a long-standing anti-intellectual tradition in America. “Liberal” education is seen as a threat to traditional values and main street virtues. Conservatives, especially religious conservatives, have been the main adherents of this anti-intellectualism.

Many simplistic conservative dogmas are not factual and are dispelled by education. This is why public education is being attacked at all levels by MAGA Republicans. Education is dangerous to their beliefs and agenda. But there is no nefarious plot to subvert the minds of our innocent youth with accurate public education. Public schools are not “grooming” children to be liberal, gay, or unpatriotic.

There are many reasons why educated people tend to be more liberal. There are many reasons why today’s conservative dogma doesn’t compete well in the “marketplace of ideas” and thus does not get “taught.” History teachers discuss racism because it happened and was a driving force behind many public polices. Biology teachers do not teach intelligent design or creationism because these beliefs are not accurate science. Evolution is the driving force behind life on earth. Genetics has refuted the far-right religious positions on homosexuality. The world is not 6000 years old. Climate change is happening. Immunizations did defeat many diseases and greatly improved public health. Ignorance is not in anyone’s best interests

The real agenda of the current MAGA Republicans is power and control. They are not concerned with many of the traditional conservative policy objectives and certainly not the common good or the good of the country. They are interested in staying in power by any means possible (thus the undemocratic gerrymandering, election denial, voter suppression, and restrictions on voting rights).

Traditionally Republican conservatives advocated lower taxes, smaller government, high spending on the military, and support for big business. Social issues like abortion, evolution, gun control, crime, and educational policy have little to do with these core objectives. But these “wedge” issues make great campaign tactics. Dividing the masses with wedge issues maintains their power. Demonizing “liberals” is just another wedge issue.

Republicans are masters at manipulating the ignorance, religiosity, and tribalism of most people to keep them voting against their own beset interests. Republicans use the deceptive, manipulative advertising techniques (that sell worthless consumer products) to sell “divide-and-conquer” political messages. Attack ads are inaccurate but effective. But these tactics only work when people forget that liberalism is what has made their lives better.

So don’t be fooled by the right-wing slogans and attack ads. We will all do better with a strong democracy, fair elections, respect for diversity, tolerance of others and the open-mindedness of a liberal society.