Real Americans: Political Narrative & Public Opinion

I keep noticing a particular schizophrenic divide in the minds of Americans. It’s hard to grasp what most people actually believe. I try to stay informed with various data from polls and other research, but the overall pattern isn’t always clear. In this post, I’m going to point out a pattern I’ve seen before and have written about before. I’m going to do this by connecting it to the recent issue of immigration. My sense is that this pattern extends beyond any single issue.

Let me lay out the data first.

More Americans identify as conservative than identify as liberal.
But more Americans support or lean toward many of the major liberal positions.

According to some polls, most Americans were against the “socialist” Obamacare.
But it supposedly was based on a proposal made by Republicans in the 1990s.
And, when asked about specific items in the health insurance bill, most Americans supported them.
In particular, most Americans supported public option.

Most Americans support the Arizona immigration law in requiring immigrants (and those who look like immigrants) to carry identification.
But most Americans are against Americans carrying national identification cards and against racial profiling.
And most Americans support civil rights.

Let me dissect the immigration issue. Basically, many Americans are fine with treating latinos differently than other Americans. Of course, majority white Americans don’t like latinos because latinos are threatening their majority position, but I’ve seen videos of blacks who claimed latinos were a threat as well. It’s easy to argue for this kind of law when the person doesn’t think it will apply to them or people like them. Most whites and blacks who support the Arizona law assume that if they visited Arizona they wouldn’t be jailed if they didn’t have their papers on them.

For argument’s sake, let’s turn this situation around. What if all the states along the northern border passed similar laws which said all Canadian immigrants had to carry identification at all times? What if this hypothetical law said that it was legal to ask any person who looked Canadian (i.e., white) to show their identification? Would Sarah Palin support whites being treated in the same way latinos would be treated under the Arizona law? In terms of blacks, the charge is often made that blacks are pulled over for DWB (Driving While Black). What if it became legally required for police officers to pull over all black people because they might be illegal immigrants from Africa?

I see several aspects to this confused thinking of the American people. There is the us vs them mentality. That isn’t specifically what interests me at the moment, but it relates. Seeing latinos as different is a failure to generalize, a failure to see all humans as being considered equal under the US Constitution. Also, it’s a failure to see certain specifics. The person who supports the Arizona law apparently lacks the imagination to see how it could apply to people like themselves. People often forget that, when one person or group has their rights undermined, it undermines the foundation of the rights for all (“when they came for the…”). So, in that sense, the failure is in not generalizing enough. But getting lost in generalizations can also be dangerous… which brings me to another point.

Generalizations make for useful talking points and useful political narratives. I’ve noted in the past that conservatives have been very effective in controlling the narrative. Take my first example of how most Americans identify as conservative despite the liberalism on specific issues. Even the mainstream media often repeats the conservative narrative that America is a center-right country; this is interesting in light of the other conservative narrative about the mainstream media being liberal… which the mainstream media often repeats as well.

I kept hearing the mainstream media (not just Fox News) repeat over and over again that most Americans support the Arizona immigration law. However, they rarely go beyond this talking point. Where are the polls that break down the specific issues of the Arizona law, of immigration reform and of immigration in general? Why isn’t the media looking at the broader context of issues? Why isn’t the media looking at other aspects? Why continually bash the American public over the head with the same limited set of info?

Yes, the GOP probably has won the narrative war as they often do. Most Americans may support the Arizona law. But how many Americans actually understand the Arizona law? How many Americans understand the history of immigration? How many Americans understand the history of US relations with Mexico? How many Americans know that undocumented immigrants cause less crime than the average American? How many Americans have seen the data showing that the War on Drugs is failing an is causing Mexicans to try to escape the violence in their own coutnry that the US government is helping to cause? How many Americans understand that undocumented workers come to the US because business owners hire them and because US and state governments don’t stop nor penalize business owners from hiring them?

I’m willing to bet if you informed the American public and asked them about specific issues related to immigration, a very different public opinion would become evident.

So, what does it mean to be a conservative or liberal in the US? Why, in a country built on immigration, is being anti-immigrant (or having anti-immigrant sentiments/suspicions) a conservative position? What does ‘conservative’ mean if the majority of Americans both identify as conservative and support liberal positions? What does ‘liberal’ mean when, according to Pew data, those who identify as liberals show the strongest support for fiscal conservatism?

In the broad view, Americans are mostly conservatives who are against socialism and for nationalism.
In the more detailed view, Americans are mostly liberals who love their socialist services and are increasingly embracing multiculturalism.

Which represents the real American?

16 thoughts on “Real Americans: Political Narrative & Public Opinion

  1. Amusing, the 6th paragraph.

    This is related to the final question or the whole broadly, but not specifically related.

    How much individualism goes on around your end, America? I’m thinking to do a post(anytime) on this notion of my brethren that white people have a kind, neighbourly character, with an absolute presence in every white person(yes, really). People tend to generalise a lot but this, in the presence of our inferiority complex, is damaging.

    When that post is ready, I’ll inform you so you appraise (yess! appraise) it.

    • I think there is an element of truth (and many elements of falseness) to the idea that “white people” are kind and neighbourly.

      I can say that, at least, American whites (and Americans in general, in particular midwesterners) tend to want to think of themselves as kind and neighborly. The stereotype of an American is someone who is gregarious and good-natured, someone who works hard and plays hard. We Americans collectively want to be liked by the world. Our collective sense got high off of the sense of victory and pride that America represented after WWII. Europe was destroyed and America was seen as a shining beacon of hope and freedom.

      To the extent that white people may be (or may aspire to be) kind and neighbourly, it would simply be a carryover from Europe having been conquered by Rome. Multiculturalism (and a multicultural religion) was forced on the European tribes. Rome was an early manifestation of multiculturalism. It’s because there were African soldiers in the Roman army that there still is African genetics in the British population. This Roman multiculturalism was watered down after the fall of Rome, but the ideal remained to reappear with the Enlightenment.

      America was founded on these Enlightenment ideals. Also, America was the first Western country since the Roman Empire which fully embodied this multicultural sensibility. Both Rome and America were built on immigration and expansion.

      However, there has been plenty of xenophobia in America and Europe. Generally speaking, white culture has this ideal of treating others fairly and with respect, no matter how different they may act or appear. But this ideal has for most of history remained as a mere ideal disconnected from reality. Even today, it’s an ideal that is mired in still existing issues of racism and classism. Whether or not this ideal manifests in reality, an ideal is a powerful drug. White people have idealized their own culture as being superior in it’s values: democracy, civil rights, meritocracy, free speech, etc. So, whether or not white people live up to being kind and neighborly, it seems that many white people (especially in America) think that is how they’re supposed to be.

      To be fair, multiculturalism and Enlightenment ideals were imported to Europe and then later to America. They aren’t specifically white values. As I said, they came from Rome in the form of the Hellenistic tradition which was a tradition that combined the cultures of Greece and Africa (specifically Egypt). Hellenistic traditions were spread not only to Europe but to many other regions. The Hellenistic tradition survived in the Middle East by Muslims during the time Europe was experiencing the dark ages.

      To be even more fair, all of this could be seen in the light of the rise of the Axial Age prophets. The Axial Age happened in all cultures around the same time. The values of treating others kindly wasn’t limited to the Hellenistic and monotheistic traditions. Buddhism and Confucianism became popularized during the Axial Age.

      The question is why did white people become the representatives of what fairly doesn’t belong just to them. It’s because the victors write the history books. There was the Islamic Ottoman Empire which upheld some multicultural values, but which collapsed. So, the Muslims who centuries before reminded the Europeans of Hellenism then forgot about Hellenism themselves.

      As for Africans, I don’t know enough of the history. Egypt was one of the main influences on Hellenism (as well as one of the main influences on Christianity) and so indirectly influenced all of European and American culture. However, Egypt is just one part of Africa. During the early Egyptian empires, multiculturalism became a central force (and this relates to monotheism with one of the Egyptian emperors being the first person known to put forth the theology of monotheism). I suppose much of Africa, though, wasn’t influenced by Egypt. Many African tribes probably were culturally isolated prior to the period of slave trading and colonization.

      How do you see the history of Africa? How much do you think Egypt and Hellenism had an influence on the different regions of Africa? Do you think many Africans even realize that Hellenism formed out of the meeting of white (Greek) and black (Egyptian) cultures?

      If Africans have an inferiority complex, I’d assume that colonization helped to create it. Hellenistic values were introduced as if they were completely foreign. European colonizers and slave traders, of course, saw themselves as being superior. Obviously, they weren’t superior in having colonized Africa and enslaved Africans.

      It’s easy to think of oneself as kind and neighborly if one is living a life of privilege. Americans may be a giving people, but partly that is because we are wealthy from also being a very taking people. How many Westerners would still feel superior if they had been for centuries, conquered, colonized and enslaved? It’s easy to rationalize one’s behavior as good when one holds the reigns of power. And it’s easy to have an inferiority complex when someone else has been holding the reigns of power.

    • I was wondering if my response made any sense to you or connected in any way to what you were saying. I tend to go off in odd directions with my thinking. Your point might have little to do with my discussion of the history of Western culture.

      Ignoring the context of history and culture, you could look at it merely from a psychological/sociological perspective. I’ve heard of research about how early experience of multiculturalism creates an attitude of openness toward multiculturalism. As I recall, kids who go to school with kids from other cultures grow up to be less xenophobic. So, it would be reasonable to assume that countires with high rates of immigration and high rates of assimilation would have higher rates of people with “kind, neighbourly character”.

      In the context of specific countries, the US obviously has high immigration rates and high assimilation rates. The second part is important. For example, Muslims are more assimilated in the US and there is less Islamic violence in the US, but in many European countries where Muslims are isolated in their own neighborhoods there is more Islamic violence. So, immigrants who are able to assimilate are more kind and neighborly to the extent that they are less likely to kill their neighbors.

      However, that example argues against the idea that white people as a general category have a “kind, neighbourly character”. It seems to me that in many European countries xenophobia is very strong. I think it’s an issue of assimilation. In Europe, an immigrant can’t as easily assimilate and maintain their cultural identity at the same time. In the US, the entire culture is an immigrant culture and so US multiculturalism makes it easier for for an immigrant to assimilate while maintaining their own culture.

      Also, in the US, our culture has become very community focused for the very reason that traditional community doesn’t exist here. Americans move around a lot and the country is large. It’s a social necessity for Americans to be friendlier with strangers.

      Countries with traditional cultures have more difficult with immigrants. That is the problem with Europe, but it’s also the problem with a place like India. In India, there is much diversivity, but it has a traditional culture based on class separation. Also, people in India seem to have cultural/religious identities that are more distinct.

      It makes me wonder what would’ve happened to Egyptian Empire or the Ottoman Empire if they had survived and maintained their multicultural traditions. In particular, I wonder about the Ottoman Empire. It’s a shame it collapsed considering what has become to the region since. I’m trying to think of a good example of a multicultural immigrant society similar to the US but which is non-Western. Maybe the most similar would be some Central and South American countries, but many of them haven’t become as developed as they could have partly because of interference from the US. China has had to deal with a lot of multiculturalism, but they’ve dealt with it using oppression and so aren’t a good example. Maybe a country like Japan would be an example of a multicultural meeting ground that has proven to be successful. I get the sense that the Japanese have a govt that is more respectful of civil rights and diversity.

      How about Africa? Which countries in Africa are the most multicultural and which ones have dealt with diversity the best? Do you know much about Liberia? I’d be curious to learn more about LIberia since American freed slaves moved there and formed a govt based on the American govt. I’d be interested to learn if the former slaves had managed to bring over some of the multicultural values and merge them into the local culture.

    • By the way, I’m not sure I understand your question about individualism in America. I’m not sure there is any country that idealizes individuality more than America. However, I don’t know how successful most Americans are in being individualistic.

      Humans in general are social animals and so the ideal of individualism goes a bit against the grain of our inherited nature. Individualism and community seem to be in conflict. Americans idealize individualism because our sense of traditional community is very weak. We think of our relationships as choices. We even think of community in terms of the individual. We like the idea of people being free to choose the community they want to belong to.

      I like the ideal of individualism as much as the next person, but I can’t deny that American individualism has some major failings. In some ways, Americans are a severely dysfunctional people.

  2. By the bye, how do u take the ultra-modern ‘like’ button? Lol.

    Just how I like it, spider web style. That is just how I take sociological problems; look into history. That’s where the evidence lies(at least, partly). No matter how I hate to admit this, I do use the scientific method extensively. I usually hypothesize then I look into the facts to see if it is, usually history. When I discovered it was fundamental to me was when I accelerated down this road of the personality(at least partly).

    I have this book I acquired from a relation recently, ‘The History of the Ewe’. I will read it but I want to be ready to. My mind must choose it. When I do that then I can give an account of some African History, sans that, it’s just going to be a post-colonization account which is as much white-biased as it is inadequate. The first factor taking black culture beyond soot and the second just too recent. We actually had Sub-Saharan kingdoms you know. I told you of a flourishing Togoland? Well, that was a part of the old Benin Kingdom as I am told.

    Liberia? That is a country trying to rebuild. However, from what we know of them, they are a very free-living people(my father’s account).

    Not much research goes on in the centre of the world. Archeology, history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, by ourselves, is as we say it bo-boow(meaning naught). Well, we have a tremendous lack of self-determination and it has some religious aspect to it. We need our own thinkers.

    But, the splitting of tribes and arbitrary collection of them, no regard for their history or sociology might also be a cause. Tribes distrustful of each other brought together, it’s hard not to hate the other black and love the 3rd party. Thus, bringing about a self-hatred(for black people as a whole).

    Gotta love intuition, can generate theories off the bat, like, that. Lol.

    • I’d be interested to hear anything you learn about African history.

      I wish I knew more about history in general, but it’s a bit overwhelming. I don’t even fully grasp a lot of US history. Early US history really confuses me because there were so many different groups vying for power (various Native American tribes forming alliances, various religious groups and political activists escaping tyranny, various countries seeking to colonize, various corporations and wealthy elite seeking to exploit anyone and everyone, etc). I suppose African history is equally confusing, if not more.

      The issue about the impact of colonization on tribes is interesting: splitting up and arbitrarily creating boundaries. The same thing happened in the Middle East after the World Wars which seems to be a major reason for all of the conflict and sectarianism.

      I hadn’t thought about this before in terms of North America. In the US, the govt allowed (or, rather, forced) tribes to live separately from the rest of American society and from other tribes. Native Americans were given a certain amount of autonomy and are legally considered their own nations. I’ve never seen much demographic info about Native Americans. I wonder which political parties they tend to vote for. I’m sure they’re social conservatives, but many socially conservative minorities vote Democrat.

      I was wondering about something. Have you travelled much either in your country or to other countries? Going by your comment about Liberia, you seem to imply that your father has travelled, right? I don’t like to travel, but there is no better way to know a place than to experience it firsthand.

  3. Why we need our own thinkers:

    In as much as there are various types of people, psychologically(not necessarily Jungian), there will be skews on concepts. Prime here is the issue of religion. Religion has been to a great extent why this is good and that is bad. Most people, the majority of the types, will follow this thinking all the way down and anything that is contrary to the good is hated vehemently.

    There is also where the words or precepts are picked and emphasized by a particular group. It can be any type that does this. Then, this type’s notion becomes the new good and bad after it is followed. In so far as there are favored positions for the types, they emphasize that which is parallel to theirs and demonise that which is perpendicular. In that, they produce a new morality for the religion with a grounding in the old, true or false.

    It’s really amazing how religious humans are.

    If this is true, there will always be a case of shepherding thus a sole thinker can effect a change(radical or no, present or future) in the people for them to change their outlook. Slowly, eventually, the old will fade(but not completely) and the new will take over if it has some special advantages. If it can be tried at least to make the demonstration of its advantages possible. So many theories abound out there, but how many tried and how many are not shunned by religious morality?

    We need our own thinkers to construe on the larger scale, the holistic view and try to set things for us at least less partially. Maybe we need it, maybe the world needs it, maybe it will just be another partial view in as much as it is the view of another One type.

    • You say: “We need our own thinkers”. By “our”, do you mean Africans? Or do you mean there needs to be more thinkers outside of the constraints and status quo of religion, more indpendent thinkers who aren’t mere apologists for some belief system or another, those who can see a larger perspective?

      If you mean the latter, I wonder what your opinion is about integral thinkers such as Ken Wilber. There are many other similar writers. I only mention Ken Wilber because I’m familiar with his work and he is fairly well known.

      I tend to think that it will be just another partial view. Even so, some views are less partial by being more inclusive of multiple views. That is what I think is done by the Jungian theory of types. It creates a framework for understanding why different views exist and how they can be seen in a larger context.

      I was just thinking that maybe by using “our” you were implying both African thinkers and more global thinkers. If Africans feel divided up according to national boundaries and sectarianism, this might create a constrained view of the world and a constrained sense of identity. It would make it difficult to see a larger view that contains all the differences. Is that what you meant?

  4. Just before I clicked to comment, I realised I am also doing a threesome. So so incidental, interesting

    There’s this theory I’ve been playing with, whether other organisms don’t have cultures and intercultural exchanges. Perhaps, some of the changes they exhibit in behaviour are the product of some form of cultural interation. For instance, among domestic animals as I have observed, they were early sleepers. As time went on, being in the city too with its lights and stuff, some changed. Slowly, the change cut more deeply and now it looks like almost all of them are early sleepers. Observed among fowls, sheep, goats.

    Interesting, isn’t it? As well as wild if not outlandish.

    • I like that you brought up this connection between non-human life and culture.

      I was just listening to something on NPR which relates. It was about dolphins and whales. They are similar to humans in being highly social, playful, intelligent, and sexualized (like humans, dolphins often combine sex and play… which is a common behavioral trait of intelligent animals).

      The differences are even more interesting. Many dolphins and whales have brains larger than that of humans. Also, the part of the brain related to emotions is larger and more complex which is interesting considering the connection between emotion and morality. Most interesting of all, they have more complex ways of communicating than humans. The communications of whale families have distinct dialects that are passed on from generation to generation.

      I think it’s fair to say that whales and dolphins have at least some basic sense of culture and intercultural exchanges. I’d even go so far as to extend this to certain other species. Chimpanzees teach eachother methods of using stones or sticks as tools to gain food. Some big cats teach their offspring hunting techniques that are effective with certain kinds of prey and the offspring will only hunt the prey they were taught to hunt. These behaviors aren’t instinctual but learned which means it’s a basic form of culture.

      I’ve heard of theories about how changes of environment might change animal behavior. Some have argued that chimpanzees have been observed to be violent because the chimpanzees who have been observed have lived in war-torn areas and so have experienced a lot of violence. So, maybe chimpanzees prior to human violence weren’t themselves as violent in the same way that humans become more violent when traumatized by violence.

      I saw a nature show about elephants. The elephants had to travel to get to a distant source of water and they were forced to pass through an area highly populated by humans. Elephants typically travel by day, but these elephants changed their instinctual behavior by travelling by night in order to avoid confrontations.

      I read about an interesting example of how the cultures of humans and non-humans can develop together. The writer described two tribes that lived in territories that were close together. One tribe herded goats and the other tribe hunted. Lions lived in both territories. The herders hated the lions because they killed their goats. So, in that territory, the people killed the lions and the lions killed the people. The hunting tribe had respect for the lions who also were hunters. They had an agreement with the lions that they would leave eachother alone. If the lions killed something, the humans wouldn’t take it. And if the humans killed something, the lions wouldn’t take it. Because of this longstanding agreement, lions and people didn’t kill eachother in this territory. What is interesting is that the lions passed between the territories, but would behave differently depending on which territory they were in.

      I know from personal obsrvations (similar to your own) that animals can change their instinctual behavior. I used to have a cat at the same time I had some rodents. The cat loved to watch the dwarf hamsters scurry around in their glass container. He would swat at them as they ran back and forth. However, if I took the dwarf hamsters out (or if they escaped as they did on occassion), the cat wouldn’t bother them. He’d just follow them around with curiosity but never harmed them. He only would swat at them when they were safely on the other side of glass. He suppressed his hunting instincts and expressed them only when they couldn’t cause harm.

  5. It’s just like me to forget exactly what I read. I think the integral theory incorporates several domains of thought simultaneously? I have to revise. So, if this was an exam… That brings me to another thing, I have such a powerful tendency to ignore schoolwork for extended periods, then only put in work for the last lap preceding exams. No wonder I crawled to the uni.

    My father was a soldier. He went on observer missions as part of ECOWAS to Liberia among others. I used to travel a lot when I was young but as part of the family and not really for exploration, though, I did spot some essentials. But, I won’t say there is much difference difference apart from a more simplistic, communal outlook but also a very, very outgoing style that looks to be a confident one which is hard to ascertain.

    Recently, I went to Keta, in our Volta region, all on my own and settled with a fisherman. Actually, I sought lodging at the local parish but the priest said he trusted me not, that perhaps, I was a thief. It was really interesting. The man whom I lodged with plus his friends had been in the city before and said they preferred the peace of the rural, away from the aggression of the urban, where everyone is against everyone, so much insecurity. Additionally, they were a people who, all-around, liked strangers, foreigners. So far as no harm was caused by your ways.

    Yeah, that’s what I meant by ‘our own thinkers’, outside any single system and African so they can inspire some belief in Africa. That inferiority is also produced by our not finding a single African beacon but, we did kill them all. Perhaps, something of Africa, for Africa, unique. After looking at peoples like the Japanese, Chinese, I saw a unitary force both in the sense that it was one and that it unified them. But, that was long ago, Bushido for example, is probably long gone.

    You know, Science is predicated on this thought of man as the centre of the world. I wonder if they have wondered just like I wondered that brain size might not be all required for complex behaviour. Who’s to say that the viruses without brains don’t say to themselves: ‘Hei, look, they have on new body armor, guys. Time to turn on the works, it’s morphing time’.

    • I see what you meant by “our own thinkers”.

      I don’t know what most scientists have wondered, but I know I’ve wondered also that complex behavior (and self-awareness) might not be solely dependent on brain size (or brains at all).

      I read a book about plants and ecosystems. The author discussed how plants form specific communities of specific plants. Trees act as anchors of these ecosystem communties because they attract particularly plants which will grow around them.

      It makes me think of how the human body is largely made up of micro-organisms. Our bodies are ecosystems, communities of life. We aren’t single organisms, but collectives.

      To get back to plants, the communities they form aren’t just passive. Scientists have proven plants respond to their environment and communicate with nearby plants by chemicals in the soil. A plant may seem like it’s doing nothing, but unseen to the human eye plants are constantly acting and interacting. Plants might be more aware of us than we are of them.

      I had another thought I wanted to add to something I said earlier in my comparison of societies.

      Some Westerners look down on Africa as being undeveloped or backwards. Many genocides and civil wars have occurred in Africa in recent history. It’s not surprising considering the African people have had Westerners constantly meddling with their societies: conquered and enslaved, colonized and divided up arbitrarily, missionaries and oppression of local culture, white supremacy and sectarianism, and on and on.

      What is interesting in this is that Westerners only did to Africa what was done to them by the likes of the Romans. Europe experienced all of that same turmoil. The native cultures were almost entirely destroyed. The difference is that this happened a long time ago for Europe and so Europe has had time to develop. However, the wounds may not be as fresh as they are for Africans, Europeans are just as traumatized. Europeans (and Americans) are the victim who becomes the victimizer.

      This is what many white people fail to understand. I always get irritated how whites in America will feel superior to blacks in America. They point out the high crime rates and other problems in the black community as if that proves whites (or white culture) is morally superior. It’s so stupid. What do they expect? Africans were torn from their homeland, from their communities, from their families. They were traumatized and enslaved. They had their entire sense of identity and culture ripped from them. They were oppressed for centuries and treated like animals. They were beaten and had their children sold off.

      After all of that, they finally gain their freedom which wasn’t that long ago. Many blacks still vividly remember the time before the civil rights movement when they were second class citizens. They’ve only had a few decades of being legally considered equal, although in practice racism remains institutionalized. With all of this, rich white people have the audacity to complain that blacks and black culture is inferior. Whites utterly destroyed black black culture. Of course, the black sense of family is broken because white people broke it. I’d like to see these white people have the same thing happen to them and see how great their culture is after all this. It pisses me off to no end. A few decades of freedom doesn’t solve all the problems caused by centuries of brutal oppression.

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