Each political side sincerely believes

A good metaphor about how sincere beliefs across political divides work and clash, from Charles Lipson at RealClear Politics:

Years ago, my father shared a piece of wisdom, learned from decades of running the cash register at a small store. He would ring up the purchases, take the money from the customer, and hand them the change.

The toughest problem, Dad said, was not customers cheating. The toughest problem was when your customer sincerely thought she gave you a $20 and you, with equal sincerity, thought she gave you a $10. That’s hard to resolve and leave everyone satisfied. Very hard.

It’s also a metaphor for today’s political crisis. Each side sincerely, truly believes it is defending the basic values of American constitutional democracy, while the other side is trying to undermine them. We have not seen anything like it since the 1970s when this country faced the twin crucibles of Vietnam and the Watergate scandal.

This is a very good metaphor, and can be applied to politics in general here in New Zealand too. There are some on the right who see no good in the left, and some on the left who see no good in the right. More than that, they see bad, even evil, in political views they disagree with.

But it has been said that whether the Government is led by National or Labour it is generally trying to do it’s best for the country, and all MPs from the Greens to ACT genuinely believe their policies will be best for the country – they just have different approaches to trying to deal with very complex issues.

There are exceptions. To some politics is just a game where winning at any cost regardless of what might be right or best is all that matters, as is abusing, defeating and humiliating anyone who opposes – this is how things often seem to work with the likes of Cameron Slater, Martyn Bradbury, and ‘One Anonymous Bloke’ at The Standard, and on Facebook and Twitter.

But most people who put themselves forward to represent voters in Parliament genuinely believe that their way is the best way – some to the extent that they believe it is the only way.

This frustrates some when their ideals rarely happen. Those who understand and accept pragmatism and compromise and losing a few battles will manage better than those who fervently want their policies in place as the only way to fix the country.

The problems with differences in sincere beliefs is amplified in the US, with so much more at stake, and on a much larger scale, and with very serious fears and allegations.

It is a political and social disunion that extends to every city and state. Few Americans have friends on both sides of this continental divide. Gone are the days when some friends voted for Ike, some for Adlai, and nobody considered the others to be traitors or bigots. Today, it’s far more likely that your colleagues at work and your friends at Starbucks share your views, read the same websites, and watch the same cable news. They don’t just agree with you. They think the other side is clueless—and evil. Those voting for the other team are up to something terrible. They can’t possibly be sincere, much less patriotic.

They may be up to something terrible, but they are sincere, and they definitely believe they have the country’s best interests at heart. That’s why the division is so profound and so difficult to bridge. They are certain they gave the cashier a $20—and, dammit, the cashier must know that. The only explanation is that he’s trying to cheat me.

We saw that during the 2016 campaign. Trump’s partisans, in their “Make America Great Again” hats, didn’t just think Hillary was a political adversary. They thought she ran a criminal enterprise, funded by people who wanted an inside track and would pay her and Bill big money to get it. Her crimes would never be prosecuted because she was being protected by a corrupt federal government.

Their chant, “Lock her up,” was disturbing because, for the first time since Watergate, it framed American politics in overtly criminal terms. But it is crucial to understand that the outrage of these chanting partisans was genuine. And they were not inventing their charges out of whole cloth.

Today, Democrats are equally genuine in believing that the Trump campaign may have cooperated with the Russians to steal the election, or at least tilt it unfairly. If true, that’s not just criminal. It would be a treasonous attack on the foundations of American democracy.

The current crisis is severe because each side is making very serious charges, each has some suggestive (but not conclusive) evidence, and each is utterly sincere—the rarest of political sentiments.

And there is no sign of the US political crisis being anywhere near resolved. Hence there is a lot of ongoing friction and division.

Until we get some results, remember the wise advice of England’s wartime poster: keep calm and carry on. And remember, too, that the other side’s worries are just as real and troubling as your own.

I doubt that many Americans are in a mood to heed this advice at the moment.

Opposing sincere beliefs are profound and acrimonious.

Donald Trump is very busy trying to run the country and the world with frantic feuding on the sideline.

If Hillary Clinton wanted to exit politics with some credit she could step up and lead reconciliation and understanding, but that looks unlikely to happen.

The two past presidents, George W Bush and Barack Obama, could get together and try to repair some of the damage, but they may prefer to keep well out of the cauldron.

There is no obvious end in sight. Even an investigation outcome is unlikely to be accepted easily by those who don’t like the result.

The US political crisis could eventually subside, but it could also rip the fabric of US democracy apart.

From Why America’s Political Crisis Is So Profound and continued in the next post here Profound US political crisis.

Leave a comment


  1. Gezza

     /  31st May 2017

  2. Brown

     /  31st May 2017

    “This is a very good metaphor …”

    No its not. I handle cash all the time and always hang onto what is offered while giving change. That’s a basic rule you get taught by either smart people or by life when you get caught out.

    In politics I feel there are relatively few sincere and profoundly held beliefs as, if there were, they wouldn’t be mates across the divide when it came to pay rises and free goodies at tax payer’s expense. There are people I respect, despite my opinion they are so wrong it should embarrassing for them, but they are not friends. Then there’s Little and the Greens generally whom I neither respect nor like.


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