Political Parties

Michael is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studies Economics and International Studies. A staunch conservative who has spent his whole life in liberal circles, he has a strong sense of the thing that matters most to him: individual freedom. Our conversation covered his intellectual inspirations and his criticisms of the left – namely the belief in state-created parity. Regardless of your feelings about Michael’s ideas, I would highly recommend reading this article he wrote in The Federalist about receiving death threats for an opinion article he wrote in high school. I think it highlights how things have gone wrong with public discourse.

How he has been involved in politics:

By my definition, of being in engaged with what’s happening in the country, by identifying what principles that created American, and trying to engage in national politics and local politics, I think I’m a pretty good citizen. I do a lot of writing. I’ve been writing for school papers and other publications since 9th grade. I’m pretty interested and dedicated to writing political stuff. That’s how I engage with those values.

I’ve been involved in some campaigning, and some activism. But I have more of the mind of a writer, someone who explains ideas, rather than someone who comes up with a clever way to get their message across. I could do more direct activism.

Whether he thinks his peers are good citizens:

Many can identify values that ought to be forwarded. And they fight for those values. But I’d argue that they aren’t values that correspond to the founding of America. In fact, they’re in direct contradiction to the values of America. The left and the right are not fighting for the same principles.

What he sees as the core values on the left and right:

The founding values of America – and the ones conservatives are fighting for – are based in the Enlightenment and the Old and New Testament. The best description is aspirational individualism. Fundamental to this ideal are the freedom of speech and to hold guns. The Declaration and Constitution are some of the best documents in terms of limiting government power and limiting control.

Our country has also been directed by basic moral principles from the bible. There’s no argument in the bible that a fetus is not a child. Why does the fetus in the 24th week all of a sudden become a child? Freedom of choice is often just an excuse to eliminate an undesirable class in society. Given the amount people cared about the Old and New Testament back then, the fact that the Bible says, “God knows you in the womb” should be a guide for us.

(On the other hand), the liberal ethic is mainly parody. Today’s left wants to see people in society be equal. That value is not inherently in contradiction to founding values. It’s not in contradiction to the founding to fight for civil rights. Now the terms have been co-opted, however. Now, there’s no difference between men and women. Now, there can’t be difference in interests between groups or a difference in talents between individuals. It’s not possible to consider from ethic of parody that people might not want the same things. It doesn’t grant the individual the freedom to pursue what they want.

There are limits to freedom:

There are limits to that freedom, though. You use your freedom to forward American values when you think the system is going astray. So to kneel for the flag, to cast aside the system for which you’re fighting, doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense to abandon the system.

His thoughts on college activists:

College students are far more dangerous than white nationalists. The KKK is 2,000 members nationally (note: the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates there are 5,000-8,000 registered members of the KKK). The people in Charlottesville had a permit. They have a right to march. College activists, though, don’t believe in free speech, and that’s the foundational civilization value. And recent polls show a lot of students feel this way.

How he thinks young Democrats could improve as citizens:

The average Democrat could be a better citizen by getting out of the echo chamber. I write these things, on the works of Rich Lowry, David French, and Heather McDonnell, and people are outraged as if they never hear these things. They read Salon and Slate. That’s what they base their views on. It’s difficult to have a debate with someone when your frames of reference are completely different. The average Democrat could add to their media consumption. But don’t watch Sean Hannity.

How young Republicans could improve as citizens:

The average young Republican is not a Trump acolyte. They should be careful with trolling. If you’re going to get liberals outraged, you shouldn’t border on being racist or misogynistic. People should focus more on ideas, especially since a lot of conservative ideas already are offensive to people.

The way our country should address its problems:

Maximizing the individual to the greatest extent possible is the best way to run society. The best way to fix issues in society, such as women being underrepresented on tech, is to focus on the individual. You don’t have to do mental gymnastics, or a massive intervention from the state. The left is out of ideas, so they cling to things that sound great but are divisive or unrealistic. The right has a chance to help individuals achieve their aspirations the best they can. Individuals are different and their aspirations are different, so we should’t try to make them all the same. Education is a great way to do this.

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I had a chance to speak with Bob Driscoll, a former member of the Department of Justice during George W. Bush’s administration. Our conversation covered our duty to society, the limits of government, and what each side of the political aisle needs to learn. I also recommend reading an article he wrote on many of these topics for the New Boston Post.

What his family taught him:

My dad was a great citizen. My Grandad was a postman. My dad went to college on a military scholarship, then was in the Marines, and then became a lawyer. He asked us every night at dinner, “What are you going to do for society today?” He emphasized that it wasn’t about us. It was about the greater community. We did service at the church. My parents were active with setting up housing for Vietnamese refugees. There was always this notion that we had to be contributing something beyond our family unit.

He thinks American life has changed in the last twenty years:

Coming from a conservative perspective, I feel like because of maybe social media, or media saturation, people have lost any sense of limited government. Every problem today is a government problem. We place too much of our hopes in our federal leaders to fix our problems. That’s a cause of anxiety for both sides, depending on who’s in office. I read a piece from a psychologist that talked about how when we feel like we don’t control our lives, we are anxious. We have an outsized notion of any given impact that a federal leader has on them. People’s angst about their government is greater than the impact of the government itself.

I think what’s unique about the American experience is that we’re a society of negative rights, not positive rights. The Bill of Rights is a list of things the government cannot do to you. That’s good because it restrains government. But for others, it’s not enough. We don’t have a right to healthcare (at least legally speaking). People look to government to solve more problems, rather than the government setting the parameters by which government can solve your life.

How Democrats can improve as citizens:

People are so quick to go to motives these days. I think Democrats are, in general, a little bit quicker to do this. “If you don’t want gun control, you’re responsible for this shooting.” What I feel like saying is, “If someone calls you a baby killer, is that gonna make you pro-life?” Are you ever going to say, “I’ve never thought about it that way! Now that you put it that way, I’m going to change!” It’s the late night comedy phenomenon: everyone who disagrees with me is stupid.

How Republicans can improve:

Conservatives put things too simplistically sometimes. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because political correctness can bother you doesn’t mean you should be an a**hole. Pissing the right people off and being an a**hole has become a substitute for ideas. I’m halfway to the point that thinking that this is all about culture. I joked to a friend, “If Trump nationalized the energy industry overnight, no one would care so long as he tweeted something insulting about Rosie O’Donnell.”

What he thinks the average Democrat and Republican would say about one another:

It kind of depends what you mean by average. The average, meaning we randomly pick someone out of the phone book, you would think people of different political leanings are good citizens. In the real world, people aren’t that politically active, nor do they care that much about others’ politics.

But among politically active people, I don’t think they’d say people of the other side are good citizens at all. Republicans would say Democrats are f***ing communists who want the government controlling everything. And Democrats think all Republicans are racist bigots who are secretly Bull Connor.

What he’d say to a Trump voter:

To the average Trump voter, I’d say anger, even justifiable anger, is not a policy. Think about what governing means instead of just making a statement.

What he’d say to a Clinton voter:

To the average Democratic voter, I’d say get outside the bubble and make an effort to understand religious people. There’s a not unfounded perception for religious people that there’s no place for them in the Democratic Party.

Religion has informed his ideas about society:

We don’t have the idea that “if we had the right policy in place, we can fix this.” Policies help on the margins. But religious people see the sin of man. I understand that government can’t fix that. Understanding their value in the world brings them happiness. People who are more secular, democratic, liberal think “if only we could do this thing, it’d be great.” It still won’t work. Someone will take a bribe. Someone will fall on hard times. Someone will become an alcoholic.

What it means to be an America:

It just means to live in America and benefit from the freedom of structure of government. America needs people with those values of freedom and equality. But you can be a communist in America, and you’re no less American.

The thing that concerns him most about American politics:

I’m constantly amazed that no one has written about all the things that happen with (politicians’ finances). Maybe it’s because everyone is a part of the game. Bernie Sanders has been in government for 40 straight years and has three house. Same with Harry Reid. He only ever worked in government, and now he owns a suite in the Ritz. Ted Stevens, a Republican from Alaska, was investigated for corruption. His defense was two million bucks. That’s way more than he made in his career.

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Margy is a secretarial assistant at Bowling Green State University. She lives in Tontogany, Ohio, a town of only 400 people. Her father was a veteran, and she has internalized that commitment to our country and flag.

On the moment she realized the importance of citizenship:

I never thought about it at all until I was called to be on jury duty and said, “I’m not going to do it.” My mom said I’d be an excellent juror, and it was my duty. And so I went.

What she thinks makes people a good citizen:

I think being a good citizen is respecting your government. It’s respecting your flag. I was taught that you respect the president, no matter who’s in office. It doesn’t matter whether he’s the person you voted for or not. Unfortunately, you don’t see that much today.

Her civic pet-peeve:

It really bothers me when I see people rioting, because I think that it makes the whole United States look bad. I don’t remember Republicans rioting like Democrats have been recently when Obama was elected president.

What civic respect looks like in action:

Respect is standing up when you say the Pledge of the Allegiance, at school and at ball games. You’re not only doing it for the country, you’re also doing it for the people who lost their lives to give us the freedom we have today. The flag is important for all of us, for where it’s been all over the world. We should have it outside our houses.

Her experience with people of the opposite political party is reassuring:

I think that people of the opposite political party are good citizens, and I think they’d say the same about me. Where I work is very liberal, so I try to keep my tone down. One professor told me, “Margy, you’re perfect, except that you’re a Republican.” I laughed, and said, “I could say the same about you being a Democrat.” I listen to Democrats, I understand them, and sometimes I agree with them.

What she thinks politicians need to do:

They all just need to sit down and talk. It’s not this party versus that party. We’re in this together. Politicians need to start (seeing) that. They need to be working together, for us.

She’s skeptical of students’ civic education:

They don’t even teach civics anymore. At all. What a shame. I think kids need to learn about voting. I think kids aren’t taught that enough. So, they’re just going to learn what their parents say.

Her perspective on immigration in the wake of 9/11:

I think that if immigrants obey the laws that we set out, they can be an American. It’s respecting the flag, and having honor. They should also have that love of country. I understand the fear of Middle Eastern immigrants since 9/11. I think we just need to look at people’s paper work more closely (before they come in). But once people are here, we shouldn’t send them home.

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Kate and James are AmeriCorps volunteers working in Pittsburgh. They expressed cynicism about our country, where it is, and where it’s going. Their thoughtful critiques gave me a lot to think about.

On why they aren’t great citizens:

James: My definition of what a good citizen is constantly changing. I think that I’m a good enough citizen, but I have room to improve. I think being a citizen has certain responsibilities. Being educated on things we care about is one of those, and I’ve done a reasonable enough job educating myself on heath care, inequality, inequity, and education. That’s why I am a good enough citizen. I could improve by acting on that knowledge. I vote, I talk to my friends. But I don’t break out of my circle. I don’t talk to people who are different than I am or have different opinions than I do as much I think a really good citizen should.

Kate: I have a very simple definition. Are you a good person? Do you respect those around you, even if and when they disagree? And I also think (being a good citizens requires you) to educate yourself on issues so that when you have debates with people who disagree you can engage thoughtfully. I often am respectful, and I’m informed about a lot of topics. I also serve those most in need (through AmeriCorps). But, I’m also not a great citizen, either. I kind of want to run away from the problems our country is facing. I know a great citizen would look at all the problems we have and ask, “Okay, what can we do to be united? To make our country better? Part of me wants to runaway to Denmark, though, and just live in their socialist, collective society. But this year, by serving in AmeriCorps, I am getting better.

James also thinks his cynicism holds him back:

I am very cynical, about America and the American dream. I’m idealistic in some ways, because I do think there are good and important reasons for why we should do things like AmeriCorps, and the same with taking on debt for medical school. But I’m cynical about where we are today, and how we got here. Skepticism and questioning are a critical part of being a citizen, but I think I’m a bit too cynical.

On the source of his cynicism:

I look at Citizens United, and private donors funneling millions of dollars to bypass the individual limit of donations. The ability of PACs to do what and give to whom they want worries me. I look at the impact of lobbyists and their ability to do what they want. I then see the result, which is policies that the PACs and lobbyists want. It’s very demoralizing. Everyone’s vote counts, but some people’s vote counts more than others.

Kate hopes that they’ll be able to be better citizens as they get older:

I think we’re in a place of privilege as citizens, but it can be hard to do something with it now. I think we can use that to help transform the system once we become doctors, by helping improve how we educate doctors and how we are selecting them. In the future, we want to get into local politics, and try to help with issues such as health. We’re working to get there later so that we can help.

She also knows someone who is the exact type of citizen she wants to be:

A mentor of mine, Jess, who went to undergrad with me. When she was in college, she was sexually assaulted. She turned that pain and struggle into action. She’s working on the Hill in D.C. to try to end rape on campus. She’s working with college presidents and leaders from across the country to engage with this initiative and inform students about the different issues relating to sexual assault on college campuses. Jess is making real change. That to me is an amazing woman I want to be like, and an amazing citizen. She took a major, prevalent issue that is overshadowed by a lot of things, and she’s acting to help address it.

On their respective keys to good citizenship:

Kate: Every citizen should do a year of service. I think that would be very beneficial. We’ve only been in this AmeriCorps position only two weeks, and I feel like I’ve already grown a ton. I’ve seen a side of America I’ve never seen before. Having traveled the world and been sheltered in a bubble, I never realized the disparities that exist elsewhere also exist here. I overlooked that because it’s the United States. Most people would benefit from that exposure.

James: Humility. Being humble in knowing that you might not have all the answers and that other people might have some legitimacy to their viewpoints and life experiences. I think that sort of humility fosters a willingness to reach out and branch out. You can’t just have the information and act on it; you also need to be humble about where you get that information from. Everyone has to be able to say, “Maybe this source (whether a friend or media) doesn’t know everything, and I should talk to other people or read other things.”

Their thoughts on citizenship and the political divide:

Kate: I feel like I have to say yes, because my grandparents voted for the opposite candidate that I did. And I think they’re great citizens. When we talk about the main criteria, they’re respectful and well-informed, and they often can and do act on that. They just have a different perspective than I do. And even most people who voted differently than I did would probably say I’m a good citizen, mainly because of my commitment to service. But I still fear that they would judge my political leanings.

James: I think that people who vote differently than I do would say I’m a good citizen, too, because of my doing AmeriCorps and my commitment to becoming a physician. But they might think my views on health care aren’t those of a good citizen.

I admire people who voted differently than I did for their organization, their passion, their willingness to act on information. But where I start to question whether Trump voters are as good of citizens as they could be is when I think about their humility. I think there was a lack of willingness to question what their candidate said and where their and his information came from. I do think that, in general, Trump voters prioritized the experience of white, blue-collar man over everyone else’s, which, by definition, isn’t humble.

They both are skeptical about the values they see as fundamentally American:

Kate: I think the average American person is individualistic. You realize that when you live abroad. We’re more focused on ourselves and our families. We’re also very capitalistic and profit-driven.

James: There’s a really big focus on work as a focus of identity and personal worth. We don’t have many things to balance work culture. In the United States, the individualism – if you work hard as an individual, reap these benefits – makes us focus on our work. Your success is because of your genius and work ethic. Your failure is because of your moral shortcomings. I just think that that’s not sustainable or good.

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Dolly is a retired waitress from Baltimore who currently lives in Pittsburgh. Although I normally don’t (and won’t) share my interviewees’ political leanings, I am doing so for two reasons in this case. First, Dolly was very open and enthusiastic about her candidate: Donald Trump. Second, I think much of what she says runs contrary to the image of Trump voters in left-leaning media. I hope you’ll enjoy reading the interview as much as I enjoyed doing it.

On why she’s a good citizen:

I support the Blue Line (her neighborhood). I support immigration and immigrants, so long as they follow the law. I am very patriotic, too; my son served in the military for nine years. My whole family has been in the military, and in general, I think the most important things are god, country, and family.

Her best moment of citizenship is right now:

I am putting together a music benefit right now for Hurricane Harvey. We have fourteen bands and PR people to get the news station. It’s going to be huge. We came up with this, just me and my two friends. Continue reading “We All Bleed Red”

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“Even though I am a liberal, I think that there are a greater proportion of conservatives who are good citizens than there are liberals. I think that conservative distrust of government institutions and belief in community institutions helps them work together towards a shared community vision in a way that many liberals don’t embody…Liberals underestimate how important that vision and those communities are.”

Matt, Philanthropic Advisor