Throughout the 2020 election season, one of the most common talking points has been that we’re hopelessly divided. “Half the nation adamantly thinks one way,” the saying goes, “and the other half of the nation adamantly disagrees.”
The biggest problem with that sentiment is that it’s not true.
In reality, we overwhelmingly agree with each other on a range of issues. Surveys of American citizens repeatedly show that roughly 70% of us favor a public healthcare option, public K-16 education, taxing the wealthy far more than we currently do, public investment in green energy, $15 minimum wage, and much more.
These aren’t just surveys from left-leaning sources. A national survey of 30,000 Americans published on Election Night 2020 by Fox News shows the exact same thing.
And it’s not just surveys. Even though Donald Trump won Florida, the ballot measure for a $15 minimum passed by a supermajority. In addition, every single one of the 112 Democrats who co-sponsored Medicare For All (another policy supported by 7 in 10 according to many surveys) won their seats while many other Democrats lost.
When 7 out of every 10 people favor certain policies, you’d think that those who favor those positions would be considered “mainstream.”
But in America, you’d be wrong.
In America, if you agree with each of the policies listed above, you’re called “extreme” or “radical” and told a lie about how half the nation disagrees with you.
It’s a surreal experience. You’re told that public education for grades K-12 is good and American, but extending it to K-14 or K-16 is “radical”— even though a high school education increasingly isn’t sufficient to get a job. You’re told that Medicare is worth keeping (after all, only 6% of Americans want no government involvement in healthcare), but that expanding Medicare is a non-starter.
Why? The answer is partly because the richest Americans—including corporate lobbyists and corporate media owners—tend to oppose these popular policies. And since the majority of people in Congress are millionaires who belong to the corporate club, they control the policy and the narrative on the airwaves, left and right.
It’s gotten so bad that a study out of Princeton found that the general public has a “statistically non-significant impact upon public policy”—as in there’s no correlation between what the general public wants and what gets passed in Congress. (So much for promoting the general welfare!)
The pundit class gets away with it by crafting a phony narrative about a divided America where the problem is “the other team.”
Too many Americans buy into the lie. And the lie is what’s dividing us.
They get away with it by crafting a phony narrative about a divided America where the problem is “the other team.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to suffer through elections where one candidate barely squeaks by with a fraction of a percentage in a handful of battleground states.
Here are two ways to make it happen.
1. Bury the Ghost of Reagan
As someone who identified as a Republican most of my life, it pains me to say this, but it’s time to bury the ghost of Reagan. I’m still in awe of Reagan’s ability to inspire via moments like the Challenger speech (even though he plagiarized the best line).
Reagan tragically convinced a generation that government can’t do anything right compared to corporations.
It’s a notion that should be laughable. Have you ever tried to cancel your Comcast service? Or your gym membership? Have you dealt with a private health insurance company to work out a bill? Have you ever tried to get ahold of Google’s customer service center?
Government often does a far better job at customer service than corporations. In Provo, Utah, for instance, I’m always in and out of the DMV within minutes, the city library’s service desk is responsive and helpful, and our kids’ teachers do a terrific job with guiding lessons and staying in contact with us. I’d prefer an interaction with any of these government employees over talking on the phone with an insurance biller — who is pressured by their bosses to act in my worst interest — any day. The truth is, simply, that sometimes government does things well and sometimes companies do things well.
Reagan’s philosophy is naive, but I understand why he believed it. After a middling acting career, he landed a job as a motivational speaker for General Electric where he was pressured by corporate leadership to give anti-union speeches for a decade to hundreds of thousands of employees across the nation. He perfected the craft of speaking in front of live audiences, such that he was able to later win the governorship of California and then the presidency.
And the working class suffered. Unions were essentially annihilated, wage gains for the working class started their decades-long stagnation, American jobs moved overseas, and the total tax rate for the richest Americans plunged.
Tragically, too many Democrats went right along with Reagan’s worldview, which leads me to my second point.
2. Fight the Corporate Democrats
Barack Obama came on the scene in 2008, promising to cut lobbyists and bring structural reform to Washington. Then he promptly proceeded to bring in Goldman Sachs executives and do their bidding in the wake of the financial crisis. After his presidency ended, Obama immediately went on vacation with billionaire Richard Branson and started giving a series of $400,000 speeches to corporations across America. Then Obama worked behind the scenes days before Super Tuesday to unite the party behind Biden and the corporate arm of the Democratic party.
Obama is about to release his autobiography and craft himself as a hero—a “cool” Democrat. We shouldn’t fall for it. Rather, we should treat him as a disappointment, a hero who might have been but ultimately wasn’t.
We should also pressure all the other corporate Democrats (led in Congress by Pelosi and Schumer) to step aside and let those who have the best interest of the entire nation—especially the working class—in mind. If Pelosi and Schumer don’t step down, we’re bound to see the party continue to sell out to corporate interests in the name of “unity” and “reaching across the aisle,” and the policies that 7 out of 10 Americans want will never happen.
It’s time, put simply, to end the decades-long era of Ronald Reagan—an era that brought needless division between American citizens for the benefit of the corporate class. We should instead seek liberty and justice for all.
Time For a New Era of Unity
If we don’t want another Trump (and we don’t), we need leaders who actually listen to the will of the public—leaders who don’t ignore the legitimate pain of working class people in the South and in the Rust Belt. Trump won largely because he spoke to their pain (though he did nothing for them in substance). If mainstream Republicans and Democrats continue to ignore that pain in the name of “unity” (which is code for “catering to corporate lobbyists”), we will get another Trump.
If we instead demand that our politicians enact policies that 7 out of 10 Americans want, we will return to actual unity—a situation where a future president can win an election in an absolute landslide. That’s what real unity looks like. And we can get there if we drop the phony pretense that half the nation thinks one way and half the nation disagrees.
I want to believe we can do it. In so many ways, our lives depend on it.