Conservatives and Liberals Should Probably Swap Labels

A few weeks before the 2016 election, I had one of my ESL classes discuss politics as the theme for the day. The first part of the lesson was fairly simple. I wrote the words Liberal and Conservative on the blackboard, and asked my students to write five words that come to mind when they hear each term in their notebooks. I then had them read their words out loud and wrote them in two circles surrounding the corresponding terms on the board. Most of the words they thought of were fairly predictable though a few were unexpected.

One girl in the class had always displayed a good sense of quirky humor. She took the opportunity to make the class chuckle by using the names of the 2016 major-party candidates as two of her answers. What surprised me and eventually changed my outlook was that she matched Hillary Clinton to Conservative and Donald Trump to Liberal.

Since I was allowing my students to define the terms and refraining from sharing my views (as I believe all teachers should when investigating a subject objectively), I smiled at my students’ laughter and did as the quirky girl said. On the inside, however, I was a bit anxious at the mistake she had made and felt as though I should correct her.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized the quirky girl’s perception may have been shrewder than my own.

Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton (as well as over the 16 other GOP primary candidates) was out-with-the-old-and-in-with-the-new personified. It was the rejection of business as usual in favor of a fresh and different enterprise.

Hillary Clinton, mind-numbingly, wanted to conserve the foreign policy that has cost us so much money and so many lives over the course of the past several decades. She openly called for regime change in Syria and to treat Russia as if they were still the USSR.

Trump was highly critical of our foreign policy throughout his campaign, and recently had the courage to tell Bill O’Reilly that our government is not so angelic that we can lecture Putin without reservation. Over 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths in a war over nothing should be enough to make that clear. Unlike Clinton, Trump is earnest and open about wanting to improve US relations with Russia (Taiwan, post-Brexit UK, and Isreal too), and he completely rejects the notion that Assad’s toppling would serve our or Syria’s best interest.

On energy and environmental issues, Hillary Clinton set her heart on conservation and on limiting what companies may harvest and produce. She proposed strict regulations and central planning to keep us in line.

Trump is not only unbound by the politicized science community’s radical environmentalist stance on energy and climate, he has outright denied their unproven claims about Global Warming and man’s impact on the climate. Trump appears ready to permit an all-of-the-above energy policy that allows human innovation and ingenuity to run wild, and will stray away from authoritatively decreed solutions to environmental issues going forward.

Clinton was set on conserving and expanding Barack Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act. She expressed no inclinations to reform Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid, and seemed to want to continue to add federal programs in healthcare and other realms of American life.

Donald Trump was explicit about his desire to repeal and replace Obamacare, and his proposed healthcare initiatives are thoughtful, diverse, and laced with Liberty.

On education, Clinton seemed content with the status quo and sought to further empower the Department of Education’s monopoly on higher education via more government funding and giveaways.

Trump has had his meteor of an education secretary confirmed, and Betsy DeVos is hell-bent on radically transforming the American education system. She rejects bureaucracy and the ancient educational methods we still implement today. She seeks unprecedented evolution in schooling and major reductions in the role of government in education. Few policies could be as liberating as school choice.

Although she was opposed to gay marriage up until just a few years ago, there is no doubt that Hillary Clinton supports the LGBT community and their rights. This is commonplace for Democrats at this point in time. But Trump’s openness in supporting the gay community was all but unheard of for a Republican until this year. Trump even brushed off the irrational fear of transgendered individuals using the bathroom of their choice.

While not necessarily representative of the candidate’s themselves, Trump’s and Clinton’s backers and those most sympathetic to their causes have illustrated a palpable interchange when it comes to representing their Conservative and Liberal labels.

Clinton’s backers continue to trust mainstream media outlets and clutch their pearls like Victorian Era hysterics when offensive words and ideas are communicated. They protest controversial speakers at every turn and block friends with opposing views on social media.

Trump’s backers have delved incredibly deep into the internet’s deepest regions searching for information while rejecting mainstream media wholesale. At the same time, they are challenging the status quo culturally, intellectually, and comically, and are often censored by the offended establishment for their blasphemous transgressions.

On abortion and immigration, it seems fair to call Clinton more Liberal than Trump, though Obama’s reversal of the wet-foot-dry-foot policy for Cuban refugees shines a light on the politics behind many policies supported by the left. If Cubans didn’t tend to vote Republican, I doubt Obama would have made the change. Perhaps migratory Liberalism is more about politics than principles.

Overall, it is clear to me that supposed Liberals have grown intolerant of free expression and a desire to preserve the status quo. Supposed Conservatives seek transformation in nearly all jurisdictions of American politics and have fresh and open views on policy and society overall.

This is terribly inconvenient for me as the title of my blog is beginning to lose all meaning.

Conservatives and Liberals Should Probably Swap Labels

The Girl from Macau

I attend a facilitated discussion called Aristotle’s Café most Monday evenings. It’s organized through meetup.com. Attendees sit in a circle and select a question to answer and discuss over the course of an hour. All opinions are welcome, and anyone is free to join. While there are always familiar faces, there has been new blood at nearly every meeting I’ve participated in.

After last week’s meeting, I got into a discussion with a girl who was joining us for the first time. The first thing I asked her, as has become habitual for me since I’ve lived in Hawaii and Thailand, was where she hails from. While I quickly say “the US” or “New York” anytime someone asks me the same question, she was far slower in responding. It turns out that she was Portuguese-Angolan and was born in Macau. For those who don’t know, Portugal is located on the west coast of Spain, Angola is in southern Africa, and Macau is an autonomous peninsula of southern China with a complicated history. Macau was once a Portuguese territory, as was Angola, so that makes some sense of the girl’s ancestral history.

We wound up on the subject of national sovereignty and the boiling conflicts over globalism, immigration, and free trade. What I think I may have realized during our discussion is the source of these conflicts.

As someone who has spent nearly a decade of his life in far-from-home, exotic regions like Hawaii, Northeastern Thailand, and Bangkok, I am totally comfortable being immersed within cultures and peoples that have little in common with what I’m used to. Having a large portion of my family in North Carolina and visiting them often during my childhood has shaped me in this way as well. I am certainly more comfortable speaking and dealing with Americans compared to everyone else, but I still have no problem getting along with others, even if we have our differences.

The girl from Macau is likely even more comfortable in diverse and exotic environments than me as she has lived in and traveled to many more places than I have. But something she said made me realize that there is an important distinction between us. She told me that she does not feel at home in her birthplace of Macau. She knows some people who she can visit, but it is simply not a warm and embracing community or home to return to. I, on the other hand, feel incredibly welcome, comfortable, and at home when I visit New York, particularly in my little suburban town on Long Island. It feels a bit like going back in time to a place I once knew in my youth every time I return. From my house to the roads to the food to the people, it simply feels like a place where I belong.

As you can probably imagine, the girl from Macau was on the left side of the spectrum politically. She came off as incredibly open-minded, and she appreciated a little preview of Libertarianism I provided her. But she had never heard a Libertarian point of view, nor did she have any familiarity with Conservatism. To her, Conservative ideas were backwards, bigoted, and mean, though I think she gained a newfound respect for them after our talk.

One view she expressed clearly was a desire for open borders. She would like it to be easier to travel from place to place and for people to be able to settle and work where they please.

And this, I believe, is the tough-to-reconcile conflict of our time. The girl from Macau is, in a certain sense, a homeless global citizen. She does not understand the meaning of home the way I do, and especially not the way a mom-and-pop shop owner in Middle America would. It’s not that she resents people who have a true hometown, but that she cannot empathize with what that feels like. She does not value the comfort of living near her roots because she is still searching for her own.

Compare this to a rural man living in a community where everyone knows each other’s names; a man who has visited the same church every Sunday since he was a kid; a man whose surname has resided around his address for decades, centuries, or more. While the girl from Macau knows everything except what it feels like to be home, the rural man knows little else. The girl from Macau, with no intended malice, seeks to reform and reshape the established homes of others, and the rural man, with no intended malice, seeks to defend his home from invaders from the outside world.

Our last president was a half-Kenyan, half-White American, raised in Hawaii, who spent years in Indonesia and Chicago, and was abandoned by his father. Could Barack Obama possibly understand what it feels like to be home the way the rural man does?

Our current president has built an empire in the city of his birth, and has spent more than three decades from the safety of a golden tower that bears his name, the name of the father who invested everything in him. Could anyone be more worried about losing home than Donald Trump?

Trump’s 2016 electoral map displays the enormous divide between the colorful, international, and rapidly evolving metros and the familiar, proud, and settled open spaces of America. The former disrespects and shuns the latter. And the latter fears and hates the former.

The issue of home is global and at the heart of nearly every current major conflict. Some want to erase national borders; others want to put up walls. Some want to trade freely; others want trade wars. Some seek the expansion of international alliances; others want to see them dissolved. Some offer a maternal embrace to displaced refugees; others, with fatherly caution, want to keep them at arm’s length. Some want to be judged solely on their individual merits; others want to endow their identities with rights.

I hope that those who value their homes dearly will try their best to share with those who don’t. And I hope those who do not have a home will realize that some of their ideals may threaten the happiness and safety of those who do. If we don’t learn to understand and respect each other this way, resentment and hate will surely fester.

The Girl from Macau