5 Common American Political Beliefs That Don't Add Up
Americans have a lot of political stereotypes. All Republicans think climate change is a hoax, all Democrats want to take your guns away, all libertarians want to do cocaine in tax-free underwater fortresses, etc. But there are some ideas we've accepted as fact for so long that we've never bothered to take a closer look at them, even though they clearly don't add up if you do so. For instance ...
Myth: Voting Rights Are Only A Problem In Red States
Voting rights are a joke in gun-totin', Bible-beltin' Republican strongholds. Look at Georgia, Texas, and the dumpster fire that is North Carolina. Whether it's restrictive ID laws or voter rolls being purged, Republicans will do everything they can to keep minorities and the poor from voting. Not that it even really matters, because those states are so heavily gerrymandered that an open sex offender could cruise to a victory on the GOP ticket. Republicans will destroy democracy if we don't stop them!
But the problem with dumpster fires is that it's easy to overlook the one in your own backyard. It was widely reported that Georgia purges more rolls than a terrible bakery, but did you know that in 2016, 200,000 voters were illegally purged from the rolls in New York City? Though New York learned its lesson (or at least learned that getting caught sucks) and passed sweeping legislation to modernize the state's voting rights.
Meanwhile, reliably blue New Hampshire is among the states making it harder to vote. Between tough ID requirements, poll hours, registration deadlines, and more, the Granite State is one of the hardest states in the country to vote in. Virginia is even worse, and New Mexico sucks too. Both have wanted the D in the last three presidential elections.
Gerrymandering is also bipartisan, because it makes things safe for terrible Republicans and Democrats alike. New Jersey Democrats tried to abuse the state constitution to rig themselves guaranteed supermajorities for the foreseeable future, and only backed off thanks to a national outcry. One of the most gerrymandered states is Illinois, which packs districts in the Chicago area so they're safe for Democrats while making downstate districts locks for Republicans. 90 percent of Illinois races were either uncontested or only had a token opponent. That's also how an avowed neo-Nazi could get on the ballot. If your rules are terrible, you attract terrible people.
Laws that make it harder to vote, or rig the elections that you can vote in, favor incumbents. So any dirty politician -- like the one who stayed on the ballot and won while on trial for shooting his wife -- has a lot to lose if voting becomes fairer. Yes, Southern voting is a mess that needs to be addressed. But ultimately, it doesn't matter if a politician is a Democrat or a Republican if, first and foremost, they're also a colossal shithead.
Myth: Term Limits Can Fix Corruption
New blood is necessary for a functional government. The Founders never intended for the legislature to be a full-time profession. You were supposed to serve your term, then let go of power before it corrupted you. So term limits must be a great idea.
A bunch of states have adopted term limits as a magic bullet to stop career politicians from cozying up to special interests. But the problem with term limits is the same as with our Harry Potter fanfiction: The whole thing is dependent on a raft of false assumptions, and the story makes a lot more sense without them.
When the Founders were around, government was simple. You made sure everyone didn't revolt, scalped the day's enemies, and drank like every week was pledge week. But modern state and municipal governments are complex institutions collectively spending trillions of dollars every year. Politicians have to learn the boring grunt work parts of being in government, like who does what, how to check the power of the executive branch, how to invest in local institutions, and what interns they can trust with their naughty pictures.
The subtle intricacies take years to master. Were you better at your job when you just started, or after you had five years of experience? But term limits prevent politicians from developing that experience, assuming they even bother trying in the first place, knowing that they'll soon be looking for a new job in a different field anyway.
But you know what job doesn't have term limits? Lobbying. Lobbyists have mountains of research, money, and connections, and they know how to craft laws to get what they want. An inexperienced politician is easy to influence, for the same reason that a shady mechanic can screw you if you have no idea how a car works. This also means that when popular laws and programs lose the people who crafted them, they're more likely to crash and burn. The new class doesn't know how to update them to fit changing circumstances.
In fact, a great way to make money after hitting a term limit is to go into lobbying. People with the skills to get elected can use those skills to summon oceans of cash once they've left office, and no longer give a shit about the concerns of anyone but Big Arsenic, or whoever else is funding the payroll.
Myth: The Problem With Immigrants Is They Don't Assimilate Anymore
"My people came to America on boats held together with earwax and prayer. We learned how to eat phallic meat products and pretend to like baseball like everyone else here. So why can't these new immigrants just speak English and assimilate like we did?"
A lot of us -- or at least a lot of our John-Birch-Society-loving uncles -- remember a time when every American spoke English. Specifically, they remember 1970, when only 5 percent of Americans were foreign-born, and so few people spoke languages other than English that the Census actually dropped the question about it.
But that was a historical aberration. In 1850, the rate of foreign-born Americans was almost twice what it was in 1970, and it fluctuated between 13 percent and 15 percent for the next 70 years. That was reflected in the languages Americans spoke, because Duolingo was hard to do by telegraph. And of course, there were people who complained that all those immigrants and funny-sounding words would turn America into an unrecognizable ruin by the far-flung and futuristic year of 1865. In 1910, about one in nine Americans spoke a language other than English.
Between the introduction of a racially prejudiced immigration system and two World Wars that caused global upheaval, immigration to America slowed to a trickle. Between 1944 and 1970, the percentage of foreign-born Americans fell to historic lows, as did the availability of good food. It was truly a terrible time. And that was when all those wall-fuckin' uncles were growing up -- in an aberrant, English-heavy America. The rate we're seeing now (13.5 percent) is a return to the historic mean.
And in truth, immigrants who arrived in America after 1995 are assimilating faster than previous generations. This includes a significant increase in cultural assimilation (e.g. giving a shit about the Super Bowl), as opposed to just economic and civic assimilation (having a job, paying taxes). That probably has something to do with the fact that over half of modern immigrants are proficient in English. So if you're going to scream "Learn English!" at someone who looks like they're from one of them foreign places, keep in mind that there's a pretty good chance they already have.
Myth: Republicans Don't Believe In Climate Change
The world is falling apart, yet the Republican Party and its supporters believe that everything is fine! One nutjob even brought a snowball to the Senate floor to "prove" that climate change is a hoax! Those morons are going to doom us all!
But 8 out of 10 Americans believe in climate change, so it would be impossible for some of those people to not be Republicans. In fact, two-thirds of all Republicans now believe in climate change. And not the Marco Rubio "How can we weasel out of this with as little effort as possible?" climate change, but the actual "Holy shit, we should stop shoving so much carbon into the atmosphere" kind.
Two-thirds is less than ideal, sure, but get this: 57 percent of Republicans think CO2 should be regulated as a pollutant, and 75 percent think we should fund clean energy research. The differences are even more pronounced when you look at millennial Republicans, presumably because they'll be around to deal with this shit.
Party loyalty to the point of stupidity is the real problem, but even that is starting to crumble. A 2018 Republican carbon tax bill had 17 Republican co-sponsors, and would have exceeded American goals in the Paris Agreement. And yes, other Republicans shot it down, but it keeps being pushed because some of them recognize that climate change denial is going to drive voters away eventually. 43 Republicans are part of the Climate Solutions Caucus.
Myth: Americans Hate The Government And Are Unhappy With Their Lives
If there's one thing that Americans of all political affiliations can agree on, it's that America is in a chaotic decline. Everything's terrible, we'll be lucky if there isn't a new civil war in the next decade, and anyone who dares to be happy is either ignorant or selfish. The American Dream is dead, and we're just propping up its corpse in a macabre Weekend At Bernie's situation.
While it's true that most people think the country is heading in the wrong direction, most also believe that their own financial situation and way of life is fine. They also believe that, while the country is on the wrong course, their own communities are improving. Real life, for the average American, is okay. 36 percent of American adults say that they've achieved their American Dream, and another 46 percent consider themselves "on their way." Other studies indicate that most Americans are optimistic about their economic futures. But no one hops on Twitter to scream "I generally think that I'm doing OK!"
"The American Dream" is, of course, an nebulous idea, but having different ways to define it isn't a bad thing. Maybe we recognize that things are crazy right now, but that we can work toward a better future. Or at the very least, maybe one day we'll all admit that we simply really like to complain about stuff.
Steven Assarian is a librarian. He writes stuff here.
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