Having lived in America for the last seven years, in a mostly conservative area, I feel it may be helpful to explain to people abroad why someone would be a Republican. No, they’re not physically damaged or inherently insane; they just see things differently. And like so many oft subjugated and poorly educated people before them, their vision is blurred by a machine that they themselves find almost impossible to fully comprehend.
For all intents and purposes, the Republican party is comprised of two groups. The first is populated by the wealthy and secure – the old white men lounging back in their leather chairs, smoking cigars. These people exist, are powerful, and are resolute about their principles. They are the product of a system which advocates personal responsibility and private wealth. They are the businessmen, bankers, doctors, lawyers, and members of the governing elite who have benefited from the status quo and who do not want it to change. The other group, the vast majority, are the undereducated, poorly paid, and religiously fervent. And because of the issues listed below, they do not dare question the fairness of the system in which they live.
There are many reasons why so many Americans voted Republican, most of which are well publicised, but not always well understood. I would like to highlight just three of the many factors which contribute to the Republicans’ process of indoctrination.
It is difficult to overemphasise the effect that the American public educational system has on the populace. While private, expensive schools provide top-notch education to America’s elite, most of America’s youth attend public institutions. While these vary from state to state, and from region to region, there is a trend: most are not well run, and the standards are not high. Poorly written and executed standardised multiple-choice tests, along with underpaid teachers and culturally ingrained ignorance, perpetuate a system that does not encourage students to achieve academically or question virtually anything. Outrageously expensive universities leave the concept of third level education as just that, a concept, for almost all poorer students. Even with acceptable results, third level is something that they will not experience without accumulating a serious amount of debt. While some will do well and go to university, the majority will either drop out of high school, or graduate without the capacity to perform anything but a low-level job. The Republican party speaks simply and does not mix words, appealing to the undereducated. And for this reason the educational system acts, put crudely, as a conveyor belt for the Republican party.
Religion plays a large and obvious role in the Republican party. Almost all of the party’s constituents are Christian, and another large percentage are the more extreme ‘born-again’ evangelicals. The practices of some American churches are nothing new, but they still manage to amaze those of us who are not swept up in their fervour. The churches are too varied to make one damning criticism, but the message of personal responsibility – a message that runs at the core of the Republican Party – is ever present, and plays an insidious role in a Republican’s mindset. While not inherently unethical, this message is used to explain that the reason you are unsuccessful or ill-educated is that this is how you deserve to be. Had you worked harder, or been smarter, you would have avoided the difficulties that face you now. The message completely ignores the fact that the largely unregulated capitalistic American system is inherently unfair and, when compared to other Western countries, geared against the lower classes. What this message achieves is to provide the people who subscribe to it with a fair justification for their sorrow. It allows them to know that there is an explanation for why they have not fared well, and that it rests squarely on their shoulders. This is almost always a lie for most people, but because it goes along with an entrenched American ethos of “hard work will get you anywhere”, it sticks.
Many people have seen it on YouTube, the video of Bill O’Reilly of U.S. Fox News infamy, ranting and raving at a guest that said something he disagreed with. It’s a funny sight but it’s also terrifying because it’s peddled as the truth. To many people, having just graduated from a High School where their teacher probably watched it too, Fox News, and other similar “news” outlets, are sources they can relate to and understand. Right-wing news provides a clear description of the events in such a way that it goes along with the cultural ethos of its viewers, regardless of the actual events. It is not difficult to see lies and bias, but because it not only speaks to the inherent thought process of its viewers, but also taps into the themes of life to which they subscribe, it has an overwhelming, and overtly damaging, influence. America is a country with incredibly serious problems. Growing income disparity, inaccessible and unaffordable health care, poor educational systems, a massive prison population, a looming energy crisis, and a financial system now on the brink of collapse, represent just a few of America’s issues. The success of the nation will depend on a cohesive effort, from all if its population, in order to survive and re-establish itself as a leading state in the eyes of the rest of the world. Republicans will have tough decisions to make with a liberal Democrat agenda in power, but it is possible for positive change to occur if the issues above are addressed and the systems of thought remodelled. It is not impossible for this to happen, and will rely on those people who are in charge of the systems in place. If they can shift their agendas positively, and engender support from the currently despondent or misdirected, America can heal itself and become a formidable nation once again. It is a country that has a precedent of enacting remarkable change when need be.