REPUBLICANS: WHY DOING NOTHING WINS!
Those of you who read my two recent blogs on psychology remember that I suggested that each of us works hard to create a personal universe whose function is to keep internal conflict (experienced as anxiety) at a comfortable level. What is important to understand about that is that most people will resist change because any change will tend to increase the anxiety that they experience.
With that in mind, think about our two current political parties’ elected officeholders in Washington. The two parties find themselves in a historically unusual situation. Republicans and Democrats in the House are nearly tied. In the Senate, they are tied. That means that the Democrats have to keep the disparate wings of their party together in order to pass anything. Their time is spent negotiating with themselves.
And they must negotiate with themselves because, with a few fortunate exceptions, the Republicans are simply on strike. They are unwilling to participate in negotiating at all. Their challenge is to fill their time until they can line up to vote “no”.
Because Republicans dominate in the South and much of the rural West, they represent some of the most economically disadvantaged people in the country. Those people end up voting for people who offer them nothing. They do get benefits but those are benefits that Democrats have through painful self-compromise managed to help voters whose elected representatives offer them nothing.
Why would that be? Why would people continue to vote for candidates who offer them so little. The answer is that Republican candidates do offer them something. They offer them the chance to avoid any anxiety producing change. Unfortunately, the least well off are also the people most fearful of change. Even though they have painfully little, they are also most fearful of losing the small amount they do have.
There is also something else: Their political leaders are very skillful and finding cost free ways to make their less well-off constituents feel better about themselves. They are, in their minds, original settlers. The liberal leftist elite may look down on them but they have real traditions. They are the real Americans!!!
And, they are told that they are being protected against the ability of distant others to take over their lives. They are being protected from evil socialism. And, even though no one on the podium will bother to tell them what socialism is (they won’t partly because the candidates don’t know what it is either) they all know that socialism would mean the end of “their way of life”.
They are not only protected from “radical socialists”, they are protected from other “radical leftists”. No one knows who those radical leftists are either but they are out there somewhere. There is a danger that radical leftists will take over the schools and promote things like Critical Race Theory (more difficult than it might seem because Critical Race Theory has never been taught in schools).
It doesn’t matter to Republican candidates that all these fears are imaginary. They work. They work because the voters want to hear about far away threats. They would prefer talking about anything other than the real changes that they sense would come were they to be forced to deal with being financially better off.
So there is the problem for Democrats: Many of the least well off voters prefer a government that does nothing. A majority of voters seem to favor the long term, much needed, reforms that Joseph Biden and a majority of Democrats in Congress are committed to passing. But less well off voters came out in droves to vote for Donald Trump who did not bother to promote any new programs at all. And, they favor him running again even though he still avoids dealing with anything real.
Many conservatives will enthusiastically vote for Republican House and Senate candidates who have voted against every program that might have made their lives better. Part of their reason for doing that is simply tribal. If most people they know are voting for the candidates who will do nothing and protect them from the horrors of radical socialism they want to do that too.
But beneath it all is an unspoken fear of change, any change at all. That can seem counterintuitive because people will usually say that they want change. They will say that they don’t vote for a party, they vote for the best candidate, a candidate who cares about them and who understands their need for change. Then, they vote for candidates who seem to care not at all.
It certainly looks like the Republicans will do really well in the 2022 elections. But, if those Southern and Western voters really wanted the changes they say they want, the Republicans should not stand a chance. In that election, the Biden administration which has made such an effort to help voters survive the pandemic with homes intact with their families economically supported should win easily.
But, does it really seem likely that voters who won’t even have their lives spared with free vaccinations are going to turn about and allow the kinds of anxiety that a new more liberal life would allow? Or, does it seem more likely that they will reduce conflict by voting for the same candidates who have absolutely ignored them for the last four years?