According to research and data, right-wing governance and economic thinking make life more miserable for people.
It is becoming clear that the period up to and including the 2024 national election could be an important inflection point for the nation. The political and cultural struggle between Left and Right may be coming to a head. So, let’s take a look at where we are and where we may be headed.
The most important context for this political moment is manifest in the feelings and outlooks of the population. It is no secret that much (most?) of the adult population in the United States is not feeling good about the future. The Pew Research Center and the New York Times report that 60% of adults feel that the country is in decline and over half feel that the economy is going to weaken in the future. In addition, over two-thirds of adults feel children today will be less well off as adults than their parents are, and 80% expect hard economic times and increased political conflict and dysfunction in the future.
These feelings can easily be seen in our streets and neighborhoods. Today, too many ordinary Americans are fearful and insecure.
However, the specifics might vary. The political Left and Right perceive some of the same general problems, but disagree about their causes and what is to be done.
Why are our democratic processes under assault? Is it voting fraud and stolen elections or the suppression of voting and the influence of big money?
What causes the wide and rising social and economic inequality in our country? Are we dominated and oppressed by a highly educated professional elite, or is it the problem of the wealth and power of corporations and the economic upper class?
What is the nature of racial injustice and conflict? Is it that the nation is being taken over by immigrants and people of color, or is it the product of continuing racism and white supremacy?
How should we respond to a falling quality of life? Should we give those who are struggling more opportunities, or is it enough to allow those who can afford it to pay to move behind the “velvet curtain” and secure a good life for themselves?
How should we handle the fluidity of gender and sexuality? Do we celebrate our diversity, or do we forcibly enforce traditional roles and rules?
How do we organize and use the new technologies of mass communication? Do we regulate AI, the media, and the internet or do we allow the marketplace to define truth and falsehood?
What is happening with climate and the environment? Are we experiencing a serious crisis defined by global warming and widespread environmental destruction, or are we experiencing a command and natural cycling of environmental conditions?
More broadly, those on the Right believe that the cause of our problems is too much government and things will get better when government gets smaller. They seem to think that the problems of ordinary Americans would be solved if we let the economic marketplace operate without government rules and regulations. They seem to believe that the two most important causes of the current crises are the power and influence held by a relatively small group of highly educated liberal professionals who control the media and dominate an already too big government and the growing influence of “wokeness” as promoted by groups such as liberals, socialists, feminists, gender fluid and diverse individuals, immigrants, and people of color.
The political Right argues that what we need is a strong leader able to overcome the forces of the Left, shrink government, and release the market to heal our society. If we allowed individuals to use their resources freely in the political arena and to pursue their economic self-interest unhindered by government regulation, life in the USA would get better. Private schools and private health care; lower taxes, especially for those wealthy “job creators”; and, media and cultural institutions (family, church, and school) that have returned us to our “traditional” values: This is what would create a better future for the United States and allow us to reclaim our place as the one exceptional nation on the globe.
The Left, on the other hand, proposes a more socially-democratic nation that takes lessons from the “best in the world” practices of Scandinavia and the so-called “Nordic model.” The Left values equality and equity, inclusion and diversity, natural sustainability, and a revitalized democracy.
More practically, these values amount to a fairly well known group of proposals: reducing the power of wealth and money in our politics; promoting democracy by increasing people’s access to voting and ending the electoral college system; and letting government regulate the media in a manner that promotes and rewards factual communication while restraining the spread of rumours, lies, and hate; using the law to promote equity, inclusion, and diversity by working toward the creation of a truly desegregated society at work, at home, at school, and throughout our institutions; ending discrimination by race, class, gender, sexuality, age, nationality and ability; letting government respond to economic inequality by supporting the growth of unions and other class-based organizations; using government to provide everyone with a healthy and sustainable life by detaching life-chances (such as education, health care, environmental cleanliness, housing, transportation, and recreation) from income; improving the economic health of the society by using government to demonopolize important sectors of the economy; and, promoting social equity through programs like universal basic incomes, publicly subsidized housing, healthcare for all, good pensions for all, and more leisure time.
The Left argues that these efforts could be funded by a reduction in war spending and a truly progressive tax system where all pay their fair share.
This choice can be expressed as a choice of what national model to emulate, the social democracies of Northern Europe as praised by Bernie Sanders or the free market capitalism of Hungary as lauded by Steve Bannon and others? To make our choice more transparent, here are how these two “model nations” rank in international comparisons: According to the Quality-of-Life Index developed by Numbeo (higher is better) the U.S. currently scores 178 while Finland is at 188 and Hungary is at 132. On the United Nations Human Development Index (0-1.0, higher is better), the U.S. scores .92, Finland .94, and Hungary .85. The OECD’s Better Life Index rankings put the U.S. at 8th in the world, while Finland is 5th and Hungary is 26th. And, the moderate publication U.S. News and World Report ranking of “best countries” places the US 23rd, Finland at 5th , and Hungary at 34th.
So, is it Hungary or Finland? Do we go Left or Right?