A Regressive, Backward-Looking Philosophy
If we look at the underlying philosophies that undergird our two major political parties, we come upon the terms liberal and conservative. The liberal view of society is often called progressive because it is forward looking, with an aim to improve the human condition through government and private action. Sometimes the progressive view overshoots its target and aims for goals it cannot achieve. Sometimes it does achieve its goals but at a steep price. And sometimes it falls far short of its aim, such as with the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. It is, nevertheless, a hopeful, optimistic view of human possibilities. And this philosophy is responsible for a great many of the societal advances that we now take for granted, such as Social Security, Medicare, public education, a robust middle class, increasingly inexpensive renewable energy, and health coverage for millions of previously uninsured Americans.
By contrast, conservatism is generally a pessimistic, backward-looking philosophy that yearns for an illusory past when things were better. The fact that such a time never existed does not discourage true-believing conservatives from insisting that it did. If you look at their response almost any societal advance, conservatives have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future. And even then they are not content. For instance, as I write, the Republican Party is getting ready to once again hold the world financial system hostage unless the Democrats agree to make substantial cuts to Medicare and Social Security (and, of course, Medicaid), even though these cuts are extremely unpopular even with their own base, millions of whom would be devastated to lose any portion of their retirement and health benefits.
The GOP preaches small government, tax cuts, and spending cuts, but only when a Democrat is in the White House. When Trump was president, a GOP-controlled Congress passed a deficit-enhancing $2 trillion tax cut for the wealthy and approved nearly $3 trillion in new spending (before COVID), none of which was paid for by increased tax revenue. But now that Biden is in office, they have again become deficit hawks and are going after Social Security, Medicare, and programs that benefit the poor and disabled. They apparently still haven’t gotten over the idea of a social safety net for senior citizens and the poor, even though Social Security has been around since 1935 and Medicare since 1965.
Maybe in 1930 the average American didn’t need much retirement funding. The world was very different back then, but we can’t go back to those halcyon days. And maybe in 1960, most seniors could get cheap health care. But that ship sailed long ago. Still, conservatives are bound and determined to take us back to at least the 1950s and maybe beyond.
Much of this backward-looking delusion is due to the Christian Right, but Latter-day Saints need to understand that they have very little in common with Evangelicals, including the Jesus they worship. It would be very difficult to depict either Jesus or Joseph Smith as anything but liberal and progressive. Both tried to turn society upside down and lead their followers into a more just, equitable future. But somewhere along the line (probably about when the ultraconservative J. Reuben Clark called right-wingers Ezra Taft Benson, Mark E. Petersen, and Delbert L. Stapley as Apostles), the Latter-day Saints turned their backs on their own progressive past and became conservatives, dedicated to stopping societal progress dead in its tracks.
We became died-in-the-wool capitalists, good corporate citizens, fully in favor of allowing as much wealth as possible to flow to the top. Our theology also took a decidedly conservative turn. We now downplay, if not outright disregard, some of Joseph’s more adventurous doctrinal forays and portray ourselves as just ordinary Christians, whatever that is.
So, if you want to ignore the pressing issues of the day—poverty, out-of-control health-care costs, public health crises, global warming, large percentages of seniors retiring without sufficient retirement savings or pensions, unchecked gun violence, and housing that is too expensive for most Americans to afford—then by all means vote Republican. They are more concerned about proving nonexistent election fraud, banning books from schools, making it harder for minorities to vote, passing tax cuts for the wealthy, slashing Social Security and Medicare, and investigating Hunter Biden.
If you long for the 1950s, you should vote Republican. But before you do, at least do some research to find out what the 1950s were really like.