The Great Conflict Between American Exceptionalism and Social Justice

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The Great Conflict Between American Exceptionalism and Social Justice

Conservatives and progressives approach almost every issue with completely different philosophies and perspectives. Conservatives believe in American exceptionalism, freedom and personal responsibility. Progressives believe in social justice and mandate government to create solutions that improve the health and welfare of all Americans. It has been said by others that two heads are better than one and that two sticks stacked together are harder to break than one stick on its own. Are these two philosophical systems compatible and can the work together to create solutions that benefit all Americans, and even the world.

Below is a description of some differences between conservatives and progressives. Keep in mind that these are broad generalizations that are being used to illustrate the differences.

a) Conservatives believe that judges should act like umpires rather than legislating from the bench. Judges should determine whether laws are permissible under the US Constitution and settle debates about the meaning of laws, not impose their will based on their ideology. Progressives believe that it is the role of a judge to create fairness and equity.

b) Conservatives believe that individual Americans have a right to defend themselves and their families with guns and that right cannot be taken away by any method short of a Constitutional Amendment, which conservatives would oppose. Progressives believe that taking guns away from most citizens would reduce violent crime because criminals would not have access to a gun.

c) Conservatives believe that we should live in a color blind society where every individual is judged on the content of his character and the merits of his actions. Progressives believe that it is necessary to impose laws that improve social justice and equity, even if it hurts certain groups, because the end goal is more important than the method that was used to get there.

d) Conservatives are capitalists and believe that entrepreneurs who amass great wealth through their own efforts are good for the country and shouldn’t be punished for being successful. Progressives are socialists who view successful business owners as people who cheated the system and exploited others along the way. Their money should be taken away by the government and given to those more deserving in order to improve social justice and equity.

e) Conservatives believe that abortion ends the life of an innocent child and that infanticide is wrong. Progressives believe that a mother’s right to choose is much more important than the life of the fetus.

f) Conservatives believe that the best defense is a good offense. The best way to prevent harm to American citizens is a strong show of force. Progressives believe that enemies of the United States have as much right to their opinion as American’s have to theirs; that hatred towards the United States is caused by its social inequities; and that these enemies can be pacified through civilized discussion and debate.

g) Conservatives believe that it is vitally important to the future of the country to reduce the size of government, keep taxes low, balance the budget, and get this country out of debt in order to promote capitalism and freedom. Progressives believe that government is the best agent to create social justice and equity. Higher taxes and more regulation are just the vehicles to accomplish this goal.

h) Conservatives believe that government, by its very nature, tends to be inefficient, incompetent, wasteful and power hungry. They believe that the government that governs least, governs best. Progressives believe that the stronger and more well funded the government is, the better it can accomplish its mission and improving the lives of those who do not have the ability to do it themselves.

i) Conservatives believe in the uniqueness and greatness of the American culture and society. It is the reason why the United States of America is the most successful country in the history of the world. Progressives are internationalists who believe that other countries have great ideas as well and that in order to reduce tension and increase international harmony, the US should be more like these other nations.

j) Conservatives believe in God and believe that it is necessary, at least in a personal way, to follow certain guidelines and principles laid out within Holy Scriptures. Progressives believe that God should not be involved in government. They adamantly believe in the separation of church and state.

k) Conservatives begin political conversations with “I think.” Progressives begin political conversations with “I feel.”

l) Conservatives believe that social inequities are part of life and that most of them are created by the character and actions of the individual. Progressives believe that social inequities are a scurge on this planet and should be addressed through government action.

As shown above, Americans are deeply divided by their most deeply held beliefs: access to wealth, the role of God in society, the role of government in society, a woman’s right to choose, the preservation and caretaking of other species, and personal liberty. As a result, individuals who represent the government, and the Nation as a whole, are pulled in many, often times opposite, directions. Compromise is a word commonly heard when different philosophies cannot agree on solutions to various issues. But is compromise the best solution, does it make the country stronger, and is it possible?

As you read through the list of differences above, it becomes quite obvious that these two philosophies are not only significantly different, but polar opposites that generate much political conflict. President Theodore Roosevelt was one President who attempted throughout his entire Presidency to saddle both horses. He was a progressive conservative. On one hand he promoted bills that strongly regulated large corporations, created the National Park System, and signed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. And on the other hand, he encouraged the development of a strong Navy, forced the end of a labor strike, and governed the Philippines after the capture of President Aguinaldo in 1902. Many historians declare Theodore Roosevelt to be one of the best Presidents of all time, behind (in order) George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson. And it is four out of five of these Presidents (the fifth actively serving) that were immortalized in Mt. Rushmore National Monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota. So, according to this, it may be possible to find common ground between these two divergent philosophies that, in the end, strengthen American society.

However, folly could ensue should the President, or other leaders, fail to at least acknowledge the importance of American ingenuity and character. Shelby Steele, a Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal on September 1, 2011, that accurately describes the difficulties a President faces should he not accept the premise that America is unique in the world.

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