I turned 18 in 1984 and I voted for the first time that year, proudly casting my ballot for Ronald Reagan in his successful bid for a second term as president. I was a big fan of “The Gipper” and back then I strongly identified with the Republican Party and political conservatism.
It seems like such a long time ago. The country is different, the Republican Party is different, and I’m not the same person I was back then either. I wonder what 18 year-old me would think of 52 year-old me.
I hope that the younger version of me would be more respectful in expressing his disagreements with my current views than some of the people who have responded to recent columns of mine that have been less than kind to our current president, and to the party that has fallen in line behind his bizarre funhouse mirror version of right wing politics. I have, to hear them tell it, become hopelessly corrupted and turned into the worst kind of person imaginable — a liberal.
When someone begins a discussion by labeling me with what they consider to be the greatest of insults, I generally tune them out and walk away from the conversation. By reducing me to a stereotype of what they fear the most they’ve already demonstrated that they have an erroneous view of my actual political beliefs and that they suffer from a serious case of intellectual laziness.
Nevertheless, it is true that I have moved away from the right and toward the political center as I’ve gotten older, and my failure to embrace the current head of the tattered remains of the Republican Party is certainly one consequence of that change of heart.
Given my status as an older white guy from the rural South who was raised in the Southern Baptist Church, the demographics suggest that I should still be in the right-wing fold. Only my college degree knocks a few points off the statistical likelihood of me wearing a MAGA hat around town from that point of view.
But demographics aren’t everything, and in fact there are studies that show that another factor figures in even more strongly when it comes to our political affiliation – our personality type.
If you’re the observant type you’ve probably noticed that staunch conservatives tend to be more of the play-by-the-rules type while liberals are more likely to be free-spirited and creative. The connection becomes even more evident when you note the typical professions of people who have a preference for a particular party. Creative types such as those who work in the arts, journalists and theoretical scientists tend to be Democrats while engineers, business managers and people who choose a career in the military are more likely to be Republicans.
That would explain why left-leaning and right-leaning folks have such a hard time relating to each other – they view the world and experience life very differently. But I don’t believe those personality differences must inevitably lead to the kind of enmity between liberals and conservatives that we are suffering under today.
In fact, if we were to calm down and look at the big picture we might realize that we need both kinds of people in our society and in our government. Without liberals we would lose our spontaneity and the compassion they exhibit for all types of people. If we lost all our conservatives we’d be far less grounded and would have no one to turn to when a clear head and a steady hand is needed for us to survive life’s minor and major catastrophes.
The current situation has poisoned us all to fear, distrust and blame those who experience life differently than we do and the man in the White House has done more than anyone in recent history to exacerbate and exploit those differences. It is my hope that whenever his time in power comes to an end that we can learn to be civil to one another again.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.