Unity Via Political Stories


Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.   1-21

ABSTRACT:  Voters vote at least partly on the basis of an image of the future promised by the stories told by the various political parties.  Examining these stories can give voters insights regarding their unconscious preferences.

KEY WORDS:  story, political story, politics

Recent writing on voting preferences identifies group membership and cohesion as dominant reasons for voting choices rather than policy preferences based on self-interest.  This argument is convincing, since in politics as in economics, rationality is definitely weak.  However, politics also operates sub-rosa through images that voters have of the future of the country.  These images arise in us partly from our individual experience but partly from the stories that political parties and leaders tell about the country, and we tend to adhere in voting to the stories that are closest to our own story about the future of the country.  These stories are referred to with slogans (socialism, freedom, Make America Great Again, Hope Is On the Way) and references to specific entities (our military heroes, the forces of law and order) but almost never told in full, thus making it impossible to know what the speaker or party really thinks (or is willing to be responsible for).  Parties used to have policy platforms, but these have been so little considered by the bulk of voters that they are now little-used appendages, and more emphasis is placed on appealing to voter emotions.

Recognizing that every individual liberal, conservative, and Trump populist person’s story will be a bit unique to that person, it may still be useful to attempt a conglomerate story for each of these three groups, to help us think about how our own preferred stories could be improved.  “Improved” in this context would mean (1) to take responsibility (publically) for what we really believe and (2) to convey even better to others our concerns and worldview, so as to promote the kind of expression and interaction of views that a democracy needs in order to function well.  Finally, a political story is presented that would lead at least in part to opportunities for unification among adherents of the other stories.


Tradition and what we learn from our parents and churches are the best guides for how to live, and there is no need for evolution of morals and ethics.  We already know what’s right and what’s wrong. 

While we are always adapting to environmental demands and changes, changing our values and ways of relating to each other are likely to bring more harm than good, and we do well to be suspicious of claims to the contrary.   Gay marriage and the fetish of transgender “rights” are examples of more harm than good.

Survival of the group (our nation) is paramount, and patriotism consists of shared affirmation– out loud, of our values and willingness to fight to defend them.  We are not afraid of praising what we love and standing up for our values.  There is a kind of sacredness that our leaders and our country have, which ties in with our religious beliefs.  Home and our immediate environment are near sacred as well.  There is no need to go far afield to find happiness.  Belief in God, respect for authority, and hard work are the keys to having a good life.

Respect for our elders and those in charge is key to the smooth functioning of society, and this includes following their direction, even if we don’t particularly benefit individually from doing so.

Government has shown itself to be fairly incompetent and wasteful, so we should be suspicious of any claims that urge us to surrender more control to government and to “experts.”  People know how to spend their money best, not elected officials.  In healthcare, people prefer to deal with doctors they know rather than to be struggle with a government bureaucracy that views them as a number .

People who have values and customs different from ours are not to be fully trusted and if allowed into our nation in great numbers are likely to dilute our own sacred values.  This applies to people within our nation who are “different” as well as to foreigners.  We must be ready to fight to preserve our values.

We should be wary of treaties with other countries, since they are ultimately unenforceable, and many countries are not trustworthy.  Some of what we give as foreign aid should be redirected to our own citizens.

Capitalism is the best economic system, because it has the greatest chance of helping people to greater economic security.  Giving government any greater power is to move toward socialism, even if only a little bit.  It’s not a bad thing that we have income inequality, because people should be rewarded for their individual effort, and we all dream of rising through our hard-won successes.


We get our first training in how to live from parents, school, and (sometimes) church, but as we mature we can then learn about how other cultures live and deal with the human problems that are common to us all, and we should change our minds about outmoded or small-minded values and customs, because we can then make better decisions about our own and our own nation’s futures in our quest to make society more humane and just.  Gay marriage and transgender rights are examples of values evolution that was needed.  Change in our beliefs and customs are hard, but we must press on.

Of course we need a strong military for defense when we need it, but setting ourselves up as always being “against” and afraid of others and ready to fight creates unnecessary fights.  Patriotism is standing up for what is right and trying to make society the best that it can be in terms of what society does for each of us and in terms of justice and fairness.  In the same vein, always praising ourselves (like on July 4) lures us into thinking that we are automatically good and wonderful, just because we are Americans, which is simply not true.  Yes, it’s a great nation, but it hasn’t always lived up to its supposed ideals, and it could be better.

Our leaders are just citizens who seek high office or (occasionally) citizens who just wish to serve the country, and they should not be viewed as role models or better than anyone else.  They should not be bowed down to or protected from criticism and should pay legally for their misdeeds, just like every other citizen.  Similarly, no building or place is sacred, any more than any other building or place, and that includes where we grow up.  We find our full potential by being more than just Americans but rather citizens of the world and allies of all human being everywhere.

The U.S. started out as a Christian nation, but Christian churches now have a tendency to deify and protect customs that have little to do with religion.  Their goal seems to be to make members feel better rather than to challenge them to live better.  We would do better to recognize the contributions to morals and ethics of every religion and use what we learn to live better ourselves.

We want hard work and competence to be rewarded economically and socially, but there are many factors that work against citizens having equal opportunity to advance.  In fact, there is less advancement by class today than in the past.  In order to have equality, we must soften and eliminate those factors that make things unequal (systemic racism, laws that favor the rich, remaining racial prejudice, etc.).

Government is our best hope of bringing equality to everyone, despite its occasional bungling.  We should learn all we can from experts who study the various aspects of society, so that we can apply that knowledge to making things better.  Healthcare is an example of something that could be improved by equalizing healthcare opportunities for all across the country, which is something that only government can do.

Taxes are the way we jointly pay for things that we jointly decide to do in this country.  We don’t spend anything that isn’t approved by Congress.  Raising taxes to pay for greater opportunity and equality is not socialism but a step toward the perfection of society.

We are so much better off than most of the rest of the world, it is our responsibility to share that with as many people around the world as we can, and we should welcome any and all who are in danger of losing their lives unfairly to their own governments.  There is room in our country for a lot more people.  People are much the same all over the world, and immigration will not change the basic values of America but is an opportunity to learn from others.

We should work together with other countries whenever we can, to solve joint problems.  Together we can do more than we can individually.

Capitalism is the best economic system, but it has built-in inequities (favoring those with more capital) that need to be curbed so that capitalism does not become a farce and America become a class society.  We must improve the ability of people to rise in the social structure.


We want to regain the promise that America held out that all could prosper through ability and hard work.  This has been taken away by globalization and neglect of the working man by government (both Republican and Democrat).  The rich and elite are favored over us, and they persist in favoring certain others over us as well, such as immigrants.

We revere the values that we learned—hard work, independence, freedom from government interference, standing up to put-downs and efforts to belittle us, and Christianity.   We will fight for what we believe in, both in theory and in every moment of every day in the street.

Fundamental change and change in values are not needed.  Society used to be much better, and we want that back.  The elites look down on us and make fun of us, and they shouldn’t.  We do the work that supports them (when we can get it, now), but we don’t get enough compensation to live properly.

We are the ones who will fight for the country in the military, but we get no recognition for that.  We love our country and would respect any leader that stands up for us.

Government can’t be trusted.  Look at what it has done for (to) us!  Local control is best.  Freedom is the most important consideration.

Immigrants take our jobs.  Immigration should be severely curtailed, and everyone in this country illegally should be deported.  They have the freedom to be themselves in their own countries, not here.

We don’t trust other countries and don’t feel obligated to “help” other countries and peoples.  Keep our money at home!

The U.S. has produced a great consumer economy, but corporate profits can’t be put ahead of the welfare of U.S. workers.  After all U.S. workers are employed in good jobs, then maybe corporations, investors, and immigrants can benefit.


It might seem impossible for persons with these three different views of a desirable future to work together in our Congress.  Liberals look to change as a means for improvement and solving problems, while conservatives enter consideration of change with an inherent suspicion and distaste.  Populists are focused on their perceived mistreatment by the rest of society and will press only for change in that mistreatment.  However, consider the following “story” as a possible framework for compromise and unification.  Note the emphasis on equality, compromise, and treating each other with respect, courtesy, and basic acceptance.

We learn important lessons and traditions from our families, schools, and churches, but we are willing to consider changes that will make our lives even better.  Our nation is founded on and upholds the ideas of equality and freedom, and we seek to ensure that all have equal freedom and equal opportunity to flourish.  (We label the essentials of equality as “rights.”)

Change in joint practices is something that citizens should agree on generally, and should not be something that is imposed from above that contradicts existing values.  Whenever possible, change should be approached in incremental steps.  The values of all groups should be honored, as long as they are not harmful or destructive to others.  We ensure religious liberty for all but do not let the practice of religion unduly burden or harm other citizens.

We believe in a strong military that is subject to civilian (voter) authority.  Patriots are those who love their country for its achievements and seek to improve its deficiencies in living up to its values.

Our leaders deserve our respect and the opportunity to make their case for desired actions, but our citizens have the final say about our nation.  No leader should become a demagogue, siding with only part of the country and not the country as a whole.

We need a certain number of immigrants for our workforce, and the U.S. should continue to be a haven for true political refugees.  We very much need a full update by Congress of our immigration policy that reflects the views of all the people, including the definition of those eligible for asylum.  Border security is essential, and all those in this country who are not citizens (including those with visas) should be tracked by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, including those waiting for asylum claim resolution.  The status of existing citizens should not be downgraded by special “rights” for new immigrants.  The number of immigrants admitted each year should not exceed the capacity of society to absorb them without excessive anxiety on the part of citizens.

Our country is a nation of immigrants, and we have much cultural and belief diversity among our citizens.  We should continue to honor the beliefs and views of all citizens, as long as they are not demeaning or harmful to others.  We must tolerate and be willing to learn from our differences, but no residents, including immigrants, should be viewed as in any way “better than” or deserving more than those who are citizens.

Our public interactions and discourse should be conducted with basic respect and courtesy toward others.  No legal residents deserve less.

Everything is in a slow process of change, including our bodies, our friends, our environments, and our hometowns.  We should thoughtfully preserve the best of our values, traditions, and objects of value, but we should also be open to incremental change in all those things if they can improve our lives and our country.  Disagreement can be expected about most changes in morals and ethics, such as gay rights, transgender rights, and views of abortion, but we should all seek to truly understand the positions of others before we oppose them.

Viewing people as belonging to a certain socioeconomic class is destructive to democracy.  A person’s inherent value does not depend on his/her income or social status.  We must view all citizens as being basic equals as citizens and eschew efforts by some to put themselves “above” others (by race, wealth, achievements, popularity, etc.).

The size of government is not a key problem in itself, because government only exists to do what the people together choose for it to do.  Therefore, government should be exactly as big as it needs to be to do what we want it to do, and taxes should be only as much as is necessary to do what we together have decided for government to do.  The key is in deciding what we want it to do (infrastructure?  childcare?  healthcare?  highways?  internet?  national defense?), bearing in mind that the more we want it to do, the bigger it will get.

Americans of every political persuasion have a certain amount of compassion for others less fortunate, and it is appropriate for the U.S. to share a certain small amount of its largesse with the less fortunate in other countries.  These projects should be carefully protected from graft and corruption within those countries.

Some of the problems of humankind are too large for any one country to solve for itself, such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, and mutual defense.  Treaties and other agreements with other countries are the only way to address these problems.  We will put “America First,” but sometimes that means working with other countries, rather than isolating.

The American Dream, that people can improve their positions in society significantly through hard work and playing by the rules, is in danger, since research shows that “moving up” is now more difficult and less likely than it has been in the past.  Our economic system must be adjusted so that the American Dream can continue to be believable.

Capitalism has made possible our plethora of material goods and to a certain extent our security and our welfare, but without controls, it can also create undesirable conditions, such as unacceptable levels of wealth disparity and whole classes of people who cannot earn enough to have a decent life.  These effects need amelioration, and government is the only source of that amelioration (since private firms that depend on maximum profit levels will never agree among themselves on controls that even marginally reduce profits).

What unifying story could you write?