He says, “It’s my right to order a wedding cake with two grooms on the top, a symbol of our gay wedding.”
The proprietor says, “It’s my right to choose the people to whom we want to sell cakes, as well as those to whom we do not want to sell cakes.”
This conflict involving a gay couple from Indiana and a local bakery has become a classic scenario of conflicting rights in America. Perhaps more important than this particular conflict is how it defines the major political divide that separates America into two distinct and fiercely opposed tribes of people.
If there is a key word that draws the ire of Americans and separates them into distinct groups, it is ‘mandate.’ According to Webster’s, the definition of mandate is ‘a formal order from a superior court or official to an inferior one.’ Most Americans, in fact most of humanity, like mandates when they establish rules to our individual or personal liking. The reverse holds true as well; if we don’t like it, it’s a bad mandate.
In earlier human history, the world was largely bifurcated between those who issued mandates and those who followed them. Life in America now is very different as the two sides of our political polarity (right wing and left wing) have times when they hold more power than the other, and consequently when they can be the issuer of mandates.
Mandates are not all the same. It is helpful to divide them into two categories. The distinction between the two largely defines the differences between the Republicans / Trumpsters and Democrats / Progressives.
- Those mandates that protect the liberties of individuals.
- Those mandates that protect the common good for society as a whole.
It is the Republicans who seek mandates to protect their own personal interests. They want to have the right to refuse to bake or sell that wedding cake to a gay couple. They want to ensure that they can purchase and own powerful guns and do so with a minimal paper trail. They want to own cars that are fast and cheap and that include minimal required safety features.
Progressives largely want mandates that make our society healthier and safer. They want protection against fraudulent behavior by institutions and individuals. They want vaccinations to be mandated so that diseases such as COViD-19 or smallpox can be eliminated. During a pandemic, they want everyone to wear masks to minimize the spread of the virus. They want infrastructure to be built with full safety measures embedded in the construction.
At times, the populace is split close to 50-50. Recently, a poll on vaccines requirements conducted by CNN / SSRS showed the following results about mandated vaccinations:
- Acceptable Way to Increase Vaccination Rate …….. 51%
- Unacceptable Infringement on Personal Rights ……49%
This survey also reflects how dramatically the nation has moved since the time when the polio vaccines or measles immunizations were mandated for children before they could enroll in public schools.
There are times when the positions of conservatives and progressives flip-flop. The most obvious case is abortion. To progressives, it is clearly a personal right; one in which the woman should be empowered to make the decision in consultation with a physician and anyone else whom she thinks can lend helpful advice.
To conservatives, abortion becomes a religious issue in which “God’s will” says that abortion should be illegal. Progressives view the conservative reasoning with a little more skepticism. They believe that in many ways conservatives oppose allowing women to have control of their reproductive rights, because they feel that the male-dominated government institutions should have control over the rights of women.
Additionally, one could argue that progressives’ support of abortion rights is consistent with their view that it is most important to protect the common good of the society. Abortion rights is one means by which we can minimize the number of unwanted children born into our society.
Neither conservatives nor progressives have an exclusive handle on the word mandate. They each use it to their own advantage; to further their views on a variety of issues.
We all try to use words to our advantage; often to give ourselves, and others like us, a presumed moral high ground. Mandate is one of the key words utilized by all sides of the political spectrum to try to advance their interests. It is another reason why we need to be especially careful about the language that we use in politics.