American politics

In the US politics works slightly different from Europe. There is hardly any socialism/communism. The socialist/communist movement was strong in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, but not in politics. It was strong at the grass roots, with trade unions, pressure groups, news papers and such. It declined considerably during WW II, and the remainder was mostly wiped out in the 1950s by Senator McCarthy with his Un-American Activities hearings.

This leaves a space in American politics on the left side, the side that believes that government has the task of looking after its citizens, especially those that are less well off. The closest to this is liberalism, so in American politics liberal usually means social liberal. American liberals believe government has a job to do in caring for the population. For instance: the liberal President Obama has improved health care access for the poor and average American (Obama-care).

Liberals in the US usually believe in individual liberty, so they are mostly pro choice, pro gay marriage and for equal rights for ethnic minorities (African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans etc).

They believe government should actively support equality with affirmative action, equal rights legislation, equal pay for ethnic minorities and women. Also they believe government should to a certain extent support the poor with subsidized housing, subsidized job training and more.

Liberals are usually in the Democratic Party.

Those who believe in a very small government system (comparable to some liberals in Europe) are called libertarians in the US. They believe government should limit itself as much as possible. It should fight crime, protect private property, enforce contracts (to make capitalism work) and carry out foreign policy, but not much more. They believe government has no role to play in fighting poverty, other than staying out of the economy to let capitalism take its course. Care for the poor, they believe, should be done by private entities, like churches, NGOs, corporate foundations and such. In the US there is a small Libertarian Party.

The real opposition to liberals in the US are the conservatives. They can be conservative in the literal sense of conserving what is there, but usually in the US conservative means that they want to return to some imaginary idealized past, when the US were supposedly better. They are strongly nationalistic, and strongly pro business, which usually works out pro Big Business because big businesses are more powerful than small ones. They oppose programs for ethnic minorities, women, the poor etc. They advocate for a small government and consequently low taxes, which usually takes the form of tax cuts for the rich rather than the whole population. Contrary to their idea of low taxes though, because of their strong nationalism they are pro army spending, which grows big government spending on that side. They are pro unilateral interventions, which means attacking other countries if this serves the “national interest” (which can be defined in many different ways). For instance the conservative President George W Bush attacked Iraq and Afghanistan, wars that are still going over ten years later, and necessitate big government spending.

American conservatives are pro Christian Church, specifically pro conservative evangelical churches, the type of Christianity that has recently been imported to Africa, and is also catching on in Malawi as a foreign influence. These churches are often called the “Christian Right” as opposed to more socially responsible traditional churches. In Malawi reverend Nicky Chakwera (son of politician Lazarus Chakwera) is trying to promote this newly imported type of Christianity with a column in Malawi News, and on internet.

Some of this type of conservatism is present in Malawi, in the Christian Right, but economically it is not catching on at all: government here may be weak compared to western governments, but they hold on to extensive regulation of the economy (to the chagrin of the private sector represented in the MCCCI) though regulations are intermittently enforced. There is strong support for socialized medicine in Malawi, but a lot of it is donor funded rather than government funded. The same goes for education. On the other hand, social conservatism (opposition to gay rights, for instance) is present in Malawi.

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