The usual formulation that you will see masticated these days by the flimsy jaws of men and women who have broken free of the editorial column to become freelance ponderers and thinkers is that the Republicans are the neo-confederate secessionists who distrust the government while the liberals, and their captive class of government employees, union members and official minority groups trust in it.
That formulation, like so much else in the spilled ink of the dying newspaper, is wrong.
Both sides distrust the government. They just react to that distrust differently. The right reacts to that distrust by trying to limit or pull down the government. The left reacts to it by trying to take it over.
The contradiction comes out most strongly among liberalism's minority base. For example, blacks are more likely to trust the Federal government than whites but less likely to trust local government. This doesn't reflect trust in government so much as it reflects a perception of which level of government is less trustworthy. From a minority perspective, national representation is safer than local governance.
Distrusting the neutrality of government and attempting to hijack it for
corrupt sectarian and tribal interests reveals just as much distrust of
the government and secessionist impulses as anything on the right.
Large numbers of Asian and Latino immigrants poll in favor of big government despite coming from countries whose governments are brutal and oppressive. But it's often the people who come from tyrannies who are also most likely to support them.
The neutral spaces of the Bill of Rights are not real ideas to them the way that they are to many Americans. The idea that government can simply be forced out of a space without that space being filled with either a more repressive government or gangs collecting protection money is often not a part of their experience and so not a realistic calculation for them.
Government to them is a power struggle. It's not a question of how powerful government should be, they assume that it's always powerful, but who steers the beast. And so they vote Democrat, because the Dems promise to steer it to their advantage.
It's a mistake to try and break down minority alliances with government to specific issues such as immigration or health care. Issues are only the subset of a larger cultural arrangement based on a distrust of government. In a worldview in which government is always abusive and corrupt, the only question is who gets it worst and who benefits from that corruption.
That kind of trust in government isn't trust, it's a calculated amoral strategy based on mistrust, like a shoplifter who steals because all of society is based on theft. Small government is a traditionalist strategy based on a historical memory, part real part not, of a system where more freedom and wealth were available by minimizing government power.
The other side rejects that historical memory as naive and irrelevant in favor of grappling for power now.
It's not just an issue with minorities. The Tea Party runs into that same issue when polls show that the commitment of Americans to small government stops when it's to their disadvantage. That is the gap that the left knows about and exploits in its traditional style of creating a patchwork system of fines, taxes and subsidies that create massive inequalities but force everyone to cling to their privileges.
Once you accept that government isn't going to be reformed, then clinging to whatever advantages it gives you becomes a plausible survival strategy until the whole thing collapses under its own weight or the weight of public outrage. The Soviet Union outlived Russian Communism until enough people inside and outside the government decided that they could live better if they gave Marx and Lenin the boot. But if there hadn't been Western counter-examples that became increasingly hard to shut out, it might have taken much longer to fall because there would have been no visible alternative.
Conservatives dream of defaulting to society, but for many of the clients of the left there is no larger society. They place no trust in a larger society that is bound by few formal laws because it appears to them to operate by a kinship that places them outside it. They understand how government works for all its abuses, but they are far less trusting of a society that they are not truly part of.
And it may be wishful thinking to assume that the society still even exists. Libertarian deregulation alone would not default to a working society. No more than the absence of law does in Mexico or Somalia. It's not some arcane crowdsourced magic, some wisdom of the mob that makes a society work, but the values of civilization. The United States isn't Somalia or Mexico, yet, but its social breakdown can be seen in the broken families and gangs. And there are few opposing factors.
The militarization of the police has come hand in hand with the collapse of values and mores. Take enough broken families, pile what's left over into gangs and the drug trade and before long you need a lot more police to deal with everything from domestic violence complaints to everyday rapes and murders to the bigger stuff that moves up the organized crime ladder all the way to gang warfare.
In a broken society, there are a limited range of options between the fascist government and the feudal cartel, between the gangs and the cops with their repurposed military gear, between the state and a state of lawlessness. And it's the immigrants from failed states who are the eagerest to embrace government as a hedge against the night. It doesn't mean that they trust it. It means that they distrust everything and everyone else.
While the left is obsessed with pushing society until it breaks and can be put back together their way, their clients have mostly accepted that society is broken, that families don't stay together, that men and women can't count on each other, neighbors can't be trusted and that freedom leads to anarchy.
It's not just that they need to be convinced to trust us, they also have to be convinced to trust themselves. It's easier to trust the government because it is an abstract, a set of ideas and symbols lacking in human frailties. The collective always seems stronger than the individual, even if isn't. An older breed of American distrusted the group, but elections are increasingly being won by cities and their satellite suburbs where people have despaired of the individual and believe in authority.
People only believe in governments when they lose faith in themselves and their society. The great work of the counterculture was destroying the faith of Americans in their own society, trampling their beliefs through the mud in a dozen different ways, demoralizing them, tearing down their culture and making a self-reliant individualism as difficult to sustain and as socially unacceptable as possible.
When the counterculture couldn't attack directly through regulation, it attacked indirectly by wrecking the family. When it couldn't get the numbers it needed quickly enough, it turned to immigration from failed states. That is the end result before us now.
An authoritarian state is a failed state. It represents a failure deeper than that of mere government, but of society. Before a state fails, its society fails. A culture can survive a failed state, but a failed culture cannot help produce anything except a failed state.
America is drifting into totalitarianism because of the left's exploitation of social failures. The critical mass of social breakdowns, from gang violence to terrorism to poverty, justify the nanny state, the police state and all the other totalitarian states of authority. When there is nothing and no one else to trust, a failed society turns to a tyrant who can cut through all the red tape and govern with pen and phone.