Being an American expatriate, especially living in the United Kingdom, gives a particular perspective on US society. I think this is highlighted during the Presidential election, when you see Americans en masse struggle with the concepts of equality and fairness.
Equality and fairness or concepts that are easily confused. Especially because one of the main tenants that the United States was founded on was equality, it is easy for that to be muddled with the concept of fairness. My opinion though is the aggrieved, both liberal and conservative, are arguing about fairness. Equality means everyone, no matter what, is treated in the same way by the government and society. Ultimately Americans don’t want this. This is actually a far more French concept, where muslims are made to remove their religious garments in order to ensure equality. It is manifest in Northern European governments and societies, where people are taxed into equality by the government. Americans don’t want that. A land of opportunity cannot survive on equality.
Fairness on the other hand, is that people are treated consistently and in line with the merit of their actions. This is what Americans are really getting at. It is what is driving the concern about the 1%, feeling that somehow the 1% were able to get a special “member’s only” pass. The right argue that if people don’t work, they shouldn’t get money from the government. Again, fairness at the root of it all.
In the UK, while equality and fairness are often confused, it is fairness that bubbles to the top. People, consciously or unconsciously get upset when the rules of fairness are broken. Fairness is far more important than equality in the UK. The political parties mention it in their rhetoric and policy often enshrines this, versus equality. Equality is presumed to a degree, but fairness will trump equality every time.
In the current Presidential election, I think it is generally unstated, but the main driving factors behind who will vote for which candiate is actually far more about their perceived fairness than anything else. Those voting for Romney will do so because they believe “hard work” will be treated fairly, and if you have been successful, you will be protected and not treated unfairly. Those voting for Obama believe that a large portion of the population haven’t been historically treated fairly and haven’t had the right opportunities to take advantage of and see that Obama will continue to protect those at the cost of those who can afford it. Both sides believe the other candidate will treat a segment of society unfairly.
If we were to move our dialogue to better articulate fairness, to better understand what is really important to us, then we might actually move forward the conversation.