What Democrats are FOR: Our Values

We need to help people see the better world we want to bring about.

If we want people to think of us as good people, we can’t just argue that our opponents are bad people. We have to express to people why we do what we do, how our policies reflect our values and beliefs, and help create a vision of a world they would want to live in.

Video: A Message From the Future With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
This wonderful short film illustrated by Molly Crabapple describes the future we would have if we actually pulled off the Green New Deal. Wherever you stand on the policy, it is a wonderful piece of communication that literally “paints” a vision of a better future.

Fascism should not be on the ballot.

The midterms shouldn’t even be close. I’ve been reading a lot about what motivates people to respond to populist rhetoric and support leaders who are a nasty cocktail of nihilist and authoritarian. But what mystifies me even more, is the idea that we are somehow “just as bad.”

Why is there such an enormous gap between what we believe and want to do, and how people perceive it?

  1. Conservatives invent and promote narratives that explain how our behavior and positions are motivated by really bad intentions.
  2. We usually don’t tell people stories that reveal our positive intentions, because they live so deep in our subconscious, we’re not sure how to express them.

Democrats might argue over tactical issues, like what to do first or when to compromise, but we agree on what is right and wrong. We have to talk about those core values, the deeper moral codes behind all of our positions.

This is the first part of a series on what Democrats believe. In future issues, I will talk about reimagining the relationship between our economy, society and government and about what we believe to be the proper role of government in our society.

We have to express to people what we are for, what we believe about how people and our society work, and why we will never, ever stop trying to build a better society and a better country, no matter what happens in this election and the next.

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Our Values

Why are you a Democrat? Because we’re all in this country together.

Political choices are all about people’s most gut level beliefs about right and wrong. How people judge right and wrong depends on whose version of right and wrong they are using. If we want people to use our values to judge, we can’t just assume that people share them, we have to talk about them out loud.

Our individual issues and positions will make sense and feel morally right to people, if we think and talk about them in the context of these larger beliefs.


EMPATHY is the driving force behind everything we do.

I am a Democrat because I care what happens to everybody. I care about what happens to my family and my community, but I also care about what happens to yours. We share this country and we have an obligation to look out for each other, because everybody matters.

Patriotism = Caring what happens to all Americans.

Because we all have INHERENT WORTH a.k.a. essential value, we have natural, fundamental human and civil rights, including the right to have our essential needs met, like air, water, food, shelter, health, safety, and freedom from poverty and oppression.

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS are things you don’t have to earn, that you shouldn’t have to compete for. You just get them because you are a human being.

Conservatives generally believe that people are naturally bad and selfish, but somehow, if we are driven by rational SELF-INTEREST, we will make individual decisions that collectively lead to positive benefits for the whole society.

We believe that people are naturally good and caring, and that society only works when we work together for the good of each other. Like the musketeers said, “All for one and one for all.”


Democrats recognize that, as people who live together in a society, we all depend on each other and we have an obligation to take care of each other. We take RESPONSIBILITY for ourselves, for each other as individuals and for our society as a whole. We believe in community values.

To us, INTERDEPENDENCE is not an opinion, it’s an observable fact about how the world works. Since human beings first formed families and tribes, they have depended on each other for survival and success.

Think about what we have learned from the pandemic about things like supply chains and what it means to be an essential worker. Whether we are talking about a small town or the vast interconnectedness of a major metropolitan area, we depend on others for everything from child care across the street to microchips from across the planet.

In our culture, the myth of SELF-RELIANCE is both pervasive and destructive. It denies the undeniable fact that we all rely on each other. It tells people they are morally wrong for needing help, and that they have noresponsibility for the well-being of others.

Quotes from my imaginary uncle:

“Being a good person isn’t about never needing any help. Everybody needs help! It’s about keeping on paying it forward and trying to meet your maker on the plus side of the karma-go-round.”

“We’re all in this country together and anyone who says different is just lying to you.”

“Besides, I don’t understand how you can be a good person and not bother yourself about what happens to other people. That doesn’t sound very Jesus-like to me!”

We are all responsible for each other. It is perfectly natural and good to rely on others, because we all rely on each other all the time. That is the only way we can all thrive.

That is also why we believe that cooperation is the key organizing principle of society.


We believe that, while there is a place for competition, our society runs on COOPERATION. Even GOVERNMENT is just a tool that we use to cooperate on a larger scale.

A beautiful piece of writing from Ezra Klein:

Cooperation is humanity’s superpower, and the way we have enlarged our circle — from kin, to tribes, to religions, to countries, to the world — is miraculous. But the conditions under which that cooperation has taken hold are delicate, and like everything else, part of the biophysical system in which we live. We are changing that system in ways we do not understand and with consequences we cannot predict.

If you believe in COOPERATION like we do, the right thing to do is to work together so that we can all succeed. It would be wrong to leave anyone behind. There should be enough for everyone. Wanting more than your share is greedy and morally wrong. Not helping others is selfish and morally wrong.

Conservatives believe that COMPETITION is the main way that life works. There is a limited amount of stuff and the only fair way to distribute it is through competition. They believe life is a zero-sum game. Winners deserve to win. Losers deserve to lose.


Conservatives use the competition frame to drive wedges between people with fear mongering about SCARCITY. To them, someone else’s gain always has to mean your loss (student debt relief) and the “undeserving” are coming to take what’s yours (immigration).

Competition is about fighting over the pie. Cooperation is about making sure there is enough pie for everyone, like creating enough good schools and enough good jobs, and even creating different kinds of schools and jobs to meet different people’s needs.

We can strive for ABUNDANCE rather than accepting scarcity. We just have to make choices that reflect our belief that everybody deserves to succeed.

Sample Pro-Democrat GOTV Messaging

The following are scripts from a 2018 hand-written postcard campaign that resulted in a 2.37-point increase in turnout among Democratic voters who don’t usually vote in midterm elections.

“I want to live in a society where people care about each other, and I need a government that works! That’s why I’ll be voting for Democrats on Nov 8th!”

“We have a choice. People can fight for themselves, or we can all work together. Please vote for Democrats on Nov. 8th so we can all have a better future!”

“A Democrat is someone who cares what happens to other people, will face up to big problems and bring us all together to solve them. Vote for Democrats on Nov. 8th and we all win!”

Photo by Antonia Scatton


All people are created EQUAL. We believe that the law must apply equally to everyone (black or white, rich or poor, etc.) We believe in protecting everybody’s rights.

We don’t just tolerate DIVERSITY, we celebrate it. The great variety of people and cultures is what makes America unique, dynamic and strong. People are infinitely diverse in genetic makeup, personality, and life experiences. We may all be different, but we are all ultimately worth the same.

We assume everyone thinks that EQUALITY is a cherished American value, but we actually have to make the case for equality, because some people do not believe that all people are created equal.

Some conservatives believe that there is a natural order, a HIERARCHY determined by God in which some people are worth more than others:

  • God over humans,
  • humans over nature,
  • “in-group” members over “out group” members,
  • men over women,
  • police over civilians,
  • “whites” over people of color,
  • Christians over non-Christians,
  • “straights” over LGBTQ+ people,
  • owners over workers,
  • Americans over foreigners, and so on.

The hierarchy manifests itself in divisions between who is considered “us” and who is considered “them,” who is deserving of empathy and who gets dehumanized, who gets resources and who doesn’t, who has rights and who doesn’t, who the law protects and who the law constrains.

It explains an enormous range of conservative political positions: opposition to abortion, denial of global warming, opposition to transgender rights, tolerance of police brutality, and on and on.

The worst believers in hierarchy are the ones who suck up and punch down. (Trump)

Just because something is one of our core values, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to keep working to live up to it. If we want people to see us as champions of equality for everybody, we need to be careful about how we talk about people who are different from “us,” perhaps in level of education, religion, culture, where they live, or even who they voted for in the past. For example: we should not refer to people who didn’t go to college as “uneducated voters” or make fun of people for poor spelling.


We have to get out there and talk about FREEDOM as we see it. We believe in core freedoms like the right to choose our government, civil liberties and civil rights, and the rights to control our lives and our bodies.

To make our society both safe and fair, we choose to impose rules on ourselves. We’re still free because we collectively choose the people who make those rules. That’s why we believe so strongly in DEMOCRACY and must fight to protect our right to be heard.

SELF-GOVERNANCE, voting and representation are what makes us free. This also applies to UNIONS that give us freedom through representation in the workplace.

We believe in CIVIL LIBERTIES: limits on government, like the freedom to express ourselves, to have privacy, to believe, to worship and to gather.

We believe in CIVIL RIGHTS: obligations of government to protect and defend our rights as citizens and our equality, both in society and before the law.

We believe in SELF-DETERMINATION: the freedom to determine the course of our own lives, to seek success and fulfillment, and to be free from the restrictions imposed on our lives by poverty, illness, disability and discrimination. This would include the freedom to engage in public life free of gun violence or police brutality.

We have an inherent right to BODILY SOVEREIGNTY a.k.a. bodily autonomy.

Art and language by Teafly Peterson. Click for full essay!

Physical self-determination is an essential condition of freedom. This is why we believe in reproductive rights. We believe that it’s wrong to use other people’s bodies without their permission, not even to save someone else’s life.

We believe in FREEDOM OF RELIGION. We have the right to make decisions about our lives and our bodies in accordance with our own beliefs. In a pluralistic society, it is wrong to use government to force everybody to live by one group’s religious beliefs.

Some conservatives want permission to pollute, to discriminate, to incite violence or spread viruses. That’s not freedom, that’s LICENSE. “License” is wanting government to give you a permission slip so you can be excused from responsibility for how your actions impact others.

Right now, conservatives are attacking our freedoms of self-government, physical self-determination, religion, speech and safety, among others.

The Bottom Line

Everything we believe starts with empathy; Democrats care about what happens to other people. Everybody matters and deserves to have their basic needs met.

We all depend on each other. We share responsibility for each other’s health and happiness. It is perfectly natural and good to rely on others because we all rely on each other all the time.

We believe in cooperation; we work together so that we can all succeed. Government is just cooperation on a larger scale. We work toward having enough for everyone.

We believe in equality. Our society is better for having a lot of different kinds of people in it. Every person is unique but we’re all worth the same.

We believe in core freedoms like the right to live under the government we choose.

We believe in limits on government, like the freedom to express ourselves, to have privacy, to worship (or not) and to gather. We also believe government has obligations to protect our rights as citizens and our equality.

We have the freedom to determine the course of our lives and the right to sole authority over our own bodies.

PLEASE, give me your feedback on this!

Thanks, as always, for reading! This is a work in progress. Let me know where you think I am wrong or what you feel is missing. Talk about how these things connect, or fail to connect, with the issues you are dealing with right now. Help me make it better.


Warmest regards,


Thank you for reading Reframing America! This is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts by email please consider becoming a subscriber. All content is free, but some people choose to become paying subscribers to support this mission!