“Whatever happened to ‘When they go low, we go high,’?” Melissa Braunstein asked in The Federalist. She is referring to Michelle Obama’s advice for how the Left can deal with some of the Machiavellian machinations underlying much of what the Right does. She points out that since the giant meteor for our political system – the election of Donald Trump (or should I say when Donald Trump, with the help of Russian cyberwarriors, lost the popular vote but prevailed in the sclerotic and oligarchic Electoral College) – civility and unity have receeded further and further from our national norms. Braunstein calls the increasingly-partisan national debate over social (and to some degree, fiscal and cultural) issues “coarser, cruder, more disheartening and inflammatory” than ever. When I see Congresswoman Maxine Waters agitating for the dubious treatment of Trump’s accomplices in public, or recall the South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson shouting “You lie!” to President Obama in the hallowed halls of oligarchy (ahem, Congress), I get her picture.
It’s been called the last refuge of scoundrels. It is undeniably linked to “us-against-them” tribal impulses, rooted in emotion and often impervious to reason. It feeds nationalism and militarism, making it a potentially dangerous phenomenon in a world of modern weaponry. Yet patriotism—outward, vocal, and enthusiastic patriotism—is still considered a vital element in American politics, an aspect of our culture that we not only tolerate but encourage. To many humanists, this is worth rethinking. ~ David Niose
The very capable David Leonhardt of the New York Times opinion page sees clearly that “American politics have become more racialized over the last decade.” Why? This is his accurate answer, in my opinion:
“The Obama presidency started the new era of racialized politics. And it wasn’t because of Barack Obama’s actions. Academic research has found that he talked about race less often than any president since — get this — Franklin D. Roosevelt. But the mere fact that Obama was black made voters think more about race.
In particular, many white Americans felt threatened by both his election and the country’s increasing diversity. Then along came Donald Trump, a man with a decades-long history of racism. Trump ran the most race-obsessed campaign in decades, probably since George Wallace’s in 1968. When Trump’s campaign was over, he had won the White House, thanks largely to a surge in white support across the upper Midwest, the Florida panhandle and elsewhere.”
Yep. Wedge issues, red meat, hyperbole, and firing up the base.
Immigration is, in mid-2018, the number one issue on the minds of Americans. I think this raises some serious questions about the manipulation of the minds of Americans by politicians who would use that as a wedge. Frankly, it’s just not that big of a deal. I think it has a lot to do with fearmongering and distraction. It is a giant flaming sword of partisanship, if you will. As well, the NFL protests and the abolishing of ICE is not wise coming from the Left, either. In this blog, I will explore the myopia and tribalism that seem to be plaguing countless Americans, and the partisanship it engenders. We need to reform and relax before we reignite the Civil War.
What if moral judgment, so central a notion to all schools of philosophy and the centerpiece of every major religion, is not the conscious, deliberate, reasoned discernment of right or wrong we’ve all been led to believe, but is, rather, a subterranean biological reckoning, fed by an underwater spring of hidden emotion, mischievously tickled and swayed by extraneous feelings like disgust, virtually beyond the touch of what we customarily think of as conscience? What if Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle were nothing but a bunch of two-bit, fork-tongued, post hoc rationalizers? ~ Stephen S. Hall
William Galston noted in a Brookings Institution piece that when it comes to wedge issues like immigration and religion, Americans are more divided and hostile than ever before. Throw in some good old-fashioned mental manipulation by Facebook and the Russians, and you got yourself a real thorny issue. Galston writes:
“A Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey released earlier this week found that while 64 percent of Americans regard increasing demographic diversity as mostly positive, there are deep partisan divisions: Democrats believe that it’s mostly positive by an overwhelming margin of 85 to 13 percent, as do Independents by 59 to 34 percent, but 50 percent of Republicans regard it as mostly negative, compared to only 43 percent who favor it.”
As our nation’s political discourse takes on the tone of a religious schism, Trump supporters and opponents can no longer break bread under the same roof. White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave a restaurant in Virginia while hecklers shouted “Shame!” and “Fascist!” at senior Trump advisor Stephen Miller…. ~ William Falk
Think about the issue: the presence of nonwhite Americans really bothers the veritable majority of Republicans. Anyone who knows enough American history can see the partisanship inherent in the way all minority immigrants since 1650 have been treated. It’s in our DNA to discriminate and hate those we don’t know. It is a well-known explanation for racism and prejudice that the lower- and lower middle class whites fear people of color to some degree (obviously there are econmic tensions there) and want to be sure that blacks and others are kept on the lowest social rung so that marginal and pressured white Americans will at least have someone beneath them. Yes, that is ugly and dysfunctional.
Galston shares some additional data:
“The key drivers of partisan division are educational and religious differences among white Americans. Sixty-nine percent of whites with a BA or more have a mostly positive view of demographic diversity, compared to just 50 percent of whites without college degrees. As for religion, 52 percent of white Catholics and 56 percent of white mainline Protestants think rising diversity is mostly positive. By contrast, just 42 percent of white evangelical Protestants favor these changes, while 52 percent think they’re mostly negative. Two-thirds of whites without college degrees supported Republicans in the 2016 elections, as did eight in 10 white evangelicals.”
“A Pew Research Center analysis released on July 19 under the heading “It’s not just the economy” shows that supporters of the populist surge throughout Europe are far more likely than others to believe that only those who are born in their respective European countries and have family ties in these countries are truly ‘one of us'”, Galston points out. I suppose we have to live with the miserable fact that we are animals, and not that far removed from the babboon. I just wish we were more peaceful and less acquisitive, hostile, and aggressive – like the bonobo and even the gorilla. There are clearly evolutionary reasons for tribalism, but in modern America, partisanship is more harmful than positive.
On the left, these acts of civil disobedience have prompted an internal debate over whether shaming and shunning Trumpists is strategically wise, given that it feeds the persecution narrative the president so expertly exploits. ~ William Falk
Galston’s fairly dispiriting conclusion is: “Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ brilliantly targeted these feeling of decline among Americans who feel displaced in the land of their birth. Suitably adjusted, this slogan would be equally effective in Europe—even in Germany, where many populists believe that their country has apologized more than enough for its past misdeeds.” I think Trump’s angle is disgusting, disingenuous, and disastrous.
The obvious question is, Who benefits from this level of animosity, aggressiveness, and division? What function does partisanship serve? I know Noam Chomsky has thought about this over the years, and I don’t think it is a mischaracterization to maintain that he would see the social and structural reasons why there are so many divisions in modern America. Example: If Trump can do enough inane and impulsive stuff, stretching all of our mental boundaries and social mores, then he might be better able to enact something that benefits himself or his social class (e.g., the ruling class). It’s a devil’s bargain.
Indeed, the very idea of truth and legitimacy and the veracity of public figures and institutions is in question now. Sure, in the past you had things like the JFK assassination and serious questions surrounding it, or DDT usage, or the Tuskegee Experiments, but you had Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow to share some news and very rarely (if ever) lie. Now, the POTUS will literally call stories and reporters who want to shine the sanitizing light of truth on him and his nefarious deeds “fake news” and the like. Do Americans really understand truth when they see it? Is truth even something that can be hoped for outside of a philosophy class?
In 2008, [David] Brooks wrote a column called “How Voters Think.” This time around, he argued that voters in fact do not make “cold, rational decisions about who to vote for.” Rather, voters make “emotional, intuitive decisions about who we prefer, and then come up with post-hoc rationalizations to explain the choices that were already made beneath conscious awareness.” ~ Stephen S. Hall
This piece by Journalism.org is apropos. It’s not good news, I’m afraid. Here is a snippet:
“A new Pew Research Center survey of 5,035 U.S. adults examines a basic step in that process: whether members of the public can recognize news as factual – something that’s capable of being proved or disproved by objective evidence – or as an opinion that reflects the beliefs and values of whoever expressed it.”
This is all relevant to dignity, virtuousness, and character. Truth and justice are fairly proximally related, as well. Think of what your grandmother might say to you when you were young about listening to others, being careful, showing respect and courtesy, and ignorance. Would she ever really counsel you to plug your ears and tell someone to “shut it!” if you met someone with differing opinions? No, and character is reflected in one’s ability to be socially appropriate, humble, and calm in the face of disagreement. No one wants to be the guy who gives someone “the bird” in traffic, do they? They ought not to, put it like that.
And yes, this is really all about opinion. Facts are hard to come by, and are more akin to scientific inquiry than politics and religion, two topics that really get the bellows going when it comes to fueling a fire. Partisanship, by definition, refers to tribalism, and tribalism is always and necessarily about beliefs, opinions, and family culture. Touch on any social topic from teaching Creationism in school to the role of the news media in modern society and you’re going to see opinionatedness. Opinions are fine as far as they go, but when we begin to see our heart rate increase as a result of some spirited news, interaction, or event, think of partisanship and myopia. They are the scourge of wise thinking.
Where is this going? I’m old enough to remember some ugly periods in recent history, including the Vietnam War, the fateful year of 1968, and Watergate. ~ William Falk
“In Purple’ Family Values (Op-Ed, July 2), Matthew Schmitz ties himself in knots trying to put a favorable spin on his fellow Nebraskans’ insistence that Donald Trump is a good man despite his obvious personal failings. But I don’t buy his story that it reflects working-class values for the simple reason that if any liberal politician were guilty of such behavior, these same people would no doubt gleefully condemn him. It’s more likely that these folks badly wanted to vote for Mr. Trump to poke a stick in the eye of the so-called elites, so they simply grabbed whatever flimsy excuses they could to overlook his sleazy behavior. No complicated analysis required; it’s just plain old-fashioned hypocrisy, a common disease among people of all political persuasions through the years”, Conrad Berger contends. This and “white fright” are two of the salient points regarding the continued partisanship, bickering, wedge issues, and disintegration facing American society.
Indeed, the “values divide” between liberals and conservatives is now becoming deeply ingrained. It has only gotten far worse since the papers, news outlets, and blogs began the war for information in earnest with President Trump. Argh, that title just hurts every time I write it. I think more of the presidency than to associate it with the likes of Donald Trump. Our presidents were never very morally upright or gentle souls, but this is ridiculous.
A second avenue open to liberals who seek to reach religious and culturally conservative Americans would be to employ a moral vocabulary when discussing political and economic issues. There is nothing to prevent making a moral case, for example, that it is objectionable to give huge tax cuts to the rich while cutting social programs for the poor and working class when that gap is already at its widest in an entire century. Liberal arguments for universal health care and education are also fundamentally moral arguments, and need not be defended entirely in terms of economic efficiency — though they can be. ~ Eric Alterman
Now, full disclosure, I am not a fan of the political Right. I really see Paul Waldman’s point in The Washington Post when he noted it was surreal being lectured about civility by the party of Donald Trump. After all, the chimpanzees started taking over the circus with, as Waldman, put it, a “racist crusade” to prove that President Obama was African, not American. Certainly, toads like Limbaugh, Alex Jones, Palin, and other denizens of disinformation at Fox News contributed to this devolution in dialogue mightily. Indeed, Trump “encouraged his supporters to commit acts of violence” at his demagogic rallies. He cannot stop himself from “tweeting” and announcing “nasty, puerile jabs” at Democrats, celebrities, athletes, competitors, and generally those who try to tell the truth (former CIA Director John Brennan, or Oprah, or Rod Rosenstein, or Robert DeNiro, or Joe Biden, to cite 1/1,0000 of the cases). So forgive me, but when Sarah Huckabee Sanders (who seems to be to be absolutely bereft of class, scruples, or moderation), complains she and those other nice folks like Scott Pruitt are being treated unfairly by us impolite liberals, I agree with Waldman: “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Indeed, I believe evidence can be marshaled to show that since the advent of the conservative think tanks and Ronald Reagan, things have gotten much worse – and that it’s not merely a correlation, but in large part, causal. They started getting their act together in a big way, and it’s mostly been Machiavellian. Think of the vitriol and disingenuousness all those guys from Focus on the Family, the NRA, and the Reagan Administration spew, create, and disseminate.
Sage historians tell us that our resilient institutions and our American creed can survive this era, too. But I must confess to moments of real alarm. Our politics is becoming radicalized, amid an adamant belief on both sides that we are engaged in a life-and-death struggle for the soul of the nation, and that virtually anything is justified. Fantasies of violent vengeance are being openly expressed. ~ William Falk
Since partisanship is a do-or-die proposition at such high levels, progressives have been forced to toughen up to simply survive. This is a thesis that I know is supported by Eric Alterman and Michael Parenti. As Alterman points out in this piece, Trump has not only not drained the swamp, he has pounded the wedge between different types of Americans with a giant, gold-plated sledgehammer.
There is a tendency toward perfectionism in all of us. Certainly, people such as Trump and institutions such as social media fan those flames of partisanship, fractiousness, and dissidence. Show me a politician who “rides easy in the saddle”, if you will, and considers those who oppose his or her ideas just as valid and theirs. Even the noble Bernie Sanders has trouble always being magnanimous and tolerant of people and ideas he considers objectionable. I can’t say I am any different, actually.
This perfectionism also definitely manifests itself in religious orthodoxy, sentiment, and beliefs. Heck, for years, if the Catholic Church disagreed with you, you may very well be executed. Witch hunts were basically townsfolk and those in power run completely amok. It is wiser and more justifiable to have tolerance where anger could reside, and grant liberty to those you may have a desire to control and regulate.
Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. ~ Jonathan Haidt
I live in the Deep South, and I can tell you that though there is a kind of courtesy displayed by many in social interactions, if you believe differently when it comes to religion or politics, you’re gonna get the pat on the shoulder and the “Aw, well bless your heart.” In Southern speak that means “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.” I’m exaggerating, but if you read a Pat Conroy book, you’ll know I am not being particularly hyperbolic.
“The reason we have norms in the first place is because there is always an undercurrent of violence in politics,” Jonathan Last of The Weekly Standard points out. We have social institutions and civil society set in place (and held most tightly by social conservatives) “to push that underurrent way down deep.” William Falk, the Editor-in-chief at the handy and reliable newszine The Week, suggests we are in for trouble potentially. “Now, the norms of society are being discarded. The contempt between the rival tribes is reaching a boil. A crisis that will sorely test America’s founding ideals, I fear, is coming.”
If by “America’s founding ideals” Falk means liberty, civility, cooperation, progress, tolerance, and opportunity, then I fear the results. Some say the Civil War has never really ended. The other day when I saw a group of Confederate flag-waving yahoos, I was very clear on that.
If by “America’s founding ideals” Falk is really in fact referring to the values and norms and institutions present in the new United States of the late 19th century – social and economic stratification, inadequate public education, minimal taxation, slavery, rancor, and rivalry – then I suppose a reckoning is due.
Whereas a healthy love of country would nurture a sense of unity and common values in an atmosphere of intelligence and maturity, modern American patriotism has instead become a vehicle for division and aggression. Ugliness in the name of patriotism has occurred in the past in America—the Palmer raids and McCarthy era are easy examples—but modern times easily rival those periods, as patriotism has become increasingly zealous, immune to critical thinking, and unquestioningly militaristic. ~ David Niose
“If you think that moral reasoning is something we do to figure out the truth, you’ll be constantly frustrated by how foolish, biased, and illogical people become when they disagree with you.” ― Jonathan Haidt
“People bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives. Once they accept a particular narrative, they become blind to alternative moral worlds.” ― Jonathan Haidt
“Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.” ― Jonathan Haidt
“If you really want to change someone’s mind on a moral or political matter, you’ll need to see things from that person’s angle as well as your own. And if you do truly see it the other person’s way—deeply and intuitively—you might even find your own mind opening in response. Empathy is an antidote to righteousness, although it’s very difficult to empathize across a moral divide.” ― Jonathan Haidt