Discover more from Defusing American Anger: A depolarization endeavor
November review: polarization-related stuff
Interesting things from the last month
I’ll start doing a monthly review of things that stood out to me as interesting from a polarization/depolarization perspective.
Trump’s dehumanizing language: Trump recently referred to his political opponents as “vermin” and “thugs” who “want to destroy America” and who must be “rooted out.” It’s a challenge to tackle this kind of thing from a depolarization perspective. There’s a risk of just being another judgmental voice (of which we clearly have plenty) and not doing anything that helps with depolarization. Ideally one would be able to speak in a way that is persuasive to Trump voters: to help them see why they should see such behavior as bad — and at the same time help those scared of Trump see why understanding Trump voter beliefs is important for being able to talk to them in ways that don’t amplify animosity.
One challenge is that Trump voters can ignore criticisms of Trump’s language because they see a lot of aggressive, insulting language aimed at them and at Trump: and the nature of conflict is that it makes people focus almost entirely on threats and insults from the “other side,” which in turn means caring less about divisive behaviors on “your side.” Another challenge is that trying to make a persuasive, respectful case to Trump voters, or appealing to liberals to try to understand Trump voters, can seem weak, clueless, and/or morally flawed to liberals (and anyone concerned about Trump). But trying to thread this needle is important, and I think a big part of doing this work well. We can’t be too afraid of trying to craft those messages, even while we know our efforts won’t persuade everyone. Here’s one attempt at threading that needle.
The “Steve Scalise is a white supremacist” narrative: Scalise was nominated for Speaker of the House, and that was followed by quite a few leaders and pundits, and many citizens, calling him a “white supremacist,” and saying he had “compared himself to David Duke,” as if these things were obvious statements of fact. But when you looked into the story closer, you found there wasn’t much substance there. A persuasive analysis of this was done by D. Stephen Voss: if you read that piece you’ll likely see how the confident “he’s a white supremacist” framings have contributed to our polarization: these are the kinds of things that understandably make conservatives angry and make them more okay with divisive, dehumanizing behaviors from Trump and others. Imagine if more liberal-leaning journalists and pundits saw it as important to correct these kinds of very biased and distorted framings, for the sake of decreasing us-vs-them contempt (or even, from a political activism perspective, to create less pushback to liberal ideas). We’d be in a much better place. (An aside: Scalise’s Wikipedia is an interesting read, especially this part about his statements about violent rhetoric and January 6th.)
Democrats “their own worst enemies”: A NYT op-ed by Pamela Paul made some good polarization-related points, I think, about how the Democratic Party “seems disconnected from the priorities, needs and values of many Americans” and how the party acts “as if anyone who reacts against the assumptions of its progressive wing is completely off base.” It quotes from a book by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, who write that Democrats “need to look in the mirror and examine the extent to which their own failures contributed to the rise of the most toxic tendencies on the political right.”
Aayan Hirsi Ali converts to Christianity: Ali is a former Muslim and a longtime critic of Islam, from a womens’ rights and human rights perspective. She’s also been a long time promoter of atheism and critic of far left ideas and behaviors. Her piece about her deciding to convert to Christianity is interesting because her stated decisions have nothing to do with actual belief in Christ or Christianity. She believes that she must join ranks with Christians in order to fight what she sees as socially and morally destructive far left ideas. She says that “atheism is too weak and divisive a doctrine to fortify us against our menacing foes” (and also that she finds “life without any spiritual solace unendurable”). This is relevant to polarization/conflict dynamics in that conflict often makes us feel that we must “join together” to beat “the bad guys.” There is a pressure exerted to put up with people and ideas we might have only recently found unsavory, bad, or even dangerous. There is a growing war-like mentality, which leads to more war-like mentality. (We can see this same dynamic in a piece a few months ago arguing something similar: I can’t find that right now but will add later when I find.)
Polarization-related talks on my podcast:
I talked with Yakov Hirsch, who criticizes what he sees as excessive, overstated claims of antisemitism on the part of some Jewish and pro-Israel people (e.g., framing criticism of Israel as antisemitic). This was a follow-up to a talk I had with James Kirchick, who is more conservative and pro-Israel in his views, and who talked about what he saw as liberal-side antisemitism.
I talked with Vanessa Otero, creator of a well known media bias chart, and founder of Ad Fontes Media. We talked about media bias, the difficulties in discerning bias or removing bias, and how media bias relates to polarization. Interestingly, Vanessa’s initial interested in analyzing media bias arose from concerns about our extreme polarization.