Wednesday, August 12, 2020
This year has brought dramatic and unforeseen changes and challenges to virtually every American. Assumptions, plans, and schedules have changed; industries have been upended, schools shuttered, churches closed, much of everyday interactions moved online. But amidst all the churn and change, one trend in American life has remained depressingly impervious to reversal: our growing polarization and deepening dislike for each other.
The Pew Research Service has tracked polarization over many years, and found that our mutual contempt continues to spread, with over 90% of Republicans and 86% of Democrats holding “unfavorable or very unfavorable” views of the other party – almost triple the percentage from a generation ago. Another study found that 20% of Democrats and 15% of Republicans reported thinking that “the country would be better off if large numbers of members of the other party simply died.”
Worse, our shared aversion to each other seems to grow increasingly personal and identity-based, rather than philosophical or even ideological. While we may adopt extreme political opinions, Pew found that nearly 40% of Americans take “mixed ideological opinions” – a finding that Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Jonathan Rauch described as “not ideologically moderate; [but] ideologically mixed up. … We are seeing a hardening of incoherent ideological difference.” Our antipathy, it seems, has become less principled and more personal, less about policy implications and more about fear and loathing of our (similarly ideologically incoherent) opponents.
There are a number of factors contributing to this unfortunate trend, but one that deserves attention is what seems to be a growing enthusiasm for and indulgence in what Saint Augustine called libido dominandi – the desire to dominate others. One only needs to open twitter, Facebook, or other social media to be flooded with posts intending to shame, humiliate, even intimidate others. Social media disagreements are often described using the language of slavery – e.g., who “owned” whom. The ugliness of such language — widely accepted on social media — poisons our attitudes, as well as our interactions. Pernicious and contagious, the posture of domination, once reserved largely for political combat, seems to have infected much of our public communication, poisoning our capacity for good faith discussion (and the vulnerability that requires), curiosity, trust, and respectful relationships.
This Friday, we’ll explore how we got here, and where we should look for “Hope and Healing Amidst Deep Division.” We’ll hear from moral psychologist and best-selling author Jonathan Haidt and New York Times columnist and Trinity Forum Senior Fellow Pete Wehner on our very human instincts for tribalism, the emotions and intuitions that govern our thinking (both for good and ill), and the role of faith in healing an angry and alienated culture. We hope you will join us!
This Friday, August 14th we are thrilled to welcome renowned social psychologist and best-selling author Jonathan Haidt, and New York Times columnist and Trinity Forum Senior Fellow Pete Wehner. We hope you will join us for a wide-ranging discussion on the the impact of hyper-politicization and the role of faith in bringing healing and hope to a hurting culture.
Recommended Reading and Resources
As we navigate these uncertain times together, we recommend the related resources
below as both an encouragement and catalyst for reflection.
- Politics, Morality, and Civility | A Trinity Forum Reading by Václav Havel
- Brave New World | A Trinity Forum Reading by Aldous Huxley
- The City of God | A Trinity Forum Reading by St. Augustine
- Christianity, Pluralism, and Public Life: Insights from Christian Leaders | A Trinity Forum Report by Michael Wear and Amy Black