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Can the Nation Heal?

In 2015, a Vox article noted that it is now socially acceptable to discriminate based on political affiliation.  Some excerpts:

“Political identity is fair game for hatred”: how Republicans and Democrats discriminate

The experiment was simple. Working with Dartmouth College political scientist Sean Westwood, Iyengar asked about 1,000 people to decide between the résumés of two high school seniors who were competing for a scholarship.

The resumes could differ in three ways: First, the senior could have either a 3.5 or 4.0 GPA; second, the senior could have been the president of the Young Democrats or Young Republicans club; third, the senior could have a stereotypically African-American name and have been president of the African-American Student Association or could have a stereotypically European-American name.

The point of the project was to see how political and cues affected a nonpolitical task — and to compare the effect with race. The results were startling.

When the résumé included a political identity cue, about 80 percent of Democrats and Republicans awarded the scholarship to their co-partisan. This held true whether or not the co-partisan had the highest GPA — when the Republican student was more qualified, Democrats only chose him 30 percent of the time, and when the Democrat was more qualified, Republicans only chose him 15 percent of the time.

Think about that for a moment: When awarding a college scholarship— a task that should be completely nonpolitical — Republicans and Democrats cared more about the political party of the student than the student’s GPA. As Iyengar and Westwood wrote, “Partisanship simply trumped academic excellence.”

It also trumped race. When the candidates were equally qualified, about 78 percent of African Americans chose the candidate of the same race, and 42 percent of European Americans did the same. When the candidate of the other race had a higher GPA, 45 percent of African Americans chose him, and 71 percent of European Americans chose him.

But Iyengar and Westwood wondered whether these results would really hold outside the laboratory setting. After all, the study’s participants knew their answers were being judged by the researchers. Perhaps discriminating against members of the other party was socially acceptable in a way discriminating against people of the other race simply wasn’t. In other words, perhaps people are willing to show their partisan bias whereas they hide their racial bias, and that was what was behind the results.

“Political identity is fair game for hatred,” he says. “Racial identity is not. Gender identity is not. You cannot express negative sentiments about social groups in this day and age. But political identities are not protected by these constraints. A Republican is someone who chooses to be Republican, so I can say whatever I want about them.”

But it didn’t used to be that way.

In 1960, Americans were asked whether they would be pleased, displeased, or unmoved if their son or daughter married a member of the other political party.

Respondents reacted with a shrug. Only 5 percent of Republicans, and only 4 percent of Democrats, said they would be upset by the cross-party union. On the list of things you might care about in child’s partner — are they kind, smart, successful, supportive? — which political party they voted for just didn’t rate.

Fast forward to 2008. The polling firm YouGov asked Democrats and Republicans the same question — and got very different results. This time, 27 percent of Republicans, and 20 percent of Democrats, said they would be upset if their son or daughter married a member of the opposite party. In 2010, YouGov asked the question again; this time, 49 percent of Republicans, and 33 percent of Democrats, professed concern at interparty marriage.

This election has been so cantankerous that it doesn’t matter who wins the election today.  Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump can expect a rocky presidency.  I was listening to Meet the Press yesterday, and they interviewed Newt Gingrich.  I admit I am not a Gingrich fan, never have been, due in large part to his role in creating divisions in our country.  But once in a while he does speak truth.  When moderator Chuck Todd asked what Newt thought, I thought he gave a very interesting answer.

Chuck, “What do we do as a country on November 9th?  Because it’s been a rough election and I want to use your words.  This is what you said in January 2001 after another very contentious presidential election.  You said the following:

‘Most Americans do not find themselves actually alienated from their fellow Americans or truly fearful if the other party wins power, unlike in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, or Rwanda.  Competition for power in the U.S. remains largely a debate between people who can work together once the election is over.’

That was America circa 2001 as far as you were concerned.  Do you believe that is the case in January 2017?”

Newt, “No.  No, I think tragically we have drifted into an environment where if Hillary is elected, the criminal investigations will be endless, and if Trump is elected, it will be just like Madison, Wisconsin with Scott Walker.  The opposition of the government employee unions will be so hostile, and so directed, so immediate, that it will be a continuing fight over who controls this country.  I think that we are in for a long, difficult couple of years, maybe a decade or more because the gap between those of us who are deeply offended by the dishonesty and the corruption, and the total lack of honesty of the Clinton team, and on their side their defense of unions which they have to defend.  I understand that.  But that will lead to a Madison, Wisconsin kind of struggle if Trump wins.”

I don’t necessarily agree with some of Newt’s characterizations (and I think he is the cause of many of the partisan divides), but I do agree with him that it really doesn’t matter whether Hillary or Donald wins.  It’s going to be a much too partisan and poisonous atmosphere long after this election is over, and we may see endless litigation and impeachment proceedings against both Clinton and Trump.  While I’ve been pretty good at navigating disagreements among family members, I have crossed some lines of good taste when discussing the presidential election with some friends and strangers.

I generally have a very light moderation hand here.  However, I am going to make a policy on this post that all partisan attack comments will be deleted regardless of who they are directed at.  (If you can’t say something nice, go say it somewhere else.)  Please comment kindly as a way to begin a conversation that as Ronald Reagan once said, “Disagree without being disagreeable.”  Let’s practice the healing of the nation as we talk here.

Have you been guilty of poor, unchristian behavior when discussing the election?  What can be done to heal the nation after this election, regardless of who wins tomorrow?  And will you be voting for Evan McMullin (especially if you live in Utah) or some other third party candidate as a protest of the two bad candidates put forth by the republicans and the democrats?

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2 comments on “Can the Nation Heal?

  1. If we want to point a finger of blame for the divisiveness, there is blame on both sides, but the pure obstruction and refusal to compromise that has characterized the GOP in the past eight years is the main cause for our current mess. When a party states up front that it will oppose everything the president proposes, and then follows up on the threat, what can you say? When a party states up front that it will not even consider a Supreme Court nominee by a president, what can you say? When a majority party is so held hostage by its extremist wing that it cannot even pass legislation, what can you say? The Democrats have been willing to compromise on a wide variety of issues. The Republicans are like the kid who, if he can’t win every time, just takes his ball and goes home. The divisiveness in America has not been very balanced.

  2. Be careful, there’s a lot of blame in your comment. I’m looking for reconciliation: what can we do? What should leaders do?

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