Wednesday, January 27

The toxic polarization of our politics can be reversed, but it will take humility | United States politics


AAfter Dwight Eisenhower was sworn in as President of the United States on Capitol Hill in January 1953, he recited a sentence to the watching crowd that he himself had written that very morning. The words embodied how Eisenhower hoped to rule. “We especially pray,” he told them, “that our concern be for all people regardless of their position, race, or vocation. That cooperation is permitted and is the mutual goal of those who … hold different political beliefs. “

To an audience in the 2020s, those words may now seem bland and pious, the usual politician nonsense that we hardly hear. Race, in particular, would remain an unhealed wound during Eisenhower’s eight years in the White House. Yet the sentence sincerely embodies an approach to politics that really worked for much of America in the 1950s.

Those years are seen in general, the indisputable exception of separate races, as a brand, amid a certain family boredom, a high tide of shared national values, prosperity, and political depolarization. As Robert D Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett have put it in their recent book The Upswing, the 1950s is at the rising peak amid the “me-we-me” bell curve of American life between the free economy for all from the 1890s, the era of increased cooperation in the mid-20th century, and the accelerating renewal of individualism, inequality, and hyperpartisanship of the 2020s.

Donald Trump and Eisenhower are Republican presidents. However, as leaders, and in the lives they have led, they could hardly be more different in every way. It is completely impossible to imagine Trump speaking the kinds of words that Eisenhower used in 1953. However, it is possible to imagine Joe Biden speaking them. In fact, it would be a surprise if Biden did not commit to such cooperation when he took the oath himself, in less than two months.

However, is there the slightest chance that such an approach will have any effect today or that it will last? The question of whether the governments of advanced capitalist democracies can unite entrenched and bitterly divided politics is now the most important question facing our politics. The United States is by far the most urgent and important example of this. But it’s also true in countries beyond the US, Britain certainly included.

The odds that Biden, or other consensual leaders in other countries, will achieve this are long. Today we are not at the top of The Upswing’s 130-year “me-we-me” curve of economic equality, political cooperation, social cohesion and public altruism, as Eisenhower was in the 1950s. Instead, we are heading rapidly down the curve into new depths of inequality, partisan intransigence, individualism, and selfishness. We may even have passed a point of no return.

Therefore, many claim that those more unified and civil days are simply over. Some on all sides welcome this, thinking that the decline of the old unified liberal capitalist state in the early 21st century presents a cathartic opportunity to clean up the rubble and failures of the past and create ground zero for a different kind of politics. . brave new future.

My response to those fans is to be very careful what you wish for. Putnam’s book speaks for the many millions who don’t think the way fans do. Speak for those who want the tide of the last decade to slow, stop and turn, and who want to believe that the restoration of a society of “us” based on liberal democratic managed capitalism can happen, albeit in a lesser way. uneven and less uneven. less spiteful way.

A good reason for saying this is that something like this has happened before. The upward trajectory of the “me-we-me” curve in the early years of the 20th century did not descend from a clear blue sky, in the United States or anywhere else. Instead, it relied, among other things, on economic innovation and greater equality (including for women), laws that dissolved monopolies, a political leadership that was not afraid of taxing the super-rich, the creation of an effective nation-state, and of private companies. industry institutions, high-quality education, a boom in charity and philanthropy, and a medium widely trusted by people to tell them the truth.

Another reason for confidence is that the destroyers have not yet succeeded. Much of what the earlier, more cooperative era sustained endures. What the EU might call heritage Of liberal democracy and internationalism — the body of civic principles, institutions, and habits that the present has inherited from the not-so-distant past — is actually more resilient than the shocks inflicted on it may suggest.

The transition from Trump to Biden illustrates this. Trump’s assault on the electoral process and his credibility has been momentous and terrible, but in the end the transition seems to be happening. The electoral process was tested to the limit, but it was robust and decisive. Its institutions and principles have survived. Something a bit similar may be happening now in Britain due to the breach of laws and treaties by Brexit.

And yet the divisions remain. How can these bitter certainties be alleviated and ultimately saved? Changing people’s minds may seem like the answer, but changing your mind is a very long-term process. Opening your own mind is more important. And this should apply on all sides. Complaint, lectures, labeling and obsession with language make things worse, not better.

The key is to prioritize listening and then talking to others. Michael Sandel’s recent book The Tyranny of Merit argues that humility must be central to rebuilding the notion of the common good, without which no “we” society can prosper. People do not need to be humiliated or denied a voice telling them they are bad, stupid, bigoted, or failures. The goal should be to find things that we can all agree on, perhaps including things like justice, patriotism, helping each other, and trying to agree on the facts.

Respect for the truth is essential. Social media is the main accelerator in this area of ​​catastrophic decline. A much stronger grip on falsehood online will be a precondition for rebuilding the common good. This is as true of politics in general as it is to ensure full adoption of any Covid vaccine. But there is material to work with. The public trust has survived in many places. Ipsos Mori reported This week more than 80% of us trust what nurses, doctors, engineers, teachers, judges, professors and scientists tell us. On the contrary, about 80% eviltrust journalists, government ministers, politicians in general, and advertising executives. The problem lies in politics and the media.

Maybe the Bidens of the world have it in them to change this. Let’s hope so. But they need the help of thousands of local citizens, if so, brought together locally to rebuild trust in the common good. The government matters a lot. But how we treat each other is just as important. We don’t just need to develop herd immunity to viruses. We need to develop herd immunity to lying, and give easy answers too, and for all those who provide them, in whatever form.

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www.theguardian.com

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