From Chautauqua: Piercing Voters' Filter Bubbles
This is recommended reading for friends whose campaigns for office or advocacy for Progressive Democratic causes are, in part or whole, motivated by a desire to achieve a common good. The words are not mine, but of Michael Gerson, Washington Post columnist and former speech writer and policy advisor for President George W. Bush.
He spoke at Chautauqua Institution's "Media, News and Ethics in the Digital Age" earlier this week.
Parts of the country are becoming "increasingly homogeneous". Eighty percent of counties gave Trump or Hillary Clinton a landslide victory. In the 1970s, similarly lopsided wins occurred in only 25% of counties.
This "polarization is not just a function of Washington dysfunction." It's also an outcome of "Americans' views of the opposition continually becoming more negative."
"There are many other factors in polarization: the growth of partisan media, which provides not information but ammunition...There's the power of technology to mobilize factual interests and allow people to live in filter bubbles. There's gerrymandering, leading to the constant fear of politicians that they'll be primaried [out of races] if they lack ideological purity. The result is a careful weaving of cocoons."
"When the other side is viewed as evil, then collaboration is not only hard--it is wrong. Compromise and comity become not virtues, but vices. Bipartisan cooperation becomes an oxymoron, like a Mormon's distillery or Presbyterian laughter."
When Americans fall into this partisanship, they resemble parents watching their 10-year old playing soccer, always siding the the referees who make calls favorable of their child. This favoritism was manifested in Trump supporters' responses to the aerial photos of Trump's and Barrack Obama's inaugural addresses. Even though the photos showed larger crowds for Obama's speech, Trump supporters still believed the opposite.
When people are confronted with ideological discomfort, they experience physical discomfort as well, including "a sensation of alarm" and "feelings of nausea and anxiety."
A confrontation of these negative tendencies is in order, Gerson said. We must be able "to make fair judgments on the penalty call no matter who benefits."
Instead of seeing the enemy, we need a mirror.
As Americans become increasingly opinionated, the nation should strive toward one virtue: empathy.
"Individualism has been a great force for liberation in Western history. It is a great failure as a philosophy of life." The rates of serious depression are exponentially higher today than the rates two generations ago. Therefore,
"Loving our neighbor" has become more important than ever.
"We need a politics that calls us to the common good, not the triumph of our tribe."
"This is the strange alchemy of empathy. We serve our principles best by loving people even more than our principles."
"We know the heroes of America are heroes of unity, not division," Gerson said. "Lincoln still inspires us because he could somehow purge hatred from his heart. Martin Luther King still leads us because he displayed the strength to love."
Gerson's admonition suggests political candidates and advocates should exercise empathy two ways.The first is to give our opponents the benefit of the doubt--that they're not motivated by a desire to do us harm, and can be open to opposing views if they perceive that we authentically have their best interests in mind.
The second idea is that we must understand at a different, far deeper level the wants of constituents whose worldviews may be incomprehensible to us at first.
At NPCRC, we're producing a series of tutorials intending to show Progressive candidates and causes how to develop far more influential messages. These will launch in September.