What’s Really Tearing America Apart

by Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Blog posted on Alternet.org  March 25, 2014 

We are witnessing a reversion to tribalism around the world, away from nation states. The the same pattern can be seen even in America – especially in American politics.

Before the rise of the nation-state, between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, the world was mostly tribal. Tribes were united by language, religion, blood, and belief. They feared other tribes and often warred against them. Kings and emperors imposed temporary truces, at most.

But in the past three hundred years the idea of nationhood took root in most of the world. Members of tribes started to become citizens, viewing themselves as a single people with patriotic sentiments and duties toward their homeland. Although nationalism never fully supplanted tribalism in some former colonial territories, the transition from tribe to nation was mostly completed by the mid twentieth century.

Over the last several decades, though, technology has whittled away the underpinnings of the nation state. National economies have become so intertwined that economic security depends less on national armies than on financial transactions around the world. Global corporations play nations off against each other to get the best deals on taxes and regulations.

News and images move so easily across borders that attitudes and aspirations are no longer especially national. Cyber-weapons, no longer the exclusive province of national governments, can originate in a hacker’s garage.

Nations are becoming less relevant in a world where everyone and everything is interconnected. The connections that matter most are again becoming more personal. Religious beliefs and affiliations, the nuances of one’s own language and culture, the daily realities of class, and the extensions of one’s family and its values – all are providing people with ever greater senses of identity.

The nation state, meanwhile, is coming apart. A single Europe – which seemed within reach a few years ago – is now succumbing to the centrifugal forces of its different languages and cultures. The Soviet Union is gone, replaced by nations split along tribal lines. Vladimir Putin can’t easily annex the whole of Ukraine, only the Russian-speaking part. The Balkans have been Balkanized.

Separatist movements have broken out all over — Czechs separating from Slovaks; Kurds wanting to separate from Iraq, Syria, and Turkey; even the Scots seeking separation from England.

The turmoil now consuming much of the Middle East stems less from democratic movements trying to topple dictatorships than from ancient tribal conflicts between the two major denominations of Isam – Sunni and Shia.

And what about America? The world’s “melting pot” is changing color. Between the 2000 and 2010 census the share of the U.S. population calling itself white dropped [2] from 69 to 64 percent, and more than half of the nation’s population growth came from Hispanics.

It’s also becoming more divided by economic class. Increasingly, the rich seem to inhabit a different country than the rest.

But America’s new tribalism can be seen most distinctly in its politics. Nowadays the members of one tribe (calling themselves liberals, progressives, and Democrats) hold sharply different views and values than the members of the other (conservatives, Tea Partiers, and Republicans).

Each tribe has contrasting ideas about rights and freedoms (for liberals, reproductive rights and equal marriage rights; for conservatives, the right to own a gun and do what you want with your property).

Each has its own totems (social insurance versus smaller government) and taboos (cutting entitlements or raising taxes). Each, its own demons (the Tea Party and Ted Cruz; the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama); its own version of truth (one believes in climate change and evolution; the other doesn’t); and its own media that confirm its beliefs.

The tribes even look different. One is becoming blacker, browner, and more feminine. The other, whiter and more male. (Only 2 percent [3] of Mitt Romney’s voters were African-American, for example.)

Each tribe is headed by rival warlords whose fighting has almost brought the national government in Washington to a halt. Increasingly, the two tribes live separately in their own regions – blue or red state, coastal or mid-section, urban or rural – with state or local governments reflecting their contrasting values.

I’m not making a claim of moral equivalence. Personally, I think the Republican right has gone off the deep end, and if polls [4] are to be believed a majority of Americans agree with me.

But the fact is, the two tribes are pulling America apart, often putting tribal goals over the national interest – which is not that different from what’s happening in the rest of the world.

 

See more stories tagged with:

tribalism [5]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/whats-really-tearing-america-apart

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org/authors/robert-reich-0
[2] https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CDMQFjAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.census.gov%2Fprod%2F2010pubs%2Fp25-1138.pdf&ei=OG8vU_7zK8PwoASys4HIAw&usg=AFQjCNEQDDtbUzGmSzSuLhE4P9bKvTPJ8A&bvm=bv.62922401,d.cGU&cad=rjt
[3] http://www.cnn.com/election/2012/results/race/president#exit-polls
[4] http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/12/20/cnn-poll-are-gop-policies-too-extreme/?cid=sf_twitter
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/tribalism
[6] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

The shutdown of good governance

By Fred Hiatt, Washington Post,  October , 2013

Excerpt

…the government seems unable to do its job. The shutdown can be blamed on the reckless, irresponsible miscalculations of congressional Republicans. But the shutdown is only the most extreme example of government’s failure to solve solvable problems: to fix Social Security, pass a budget, reform immigration laws. What gives?

One theory is bad luck

another… leaders of the previous generation were the aberration: Men (mostly) whose world views were formed in World War II and the Cold War understood the nature of existential threats and were willing to put aside partisan interest for the nation’s good. Today’s partisanship is just a return to normal.

But maybe even larger trends are at work. Here are a few possible culprits:

Slow growth and inequality

The great fracturing – we seem to live in two separate countries whose inhabitants lack the empathy or even the language to understand each other.

Immigration and the end of a white majority – By 2043, whites will no longer be in the majority.

Inadequate political institutions…In an increasingly self-serving redistricting process, politicians choose their voters instead of the other way around and insulate themselves from challenges by all but the extremes. The frantic money chase drives good people out of politics.

The contrast between the country’s relative advantages and its Washington dysfunction is frustrating, but maybe that, too, is part of the problem: In an apparently benign environment, when foreign enemies again seem distant and unthreatening, nothing scares the politicians toward compromise. They manufacture one ginned-up crisis after another, but the deadlines fail to provide the hoped-for jolt toward progress — even when, as now, millions of blameless Americans suffer for politicians’ failings.

Will it take a crisis not of their creating to change the dynamic? Let’s hope not.

Full text

If a country proves unable to govern itself, you expect to find a historical explanation. A plague, maybe, or chronic drought, or the rise of a hostile power on its borders.

None of those applies in the present case. To the contrary, by many measures the United States, long blessed, should be entering a new golden age. Who would have predicted 10 years ago that the United States would become, as the Wall Street Journal reported last week, the world’s No. 1 energy power — producing more oil and gas combined than Russia or Saudi Arabia? While most developed nations, from Japan to Italy to Russia, don’t have enough young people, U.S. population trends are relatively benign thanks to immigration and a stable birth rate.

Yet the government seems unable to do its job. The shutdown can be blamed on the reckless, irresponsible miscalculations of congressional Republicans. But the shutdown is only the most extreme example of government’s failure to solve solvable problems: to fix Social Security, pass a budget, reform immigration laws. What gives?

One theory is bad luck: Some analysts suggest that John Boehner, Harry Reid and Barack Obama are a collection of unusually weak leaders, or leaders especially ill-matched in temperament.

A variation on that theme holds that leaders of the previous generation were the aberration: Men (mostly) whose world views were formed in World War II and the Cold War understood the nature of existential threats and were willing to put aside partisan interest for the nation’s good. Today’s partisanship is just a return to normal.

But maybe even larger trends are at work. Here are a few possible culprits:

Slow growth and inequality. As my colleague Robert Samuelson recently wrote, after World War II Americans became accustomed to 3 percent annual growth, which allowed for a cheerful spreading of the wealth. Now 2 percent may be the new normal, in part because the United States, though its population is younger than that of many countries, still will have more retirees per active worker than in the past.

The growth we do manage is being shared less equally, thanks largely to technology and globalization. The possible result: nastier politics as classes and generations fight over a slower-growing pie.

The great fracturing. Then-Sen. Barack Obama electrified the nation in 2004 with his Democratic convention speech insisting there was no Red America or Blue America. Since then, the divisions have only become more marked. From guns to gay marriage to Obamacare, we seem to live in two separate countries whose inhabitants lack the empathy or even the language to understand each other.

As Americans increasingly choose to live among those with whom they agree politically, in what author Bill Bishop called “the big sort,” technology and other factors loosen the ties that bound us into one nation. Other than the occasional, and fleeting, YouTube video, there is no cable television channel or Internet site that we experience in common. Political parties that transcended region have been purged of dissenters and overshadowed by single-focus interest groups.

Immigration and the end of a white majority. “The Mexican migration, and the similarly large migration of others from the rest of Latin America, has in just one generation reshaped the nation,” Michael Barone recently wrote. In 1970 there were fewer than 1 million Mexican-born people in the country; today they number more than 12 million, and with their children comprise about 10 percent of the population.

Meanwhile, for the first time, racial and ethnic minorities — if that’s still the right word — make up about half of the under-5 population. By 2043, whites will no longer be in the majority. The country seems to have handled the surge in immigration more peaceably than it greeted past waves of newcomers. But the shifts may be causing political shockwaves whose connections to the demographic changes aren’t immediately obvious.

Inadequate political institutions. There’s the affront posed to the principle of one man, one vote by the U.S. Senate, where 600,000 Wyoming residents have as much say as 38 million Californians. In an increasingly self-serving redistricting process, politicians choose their voters instead of the other way around and insulate themselves from challenges by all but the extremes. The frantic money chase drives good people out of politics.

The contrast between the country’s relative advantages and its Washington dysfunction is frustrating, but maybe that, too, is part of the problem: In an apparently benign environment, when foreign enemies again seem distant and unthreatening, nothing scares the politicians toward compromise. They manufacture one ginned-up crisis after another, but the deadlines fail to provide the hoped-for jolt toward progress — even when, as now, millions of blameless Americans suffer for politicians’ failings.

Will it take a crisis not of their creating to change the dynamic? Let’s hope not.

Read more from Fred Hiatt’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fred-hiatt-the-shutdown-of-good-governance/2013/10/06/329f9c1a-2d0b-11e3-8ade-a1f23cda135e_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

Anger Can Be Power

By THOMAS B. EDSALL, New York TImes, October 8, 2013

Excerpt

These are extraordinary times. The depth and strength of voters’ conviction that their opponents are determined to destroy their way of life has rarely been matched, perhaps only by the mood of the South in the years leading up to the Civil War…They lack the power to control their own government. But they still have just enough to shut it down. Animosity toward the federal government has been intensifying at a stunning rate. In a survey released on Sept. 23, Gallup found that the percentage of Republicans saying the federal government has too much power — 81 percent — had reached a record-setting level. The movement to the right on the part of the Republican electorate can be seen in Gallup surveys calculating that the percentage of Republicans who identify themselves as conservative grew between 2002 and 2010 by 10 percentage points, from 62 to 72 percent. During the same period, the percentage of Republicans who identify themselves as moderates fell from 31 to 23 percent. These trends date back to the 1970s….pollster Stan…Greenberg’s premise is that “you cannot understand the government shutdown unless you understand the G.O.P. from the inside.” Greenberg puts Republicans into three categories: evangelical and religiously observant voters (47 percent); libertarian-leaning Tea Party supporters (22 percent); and moderates (25 percent)….One of the key factors pushing Republicans to extremes, according to Greenberg’s report, is the intensity of animosity toward Obama…the base supporters are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities. Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities. Race remains very much alive in the politics of the Republican Party. Voters like this, according to the report, are convinced that they have lost the larger battle:… Republicans see a president who has fooled and manipulated the public, lied, and gotten his secret socialist-Marxist agenda done. Republicans and their kind of Americans are losing… They believe this is an electoral strategy — not just a political ideology or economic philosophy. “These voters think they are losing the country,…The evangelical and Tea Party wings of the Republican Party combine into a clear majority of Republican voters...Big government, Obama, the loss of liberty, and decline of responsibility are central to the Tea Party worldview….A determined minority can do a lot in our system. It has already won the battle for the hearts and minds of the Republican House caucus. That is not a modest victory.

Full text

These are extraordinary times. The depth and strength of voters’ conviction that their opponents are determined to destroy their way of life has rarely been matched, perhaps only by the mood of the South in the years leading up to the Civil War.

In a recent column for Bloomberg View, my friend Frank Wilkinson put together a concise explanation:

A lot of Americans were not ready for a mixed-race president. They weren’t ready for gay marriage. They weren’t ready for the wave of legal and illegal immigration that redefined American demographics over the past two or three decades, bringing in lots of nonwhites. They weren’t ready — who was? — for the brutal effects of globalization on working- and middle-class Americans or the devastating fallout from the financial crisis.

Their representatives didn’t stop Obamacare. And their side didn’t “take back America” in 2012 as Fox News and conservative radio personalities led them to believe they would. They feel the culture is running away from them (and they’re mostly right). They lack the power to control their own government. But they still have just enough to shut it down.

Animosity toward the federal government has been intensifying at a stunning rate. In a survey released on Sept. 23, Gallup found that the percentage of Republicans saying the federal government has too much power — 81 percent — had reached a record-setting level.

The movement to the right on the part of the Republican electorate can be seen in Gallup surveys calculating that the percentage of Republicans who identify themselves as conservative grew between 2002 and 2010 by 10 percentage points, from 62 to 72 percent. During the same period, the percentage of Republicans who identify themselves as moderates fell from 31 to 23 percent.

These trends date back to the 1970s. Surveys conducted by American National Election Studies found that the percentage of self-described conservative Republicans rose from 42 in 1972 to 65 percent in 2008, while the percentage of moderate Republicans fell from 26 to 16 percent. Liberal Republicans — remember them? — fell from 10 to 4 percent.

Take the findings of a Pew Research Center survey released four weeks ago. They show that discontent with Republican House and Senate leaders runs deep among Republican primary voters: two-thirds of them disapprove of their party’s Congressional leadership — John Boehner, the speaker of the House, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader.

Sometimes you have to turn to the know-your-enemy people to understand what’s going on. The Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner is one of the keenest observers of the contemporary Republican electorate. He is conducting an ongoing study called the “The Republican Party Project” for the liberal nonprofit organization Democracy Corps. Greenberg’s premise is that “you cannot understand the government shutdown unless you understand the G.O.P. from the inside.”

Greenberg puts Republicans into three categories (Figure 1): evangelical and religiously observant voters (47 percent); libertarian-leaning Tea Party supporters (22 percent); and moderates (25 percent).

Last week Greenberg released the results of six focus groups conducted with evangelical and other religiously observant Republicans (in Roanoke, Va., and Colorado Springs, Colo.), Tea Party supporters who are not evangelicals (Raleigh, N.C., and Roanoke), and moderate Republicans (Raleigh and Colorado Springs).

One of the key factors pushing Republicans to extremes, according to Greenberg’s report, is the intensity of animosity toward Obama. This animosity among participants in all six focus groups is reflected in Figure 2, which represents a “word cloud” of focus group references to the president, with the size of each word in the cloud proportional to the frequency with which it was used.

In the six focus groups of Republican voters, according to Greenberg’s report, “few explicitly talk about Obama in racial terms,” but the base supporters are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities. Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities. Race remains very much alive in the politics of the Republican Party.

Voters like this, according to the report, are convinced that they have lost the larger battle:

While many voters, including plenty of Democrats, question whether Obama is succeeding and getting his agenda done, Republicans think he has won. The country as a whole may think gridlock has triumphed, particularly in the midst of a Republican-led government shutdown, but Republicans see a president who has fooled and manipulated the public, lied, and gotten his secret socialist-Marxist agenda done. Republicans and their kind of Americans are losing.

In his report for the Democracy Corps, Greenberg describes the Republican base electorate as fearful of being strategically outmaneuvered:

They think they face a victorious Democratic Party that is intent on expanding government to increase dependency and therefore electoral support. It starts with food stamps and unemployment benefits; expands further if you legalize the illegals; but insuring the uninsured dramatically grows those dependent on government. They believe this is an electoral strategy — not just a political ideology or economic philosophy. If Obamacare happens, the Republican Party may be lost, in their view.

Conservative troops blame moderate Republican for what they see as Democratic victories. The Republican base thinks they are losing politically and losing control of the country – and their starting reaction is “worried,” “discouraged,” “scared,” and “concerned” about the direction of the country – and a little powerless to change course. They think Obama has imposed his agenda, while Republicans in D.C. let him get away with it.

Figure 3 represents a second word cloud generated by Greenberg’s data showing which words came up most often in all six focus groups:

Greenberg’s study found that in the view of many, if not most, Republicans the Democratic Party exists to create programs and dependency – the food stamp hammock, entitlements, the 47 percent. And on the horizon — comprehensive immigration reform and Obamacare. Citizenship for 12 million illegals and tens of million getting free health care is the end of the road.

“These voters think they are losing the country,” Greenberg said during an Oct. 3 conference call with reporters.

Among Greenberg’s other findings from his focus groups:

  • The participants “are very conscious of being white in a country that is increasingly minority.”
  • Republican voters are threatened by Obama and the Democratic Party, but they are angry at their own party leaders. “The problem in D.C. is not gridlock; Obama has won; the problem is Republicans failing to stop him.”
  • Together, evangelicals and Tea Party supporters comprise more than half the party. Moderates, about a quarter of Republicans, “are very conscious of being illegitimate within their own party.”

The evangelical and Tea Party wings of the Republican Party combine into a clear majority of Republican voters, and according to Greenberg, they have a mutually reinforcing relationship:

Social issues are central for Evangelicals and they feel a deep sense of cultural and political loss. They believe their towns, communities, and schools are suffering from a deep “culture rot” that has invaded from the outside. The central focus here is homosexuality, but also the decline of homogenous small towns. They like the Tea Party because they stand up to the Democrats.

Tea Party supporters, according to Greenberg’s research, have a more libertarian edge, but their worldview is compatible with the evangelical agenda:

Big government, Obama, the loss of liberty, and decline of responsibility are central to the Tea Party worldview. Obama’s America is an unmitigated evil based on big government, regulations, and dependency. They are not focused on social issues at all. They like the Tea Party because it is getting “back to basics” and believe it has the potential to reshape the G.O.P.

John Boehner is just the kind of Republican leader the hard right dislikes – a deal maker, a compromiser. The Republican primary electorate, with its hold on a solid block of Republican representatives and its ability to recruit and promote challengers, now has Boehner trapped. Personally inclined to find his way out of the face-to-face confrontation – he is, after all, a career politician loath to shut down the government — Boehner has been forced into a confrontation, with less and less room for negotiation with his own party’s warring flanks and with Democrats.

Two days after Obama’s re-election, when Republicans lost eight seats but retained their House majority (232 to 200, with three vacancies), Boehner was asked by Diane Sawyer on ABC, “You have said next year that you would repeal the health care vote. That’s still your mission?” Boehner replied: “Well, I think the election changes that. It’s pretty clear that the president was re-elected, Obamacare is the law of the land.”

That same day, Michael O’Brien of NBC News suggested that

The speaker’s pronouncement, if nothing else, signifies a pivot away from Republicans’ efforts to showcase for conservatives their doggedness in looking to repeal Obamacare.

Nearly a year later, on Oct. 6, Boehner admitted that he had been forced to capitulate by constituent pressures on Republican members of the House. Appearing again on ABC, this time with George Stephanopoulos, Boehner said, “I and my members decided the threat of Obamacare and what was happening was so important that it was time for us to take a stand.”

Stephanopoulos asked, “Did you decide it or was it decided for you?” Boehner’s answer: I, working with my members, decided to do this in a unified way. George, I have 233 Republicans in the House. And you’ve never seen a more dedicated group of people who are thoroughly concerned about the future of our country. They believe that Obamacare, all these regulations coming out of the administration, are threatening the future for our kids and our grandkids. It is time for us to stand and fight.

A determined minority can do a lot in our system. It has already won the battle for the hearts and minds of the Republican House caucus. That is not a modest victory.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/08/anger-can-be-power/?nl=opinion&emc=edit_ty_20131009

Jonathan Haidt Explains Our Contentious Culture

Bill Moyers – transcript – February 3, 2012

Excerpt

BILL MOYERS interviews Jonathan Haidt, author of book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Jonathan Haidt has made his reputation as a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, where he and his colleagues explore reason and intuition, why people disagree so passionately and how the moral mind works. They post their research on the website yourmorals.org.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. People I meet on the left, on the right and in the middle agree on one thing: our country is in a mess, and our politics are not making it betterBut as the ship of state is sinking, the crew is at each other’s throats, too busy fighting to plug the holes and pump out the water. And everything’s been made rotten by the toxic rancor and demonizing that have shredded civil discourse and devastated our ability to govern ourselves…

JONATHAN HAIDT: …liberals are much higher than conservatives on a major personality trait called “openness to experience.” People who are high on openness to experience just crave novelty, variety, diversity, new ideas, travel. People low on it like things that are familiar, that are safe and dependable. If you know about this trait you can understand a lot of puzzles about human behavior…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Anytime we’re interacting with someone, we’re judging them, we’re sharing expectations, we think they didn’t live up to those expectations. So, in analyzing any social situation you have to understand moral psychology. Our moral sense really evolved to bind groups together into teams that can cooperate in order to compete with other teams.

So, some situations will sort of ramp up that tribal us-versus-them mentality. Nothing gets us together like a foreign attack. And we’ve seen that, 9/11, and Pearl Harbor. And, conversely, when there are moral divisions within the group, and no external attack, the tribalism can ramp up, and reach really pathological proportions. And that’s where we are now.

JONATHAN HAIDT: …tribalism evolved, ultimately, for war. And when it reaches a certain intensity, that’s when, sort of, the switches flip, the other side is evil, they’re not just our opponents, they’re evil. And once you think they’re evil, then the ends justify the means. And you can break laws, and you can do anything, because it’s in the service of fighting evil.

BILL MOYERS: When I saw the title of your book, The Righteous Mind,” I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.” Because you point out that the derivative, the root of the word righteous is an old English world that does mean just, upright and virtuous. Then it gets picked up and used in Hebrew to translate the word describing people who act in accordance with God’s wishes, and it becomes an attribute of God, and of God’s judgment on people. So the righteous mind becomes a harsh judge…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Our minds evolved not just to help us find the truth about how things work… But in the social world, our minds are not designed to figure out who really did what to whom. They are finely tuned navigational machines to work through a complicated social network, in which you’ve got to maintain your alliances, and your reputation. And as Machiavelli told us long ago, it matters far more what people think of you than what the reality is. And we are experts at manipulating our self-presentation. So, we’re so good at it, that we actually believe the nonsense that we say to other people.

BILL MOYERS: So, take the subtitle. Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Why are they? And what does the righteous mind have to do with it?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Politics has always been about coalitions and teams fighting each other. But those teams, those teams were never evenly divided on morality. Now, well, basically it all started, as you well know, on the day Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act

BILL MOYERS: He actually said to me that evening, “I think we’ve just turned the South over to the Republican Party for the rest of my life, and yours.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yeah. And he was prescient, that’s exactly what happened. So there was this anomaly for the 20th Century that both parties were coalitions of different regions, and interest groups. But there were liberal Republicans, there were conservative Democrats. So the two teams, they had, they were people whose moralities could meet up. Even though they were playing on different teamsfor the first time we have an ideologically pure division of the parties. And now, this groupish tribalism, which is usually not so destructive, we can usually, you know, when you leave the playing field, you can still meet up, and be friends. But now that it truly is a moral division, now the other side is evil. And there’s nobody, there aren’t really pairs of people who can match up, and say, well, come on. We all agree on this, let’s work together.

BILL MOYERS You remind me that when we set out to try to pass the Civil Rights Act of ’64, and the Voting Rights Act of ’65, LBJ commissioned us to go spend much of our time with the moderate Republicans in the HouseEverett Dirksen, the senior Republican from Illinois and the leader of the Republican minority in the Senate and he was the one who, in the critical moments, brought a number of moderate Republicans to vote for the Civil Rights bill. You’re saying that was a deciding moment, a defining moment?

JONATHAN HAIDT: So there are three major historical facts, or changes, that have gotten us into the mess that we’re in. So the first is the realignment of the South into the Republican column, which allowed both parties now to be pure. So that now there are basically no liberal Republicans matching up with conservative Democrats. So, the parties are totally separated. The second thing that happened was the replacement of the Greatest Generation by the Baby Boomers.

BILL MOYERS: The Greatest Generation fought World War II. Came home. Built the country, ran the economy. People’s politics, and, created this consensual government your talking–

JONATHAN HAIDT: Exactly. These are people who joined groups, had a sense of civic responsibility, participated in the democratic process. And so these people, as they moved through. I mean, they could disagree. Politics has always been contentious. But at the end of the day, they felt they were part of the same country, and in the Senate and the House, they were part of the same institution. They’re replaced by the Baby Boomers. And what’s their foundational experience?

It’s not responding together to a foreign threat. It’s fighting each other over whether this country is doing evil, or good. So you get the good/evil dichotomy about America, and about each other happening in the ’60s, and ’70s, when these people grow up, assume political office. Now, you got Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. It’s a lot harder for them to agree than it was for Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, the Baby Boomers, I think, are more prone to Manichaean thinking….Good and evil…. Manichaeus was a, I think, third century Persian prophet, who preached that the world is a battleground between the forces of light, and the forces of darkness. And everybody has to take a side. And some people have sided with good, and of course, we all believe that we’ve sided with good. But that means that the other people have sided with evil…

And when it gets so that your opponents are not just people you disagree with, but when it gets to the mental state in which I am fighting for good, and you are fighting for evil, it’s very difficult to compromise. Compromise becomes a dirty word.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right, that’s right. Because once you’ve crossed over from normal political disagreement into Manichaean good versus evil, to compromise, I mean, we say, you know, his ethics were compromised, you don’t compromise with evil. Now, I think it’s especially an issue for Republicans because they are better at doing, sort of, tribal team based loyalties. The data we have at yourmorals.org shows that conservatives score much higher on this foundation of loyalty, groupishness

JONATHAN HAIDT: The Republicans can hang together better. And part of it is, they’re better at drawing lines and saying, ‘I will not go over this line.’

BILL MOYERS: But governing is all about brokering compromise…You cannot in a pluralistic, multicultural society with all the different beliefs, have a mantra that unites us all. You’ve got to broker compromise.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, it depends what perspective you’re taking. If you’re looking at the good of the nation, you’re absolutely right. But for competition within the nation, taking this hard lined position is working out pretty well for them. So, sure. You can have a hard line against compromise. And especially if the other side can’t get as tough, can’t threaten to break legs, you end up winning.

And I think Democrats are a little weaker here. And certainly Obama took a lot of flack for that, in his negotiation strategy with the Republicans, as far as I can see, he’s never really presented a credible threat. So, they’ve been better off walking away from the table.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, but the country suffers, doesn’t it, when-

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes. Absolutely-

BILL MOYERS: Boehner and the Republicans think it’s immoral to compromise, and Obama thinks it’s immoral not to compromise?…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Obama is such a great orator and wowed so many of us in the campaign. But then, once he was elected, you know, he’s been focusing on the terrific, terrible problems that he’s had to deal with. But I think he has not made the moral case that would back up the arguments from the politicians in Washington.

I think the Democrats need to be developing a credible argument about fairness, capitalism, American history. They need to be developing this master narrative so that when they then have an argument on a particular issue, it’ll resonate with people. And they’re not doing that. But the Republicans have.

…The third is that America has gone from being a nation with localities that were diverse by class, in particular, let’s say. You had rich people, and poor people living together.

It’s become, in the post-war world, gradually a nation of lifestyle enclaves, where people chose to self-segregate. If people are concentrating just with people who are like them, then they’re not exposed to the ideas from the other side, from people that they can actually like and respect. If you get all your ideas about the other side from the internet, where there’s no human connection, it’s just so easy, and automatic to reject it, and demonize it. So once we’ve sorted ourselves into homogeneous moral communities, it becomes a lot harder to work together…

JONATHAN HAIDT: …organizes morality into six moral foundations or concerns….the first one is care, compassion, those sorts of issues, liberals have it turned up to 11…The next two, liberty and fairness, when liberty and fairness conflict with care, are you going to punish someone, or are you going to be compassionate? Liberals are more likely to go with care…. The next three, loyalty, authority and sanctity, what we find, across many questionnaires, many surveys and analyses of texts and sermons, all sorts of things, is that liberals don’t talk a lot about loyalty, you know, group loyalty. They don’t talk a lot about authority and the importance of order and authority, maintaining order. They don’t talk a lot about sanctity. Conservatives on the other hand, what we find is that, they value all of these more or less equally.

And I think this is part of the reason why conservatives have done a much better job of connecting with American morality and convincing people that they are the party of moral values….

on the right, where they do sacralize America, they can’t think about the nuances about how America is not always right, American foreign policy did contribute to 9/11, but you can’t say that because people on the right will see that as sacrilege. So they’re blind. Whereas people on the left have a more nuanced view.

So, you know, everything’s a Rorschach test. As long as there’s any ambiguity, one side will see the things that damn it, the other side will see the things that praise it….I think something is wrong with our Democratic and capitalist system. And this is where I think the left has really fallen down in articulating what’s wrong. The right has been extremely effective and has funded think tanks that have made the case very powerfully for what’s good about capitalism.

And they’re right. I mean, without capitalism, without free markets, we would not have the massive wealth that supports you and me and everyone else who doesn’t physically make stuff. But since you need the push and pull, you need the give and take. You need the yin and yang. You need a good argument against that view. And I think it needs to be an argument about how capitalism, yes, it is good. But it only works under certain conditions…

JONATHAN HAIDT: …cooperation and competition are opposite sides of the same coin. And we’ve gotten this far because we cooperate to compete. So you can say that liberals are more accurate or in touch with how the system works. But I would say they’re more in touch with some aspects of how systems go awry and oppress some people, ignore other people. Liberals see some aspects of where the social system breaks down. And conservatives see others. You have to have consequences following bad behavior. That is as basic an aspect of system design as any. And that’s one where conservatives see it much more clearly than liberals…

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, well, how do we do that when, in fact, there’s a great advantage to one side or the other side to demonize the enemy? And here, you know, you bring us right to Newt Gingrich and his career.

BILL MOYERS: In 1990, Newt Gingrich was chairman of something called GOPAC, which was a conservative political action committee. And he issued a memo to the members, the conservative members of that organization about words that conservatives should use to describe themselves and words they should use to describe Democrats and liberals.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Abuse of power, betray, bizarre, corrupt, criminal rights, cheat, devour, disgrace, greed, steal, sick, traitors, radical, red tape, unionized, waste, welfarehe had words there that touch all six of the foundations

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. It can because that makes you stronger in the contest within the group. Within the nation your side can beat the other side if you demonize, but it makes the nation weaker. Most of our politics is driven by the people at the extremes, the people who have these dispositions fairly strongly, get passionate, get engaged, give money, blog, argue. Those people rarely cross over. So, but most Americans are not that politically engaged, and they’re the ones that decide the elections. So, since most people aren’t extreme either way in their basic disposition, they’re up for grabs. And, whichever party can connect with their moral values. And this is where I think again, the Democrats have not fully understood moral psychology. I listen to them in election after election, especially 2000, 2004, saying, ‘We’ve got this policy for you. We’re going to give you more support,’ as though politics is shopping.

As though, ‘Come, you know, buy from us. We’ve got a better deal for you.’ The Democrats, I find, have not been as good at understanding that politics is really religion. Politics is about sacredness. Politics is about offering a vision that will bind the nation together to pursue greatness. And Republicans since Ronald Reagan have been really good at that…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Something we need to talk about here is what’s called the confirmation bias. That is, you might think that our reasoning is designed to find the truth. And if you want to find the truth, you should look on both sides of a proposition. But in fact what happens is, when someone gives you a proposition, our minds, we send them out, we sent them out to do research for us..

The only cure for the confirmation bias is other people.

So, if you bring people together who disagree, and they have a sense of friendship, family, having something in common, having an institution to preserve, they can challenge each other’s reason. And this is the way the scientific world is supposed to work.

And this is the way it does work in almost every part of it. You know, I’ve got my theory, and I’m really good at justifying it. But fortunately there’s peer review, and there’s lots of people are really good at undercutting it. And saying, “Well, what about this phenomenon? You didn’t account for that.”

And we worked together even if we don’t want to, we end up being forced to work together, challenging each other’s confirmation biases, and truth emerges… Wisdom comes out of a group of people well-constituted who have some faith or trust in each other. That’s what our political institutions used to do, but they don’t do anymore.

BILL MOYERS: You’re helping me to understand this fundamental dichotomy in American political life, the- a country that mythologizes the rugged individual…But a country that’s now governed by dogmatic group politics, right?

JONATHAN HAIDT: … once you see the basic dynamic of human life is individuals competing with individuals, but when necessary, coming together so that the group can compete with the group. So it’s perfectly consistent for the right to worship rugged individualism at the individual level and to see government and especially government safety nets and nanny states as deeply immoral because it undercuts rugged individualism.

JONATHAN HAIDT:… The problem is that government, whoever has the reins of government uses it for moralistic purposes…

Full text

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. People I meet on the left, on the right and in the middle agree on one thing: our country is in a mess, and our politics are not making it better. The problems seem insurmountable, three times last year congress came close to shutting down the government. In August, we almost defaulted on our more than $14 trillion debt, which could skyrocket even further if the Bush tax cuts are continued and spending is untouched at year’s end.

But as the ship of state is sinking, the crew is at each other’s throats, too busy fighting to plug the holes and pump out the water. And everything’s been made rotten by the toxic rancor and demonizing that have shredded civil discourse and devastated our ability to govern ourselves. Just look at the ugliness of the election campaign. So we’re left with paralysis, dysfunction, and a whole lot of rage.

On that cheery note, listen to this fellow. I first saw him on the website TED.com, that stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design.” It’s the non-profit that brings together some of our most creative and provocative thinkers.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Suppose that two American friends are traveling together in Italy. They go to see Michelangelo’s David. And when they finally come face to face with the statue, they both freeze dead in their tracks. The first guy, we’ll call him Adam, is transfixed by the beauty of the perfect human form. The second guy, we’ll call him Bill, is transfixed by embarrassment of staring at the thing there in the center. So here’s my question for you: which one of these two guys was more likely to have voted for George Bush? Which for Al Gore? I don’t need a show of hands because we all have the same political stereotypes, we all know that it’s Bill. And in this case the stereotype corresponds to a reality. It really is a fact that liberals are much higher than conservatives on a major personality trait called “openness to experience.” People who are high on openness to experience just crave novelty, variety, diversity, new ideas, travel. People low on it like things that are familiar, that are safe and dependable.

 

If you know about this trait you can understand a lot of puzzles about human behavior. You can understand why artists are so different from accountants, you can actually predict what kinds of books they like to read, what kinds of places they like to travel to and what kinds of foods they like to eat. Once you understand this trait you can understand why anybody would eat at Applebee’s, but not anybody that you know.

 

BILL MOYERS: Jonathan Haidt has taken the core of that speech which you can see at our website BillMoyers.com, and turned it into an important and timely book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, to be published in March. His ideas are controversial but they make you think. Haidt says, for example, that liberals misunderstand conservatives more than the other way around, and that while conservatives see self-sufficiency as a profound moral value for individuals, liberals are more focused on a public code of care and equity.

 

Jonathan Haidt has made his reputation as a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, where he and his colleagues explore reason and intuition, why people disagree so passionately and how the moral mind works. They post their research on the website yourmorals.org.

 

Welcome.

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Thank you, Bill.

 

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean righteous mind?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Anytime we’re interacting with someone, we’re judging them, we’re sharing expectations, we think they didn’t live up to those expectations.

 

So, in analyzing any social situation you have to understand moral psychology. Our moral sense really evolved to bind groups together into teams that can cooperate in order to compete with other teams.

 

So, some situations will sort of ramp up that tribal us-versus-them mentality. Nothing gets us together like a foreign attack. And we’ve seen that, 9/11, and Pearl Harbor. And, conversely, when there are moral divisions within the group, and no external attack, the tribalism can ramp up, and reach really pathological proportions. And that’s where we are now.

 

BILL MOYERS: So, but, it’s sort of a tradition to divide into teams. The Giants versus the Patriots. Or the Republicans versus the Democrats. Us versus them, is almost something un-American to suggest that there’s something wrong with that?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: No. Groupishness is generally actually good. A lot of research in social psychology shows that when you divide people into teams, to compete, they love their in-group members a lot more. And the hostility toward out-group members is usually minimal. So sports competitions– and I’m at a big football school, UVA. You know-

 

BILL MOYERS: University of Virginia-

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: University of Virginia. And you know, the other team comes, there’s, you know, some pseudo aggression in the stands. You know, hostile motions. But, you know, that night, there aren’t bar fights, when everybody’s drinking together downtown.

 

That’s the way, sort of, healthy, normal, groupish tribalism works. But, the tribalism evolved, ultimately, for war. And when it reaches a certain intensity, that’s when, sort of, the switches flip, the other side is evil, they’re not just our opponents, they’re evil. And once you think they’re evil, then the ends justify the means. And you can break laws, and you can do anything, because it’s in the service of fighting evil.

 

BILL MOYERS: When I saw the title of your book, The Righteous Mind,” I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.” Because you point out that the derivative, the root of the word righteous is an old English world that does mean just, upright and virtuous. Then it gets picked up and used in Hebrew to translate the word describing people who act in accordance with God’s wishes, and it becomes an attribute of God, and of God’s judgment on people. So the righteous mind becomes a harsh judge.

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. I chose that title in part because we all think, you know, morality is a good thing, justice, ethics. And I wanted to get across the sense that, let’s just look with open eyes at human nature. And right, morality is part of our nature. And morality is, makes us do things that we think are good, but it also makes us do things that we often think are bad. It’s all part of our groupish, tribal, judgmental, hyper-judgmental, hypocritical nature. We are all born to be hypocrites. That’s part of the design.

 

BILL MOYERS: Born to be hypocrites.

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Born to be hypocrites. That’s right.

 

BILL MOYERS: How so?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Our minds evolved not just to help us find the truth about how things work. If you’re navigating through a landscape, sure, you need to know, you know, where the dangers are, where the opportunities are. But in the social world, our minds are not designed to figure out who really did what to whom. They are finely tuned navigational machines to work through a complicated social network, in which you’ve got to maintain your alliances, and your reputation.

 

And as Machiavelli told us long ago, it matters far more what people think of you than what the reality is. And we are experts at manipulating our self-presentation. So, we’re so good at it, that we actually believe the nonsense that we say to other people.

 

BILL MOYERS: So, take the subtitle. Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Why are they? And what does the righteous mind have to do with it?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Politics has always been about coalitions and teams fighting each other. But those teams, those teams were never evenly divided on morality. Now, well, basically it all started, as you well know, on the day Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. You tell me what he said on that day. I think I heard you say this once.

 

BILL MOYERS: He actually said to me that evening, “I think we’ve just turned the South over to the Republican Party for the rest of my life, and yours.”

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yeah. And he was prescient, that’s exactly what happened. So there was this anomaly for the 20th Century that both parties were coalitions of different regions, and interest groups. But there were liberal Republicans, there were conservative Democrats. So the two teams, they had, they were people whose moralities could meet up. Even though they were playing on different teams.

 

And once Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and the South, which had been Democrat, because Lincoln had been a Republican, so once they all moved over to the Republican party, and then the moderate Republicans began to lose office in the ’80s, and ’90s, and the last ones going just recently, for the first time we have an ideologically pure division of the parties.

 

And now, this groupish tribalism, which is usually not so destructive, we can usually, you know, when you leave the playing field, you can still meet up, and be friends. But now that it truly is a moral division, now the other side is evil. And there’s nobody, there aren’t really pairs of people who can match up, and say, well, come on. We all agree on this, let’s work together.

 

BILL MOYERS You remind me that when we set out to try to pass the Civil Rights Act of ’64, and the Voting Rights Act of ’65, LBJ commissioned us to go spend much of our time with the moderate Republicans in the House, and in the Senate. Because he said, “When push comes to shove, and when the roll is called, we’re going to need them to pass this bill.” And at one point, in the signing of one of those bills, he turned and handed the pen to Everett Dirksen, the senior Republican from Illinois and the leader of the Republican minority in the Senate and he was the one who, in the critical moments, brought a number of moderate Republicans to vote for the Civil Rights bill. You’re saying that was a deciding moment, a defining moment?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: So there are three major historical facts, or changes, that have gotten us into the mess that we’re in. So the first is the realignment of the South into the Republican column, which allowed both parties now to be pure. So that now there are basically no liberal Republicans matching up with conservative Democrats. So, the parties are totally separated. The second thing that happened was the replacement of the Greatest Generation by the Baby Boomers.

 

BILL MOYERS: The Greatest Generation fought World War II. Came home. Built the country, ran the economy. People’s politics, and, created this consensual government your talking–

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Exactly. These are people who joined groups, had a sense of civic responsibility, participated in the democratic process. And so these people, as they moved through. I mean, they could disagree. Politics has always been contentious. But at the end of the day, they felt they were part of the same country, and in the Senate and the House, they were part of the same institution. They’re replaced by the Baby Boomers. And what’s their foundational experience?

 

It’s not responding together to a foreign threat. It’s fighting each other over whether this country is doing evil, or good. So you get the good/evil dichotomy about America, and about each other happening in the ’60s, and ’70s, when these people grow up, assume political office. Now, you got Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. It’s a lot harder for them to agree than it was for Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan.

 

BILL MOYERS: So we get through the culture wars. Fights over abortion, prayer in schools. And that conflict becomes very polarizing.

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Exactly.

 

BILL MOYERS: And that’s because of the Baby Boomers, and-

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, the Baby Boomers, I think, are more prone to Manichaean thinking.

 

BILL MOYERS: Manichaean thinking. Good and evil.

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. Manichaeus was a, I think, third century Persian prophet, who preached that the world is a battleground between the forces of light, and the forces of darkness. And everybody has to take a side. And some people have sided with good, and of course, we all believe that we’ve sided with good. But that means that the other people have sided with evil.

 

And when it gets so that your opponents are not just people you disagree with, but when it gets to the mental state in which I am fighting for good, and you are fighting for evil, it’s very difficult to compromise. Compromise becomes a dirty word.

 

BILL MOYERS: Let me play you an exchange between House Speaker John Boehner and Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes.” Take a look at this.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: We have to govern, that’s what we were elected to do.

LESLEY STAHL: But governing means compromising.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: It means working together.

LESLEY STAHL: It also means compromising.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: It means finding common ground.

LESLEY STAHL: Ok, is that compromising?

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Let me be clear I am not going to compromise on my principles, nor am I going to compromise the will of the American people.

LESLEY STAHL: You’re saying “I want common ground but I’m not going to compromise.” I don’t understand that, I really don’t.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: When you say the word compromise, a lot of Americans look up and go, ‘oh, oh, they’re going to sell me out.’ And so finding common ground, I think, makes more sense.

LESLEY STAHL: I reminded him that his goal had been to get all the Bush tax cuts made permanent. So you did compromise.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: We found common ground.

LESLEY STAHL: Why won’t you say– you’re afraid of the word!

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: I reject the word.

BILL MOYERS: He could barely say the word compromise.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right, that’s right. Because once you’ve crossed over from normal political disagreement into Manichaean good versus evil, to compromise, I mean, we say, you know, his ethics were compromised, you don’t compromise with evil. Now, I think it’s especially an issue for Republicans because they are better at doing, sort of, tribal team based loyalties. The data we have at yourmorals.org shows that conservatives score much higher on this foundation of loyalty, groupishness. And the Republican, I mean, which job would you rather have in Congress? The Republican whip or the Democratic whip? You know?

BILL MOYERS: Right.

JONATHAN HAIDT: The Republicans can hang together better. And part of it is, they’re better at drawing bright lines and saying, ‘I will not go over this line.’

BILL MOYERS: But governing is all about brokering compromise.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes, absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: You cannot in a pluralistic, multicultural society with all the different beliefs, have a mantra that unites us all. You’ve got to broker compromise.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, it depends what perspective you’re taking. If you’re looking at the good of the nation, you’re absolutely right. But for competition within the nation, taking this hard lined position is working out pretty well for them. So, sure. You can have a hard line against compromise. And especially if the other side can’t get as tough, can’t threaten to break legs, you end up winning.

And I think Democrats are a little weaker here. And certainly Obama took a lot of flack for that, in his negotiation strategy with the Republicans, as far as I can see, he’s never really presented a credible threat. So, they’ve been better off walking away from the table.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, but the country suffers, doesn’t it, when-

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes. Absolutely-

BILL MOYERS: Boehner and the Republicans think it’s immoral to compromise, and Obama thinks it’s immoral not to compromise?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, that’s true. I would say Obama could’ve done a much better job with his negotiating strategy.

BILL MOYERS: By?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Obama is such a great orator and wowed so many of us in the campaign. But then, once he was elected, you know, he’s been focusing on the terrific, terrible problems that he’s had to deal with. But I think he has not made the moral case that would back up the arguments from the politicians in Washington.

I think the Democrats need to be developing a credible argument about fairness, capitalism, American history. They need to be developing this master narrative so that when they then have an argument on a particular issue, it’ll resonate with people. And they’re not doing that. But the Republicans have.

BILL MOYERS: So the Greatest Generation disappears. The Boomers come along. The Civil Rights fight divides the country. And the third one?

JONATHAN HAIDT: The third is that America has gone from being a nation with localities that were diverse by class, in particular, let’s say. You had rich people, and poor people living together.

It’s become, in the post-war world, gradually a nation of lifestyle enclaves, where people chose to self-segregate. If people are concentrating just with people who are like them, then they’re not exposed to the ideas from the other side, from people that they can actually like and respect. If you get all your ideas about the other side from the internet, where there’s no human connection, it’s just so easy, and automatic to reject it, and demonize it. So once we’ve sorted ourselves into homogeneous moral communities, it becomes a lot harder to work together.

BILL MOYERS: This gets us to the, what you talk about in the book, consensual hallucinations.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Right.

BILL MOYERS: What’s that?

JONATHAN HAIDT: So I assume many viewers have seen the movie “The Matrix” and, or, one of those movies. And, it’s a conceit in the science fiction book that the matrix is a consensual hallucination generated by computers and that we all live in it.

BILL MOYERS: Right.

JONATHAN HAIDT: And I think this is a brilliant social psych metaphor. Back when we all encountered people of the other party, you couldn’t have a consensual hallucination that wasn’t interrupted by other people.

But once we can all live in these lifestyle enclaves, we only watch certain TV shows, we only go to certain websites, we only meet people like us, the matrix gets so closed in that each side here lives in a separate moral universe with its own facts, its own experts. And there’s no way to get into the other matrix, to just throw, you can’t just throw arguments or scientific studies at them and say, ‘Here conservatives, deal with this finding.’

It’s not going to do anything. And conversely, they throw it back at you. We all feel as though we’re living in reality. But them, they’re caught up in this matrix. They’re in la-la land. But we’re all in la-la land. If you are part of a partisan community, if you’re part of any community that has come together to pursue moral ends, you are in a moral matrix.

BILL MOYERS: My side is right, your side is wrong. Just ipso facto, right?

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: Let me get some clarity on one of your basic foundations here. Your research in the book, you and your associates, organizes morality into six moral foundations or concerns. Sketch them briefly and tell me how liberals and conservatives differ on each of them.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Sure. So, if you imagine each of our righteous minds as being, like an audio equalizer with six slider switches, and the first one is care, compassion, those sorts of issues, liberals have it turned up to 11. And we have this on a lot of different surveys. Liberals really feel. When they see an animal being mistreated, they’re more likely to feel something than conservatives, and especially than libertarians, who are very, very low on this one.

JONATHAN HAIDT: The next two, liberty and fairness, when liberty and fairness conflict with care, are you going to punish someone, or are you going to be compassionate? Liberals are more likely to go with care.

JONATHAN HAIDT: In other words, care trumps liberty and fairness, even though everybody cares about all three of those. The next three, loyalty, authority and sanctity, what we find, across many questionnaires, many surveys and analyses of texts and sermons, all sorts of things, is that liberals don’t talk a lot about loyalty, you know, group loyalty. They don’t talk a lot about authority and the importance of order and authority, maintaining order. They don’t talk a lot about sanctity. Conservatives on the other hand, what we find is that, they value all of these more or less equally.

And I think this is part of the reason why conservatives have done a much better job of connecting with American morality and convincing people that they are the party of moral values.

BILL MOYERS: Let’s get down to some brass tacks, or brass knuckles as one might want to say. There’s so much anger and incivility in our politics today. And the twain do not seem able to meet.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: You have a lot of photographs of both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street that get at how moral psychology divides us, just-

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: Walk me through some of these.

JONATHAN HAIDT: The first step that we all need to take is to understand that the other side is not crazy. They’re not holding their position just because they’ve been bribed or because they’re racist or whatever evil motives you want to attribute.

JONATHAN HAIDT: So what I’m hoping my book will do is kind of give people almost a decoding manual so they can look at anything from the other side and instead of saying, ‘See, this shows how evil they are,’ you say, ‘Oh, okay, I see why they’re saying that.’ All right, so, let’s take, ‘Stop punishing success, stop rewarding failure.’

BILL MOYERS: I remember seeing that at one of the early Tea Party rallies.

JONATHAN HAIDT: So that’s one version of fairness. Fairness adds proportionality.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, if people work hard, they should succeed. If people don’t work hard, they should fail. And if anyone bails them out, that is evil. You should not bail people out who have failed, especially if it’s because of lack of hard work, something like that. So as the right sees it, government is evil because it keeps punishing success, with redistributive policies, okay, take from the successful and give to the unsuccessful.

And it keeps rewarding failure by giving out welfare and other payments to people who aren’t working. So what I’ve found is that fairness is at the heart of both Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. But because the words have different meanings and they relate to additional moral foundations, that’s why they’re really, very, very different moral views.

There was a lot of empathy and caring at Occupy Wall Street. So this sign, “I can’t hurt another without hurting myself.” This is part of the ethos on the left, this is why you get a lot of Buddhists and sort of the Christian left.

It’s a lot of emphasis on care and compassion. When they talk about fairness, it’s in particular, fairness, that will benefit the weak and the poor. So, here’s a sign, “Marching for the meek and weary, hungry and homeless.” “Tax the wealthy, fair and square,” as though because they’re hungry and homeless people, it’s fair to take from them and give to them. Now, I think there are really good arguments for why we need to increase tax rates on the top. But simply saying, ‘Some have and some have not, therefore it’s fair,’ that’s not a moral argument for most Americans.

BILL MOYERS: And what’s the conservative moral position on this?

JONATHAN HAIDT: The conservative moral position is the Protestant work ethic. It’s karma.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean by that?

JONATHAN HAIDT: So karma, karma’s a Sanskrit word, for, literally for work, or fruit. That is, if you do some work, you should get the fruit of it. If I help you, I will eventually get the fruit of it. Even if you don’t help me, something will happen. It’s just a law of the universe. So, Hindus traditionally believed it’s, that the universe will balance itself, right itself. It’s like gravity. If I am lazy, good-for-nothing lying scoundrel, the universe will right that and I will suffer. But then along comes liberal do-gooders and the federal government to bail them out.

So I think the conservative view, for social conservatives this is, is that basically liberals are trying to revoke the law of karma. Almost as though, imagine somebody trying to revoke the law of gravity, and everything’s going to float away into chaos.

BILL MOYERS: All right, let’s go back to Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Flags are everywhere. American flags are everywhere at the Tea Party. And you never see them defaced, modified, touching the ground. At Occupy Wall Street, however, the majority of them had been modified.

So here’s one showing America as a nation taken over by corporations and war. Here’s another one, “Occupy Wall Street, the 99 percent is you.” Now, what this shows, I think, is that at Occupy Wall Street, certainly ‘The flag is not sacred, I think America is not sacred.’ The left tends to be wary of nation states. And this is, I think, a nice example of how sacralization blinds you.

And on the right, where they do sacralize America, they can’t think about the nuances about how America is not always right, American foreign policy did contribute to 9/11, but you can’t say that because people on the right will see that as sacrilege. So they’re blind. Whereas people on the left have a more nuanced view.

So, you know, everything’s a Rorschach test. As long as there’s any ambiguity, one side will see the things that damn it, the other side will see the things that praise it.

BILL MOYERS: But isn’t there reality below that Rorschach test? If Occupy Wall Street is saying, ‘Inequality is growing, the American dream, upward mobility is disappearing. Fifty million people in poverty,’ something’s wrong with our democratic and capitalist system-

JONATHAN HAIDT: And I think something is wrong with our Democratic and capitalist system. And this is where I think the left has really fallen down in articulating what’s wrong. The right has been extremely effective and has funded think tanks that have made the case very powerfully for what’s good about capitalism.

And they’re right. I mean, without capitalism, without free markets, we would not have the massive wealth that supports you and me and everyone else who doesn’t physically make stuff. But since you need the push and pull, you need the give and take. You need the yin and yang. You need a good argument against that view. And I think it needs to be an argument about how capitalism, yes, it is good. But it only works under certain conditions.

There’s a wonderful new book out called The Gardens of Democracy by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer. And they say, ‘Democracy is like a garden. And the capitalist system is like a garden. You can’t just say, ‘Free market, grow as you like.’ You have- it takes some tending.’

And even as Adam Smith knew, only external regulation can prevent externalities, prevent monopolies. You got to have a clear argument about what capitalism is, why it’s good, and how to make it better. And, as I see it, the left hasn’t done that.

BILL MOYERS: Does your research suggest it’s preferable to have a greater moral range?

JONATHAN HAIDT: When I began this work, I was very much a liberal. And over time, in doing the research for my book and in reading a lot of conservative writing, I’ve come to believe that conservative intellectuals actually are more in touch with human nature. They have a more accurate view of human nature.

We need structure. We need families. We need groups. It’s okay to have memberships and rivalries. All that stuff is okay, unless it crosses the threshold into Manichaeism. So I think that it would be very difficult to run a good society without resting much on loyalty, authority and sanctity. I think you need to use those.

BILL MOYERS: But it seems to me that liberals, progressives are more in touch with the nature of the social order. I had an anthropology teacher at the University of Texas who had spent five years amongst the Apaches in West Texas for his graduate work.

And he used both their example and the example through ages of saying, through the long history of human beings, we have accomplished more by cooperation, than we have by competition. And it seems to me that’s the truth that progressives or liberals or whomever you want to call them see that conservatives don’t.

JONATHAN HAIDT: But cooperation and competition are opposite sides of the same coin. And we’ve gotten this far because we cooperate to compete. So you can say that liberals are more accurate or in touch with how the system works. But I would say they’re more in touch with some aspects of how systems go awry and oppress some people, ignore other people. Liberals see some aspects of where the social system breaks down. And conservatives see others. You have to have consequences following bad behavior. That is as basic an aspect of system design as any. And that’s one where conservatives see it much more clearly than liberals.

I think I’m a centrist, in terms of liberal conservative. And I feel like I’m sort of, I sort of, like, stepped out of the game. And now that the game has gotten so deadly, I’m hoping that, in the coming year, I can be the guy saying, ‘Come on, people, just, here, understand the other side so you stop demonizing, and now you can argue more productively.’

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, well, how do we do that when, in fact, there’s a great advantage to one side or the other side to demonize the enemy? And here, you know, you bring us right to Newt Gingrich and his career.

BILL MOYERS: In 1990, Newt Gingrich was chairman of something called GOPAC, which was a conservative political action committee. And he issued a memo to the members, the conservative members of that organization about words that conservatives should use to describe themselves and words they should use to describe Democrats and liberals.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Abuse of power, betray, bizarre, corrupt, criminal rights, cheat, devour, disgrace, greed, steal, sick, traitors, radical, red tape, unionized, waste, welfare. Quote, “The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used.” Those words were used, as you know, quite successfully.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. So two things to say about Gingrich. One is that he’s a screaming hypocrite. But as I said, we’re all hypocrites. That’s part of the design. The other is that he’s a very good moral psychologist. And as I’ve said, the Democrats are generally not.

JONATHAN HAIDT: So he had words there that touch all six of the foundations, you know, from abuse of power to sick and corrupt for the sanctity stuff. So while I’m non-partisan, my big issue is demonizing.

BILL MOYERS: And yet you also acknowledge that demonizing the other can be rewarded politically.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. It can because that makes you stronger in the contest within the group. Within the nation your side can beat the other side if you demonize, but it makes the nation weaker.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Most of our politics is driven by the people at the extremes, the people who have these dispositions fairly strongly, get passionate, get engaged, give money, blog, argue. Those people rarely cross over. So, but most Americans are not that politically engaged, and they’re the ones that decide the elections.

So, since most people aren’t extreme either way in their basic disposition, they’re up for grabs. And, whichever party can connect with their moral values. And this is where I think again, the Democrats have not fully understood moral psychology. I listen to them in election after election, especially 2000, 2004, saying, ‘We’ve got this policy for you. We’re going to give you more support,’ as though politics is shopping.

As though, ‘Come, you know, buy from us. We’ve got a better deal for you.’ The Democrats, I find, have not been as good at understanding that politics is really religion. Politics is about sacredness. Politics is about offering a vision that will bind the nation together to pursue greatness. And Republicans since Ronald Reagan have been really good at that.

BILL MOYERS: At the same time, it can blind you.

BILL MOYERS: It can bind you–

JONATHAN HAIDT: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: -into a tribe, but it can blind the whole tribe.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Absolutely. That’s what we’re stuck with. That’s the nature of moral psychology. You got it.

BILL MOYERS: There’s a chapter called “Vote For Me, Here’s Why.” Let me run down a series of points you make in that chapter, and get your short take on what you want us to take away from that. Quote, “We’re all intuitive politicians.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. So a politician is always asking the question, ‘How am I doing?’ As Mayor Koch used to say. That’s what we always want to know. And so when we interact with people we’re intuitively we’re like politicians, out to get their vote. Out to make them like us, make them be impressed by us. Who knows if they could be useful to us in the future.

So we say one thing to one person, one thing to another. We change our views, our attitudes. Oh, did you like that movie? Oh, I hated it because I know that he hated it, oh yes, I loved it, because I know that she liked it. We do this all the time. And we don’t even know we’re doing it.

So many people think, ‘Oh, you know, I dance to, I move to my own drum. I, you know, I’m independent. I’m a maverick.’ People think that about themselves. But research shows that even people who think that about themselves are just as influenced by what other people think of them. Basically we are clueless and hypocritical about ourselves. We’re actually moderately accurate in our predictions of other people. Our blindness is about ourselves.

BILL MOYERS: Quote, “We are obsessed with polls.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: Once again, what we really want to know is what others think of us. The research shows that when you give people the opportunity to cheat, in a way where they can get away with it, because there’s no reputational consequence, most people cheat.

Other research shows that philosophers, and moral philosophers are no better than anyone else. So we all think that we’re going to behave, we’re going to have this inner moral compass. But really what we’re most concerned with is what’s this going to do to my poll numbers.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah. I remember, you quote somebody’s research in here, that they looked into how often books on ethics were taken out of the library, and not returned. And it was a very high ratio. And often by moral philosophers, or teachers of ethics. Right.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Eric Schwitzgebel, a philosopher, looked at how often books had not been returned, from lots of libraries. And, right, the ethics books were more likely to have been not returned than other philosophy books. My guess is that moral philosophers are extremely expert in coming up with justifications for whatever they want to do.

BILL MOYERS: This one hit me personally. Quote, “Our in-house press secretary automatically justifies everything.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. When someone accuses you of something, you can’t help it. Instantly, your mind is off and running, drafting the press release to explain how, while it might look like I was hypocritical, but actually, so, we just, this is the way we think automatically. And again, it’s part of this sort of Machiavellian psychology.

BILL MOYERS: Quote, “We lie, cheat, and justify so well that we honestly believe we’re honest.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: Everybody believes they’re above average in honesty. But in fact, again, the studies show that when you give people a chance to cheat, literally the majority take advantage of it.

They’ll fudge a number here, or they’ll go over-time. They’ll change an answer on a test, if, say, they get paid more money for getting more correct answers, for example. And the amazing thing is they’re able to justify it. They’re… they walk out of there thinking that they didn’t cheat and lie.

BILL MOYERS: Quote, “Reasoning and Google can take you wherever you want to go.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: Something we need to talk about here is what’s called the confirmation bias. That is, you might think that our reasoning is designed to find the truth. And if you want to find the truth, you should look on both sides of a proposition. But in fact what happens is, when someone gives you a proposition, our minds, we send them out, we sent them out to do research for us.

But it’s research, like, as a lawyer does, or as a press secretary would do, it’s like, ‘Find me one piece of evidence that will support this claim that I want to make.’ And if I can find one piece of evidence, I’m done. I can stop thinking. Well, that’s the way we’ve been for millions of years. And, well, hundreds of thousands of years.

And suddenly Google comes along. You don’t have to do any research. You just type it in. You know, “I think Obama, was Obama born in Kenya?” Just type it in. You’ll find hits. You know, “Is global warming a hoax?” Type it, you’ll find hits. So Google can basically solve your needs for confirmation, 24 hours a day.

BILL MOYERS: Quote, “We can believe almost anything that supports our team.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. So it’s bad enough when we’re cheating and dissembling and manipulating things for our own benefit, but when we’re doing it for our team it somehow is even more honorable, and easier to do. And this brings us right back to the culture war. People can believe any kind of crazy nonsense they want.

If you hated George Bush, when he was President, and somebody would give you an argument. I mean, you, it just seems automatically compelling. And you don’t have to think very hard, conversely, now, about Barack Obama. So, all these things I’m saying. These biases of reasoning, that are so obvious at the personal level, when you ramp them up to the group level they get even more severe.

BILL MOYERS: This one took me aback, because it flies right in the face of my predisposition. “Anyone who values truth should stop worshiping reason.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: The idea of sacredness, the idea of sacralizing something. What I see as an academic, and as a philosophy major as an undergrad, is there are a lot of people in the academic world that sac- they think, oh, you know, no sacred cows. We shouldn’t sacralize anything.

But they sacralize reason itself, as though reason is this noble attribute, reason is our highest nature. And if we could just reason, we will solve our problems. All right, that sounds good on paper. But given all the stuff I just told you about what psychologists have discovered about reason, reasoning is not good at finding the truth. Conscious verbal reasoning is really good at confirming.

We’re really good lawyers. So what this means is that if you sacralize reason itself, you are first of all wrong about it. And as I say in the book, follow the sacredness. Wherever people sacralize something, there you will find ignorance, blindness to the truth, and resistance to evidence.

BILL MOYERS: So what does, what did the Hebrew prophet mean when he said, “Come now, and let us reason together.” Are you saying we can’t get at the truth that way?

JONATHAN HAIDT: No. That actually is very wise. Because what I’m saying here is that individual reasoning is post-hoc, and justificatory. Individual reasoning is not reliable because of the confirmation bias. The only cure for the confirmation bias is other people.

So, if you bring people together who disagree, and they have a sense of friendship, family, having something in common, having an institution to preserve, they can challenge each other’s reason. And this is the way the scientific world is supposed to work.

And this is the way it does work in almost every part of it. You know, I’ve got my theory, and I’m really good at justifying it. But fortunately there’s peer review, and there’s lots of people are really good at undercutting it. And saying, “Well, what about this phenomenon? You didn’t account for that.”

And we worked together even if we don’t want to, we end up being forced to work together, challenging each other’s confirmation biases, and truth emerges. And this is a place where actually I think the Christians have it right, because they’re always talking about how flawed we are. They’re encouraging us to be more modest.

And from my reading, these apostles of reason nowadays, they’re anything but modest. And they think that individuals can reason well. Wisdom comes out of a group of people well-constituted who have some faith or trust in each other. That’s what our political institutions used to do, but they don’t do anymore.

BILL MOYERS: You’re helping me to understand this fundamental dichotomy in American political life, the- a country that mythologizes the rugged individual.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Right.

BILL MOYERS: But a country that’s now governed by dogmatic group politics, right?

JONATHAN HAIDT: So this gets us right into sacredness, one of the dictums of the book is “follow the sacredness.” It, once you see the basic dynamic of human life is individuals competing with individuals, but when necessary, coming together so that the group can compete with the group. So it’s perfectly consistent for the right to worship rugged individualism at the individual level and to see government and especially government safety nets and nanny states as deeply immoral because it undercuts rugged individualism.

But at the same time, for them to be tribal and to come together around a pledge on taxes. Now, Grover Norquist was brilliant in exploiting the psychology of sacredness in making them sign this pledge. Even if many of them knew in their heart it was the wrong thing to do, we’re so concerned about our poll numbers, we’re so concerned about what people think of us, any candidate that said, “No, I’m not going to sign,” you can bet Norquist was going to hold his feet to the fire.

 

And now they’re stuck. And you get that crazy scene in that Republican debate, “If you could work out a deal, $10 of spending cuts for every one dollar of tax increases, would you take it?”

 

BRET BAIER: Say you had a deal, a real spending cuts deal, 10 to one as Byron said. Spending cuts to tax increases. Speaker you’re already shaking your head. But who on this stage would walk away from that deal? Can you raise your hand if you feel so strongly about not raising taxes you’d walk away on the 10 to one deal?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: It’s straight out of all the conformity experiments in social psychology. It’s– you don’t want to look, you don’t want to be the one who stands up and is different. It’s a lot of conformity pressure. A little further out, it’s not just that you’re afraid of being different, it’s that you know what’s waiting for you if you didn’t get your hand up. And that is Grover Norquist and everybody else saying, “He’s going to raise my taxes, he’s going to raise my taxes.”

BILL MOYERS: And you will be ejected from the group.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: You’re not longer in the tribe.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: Out to the wilderness, right-

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. Now, we can go even further back, and this is what I think people on the left have trouble understanding, is the rejection of taxes, this dogmatic attitude about taxes, it’s not just, ‘Oh, I want to keep my money, give me money, I’m greedy,’ it’s that the federal, they’ve seen the federal government, and this begins in the ’30s with Roosevelt, they’ve seen the federal government doing things that they think are evil. That is, the government got into the business of bailing people out when they make mistakes. Now, usually people need help not because they made a mistake. There are important reasons to have a safety net. But welfare policies, and it got even more so in the ’60s, the government began doing things that supported people who were slackers or free-riders.

So as entitlement programs grow, as they begin to do things that are really antithetical to conservative ideas about fairness and responsibility, now government, it’s not hard to see government as evil. And the only way to stop it is to starve the beast.

BILL MOYERS: What’s the Democratic liberal left equivalent of the tax pledge, no new taxes, the group think on one issue that, if you violate it gets you thrown out of the tribe?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Right, well, it’s touchy to talk about, but basically I think the new left, the commitment that was made in the ’60s, was toward victim groups. So it was civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights. Now these were all incredibly important battles that had to be fought. And again, follow the sacredness. If you sacralize these groups, it makes you, it binds you together to fight for them.

 

So the sacralization had to happen, the sacralization of victim groups had to happen to bring the left together to fight what was a truly altruistic and heroic battle. And they won, and things are now better in this country because of that. But, follow the sacredness. Once you’ve sacralized something, you become blind to evidence.

So evidence about, let’s say, how welfare was working, or any other social policy that many of these social policies would backfire. But you can’t see it because you’ve sacralized a group. Anything that seems to be helping that group, anything our group says is going to help them, you go with. So both sides are blind to evidence around their sacred commitments.

BILL MOYERS: I want to go to a very important moment in an early Republican debate that seems to me to go to the heart of what you’re writing about in terms of moral psychology and how the conservatives see it. This was a question to Ron Paul. Let’s play it.

WOLF BLITZER: Let me ask you this hypothetical question. A healthy 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides, you know what? I’m not going to spend $200 or $300 a month for health insurance because I’m healthy, I don’t need it. But, you know, something terrible happens, all of a sudden he needs it. Who’s going to pay for, if he goes into a coma, for example? Who pays for that?

RON PAUL: Well, in a society that you accept welfarism and socialism, he expects the government to take care of him.

WOLF BLITZER: Well, what do you want?

RON PAUL: But what he should do is whatever he wants to do, and assume responsibility for himself. My advice to him would have a major medical policy, but not be forced–

WOLF BLITZER: But he doesn’t have that. He doesn’t have it, and he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?

RON PAUL: That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody–

WOLF BLITZER: But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?

RON PAUL: No.

JONATHAN HAIDT: This is a perfect example of what the culture war has turned into. It’s a battle over ideas about fairness versus compassion. So the reason that that video went viral is because of the applause at the end.

So I got sent this video by a lot of people because, oh, my God, these Republicans are so heartless. They’re so evil and cruel and terrible. But it’s exactly Aesop’s ant and the grasshopper. The grasshopper fiddles away all the summer while the ants are working and working and working, preparing for the winter. The grasshopper says, “Oh, you’re being silly, working so hard.” And then winter comes. The grasshopper comes, knocks on the ants’ door and he’s starving to death, he’s freezing. He says, “Take me in. Feed me.” And as some liberals see it, the point of the ant and the grasshopper and that the ants are supposed to feed the grasshopper. But that’s not what Aesop meant.

And that’s not what most Americans think it means. So what they’re applauding for there and what they’re saying, “Yeah, let him die,” the reason they’re saying that is because they want a world in which karma functions. This guy made a choice. He made a choice to be a free rider. He made a choice to not buy health insurance. And if karma works as it should, no one will pay for it and he will die. Now, if you care, if you value the care foundation, that is extremely cold. But if you value fairness as proportionality, that’s what has to happen.

BILL MOYERS: What did Aesop mean?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Aesop meant, that you better take care of yourself because if you don’t, if you’re lazy and you expect others to take care of you, you deserve to die. You deserve to be left out in the cold. And that’s why welfare has always been so contentious because, on the left, they think it’s doing good bringing money to their sacralized victim groups. But on the right, it’s doing bad because it’s encouraging dependence. It’s discouraging hard work. It’s rotting away the Protestant work ethic. And it’s encouraging irresponsibility. Welfare’s always been an incredibly contentious.

BILL MOYERS: It has been but liberals and progressives are right, are they not, when they say government has been a big force in the development of this country, all the way from infrastructure, canals, and railroads and airports and all of that to the social contract, which prevents elderly people from falling into a life of despair at the end of their years.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. That’s all true. And if the Democrats could make a good, clear case of what the proper role of government is, I think they’d be successful because that’s absolutely right. The problem is that government, whoever has the reins of government uses it for moralistic purposes.

They use it to further their sacred ends. And they use it to channel money and programs and largesse to their favorite groups. So people on the right don’t trust government to do what’s right with their tax dollars. And the left, again, needs to come up with a clear story about what is the proper role of government and what is not. And they need to regain the trust.

BILL MOYERS: But it means that we can never get together to try to resolve it when one party says ‘we won’t compromise’ and the other party says ‘you are evil.’

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. That’s right. So, we’re in a lot of trouble. I don’t see an easy way out here. There are some electoral reforms that would make things better. But the problem is that all electoral reforms will tend to favor one side over the other, which means it’s very difficult to get them enacted.

BILL MOYERS: Well, you’re also asking the very people benefiting from the present status quo system to change what is to their benefit.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: To keep it going.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. So, I mean, my only thoughts about how we can make the kind of end run about this, is we need to develop norms of certain things that are beyond the pale, certain things that are bad. And so, for example, just as we developed our discourse about, say, sexual harassment, you know, when movies and TV shows from the ’60s, it was common. It was laughed at.

But, you know, in just a few decades we’ve come a long way and recognized certain kinds of behaviors are unacceptable. We’ve changed our attitudes about smoking in public. We’ve done all sorts of things like that. We’ve moralized things. I’d like to propose that we moralize two things.

One is demonization. When you have people saying, you can disagree as much as you want, but when you start saying, “They’re only saying that because they’re, you know, they’re a racist or they’re in bed with this company,” or, and even though sometimes that might be true. But we are so prone to dismiss other people and demonize their motives that we’re usually going to be wrong about that. So if we could begin to see this in each other and even challenge each other and say, “Hey, you’re demonizing.” Like, just, you know, disagree with them but stop attributing bad motives to the other side. So if ten years from now people sort of recognize that and could call each other out on in, that would at least be some progress.

The other one is corruption. Until we develop a massive groundswell of public revulsion at the fact that our Congress is bought and paid for, not entirely of course. Many of them are decent people. I don’t want to demonize. I’m sorry. But the nature of the institution is such that they’ve got to raise tons of money. And then they’re responsive to those interests. So perhaps there’s some norms that we could develop that will put some pressure on Congress to clean up its act.

BILL MOYERS: Jonathan Haidt, thank you very much for sharing your ideas with us.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Oh, my pleasure, Bill. This has been great fun.

http://billmoyers.com/segment/jonathan-haidt-explains-our-contentious-culture/

How the Right Has Turned Everything Into a Culture War — And Why That’s Terrible for Our Democracy

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet, February 28, 2012

Excerpt

The political press takes it as a given that there is a sharp dividing line between the “social issues” propelling the culture wars (abortion, school prayer, gay rights) and matters of substance (the economy, foreign policy, immigration and safety-net programs like unemployment benefits). But as the American conservative movement has veered sharply rightward over the past 30 years, that line is no longer so clean. Today, conservatives have a social argument for every subject of debate – everything has become part of the culture wars…
the intermingling of social and concrete issues has accelerated in the age of Obama… today cultural narratives dominate conservatives’ arguments.
This is not just a matter of academic interest. It’s helping to fuel the growing reality-gap between conservatives and liberals – and not just because we continue to see these issues as matters of substantive policy while increasingly they see them as cultural. It’s also because people tend to be more defensive about social issues, and less likely to be open to counter-arguments or new information.

In his new book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Don’t Believe in Science, Chris Mooney explores years of research into the cognitive and neurobiological features associated with our ideologies. “The way the mind works,” Mooney writes, “suggests that good arguments only win the day when people don’t have strong emotional commitments that contradict them.” Scientists, he writes, have long noted that “cold reasoning (rational, unemotional) is very different from hot reasoning (emotional, motivated).”

We are better able to have a cool, unemotional debate about the merits of, say, higher or lower corporate taxes. But cultural beliefs resonate more deeply, especially with conservatives; these beliefs become integrated into their identities, and once fixed, are difficult to dislodge with factual arguments. One area where conservatives and liberal tend to differ, according to Mooney, is “in their need to defend their beliefs, their internal desire to have unwavering convictions that do not and cannot change.” The culture wars are ultimately tribal, and as Mooney notes, conservatives are more likely to “be sure that their group is right, and the other group is wrong – in short, their need for group solidarity and unity, or for having a strong in-group/out-group way of looking at the world.”

So, having turned substantial issues into cultural debates, the right is more deeply invested in their outcomes, and less likely to be swayed by the reality we see around us. That “facts have a liberal bias” has become more than just a quip, and this is part of the reason why…consider some of the specific ways that what we think of as debates over concrete matters of public policy have been “culturalized” by the right.

The Economy and the Role of Government…this is the area where the culturalization of formerly non-social issues is most apparent.

Gun control…at this moment in our history, the substantive debates over guns are virtually nonexistent….Guns are too critical to the culture wars; they represent what Karl Rove called an “anger point” that stokes the passions of the conservative base…

a fringe conspiracy theory…reinforces the “othering” – the in-group/out-group dichotomy – at the heart of the culture wars…
Foreign Policy…
Immigration…

Everything Has an Element of Culture Wars…We have entered into an era of public discourse where issues like solar energy are being framed as issues of liberty and freedom…All of this does not serve our democracy well….

Full text

The political press takes it as a given that there is a sharp dividing line between the “social issues” propelling the culture wars (abortion, school prayer, gay rights) and matters of substance (the economy, foreign policy, immigration and safety-net programs like unemployment benefits). But as the American conservative movement has veered sharply rightward over the past 30 years, that line is no longer so clean. Today, conservatives have a social argument for every subject of debate – everything has become part of the culture wars.

Viewing tangible matters through a cultural lens is not new. In the 19th century, dime novelist Horatio Alger wrote a series of formulaic books about poor, young, street urchins meeting some wealthy benefactor who teaches them the value of hard work and living a clean life. Once the urchins get on a properly Protestant, chaste path, their fortunes grow and they end up rising to the middle-class. It’s a narrative that resonates with the right today.

But the intermingling of social and concrete issues has accelerated in the age of Obama. Many on the right consider Barack Obama alien – consider birtherism, or Dinesh D’Souza’s claim that the president is influenced by “Kenyan anti-colonial behavior.” Whereas social issues once served as a distraction from matters of substance, today cultural narratives dominate conservatives’ arguments.

This is not just a matter of academic interest. It’s helping to fuel the growing reality-gap between conservatives and liberals – and not just because we continue to see these issues as matters of substantive policy while increasingly they see them as cultural. It’s also because people tend to be more defensive about social issues, and less likely to be open to counter-arguments or new information.

In his new book, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Don’t Believe in Science, Chris Mooney explores years of research into the cognitive and neurobiological features associated with our ideologies. “The way the mind works,” Mooney writes, “suggests that good arguments only win the day when people don’t have strong emotional commitments that contradict them.” Scientists, he writes, have long noted that “cold reasoning (rational, unemotional) is very different from hot reasoning (emotional, motivated).”

We are better able to have a cool, unemotional debate about the merits of, say, higher or lower corporate taxes. But cultural beliefs resonate more deeply, especially with conservatives; these beliefs become integrated into their identities, and once fixed, are difficult to dislodge with factual arguments. One area where conservatives and liberal tend to differ, according to Mooney, is “in their need to defend their beliefs, their internal desire to have unwavering convictions that do not and cannot change.” The culture wars are ultimately tribal, and as Mooney notes, conservatives are more likely to “be sure that their group is right, and the other group is wrong – in short, their need for group solidarity and unity, or for having a strong in-group/out-group way of looking at the world.”

So, having turned substantial issues into cultural debates, the right is more deeply invested in their outcomes, and less likely to be swayed by the reality we see around us. That “facts have a liberal bias” has become more than just a quip, and this is part of the reason why.

That is not to say that conservatives have stopped deploying non-cultural arguments – many still do. But consider some of the specific ways that what we think of as debates over concrete matters of public policy have been “culturalized” by the right.

The Economy and the Role of Government

Many conservative policy experts and politicians still make the same substantive arguments they have for years about corporate taxes sending jobs overseas or “entitlements” breaking the budget, but this is the area where the culturalization of formerly non-social issues is most apparent.

Consider one of the most enduring and pernicious untruths in our political economy. As I wrote last summer, most conservatives have come to embrace the view that poverty and inequality don’t actually result from tangible economic factors.

Rather, the poor are where they find themselves as a consequence of some deep-seated cultural flaws that keep them from achieving success. They’re held back, the story goes, by what is known alternatively as a “culture of poverty,” or a “culture of dependence.” It’s a popular fable for the right, as it absolves the political establishment for public policies that harm the working class and the poor.

It’s also thoroughly and demonstrably untrue, flying in the face of decades of serious research findings. Yet it reinforces the in-group/out-group dynamic at the center of the culture wars and raises conservative defenses to factual information.

An excellent example of this is the simple fact that there are now 4.5 unemployed people for every full-time job opening (and 7.5 people looking for a full-time gig if you include those stuck “involuntarily” working part-time jobs), yet it remains a core belief on the right today that the unemployed are simply lazy – a cultural flaw — and therefore unemployment benefits (which are extremely modest in the United States relative to other wealthy countries) contribute to the problem.

The hottest book in conservative circles right now is Charles Murray’s Losing Ground, which calls for dismantling the social safety net based on a cultural analysis of inequality and has been touted by everyone on the right, from raging social-con Rick Santorum to David Brooks, the New York Times’ Upper West Side-friendly “center-right” columnist.

As far as taxation, the stand-by claim that taxing the wealthy leads to lower business investment has been overtaken by another cultural narrative – the Randian view of a world made up of a few virile, virtuous “producers,” and the many “parasites” who feed off their labors. It’s the producers who create wealth and make a better world, and they do so by pursuing their own dreams of success. In Ayn Rand’s books, though, moochers and petty, visionless bureaucrats persistently bite at the ankles of her capitalist “supermen,” which has the effect — unintended, but pernicious nonetheless– of harming all of society. Therefore, freeing the wealthy from their obligations, freeing the elite from their social contract with the rest of us, is the apex of morality. Rand may have been a staunch atheist, but this argument resembles a religious viewpoint more than it does a matter of simple economics.

Guns

Last week, Newt Gingrich claimed that “you can’t put a gun-rack in a Volt” – drawing a cultural line between gun-owning “real Americans” and granola-eating hippies who want to drive electric cars. (As is so often the case, Newt happened to be wrong.)

A few weeks ago, Talking-Points Memo covered a panel on dating at the Conservative Political Action Conference. At one point, participants were asked what one might do on a good right-wing date, and one of them replied, “A gun club works really well for that thing… It’s conservative, it’s fun, most women haven’t done that before…you get to look like you know what you’re doing.”

Gun control is an issue that has always cleaved more neatly along rural-urban lines, a gap that’s both substantive and cultural, than the left-right ideological divide. A lot of otherwise conservative mayors and police chiefs in densely packed cities have long favored stricter gun controls, and otherwise liberal politicians representing wide-open rural expanses have not.

But at this moment in our history, the substantive debates over guns are virtually nonexistent. In 2010, the Supreme Court issued a decisive ruling in favor of those who oppose restrictions on gun ownership. It was the last in a string of moves by the courts that have made Americans’ right to own firearms as secure today as they have ever been. The 5-4 decision established that all Americans have a fundamental, individual right to bear arms that constrains not only the actions of the federal government, but states and municipalities as well. It was a long-sought victory for gun rights advocates and a resounding defeat for those who favor stricter controls. In the words of conservative legal scholar Glenn Reynolds, the ruling meant that the Second Amendment “is now a full-fledged part of the Bill of Rights.”

In the wake of the ruling, gun control advocates now dedicate themselves to objectives with which the vast majority of gun owners agree – closing the so-called “gun show loophole” and keeping guns out of the hands of felons and potential terrorists. A 2009 poll by conservative messaging-guru Frank Luntz found that “NRA members and gun owners support sensible new measures to combat illegal guns, including closing the terror gap (82 percent NRA members support, 86 percent non-NRA gun owners support), closing the gun show loophole (69 percent / 85 percent), and requiring gun owners to report lost and stolen guns (78 percent / 88 percent).” Luntz, in an op-ed, characterized what remains of the issue as a social one, writing, “The culture war over the right to bear arms isn’t much of a war after all. As it turns out, there is a lot everyone agrees on.”

But the gun lobby hasn’t allowed the bitter debate over the scope of the Second Amendment to be settled. Guns are too critical to the culture wars; they represent what Karl Rove called an “anger point” that stokes the passions of the conservative base.

It’s worth adding that, among the more paranoid elements of the conservative movement, the idea that gun owners are not secure with their firearms springs from a fringe conspiracy theory about Barack Obama supporting a UN treaty that amounts to a “back-door” attempt to disarm America. This, again, reinforces the “othering” – the in-group/out-group dichotomy – at the heart of the culture wars, framing the issue as a conflict between (“real”) Americans and foreigners.

Foreign Policy

After killing Osama Bin Laden, escalating the war in Afghanistan and drawing down troops in Iraq, polls show that President Obama has evaporated Republicans’ traditional advantage on “national security.” Aside from portraying cuts in the defense budget as apocalyptic, if you watch the right’s current discourse on foreign policy, it’s now almost entirely cultural in nature.

Consider the conservative charges against Obama in the realm of foreign policy. As a factual matter, Robert Schlesinger noted that Obama had, as of last January, mentioned “American exceptionalism” far more frequently than his predecessor, George W Bush. But that didn’t keep Kathleen Parker from writing at the time that exceptionalism is a “word that isn’t much heard from this president but that tumbles so easily — and adamantly — from the lips of Republican[s],” and it hasn’t prevented the right from obsessing on the supposed failure.

Or consider Mitt Romney’s frequent and wholly erroneous claim that Barack Obama “went around the world and apologized for America.” Or consider the words of Franklin Graham, a prominent figure on the religious right, who questioned Obama’s religion based in large part because, “[Under] President Obama, the Muslims of the world, he seems to be more concerned about them than the Christians that are being murdered in the Muslim countries.” These words belong squarely in the category of the culture wars.

Even before Obama was elected, a great deal of the right’s views of foreign policy were culturally informed. With his 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington had an enormous impact on Republican foreign policy rhetoric, helping to inform George W Bush’s “war on terror.” Huntington was explicit in his social analysis of geopolitics, writing:

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural… The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.

Immigration

Here is where this hypothesis is on its shakiest ground, not because immigration isn’t a cultural issue, but because one can argue that it has always been so. We talk about competing policies – “enforcement only” versus a more comprehensive approach – and those are certainly matters of substance. But the degree to which immigration has become a top-tier, litmus-test issue for the right, the degree to which it’s become polarized, has everything to do with the culture wars, and this is apparent in the symbolic issues that come up in the debate. Think about the brouhaha over displaying Mexican flags, or the fight to keep states from printing government forms in multiple languages.

In 1986, the father of the modern anti-immigration movement, John Tanton, wrote a memo laying out what he saw as the potential problems with our immigration system. He discussed a range of issues, including the economic and political impacts of large numbers of immigrants arriving in the United States, but much of his concerns centered around cultural issues. “Will Latin American migrants bring with them the tradition of the mordida (bribe), the lack of involvement in public affairs, etc.?” he asked. “What in fact are the characteristics of Latin American culture, versus that of the United States?” Arguing that Hispanics are inherently harder to educate than other groups, he wrote: “We’re building in a deadly disunity. All great empires disintegrate, we want stability.”

Twenty-five years later, the same social fears continue to inform conservative arguments about immigration. Lamenting the push for comprehensive immigration reform in 2007, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly claimed that advocates of the bill, “hate America, and they hate it because it’s run primarily by white Christian men. Let me repeat that. America is run primarily by white Christian men, and there is a segment of our population who hates that, despises that power structure.”

Samuel Huntington’s follow-up to The Clash of Civilizations, the influential book Who We Are, stems from the same premise, but covered with a more academic veneer. Reviewing the book for Foreign Affairs, Alan Wolf wrote that it’s riddled with “ moralistic passion — at times bordering on hysteria.”

He eschews realistic treatment of American history in favor of romantic nostalgia for Anglo-Protestant culture. And then there is the book’s fatalism: Huntington tells his readers that he is a “patriot … deeply concerned about the unity and strength of my country based on liberty, equality, law and individual rights,” but he portrays the United States as haplessly without resources in its struggle with immigration, as if the country’s identity were too fragile for the challenges it faces. Although Huntington was deeply troubled by the 1960s and their aftermath, he managed to maintain his cool in subsequent books. Immigration has touched his nerves in a way that flower children and protesters never did. Who Are We? is Patrick Buchanan with footnotes.

It was also, at heart, a social argument for limiting immigration.

Everything Has an Element of Culture Wars

Those are but a few examples of once-concrete debates over public policy having been tainted by the culture wars. There are others: The right’s obsession with light-bulbs and scorn for Priuses; justifying voting restrictions based on unfounded fears of undocumented immigrants voting; and conservatives’ blind insistence that because we supposedly “have the greatest healthcare in the world,” we can turn our backs on the data that belie that claim and ignore the plight of the uninsured. As the Policy Shop’s Mijin Cha wrote this week, “climate change has been slowly entering into culture war territory for a while now.”

We have entered into an era of public discourse where issues like solar energy are being framed as issues of liberty and freedom. Not to mention the backlash against seemingly innocuous policies, like bike lanes and smart growth. To see the somewhat dry issues of renewable energy and sustainable development discussed in the same vein as reproductive choice and marriage equality is strange, to say the least.

All of this does not serve our democracy well. While it may be difficult to find common ground on matters of public policy in a closely divided country, it’s all but impossible when the emotional heat of the culture wars – the tribal affinities – is added to the mix. It makes the right guard its positions more closely, and causes conservatives to defend themselves from any inconvenient facts that conflict with their positions.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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Andy Kohut goes deep on impact of the GOP’s ‘staunch conservatism’

By Eric Black, MinnPost.com,  03/22/13

Excerpt

Republicans’ image with the wider public is now dominated by the behavior and views of “a bloc of doctrinaire, across-the-board conservatives [that] has become a dominant force on the right.” …The Republican Party has moved further from the center of national public opinion than any party has since the McGovern era when the Democrats were viewed by Middle America as the party of “acid, abortion and amnesty.” The public now perceives the Republicans as “the more extreme party, the side unwilling to compromise or negotiate seriously to tackle the economic turmoil that challenges the nation,” Kohut says….

“The numbers prove it: The GOP is estranged from America.” Andy Kohut, Pew Research Center…“The Republican Party’s ratings now stand at a 20-year low, with just 33 percent of the public holding a favorable view of the party and 58 percent judging it unfavorable…

Republicans’ image with the wider public is now dominated by the behavior and views of “a bloc of doctrinaire, across-the-board conservatives [that] has become a dominant force on the right.” The party’s base, which constitutes about 45 percent of all Republicans, holds “extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues: the size and role of government, foreign policy, social issues, and moral concerns,” writes Kohut. “They stand with the tea party on taxes and spending and with Christian conservatives on key social questions, such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage.”

This group, whom Kohut dubs “staunch conservatives,” are “demographically and politically distinct from the national electorate. Ninety-two percent are white. They tend to be male, married, Protestant, well off and at least 50 years old.”

One of the unifying elements of staunch conservatism is the emotional intensity of their dislike for Pres. Obama…the role of Fox News on the right is much more powerful than the role of liberal news sources on the left: …the impact of staunch conservatism on the Republican Party for the foreseeable future… Three: “they also help keep the party out of the White House. Quite simply, the Republican Party has to appeal to a broader cross section of the electorate to succeed in presidential elections.”

Full text

Republicans’ image with the wider public is now dominated by the behavior and views of “a bloc of doctrinaire, across-the-board conservatives [that] has become a dominant force on the right.”

Writing for the Washington Post’s Outlook section, Andy Kohut of the Pew Research Center makes a case that you won’t find too shocking but to which he brings a depth and breadth based on years’ worth of polling data. Namely: The Republican Party has moved further from the center of national public opinion than any party has since the McGovern era when the Democrats were viewed by Middle America as the party of “acid, abortion and amnesty.”

The public now perceives the Republicans as “the more extreme party, the side unwilling to compromise or negotiate seriously to tackle the economic turmoil that challenges the nation,” Kohut says.

Kohut is no longer president of Pew and perhaps this piece suggests that he is planning to adopt a less neutral, scholarly, pollsterly tone. The headline on the piece reads “The numbers prove it: The GOP is estranged from America.”

“Estranged” is a strong word, but, as the headline suggests, every statement is rooted in polling data. Kohut writes:

“The Republican Party’s ratings now stand at a 20-year low, with just 33 percent of the public holding a favorable view of the party and 58 percent judging it unfavorably, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Although the Democrats are better regarded (47 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable), the GOP’s problems are its own, not a mirror image of renewed Democratic strength.”

Republicans’ image with the wider public is now dominated by the behavior and views of “a bloc of doctrinaire, across-the-board conservatives [that] has become a dominant force on the right.” The party’s base, which constitutes about 45 percent of all Republicans, holds “extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues: the size and role of government, foreign policy, social issues, and moral concerns,” writes Kohut. “They stand with the tea party on taxes and spending and with Christian conservatives on key social questions, such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage.”

This group, whom Kohut dubs “staunch conservatives,” are “demographically and politically distinct from the national electorate. Ninety-two percent are white. They tend to be male, married, Protestant, well off and at least 50 years old.”

One of the unifying elements of staunch conservatism is the emotional intensity of their dislike for Pres. Obama, Kohut says. “For example, a fall 2011 national survey found 63 percent of conservative Republicans reporting that Obama made them angry, compared with 29 percent of the public overall.”

The Pew organization has been a leader in tracking the nexus that connects politics with the news media. Looking back at that data, Kohut concludes that the role of Fox News on the right is much more powerful than the role of liberal news sources on the left:

“The politicization of news consumption is certainly not new; it’s been apparent in more than 20 years of data collected by the Pew Research Center. What is new is a bloc of voters who rely more on conservative media than on the general news media to comprehend the world. Pew found that 54 percent of staunch conservatives report that they regularly watch Fox News, compared with 44 percent who read a newspaper and 30 percent who watch network news regularly. Newspapers and/or television networks top all other news sources for other blocs of voters, both on the right and on the left. Neither CNN, NPR or the New York Times has an audience close to that size among other voting blocs… Conservative Republicans make up as much as 50 percent of the audiences for Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’ Reilly. There is nothing like this on the left. MSNBC’s ‘Hardball’ and ‘The Rachel Maddow Show’ attract significantly fewer liberal Democrats.”

Kohut also concludes three curious somewhat contradictory things about the impact of staunch conservatism on the Republican Party for the foreseeable future. One: They will complicate the big plan of Republican leaders to soften negative images of the party. Two: The staunch conservatives sustain conservative Republicans ability to remain in many offices, especially in Congress, but  Three: “they also help keep the party out of the White House. Quite simply, the Republican Party has to appeal to a broader cross section of the electorate to succeed in presidential elections.”

http://www.minnpost.com/eric-black-ink/2013/03/andy-kohut-goes-deep-impact-gops-staunch-conservatism?utm_source=MinnPost+e-mail+newsletters&utm_campaign=059c51e115-3_23_2013_Daily_Newsletter3_22_2013&utm_medium=email

America’s White Male Problem

AlterNet [1] / By Frank Schaeffer [2] January 4, 2013

The American political process is being hijacked by a reckless, whining dangerous gang of psychologically damaged white men who are far-right ideologues. I used to be one of them. It’s time to tell the truth about our white male problem…the continuous attempt by the white far-right in Congress to shut down the government rather than work with our black president has a lot to do with racism… This has less to do with politics and more to do with the fear and mental illness that grips a willfully ignorant minority of white males. But the mainstream media is talking about everything but the underlying racial, cultural and mental health issues afflicting the white male minority of far-right congressmen holding us all hostage. And the extreme insanity of the right-wing rhetoric over the last four years, from “birther” to Obama-is-a-Muslim etc., conclusively points to something other than politics…Overlay a map of the states with the safe gerrymandered congressional districts that sent us the Tea Party Republicans hijacking our country and you’ll find it’s the same map by and large of the former slave states…

The anxiety of losing white long-held power at the expense of minority and marginalized constituencies like women and gays has metastasized into outright hatred of everything and anything President Obama would suggest. Racism has combined with fear…The fear is of a world in which white (mostly) evangelical Republicans lose power… forever. …The mainstream media doesn’t have the courage to say it…The truth of the matter is that there is a subculture of frightened white Republicans who see their own government as a threat. They’ve embraced ignorance and a fact-free life that denies evolution, gay-rights, the demographic changes in America, and above all, the fact that their fellow countrymen have rescinded our entire history of racist bigotry and voted for a black man for president. They just can’t accept this...The real problem we face is racism, bigotry and willful ignorance in the face of our changing demographics, spiritual beliefs and the challenge that postmodern thought poses to people stuck in Bronze Age thinking. These haters are a minority in the South, but they have  – through gerrymandering — given the whole South a black eye. The millions of tolerant Southern white men, women and all the rest of us wherever we’re from need to rise up and condemn this charade.

 Full text

The American political process is being hijacked by a reckless, whining dangerous gang of psychologically damaged white men who are far-right ideologues. I used to be one of them. It’s time to tell the truth about our white male problem.

Not everyone who disagrees with the president is a racist. Not even most people who do are. But the continuous attempt by the white far-right in Congress to shut down the government rather than work with our black president has a lot to do with racism. And lurching from manufactured crisis to crisis isn’t about politics; it’s about pathology. It doesn’t make sense politically to take the blame for risking America’s future — and the Republicans know they will take the blame — so how can we conclude other than something else is going on here?

I’m not talking about the white young male mass murderers we’re afflicted with carrying assault rifles courtesy of the NRA. I’m talking about the white far-right males who hijacked the 112th Congress and are set to destroy the 113th. They have metaphorically done to our country what the killer in Newtown literally did to 20 children, and for the same apparent reason: alienation from the mainstream and retreat to a paranoid delusional fantasy land of — literal — mental impairment.

This has less to do with politics and more to do with the fear and mental illness that grips a willfully ignorant minority of white males. But the mainstream media is talking about everything but the underlying racial, cultural and mental health issues afflicting the white male minority of far-right congressmen holding us all hostage. And the extreme insanity of the right-wing rhetoric over the last four years, from “birther” to Obama-is-a-Muslim etc., conclusively points to something other than politics.

The manufactured crisis we face are not about economics. These self-inflicted wounds are about a few people’s fear of being marginalized.

It’s not considered polite to mention race anymore. But I’m going to mention it anyway. We have a white problem.

I’m a 60-year-old white male father and grandfather. My son served in the Marines. I own a gun. I have handwritten notes from George Bush Sr, Jr, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford both to me and to my late father expressing gratitude for our contributions to the “fight” for traditional values and the Republican “cause.” Been there, done that!

I spent my youth not only as part of the Republican Party but helping to organize the culture wars that have come near to destroying our country. I have worked with the very kind of people who are now the hard-core Republican right. But I have changed my views. I may not be one of them any longer, but I bring an insider’s knowledge to the table.

Overlay a map of the states with the safe gerrymandered congressional districts that sent us the Tea Party Republicans hijacking our country and you’ll find it’s the same map by and large of the former slave states.

The anxiety of losing white long-held power at the expense of minority and marginalized constituencies like women and gays has metastasized into outright hatred of everything and anything President Obama would suggest. Racism has combined with fear.

The fear is of a world in which white (mostly) evangelical Republicans lose power… forever. The country has moved on, but the safe Republican gerrymandered districts have not. These folks are literally living in a fool’s paradise whose time has come and gone.

The white Republican hijackers of our Congress talk about smaller federal government and out-of-control federal spending, states’ rights and the Defense of Marriage Act. These are the defenders of 30-round magazines and personal arsenals, Kevlar-piercing cop-killing bullets, access to unlimited numbers of semiautomatic weapons and lethal handguns carried in public — all in the name of the Second Amendment.

The mainstream media doesn’t have the courage to say it, but the Second Amendment “defense” is nothing to do with today’s loud defense of “gun rights.” The truth of the matter is that there is a subculture of frightened white Republicans who see their own government as a threat. They’ve embraced ignorance and a fact-free life that denies evolution, gay-rights, the demographic changes in America, and above all, the fact that their fellow countrymen have rescinded our entire history of racist bigotry and voted for a black man for president. They just can’t accept this.

The common thread that runs through the Republicans’ “issues” of the day has little to do with those issues per se. What it’s really about is the fear of a future in which traditional white male power structures dissolve.

The true crux of the friction with the White House and the Democrats and indeed with most Americans — including most women living in the South and many Southern men as well — lies in the racial history of Reconstruction, Jim Crow and slavery.

The lies about our federal government — that somehow they are in league with the United Nations, to the point where we can’t even sign an international declaration on the rights of the handicapped! – have nothing to do with the stated objectives. This is like a family argument where an uncle shows up at the dinner table and argues with everyone not because he actually disagrees but because he’s feeling alienated from the family.

Simple palpable hatred drives these people to willful ignorance. The white males insisting on carrying guns (in a country where violent crime is way down!) are scared, not of muggers, but of the fact that their imaginary reality is coming unstuck.

They’re too smart to believe that Fox News spin on reality is reality. Most of these folks are too smart to believe in their evangelical theology either. I’ll bet at heart many are atheists or at least doubters, well aware of the hypocrisies and inanities of evangelical Christianity. But they put on an act of upholding what they believe are the traditional standards we need to live by, which really boils down to little more than white resentment.

These Republicans are from safely gerrymandered districts so they have little to lose and something to gain by “holding the line” against public opinion and the president, even if it continually pushes the country to the brink.

The fact is that many flag-waving American Republican males these days are horribly unpatriotic. Not since the 1960s and the far-left of the Weather Underground have we seen people who hate America so deeply. Some of the Republican “patriots” hate this country so much they join secessionist movements and interpret their “right to bear arms” as a right to build personal arsenals against that day when the federal government comes to “take away our freedoms.”

House Republicans like to say that Americans voted for a divided government. They say that “gridlock” is what becomes it. But that’s not true. The Democrats won 50.6% of the votes for president, to 47.8% for the Republicans; 53.6% of the votes for the Senate, to 42.9% for the Republicans.

A state of panic exists because Republican members of Congress demand a state of paralysis. They want to freeze the world as it is because the new world doesn’t have room for white male bigots who base their lives on Bronze Age mythology and white, privileged, Jeffersonian-style institutional racism. Their real ideology has nothing to do with gun rights, fighting against abortion or reducing the size of the federal deficit, but has everything to do with their own personal psychological turmoil.

These people are literally ill with fear. And their world is turning lopsided. There is a black man in the White House and he’s winning, and worst of all he’s self-evidently smarter than they are. He’s not even angry!

It is time for the mainstream media to stop playing the Republican extremists’ game. Let’s talk about racism and white Southern males who can’t get with the program. Let’s talk about what’s really going on with gun rights, which has nothing to do with hunting or home protection or even the Second Amendment, but has everything to do with the delusional paranoia of people who really believe the world is out to get them because it’s changing.

Let’s talk about the fact that there never was a fiscal cliff, just a dysfunctional Congress hijacked by the white males who turned the Tea Party into their cry of anguish.

The real problem we face is racism, bigotry and willful ignorance in the face of our changing demographics, spiritual beliefs and the challenge that postmodern thought poses to people stuck in Bronze Age thinking. These haters are a minority in the South, but they have  – through gerrymandering — given the whole South a black eye. The millions of tolerant Southern white men, women and all the rest of us wherever we’re from need to rise up and condemn this charade.

The real problem we face is not economics or gun ownership or what happens to Planned Parenthood, but how we can reintegrate a few hurting marginalized white males in Congress and their most ardent delusional supporters into a better future while stopping them from using self-created political stalemate to burn down the house we all share.

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