Our Radicalized Republic

But it’s one thing not to like someone – it’s another to want to hurt them.

“I thought it probably went, you know, probably as far as dehumanization … something,” she said. Instead, she found that physical violence against political opponents was not a deal breaker for 15 to 20 percent of Americans. in the several surveys by Mason and her co-author Nathan KalmoeThis large, non-partisan minority said violence was at least somewhat justified – especially if their party lost the 2020 elections.

Then on January 6th, Mason sat in her living room and watched on TV as a crowd of armed right-wing extremists climbed the walls and poured through the windows of the U.S. Capitol just 6 miles away. She thought about her research and was suddenly absolutely angry. Your children were scared. Your chances of getting out of the city have been hampered by a global pandemic. And her data – once a theoretical risk that she would have trouble taking other academics seriously – had jumped aside and started beating a police officer to death with a fire extinguisher.

“I knew this was going to happen,” she said. “I really didn’t mean to. But how, they did it, you know? How damn it. They finally did it.”

What happened in the Capitol was the culmination of years of right-wing extremism, a political force that has grown steadily manifests as actual violence. But Mason’s research – and her concerns – go beyond right-wing extremists. Much of this nation now hates Americans who do not join their party. The reasons and consequences of this hatred are very different on the right than on the left, but President Biden is still faced with an almost impossible task: to rule a radicalized country.

For decades, researchers like Mason have observed various trends – white Americans’ aversion to black Americans, increasing inequality, our attitudes towards political opponents – pointing this country in a dangerous direction. Any of these things alone can destabilize democracies and lead to violence, experts told us. We’re up against half a dozen. And now the country has come to a place where it’s much, much easier to throw a punch than to sort things out. None of this is likely to change just because we have a new administration focused on unity.

Underlying all trends that drive Americans apart is a fundamental disagreement about who has and should have power. Should politicians strive to create a multicultural democracy dedicated to resolving social inequality? Or should they maintain a social hierarchy that allows white people (and especially white men) to exert a disproportionate amount of influence?

Trump made it clear who he thought should be in power. His willingness to do so Use racial slurs, engage in racist politics and declare that Christians should have A privileged place in American life has helped create a world in which both the left and the right support political violence roughly equally, but the right is more likely to act on it. But now that he’s gone, the gap won’t just close behind him. And even if Biden were able to unite warring sides, it would likely require a compromise that would do more harm than good.

“There’s no way this can quietly go away,” Mason said.

Part 1

Decades of drift

White rioters killed hundreds of blacks in a successful attempt to overthrow an election in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898. Over a hundred years later, the Capitol revolt was fueled by similar grievances.

Library of Congress / Eric Lee / Bloomberg via Getty Images

T.It is not the first time a group of Americans have decided that winning an election is more important than maintaining a democracy. Based on these other examples, we know which socio-political trends to watch out for.

November 10, 1898 after a local election that had set up an integrated city councilWhite elites from the city of Wilmington, North Carolina mobilized a mob that burned down the city’s black newspaper, killed hundreds of black residents, and forced newly elected councilors to resign at gunpoint. It was an uprising that was organized and planned in advance and backed up by those in charge of the government so that they could stay in power – bloody annoying election results.

In contrast to this year’s attack on the Capitol, this coup was successful. However, the two incidents share some important factors in common, said Suzanne Mettler, professor of government at Cornell University. As the reconstruction wore on, political polarization, the conflict over who is “one of us” (which was always about race) and income inequality increased, which set the tinder for the uprising. The same forces for more than 30 years have gained strength in this country.

One of the most toxic is racial hostility – resentment and anger that take shape as the belief that people of another race are not like you, are not trustworthy, and do not deserve what you deserve. This is something that the American National Election Studies poll has been following since 1988, asking respondents how they believe black Americans should overcome prejudices such as “Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities.” [did]”And pull themselves up on their boot straps” for no favors, “or when they think black Americans would be as good off as white Americans” if [they] would just try harder. “

Research has shown that white Americans are racist towards their black counterparts haven’t moved much since the 80s. But these attitudes are increasingly linked to our political beliefs. Put it this way: the average white person may not be more (or less) racist than it was 40 years ago, but their racism is now much more likely to correlate with everything from their political ideology, who they vote for, how they feel about people on the opposing party – and even their support for specific guidelines on issues like health care. Unlike the late 80s, racist resentment Now strongly along the party lines. “Just to say that there is a serious problem of racism in America – that alone makes a lot of Republicans, a lot of Trump supporters, very angry,” Mason said.

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Income inequality has also increased. The highest-earning 20 percent of US households capture a larger part of the country’s total income The gap between the richest and poorest families has more than doubled than it was 40 years ago, millennials are far less likely to earn more than their parents as baby boomers, and in 2019 the US Census Bureau found that economic inequality was the cause since the Census Bureau started tracking it.

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And while this trend has affected Americans of all kinds, it’s also deeply racialized. Have centuries of white supremacy and decades of growing inequality produced a racial wealth gapwhere economic security is particularly difficult to achieve for colored households.

And there are other destabilizing trends that you could pull into our present moment too, such as: B. Growing distrust (and resentment of) state and public institutions. Or social segregation that puts Americans into social silos where everyone we know personally is quite similar to ourselves.

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All of these trends, especially when they overlap and reinforce one another, help create an atmosphere where violence against opponents is rationalized and politics becomes a game that can be won at any cost. This has manifested itself differently between people of different ideologies. Although support for political violence among Democrats and Republicans is roughly equal in survey data, The right wing has produced significantly more of the real world Political violence in this country over the past decade, according to the Global Terrorism Database.

Still like us all Thinking about public disagreement has shifted, said Jennifer McCoy, professor of political science at Georgia State University. There is a difference between “I don’t like your ideas” and “I don’t like you”. There is also a difference between “I don’t like you” and “You have no legitimate claim to political power and you do not deserve it.” After all, you come to a place where fewer and fewer people start to believe in the government all the people.

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Though they were more than a hundred years apart, one insurrection to overthrow one election provoked the other.

Courtesy of Kapangstmuseum / Lev Radin / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images

It is not an absolute cause and effect. You can probably get your democracy wet every now and then or feed them after midnight without all hell breaking loose. But the more of these trends are in play, the more seductive extremism (of any kind) becomes. Right now we’re sitting with a plate of intricate spaghetti – worrying political trends that blend together in a way that almost ensures you’ll find another on the end of your fork when you sip one of these. Ultimately, higher levels of economic inequality are linked to an increase in hate crimes. Growing distrust of the government comes with increased support for Outsider political candidate – who in turn tend to use rhetoric that further de-legitimizes Politicians and government institutions outside of themselves. “You may not be able to articulate it, [but when you see] The person who is foaming at the mouth next to the person who seems reasonable … they fit together because of this latent experience of what is going on, ”said Christian Davenport, professor of political science at the University of Michigan.

And that is why political polarization is one of the most worrying trends. Not only has it grown by leaps and bounds since the 1980s, it’s related to everything else – race, inequality, and even who to vote for in a general election. How you feel about other Americans who do not share your beliefs shows how ready you are to join democracy.

Part 2

Polarization nation

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Who occupies the White House – and whether they really represent Americans – has sparked protests for every party for the past five years.

Mark Makela / Saul Martinez / Bloomberg / Getty Images

IIf you’re a Republican or a Democrat, chances are you’re not excited about your child’s idea marry a member of the opposing party. And consciously or not You’re probably looking for friends from the same political tribe. We don’t feel like that because of disagreements about politicsBut even when it comes to the most controversial issues. Instead, it boils down to a more fundamental, visceral kind of partisanship between us and them that is very difficult for a single politician to undo.

When Mason looked When she was ready to actually live her life with people from another party – marry them, be friends with them, live next to them – she found that the partisan’s identity was twice as powerful a predictor as their real ones Views on political issues. Disagreements over immigration, health care, or gun control had far less impact than if the other person were identified as an opposing partisan. In this and other studies, Mason found that the ever closer alignment between our party loyalists and other parts of our identity – race, religion, education – has made politics an integral part of the way we understand our own moral character and the perceive others.

When Biden takes office, he doesn’t just have to deal with debates on issues such as taxes or abortion. He has to figure out how to ease the anger of the significant section of Republicans and Democrats who believe deep down that the people belonging to the other party are not just wrong – they are bad.

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The deep, basic distrust that many Americans feel towards members of the other party is common called affective polarization. (“Affective” refers to feelings – in this case, our own party and the opposing party.) As these political labels carved into the depths of Americans’ identity, politics gained the power to color and tighten the way we think mold about parts of us that are not necessarily political. For example, several studies have indicated that Americans’ perception of religion as a Republican value has in fact led countless liberals to no longer identify as religious at all.

Of course, this deeply personal form of polarization has evolved along with other divisive trends we talked about earlier, such as deepening social segregation and isolation, growing income inequality, and dwindling trust in institutions. The political identity of Americans was fed – and, in a sense, absorbed – by these changes. It’s hard to find a moment in American history when racial attitudes weren’t a divisive political issue. but for the past decade or so, Debates about the Existence of racial discriminationeach party increasingly defines who is discriminated against and what we should do about it.

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Luke Sharrett / Getty Images

As the Republican Party moved closer and closer to its white base, the country’s first black president ran on the Democratic Party’s ticket and the party became progressively more advanced on issues such as race and immigration. Republican politicians, on the other hand, had increasing incentives to engage in politics and rhetoric that privileged white-born Americans. This sorting, Mason said, enabled the parties themselves to advocate different racist attitudes. “We’ve created a situation where you can just hate Democrats instead of being racist against black Americans,” Mason said.

At the same time, other forces of division seem to have collapsed and strengthen themselves. With the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam identified a worrying decline In American social engagement more than 20 years ago, politics did not do this bear the brunt of the blame. (Putnam instead pointed his finger at other factors such as Generational change and television.) But it is now absolutely clear that many people don’t just surround themselves with friends, spouses and neighbors who think like them politically – these social bubbles reinforce the feeling that people who think differently are really strangers.

According to A recent poll Many Americans (especially White Americans), conducted by the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life, hover in circles where they never have meaningful interactions with people of different races or ethnic backgrounds. But it is a lack of political diversity that, perhaps surprisingly, seems to have the greatest impact on attitudes on issues such as race. The director of the Poll Center on American Life, FiveThirtyEight employee Daniel Cox, pointed out that Republicans who knew a black person in their close social circle did not have more progressive views on racial discrimination than other Republicans. But Republicans who were friends with a Biden supporter answered questions about race very differently.

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All of this can explain why we have come to the point where so many Americans believe that violence against members of the other party is not just justified but necessary. FiveThirtyEight employees Erin CasseseThe professor of political science at the University of Delaware was impressed during the 2016 presidential campaign by how the candidates were described in monstrous, non-human terms. Trump was Frankenstein’s monster. Hillary Clinton was a bitch. She put together a couple of surveys and found that many everyday Republicans and Democrats actually viewed their opponents as more animal or subhuman than members of their own group – a tendency that was even stronger for the most dedicated partisans.

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The right’s dehumanization of Democrats has been fueled by racism and racial resentment, and has resulted in darker, more violent behavior. During the Capitol Uprising in January, some rally participants put a noose in front of the building.

Shay Horse / NurPhoto via Getty Images

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out where this way of thinking is going. Dehumanization has clear links to Conflict and violence. “Viewing your opponents as subhuman is one way of saying that they do not warrant moral consideration and treatment,” Cassese said. “They see the opposition as evil rather than just wrong. You don’t just want to win, you want to exterminate your enemies.” And there are signs that a large proportion of Americans may go that route. According to surveys by Mason and KalmoeAbout 40 percent of Americans don’t just disagree with the other party’s views – they believe the other party is evil.

These tendencies already existed in other areas of the American landscape – and not just among marginalized groups like white supremacist extremists. Certain tribes of Christianity have for example just violence long glorifiedand the rise of Christian law helped to politicize some of the allegiances of these Christians. A recent study found that the belief that America is a Christian country is closely related to anti-immigrant sentiment. And according to an unpublished working paper by Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead, Scholars who have studied white Christian nationalismPeople with similar views are also more likely to support policies that make it difficult for blacks to cast a vote.

In other words, everything is partial now. And all-or-nothingism has accordingly become the way politics is practiced (just look at this recent month-long standstill in Congress on an economic stimulus package for an economy affected by COVID-19). This is not just the result of increasing polarization, of course – there is a twisted mess of forces at work. Confidence in political institutions is waning increased distrust in mainstream politics, which in turn drives conspiracy theories and encourages politicians to do so Embrace marginal politicswhat makes compromise and de-escalation even less likely.

And it’s pretty understandable why. For example after a decade of renewed electoral repression of the Republican Party makes it harder to vote for people of color, but not for Democrats absolutely trust republican overtures Now that they have lost power.

This is what happens when polarization tangles with so many of these other trends. It sends us even deeper into the spiral of partisan death we were already in.

part 3

No escape

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Melina Mara / Getty Images / Chris Kleponis / Sipa USA via AP Images

T.The January 6 riot was surreal as Americans fought their way through the police and hunted down politicians. The follow-up protests on January 17th were also surreal, but in a completely different way. Instead of a public uprising, we saw a strong demonstration of governance: Capitol buildings surrounded by armored vehicles, rows of uniformed police and military personnel, the number dwarfing the low turnout of protesters who had little else to do but give healthy bites to reporters (who in many cases also outnumbered them).

At that moment there was relief – consolation that at least we weren’t going to descend immediately into the new Boogaloo Bois civil war spent the past year getting started. We are not that stupid.

But we’re still angry. And suspicious. And cynical. Forty years of social trends do not go away just because a second wave of attacks has not occurred and Joe Biden is now safely anchored in the west wing. One of the reasons so few right-wing protesters emerged in state capitals earlier this month is because of the Facebook groups and word of mouth that allegedly had the follow-up events secretly planned by Antifa and were plans to catch good patriots. People were so ready to believe the worst of each other that they turned around and avoided situations that might have become violent. But we cannot count on this coincidence every time.

We’re still a bunch of loaded guns waiting for someone to pick us up and shoot us. The combination of affective polarization, racism, inequality, isolation and distrust has radicalized a significant minority of the nation and made it easy to find scapegoats and boogeymen. These trends make further extremism seem rational. They make it easy for politicians who play on these trends to come to power, while only increasing our cynicism and anger after taking office.

It was Donald Trump who for five years told his supporters that the elections would be rigged against him and then told them it was. Then he told them that they were the only ones who could “stop the theft,” and then pointed them to the Capitol. But political scientists like Brendan Nyhan, a government professor in Dartmouth, say that if Trump hadn’t pulled the trigger, it would have been someone else. It could still be.

Political science offers some clues as to what might calm the nation down. The most powerful forces that shape our opinion are our friends, neighbors and the public elites we see as “one of us”. This means that affective polarization also has power over the facts we believe in and what, if anything, can be done to heal rifts between one side and the other. The transition to a new president seems to be an opportune moment to change the zeitgeist and bring us “back to normal”. Biden’s inaugural address attempted to do just that, and research by Kalmoe and Mason suggests reassuring messages from Biden might diminish support for violence even among Republicans.

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President Biden now faces the most difficult task: governing a radicalized country.

Jeenah Moon / Bloomberg via Getty Images

But that won’t be easy – and there is reason to wonder whether “normal” should even be the goal. The polarization protects and intensifies. When, as we’ve seen, 40 percent of Americans think the other party is evil and 64 percent of Republicans I believe Trump was the rightful election winnerThen there is probably nothing President Biden or his administration can do to unite the country. Anything they propose – be it politics, unity, or accountability – is viewed as illegitimate by a decent segment of Americans.

And if we just put the rhetoric back to where we were before November – or even where we were in 2016 – it doesn’t change the fact that all of these disturbing trends were part of our “normal” then, too.

In addition, democratic attempts to create unity without addressing these underlying trends risk further undermining democracy itself.

Kalmoe is concerned that Biden’s government is taking the lead in compromising, particularly on voting rights. “In the 19th century, [after the Civil War] Healing meant that northern white and southern white people eventually decided to bury their conflict at the expense of black southerners and at the expense of democracy, ”he said. If Republicans like Mike Pompeo think multiculturalism is contrary to American valuesThen a compromise would likely exclude or disadvantage colored people. Biden calms the racist resentment of the right might end up only strengthening faith that the country has achieved racial equality – or even that we’ve gone too farand white people are now the ones who are disadvantaged.

But changing these destabilizing trends will likely have to start from the right. This is because many of the beliefs and behaviors that threaten American democracy began earlier and are more pronounced at this end of the political spectrum. Yes, both sides deal with dehumanization, delegitimization and conspiracy, but both sides have not done so in the same way or at the same speed. “Political scientists really don’t want to say that. But the proof is right there in front of usand if we’re going to solve the problem, we need to know what the problem is, ”said Joshua Darr, professor of political science at Louisiana State University and a contributor to FiveThirtyEight.

The percentage of Republicans who see Democrats as a “threat to the well-being of the nation” is higher than the percentage of Democrats who see Republicans as a threat. Those on the right are more likely to ensile themselves among people who share similar political opinions. And consistent conservatives Compromises are less likely as consistent liberals.

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Additionally, Republican politicians worried about losing their seats in primary races are likely to overestimate how conservative their components are – and shape their policies accordingly.

All of this adds up to another signal that Biden cannot fix the partisan affective rancor or the other trends that have been associated with it, at least not on his own initiative. The people who feel it more strongly – and take the action – are likely not listening to him carefully because he believes he can’t change.

Perhaps the people we should turn to are Republican elites, experts said. They cannot solve everything, but at least they have the legitimacy to direct part of it Voter beliefs With The reality of a free and fair choice.

But whether they do – or even can – is up for debate. Because when there’s a place where there’s no clear distinction between left and right, both sides think about apostates. Nobody likes them. Just ask Liz Cheney or Jeff Van Drew. In fact, Mason’s research found that people who viewed the opposing party as evil were three times as likely to want their opponents dead have Party.

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The chaos that remained in the Capitol after the violence was a result of a larger socio-political chaos that this country has not yet resolved.

Michael Brochstein / Sipa USA via AP Images

Experts instead told us we have to admit that we cannot get out of this hole with the same tools that dug the pit. Compromise doesn’t mean much if it keeps solidifying the problems that got us to this point, Davenport said. “[Politicians are] interested in political reform and not in the fact that people are drunk,” he said.

McCoy suggested that real institutional change could begin with the electoral process itself. We know Americans on both sides of the aisle to doubt about the trustworthiness of the electoral process – doubts temporarily exacerbated if their side does not win. If I / other people offer decisions beyond the left / right, I / others could address these doubts and dissolve the symbolic (and real) power of the two-party system.

She talks about changes that are supported at the local level – election elections and multi-member districts. Other scholars proposed reforms such as abolishing the electoral college or changing the structure of the Senate. But all of these changes would likely make many national politicians – especially the Republicans who have benefited most from the status quo – very uncomfortable. For example, 14 bills have been introduced in Congress since 2017 would have promoted rankings in any way – None of them became law. Ironischerweise ist der Mangel an Unterstützung für den Zusammenbruch des Zweiparteiensystems sehr parteiübergreifend, vielleicht weil jede Änderung erfordern würde, dass Politiker die Macht aufgeben.

Inzwischen sollte jedoch klar sein, dass sich an der Rückkehr zur politischen Taktik vor Trump nicht viel ändern wird. Forderungen nach Überparteilichkeit lösen die affektive Polarisierung nicht. Wenn weiße Amerikaner sich besser fühlen, wird Rassismus nicht gemindert. Es ist unwahrscheinlich, dass dieselbe Wirtschaftspolitik, die wir seit vier Jahrzehnten anwenden, die Ungleichheit verringert. Wenn die Amerikaner im Kongress eine harte Linie halten, haben sie nicht das Gefühl, dass Politik für sie funktioniert. Wenn wir nichts an unserer Taktik ändern, wird dies nur den Extremismus vertiefen und die Gefahr von Gewalt über unseren Köpfen fördern.

“Ich weiß, dass das Sprechen von Einheit heutzutage für manche wie eine dumme Fantasie klingen kann”, sagte Biden in seiner Antrittsrede. Aber er tat das trotzdem – er sprach davon, unsere Seelen zu öffnen und Toleranz und Demut zu zeigen. Es war eine Rede, die zeigte, dass wir einen Präsidenten haben, der zumindest das Problem sieht und hofft, dass er es überwinden kann.

Die Hoffnung, dass es passieren kann, ist leider nicht das Gleiche wie zu wissen, wie es geht.

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